by Douglas Hey
20 odd years ago, after some 50+ marathons on tar, I became a trail running junkie at a time when one could not find trail running shoes or simple essentials like lightweight headlights. The first real run was the Rhodes 70km mountain race in 1992 of which I did a further 6. The bug had really bitten and I rushed into the first 7 PUFFER 80km runs, Mont aux Sources 70km, The 3 Peaks challenge, Cederberg traverse 70km, The 70km Midnight Hell Run in Gamkaskloof and the 160km Sky Run in 1999. The next temptation was that of adventure racing and I completed the 2000 Old Mutual / Hi Tec Garden Route event. Good sense then prevailed and I decided that seconding was more rewarding and less crippling. Seven years ago I fled the city and became a mountain dweller, far away from the regular influence of similarly affected urban trail junkies, and fed my habit with daily mountain forays of about 6km, with my pack of Jack Russels. In March this year I hiked the Otter for the 4th time, and whilst lugging a 30kg backpack I dreamt of flying along this trail unencumbered. Some 15 years ago we approached the parks board for permission to run the Otter and we had a very emphatic NO. So when I saw the Otter Trail Run advertised there was absolutely no hesitation in entering. My warped logic said whilst I may be 63, I am pretty fit and if I jack up my daily runs a bit ( maybe the odd 8km run ?) and get the weight down a bit it should be a doddle, even if I take the full 9 hours. Ha ha.
At 04h00 on the appointed day I looked at my trusty MSR 3l hydration bladder and half the electrolyte I put in it the previous night had made a puddle on the tent floor. Oops, maybe the 2l MSR bladder will be o.k. – during breakfast I found that leaked too. Fortunately the backup, backup Platypus was o.k. I set off about 10th from the back and jogged along happily for the first 10km and slowly the realisation dawned that this was not going to be a walk in the park and it was going to be a long day. Thereafter it was a case of setting objectives and achieving them. Lets get half way, lets get the scary Bloukrans behind us, lets get the second last significant climb done, lets get into single figures of distance, lets get down to the beach, and so it went on until the last feared hurdle of the pallet bridge appeared. The fantastic crowd and a burst of adrenaline put paid to that and I was duly informed that I had “cracked” 11 hours. This was without doubt the hardest run I have ever undertaken and had seriously underestimated the terrain, climbs and more seriously the descents.
The things that stood out were the amazing organisation, where every little detail had been taken care of, and the Nomad people who produced great food and accommodation.