The 3rd race of the Winter Trail Challenge 2015 hosted by KZN Trail Running took place at Faulklands Farm on Saturday 6th June 2015. There were three events to choose from, a 14km, 8km and 5km option. On both the 14km and 8km routes the course drops down into the Umgeni valley, while the 5km course stays on the top of the cliffs. Usually the 14km route includes two crossings of the Umgeni River, however due to high water levels, the course was changed to avoid the crossings. I had entered the 14km event, but seeing how it had been less than a week since Comrades, I wasn’t sure how well my legs had recovered and so I didn’t expect to be able to push as hard as normal.
Race morning was cold (dropping to 0℃ in places on the drive up), but luckily at Faulklands they build a nice big bonfire to keep you warm while you wait for the start. It was a smallish event, with about 120 people in total lining up for all three events, with the majority opting for the 14km event. The race started at 7:35am, and immediately a bunch of frontrunners set off at a blistering pace. The first 1km starts with a short downhill, then two short uphills before dropping steeply down into the Umgeni Valley at 1.2km in. The downhill on jeep track continues for about 1km, before the course changes onto cattle tracks. It was still cold down in the valley with frost on the ground in places. The long grass growing over the path made running quite tricky because you can’t see where your feet are landing or if there are holes or rocks in the path, however this soon clears up, and at around the 4km mark the course begins following the Sindingini river, a small tributary to the Umgeni.
This section is rocky and muddy, a really nice technical trail along the river bed. The course follows this river all the way down to just before the Umgeni, where on the normal course, the 8km and 14km courses split and the 14km course does an extra loop including the Umgeni River crossings, but this time both courses turned left and headed up cattle paths back up the valley. Up until this point, my legs had felt fine, but as the climbing started, I started to feel the 88km from last weekend in my legs, so I slowed considerably. After a while, my hip started to get quite sore, so I decided not to push it, and to rather take a walk back to the start without completing the course.
Unfortunately there is no easy way out of the valley, so I had a 3km walk up steep jeep tracks to make it back to the finish, cutting off the extra loop that the 14km course follows and basically completing the same distance as the 8km course (which turned out to be 9.3km). It was still quite cold, so I pulled a chair up next to the fire and watched the remaining runners finishing the events.
I really like the Faulklands course, it is challenging and technical along the river bed, and the views over the Umgeni valley are stunning. The river crossings are also actually quiet fun, but I was glad to skip them in the cold weather this time. This race was my first DNF in a race, but it just shows that you really should take proper time to recover after an ultra event. The race was won by Solly Manduwa (who also won at Hilton) in a time of 52:41, and the ladies race was won by Pippa McGregor in 1:10:25.
[UPDATE] It turned out that since I ran the same distance as the 8km event over the same trails, I was classified as 5th in the 8km event in a time of 1:01:21. Bonus!
Strava data for the race is here
Shoes: New Balance 1210v1 Leadville