Monday, September 7, 2015

Mont-Aux-Sources 2015

Just after Comrades we found out that MAS entries had opened up. So do we ; don't we, we did.
6 weeks after Comrades we did the Knysna Marathon, it's a toughie with lots of hills. So we saw that as a training session for 6 weeks later which was MAS.
I remember about 10 years ago we went to Sentinel Car Park , while staying at Clarens, and walked to the base of the chain ladder.. Neither of us could go up, maybe I psyched Liz out with my fear of heights/ exposure but who knows neither of us went up. We went around to the gully and went up over the top to see the chain ladder from above.... Part of MAS is going up the chain ladder-- my own fear factor.
Training for MAS went well, some good long walks to Randjiesfontein, including  new loop or three to make mine a 31km walk. We also did back to back 21s at Wierie and Breakthrus race. I managed 2:25s on both which was awesome especially carrying a 3kg pack on the tougher Breakthru race. I planned a cycle after a short walk the week before, but had chain issues (still to replace chains on both bikes as we prepare for 94.7) so abandoned that idea...

We watched the weather for 2 weeks before MAS, options changed from sun to rain to overcast to BRR cold.... We in jhb have had really warm pre spring weather so cold was hard to fathom,  then the day before we leave...BRRR its cold. So we read about the requirements, add  in extra thermals, a rain jacket gloves for the rope in the gully, whisky... etc.

On our way travelling down we get an SMS , very cold weather predicted..... a bit late now. We got some biltong for Liz in Harrismith, and arrived at Thendele around 2pm. We requested #17 as its the best view, we go it. We decided to braai early before going to register, eating early before Comrades worked, we hydrated with some stout and Red Wine.. This is what greeted us...

At registration someone had been given Liz's bag so she got a new number, not an issue till at presentation they said that the tag on the bag was important for the race start. They  introduced a slow runners batch where fortunately they allowed Liz and I to join. at presentation this was called  the slow batch  at 5:35. We went back and found Liz's correct bag and tag..We got tags saying B which was shown as at 5:45. A great presentation about the  bearded  Vulture which is pretty endangered and gets some support from the money raised. its not a cheap race to enter but a very worthy cause.
Andrew Booth gave us a good background to the route with a scary looking route profile.

We packed and repacked  our bags, less water more clothes, we were unsure how much we would sweat so took spare tops in case we need dry tops for coming down in the cold / wind / rain,  then off to bed. The usual tossing and turning was followed by a funny noise in the lounge, aah my alarm clock.. We got ready and set off to the start, nice being close to the start so you can get there a bit later. Watched the elites  go off past our car, and ambled across to the start, 2 minutes to the start of B batch we hear over the PA..., oh so the slow batch is B at 5:35, we rushed to the back of pen, gave my tag as the gun went, Liz gave in hers and off we went. Liz's head torch would not stay together so we packed it away and I tried to give her light from mine. It was not very dark and 3 ks in  all lights were off .  About 1km in to the race I looked back, these were the slow group, only 3 people  were behind me.... I knew that to make the 10 hr cut-off we needed to average 12 minutes per km so my goal was to keep below that.  I slowly managed to drop my pace over the 10.5km to Witsieshoek to around 10:28 even wth a gain of about 700m . There faster runners coming through on the single track meant we often needed to move off the path as a faster runners came past. Mostly my walking pace seemed to match runners as we gradually wound our way up. at around 8km we ascended into the clouds. We arrived at Witsieshoek at around 1:53 for an average of about pace of  about 10:30, had a quick potato and a cup of water. our first checkpoint of about 20 done.. I set off on the road to sentinel car park, this is a lot steeper than expected but over this 9 km we would gain another 600m. Liz was struggling to keep up with me walking so ran/walked, it was pretty cold in this section as we climbed through the cloud, which was moving over the little berg and had a strong wind keeping us cold. One lady at an aid station said if we wanted we could give her our gloves, but we knew we needed them on the Gully Rope.   As we passed one the aid stations Liz stopped to take a picture of the Sentinel, unsure of any later photo opportunities, 

I had gone round the corner before she took the next one.

Eventually after I had a biscuit and some powerade at the Car park I saw her arriving. I had averaged around  8:30/km and dropped my average pace to 9:52, now the tough climbing would start.   As we left the car park we heard the first runners had got down the gully. I was at 19km they were at 28km. It was cold as we had now reached the snow line which was around 2500m, we traversed around in the cloud then got an amazing view of the sentinel with snow on it. The Zigzag path up her was pretty hectic, I remembered it from our last visit, the leaders came screaming past us on the way down. It was quite interesting going up the slippery snowy path. I do struggle going up really steep sections in the berg so took it easy and just plodded along. 

As we came around a corner we saw a queue of what looked like about 15 people queuing for the chain ladder. there seemed to be  biggish gap to the next group of say 10 and then between them and us was another 10 or so. It looked good, about 300m later we passed the gully 21.8km on my watch. Liz was encouraging me to keep the pace up so we would not be overtaken..

