Sunday, 22 October 2017

Golden Gate Challenge Day 3

The third and final stage of the Golden Gate Challenge got underway before birds had a chance to start cheeping. At 04h30 the first batch was off with the other three batches leaving only minutes apart. With only 17 kilometres for this stage - the first six on road - most runners would be in by 08h30 - in time for the buffet breakfast and prize giving.

Saturday night's pre-race briefing was a festive affair with another slideshow of photographs from the day and a stunning short video. Uplifting and fun, these screenings send you off to bed with a bounce in your step and an eagerness for the next day - stiff quads aside.

It was early to bed for the early start. As we were on road headlamps were present but actually not necessary. It wasn't long before the sky began to lighten and runners ahead of me were silhouetted against the early morning sky with the Drakensberg mountains clearly visible in the layered distance.

I was thankful for the ascent to the mountain retreat (the only waterpoint for the stage) to loosen up my legs. I do next to no downhill running and the steep descents over Day 1 and Day 2 had done their work on my quads. With every kilometre I felt my legs easing into the trekking and running.

Photographer Kirsten Oliver
Much of the stage felt like we were moving upwards with one climb after another - the reward being an open vista. I didn't take as many photos because of the long cloud and mountain shadows over the landscape. Striking and interesting to the eye but diminished in impact on my camera.

From the high ridge we could hear sounds from the camp where faster runners were already at the finish line - remarkable and inspiring.

'The stairs' were in today's lineup - in the last three kilometres - but they were significantly easier going as a result of not only prior experience (from Day 1) but also ascended on legs with less distance in them for the stage.

Once up the stairs and over the ridge, the camp was visible. Like a horse bolting for home, I enjoyed running the final section and the warm welcome there.

By 08h30 I was showered, packed and loaded and present at the buffet breakfast. I'll comment below on catering but suffice to say that they didn't hold back on the breakfast offering.

I thoroughly enjoyed the prize giving and the opportunity to cheer for the Honourary Rangers who manned the waterpoints, the Golden Gate National Park rangers who were scattered throughout the route at remote points, the sponsors, the team of people involved in the organisation of this event and, especially, the podium runners - what exceptional athletes they are!

(Read this release from the event that highlights the wining results. Consider that Eric Ngubane's accumulated time for the three days - 6:23:23 - is only an hour over my Day 1 time!!! Women's winner Marie-Zanne De Kock clocked the three days in a total of 08:33:22)

With hugs to friends old and new, I was on the road and headed back to my home in Parys - fortunately missing the storms that travelled ahead of me.

What an event! This is the first WildSeries event that I have done and I can only highly commend the presentation of this event. I have no doubt that their other events are as well conducted. I'll highlight below a number of features that stood out for me.

Route markings
Pink fabric strips were used to mark the route and I can say without hesitation that you could not get lost. There were so many markers out there - including dozens of 'verification' markers on trails where there was no where else to go. At any turning points, park rangers were positioned - in addition to candy tape blocking off no-go paths and pink tags marking the route.

Reusable plastic cups
Triple cheer for Old Mutual for sponsoring each runner with a Hydrapak Speedcup, a soft, squishable re-usable cup that can be tucked into a backpack or clipped onto a strap for a quick drink any time. These cups retail for over R100 each (probably more like R160) so this is a prized gift indeed. Items like this pave the way for the abolishment of sachets and disposable cups at ALL sporting events. Thank you Old Mutual.

DJ - wake up and music vibe
DJ Shaun (I think this is his name) seemed to head up the audio aspect of the event. From our wake up call, an hour before the start of each stage to a wonderful sound vibe throughout the day, he kept the music fresh and interesting. I was especially charmed by the wake up call (you can discover this for yourself when you do the race) and his morning mix of tunes. It was clear that he had especially chosen each piece. Day 3's selection was my favourite.

He was also positioned at the finish line and he kept the energy and vibe there. What most appealed to me is that he played 'real' music and not doof-doof music. Thank you for this.

Any trail in Golden Gate National Park will be good; the place is spectacular. The route for each stage was challenging with a lot of ascent and descent and we experienced a variety in terrain and views. The routes left me feeling that I have experienced the area but also showed me how much more there is to be experienced there as a visitor to the park on other occasions.

The catering was exceptional. Other runners told me that Wild Series uses the same caterers for all of their events. I did not take full advantage of the catering provided, which was really quite overwhelming. With cereal, yoghurt, fruit, different porridge each morning, boiled eggs, toast, jams... I think tea, coffee, juices, muffins, rusks were also laid out - probably throughout the day.

For lunch we had rolls with beef or chicken patties, salads and desserts. I think there were other goodies around too.

Dinners came with beef or chicken with rice or pap or rolls or baby potatoes and veg and salads and desserts. Vegetarian dishes were also provided.

As for this morning's buffet breakfast - I'll leave you to discover this delight for yourself. I pretty much stuck with the eggy main but there were lots of other treats and eats to be had. What I can add is that my egg was done to absolute perfection - something you don't often get at a restaurant, much less bulk catering for athletes.

Tented camp
I stayed in the athletes camp where each person had their own tent in the campsite. Each tent had a mattress too. I had plenty of space and was very comfortable. I chose to go down the far end, away from the main event area and was very happy down there. Ablutions were kept clean by the park staff and were well stocked with toilet paper. By the time I came in I was in for a cold shower, which in the warmth of the day was refreshing and cooling.

There were also massage therapists, sponsored by TimeFreight, as well as physios on site. I'm in the habit of rubbing down my legs myself so I didn't take advantage of this - but this was there and available.

Value for money
I've organised a lot of events over the years and I am quite certain that entry fees do not half cover the costs of the event, especially as 50% of the event fee goes towards Wildlands' conservation projects. This is a special setup that involves a lot of people and equipment and logistics. This is where sponsors like Old Mutual come in - their involvement creates the opportunity for runners to have a really exceptional experience.

This event truly is value for money. The event fleece jacket sponsored by event sponsor Jonsson Workwear, waterbottle and hand towel from TimeFreight and the incredible conservation initiatives supported by this event sweeten the deal.

Visit the Golden Gate Challenge website. The 8th edition of the event takes place on 18-21 October 2018. Entries open on 11 April 2018. R3,800 gets you all of this. Diarise now.

My thanks to RunRideDive for allowing me the opportunity to run and write for them and to Golden Gate Challenge for a very special experience.

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