We spent 13+ hours in the car yesterday; I wrote this blog about 15 times in my head! Aching legs and gnawing hunger combined with that giddy post-race feeling; must have run an ultra! Post Rhodes Trail Run and I’m oozing joy.
Note: Oozing joy is a common side effect of this lifestyle and it is incredibly annoying for anyone around you that might be trying hard to have a BAD DAY. Equally irritating for those intent on focussing on the paralysing negatives that plague our world.
On Thursday last week, Q and I settled the kidlets with my sister and brother in law (angels) and handed the house and pets over to my eldest. With a car full of adventure gear and a new playlist loaded, we set off on a journey to Colesberg. Temperatures dropped steadily as we drove, with plenty of snow spotted in the Hex River Valley.
Around 800km later, we arrived at Die Kleipot BnB and decided to enjoy a quick, chilly trot around town before enjoying some red wine, a fire place and a surprisingly great meal. They have an onsite restaurant run by an Irishman and his South African wife. Daniel is the chef, and after a heads up from Q about my vegetarianism, he had prepared a pot of spinach and potato soup, as well as one of the best wild mushroom risottos I have ever tasted.
We left fairly early the next morning to get to Rhodes with sufficient pre-race prep time. One beautiful drive lay ahead. Endless views of mountain ranges, farmlands and wide open spaces, I could just feel the life worries leaving my soul.
The Rhodes Run website says: “The idea of the race came during a discussion between Rhodes property owners over a couple of drinks one night in 1986. The intention was to put Rhodes back on the map before it followed the same fate as other small platteland villages which faded into obscurity. This vision led to the birth of a unique event on the South African sports calendar.”
With all my focus on managing a trail of 52km at an altitude that I’d never before experienced, I’ll admit that the other research was not high on my list. The little village of Rhodes does not have an ATM, or even a general grocery store. There was rumour via the locals of a baker, but he had been put to work preparing rolls for the runners for pre and post-race meals, so bread production was on hold. The pubs do not accept anything but cash. As the families allocated to our shared farm house began unpacking their toddlers, babies, puppies, slow cookers, crates of vegetables etc. we slunk off in search of a solution to our bad planning. We had Jungle Oats, honey, coffee, milk a lot of race fuel and a few bottles of red that we thought we might use as barter currency. Thankfully the Rubicon Pub and Restaurant offered us meals and drinks provided we did an EFT when we returned to Cape Town. Incredible trust in 2016!
Race registration was held in the Farmer’s Hall. Organisers Darrel and Evie, as well as their crew, welcomed everyone warmly. So warmly, that it was impossible to turn down a shot of Old Brown Sherry while we waited. I went to the event representing Buff® South Africa and it was great to see all our branding out, loud and proud. Every runner gets a Rhodes Buff® in their race pack, and each year the colour remains a secret until registration.
That night we gathered with fellow runners for a meal in the same hall, and then got to bed early. The air there is a different kind of cold, and Capetonians that live at sea level really aren’t well equipped. Tucked in beneath hand knitted blankies on old wooden twin beds, Q and I got a good night’s sleep and rose early to face -10 degrees and my pre-race nerves. Q would be hanging with race Photographer Craig Muller for the day, as no seconding is permitted.
The race starts on winding farm roads with 8km of slightly undulating running to get you warmed up. There was a lot of warming up required, even the water in my pack froze up pretty quickly. With herdsmen in big heavy blankets watching the eclectic mix of runners passing by, sheep and cows looking on in slight bewilderment and the sun rising from behind some of the most beautiful mountains I have ever seen, the first bit of the race flew by. We crossed some frozen streams, and then began a steady climb up along single track designed entirely by local cattle. The little foot paths criss-cross and you can choose your line provided you reach each of the occasional red or orange flags.
At 21km, the chatter from our little pack became nervous laughter. It was time for the much anticipated Mavis. Taking us to a height of 2 600m above sea level, the climb up Mavis’ Bank is one of the toughest I’ve experienced to date. As the air thins, you navigate your own line between gnarly grass tufts (ankle killers) and rocks in a steady journey to the top. Ever grateful for the squats and lunges that are now a regular part of my cross-training, I soldiered up a little stronger than I had expected, and was thrilled to hear Q’s voice about half way along the climb. He got some phone pics but there wasn’t much chatting as my lungs were battling and a headache had set in.
From the top, the view would have taken my breath away even if the altitude hadn’t. I really battled to get running again, and we still had higher to go.
From the top of Mavis Bank the route followed the Lesotho border. We reached the highest point of the run when we passed Lesotho View at 2680m. Snow, mud and strong head winds are generally the expected here, but we had very little wind, some winter sun and just banks of ice dotted around. The Quarry Check Point at 30km marks the start of the Hooggenoeg Ridge section. There are no paths on this section either, and those ankle killers were out in full force. Fellow runners and I debated the best attack on the grass tufts as we ran, but every approach seemed to result in an ankle roll and a profanity. I was secretly looking forward to the roadie section that would take us home!
It got easier and easier to run as we descended. I saw Q again with about 15km to go. He reminded me that downhill is my game, and I set off at pace while my newly adopted running friends stopped for the famous Karoo Oysters. You can Google that, if you wish. Shall not describe them here on my veggie-friendly blog!
A fastish run home along a combination of rutted cement roads and dusty farm roads made up the last 10km. Errant sheep entertained me for a while, and eventually one of the guys from earlier joined me, as we tapped out the last 2km. The finish line in all its low-key glory was a very welcome sight. A beer courtesy of my new running friend, hugs from Q and the promise of a hot shower; absolute perfection.
The prize giving was full of laughter and happy vibes as the top ten men and women received their gold medals, and those that had done 3 Rhodes Runs went up for their permanent numbers.
And then there was the Polar Bear Club debate…
From the website: “After the initial run in 1989 the suggestion of starting a Rhodes “Polar Bear” Club™ was floated (it is a watery subject after all). The Rhodes “Polar Bear” Club™ was launched the following year. Those who have completed the run, and brave supporters, have the option to take a late-night dip in the Bell River in their birthday suits wearing nothing but a silly grin. Tradition is that one has to crack the ice with your toe at the waters edge to qualify as a true Rhodes Polar Bear.”
It is always rough coming back down to earth after such a great experience. I’m so grateful to those that made this trip possible for me. Onwards to the next adventure, and a race called PUFfeR on 20 August.