Puffer Trail Run

1) my favourite trail run is the PUFFER - a 50M trail run which I founded but is now organised professional (pls note the attempt at dry humour :-)i can talk for ages on this one but you won't want me to :)

two other runs you may want to follow up on:
2) the SKY-RUN - an *almost* 100M (actually 150 k run) in the Eastern Cape ( South Africa ) 70 entries, 25 finishers
3) the Reunion Island Grand Raid 1500 entries - 70% finishers

The following is a short race report
Running in Reunion
I guess I don't have a choice but to write a couple of lines on my Grand Raid in Reunion; else I'll be repeating the story millions of times over. Also, it'll stop me from embellishing the story too much: after three Reds it tends to become an 800 mile race with snow, heat wave, without any water or food, SRT with over 20 000 meters of vertical rock climbing.

How to Get a Free Lunch. First things first: how to get to the Grand Raid for free. Easy:(1) pick a magazine with low circulation figures; (2) look for a competition with a prize that no one really wants; (3) send in 300 entry forms and (4) wait for the phone to ring.  No, I won't divulge how much it cost me to bribe the editor of Runner's World.   Anyway, having wangled myself a free trip, accommodation & entry to the Grand Raid, the fun really started: the training. As some of you are aware, I have done virtually no training in the last two years or so, meaning that I started off a "fairly low base" (like, minus 300 meters below sea-level).  The really nice part about the Raid are actually the training runs. I'll mention a couple.

Cedarberg Traverse. We all remember the famous day (in August if memory serves me right) whereby thousands of elitist runners sent in their entry for the infamous first ever Cedarberg Traverse trail run. Unfortunately the organisers had to limit the number of runners so, after various IQ, psychological and financial tests only two runners could be selected to represent Zuid-Afrika in this world-famous event: Martin Mills & yours truly. We broke the non-existing course record to clock up time of 9:45:30.38 and 9:45:30.39 (yes, a photo-finish) respectively. I won't bore you with all the details such as my lower back problem which prevented me from running faster than 10km/h on the downhills or Martin's heavy backpack which prevented him from running faster than 10km/h uphill. Martin also doesn't believe in rest breaks or maps (he prefers to carry a library of unreliable hiking books with him). It was actually ideal weather for running and we had great fun (mainly before and after the event). Anyway, you've seen the documentary on SABC4 and read all about in the international press.

I did a couple more of this type of cross-country run such as the Three Peaks Challenge (24th September) which was supposedly cancelled or the Swellendam Trail (Oct), which took me about 12 hours and served as heat acclimatisation training, too!  But most of my training was running up and down Constantiaberg or trying to impress the ladies on the treadmills in the Constantia H&RC. The Raid Anyway, everything went more or less fine until a week before race day when I pulled my calf muscle. The plane was overbooked and they in fact double-booked my seat, so I had to move to first class - what a bore! I missed the race briefing _ And I can go on listing some more confidence building facts.

Race day starts at 00:15 when the bus picks you up (arrives .5 hour late, of course), you try to snatch some sleep on the two hour drive and arrive at the starting stadium for equipment check (very thorough). And then, at 4:00 in the morning, the race really starts. I started conservatively (having tried to run 3 flat kays the day before and having to stop because of sore and tensed-up calf) but the calf muscle tension actually eased off after about 20 kays or so - despite the fact that you climb 2400 meters in that stretch. The secret is to release pressure by running into a tree stump so that you have a huge bleeding open wound on your leg (the medics trie - unsuccessfully - to cover it a bit about 60 kays (10 hours) further into the race when it was still bleeding). If you don't believe me, I'll show you my scar if you show me yours (ladies first in the queue, please). Anyway, it's actually impossible to describe the race. Very much like trying to describe the feeling of running Comrades to a weekends-only "round-the-block" jogger. It's just in a completely different league than anything I've experienced before.  

The Route. Somehow the statement "128km long, with 8000 meters of climbing (and same descending), mostly at 15+ degrees incline" doesn't seem to say it all. Platteklip Gorge is easy by comparison to some of the stretched. On average, though, very much like a lot of our trail paths, with quite a few very nice tracks. I guess I ran about 60 or 80 kays, the rest was too steep uphill or steep downhill walking. What impressed me most of all was the scenery: every 7 kay stretch is a completely different micro-climate & ecology. As they come to mind: sugar cane plantation, tropical forest, volcanic lava stream/rock, desert (moon? mars?)-like sand, high-altitude alpine like vegetation, "highveld" like bushveld, grasslands, forests, ravine, etc. I was also extremely impressed by the organisation & the people: organisers and volunteers were incredibly friendly, even by South African standards. Can you imagine a medical crew of say 5 camping in a tiny tent atop a peak for 50 hours, with supplies dropped by helicopter, close to 1500 people passing by and they just keep on being so friendly, helpful, positive and encouraging as one can possibly imagine.

The supply tables provide (every 7 kays) everything you need and much more. Plenty of various types of food and, as said above, friendliness abounds. I brought a lot of food with me from RSA but came back with most of it (will use it in the Sky Run instead). Handy were the dry/fresh clothes (T-shirts & socks) & battery/torch supplies. Luckily Dave Gassner, from Border, told me what to pack - he gave me the most invaluable advice possible. Organisation In one word: TERRIFIC. There were some problems with my registration (couldn't attend race briefing, no pic sent, not paid etc. - none their fault) and they went out of their way to accommodate me Where ever possible, despite the fact that they had 1650 other runners to look after besides "this problem kid"! I could perhaps suggest one small thing here or there but, having been involved in some race organisation myself, I am *extremely* impressed with what they've achieved and how well everything was executed. Top notch! Same goes for the volunteers at the tables. Just one at random: arriving in Marla (in the middle of a vulcano crater i.e. no roads lead out of this crater: only hiking paths with at least 500m or more to climb) around midnight. These people have been on the go since at least lunch time and already saw more than 350 competitors pass. I arrive as part of a bunch, we're all personally greeted, we're told to sit, what do you want to drink - coffee? soup? tea? hot chocolate? - can we get you something to eat? do you want a massage? how are you feeling? etc. I don't know how they keep it up like that all the time.

My Performance. I was a bit unlucky with trail running shoes which didn't grip on damp rocks i.e. too slippery and a torch which packed up after about three hours of use. Also, I took it fairly easy (see injury). I even slept for four hours in Grand Ilet (combination of lack of reliable torch light, fear of climbing the 33% gradient of Roche Ecrite in the dark and just being tired) but picked up at least half of the people who overtook me during my sleep on the "30km home stretch" again. Having trained for a somewhat more competitive run (i finished only 303rd out of  about 1500 starters - just under 33 hours I think) I actually felt great at the end of the run (put in a sprint) and was hardly tired nor sore  - even jogged around quite a bit the same day.  That's the nice thing about mountain running: you recover so quickly because of the different muscle groups you use. Nevertheless, i normally reckon on averaging 5km/hour for trail running, and this worked out at 4km/hour so not too bad (but can improve quite a lot). I've got extreme admiration for the first three who finished in under 18hours (locals) - though they probably know of a couple of shortcuts, I don't think anyone can overrate their achievement. Just awesome. Was it worth it? Stupid question. Would I have paid R6000 for it? Probably not, but it would have been worth it! Will I go again? As soon as the bank makes a mistake in my favour.
Jean-Paul Van Belle

E-mail: <jeanpaul@infosys.uct.ac.za>