Tuesday, 21 June 2022

Celebrating 46 on the mountainside

My 46th birthday came around on Saturday 18June and it proved to be a 24hr affair as I spent the day and night as an aid station marshal at the George Mountain Ultra Trail event.

This trail ultra has been around for four years and each year they've added new course distances. This year the 100km route was the new addition to the 10km, 25km, 42km and 60km routes.

I missed the event last year as I was in Joburg so I took the opportunity to jump in this year. Events always need helping hands.

On Friday afternoon I was positioned on the gear check station at race registration,which was really good fun and interesting. 

For race day, on Saturday, task was to be on an aid station team at The Cross, a landmark on the side of the mountain overlooking George. Our aid station 'leader', Koot Steenkamp, I know from many years ago when he participated in my Forest Run events. He has been down this way for a few years and he has manned this aid station in the past. His partner Chanelle was with us and a lovely young chap Kuyler. Then we had company of a pair who were with us throughout the day. They had many friends participating in various courses so being stationed here meant that they could help and also cheer on their friends. It was an excellent team with a lot of energy and bounce.

I hiked up to the aid station around 7h20. This point is on the Vertical Kilometre route at around 350m. I was toasty warm by the time I got there at 8am.

By the time the 10km runners started to come through an hour later, the sun had reached us and the day looked to be a stunner. But, we knew that rain would be on the way.

Rain came in around 10am - not torrential, but wet nonetheless. It rained lightly for just over and hour and while the rest of the day was mostly overcast with higher or lower cloud elevations passing through, we were lucky not to be wet again. 

This point is an exposed, windy spot so even once the rain stopped, I ended up keeping my rain jacket and rain pants on for the rest of the day and night. 

The 25km course is the only one that didn't come past us so after the 10km we then saw the 42km, 60km and later the 100km runners.
Being busy, with lots of runners to assist made the day pass very swiftly. The hours just disappeared.

Looking across to the zig-zag descent from Tonnelbos trail.

While the 42km and 60km races are exciting and well attended, the 100km race is the really gruelling one. We were positioned at the top of the Sungazer trail, which is, plainly, a murderous ascent. It comes after the ghastly Tonnelbos trail.

I've done Tonnelbos a few times, most recently 3 to 4 weeks ago. It isn't nice on fresh legs and it isn't nice when you have 30, 50 or 90km in your legs. Mud, roots, rocks, eroded trail, slippery and attention demanding. It is pretty and scenic, but it is hard, hard going. From Tonnelbos, it is a steep downhill on the Sungazer trail and then a wicked climb to The Cross. We were the light at the end of the tunnel with 5km to the finish. 

The night was windy and cold, but clear and the setting was great with the sparkling lights of George below. We could see the checkpoint on the dam wall and enjoyed using our headlamps to signal to each other. While we could only just make them out in the day (we were invisible to them), at night our respective lights were clear beacons.

My old AR and trail friend Bruce Arnett was the winner of the 100km course. He is a local living in Wilderness and an exceptional athlete. I first met Bruce in 1999 at the second running of Skyrun, which he of course won. It is really incredible how Bruce has been too of his game for the better part of 25 years (and before) - still beating runners half his age (he must be around 52 perhaps). He set the course record-to-beat of 12h32 and completed the 100km in daylight.

The last 100km runner came past us at about 3am. We packed up and headed down, catching them crossing the finish with only minutes before the 5am cutoff. I was home by 5.30am and enjoyed a good sleep.

I've been out of the event scene for years so it was great to be there, and especially with such a well organised and attended event.

This was a really nice way to spend my birthday. Outdoors, active and involved.

No comments: