I continued to force one foot in front of the other as we continued up, up and up what seemed like an endless climb underneath a hot relentless African sun. My muscles felt like they were bleeding and my mind was crying for the finish line, but at this pace, 12km’s felt like an eternity.
It’s funny how our minds cling to mantras when we feel like we’re going through hell and back. Over the two day 100km Merrell Hobbit Trail run there were two I repeated over and over again in an attempt to get myself over the distance. The first that popped into my mind somewhere on the middle of day one up yet another tough climb was a phrase I have never heard before but quite liked, “Run when you can, walk when you need to, crawl if you have to, but just keep moving.” The second is a great quote by Scott Jurrek which his dad used to say to him, “Sometimes you just do things.”
I’m pretty new to trail running, having started with my first trail run in August 2012, a short three day trail race and the 250km six day Wild Coast Ultra in February this year and a few smaller trail races in between. So when it comes to trail running and trail races I’m a little green and while I’m sure there are plenty of events out there tougher than this one, the Hobbit 100km is by far the toughest thing I’ve done in my running career. Of course this was compounded by the fact that I only landed in Joburg after a ten day trip in New York on the Tuesday before the race, flying to East London on the early flight Thursday morning.
Friday morning, the first day of Hobbit, the alarm went off at 02h45. This left just enough time to get dressed, eat a crucially important breakfast, get the overnight bags to the trailer and ourselves into the taxi for a 2 hour trip to Maden dam; the starting point of our adventure. As the taxi neared the start you could feel the excitement and you could sense the nerves and anxiety in the air as each of us looked out at some of the mountains starting to rise up high above us, nature’s very own skyscrapers.
6am, a quick group photo at the start and we were off. Immediately into the amazing forests. The foot path barely visible in places, leaves, pine bristles and roots cover the running surface. This is the home to some of the oldest and biggest trees I’ve ever seen. And despite the mountains been the driest some have seen them in 16 years, the forests were humid and lush forming a welcomed shield from the hot sun overhead. It wasn’t long before we started the first of many climbs to come, in fact on this race it seemed like you were only ever ascending or descending. We crossed a number of small streams and I had a simply rule, as long as there was a hint of movement to the water I would drink it and save the water in my pack for the dry sections later on. The streams were refreshing and rejuvenating and as I scooped up and sipped the water I felt my inner bushman coming alive.
Through a massive troop of baboons as they scurried to the highest reaches of the trees and out of the forest and up onto the top of the mountain and the blazing sun, the going was tough here as you bash your way through a very over grown section of the path, down to the last check point for the day and the final climb before coming around the corner and seeing the glorious sight of the overnight stay; Cata Hut. Tatum, one of the race organisers and one of the most positive and motivating people I’ve met, stood cheering you in and greeting you with a hug, ice cold liquid refreshments and food.
Most of us went to bed that night with a nervous dread of having to do this all over again the next morning, but after a warm shower, a fantastic supper and a good night’s sleep it was up the next morning and my mind regurgitating my second mantra, “Sometimes you just do things.”
A huge climb immediately out the blocks set the tone for day two. While there were still some amazing forests with magnificent waterfalls, most of day two involved massive climbs with incredible and unbelievable views over the surrounding areas and valleys.
The final climb to the summit was brutal and one can be forgiven for dipping into moments of despair, “run when you can, walk if you need to, crawl if you have to, but just keep moving.” Eventually we reached the top and as I looked out across the valley, I could see it, the Arminel Hotel, our destination and the finish line.
Down the mountain and onto some flatter, runnable sections. My muscles were bleeding and I limped along at something you couldn’t really call running but slowly and surely my body started to come back, with each step I was feeling stronger and running quicker until eventually I came hurtling across the finish line feeling as though I could have run all day. Oh, hang on a minute, I pretty much had.
What an amazing event! The organization by Graham, Tatum and their team was unbelievable and although I swore on that last monster of a climb that I’d never do this again, there’s something very special about those mountains and that place which only days after the event has me wanting to go back for more.
Thank you to their sponsors; Merrell and NikWax who certainly add value to the event with some great goodies coming the way of each competitor.
– Ray Orchison