This article on AfricanX Trailrun 2018 was originally published in TRAIL 28.
An impressed novice
by Deon Braun
I thought the course would be mainly jeeptrack and district roads: fast and nontechnical.
I would have been mostly right – if the race was held in the same region as previously. But it wasn’t. The move to the mountains outside Stellenbosch changed everything. And change is usually good, even if it causes a little pain.
After the booking was made, after the training was done, it was time to enjoy the countdown in the final days. Here are four stories from the fabled AfricanX Trailrun, the granddaddy of South Africa’s living trail stage races. I hope you enjoy them as much as I loved running my first (and hopefully not last) AfricanX Trailrun.
Racing AfricanX with dad
I didn’t want to be here. I was here strictly under duress. My dad, Sha, in his sixties, wanted to run AfricanX, a three-day stage trail race that started in 2009. This year we would run a collective 90km over three days, through Jonkershoek and various wine farms around Stellenbosch. It’s a race that must be run with a partner, something I’d never done before.
It made sense that I should run with my dad. We train together on a regular basis and his finishing time for Two Oceans Ultra is generally 10 minutes slower than mine. He was also well aware of my flaws, including my terrible impatience.
A deterrent to entering was the price. AfricanX has three pricing options. The cheapest tier, approximately R3,000 per person, did not include accommodation or supper. (My dad and I opted to find our own self-catering accommodation 30 minutes away from Boschendal Wine Estate, the race venue.) This was money I could use towards purchasing a plane ticket. However, Daddy really wanted to do this and he offered to pay. So I reluctantly agreed, telling myself that by running, my chances of ending up in his final Will and Testament would increase.
But I’d had a terrible Two Oceans Ultra a few weeks before, cramping at 28km, and I did not feel confident. I envisioned being miserable and in pain for eight hours each day. My mood did not improve the night before the race. I discovered that my hydration pack was leaking. Enter fear and panic. Thank heavens that my dad, a man who is well prepared for a zombie apocalypse, had packed in four hydration packs. This is not an exaggeration.
On day one, I awoke at 4am to rustling sounds. I turned on the bedside lamp to find my dad reading the newspaper. The race would only start at 8am, but he was far too nervous and excited to sleep. Giving up all hope of going back to sleep, I dressed and tried to mentally prepare myself for the task ahead. I envisioned eight hours of arduous climbing, scraped knees, and possibly, lots of sobbing.
What I did not envision was having fun at AfricanX. I was blown away by the epic views – majestic mountains, gushing waterfalls, rolling vineyards and an abundance of pink Ericas. This year’s trails were perfectly suited to my abilities. There were several long descents. Running downhill is something I excel at. There’s no fear of falling. There’s simply the desire to go faster, to go harder, to surpass others. There’s a rush of adrenalin as I tumble downwards.
This fearlessness is exactly why I did end up falling. I’d just passed two women, and was headed towards a waterfall. The narrow, winding path was muddy, and in an instant I lost my footing, slipped, and rolled. I was lying on my back, legs kicking in the air, clutching a bunch of reeds to prevent me falling any further. To the women I passed 30 seconds earlier, I must have resembled a hapless tortoise, incapable of getting back on my feet. The concern on their faces told me that I was precariously close to the mountain edge. They asked if I needed help. I was tempted to ask them to first take a picture for Instagram’s sake. But reason prevailed and I simply accepted their helping hands.
This fall did not hamper my wild enthusiasm and I continued in my reckless fashion. On the long, steep ascents I’d walk with steely determination and make idle conversation with other entrants. I quizzed runners on their tactics. How were they encouraging their partners? Did they clap their hands and scream encouraging words? Did they run ahead and simply wait for them a few feet away, hands on their hips to show their disapproval? Were they single and looking for a relationship?
I was finding it rather frustrating running with someone. During this endeavour, I learned that my partner, a man who once spilled hot tar on his hand and then used mercurochrome as a remedy, was also the type of person to patiently take off his socks and shoes before crossing a river. I, however, am the type of person who sends a silent prayer towards the heavens, before rushing through knee-deep water. I simply hope that the subsequent wet socks and shoes will not result in blisters.
Not only was my dad more cautious, but he was also slower than I expected. I had mentally prepared to play catchup with him, for him to apply pressure on me, and was surprised to find that he was struggling. He walked often. This meant that I frequently found myself turning back to check on him, constantly worried that he’d taken on too much, that perhaps it was time for him to call it quits. Eventually we settled on a solution that worked for us. I’d run ahead and wait for him at water points. This resulted in way less screaming.
The highlight came on day three, metres before the finish line, waiting for my dad. As soon as I saw his familiar gait, my heart filled with pride. Through grit and grace, this man, my idol, had managed to finish one of the most gruelling trail races.
Losing my Mind at AfricanX
My friends may think that road running has consumed me, but trail running has always been my first love. Yes, it happened by accident, but I’m glad it did. I’ve always been a sports person, playing hockey since I was nine-years-old. When I got to UCT, I was put in the B-team. I guess my ego was bruised a bit, because I was sure I was going to make the A-team.
