We then ran through some grass fields on single track with amazing views of the Magaliesberg in front of us. We then did a short and quick downhill descent on the single track which I loved and wished there was more of! The course was quite undulating in nature and we kept descending mainly dirt roads and jeep track into the valley towards the next and first official aid station of three for the day. Going down the hill toward this aid station I had a good laugh as to my surprise the two bulls that I thought were crossing the road in front of me started chasing down the runner in front of me. He was blissfully unaware and gave a good jump and acceleration from fright as I warned him of the impending danger. The bulls finally halted their chase at the water point and we filled up our bottles and bladders to continue on the next leg, which I did quite quickly (like a pro I had removed and unscrewed the lid from my bottle already before the aid station) being in a bit of a racing mode after averaging a fast pace for the first few kilometres. I just wanted to get out of there and keep chasing!
We then hooked a slight left onto some smoothish singletrack and over a fence at one point (via a swimming pool type ladder haha) onto more dirt roads and jeep track. Most of the climbing was done here in the latter half of the stage, as we had now basically descended into the valley and had to start our ascent back out of it. Things were really looking good for me until around 15km, where most of the runners after the lead pack missed a turn marker that had fallen or been blown over. This was a bit demoralising and mentally quite tough, as I was catching up with the group in front of me but now had the whole field that was behind me, in front of me. The chasing pack caught and passed me and I just could not answer them, so when Beverley Davey one of the leading ladies came into my sights I tried sticking to her proverbial wheel for as long as I could. However I had to be realistic and put my pride back in my pocket and let her go, as I just could not keep her pace while staying in the aerobic heart rate zone I needed to for 35km. Thankfully there was a water point at around 23km (with the detour) at the top of the first set of dirt road and jeep track hills. My GU Roctane drink bottle was empty from pushing the pace and the extra distance, so it was a most welcome sight, like an oasis in the desert almost! I quickly refilled and went on my merry way to conquer the next hill and was quite surprised to find another aid station here, about 3km from the previous one. With only around 9km to the finish, I gambled and took two cups of Coke there. I knew it was a bad idea but somehow I had a craving for it once I saw it and couldn’t resist!
We were now basically out of the valley and doubling back on the initial dirt road we descended at the start. What goes down must come up as they say, and we were certainly going up, well as fast as we could considering the stiff headwind that we were facing at that point. Seeing other trail runners up in front of you on a long dirt road is quite demoralising, but I just put my head down and kept going, eventually crossing the tar road again and hooking a right back towards the grounds of Maropeng.
We had some stunning views to our right of the Magaliesberg as we passed the luxury hotel suites and I stopped to snap a quick phodie through the fence. After that it was the last push with an interesting route inside the grounds of Maropeng, even passing some shaded park benches right by our accommodation. They were tempting to say the least! Ignoring the calls of this would be oasis, we soldiered on over the last few kilometers being careful not to hurt an ankle on the freshly cut grass tracks. One could smell (well actually hear and see) the finish by now, but we had one last hill to conquer. By now it had most of the athletes walking it, but with some last encouraging words from fellow athletes I managed to crest the hill and break into a jog again. I crossed the line with a jump in 3:53, more than an hour quicker than last year! Success.