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Mnweni Race Report… by Peter Koedyk

Mnweni Race Report… by Peter Koedyk

Meet Peter….

Peter has been a “road runner” for more than 30 years. During this time he has run more than 1200 races which include more than 180 marathons and over 60 Ultra Marathons. Since the beginning of this year (2015) he has attempted – and fallen in love with – trail running. As a newby in trail races he realises that it is a totally different sport from road running and he still has a lot to learn. His moniker on the road is “Hillbilly Pete” since he considers himself strong on the hills. However, the hills/ mountains on the trails are a totally different kettle of fish.

Peter’s Mnweni Race Review:

The race starts in the dark. Some people are wearing head lamps, but most do not bother since it will be light within 15 minutes of the start. Bruce, the organiser, does a countdown and we are off. As always I am aware of the slosh, slosh sounds of my water supply in my backpack. However, this is temporary, since once I am on the go, my mind gets occupied with the scenery, the banter of my fellow runners and me taking stock of how I am feeling.

Peter image 2

The first 4 km is on a gravel road. I am obsessed with the point where we turn off the road and hit the trails proper. However, whilst on the road, I stop to take my windbreaker jacket off. For the rest of the run, I will be in a short sleeve T shirt. Two years ago (2013) they ran through snow on the plateau. However, this year the conditions were very mild.

Finally we leave the road and start the trail – immediately with a bit of a climb. For the next 11 km or so, the route is undulating through the most pristine landscape imaginable. It is also here where I manage to fall, not once, not twice, but three times. This leaves me feeling irritated with myself and nursing a sprained wrist. (For the next part of the run, I will be very conservative. Rather walking than running where I am unsure of my footing since my wrist does not feel comfortable and I do not want to aggravate the injury.)

Peter image 3

I have some running friends who are very prone to falling during races. Fortunately I am not “one of them”. In thirty odd years of road running, I have fallen once during a race. Now, here I am – falling three times in one race! Obviously trail running is very different to road running.

Some sections of the trail to Mnweni Pass need to be experienced. No photograph can do it justice. At times I am running through fields of grass where the grass is taller than me. Other times, I stop at and drink ice cold mountain water from a stream (without any fear of drinking polluted water).

And then, the climb up Mnweni Pass starts. The route profile is included in this posting. However, this profile cannot prepare one for the slog up this mountain pass. Ahead of us is 1500 m of vertical climb. (To put this into perspective: Going up Platteklip Gorge on Table Mountain constitutes 600 m of vertical climb). I am reduced to a slow walk.  Often resorting to sitting down to “admire the scenery” or take a photograph. The fact that my legs insisted on taking this break is, of course totally co-incidental…

Peter image 4

When I am finally on top of the pass, I am officially in Lesotho. I take a break for some photographs and have a lunch break. A couple of months ago I did the Addo 44 km trail run. During this run, I hit the wall (a.k.a “bonked). In all my years of running this particular bonk was the worst I have ever experienced. The net result was that I took a full 96 minutes to complete the last five kilometres. At the time, I ascribed my bonk to not eating enough on the route. Unlike road running there are no refreshments tables overflowing with Coke every three kilometres. During Mnweni, I am not going to repeat the same mistake. So my backpack has plenty of Bar One chocolates, boiled salted potatoes, biltong and GU’s. It also has a bread roll thickly layered with peanut butter. It is this bread roll that I now enjoy on the plateau. Throughout the run, I ensure that I eat regularly and I am glad to report that there are no bonking stories for me to tell at Mnweni.

Peter image 5

After my lunch break, I am on my way. I have a couple of kilometres on top of the plateau to complete. It feels good to run again after the long hike up the pass. At 3000m altitude, I am expecting to feel out of breath and lead legged – or is that just the aftermath of the climb up Mnweni Pass?

One of the highlights for me on the plateau is crossing the Orange River. However, since this is very close to the origin of this river, it is no more than a stream where I cross. Fortunately, there is no mist on the plateau (as there has been other years) and therefore crossing it poses no navigational challenges.

Rockeries Pass consists of six kilometres of steep bone jarring downhill. These downhill kilometres are hard. Fortunately it is easy to keep moving forward. So it is just a hard slog. My legs feel tired, but fortunately I have no cramping and hence it is easy to keep the forward momentum. However, I will not pretend that I enjoyed the slog down the hill.

At one stage, near the bottom of the hill, my Garmin tells me that I am “off course”. This run is self-navigated, but thanks to the joys of modern technology, I have the route downloaded on my watch. Getting lost was one of my biggest fears prior to the race. Prior to this race, I had not used my Garmin too often as a navigational guide. Whilst I did receive a map at registration, it has been years since I have done any map reading. Fortunately it is not necessary to dig out the map since I soon have runners coming up behind me and who can point me in the correct direction.

Peter image 7

The last six kilometres is, once more, on a gravel road. Earlier on the day, I was impatient to get off the gravel road. Now, however, I am relieved to be back on it so that I can stretch my legs. Some quick arithmetic and a glance at my watch informs me that I can “break eight and a half hours”  There is nothing special about running this time, but this does form a goal for me and provides a motivation for me to keep up the running. With three kilometres to go, I see the concrete bridge across the river (which is only 200 m or so away from the finish). This appears impossibly far away. However, finally my road running background counts in my favour. I know exactly what needs to be done in order to cover the remaining distance at seven minutes a kilometre (Yes, I know that sound ridiculously slow, but remember – it has been a long day.) At one kilometre to go, it is going to be touch or go. One final push and I am back at Mnweni Tourist centre. I am so absorbed in what I am doing that I run right past Bruce and the finishing table.

So that is the story of my Mnweni race. I had covered 38 kilometres which included over 2100 metres of vertical climb through some of the most beautiful trails. And, in case you are wondering, I did manage a “sub eight and a half”. Whilst this goal was articulated on the gravel road over the last section was a useful motivating tool, it is – with hindsight – immaterial.

Will I be back next year? As a newby at trail running, there are still so many trails to experience and there is no need to be fixated on one race. Having said that, I strongly suspect next year will see me back at this most impressive race.

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Zelda Coetzee

Media Manager & Blogger at UltraRunner ZA
Really crazy lady with a passion for trail running and photography. She is often referred to as the "Ultra Mommy" because she takes good care of everyone on the team.
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About The Author

Really crazy lady with a passion for trail running and photography. She is often referred to as the "Ultra Mommy" because she takes good care of everyone on the team.

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