This past weekend Warrick and I made our way down to the Cape to take part in our first ever stage race trail run called the Cell C African X Trail Run. African X is a three-day trail run that requires you to race with a partner so you can either enter as an all-girls team, all-mens team or a mixed team (Warrick and I entered the mixed team category).
The race is based at Houw Hoek Inn a beautiful little spot in the Kogelberg Reserve in Grabouw and it is believed to be the oldest hotel in South Africa. The race is broken up into three stages all of varying difficulty.
Stage 1: Cool, fast and fun
The first stage is a 36km run with 900m of climbing that starts and finishes at Houw Hoek Inn. It was an overcast day with a bit of light rain which I must say was ideal for running. The course on this stage was relatively non-technical and included a lot of well-worn single track paths. I particularly enjoyed the middle section of the run where we ran through a beautiful forest area with lots of bridge crossings. We both had a good solid run for this stage; however, after completing this run I started to feel a bit of pain in my right knee at the ITB attachment point. I immediately went over to the EPT Soft Tissue Unit to book a massage. After the massage I also took a dip into the ice baths which Warrick thought was very entertaining as I could barely last 5 minutes in the freezing cold water. I was slightly paranoid though with the pain in my right knee especially as we still had two days to go to cover a further 56km. Throughout the rest of the day I focused on icing my knee and not spending too much time on my feet in preparation for a tough stage two.
Stage 2: Hot, rocky and lots of climbing
The second stage is a tough, technical 34km route with 1100m of ascent which starts at a place called Ongegund and ends at Paul Cluver Amphitheatre.
After dealing with a gale force wind overnight with our tent almost collapsing on us and making it difficult to sleep we knew we were in for a long day. We were not alone though by the evidence of many collapsed tents around the campsite when we exited our tent in the morning as well as the many tired faces around the breakfast tables.
As I was feeling a bit concerned about my knee which was still a bit tender, I decided to go through to the EPT team to strap my ITB band to give it some extra support which turned out to work like magic.
As part of the fun atmosphere at African X, stage two is also the “dress up” day run where the best dressed team would win themselves some great prizes from one of the lead sponsors Asics. Warrick and I admittedly didn’t plan very well in terms of coming up with a unique outfit so we just wore some tattoo arm sleeves and some funky hair colour pieces but when we do this race again I think we will get a bit more creative. The best dressed team went to two ladies dressed like maids. To see photo’s of the best dressed go check out the Stillwater Trail Running Facebook Page.
To add to the festivities of stage two, the legendary South African Ultra Trail Runner, Ryan Sandes also took part in stage two as part of his book launch. About 4km into the run he came flying past Warrick and I as we were running along the train tracks leading to Gantouw Pass, where the early Cape Settlers travelled to get their ox-wagons over the mountain. Although a very tough, rocky climb the views were amazing from the top. After this climb the route eased up a bit taking us through some flowing single track in the Cape Pine Forest all the way to the Grabouw Country Club. From the Country Club the route takes you up to the hiking trail along Groenland Berg which I found really challenging with some very steep climbs and rocky terrain. It was also very hot at this point in the race which added to the difficulty of this stage but there is definitely nothing better than the feeling of finishing a really tough day out on the trails.
As I mentioned earlier, Ryan Sandes took part in stage two of the African X race as part of his book launch but what I forgot to mention was that Warrick won himself a signed copy of his book called Trail Blazer. I am really looking forward to reading this book soon and so keep an eye out for a book review coming soon.
Stage 3: Oddly feeling stronger than ever
The final stage of the Cell C African X is a some-what shorter 22km with 800m of climbing starting at the award-winning Wildekrans Wine Estate situated in the Bot River Valley and ending back at Houw Hoek Inn.
After having already run 70km over the past two days, Warrick and I were not sure how our legs were going to feel taking on this final stage. The first half of the run was a loop around Wildekrans Estate along flowing single track and jeep tracks which was a nice easy start to get the legs warmed up. We then exited Wildekrans and made our way right up into the mountains along a technical rocky trail. The views were spectacular but the running was hard going especially coming from Joburg where we do not get enough practice running these rocky-type trails. However, Warrick and I felt pretty strong the whole way and ended the race with a sprint to the finish against another mixed team which although we came off second best was a bit of fun to end off three awesome days of trail running.
To add an interesting dimension to the final stage, the top three teams of each category ladies, men, veterens and the mixed teams after the first two stages all started the race and hour and half after the rest of us runners. This meant that most AfricanX’ers were able to see the top trail runners finish the race including AJ Calitz & Ben Brimble (Overall Men’s Team Winners) & Landie Greyling & Meg Mackenzie (Overall Ladies Team Winners).
All-in-all we covered a total distance of 92km over the three days which is a personal record for me and it has definitely given me an extra confidence boost in terms of my Comrades training preparation. Warrick and I were also pleasantly surprised to finish the three days with a Top 10 finish in the mixed team category.
Finally, I would definitely recommend African X as a “must-do race” for any keen trail runners out there.