The Drakensberg has its own feel, which is very different to the Western Cape: the trails are more rolling and it gives you an idea of where you are going to end up.
When we arrived at the Sani Pass Hotel on Friday afternoon, the weather was terrible with rain and mist obscuring the mountains we were going to run in. The race starts at the Sani Pass Hotel and the first 5km are from the hotel up along a river until you join the Giant’s Cup Trail, once on this trail, it is a straightforward 60km to the finish at Bushman’s Nek Resort. Friday night was spent in the tented village at Sani Pass and although it rained the entire night, it was more the nerves that kept me awake! Saturday dawned and we were off by 6am, the Uncut and Corporate Relay runners together.
The Giant’s Cup Trail is an iconic trail that runs from the Sani Pass Road to the Bushman’s Nek area in the Southern Drakensberg.
It is normally 60km long, hiked over five days. It was well-marked and in good condition. The mountains are amazing: massive and rearing up toward Lesotho on my right as we ran toward the finish. Running in them made me feel small. Being in big mountains always does that.
For the first quarter of the race we had a group of Giant’s Cup Uncut and Relay runners and it was good to run with other people. This didn’t last long and by the second half I had been dropped by eventual winner, AJ Calitz, and was pretty much running by myself until the end. I enjoyed the solitude and being in the mountains.
There are three aid stations which doubled as relay change-over points. The final quarter of the trail took us from the Swiman Hut to the finish and it was here that the weather really rolled in. It was also the section with the most climbing (highest point of the race was the saddle in front of Langalibalele Peak at about 2,200m). I went through a bad patch at this point as I hadn’t done my homework on the race profile and the amount of climbing towards the latter stages was testing! Especially in such bad weather. It was a pity that the visibility was so bad; we caught glimpses of the mountains up to the right and the sheer drops down to the left but it was impossible to get a proper sense of the whole area (or to see the San rock art).
I reached the finish in 7h15min for second place, about 30 minutes behind Calitz. It demonstrates his endurance over the big climbs on tired legs, that he was so strong in the last quarter. I am happy with my performance and it was the first race of the year were I felt like I had some form. Hopefully I can build on it! Well done to AJ, it was a phenomenal effort by him and it was good to dissect the race in the evening (until the Springboks lost to Japan!).
The Giant’s Cup Trail really is made for running and covering good distances fast. There are technical sections but nearly all are runnable: ideal over bigger distances. Some of the best and most well-known trail races in this country are run over existing multi-day hiking trails and I think the Giant’s Cup Uncut will fit into this niche. It is a new race with a big future. A big thanks must go to the North Face SA, for getting me to the race.
It was one of those days when the mandatory gear check was unnecessary as we all started the race in our wet weather gear! The Feather Lite Storm Blocker was on me from start to finish as were the Etip gloves; the importance of having quality gloves on in bad weather was reaffirmed when I took them off for a short while; fingers are always the first to feel the cold in foul weather.
I left Bushman’s Nek on Sunday feeling revitalised and full of energy; amped to do more big mountain races in South Africa.
Read more about Ben Brimble in TRAIL issue 14.