The 40km Drakensberg Northern Trail is a tough and challenging skymarathon at Oliviershoek, and forms part of the SA Skyrunning series. It was KZN runner, Kim Westbrook's, first skymarathon and here is her story
I’ve always enjoyed challenging myself. To train harder, run faster, do more and go beyond what I thought was previously possible. I’m one of those people that needs a challenge to keep me motivated.
Towards the end of last year, I signed up for the Northern Drakensberg Trail Run. As I have a habit of overtraining, I decided that I needed a pro to get me through this alive and in one piece. I contacted CoachNeville and was elated when he agreed to coach me.
Following a structured training programme is so much easier than having a “plan” in your head that you think you need to do. It’s way too easy to skip those hill training days when it’s not written down or those sprints on cold, lazy days when putting running shoes on feels like mission impossible. What helped me was reminding myself of the sufferfest I would encounter if I didn’t follow my coachs’ advice!
Towards the end of my training block, I was feeling stronger, my feet hurt less on long runs and my hill sprints were faster! I decided that there was one thing lacking in my training, and that was terrain conditioning.
I headed up to the mountains to test my new strength and see how I felt. I was confident that I’d breeze around the mountains like a mountain goat … well … it turned out I was more like a mountain clown. I tripped over grass, kicked rocks and fell along the trail. Even though my pace was good and I felt strong, the mountain kicked my butt! I learnt a lesson that day, if you want to enjoy running in the mountains, you must train in the mountains. I collapsed at my camp site late that afternoon and decided that every long run I had left in my training programme would be done in the mountains! Come race day, the “technical training” helped me so much.
As the week of my race drew closer, I didn’t feel like I was ready for it. I decided however, that no matter what, I was going to have an absolutely amazing run. I was going to run where I could run and walk where I needed to. I would smile at the onlookers and have a blast chatting to all the other people around me. And anyway … I’d be in the mountains which is just the best thing in the world!
The weather predictions for race day all pointed to a rather damp run with some even saying there would be snow. Nothing like a bit of weather to make your first Sky Run epic.
The night before the race I definitely had pre-race nerves. I had a couple of dreams about being late for my race! Thankfully my alarm woke me on time. In the morning we headed up the hill in the pitch blackness with rain pelting down on the windscreen.
I honestly did not except to see many people at the start, but it turns out that trail runners are hardcore!
As we started, the sky became a bit lighter and the rain eased up. A field of about 125 runners hit the trail into the misty covered mountains. I had no idea what lay ahead except rumours of a monster climb at 25kms. Ignorance is bliss sometimes. Within the first few kilometres, I decided that I would be faster without a broken leg, and that I should tread carefully along the rugged trails. No groomed trails out here, but my terrain training had definitely paid off. I wasn’t moving quickly by any standard, but I was moving forward with more ease than many others. I met a male runner along the trail, he was incredibly strong and fast on less technical sections, however, as soon as the trail became rockier or steeper, his pace dropped substantially. I managed to catch up and eventually, I left him behind. It was then that I really realised how important it was to be able to run technical trails.
The weather was insane along the route. We’d go from freezing cold and windy at the top of a mist shrouded ridge, to hot when we dropped into a sheltered valley where the sun was peeping through the clouds.
As I approached the 25km mark I could feel some fatigue creeping in. I knew that this was my last major climb, (definitely not the last climb though) so I just had to push through and I’d be home free, sort of.
The climb up Vulture’s Retreat was hellishly steep. A series of high steps placed up a steep slope for what feels like eternity and finished with a rather interesting scramble up a slab of slippery, wet rock. I made it up the pass, and then, at the “top”, continued to climb some more! By this stage, my legs were feeling the distance, but I knew that the finish was not far. I found a decent rhythm and kept going.
Before I knew if I was at the final water point! In the last 5kms, three men caught up with me on a dirt road. I knew that I had to “vasbyt” and keep up, no matter what. I switched my brain off and hooked onto the bus. As I crested the last rise, I could see the finish area! I bolted, like a horse heading to its’ stables. Crossing that finish line in 5hr40, 5th lady and 22nd overall. I had survived my first Sky Marathon! I was elated and relieved! My body was aching all over, but it was the best feeling, because it was the ache of accomplishment. The pain that tells me that I’m alive and pushing my boundaries, and I love it! Only thing is, now I have to find another challenge …