Posted by Pall Catt in Events, Hiking, Inspiration, Post Race Review, Running, Trails on May 17, 2017
Over an incredible 5 days during April, trail running enthusiasts were glued to their computers, watching small dots moving on a map. This was the live race tracking of The Munga Trail. A small group of people had set out on an unprecedented event that would challenge them to conquer a 400km, self supported, single stage trail running race in the heart of South Africa. The pioneering concept alone was thrilling enough, but as the race unfolded it only became even more gripping watching the dots and getting live race feedback that there was a fiercely contested battle for the top spots. One would think that over 5 days someone would establish an unassailable lead and the race would be decided well before it was over. That was not to be the case, as the top spot changed hands a number of times towards the end of the race and ultimately, only 2 minutes separated the winner, Bennie Roux, from the first placed lady, Nicky Booyens. This is Nicky’s first hand account of this remarkable achievement.
Becoming a Mungral
“So we now have a new breed on the block, being defined as a newcomer to a particular place or sphere of activity. In this case a Mungral! Now you may ask what is a Mungral and very simply put it is a mixed breed runner who developed from a jumble of races anything from Park runs (5km) to Ultra Distance Stage Races. The Mungrals do not give anything away by their appearance, although the backpack and haggard appearance may give a clue, and simply looking at the Mungral, there is no way to tell which of those races started the Mungral on the path which is to become the ultimate test of a runner namely the Munga Trail Run here in South Africa in April 2017.” Stefan Müller, Munga Trail participant, 12 January 2017
When I heard about The Munga Trail, I knew it was a race I had to do! Having completed one Munga MTB at that stage I knew us trail runners would be in for a top class event at the Munga Trail. The 400km distance was daunting though!
I only started my official training for the Munga Trail late in December as I completed my second Munga MTB beginning December so some rest was in order. Just as I was getting my distance up, disaster struck late January – I hurt my peroneal tendon in my right foot, the pain was so bad I was convinced my foot was broken and the Munga Trail was a no go. A sonar revealed a lot of swelling on the tendon but luckily no damage, but not a lot of running was going to happen before the Munga Trail. I spent a lot of time at my physio and had a lot of sessions in the Cryo Recovery ice bath which helped a lot with my recovery as well as keeping my legs in good condition.
Going into the race I was very nervous, not thinking I was even going to finish as both my feet were now hurting and my two longest runs this year were 48km each. I knew this kind of a race was 80% mental and 20% fitness so I was hoping that all my experience in endurance events would help me out here.
Race day arrived and I was on the start line with 23 other eager beavers – none of us knowing what to expect. Lakenvlei, Belfast was the starting venue and what a fantastic place to start the race from.
12 o’ clock sharp, the race started and off we went. I set off at a very slow comfortable pace, 400km is a long way to go especially with dodgy feet! The only thing I really remember from the first section to Water Point (WP) 1 besides scenic forestry roads was BLACKJACKS… lots and lots of BLACKJACKS!
There was a spread of food waiting for us at WP1 – I quickly filled my bottles, grabbed some food and off I went! Heading towards WP2 in the dark I was hearing a lot of music like there was a big party out there – there was indeed, WP2 was alive and kicking, all the local farmers had come to the WP to cheer us runners on. There were a couple runners in the WP and I soon was on my merry way again. After a couple kilometres, Carsten Nielsen from Denmark caught me and we stayed together going into Race Village (RV) 1 at Elandskloof. After a quick meal, shower and a short 30min sleep, I was soon heading out just after 1:30am on my own. I got lost a few times and went in a few circles but I was doing ok with the navigation. I could always see a light behind me and around 4am Carsten caught me and we continued together to the beautiful Verlorenkloof reserve which was the next WP. Once again we were treated to a feast of food and some delicious homemade lemonade. By now both our feet were in trouble so we spent some time there and had the medics patch them up nicely for us.
Carsten and I left WP3 with Tatum and Hanno hot on our heels. We did a loop in the Verlorenkloof reserve and then headed up the kloof to the top of the mountains. What a climb…it seemed to take forever to get to the top. It was once again a beautiful hiking trail in the kloof. Tatum, Hanno and Andy had now passed us. We soldiered on towards WP4 where we spent some more time getting our feet and blisters attended to by the medics – foot care was critical in this race.
Time for the last push to Coromandel Estate… Here we did A LOT of climbing over some very harsh terrain. There was also an extremely steep descent down into the valley where the estate was located – by now my feet were finished, they were in so much pain! I had no idea how I was going to even walk the next day.
Dylan, the RV crew member came to great me and soon I was sitting, resting my feet, and feasting on some great food. Here I decided to have a 3 hr sleep to rest the feet properly and get them to dry out a bit. Carsten and I had agreed to leave together to keep each other company – it made the racing so much more enjoyable. We left RV2 in high spirits, the feet were feeling better and we were trotting merrily along the way.
