After my first taste of what KZN had to offer in terms of trail running in 2012. I knew I had to go back… I was privileged enough to have been part of the 112km Valley Run (basically the off-road Comrades following the Duzi route – from Maritzburg to Dbn). It was one of my most memorable experiences in trail running, giving me the opportunity to connect with the most awesome people. It made me realise what a special place Durban was.
I had already wanted to have entered the Three Cranes event in 2013, but due to the date colliding with the Addo race (also being the SA Champs qualifying race) it was not meant to be. For the following years thereafter, I was always committed to doing the African X race, preventing me from returning to the lush, green rolling hills of KZN.
At the end of last year I decided to commit myself to the Three Cranes trail race. The fact that my husband and I decided to make a holiday of the trip, made it so much more appealing.
While looking out of the aeroplane window, upon approaching Natal, I was over whelmed but the vibrant greens and the sheer number of strong flowing rivers. Having only left Cape Town behind a few hours earlier, that has been experiencing a major drought, with regular raging veld fires. The lush landscape below me, made me feel like I was about to land on a tropical island.
Our holiday had officially started with comfortable stay in one of the many upper-class hotels along the Durban beach front. On the day of registration, we drove through to Howick, to enjoying their warmth and hospitality. We settled into our B and B, before making our way over to the race village. I enjoy doing multi day stage races in style, and this venue was more that I could have ever dreamt for. The Thistledown Country cottage is an old colonial house, which made me feel like I‘d just stepped into Dr Livingstone’s private manor.
As we drove over to the Bush Willow lodge/race village, I could start to appreciate the conservancy and began to take in the vast area that the Karkloof had to offer. The atmosphere was electrifying in the registration hall. I soon realised that Holly Page was also going to be participating the race, which made me realise very quickly – this was not going to be a walk in the park!
Day 1 consisted of a 28km route leading runners up a very steep, slippery climb to the top of the mountains overshadowing the race village. While running across the grassy plains on top of the escarpment, I could help but feel like I was doing a Fell run in the Scottish Highlands. After trying to chase Holly down, I realised that my efforts were in vein. 22kilometes later, I approached the “time-out” zone. I completely foreign concept to me. Basically, once you arrive there, the racing clock is stopped and you can chill out for as long as you like. Participants were given the opportunity to experience part of the Karkloof Canopy tour. I personally hadn’t zip-lined previously – and LOVED it. Once you were ready to go, the final fast 6 kilometres of Day 1 remained. An epic day completed for the beginning of my long waited Three Cranes experience.
With a 42 kilometre day lying ahead, it was straight to bed after the race briefing and dinner at the race village. Again, we were going to enjoy another “time-out” station during Day 2. After some substantial climbing and many long windy tracks, runners were lead to the Benvie gardens. The magnitude of the gardens and trees certainly lived up to all of what I had been told it would be. The founder of the gardens, established Benvie three generations ago. He had a vision to create an exotic garden, made up of a large variety of trees which he imported to this little spot close to Howick. “High tea” was served in the time-out zone. Runners could rest their weary legs and replenish their systems, as they prepared for the last push of 15 kilometres. After a long, hot day out many runners plunged into the little dam at the race village – trying to recover from a rather demanding route.
The novelty for the final day, was a 4:30am start. Runners were greeted with a light drizzle as we all stepped into the starters shoot. Even though I was equipment with a head lamp and mini-torch, within the first two kilometres of the fast start in the dark, I found myself airborne and a second later eating mud. After coming to a grinding halt in my muddy tracks, I thought it would be wise to tone it down a notch and try to remain in one piece. This resulted in the third day definitely being my favourite one! I ran the majority of the 22 km’s on my own. Egg and bacon rolls were being served at the first water point, to runners once they’d summited the mountain for the day. Even though I wasn’t going guns-blazing, there was no time for a quick morning snack. Leaving the water table behind me, the atmosphere was rather eerie while running across the grasslands alone. There was a thick cloud of mist hanging over the mountain – and with only the aid of my head lamp, ones vision was limited in the dark. A feeling of solitude overwhelmed me. This is actually often when I am the happiest when running. (Being a woman, we usually don’t have the freedom to train in the mountains alone). It’s only occasionally in races that I get to experience this special sanctuary. While descending through the dense indigenous forest, I couldn’t help but feel like I was a character in one of Daleen Mathee’s novels. True food for your soul.
Runners were faced with a treacherous decent which lead us back to the race village; this was a quick reality check that I was still “racing”. From Fiela se kind, I suddenly felt like Tarzan holding onto vines, as I tried to find any solid footing, along the muddy slippery path. Sadly, again I took another tumble -but I guess in those conditions, that was to be expected.
As I ran under the finishers arch for the final time covered in mud, I looked more like I’d just completed an obstacle course race, than a trail run. What a memorable race. Certainly, to be added onto everyone’s bucket list.
My aim for 2017, is to focus on races that “Make a Difference”. It was so special to see how one event can contribute to the conservation and sustainability of a precious area. Runners were educated during the race village dinners, about how sensitive our echo system is and how every one of us can make a small difference in it continuing to prosper.
It was an honour and privilege to have been given the opportunity to revisit this special part of our country. Through trail running I have been exposed to the diversity of what South Africa has to offer. We are truly blessed!