The Mauritians have it wrong. They’ve dubbed their 52 km Extreme Dodo trail run “From Hell to Paradise”, but I found every kilometre scenically superb.

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The “hell”, I quickly learned, were the “up” parts – the 3500m of elevation. This was the toughest, most technical trail of my short running career. I’d only had 4 months of ultra running and marathons experience (including my first Comrades), so I planned to take it easy, and to enjoy the beauty of the trail. As it turned out I actually faired quite well, coming 5th in the ladies overall.

Le Morne Beach, Mauritius. 21 July 2012, 05h00: 

The sound track of Rocky pelted out of speakers… the siren blasted… and 63 runners surged forward, headlamps bobbing and weaving as they set off towards the sleepy town of Le Morne. The spirit at the start of the Extreme Dodo trail was exciting, but when the sky streaked with fireworks for a sensational send-off to the runners, I was well and truly psyched and ready for the run.

I was at the top of the first peak, Piton La Prairie (550m) for the sun rise. The Morne Brabant Rock was in front of me, and a stunning turquoise bay below. I had an incredible 360-view of the Le Morne Bay Cap behind me. To my right I could see the rest of the mountains, and the Chamarel forests I would be running through later.

The next peak’s paths were narrow and unforgiving (Piton Fouge, 600m). After Peak No 3 (Mountain Gate, 550m) I felt quite pleased with my fresh legs, but I was uncomfortable and drenched. I realised my hydration pack was leaking. With 40km still to go I had to make a plan – as we South Africans do. I managed to wedge a water bottle from the aid station into my hydration pack.

After a welcome opportunity to open up my stride a bit in a shady forest, I was ready for the relatively gentle Piton Canot (550m). Only a few gunshots from distant deer hunters jogged my rhythm occasionally.

The race organisation was excellent. At the race briefing we were advised that Piton de La Riviere Noire – a climb of 825m – would be demanding. The last 2kms were actually so steep I was climbing on all fours.  My reward was a magnificent, awe-inspiring panoramic view of the island. My aching legs and tiredness disappeared. I had a few happy, meditative moments at the highest point in Mauritius.

Did I say earlier that hell was “up”? I learned very quickly that every steep ascent has an even steeper descent. I also realised that Mauritians do not know how to make winding descents… oh no, you just go straight down! My knees and quads were screaming at me at this stage. I started to imagine I was Charlie in the Chocolate Factory as I squelched through mud so thick it threatened to suck my shoes off my feet… either my blood sugars were low, or my imagination was running faster than me.

I ran towards the lush forest of Tecoma and into the Black River Gorges where the 25km water point and food awaited me.  At one point I looked onto the canopy of the forest. Below me, a large flock of white birds made the most amazing calls as they flew over the trees. On the 5km climb out of the Black River Gorge to the 650m at Maccabe, tiny bearded dragon lizards moseyed along the path, and I saw luminescent bugs and beetles as I ran.

Image courtesy of the Dodo Trail

There were more surprises. A few climbs – or rather, hops (from now on I’ll use “climb” more reverentially!) – over some farm fences and I was in an arid area with thorn trees and matala yellow grass, completely unexpected after the lush forests and picturesque beaches and bays I had passed through that day. For a moment this part of the trail, frequented by deer and wild pig, reminded me of the Kruger Park.

The people at the 40km water point looked shocked when I decimated nearly all their snacks and almost a whole bunch of bananas. I’m glad I did though, because the last 12kms was unbelievably arduous with fearsomely steep climbs (up to 805m) and descents by ropes and chain aids. The views from this point however were remarkable, with Tamarin Bay and the start of the run in the far distance.

As I hit the beach for the final stretch to the finish at Wolmer beach at La Pirogue, I decided I’ll be back next year with other South Africans to share this experience. It’s a bucket list run: challenging, but well worth every ache, pain and tired moment. I’ve even earned some points towards the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc! Now, there’s a thought…

Report report by Beverley Davey

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