Sunday, 30 September 2007

Golden Reef 100-miler

100-mile (160km) road races are not for everyone; they're not quite my thing either. But, a team 100-miler is a completely different race and I was eager to give it a try. And so it happened that we entered an Adventure Racing Club team for the Golden Reef 100-miler.
Tim, Thato, Tony & Lisa before the start
Our AR Club team included me, Tim Deane, Tony Abbott and recent club member, Thato Williams. Thato joined our team three days before the race (a taxi collision led to Ian Adams' withdrawal from the team).

We left Joburg on Friday afternoon to travel to the start at the Hartebeespoort Boat Club, in Kosmos (not near the dam wall, which is what I assumed... doh!). It started to rain just before the start but stopped as the gun went; thank goodness!

I took on the first 15km stage, the only part of the race where we would not be allowed to assist or swop runners. This section took us over the bridge and past Pecanwood on to quieter roads. I had the race bib, a reflective belt, headlamp, glow-sticks on my shoes (provided by the race) and a reflective Buff wrapped around my hand. I was determined to be seen by motorists; and there were a lot of them on this stretch.

Before the race the guys had played a round of a hand-game, similar to ching-chong-cha, to see who would run after me. Tim drew the short straw. He would be followed by Thato and then Tony. After a really good 15km section I passed our race bib over to Tim.

The front teams had clocked 4min/km over the first 15km; we were about 5 runners from the leading 100-miler solo and eager to close the gap - our egos could not handle being beaten by someone running the entire distance on their own (it took another 35km or so to overtake the Chappies guy).

We started off swopping runners every 5-7km, depending on the terrain and suitable pull-over points. We all agreed that seeing Tony's double-cab with hazards flicking was indeed a welcome sight.

On my third rotation I was feeling the hills so the guys gave me an extended rest; afterall I had run the first 15km section. That 1h30 in the back of the bakkie was fabulous and by the time I got back onto the road at the start of the loop past the Lion Park I was energised. This must have been about 2am by this stage.

Before I set out, while we were waiting for Tony - who had to deal with a canine encounter en route - we saw the lead team; we were starting the loop, they were completing it. They confirmed that they were running at 4min/km pace and alternating runners every 2km. Impressive pace and certainly faster than our running ability. They were hoping to beat the race record, which I think they did (probably in just over 10hrs).

The Lion Park loop was my most spooky section of the run. As I ran past the Lion Park the lions started rumbling; not quite roaring, more like a half-roar or grumble. The lions closest to me started and got those futher down the road going. It was like running past a yard with dozens of dogs. I couldn't see the lions but was hoping that the fence was strong enough to keep in any curious felines...

I ran steadily up gentle hills and through mist with no sight nor sound of any vehicles or runners; it really is a wonderful section. After about 5.5km I saw the bakkie; the guys were taking a quick cat-nap. I tapped on the window shouting, "Meet me in a kay". Tim took over, then Tony and then Thato. The night-time conditions were good and even though chilly while sitting around, it was perfect running weather.

By the time I took over again, about 1h30 after my last run, the sky was light and we were all feeling more awake. This was a tough section with two big climbs and I had definitely slowed a lot - from a 5:15min/km pace to 6min/km - even walking a few short sections. I handed over to Tony and suggested that we meet him in 2km to see how he was doing, exchanging runners if necessary. Tony shot off and when starting the car we discovered that the battery was flat - the result of having flickers on all night.

Fortunately some team cars came over the rise a few minutes later. We were helped by two of the Mittal runners; they hooked up jumper cables and we were off again. Tony later told us that there is a switch in the engine so that when one battery is dead you can flick the switch and the car will start from the other... we didn't dare turn off the car for the rest of the race.

We picked Tony up at 2km and swopped runners. This was now 30km to go and we continued alternating every 2km. From 20km to go, as we hit the hills going into Roodepoort we swopped every 1km and in town, up the steep ascents we would swop every 500m.

We were absolutely pumping from 30km. Seeing the Mittal and Roodepoort runners so close behind us at 35km had really given us a fright and we certainly did not want to be overtaken. Thoughout the race the runners in the car would whoop and cheer as we overtook the current runner; this escalated as we got closer to the finish. We had a fantastic vibe going, our transitions were fast and we pulled out 15-minutes on the other teams over the last 30km.

In hindsight we should have started the 2km intervals sooner, especially during the coldest and darkest hours between 2am-5am. We'll try this next year.

We reached the finish at the Golden Reef Road Runners Club (near Westgate) around 09h30 on Saturday morning, after 14h34 of running. This put us in 8th place overall and we were the first mixed team. Yippeee!

The race docs checked each of us out, we slurped a delicious cup of home-made soup and headed for home - showers and beds.

My overall assessment:

  • We all thoroughly enjoyed this race; the format, the vibe and the route
  • 100-miler relays are excellent club participation events
  • Running through the night is one of my favourite things (even though you're really sleepy the next day)
  • It would be really great to see other 100-milers allowing relay team entries
  • This race is for everyone; you run about 40km per person in bite-sized chunks

I can 100% recommend that you diarise this race (or any other 100-mile relay).

Tim, Tony and Thato - cheers!

I have put photos from our race on Flickr. Check them out.

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