Modern Athlete Magazine Issue 156 Issue 156 - Feb 2023 | Page 45

The prologue starts right in front of the Cango Caves entrance
The author ’ s selfie on day of the event

There ’ s nothing quite like the Dryland Traverse . You start the Thursday evening 9.5km Prologue right at the entrance of the Cango Caves , in a pre-set starting order of mixed , women ’ s and men ’ s teams , followed by solo female and male entrants , running from oldest to youngest within each category , with short intervals of half a minute between each mini-batch . As the starter says go , it ’ s headlamps on and into the caves you plunge !

If you ’ ve been through the caves before , you ’ ll know that in parts there are ‘ in ’ and ‘ out ’ pathways that tour groups follow , while in other parts only a narrow opening or set of man-made steps allow further progress into the caves . In some parts , the roof towers way above your head , while in others you have to be careful not to bump your head , and throughout the caves , the stunningly located lights illuminate towering stalactites , stalagmites and other incredible rock formations .
As you can imagine , running approximately a kilometre in the Caves was an incredible experience . ( Basically , we did the Heritage Route section , plus an additional chamber that contained many stairs .) The beauty that surrounded us was breath-taking , and I remember a runner in front of me saying that she just wanted to stop and take it all in , but with the next batch of runners hot on our heels , we needed to keep up the pace . Nevertheless , I made sure to appreciate every stride through those magnificent caves .
Making the Heart Race
Once out of the Caves , it was straight onto winding trails in the hills surrounding the famous tourist attraction as we headed to the De Hoek Mountain Resort , the race venue for the Dryland Traverse . During the afternoon , the weather had turned a bit gloomy , with some light rain , but it was hot and
humid , and there seemed to be a thunderstorm on the way . The prologue route climbs 250m in a largely uphill push to De Hoek , and I felt good as I began climbing , but this unfortunately didn ’ t last .
I think it was due to the adrenaline of running through the caves and then hitting the single track with the men catching up to me , that I began to push myself a bit too hard . Once off the single track , at approximately the halfway point of the 9.5km stage , I stopped to check my heart rate and saw that I was sitting on 215 beats per minute ( bpm ). Having just recovered from a second dose of COVID , I knew I had to back off the pace and let my heart rate come back down , so I walked the rest of the way to the
River crossings and light rain offset the heat and humidity during the prologue
resort , and it was a welcome reprieve to the humidity as it began raining when I was about 2km from the finish . That helped cool me down , as did the river crossings , as I wasn ’ t feeling too great .
After a shower , I joined the rest of the runners for dinner and the race briefing by Dryland ’ s Bernard Le Roux for the next day ’ s first stage . I ’ ve had the privilege of listening to several of his briefings , and each time I was in stitches , as he is able to turn something as mundane as a stage briefing into a storytelling session , drizzled with humorous anecdotes and a heaped spoonful of dry humour . At Dryland events , race briefings are genuinely fun and entertaining !
Undoubtedly one of the most incredible race routes in the world !
Bernard Le Roux ’ s race briefings are comedy gold !
Images : Shift Media & courtesy Nicole Hayes