Drakensberg Northern Trail 2018
by: Chris Strydom.
Andrew and his crew promised us clear skies for race day and once the mist cleared on the high peaks we were indeed treated to perfect weather conditions for the race. However it has been raining non-stop for the two days prior to the race and this led to muddy, waterlogged trails. In pure trail fashion we embraced these conditions and set out for what would be an epic day of racing.
We started out slightly conservative, but the pace quickly thickened and the racing started. Out front, three of us were battling it out for the top spot on the podium, our trio consisted of myself, Perfect Dlamini and Kwensa Ngubane. It quickly became apparent that Dlamini and Ngubane were stronger on the climbs that day which had me lingering back for about half of the race to try and save my legs for the final few kilometres. Meanwhile the duo of Dlamini and Ngubane were making great headway and disappeared into the mist as the wind began howling on the high peaks. After the initial climbing of the day we descended out of the mist and almost as if the weather were taunting us, the mist started to clear on the peaks as we headed to the halfway point down in the valley.
It was obvious that my descending skills were going to help me out on the day and our trio almost regrouped heading up Vultures pass as the gap closed to about 30sec. This was were the real racing started as Dlamini and Ngubane realised that I was closing in on them and they opened the taps wide to keep a considerable gap. So we ran, chasing each other across the ridge with spectacular views of the Northern Drakensberg Mountains and the Amphitheatre on both sides.
By the time we reached the 30km mark, we have caught up with the 20km runners. Running past other runners cheering and shouting words of encouragement really gives you a boost of motivation as you try to carry yourself on broken, sore and tired legs. Ngubane and Dlamini were pushing hard and they started to open up the gap a little more as we ran the last 10km through mud, thick grass and stream crossings. Reaching the final water point and onto the jeep track that will lead us to the finish, the front runners showed weakness for the first time during the entire race as they hiked up a perfectly runnable climb. This was exactly what I was waiting for and it was time to embrace the aching in my legs and start the chase to the finish line.
Ngubane dropped from the intense pace Dlamini was setting once he saw me approach from behind. I caught and overtook a tired Ngubane with around 3 – 4km remaining. My legs were screaming as I chased an equally tired Dlamini to the finish line, on the day he was just to strong and after running a near perfect race, Dlamini crossed the finish line in first place in an excellent time of 4hours 4min and 55sec, 63sec later I dragged my tired legs over the line with Ngubane following in third 6min later.
The windy first half coupled with extremely wet, muddy terrain for the whole duration of the race made for difficult running conditions and those at the front of the race could be proud with their times as the race could easily have been 10 to 15min faster in dry conditions.
It is always a privilege to run in the Drakensberg and to be able to compete in such a well organised race with race director who have an emens passion for the sport and the mountains makes it truly special. If you are looking for a well organised race in unspoiled mountains with a route that will test you on many different levels; this route has everything from steep climbs (cu Vultures pass), epic downhill and fast flat sections; I would with out a doubt recommend the Drakensberg Northern Trail.