Monday, October 24, 2011


Every now and then an experience comes along that changes your life. The life changer for me came in the form of the Thule 4 Peaks Challenge. About 3 years ago I stumbled upon some gorgeous piccies taken at the race by a friend of mine  and was completely blown away by the beauty of the scenery that is the canvas for this epic adventure ... I vowed on that very day that I would get off my ass, buy myself some sweet trail shoes and get my bootay all over that mountain. This was the race that got me going in the beginning.
I am not one of those runners who wears one of those heart rate monitors or races my mates hoping to smash their Regent's time. For me it is not about the competition. I am the kind of runner who sees a beautiful picture, taken at the top of a mountain and wants to be there, just so I can see what it feels like. I run so that I can be fit enough to push my body up and over 4 mountain peaks; so that I can experience what it is like to stand on top of Peak 4 knowing that I got there, by myself with nothing but this picture for company. For me, trail running has become more of a religion than a sport. It is a way of life and a very very special thing in which to immerse oneself.
When it comes to big races and goals, I am a firm believer in choosing a team-mate to suffer through all the training and slog with you. That way when it is pelting down cats and dogs, you have someone to drink wine with whine at while your shoes get all soggy and snot is running all over your face (sad but true) and also someone to help your motivation levels in the whole getting your ass out of bed category. That is where Storm comes in. 
Now, neither Storm nor I were serious mountain smashing athletes before the race (just so you can understand that this race is not only for the likes of Mr Ryan Sandes and his crazy posse of Tarahumara style mates) That's the beauty of it. Any man, woman, dog who is into adventuring can enter this race and have a bloody spectacular time conquering it. On entering, each person receives a training schedule to which you can tailor your own vibes so a) you will not perish alone on a mountain in the Free State and b) you will be fit enough to actually enjoy the crazy, crazy views in every direction around you. (as well as some of the bums that come running by :) 

The athletes pour into the little town of Ficksburg (totally worth a visit just for the people-watching) the day before the conquering, for a rad dinner + race briefing. While Storm and I ploughed our way through a delicious mountain of macaroni cheese seasoned with potatoes, Adrian Saffy (Race Director) talked us through our race briefing. He may or may not have used the words, treacherous, near death and broken legs more than once but who knows, the realisation of what Storm and I and our beautifully painted fingernails had gotten ourselves into had just hit so we were too busy shaking in our Salomon sLABS Sunset shoes to worry about silly things like the route and all that other nonsense!. We thought we were toast. The fact that hurricane Katrina had sent her bitchy sister to visit the neighborhood that night contributed quite dramatically to my sense of imminent and really shitty death, alone, on a mountain, in the Free State.
The morning of the race we awoke to the sound of                PHEW! Yea, that is the sound of rain not smashing down followed by relief. We insinuated ourselves into our race gear and headed straight for the start-line filled with a wierd mixture of terror and wild excitement (probably the only time in my life that I have heard Storm not talking - EVER.)

Jumpng out of the car, we were met with the sound of happiness and excitement, something that immediately calmed us two tarts down. The athletes were buzzing around, getting kit checked, funneling down as much hot Milo as possible (it was flippin' cold) and generally just getting into 'the zone'. Next thing you know we were lined up at the start line and off we went.

The race starts with a quick kick up to the base of the first peak. Storm and I made the mistake of starting at the back (lesson learnt) which ment that when we reached the first obstacle, the bottle-neck vibe was a bit hectic and we ended up having to waiting for about 30 min before we could really get our run on. I found the first few km's to be really challenging. The gradient is super-steep; you climb from 1,700m to 2,170m in the first 4 km (luckily I had a guy with a dead-cute ass in front of me so the view wasn't half bad) Because you are still warming up and trying to acclimatise yourself to the lack of oxygen floating around those areas, it is a bit of the shock to the system and also a little bit of a - oh my gosh what have I done, I am never going to be able to run 23 more kays kind of a vibe but once your are up and over the second peak you really have nothing to worry about. (except getting lost or another tornado hitting Ficksburg)

The rules of the game are simple, there is a start, a finish and three compulsory check points you need to go through in between. Other than that, you are pretty much left to your own devices and free to choose what ever route that tickles your fancy. If I can offer a golden nugget of advice, do a little homework before race day because the wrong route can see you adding a good hour or two onto your time and a hell of a lot more climbing than is necessary. (Don't leave this homework to the final moments at the start line... lesson learnt )

Once you are up and over peak 2, the absolutely mind blowing views that open up in every direction around you make you completely forget about your watch, your legs and pretty much everything that you have in your head. It is that moment you realise why it is that you are so ridiculously nutty about trail running. Kilian Jornet said,
" I do not run on or against a mountain, I run with the mountain".
It was this race that really taught me exactly what Kilian was talking about. This race is not about coming first, it is not about a smaller ass or a better time than the guy next to you. The Thule 4 Peaks Challenge is an experience; one you will treasure and reminice about for an awfully long time. Yes it is hard and gruelling and often a little nerve-wracking but in return you are rewarded with scenery like you have never seen in your life, an opportunity to push yourself far beyond any level you thought you ever could and a feeling of accomplishment that I cannot describe to you. You do not need to be a super athlete to share in this adventure, you just need get off your ass, do the training and you will be handsomely rewarded. For more info check out the Pure Adventures Website. I will be sure to let you all know when entries for next year open so you you can meet me on the start line.

What I wore:

*From the bottom up

Salomon sLabs
Not only are these the hottest looking trail shoe on the market - I'm shallow like that- but they are also extremely comfortable and super stable. I highly recommend these babies for this race as there is a large amount of technical terrain, boulder dashing and cliff hanging involved and if you find yourself wearing some other brand name of trail shoes - like the guy who ran in front of me- you will probably see your ass and this will make you look silly in front of all the professionals.

EXO 3/4 tights
These babies will make you look and feel like Spiderman, they will reduce cramping, muscle soreness and give you muscle support ie they will stop your muscles from wobbling about and losing important energy. I have absolutely no problem with any of that.

Fastlite Windshell:
As I said earlier, it is bloody flippin' crazy cold at the start of the race and a windbreaker is a compulsory item so best you show interest here. After about peak 2 you warm up quite quickly and end up having to peel off all your layers. I really liked this shell as it was really warm, super light and when stowed, took up very little space in my pack.

Salomon Backpack:
Backpacks are a seriously important part of the race as there is no seconding allowed and no water points along the route. You are responsible for yourself honey, so best you get organised. I drank about 3 litres during the run so you want something that you can strap extra bottles onto that you can reach with ease. Also, this backpack has nifty little pockets on the waist strap making things like energy bars easily accessible while you are on the trot. When test driving a pack, look out for scratchy straps that chafe (especially under your arms). The sign of a good pack is one that you don't feel on your bod.

The Facts: location: Moolmanshoek  distance: 24km   Ryans record time to beat: 2h 41m 58s

1 comment:

  1. I think it is so amazing that you did this! Well done! x