On Saturday 6 July, the South African ultra distance team of seven trail runners took on reputedly the world’s best in the World Ultra Trail Championships in Wales. More than 150 runners from 20 countries started the 78km race, a course of five 15km laps set in the Gwydyr Forest near the picturesque town of Llanryst, north Wales.
Soaring UK temperatures and extreme conditions saw a high dropout rate amongst runners, with SA finishing as one of the few full teams to complete the race.
British athlete Ricky Lightfoot dominated the entire race and swept across the finish line in 1st position in a time of 5:36, almost 10 minutes ahead of German Florian Neuschwander.
French Nathalie Mauclair was equally impressive, demolishing a world-class women’s field in 6:38.
bla bla bla … …. …
Ok, you’ll have read the numerous press releases all week. Those facts are a bit ho hum now… but what about the juicy stuff? What was the race really like, you're wondering.
So, here’s the low down from a Saffa perspective, juicies included.
The SA team – Tracy Zunckel, Landie and Christiaan Greyling, Dirk Cloete, Chantel Nienaber, Charl Soumer and myself – cut fine form on the start line in their striking green-and-gold kit. (Read: the guys felt relaxed in their shorts and vests, while the girls felt somewhat naked in their skimpy hotpants and tiny crop tops. It was purely for speed, we’d resorted to telling ourselves – less drag… )
|a scary sight...|
Countdown to 9am and we were off, cracking quite a pace as we covered the 1km tar section before hitting the forest and starting the five 15km laps.
The day was long… and even longer for some of us than others. Landie, as you know by now, was our star of the day – she ran an absolute stormer, finishing as 9th woman and achieving her goal of coming in the top 10. Keeping it in the family, Christiaan ran a blistering 6:58, coming in 32nd and the first Saffa over the line.
Charl powered a fantastic time of 7:16, considering he ran much of the race battling a hip issue and had several massages during the race to temporarily correct his alignment. (Reliable inside sources have disclosed that Charl had to pull out all the stops in the final 3km, when he realised he was close to being “chicked” by Landie. Adrenalin and panic kicked in and he finished with 28 secs to spare before Landie crossed the line.)
Dirk too ran a stormer, finishing in 7:21, an amazing achievement considering just a year ago he underwent major surgery on his right knee and was warned it was unlikely he would run competitively again. During the race Dirk fell on his left knee, which bruised, swelled and made his last lap extra tough.
Tracy, our dark horse speedster from the roaring metropolis of Bergville, struggled with a glute issue days before the race. In an attempt to awaken her “dead legs”, she threw back a couple of Cataflam, soon learning that anti-inflams during an ultra are definitely not kidney-friendly. By the final lap she was throwing up evil-looking black stuff. Our speedster pushed through and finished in 7:51, a tidy 28th position in the women.
Chantel started strong and proceeded to scare everyone back home by disappearing off the radar – her timing chip malfunctioned after the first lap and kept her progress under wraps. She ran a great race, keeping up a constant pace and finishing in 8:18.
Mine was a rather gritty affair. I’d wanted to score a good day – my legs were far from over-trained and I was coming into the race with a less-is-more approach: if I had a good day, I could do well. But, that was not to be…
The day before the race I woke with a sore throat. Knowing that would mean girl-down on race day, I desperately consumed copious amounts of vitamin C in an effort to stave off the lurgy before it could take hold. The +5000mg I devoured had two effects: on the positive side it bought me a day’s grace, and I was able to wake up on race day with the throat feeling no worse; on the negative side, it gave me gastro-intestinal upset enough to move an entire Russian army. Or even two. Make that three. My stomach had more trots than my legs had runs, and during the first three laps of the race, I dashed into the bushes FIVE times.
Enough Immodium later to clog a carthorse in Calcutta, I was fixed – and feeling remarkably light – so that in laps 4 and 5 I was able to pick up the pace and run as I should’ve been able to run. Lap 5 turned out to be my second fastest, and I finished the race strong, relieved that I’d managed to recover at least a couple of places and cross the line in a fairly decent time, considering.
|the girls - fully clothed|
It was a great day for us, and we all fought our battles in one way or another. We had amazing support along the route – our team manager Altus Schreuder with Marcus Nienaber stationed at the 9km table; my brother Graham, sister-in-law Marie, and Marinda Cloete manning the table at the start/end of each lap; and Tracy’s mum Pauline and friend Christa on the course, cheering us on. The vibe was fantastic and the energy amongst the team extremely positive. South African trail running was represented in full force, and on every count we held our heads high and did our country proud.
A huge heartfelt thanks must go to Altus Schreuder for his unfailing determination and incredible patience in the face of the barrage of political challenges he faced as team manager in the months, weeks and days leading up to these champs – and those he still faces for the upcoming World Mountain Running champs in Poland.