Modern Athlete Magazine Issue 143, July 2021 July 2020 | Page 33

Looking for Lions
The temperature on race morning was very brisk and the 10-minute drive from our lodge to the start in an open game vehicle was really quite unpleasant . My nose felt like it had just ridden through the Rocky Mountains on a moped ! Tea and coffee were therefore a welcome relief to warm up the runners before the 8am start . The first kilometre was a gentle downhill before the fun started with a climb of about 350m over 9km to the highest point on the course ( 1714m , according to Garmin ). After about 2km of climbing , the initial pacesetters were reduced to a walk , and I was very surprised to find myself lying in second position . I was definitely not planning on racing , and did not want to get caught up in the excitement and kill my legs two weeks before Knysna , so I stopped for a few photos and quietly slipped out of the top 10 and into a more leisurely pace .
Podium Possibilities
After summiting , there was a pleasant 3km downhill before another nasty climb of the same distance , followed by another fast downhill section . It was at this stage that I was informed during a water table chat that I was in fourth place and should “ hamba !” So , with the third-place runner within my sights , I decided to pick up the pace , and I soon found myself in third place and feeling strong . ( The water tables were well stocked with Coke , water , electrolytes and bananas , and were frequent enough , although they could have done with one or two more over the last 10km , when the temperature starts getting quite hot .)
Well-stocked water tables out in the wild
After negotiating the initial climb , there were a few easy kilometres of gentle downhill before a 2.5km plummet ( the drop is about 400m ) that completely annihilated the quads . At this point in the race , you cross paths with the half marathoners , who are on their way back up the hill , and my friendly greetings were returned with nothing but vacant-eyed stares of distress and horror . I hoped that I would look better when I made my way back up to the top , but first I had to negotiate an 8km loop in lion country …
There were 12 lions on the lower part of the reserve , and I suspect that part of the reason for the latish start was to allow the ( hopefully well-fed ) pride to settle into their mid-morning slumber . Apparently , one of the rangers spent 36 hours with the pride to ensure that their location was known and that they didn ’ t pick off the
Fresh lion spoor … fortunately heading in the opposite direction weaker runners . Thankfully , the only sign of lions that I saw were some ( fairly ) fresh tracks on the sandy part of the route , but fortunately it looked like they were heading in the other direction .
Questions of Speed
During this part of the course , I was reminded of the saying that , “ Every morning in Africa , a gazelle wakes up . It knows that it must outrun the fastest lion , or it will be killed . Every morning in Africa , a lion wakes up . It knows that it must outrun the slowest gazelle , or it will starve . It does not matter whether you are a lion or gazelle , when the sun comes up in Africa , you had better be running .”
Well , when you are a runner in Africa , you know that you can ’ t outrun a lion , but that is OK , because all you have to do is run faster than the next guy ! Fortunately ( for me ), this part of the route was predominantly run on a soft , sandy surface . While this made running difficult for most people , my big , flat feet , normally clumsy over rocky surfaces , now gave me a distinct advantage , and I found myself overtaking several runners on this stretch before facing the monster hill again . There are segments of that hill that are at a 43-degree angle , and it doesn ’ t matter if your surname ’ s Fordyce or Gebrselassie , you walk a hill that steep !
I managed to run the ‘ flatter parts ’ and a overtook a few Danish runners who were now looking pretty weary . To put things into perspective , the highest point in Denmark is 151 metres above sea level , and one climbs more than that over just the steepest 1000m of the hill . During the long and painful climb , the sadist in me got to thinking that , as this was a ChampionChip race , they should have put a timing mat at the foot of the hill and then award a “ king ( or queen ) of the mountain ” prize to the person who makes the fastest ascent . This would be pure evil , but there are probably a few idiots like myself that would rise to the challenge !
This doesn ’ t do justice to the steepness of the hill
Just to make sure that you don ’ t get complacent , however , there was another lengthy climb , after which the lake ( that gives Lakeside Lodge , the location of the finish , its name ) comes into view far beneath you . With that view , you know that it must be all downhill for the last 2.5km , but even though you are much higher than the finish point , they somehow manage to sneak in one last , nasty hill before you fly through to a friendly finish !
This is one of those unique races where every runner is greeted by name as they come into the finishing straight and is personally handed their medal and given a handshake or hug by the race organiser , and this friendly vibe continues until the last runner makes their way across the line all the way to the seven-hour cut-off . ( Note , if you want a more vocal finish , you should aim to finish before 1pm , as this is when lunch is served and much of the support disappears !)
The Toughest Marathon
Considering the time spent on photographic exploits , several water table chats and a handful of territorial markings , I was pleased with my time of 4:01 , especially since this was good enough to hold onto third place . In keeping with the Big 5 theme , the first three men and women received a striking and elegant wooden carving of one of the Big 5 , and I decided that my lion was going straight to the pool room back at home ! I did , however , commiserate with my new Danish friend , Claus , who I had relieved of third place a few kilometres from the finish . We agreed that the organisers should have kept strictly to the Big 5 theme , and fleshed out the awards ceremony with the missing buffalo and leopard trophies !
The event concluded with a gala dinner on Saturday evening and there was plenty of spit-braaied lamb and impala to satisfy everyone ’ s protein replenishment programme . I sat there , content and well-nourished , thinking that this race definitely pushes the Voet of Afrika into second place on the “ toughest standard marathon I ’ ve run ” list , but what an incredible race !
Personalised welcome home
Going straight to the pool room !
About the Author
The Running Mann has run over 240 marathons and ultras , and his current mission is to run every marathon in South Africa . He recently fulfilled a lifetime goal of securing a shoe sponsorship from The Sweatshop Broadacres and Asics South Africa ( and a running kit sponsorship from Runderwear ), thus allowing him to run more races and share their stories . You can follow his adventures on Twitter , Facebook or Instagram , and on his popular blog .