My friend Jessica invited me for a trail run, and I guess that is when the trail goat in me was born. Over the years I’ve taken part in many trail runs, which has helped my road running. I have to admit that during the two years I neglected trails, I paid dearly with stress fractures and ITB which almost cost me my Comrades and Two Oceans Marathon runs.
I’ve gone back to the drawing board.
When my friend Zanele Jele from KZN couldn’t make it for AfricanX due to family commitments, she remembered her trail-goat Cape Townbased friend and substituted her entry with me. Duduzile Dhlamini (who we affectionately call Mam Dudu), hails from Swaziland. We partnered together and we had the time of our lives in those mountains. We lost our minds (in a good way), but found our souls!
I have repeat offender tendencies, so I’m sure that in 2019 I will line up for AfricanX again. What a great trail run! Thank you to the organisers Stillwater Sports and all the sponsors who make the event such a success. I’m so ready and confident to line up for 161km Washie Ultra at the end of July!
The stoke was super high. Just a few days after a very tough Cableway Charity Challenge, Katya Soggot and I finished second women’s team overall.
Day one was our favourite day, held in beautiful Jonkershoek. The technical terrain played in our favour and we built a buffer on the third and fourth teams. We were happy to be less than a minute behind Carla Van Huyssteen and Nicolette Griffioen (Team KeyHealth Nevarest/K-Way).
Day two was just terrible. We got lost and spent five minutes finding the markers. Suddenly, our margins were gone. The third day was the hardest I have raced in my life. We knew it was a roadie day and did not suit us at all, but we decided to give it a 110%. We raced our hearts out and were in the lead until the last 200m, when we were overtaken by Danette Smith and Kate Mapham (Team Tailwind Ladies).
We (Team Rehidrat) finished less than 10 minutes behind the leading women after three days and 90km.
The curse of day one
by Jan Ham Jr
The 10th edition of AfricanX beefed up with courses that rank with some of the toughest single stage mountain running classics on the Western Cape circuit.
Previous editions were more manageable for runners with road running backgrounds, being less technical than most trail races and sometimes leaving seasoned trail runners wanting more. In 2018 this changed, with the return of route director Pieter du Plessis. The roadies (and everyone else) were in for quite a surprise.
A tough 33km stage in the Jonkershoek valley featuring three significant climbs and an elevation gain of nearly 1,600m meant this stage would suit strong mountain runners and hurt the flat road speedsters.
In previous editions, the winners of stage one in the men’s category have not won the overall title. The big moves were always made on the second day, and those that went out too hard on the first day lost big chunks of time.
What makes the AfricanX really special is the team dynamic. Knowing your partner’s strengths and weaknesses is an integral part of any team’s enjoyment. I’ve run five of my previous seven AfricanX sorties with the same partner, but this year he had to withdraw two weeks before race day.
A few emails later and up stepped Alex Hawkins. Alex not only works in the trail industry, but is an avid runner with a very decent pedigree himself. The only issue was that we had never run together. I think we came in with different mindsets of what we wanted from the race, but somehow we found a middle ground.
There are few trail settings in SA that come close to the stately Jonkershoek mountains. Heavy rains earlier in the week, and cool, overcast conditions on the day meant we had perfect running conditions. Crossing the many mountain streams and seeing waterfalls on both sides of the valley was just spectacular.
The flat early kays in the valley were a good warmup before the first major climb of the day, followed by sweet technical singletrack on the Sosyskloof side. Then we descended back into the valley via Swartboskloof, enjoying a little recovery time on the valley floor, before the big climb of the day topped out on the Panorama trail.
All went well until we got to the 27km mark, and the section of route I had not scouted. That last little climb up to the Saaltjie in Jonkershoek brought me to a complete standstill. It was a struggle to drag my limp body up that hill, one breathless step at a time. Alex was patient with me as we wound back towards the valley floor, before finishing strongly in just under four hours. All in all, it was a fairly successful first day for Team Tailwind Nutrition/Altra, and something to build on in the following stages.
Read about Jan’s sense-of-humour-loss on day two and redemption on day three here.
- Bernard Rukadza / Andre Calitz (Team K-Way Wintergreen) 7:08:07
- Lucky Miya / Thabang Madiba (Team #gearupgetout it’s #timetoplay) 7:13:26
- Timothy Chambers / Jonathan Black (Team Old Mutual Wealth) 7:20:45
- Carla Van Huyssteen / Nicolette Griffioen (Team KeyHealth Nevarest/K-Way) 8:36:34
- Chantel Nienaber / Katya Soggot (Team Rehidrat) 8:45:39
- Danette Smith / Kate Mapham (Team Tailwind Ladies) 8:48:08
- Daneil Feldmann / Davide Del Fante (Team Crumbs) 9:20:38
- Takalani Ndandani / Mazu Ndandani (Team Gauteng Diesel Engines) 9:37:13
- Leani Grimes / Jacques Buys (Team ATS) 10:02:41