We arrived at the chain ladder and my average had slowed to 10:39 wee were offered water, Jelly babies, or a harness, wow within a few minutes of stopping my harness was on Gavin was hooking me on the rope and off I went. I guess I set-off a bit quick, my Sartorius on my left leg started cramping.. easy does, then I start thinking "what if I freeze", forget that keep moving slowly. Maybe I should have told the guy behind me as I am almost bounced off the ladder. hang on tight keep moving, oops getting close to the girl in front of me..., ease off the first ladder walk across to the second ladder, on you get , keep going going , eish the Sartorius, keep moving , I'm up , I've done it, I've climbed the chain ladder, look up eish more climbing to do, I keep moving slowly to the top on a path, but pretty steep. 
At the top I took two Cramp ease and drank some Energade some biltong as well, Liz also had some, now I knew I could make it. Ave pace is now over 11 minutes per km feeling good. Its a long trudge in the snow to the halfway mark  at the top of the falls , well marked off by a few rolls of twine. Wow but this challenge is well organised. Its fun walking on the flat in the snow as your shoes crunch the snow , I feel  awesome. At the top I retied my shoelaces as probably with the cold my feet were not swelling as much as normal.

At half way we get some photos taken , watch as a few drink a Jaegermeister , its very festive up there but we are only at 2800 m , still need to ascend a bit before descending the gully.
My Sartirius did not enjoy going uphill but hey we have no choice.. Up we go once more into a higher cloud only to arrive at the gully.

A rope is in place, thanks to Mountain Club/ KZN rescue , we hang on for dear life as we slip, slide, jump, step our way down. A number of rocks tried to overtake us, being close together on the rope often either causes whiplash by moving to quickly or is  whip-lashed by others. Gradually we move down and exit the gully at a now average pace of 11:33 , going up to the gully the km was nearly 17 minutes, down the gully was about 27 minutes. I suddenly realised sub 10 was a real possibility and maybe even as sub 9hr.              

The way down was slightly different and as we joined the route 2 of us went right, I was trying to understand this ascent  when Liz shouted  out wrong way as we should have turned left . On her way up she had seen someone come down this way so made the association. We were moving along quite nicely now as we returned to the car park, I got the last chocolate chip cookie!! The top section of the road is paved which is nice for speed so I got into a good rhythm and did a few kms at around 7:15, on the way up I had done 10:09 for these top 3kms. so that was doing our average a  lot of good. Even on the down there is a wicked up hill where Liz got left behind. I had said that if need be on this section I was prepared to jog if need be to make the cutoff , wow was I pleased that this was not necessary.  I offered the lady my gloves now, but she no longer wanted them, said I needed them round the corner ....It was a long slog down the road to Witsieshoek. I now knew that we had a shot at a sub 9hr, as our average was pretty much 11  . In my mind I worked out that sub 9 hr needed to be sub 10:50 average so I set of trying to go as fast as comfortable. Our numbers were 132 and 133 , and we met up with 134 who maintained the mathematical progression to the end. I knew that we needed a few fastish kms but as long as we got our average below 10:50 we would be fine- provided the distance was exac, which from my memory /calculations both at the gully and Witsieshoek I estimated that my GPS would be pretty much spot on.

Liz was struggling to walk at my pace  so she walked ran with 134 to stay with me.  At one point with about 8kms to go I managed to kick a root or rock which made me stumble and almost fall, I stuck my hand out and caught the grass and noticed my had was a bit swollen. I realised that my watch was a bit tight on my wrist so I loosened it a bit. Every time Liz ran to catch up with me I moved off the path to let her go only to realise that she was not overtaking. Eventually we got to the finish line, only the second time Liz and I have crossed the line together in a race- although this was a challenge not a race. My watch said 49.98km...8 hrs 52 minutes... the rain started, although only as drizzle we had made it. Thanks to the slow runners B batch start we had a fantastic day... 

If you have never done this race, you must do it. If you have done it, do it again. This is the most awesome experience I have ever had in a race/challenge. Previously I thought the Knysna Marathon was the best organised race that I had ever done but this event exceeds that by some margin. There is so much that needs to be done , and really I cannot fault this event on anything.    The batch thing was our mistake. The route was really well marked, aid stations were perfect, all marshals, helpers, were awesome   the challenge was awesome.. I guess I have a new item on my bucket list- a permanent name at Mont-Aux-Sources - you now get that for 3 finishes!.
The next morning

After the race we had a beer , saw Jonathon from Bean There who come in the same time as us.. well done Jono and then went off to have a bath and warm up.  I got really cold and my hands were both a bit swollen I guess the descent and keeping my hands down for most of the day and not up as in my usual  race walking style. The bath helped  but so did the red wine...  Another Optimal challenge done and celebrated with L'omarans Optima,

I guess we are blessed to have done this amazing challenge in optimal conditions with a superb option for us slower competitors starting earlier and getting a big advantage from that, we never waited but neither did we hold anyone up. So if possible I would really appreciate starting in this batch next year. It will be a different event whether hotter or colder , wetter or dryer bu still I would appreciate it. The conditions for me this year were perfect. Next year who knows, but I will blog it..
To compare this some of our other other challenges,
Sani Stagger is harder although shorter, it is way faster and only up and down but on a road the whole way.( red below)
4 Peaks is a lot shorter but no real path so harder in it's own way.
Comrades is harder because its Comrades. (green below)

Keep walking



  1. Very interesting and WELL DONE buddy!

  2. You two are a amazing, and nice that you were together for much of the time :) The photos are great - what an awesome view.

  3. Well done, Dave! I did not know of this race, but your narrative was awsome! Giepie

  4. Awesome! Well done Dave! this is one of my absolute favorite races. Maybe second only to Golden Gate Challenge. I hope to be at Monties next year again.