I felt a sudden urge to escape the city, and the mountains were calling. – By Nicolette Griffioen
Runtheberg is a two-day mountain-running event in the northern Drakensberg – and it happened to fall on the final weekend in September, just before my year-end exams. I decided a destination race would be the ideal way to revitalise my mind and body, before my final academic push. I entered the ‘Extreme’ event, which involves running 25km each day; because, I figured, the longer I could be out in the mountains, the happier I’d be.
Race day dawned: cool, calm, overcast. Conditions were perfect for running. Participants were driven by bus from the race village to the heart of the mountains, where cheerful, chirping bulbuls and babbling mountain streams surrounded us. Stress doesn’t exist there.
Before I knew it, I had started my pace watch and begun jogging down the road, still casually chatting to like-minded, nature-loving athletes.
Day one: ‘the mountain stage’…
…And for good reason. A jeep track spread out the field, and then came the first and only major climb of the day. But the constantly changing nature of the trail meant we barely noticed the elevation gain. We climbed long sets of gum-poled steps typical of the ’Berg, scrambled up a ravine using ladders and chains, traversed a ridge of solid rock and zig-zagged up a grass slope to over 2000 metres. After we’d summited another small peak, most of the hard work was done, and our efforts were rewarded with tranquil silence and breathtaking views. From there, we cruised to the finish line along fast-flowing single track, interrupted by short, technical descents.
Day two: ‘the valley stage’….
…A completely different ball game. We started out on an unexpected – but very welcome – gradual descent, and stretched out our stiff legs on a winding descent to the river. The race leaders battled it out on a tough, fast route through open grasslands, interspersed with rolling hills. For the rest of the field, the meandering trail made for a comfortable run, which passed clear streams and the odd trout dam. There was a sharp mountain peak, at 10km, and the weather was hot. At high altitude, the sun shone with increasing passion, and our energy levels dwindled. But our enthusiasm didn’t: spirits remained high, as athletes ran, hiked and shuffled across the finish line during the course of the morning. Two days of running equals double the post-race satisfaction – and it showed on the smiling faces of every finisher.
Why run it?
It has something for everyone: short and long distances, high-altitude peaks and ridgelines, valleys and hills, montane grassland, protea slopes, indigenous forest, technical trails, open singletrack, and even the odd stretch of flattish jeep track. The route marking is impeccable, there’s a great base for spectators and competitors, and lots of accommodation options in the surrounding area.