The route was much drier and the forest paths were soft underfoot and the majestic trees, ferns and springs transported us to a magical world filled with peace and tranquility. The biggest challenge of these routes was the tree roots that are seemingly made of the most slippery substance known to man. The second water point was next to a forest river with the clearest water I have ever seen and it was this yellow nectar fresh from the spring that we were provided with. From here the path had to climb out of the forest again unfortunately as the second day was the only run of the event with a circle route. The climb was hard and with our Gauteng lungs we passed a number of tired runners over these last kilometers. True to form the last kilometer or so was on downhill forest road helping us to bring our tired bodies across the finish line. The venue at the finish line had fabulous fare to buy and we enjoyed roosterkoek prepared to perfection. Another stinky ride to the race village (we were briefly stopped by a traffic officer who took one whiff and waved us through) and we could enjoy some of the great winter weather this area has to offer from time to time.
The race briefing for the last day left us a bit apprehensive with talk of only 200 meters of dirt road and then a steep descend, coupled with a river crossing needing a punt. We worried for no reason, yes the start was hectic with one funny guy shouting excitedly “It is carnage” immediately after the start as we all jostled chaotically to get in the best position for the descend. Due to the fact that we end up on the railway tracks (don’t worry, disused railway tracks) shortly after this where the faster runners who were caught napping at the start could easily catch up and once again Hanno could not be faulted with the route. These three kilometers on the railway tracks high above the sea and the river must be three of the most splendid kilometers a trail runner can experience in the country. The railway bridge crossing is fairly scary with metal plates not always bolted down as securely as they could and nothing between you and the river bed on the right hand side, although the railing on the left gives some level of comfort. If you are afraid of heights this might not be for you. We then ended up on the beach for two kilometers with random beach walkers cheering us on in admiration. The beach is followed by a gorgeous run on the board walks next to the lagoon which although slippery was incredibly nice to run on for our tired legs, giving a nice springy effect which absorbed much of the impact of our running. Hanno was however not to be cheated out of a big climb and we had a nasty one up the hills behind the town. This was indeed the only time during the three days that all will to live left my body and I was not in a happy place for a short space of time. Once again stunning views rewarded us and our legs were very happy that the descent was more gradual than steep, ending with a river crossing up in the kloof where the river was shallow. On the return we had the punt crossing with optional swim if waiting wasn’t your thing, but given that it felt quite chilly in the kloof and the punt crossing was working like clockwork we decided to wait for the group in front of us to cross before catching the punt. Minimal time was wasted and I’m glad we went for the drier option, as running with wet shoes would have cost more time than what the swimming would have saved. A fast last four kilometers had us finish tired but happy at the race village at Ebb and Flow. The RP really drilled us on those last kilometers knowing that we could now start happily partaking in festivities with alcoholic beverages and everything.
The race is not as well organised as some we have attended in the past, but the fabulous routes more than make up for this, and one tends to get the impression that the organisers take comments from runners seriously and that they will improve from year to year. We have returned overwhelmed by the many blessings of what nature offered us with the help of Hanno Otto over these three days. Money can’t buy this, it is so special and each and every trail runner owes it to herself to do this one. We like the trail running philosophy as well: Three distinctly different routes with its own brand of trail running, well-marked trails, but subtly marked so as not to feel like you are running a trail highway. Some support (one water point day one, two day two and one that you pass twice on day three) so you are not alone, but you have to be self-sufficient to a certain degree. Hard technical, running (day one 1400m vertical gain, day two 1200m) but runnable with a very small portion of gravel just to keep the sense of humour when it is most needed. We also thought the distances hit the sweet spot, right between presenting a challenge and not finishing you off completely.