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Thursday, 26 November 2015
Skyrun 2015

General positivity about the passing cold front with the usual hint of nervousness drifted through the icy breeze at race briefing. Jovial but serious words from Mike and AD stirred up the butterflies in everyone's stomachs, particularly with about half the field here for the first time. One last sleep and race day was upon us.

Fortunately, the SkyRun training camp I attended a month earlier (honestly, a real must for all) meant the route was fresh in my mind and forged my plan in my head. It was simple: Run where you can, walk where you can't, keep stops to a minimum, don't get negative and always respect the mountains.

Early to the start line, 3:15am, and spirits were high. Weather looked good and in PureAdventure's style, without much ado, after a quick coffee, we were let loose upon the mountain. Steadily, as if choreographed, headlights ant-marched up to CP1, The Tower. Sticking to a good pace and maximizing the fresh-leg-effect to stay just behind the front group lasted for a little while before slowing slightly into a more comfortable pace.

Olympus, Snowden, Avoca, fell more quickly than last year, as to did some hail, but progress through the route and the spectacular views that occasionally broke through the mist were gift enough to take your mind off the climb to the highest point. Atop of the world, a bit of 'alti-dizziness' hindered the fight against the Dragonsback but soon the mountains hinted imperceptibly of an imminent downhill. The negative grade accelerated rapidly as we shot down to the river before Balloch, all the while the vertical cliffs of the Wall in front of us staring us down as if smiling sneakily and whispering taunts through the silent air.

Balloch caves. Uplifting cheers and support! BP. HR. Temp. OK. Refuel. Big breath.

Climb. Climb. Climb. Stop. Breathe. Repeat.

At the top of the Wall victory is short lived as the next challenge is in sight. Bridal Pass in the distance to your left and Halstons standing proud and unflinching on the right. There is still much to be done today.

Grinding through to Edgehill, I caught up with Stew who dropped me earlier which was great company on the frustrating section of road to the Pass. After a quick dunk in the river and up we go…

Freezing. Unplanned stop to kit up and keep warm. Frozen hands, dripping nose and stiffening legs from the icy wind. Off to the Turn. The wind continuously picked up and as the mist decended, it brought with it sleet and a frozen  chill to remind us we are only visitors to these mountains. The Turn felt like it would never arrive, with the pace steadily dropping. At last, the outline of a tent was just visible through the dusk soaked mist. Three men putting tights on in a small tent may seem strange but it felt so good. Warm legs changed the game and we dashed for 3km to the 'soup hut'.

Picking up Landie and Tiaan we headed for home. Refueled by coffee, Coke and soup our determination to get to Wartrail grew by the stride. Lights flickered on top of Halstons and as we edged closer they rose up, higher and higher, with the summit silhouetted by the clearing sky.

Climb. Clamber. Climb. Last CP down. One epic descent and were home dry.

Picking a line down Halstons is hard enough in daylight. Trust your GPS and go. With knee buckling shimmys, we dropped and dropped and dropped. Time check : 36 min for 4-odd km to get sub-18h. Ordinarily a breeze, but this race is not ordinary.

With all of us psyching each other up, we hammered on the pace. Legs pulling serious amps. Speed drifting up and up as the realization of how close we were drove the pain out of mind. A last descent toward the river and the lights of the clubhouse were visible. Push. Push. Push.

Across the line in T8 with Stew in 18h03. A few minutes late, but the achievement is immense. This is my longest run to date and ok probably the toughest terrain you can get. Body and mind still battling to comprehend being able to be still and properly sit. Slowly, over the next few days, the revelation of what we had achieved began to sink in…

The Witteberg mountains will always be gracious, powerful and majestic, but standing just across the finish line of SkyRun with 100km of hard earned footsteps behind you gives you the right to lend some of that glory and gloat in the amazing journey that your legs and mind have afforded you.

SkyRun is not a normal race, it is more than an adventure and the only way of truly knowing is by taking that first step off the start line. After that, the mountains will take care of the rest and leave you trying to explain to others how they made you feel…

A massive thanks to PureAdventures, Salomon, all the landowners, supporters and all other sponsors for making this event so spectacular. It really is a special one.


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