Wednesday 2 Nov started as a great day in the Karoo! The air was filled with anticipation and excitement for all of us involved in the organising of the first ever Sneeuberg Traverse!!
The first runners started arriving in town in the early afternoon, and were shown to their respective guesthouses and left to explore the town. By 19:00 we were almost all assembled by the show grounds enjoying some drinks, some runners meeting each other for the first time, and others, old friends reuniting! We had scrumptious snack platters prepared by Noleen Hattingh of Hattingh Safaris.
One of our entrants had a break down just before Laingsburg, and we were all waiting on eggshells, hoping that she would join us for the race. After a concerted effort of an entire small Karoo town making calls to everybody they knew, we came to the conclusion that there was going to be no lift for Barbara. However, just as we gave up hope, we remembered that the Greyhound stops at Laingsburg and she was en route shortly to Three Sisters, where we arranged for her to be picked up!
Some entrants also missed the Murraysburg turn off and the result was that the last race briefing was held behind the bar, after 11:30 that night.
Breakfast was prepared at the show ground early on the morning of 3 Nov by Chanel & Sias Bezuidenhout from the Merino Restaurant in Victoria West. They provided the catering on the farm for the next three days. By 6:45am, everybody had their breakfast, bags were loaded, kit was checked, and we headed off to De Dam to start the 26km first stage of the first ever Sneeuberg Traverse. We were transported from town to the start via truck by Phillippie Retief Vervoer.
By 7:45 the runners were on their way to tackle the most varied stage of the run! Stage one was a “sampler” of what you would encounter on the rest of the run. Jeep track, single track, disused jeep track, steep climbs, loose rocks, gravel, great views, etc…
The altitude and thinner air soon became apparent and suddenly everybody knew they were in the mountains.
Shortly after 11:00 the first runners started rolling in with Johan Van der Walt and Retha Jansen Van Rensburg taking first places for stage 1.
Runners were ferried via bakkie from the finish line to the tented camp we had set up at Rooipoort, owned by the Pienaar family, and runners were able to select their tents, claim their bags, and relax for the afternoon.
The rest of the day was spent in camp, resting and kuiering, getting to know each other and feasting on wholesome lasagne for lunch (the best lasagne I have ever had), with sheep and afval pot at night, socialising with some of the locals. We tried to have the farmers on whose land we ran across each day over for dinner every night.
The 04:45 wakeup call on Friday 4 Nov came far too early, but before we knew it, breakfast was done, and everybody was back on the truck, breathing in fresh Karoo air, and singing happy birthday to Johan van der Walt in the early morning light.
Stage 2 started on single track, transitioning to jeep track, and then turning into “through the veldt running” with some extreme downhills, and one massive climb out of a valley, ending off with a 7 km straight, passing some caves and crossing a dam wall! After herding some stray runners who felt that the 36km stage was not long enough and wanted to add some distance to their day, we rolled into camp exhausted. Johan clinched first male again for day (being his birthday and all), and Fran Siebrits (of Tuning In–Body and Mind Practices for a Healthy Lifestyle) showed her preference for technical single track, taking first place for the ladies for stage 2.
Stage 2 definitely came into its own as the most beautiful, technical and difficult stage of the entire race for the majority of the runners.
I was running/sweeping with one goal in mind, an ice cold GRT Brewery beer waiting for me (specially placed in the freezer that morning). However, Fran had other ideas, and as I pulled into camp, we started a yoga stretch class (my first ever), and would you know it, that beer had to wait!! After the stretch session I felt so good I forgot about the beer!
The rest of day 2 was spent lazing around, and generally worrying about the final stage the next day. I could see worried faces and sore bodies scattered around camp as painful blisters had started forming on feet!
On Friday night physiotherapist Claudie Troskie worked some runners over with sports massages. Spirits were lifted as we celebrated Johan’s birthday with chocolate cake and feasted on perfectly braaied and spitted leg of lamb, socialising with the local farmers once more.
Day 3 started with a kind of excited apprehension, the feeling of ” I have done it this far, one more stage is not going to get me down”, and determination showed on each and every face!
The last stage is the longest stage of the run at 39km, but not nearly as technical as the previous two.
Stage 3 started with a long haul through a valley and a massive climb up the valley to reach the top of the mountain range. Once the runners reached the top of the first climb they shifted into top gear and really moved across the mountain, knowing that half of the stage was downhill.
I waited in the back for the sweep bakkie and then jumped on the motorbike to go through the field taking pictures of each runner as I went. I rode hard, and was only able to catch up with the leaders less than 5 km from the finish line!!
Stage three was also clinched by Johan van der Walt and Fran Siebrits , with Barbara Cole appearing from nowhere to almost beat them to the finish line of Stage 3.
Having formed relationships over the last few days we all wanted to wait for each and every runner to cheer them on as they crossed the finish line. The result was a wonderful afternoon of cheering friends across the finish line, with lots of tears, hugs and handshakes! The knowledge and relief that they had completed a 100km stage race over one of the major mountain ranges in the Great Karoo resulted in a very happy feeling at the finish line as we all kuiered under the pear trees and swam in the waterfall. Sias and Chanel packed a great lunch and everybody ate their lunches throughout the afternoon.
We were very happy to cheer each and every runner over the finish line. Hennie Prinsloo finished his 100th run of 2016, an amazing achievement, and Rocco Tromp finished in third place of the men, the Sneeuberg Traverse being his first ever serious trail run!!
Claudie was at the finish line for sports massages and Louis Slabbert from Toverwater was so kind as to provide us with access to showers and toilets for the runners as they finished. Phillipie and Luzane Retief brought the truck and kuiered with us for the afternoon as the runners made their way over the finish line.
Once everybody crossed the finish line we trucked it back to down, and everybody enjoyed a welcome rest at their respective guest houses.
By the time I got to the show grounds, the bar was bustling with the voices of happy trail runners. We were all so happy to be drinking out of real glassware as opposed to tin cups, that I am sure everybody was drinking more than they would have!
Our prize giving dinner was provided by Noleen Hattingh once again, and we feasted on a three course dinner, with the prize giving before dessert.
Once the formalities were over, people started retiring to their beds, for no doubt a night of well deserved rest in a proper bed.
Some of us started kuiering, I remember shots being poured, advice being doled out, laughs, and overall happiness as we kuiered well into the night with the last runners going home after 2 am.
I recall Louw saying that this was the first ever trail run where a runner came into the bar asking for a non alcoholic beer at the start of the night and was buying shots by the end of the night!! That about sums it up.
Thanks to each and every runner who made the trip to the Karoo, you guys were amazing!! Your determination, will power, love for nature, and friendliness are truly inspirational.