The 2017 Cell C AfricanX Trailrun presented by ASICS that took place in March in the scenic Houw Hoek Valley saw teams of two, (male/female/mixed), tackle routes varying in distance between 22km – 37km each day. Runners had the opportunity to experience a different breath-taking trail each day, allowing them to enjoy the full beauty of the Overberg. For tips from trail legend Meg Mackenzie who has placed first in the female category alongside Landie Greyling numerous times, read our trail training article from 2016 here.
YES, African X is one of the most epic experiences that I wish I could run every year, but don’t be fooled, it’s kak tough! Reaching elevation as steep as 1200m and enduring all the elements it’s no wonder only 50% of runners who have participated before actuallly return. The vibe is infectious from the second you sign in, pick your tent and hit the bar for a beer (obligatory obviously).
The energy, nerves and enthusiasm is hard to explain, but come lunch time, you walk/limp/crawl into the Houw Hoek Inn less chirpy, lethargic and absolutely ravenous! Aside from the beautiful terrain, a highlight is definitely the post-race massages and socialising with teams over lunch and dinner sharing stories, showing off battle scars, loose toenails, bruises, cuts and even a couple of tears. Trail runners are a different breed, aside from being overly hyperactive and stubborn with abnormal stamina, they are so welcoming and eager to make new friends which makes this particular stage race so much more than a gruelling three day mountain trek.
According to Hendrico Burger, Stillwater Sports Race Director, the Stage One route was more challenging than previous years… “Although starting with jeep track, the route featured mostly single track and rocky hiking type trails with smoother trails towards the end…”
Well, Hendrico was (unfortunately) right… not only was the terrain tough, the temperature was scorching hot and despite being well hydrated, carbo-loaded and pretty prepared, my partner – the barefooted superwoman Sue – suffered from extreme heat exhaustion and had to be escorted to the finish on a drip by the medics. Completing 15km’s without my other half, in the unbearable heat, was very tough, but what caused a mind malfunction was when I didn’t see the finish line when my watch clocked in at 35km!! Nope, the race briefing wasn’t as accurate as we all believed, as I found myself cursing in agony, breathing like an asthmatic, trekking up a hill to survive the last 2km’s to the finish.
We woke up amped, until we tried to maneuver ourselves out our tent and realized just how sore every part of our bodies were. Nevertheless, we made our way to our car in the dark and started our morning ritual; busting tunes so loud we woke the entire campsite, downing rehydrate, putting on race kit and lubing basically our entire bodies before we headed to the breakfast hall to feed off everyone’s energy, and top up the belly.
You would think day two would be easier in a stage race, especially after they crooked us with 2km EXTRA! Nope, nah, nada… wishful thinking. Day two was just as challenging and what made it harder was the fact that majority of the participants had picked up bad injuries and lacked the energy to make it through an additional 33kms (or was it 35km guys?). Although super Sue recovered from her heat exhaustion, she had such bad blisters that putting her shoes on was almost impossible, yet she persevered and the two of us missioned through day 2 full of gees (with aches and pains of course). The second day which included fresh terrain trekking through Kleinmond area, overlooking the famous wild horses on the estuary, was dress up day which definitely disguises the underlying pessimism and pain that everyone experiences.
Making it to the start of day three is an accomplishment in itself. With fewer trail runners, more injuries and another 23km that lay ahead, the final stage of the race is met with mixed emotions – excited to cross the finish but also sad to kiss the mountains, blisters and fellow trail crazies goodbye. In comparison to day one and two, the final stage goes by quite quickly and with views of the Wildekrans Wine Estate and friends, family and more beer waiting at the finish, we were so motivated to get to the end that even a few toenails coming loose, couldn’t hold us back.
Although we endured a lot of physical pain, the euphoria and sense of accomplishment of completing the three-day trail really is hard to describe. We made epic memories and friends…with our tented neighbours, the staff (shout out to our man Phil – the best barman in the Houw Hoek Valley), the masseuses (obviously), the pro athletes, the organisers and of course, our besties who we frequented daily, the medics! Next year’s event promises to be even better as the race celebrates their 10th anniversary, which may comprise of a different venue, new trails as well as old and fresh faces who are amped to tackle the 2018 stage race.
Photo credit: Tobias Ginsberg