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Race Report - Dryland Traverse 10th Edition

It’s been two weeks since Dryland Traverse’s 10th edition. The aches and pains have long been forgotten and I’m left only with fond memories to look back on.

The Dryland Traverse is a four day stage race, which traverses the classic trails of the Klein Karoo over a total of 70km, including 1100m of vertical ascent. The stages include facing the mighty Swartberg Mountains, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, breathtaking views of the Great and Klein Karoo, and trails that run past the renowned Raubenheimer Dam. Whether you’re an elite athlete or new to trail running, this race caters for just about everyone! The Dryland Event Management team are known for hosting exceptional races, and this years’ 10th Edition of the Dryland Traverse was no exception.

I decided to take a chance and join forces with trail running superstar, Chantel Nienaber. Chantel and I had never previously run together, let alone race in a team. But we decided to take a leap of faith and combine her knowledge and experience and my youth and willingness to learn, and boy did we smash it out the park! Stage by stage, I hope you enjoy reading about my Dryland Traverse experience just as much as I did running it!

Prologue: It’s finally race day!

Distance: 7km

Weather: Hot | Dry | Rocky | Flowing

Racing Time: 44:00

Stage Result: 1st Place

GC Standing: 1st Place

On 12 November, the Rhodes Dryland Traverse kicked off with a rocky start right at the foot of the renowned Cango Caves. The 7km prologue took us all the way from the caves to our base camp. The route followed an undulating single track ending off with a steady road climb for about 1.5km. Everyone was called by name and started the prologue alone in batches of 2 minutes apart. Chantel and I decided to race this section rather conservatively, using this run to get to know each other and matching our running styles. We ran the flats and downs, easy shuffling on the ups and some walking in between. We managed to find a steady rhythm in no time. We ended up coming in first in the women’s team division, a definite confidence booster going into the start of the weekend!

Stage 1: Swartberg

Distance: 25,7km (1140m vertical ascent)

Weather: Overcast | Humid | Sandy | Steep

Racing Time: 03:01:33

Stage Result: 1st Place

GC Standing: 1st Place

Early morning, Chantel and I made our way up the Swartberg Pass where we were dropped off by her husband Markus at the start of Stage 1. Otherwise known as the queen stage, it kicked off with a 4km ascent of the mighty Swartberg Mountain. We managed to adopt a shuffle-walk style of running, as we knew it was still a long day to go. Once we finally conquered the beast, a jeep track took us down to the first aid station merely 5km into the race. Water bottles still full and food untouched, we opted to skip the aid station and keep going. Next, an undulating jeep track took us towards Bothashoek, providing the most spectacular views of both the Great and Klein Karoo. With 17km’s in the legs, waterpoint 2 came as a blessing at the foot of the final summit. This time round we decided to stop and pour some water over ourselves as it was getting very hot. In such a hurry to be as quick as possible, I took a cup of what I thought was water, but turned out to be Biogen, all over my head. Rookie mistake!

The suspense builds as we could only see the trails ahead getting steeper and steeper, until finally we reached the top of the mountain, the highlight of the day. From here, De Hoek resort can be seen at the foot of the mountain, and with tired legs we started making our way down a technical downhill that tested even the most experienced trail runners. We managed to race down the Alpine-like downhill for 6km without smashing our legs completely. A 25,7km run with a staggering 1140m of ascent made for a good day out and a well-deserved massage. Chantel and I won the stage in our category for a second time, giving us a respectable 16 minute lead going into the second and longest stage.

Stage 2: Raubenheimer Dam

Distance: 28.8km (900m vertical ascent)

Weather: Cloudy | Warm | Wet

Racing Time: 03:04:59

Stage Result: 1st Place

GC Standing: 1st Place

Stage 2, the longest of the four days, kicked off on another spectacular day and we were eager to have a good time out on the trails. Cango Caves, the start location, showcased some of the best and never before run sections in the Klein Karoo – purpose-built trails hugging the Grobbelaars River heading south-east towards De Rust and onto the most incredible Raubenheimer Dam. We opted to start with a sprint as we had a mere 200 meters of road before we hit the single track. The route took us towards the Cango Caves, through Oudtshoorn’s most fertile agricultural land, the Kombuys with its rich historical heritage and Cape Dutch architectural homesteads. We ran at a steady pace, switching between running and walking, our competition somewhere behind us. Heading towards the second water point at 20km in, a twist followed as a winding jeep and single-track directed us towards De Hoek. A hot day out meant we welcomed the surplus of water on the trail, of which Chantel and I took full advantage. The final push to the end meant finding new strength to run up a road hill - no trail runners favourite! We managed to cross the finish line hand in hand, unbeaten and in good spirits, proud of what we’ve accomplished so far. After the longest day on out on the trails, my teammate and I managed to create a staggering 28 minute gap on the second ladies team, more than enough to reassure us of an easy race the next day. But before that, the elusive Stage 2.5 had yet to happen…

Stage 2.5: Cosmic Carnival

Distance: 20 000 steps (No vertical ascent)

Weather: Steamy | Loud | Shiny | Peculiar

Dancing Time: 3:00:00

Stage Result: We were all winners!

A party to unleash the inner you from another world. Absolutely blown away to a galaxy far far away. There was no lack of energy that night, when the music started all remembrance of sore legs and tired feet were forgotten. Running shoes were traded for dancing shoes, and running clothes exchanged for space inspired costumes. Some say that this was the hardest stage of them all, but I beg to differ! Even though we ended up having 50 000 steps that day (half of it from dancing), the next day it felt like we hadn’t been running at all. Whether it was the adrenaline that came with finishing the race, or the dancing that drained all the lactic acid, Chantel and I were ready to rock and roll the last day.

Stage 3: De Hoek

Distance: 10km (350m vertical ascent)

Weather: Overcast | Mild

Racing Time: 01:00:04

Stage Result: 2nd Place

GC Standing: 1st Place!

Stage 3, the 4th and final day, kicked off at De Hoek resort. As runners made their way towards the starting line, we saw plenty runners carrying some fatigue from Stage 2 (and others from Stage 2.5). This final adventure could and did make or break a few runners chance at podium. For myself and Chantel, having a 28 minute lead with only 10km to go, we knew we were in for a fun final adventure. This farewell stage comprised a fast-flowing stage of old fashioned cross country running on trails in and around our camp. It boasted some single track, jeep track, road and even some obstacles as we made our way over fallen trees in the lush, green forest. This memorable route was the perfect way to wave us off on our way back home after a truly memorable event. Chantel and I used this last day to soak up every last bit of our beautiful surroundings. We were leading the race up until two ladies teams passed us around kilometers 6 and 7, battling it out for second and third place. Chantel and I continued to casually jog along, talking and laughing non-stop! We ended up coming in second on the day, exhilarated, grateful and truly thrilled with our achievements.

My Takeaway:

What an absolute adventure! Dryland Traverse was my longest stage race yet, and I absolutely loved every minute of it! If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will have to settle for the ordinary. We certainly took a risk when Chantel and I teamed up, but boy did it pay off. After four days of running, we were rewarded with awesome results, claiming podium position for first ladies in the team category. It goes to show what can be achieved when two people commit to race as one. Everything we did was for the sake of the team - winning was simply a bonus.

There is simply no equal when it comes to the sense of achievement, setting and overall spirit of this event. With their one-of-a-kind aid stations (did I mention that they had a braai at the aid station?!), truly unique parties and exceptional hospitality, the Rhodes Dryland Traverse is truly a must for every adventure seeker!

All Photos captured by Justin Reinecke and Carli Smith.