Skyrun 2009: Trail Running Dream – Running in the Sky

Early morning start in the remote mountain village of Lady Grey. John Michael Tawse who started the Skyrun many years ago sets us of by blowing the starters horn. Dashing off by headlamp up the first slope single track into the outback. This promises to be a long day of adventure in the high hills. Darkness punctured by a moving train of headlights snakes its way up and around a nearby kopie to the Microwave tower visible from town CP1.

My heartrate is too high to maintain this pace for the rest of the race but I hang on for now. Navigation is the crux of the Skyrun and I am running with two friends Roger Steel and Andre Erasmus who know the route better than most. Soon we find ourselves at an altitude of 2400m. There is little air up here and the added challenge of crossing several rickety border fences adds up. Andre sets a furious pace running everything possible (putting time in the bag he says). We pass the Olympus (CP2) and push on. I only have very vague plans of making it to Snowdon (CP3) in 5h and then to Balloch in 10h and see from there. Reports from the front tell us that Ian Don-Wauchope and Bruce Arnett are running together and building a massive lead.

There are so many rock ridges and kopies which flick past us like the scenery out of a Blue Train window. We head down a long slope towards a kraal and CP3 4h45. All is good and we seem to be on track. We are running in an informal group of 6 or so. This is quite unusual for the races that I have done up until now. Adrian Saffy was correct at the race briefing in saying that all need to do their apprenticeship in this event. It is unlikely that you will get completely lost if one just keeps your head. The trick is that there are so many little sneaks which all add up to make things more efficient and much quicker. Hence runners naturally stick together to assist each other. Besides these hills are big and very remote. If things go pear here then you are a long way from shelter. This is not a road race where you count down the kays towards the end. You go out to test yourself in the remote hills with a group of like minded adventurers. This is more about working together than trying to burn others off. This event is about giving to others through sharing rather than taking away from fellow competitors. I can’t really claim to know anything about Ubuntu but I suspect that the Skyrun epitomises that spirit more than most.

We fill up Camelbaks at a beautiful stream. 2,5l liquid in 5h is not too bad. I drop some Zyms in the bladder and munch on some bars. We all encourage each other to eat regularly. In fact it becomes a standing joke every half hour. The rustle of a wrapper becomes a reminder to all!

Roger finds some more sneaks and finally we start to descend towards Balloch. As soon as we descend appetite catches up and we eat for we all see what is ahead: Ascent no 2 for the day: Balloch Wall 700m of vertical gain (Basically a grassy Platteklip Gorge sans path). We are down to a group of three by the time we go for our stash at the Balloch.

It takes us two rests up the wall to get up and over. Not bad. The descent is even steeper and we look up into the Edgehill valley and to climb no 3: up to the Bridal path. Andre pushes the pace again and we run the flats and downs (of which there are not many) and walk the ups.

Bladder refill at the end of the road. This will be the last of the water to the end so saddle up and ride em hard! We have a short snack by the river and start to ascend.

I fall off the back but kindly Andre and Roger wait for me to catch my breath. I feel better when we pass Nic De Beer as we crest onto the top. We greet him as he sits down. No response, just a blank stare. I urge the others to push on into last light. Now is not the time to admire the view. Half an hour later it is dark and we put on warm layers and headlamps. Breslins (CP 8) is a weak little light in the distance. It turns out that to be a beacon of friendliness and comfort in the dark. We sit down in deck chairs, drink tea, eat biscuits and rusks. It is hard to tear ourselves away but on we battle.

Conversation becomes less and less as we each sink into our own world dealing as best we each can with the task ahead. I look at my GPS for a sign of hope. Ben McDhui seems miles away and we only have 85m of ascent up to the highest peak in the Cape. False rises and hidden valleys test us in the cold.

Finally we reach the summit, touch the beacon and turn around.

25 min later I sit in the pub. I feel yanked out of my bubble of the past day. Our time is irrelevant, positions even less so. Content to have experienced this together.

I will put together my gear choices in the next couple of days. This may help you if you want to do Skyrun in future.

4 thoughts on “Skyrun 2009: Trail Running Dream – Running in the Sky

  1. Wow! That is amazing and you don't even mention that you came 5th!

    Next time we just expect the blog while doing the final kms!


  2. I am afraid it always takes me a few days to gather thoughts and be able to put it into some kind of legible format so no tweeting from the trail from me, sorry. would just be a load of gobbledygook bandwidth waste 😉

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