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.
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 course was a mix of single track and
wide jeep track, some steep inclines through dense forest, and a few short
sections of fairly technical bits (tree roots at worst). The lap style wasn’t
nearly as bad as I’d expected – 15km was far enough and the terrain
sufficiently varied for it to not feel repetitive or monotonous. The course was
scenic, and generally not tough underfoot.
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
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.
Altus, without your efforts
and perseverance, South African trail running would not be getting these
fantastic opportunities to compete on the world stage.
Labels: Altus Schreuder, Chantel Nienaber, Charl Souma, Christiaan Greyling, Dirk Cloete, Florian Neuschwander, Gwydyr Forest, Landie Greyling, Linda Doke, Nathalie Mauclairv, Ricky Lightfoot, Tracy Zunckel