by Amy Ebedes
From about 4kms into the Two Oceans long trail run, I started wondering how I would write this race report without using any swear words. I’d been warned by organisers before that it was a tough course. I’d scrutinised the route map. I was prepared to take a bit of strain.
Little could prepare me for the 22km that lay ahead of me (yes: 22km, not 20km. But more on that later)
I stared in the second fastest group, expecting to be holding up the fort in the back. Within 15 minutes, everyone around me was walking. Everyone. Alarm bells started ringing about exactly how tough this course would be.
The half way mark (11km) was the top of the saddle between Devils Peak and Table Mountain. I’m fairly certain that, when discussing the route, Trevor and the guys from trailrunning.co.za, thought “how can we chose the longest – and steepest – route to the Saddle – without including any downhills.” Congrats chaps, if this was your goal, you most certainly succeeded. There is pretty much no longer and steeper combination that could have got the run up to the saddle.
The route elevation profile confirmed that the first 11km were pretty much solidly uphill. Yes, there’s the odd decline on the profile – but this accounts for very slight declines on the jeep track below Tafelberg – certainly nothing to rest ones legs on.
There were 3 significant “hills” in the first half of the race. I use the term “hill” very loosely, as these “hills” were essentially when the trail went from a reasonable incline to grinding all runners to a very slow, quad-wrenching walk within 1 0 metres of the start of “hill”.
The first “hill” was called “Heart Break Hill” – although I personally believe the name “Spirit Break” may have been more appropriate. While it certainly put a dent in the group’s energy, the little devil was the very least of our worries.
The second hill was a steep single track switchback up to the cannons on Tafelberg road, again slowing every one down to a slow hike.
While traipsing up this beast, I had my first taste of a glucose gel sachet which I’d spontaneously popped into my Camelbak. How wretched! How has no one ever mentioned how horrific they are? With my parched mouth (despite the fact that I’d been drinking water), the stuff stuck in every nook and cranny in my mouth and I was left trying to suck it out of my teeth. It’s what I’d imagine synthetic peanut butter to taste like. I forced myself to finish the entire sachet, repeating to myself that I’d need the energy.
On Tafelberg Road, we were pleasantly greeted by the one and only hydration Coke station (no water). I downed my little Coke in an attempt to rid my mouth of the awful gel sachet after taste (it worked).
Next up: the climb up to the middle contour path on Devils Peak. I run / walk this particular route (although mostly in the opposite direction) at least twice a week – so I was looking forward to the “home advantage”. I instantly felt stronger (I refuse to admit this had anything to do with the gel) and managed to gain a fair bit of ground as we went up. Knowing the details of the trail, from the inclines and climbs right down to certain rocks on the path, was definitely a benefit (although my already tired feet did get on the wrong side of a few rocks). This section is quite a climb, but certainly doesn’t qualify as one of the three hills in the first 11kms. It was a breeze in comparison to the third “hill” in the first half: the switchback up to the saddle.
Little more can be said about this incline except that it’s essentially a long, rocky staircase: which almost everybody walked. After a bit of technical rock hoping on the saddle, the run turned to “the reason that we trail run”: the upper contour path around Devils Peak.
With sheer cliff faces on your right and steep drops to the left, trail running on this section requires immense concentration – quite difficult if one is trying to take in the glorious panoramic view of Table Mountain, Devils Peak, Table Bay and Robben Island. Whenever I do this route (Friday’s race included), I give silent thanks for the opportunity to run daily overlooking such a magnificent city.
The trail swung round Devils Peak and was a gentle route. By this stage, the runners were fairly spread out, and parts of the route there wasn’t anyone in sight (another beautiful feature of trail running).
The route hit the scramble above Block House, and all runners were forced to walk and climb down a 90 degree cliff face, manned by hard-hat wearing marshalls and a squadron of ER24 medics. If you suffer from vertigo, the Two Oceans Long Trail certainly isn’t for you.
The second half of the race was certainly less eventful than the first: gentle trails and tracks though Newlands forest, with the odd incline here and there. Bar Bastard Hill. Aptly named, this hill arrived as my legs began burning and my will to live started to wane. A single track along a fence, Bastard Hill seemed to never end.
By the time I was at 18kms, I was struggling to run. The 11km mountain had smashed my quads, hammies and calves – and my legs wanted to give up. Trail running, however, has the most wonderful ability to distract you from your pain. One moment I’d be trying to find the balance between excruciating walking and cramping if I ran, the next I’d be in awe of the beautiful river I was rock hopping over – and I’d be rejuvenated (for at least another 200m).
It was somewhere near this point when I was starting to wonder if the race would ever end. As if answering my prayers, a surprisingly energised runner came gallivanting past shouting “1km to go, guys!”. My 900th wind kicked in, and I too picked up the pace … for about 400m, when the next marshal said “You’re looking great, chaps, 2.5kms to go”. A major psychological blow: the route was actually 22kms and not 20kms, as rumours had us believe.
The final “ha ha, gotcha!” was a little section through the field. Running through uneven terrain covered by long and flattened grass on exhausted legs is ridiculously difficult. My motor co-ordination was shot and had to take this particular little section terribly slowly, as balance was no longer a strong point.
Finally: the home stretch. I made it over the finish line – running. I won’t lie when I say that my legs were shattered. The route was brutal and certainly separated the “boys from the men”, so to speak. Suprisingly, I found out that I was the 23rd lady across the finish line: a real feather in my little trail running cap.
Would I recommend the race to someone else? Only if they’re a seasoned trail runner, with a strong technical base and a passion for climbing mountains – fast. Don’t chose the long trail run because you missed out on the Half Marathon entries (I heard of plenty people that did this). You’d almost be better off attempting Ultra.
Overall – a fantastic run. Thanks to Trevor and the rest of the Trail Running team. I’ll definitely be back next year.