WP5 came very quickly as our feet were treated to a nice long concrete strip downhill followed by a good few km’s on a nice gravel road. We downed some coffee and coke, grabbed food and were soon on our way heading towards WP6. I heard a car hoot and I was greeted by the familiar voices of my friends Gary and Jen who were holidaying in the area and had come to find me to cheer me on! It was lekker to see them, a good mental boost. It was quite a climb to the top of the mountain, but once we were on the top you could look for miles and miles and see nothing but forests and mountains. We kept a good pace going and eventually found Misty who had just had a quick power nap. We walked together for a while and was great to have someone like Misty who was so full of energy to share the trails with. I could see WP6 and just before getting there, I heard some more crazy hooting behind me – Sven Musica. A local photographer and trail runner from Nelspruit. He had come to find the Munga runners and take some pics. He was also a bundle of energy which rubbed off on us! And of course he took some fantastic pics of the event.
We then headed towards Sabie for RV3. This leg just never seemed to end. We passed Andy and Misty here as we were going strong on the looooong forestry road downhill. We then made a navigational mistake and went up the wrong hill. We soon realised the mistake and went back down the hill onto the right road where we caught up to Andy and the 3 of us headed towards RV3. We continued for what seemed like kilometres on this huge gravel road which must have been like 5 lanes wide, it was crazy. It was dark now and this was a very mind numbing soul destroying section…very little was said between the 3 of us but we all kept moving forward together – I felt sorry for anyone doing this section on their own in the night. Soon we were on the tar road to Sabie and just before Merry Pebbles (RV3), we were greeted by Louise, Garry, Johan and some others who walked us into the RV.
Here I ate quickly, had a shower and massage then lay half asleep while the Johann the medic did some magic on my feet before I got just under 2hrs sleep. I thought it was a bad dream when my alarm went off at 4am, but I got up, geared up and once again Carsten and I headed out together. This was the worst stage for me as the sleep monsters had a good go at me as daylight approached. Luckily Carsten was there to try and keep me awake and focused. Once again we were on a spectacular section of the Fanie Botha hiking trail, going up the kloof to the top and passing a beautiful waterfall. Once on the top you could see again for miles and miles…yet you could not see a single person or house.
I passed the spectacular Bridal Falls and then dropped into WP7. Another feast of pancakes and toasted cheese and tomato sandwiches was waiting for me. I had a quick stop here as I was feeling good and wanted to keep moving. Carsten had left me a while back to try chase down Bennie. It was a beautiful section to WP8 where I was greeted by my husband and friends who were following the race. Once again another feast – but this time there was also chocolate and Easter eggs – heaven. I wasn’t shy, I LOVE chocolate and this was the first chocolate I had seen since the race started, I stuffed my mouth full with chocolate blocks then I took two Easter eggs and packed them away for the night time section!
I quickly got out the headlight and warm gear and then headed off towards Graskop. This was a short 21km section but had a bit of a kloofing section in it which could be interesting at night. I could hear the Mac Mac falls around me but the route kept me on the top and soon I was heading away from them although I did see lights at the bottom of the falls which confused me. I headed into the kloofing section on my own which was a little spooky, but I kept going with my iPod playing the tunes out aloud to keep me company. I was now in the thick of the kloof fighting all sorts of spider webs and spiders when suddenly I saw lights coming from behind me. I skrikked myself and immediately switched off my headlight but forgot to switch the iPod off – that helps a lot when you’re trying to hide. The lights came closer and I could see they were looking for me. I had no idea who it could be as no other runners were close to me. They were almost on top of me when I heard the familiar voice of Carsten calling my name…shoeweee it wasn’t some random person. I switched my light back on and saw he was with Rion from Powerbar who had decided to do this leg with Carsten – they had taken a wrong turn and it was their lights I saw at the bottom of Mac Mac Falls. The 3 of us then continued on to Graskop together, it was great to have company again.
I have never been more relieved to get to a RV. We were once again greeted by a very cheerful Louise. My feet were now toast! I had a quick shower and then ate while I had a massage…I was trying to optimise my time so I could get more sleep. Once again lying half asleep, Johan fixed my feet as best he could but they were now in a bad shape and very sore. I knew a little bit of sleep would help them recover just a bit.
4am I was up again and getting ready to go. Tatum, Hanno and Andy had just arrived at RV4. I could just see in Tatum’s eyes that she was going to chase hard this last section. I have known Tatum for years and she is a phenomenal athlete. She would be chasing hard, but I also knew I had had more rest and sleep at RV4 and was hoping that would count in my favour. Leaving RV4, I was happy. My feet were pretty stuffed by now (sore, blistered, vrot toenails… you name it), I knew I was on the last leg and that all the pain would soon be over. Leaving RV4 was a bit of a disaster … I was going in circles trying to get on the right roads – I was starting to panic as I knew I was losing valuable time. Eventually I was on the right roads and I could start running. Running? Was I crazy, I had just covered about 344km and now I’m running! It is unbelievable what your body can do. I felt like I was going “pretty fast” but I probably wasn’t and I had no idea what was going on behind me.
