Our day starts at 5h00 when Roger picks me up just before the rain comes down in earnest. It is friday morning and the beginning of our journey to the Drakensberg. We are about to embark on an epic drive to the Mnweni Hiking & Cultural Centre which is the start venue for this race. The Mnweni Marathon has been on the calendar since 2001 and on my to do list for a long time.
Everything goes well until we realise that we will arrive well after dark, miss the briefing, and we encounter steering issues that seem to be getting rapidly worse. All of a sudden an epic feeling overwhelms me and we have not even arrived at the race start!
Finally we arrive and pitch tent and basically go to sleep immediately.
I wake a few hours later to a warm morning that to my surprise does not require too many warm layers. I adjust my emergency kit to carry only what I think is absolutely necessary.
Bruce counts us down and we head off up the dirt road. The casual pace only lasts a few hundred meters before the Salomon boys shoot off at high speed.
We quickly fall in with a group of Durban runners who seem to know where to go. We actually end up running the whole way with Andrew which is great. Thanks! It does not take long to make or way up the valley to the base of the big climb. The ascent is actually split into a little warm up bump before a short dip where you can see the real Mnweni Pass for the first time. Yes it is impressive!
We snake our way up with runners ahead and behind and nobody really gaining any positions or distance. Roger takes some pictures of the awesome surrounding peaks and quickly catches up after doing so.
The contrast between the climb and the top of the escarpment is striking as you are all of a sudden in a different plain. It only lasts a few minutes though as we traverse across the source of the mighty Orange River and to the top of the Rockeries Pass. This starts as a fairly technical and rocky descent but becomes slightly less steep and more and more runnable. Andrew picks up speed and Roger and I fall in behind as we cross the river a couple of times. At one point we pass two hikers who were doing the same loop in 5 days as opposed to our few hours. Bruce had predicted 5:20 as our finishing time based on our early pace. None of us believed him then but when we hit the dirt road with 5km to go this seemed likely. We run past a few houses and cheering children. They run with us for a few meters, quickly realising that we have no sweets for them. It is sad that this seems to be the first English that they learn and their interactions with the outside world seem to be limited to this.
Andrew, Roger and I finish as a group rather pleased with our run. What an awesome old school, informal event. Mountain running in its purist form!
We chat to old friends and new. Thanks to Terence Vrugtman who took the awesome pictures. Please support him going forward, he is doing some pretty cool stuff. Check out his site here.
Check out my gear consideration post in the next couple of days.