“How do you stay so skinny when you eat chips every day?” a colleague interrupted as the inhaled smoke escaped from her mouth and nose in little puffs after each word. “I run,” I replied trying not fixate on the mini smoke eruptions. “I run about 80km a week,” I explained, using a lot of enthusiastic hand gestures to try and wave the approaching foul smoke away. She interrogated my response with a puzzled face by asking, “Why would you do that to yourself?”
This past long weekend accommodated the excellent White Mountain Music Festival in the beautifully undulating hills of the Central Drakensberg. For the first time in the decade-long festival history, a trail run had been organised as part of the already extensive activities on offer. This would be my very first trail run and I had signed up to do the 15km version with every expectation that I could simply take a theoretically tough 30km road race and I would have fair comparison to gauge my expectations against. That was an error.
Our festival kicked off on Thursday afternoon with the mandatory setting up of tents, gazebos and other camping paraphernalia also designed specifically to never fit back into the bag it came in. It’s thirsty work and for obvious reasons of dehydration prevention and also in appreciation of the splendorous views that we had from our campsite, we had accidentally set the weekend’s rate at which our beer supply was being depleted at rather higher than planned. That was another error.
This festival is a magical weekend away – it’s like only the very best of humans come together and they only bring their very best humanity with them to share with anyone willing to indulge in it. The magic seeps out of everything: from the excellent music coming from the stage and also from the aspiring guitarist giving flight to an unfinished song along the banks of the dam. It’s in the laughter of the child chasing after a ball set in motion by the dad who is also doubling up as a jungle gym for his other child to climb up and all over. It’s in the coolness of the thick, green grass tickling the bare feet of strangers meeting while they pass their birthday cake around for people to join in on the celebrations. It’s in the reprieve of the wind and the shadows that breaks the heat of the midday sun. It’s in the cheer and the jest of the group that has gathered to ridicule their friend who slipped and fell with his backside landing in the mud. It’s in the slow-motion sunsets and the excellent beer and food. It’s in the fun, furry hat on the spritely girl dancing whether there is music or not and it’s in the efforts of the grandfather who has manicured his beard into a gigantic bushy ball of wool where only his ears and nose stick out. It seems the magic is just lying around – if you want to experience some, you just reach out and grab it.
The inaugural trail run is called the LoveTrail White Mountain and it seems rather appropriate because if you were going to find some love in the world, this was always going to be a pretty good place to start looking.
With fuzzy heads and with the morning heat already imposing its intent, we gathered at the start of the run to be briefed on the route. A very comprehensive set of information was unloaded onto the participants as we waited for the kickoff. Pics were taken, questions were asked and emergency contact info provided.
Finally underway, we made quick work of the short tar road section and then zigzagged along single track towards White Mountain. A handy waterpoint tucked behind some bushes boosted us up the quickly ascending route until a tricky technical section put a stop to the progress, but inspired some camaraderie in assisting each other up two very steep sections of rock face.
The more we climbed, the more strongly I was feeling that magical connection to the earth and its energy. Stopping for a photo, I caught my breath but had it taken away again by the ridiculous view. If it was looking that good only half way up the mountain, I couldn’t wait to get to the top. Level after level we climbed until the fluttering blue TRAIL magazine banner came into view. Pretending to be significantly less tired than I was, I was greeted by my good friend, fellow beer drinker and campsite sharer, Floris, who was very kindly waiting for me and by marshall Harrison who noted my race number and commented on how fresh and strong I was looking. I instantly knew he was a terrible liar, but thought he was very kind for saying so anyway – I would make a point of thanking him later.
It was here that it happened. A personal moment of reward for my efforts, but I wanted none of it for myself. I took a few slow steps around the top, marveled at the scenery almost 500 metres below and tried to absorb as much as my senses could manage. Closing my eyes I made a wish of good health for a friend’s very little son who is having an incredibly tough time and really should be at home and not at the hospital.
Pretending that I didn’t have a little cry, I had a run to finish and pulled myself together accordingly. Gravity helped the descent quite nicely and we had covered about 8km by the time we doubled back to the same water table at the start of the ascent. Looking back up at that mountain I felt lighter and unburdened, like I do on every run. I’m convinced that’s my soul thanking my body for its effort.
I rolled and undulated with the next series of grassland hills. It was seriously hot by now and I was sure my Irish skin had developed at least a few new freckles by the time I stumbled into the next water table and almost kissed the man holding out icy cold refreshments. If I could’ve fit into that chilled 32Gi bucket, I swear I would’ve just fallen in. After well-wishes and encouragement from Deon and Owen, I rumbled through the forest and past a few cattle paddocks. I greeted the waving kids who were wearing the biggest smiles as we gently disturbed the dust on their village roads with slow plodding footsteps.
The finish line came into sight only after the cheering started and the supporters were behaving like crazy people, bouncing around and welcoming us home like old friends.
This is a tough run, but one that rewards immensely in return. It touches you, rattles your soul awake and immediately increases your appreciation of cold beer.
So there you have it, smoking colleague: I don’t do this to myself, I do it for myself.
Check out Geoffry Hunt‘s GoPro footage of LoveTrail White Mountain [6min]:
LoveTrail White Mountain results.
- Brooks shoes brooksrunning.eu
- 32Gi energy 32gi.com
- White Mountain Lodge whitemountain.co.za
- Led Lenser headlamps ledlenser.co.za
- Craft Brew Distribution teggdistribution.co.za