At about 27km into the stage, two friendly faces snuck up on me, Frikkie and Dirk – two local trail runners from Nelspruit. They were running from Graskop to the Boskombuis (the next waterpoint) just chatting along the way with all us Munga runners. Dirk went up ahead to catch Bennie and Frikkie stayed with me for a while. What a blessing! It was great to see such a happy smiley person cheering me on. The last few kilometres into the Boskombuis was on some awesome single track with beautiful waterfalls along the way. The beauty of this race was just so unbelievable! Going into the water point, Bennie was still there getting his feet fixed. I quickly had my bottles filled with Powerbar juice, grabbed a wors roll and was out of there in a few minutes…I didn’t even get a chance to sit down! I was still unable to get an accurate distance of how far behind me Tatum was, as the trackers signal was bad there.Munching my wors roll I headed out the water point knowing Bennie would catch me soon – but I wasn’t worried about Bennie, I needed to keep my pace up and try and keep my lead on Tatum. When Bennie caught me we had a good chat until we started the long downhill to the last race village. Bennie then got some good distance on me. I tried my best to keep the pace up and run the whole way. The last few kilometres into the last RV was once again on some awesome single track taking us into Bourke’s Luck Potholes. The place was buzzing with tourists but I wasn’t paying too much attention, I just wanted to keep going. I was greeted by a huge crowd of supporters cheering me into the race village. They were going crazy, apparently Bennie had taken a wrong turn so now I was leading the race again! This still did not really register with me, my only concern was how far behind me Tatum was as she was closing the gap on me. Louise grabbed and filled my bottles, Rion from Powerbar shoved a Powerbar gel in my mouth and another one into my pack, Debbie grabbed me a coke and Alex gave me the sign in sheet… I was out of there in a minute or two. There was a spread of good food for us to eat, but that wasn’t even an option for me – no time to eat. Tatum was now close, only about 3km behind me. Tatum is a machine, I just knew she could catch me on these last few km’s but I wasn’t going to give up easily. Off I went.
Once again Bennie caught up to me and we chatted some more. We kept the pace as fast as we could watching the kilometres tick by. Shortly into the leg, we heard Tatum was catching fast, only 13minutes behind us – I was devastated but I kept pushing. Bennie and I worked well together keeping the pace up. Eventually we knew we were near the tar road and still no sign of Tatum – I was relieved.
We were welcomed onto the tar road as we hit the 400km mark by a huge crowd of supporters cheering us on, only 2.4km to go to the finish. Here we heard Tatum had taken a wrong turn so we had about 5km on her now.
Bennie gave me a quick hug, and then off he went to claim the inaugural Munga Trail title he deserved so much. I was beyond happy that in a short while I would be finishing the Munga Trail and crossing the finish line in second place overall and I would win the ladies category. I was ecstatic, never in my wildest dreams did I think the race would end the way it did!
Well done to Bennie on a deserved win, to Tatum for 3rd place overall and 2nd lady and giving me the race of my life, to all the other Mungrals that finished as well as to all the brave runners that stood on the start line with me – respect to all of you!
This type of a race, is a race where everything can go wrong very quickly and very little can go right – for me, almost everything went right this time. I learnt a lot from this race and definitely some things I can improve on in the future.
Some things I will take away from this race that will stay with me forever:
• Your mind is stronger than your feet and legs and that you can keep going no matter how tough and painful it gets.
• We have a very beautiful country.
• 50km will never be the same for me again.
• I love my Inov8 Roclite 305’s.
• I am not the only nut case out there.
But for now I will keep riding the wave of astonishment as I am still in awe as to how this race finished! I know this is the Toughest Race on Earth!
This race should be on every ultra-distance trail runners bucket list!
Big thanks to:
• Erik and Alex for giving the opportunity to race the Munga Trail and putting on a world class event
• The Munga Race Crew – Debbie, Louise, Rion, Dylan, Brian and all the others
• The Medics (Johan and his team) – my feet LOVED you guys
• Carsten from Denmark for keeping me company for so many km’s in this race
• All my family, friends and supporters – I was blown away by all the messages
• My Sponsors Mutual Safes, Inov8 SA, Techniblock and ASG Sport (Ftech kit & Rudy Project)
• Altie at Cryo Recovery (www.cryorecovery.co.za)
• Sven Musica for some great race photo’s (www.phonixcapture.co.za)
For more photos from the event, view the gallery below.