Day 1’s 27-kilometre distance involved a lot of ups, downs and a little of the inbetween. I’d heard that the first six to seven kilometres were all uphill and I was secretly delighted because it meant that I could walk and ease into the day. Early mornings have never been my forte.
At last night’s welcome and race briefing we were shown the altitude profile for Day 1 and it echoed the snatches of conversations that I’d overheard. The first seven kays and later ‘the stairs’ came as warnings from those that had done this run before. There are many repeat participants and being out here I can see why. This is one of those events to come back to.
We were assigned starting batches to allieviate a bottleneck on the early part of the trail. Batch A went off at 6am, Batch B at 06h10 and my Batch C about five minutes later. I was happy to be in the last batch as much to settle in as to enjoy catching runners ahead of me.
The morning was cool and I must have kept my thermal top on for at least the first hour as defence against the cold wind. There’s nothing like a long uphill to warm up. The patches of mist on the ridge and surrounding mountains did little to obscure our views – we were fortunate to have blue skies, decorative clouds and clear air as far as the eye could see.
The first well-stocked waterpoint came and went – I left with just a salted baby potato. Up, up, up we climbed. With a trekking pole in each hand I was comfortable and moving well. The chain of runners made such a colourful ribbon up the mountain side.
And then we were up and treated to a view of the northern Drakensberg in the distance with the shapely peaks of the Mont-aux-Sources area visible above a band of cloud.
True to physics, ‘what goes up, must come down’. Downhills are a thigh-eating dragon and this is when I was thankful for my trusty trekking poles. They not only prevent slipping and sliding on loose ground, they also cushion impact and take some weight off knees and thighs on the descents. I played it easy and enjoyed greeting other runners along the way.
Almost completing the big loop of the route, we hit the next waterpoint. I pulled out my fabulous new Ultimate Direction reusable plastic cup and enjoyed some sugary Energade and water plus a triangle of a marmite and a peanut butter sandwich. And a salted baby potato. There were a bunch of other munchies like banana pieces, orange slices and crisps.
Across the tar road I’d heard we were in for two climbs on this section. The first one kicked in soon and led to another waterpoint (another good gulp of water) and then a goodly steep climb.
I have a simple hill strategy: don’t work too hard, keep my steps small and my pace consistent. It works well and saw me comfortably to the top and over the other side.
It was around here that I settled into my own people-free bubble with no runners ahead and an widening distance behind. I really enjoyed the scenery on this side, especially the water-carved sandstone channel where a stream would run – barely a trickle with stagnant pools at the moment.
On the home stretch I caught up to another runner and bumped into Chris who was assisting an ill lady. Chris has run just about every Forest Run and I have had the pleasure of getting to know him and his wife Sunette over the years.
The clouds on this section were striking – you’ll see a photo below.
My strategy with the infamous stairs was to imagine the worst setup and steepness possible so that when I got there it wouldn’t seem so bad. And it wasn’t. The stairs are made from large cement ‘breeze blocks’. I was so focused on them that i forgot to take a photo but as we’ll be back up there on Day 3 I’ll have another opportunity. They weren’t really that bad and my steady strategy saw me up to the top. I will add that the last section of stairs is the sting.
Up the hill and around the corner the end was in view. The sandstone overhang made for a visual delight before the descent to the finish.
The finish line is a big setup with flags and music and an announcer – great vibe. I downed more water and headed off to get my kit for a shower.
My time for this first stage was in the region of 5:20 (overall winning time was around 2:30!!!).
Lunch was a chicken or beef burger with coleslaw and potato salad. The burger was more than enough for me.
Stage events are a really good break – morning of running, afternoon of chilling and a long night of sleep.
I’m up for a nap once I have posted this and then I’ll join Su-Yen’s yoga and stretch at 4pm. We’ll be treated to photos from the day and Day 2 briefing later this evening.