Racers don’t realise the amount of work that goes into a race and often question the planning. “Why the cut off and why the start time?” race organisers are asked. The most commonly asked, “Why the compulsory kit?” was one of the first questions raised by super-excited runners, at the race briefing for the Merrell Hobbit 100km Trail Run.
To illustrate my advocacy for compulsory kit, I told them a story. Despite our adventure racing and navigational experience, Tweet and I had found ourselves in a situation we should not have been in. When we were marking a section of the course, we were hit by unexpected mist. Without a compass, we could not find our bearings when it grew dark and, without warm kit, the cold became insufferable. Lost, we circled forestry roads for hours, before we found our way.
The race began in incredible conditions. The weather had played the game and the sun was shining, which accentuated the magic of the Amatola Mountains, enchanted forests, beautiful waterfalls, unbelievable trails and breathtaking scenery. Besides tired legs, participants were in good spirits.
Mist is very common for this area and it usually burns off by Midday: this time, it didn’t. In these conditions, things can rapidly go pear shaped for race organisers, who feel responsible for every single person on the mountain. Until every racer is accounted for, butterflies are rife. To our relief, all racers passed the checkpoint by 2pm, well ahead of the 6pm schedule.
By 4pm, the weather had taken a turn for the worse. Visibility was poor under a thick blanket of mist and I nervously remembered my own daunting experience. Worrying, we began to contact racers and pinpoint their exact location. Just when we thought racers were on track and happy, we got a call.
One group was on a path headed in the wrong direction. We sent out vehicles immediately, because there was not much day light left and we feared our racers were lost in dangerous conditions. After many phone calls, we located them. Everyone was accounted for and all in, except for one. He was sure he was just 4km away and we waited, anxiously.
In dark and freezing conditions, the lone racer had no idea where he was. Tweet began to co-coordinate a search team of runners and vehicles. At 11pm, Don found the racer, huddled under his space blanket, and brought him down. Once safe, the first thing he said to us was, “Thank goodness for the compulsory kit!”
To every single trail runner out there, those of you who think you are bigger and better than the elements the mountains throw at you; we are not. If the racer had not been wearing his compulsory kit, he may not have been found so easily. A lesson for all mountain users is to take responsibility for their own safety.
Apart from our scare, the Merrell Hobbit 100km Trail Run went off with a bang. We loved meeting racers, hearing their stories and we felt very privileged to share such a special place. We will definitely be back next year, only this time, we will be armed with tracking devices.
By Tatum Prins