SALOMON SKYRUN IN ASSOCIATION WITH THULE
Powered by: RED BULL
By Adrian Saffy
2011 will be the year to remember as a “coming of age” of the Salomon Skyrun in association with Thule.
A record field of athletes (211 entered 177 on the starting line 43 short course 134 full course). With record field start with a HUGE percentage being novices mix in a double tot of logistics and a dash of hectic weather conditions, add minimal water on the route and you get a cocktail that is either going to be exhilarating to the senses or a total nightmare.
As with anything in life we have to adapt and this year was our learning curve regarding logistics that we previously took for granted.
As always with the any extreme ultra endurance event we as race organizers have to deal with so many What If ? scenarios and this causes our heart rates and blood pressure to rise quite considerably in the weeks leading up to the event. Ultimately we feel responsible for the safety and protection of each and every athlete and marshal on the route and this is a responsibility that we don’t take lightly. There are however some what if ? scenarios that we never deal with and this year one of these scenarios was added to the cocktail but more on this later.
LETS GET ONE THING CLEAR:
THE SALOMON SKYRUN IN ASSOCIATION WITH THULE MUST BE ROUGH; TOUGH AND AN EXTRAORDINARY CHALLENGE OF THE HUMAN MIND; SPIRIT; BODY AND SOUL TO COMPLETE.
This event must be something that when you finish you that gratifying sense of achievement. You came; You saw and You conquered one of the toughest single stage ultra mountain runs out there. There is no better feeling that you have become part of the Mountain and have spilt blood sweat and tears for this rare privilege.
The event is always going to have a high attrition rate and not everyone is going to complete their first Skyrun, this is how it is supposed to be. You have to pay your school fees on an event like the Skyrun OTHERWISE it simply would be to easy!!!!!
We arrived in Lady Grey on Thursday and met our sponsors and Über athlete Ryan Sandes who came to visit and support the event on his way back from Afri Ski where he was putting in some high altitude training for his upcoming stage race in Nepal.
Mike started prepping the goody bags and assembling the branding while I accompanied by Ryan, Isaac Mazibuko Hylton Dunn Jazz Kuschke as well as Craig Kolesky hit the mountains to bunt an alternative route down from Halston Peak to the base of the mountain.
Friday saw us erecting a 450 sqm stretch tent on the golf course. Thanks to Nomadik Tents and their local agent De Klerk from Simply Tents for supplying these amazing tents at a discounted price to our events. We suffered and hammered, the sweat flowed freely but the sense of satisfaction seeing the tent fully erected was amazing. This was a first for us.
With all our crew ready to rock and roll; the hall and registration area painted in the colors of Salomon, Thule and Red Bull we eagerly started registering the potential Sky runners. The excitement at the venue was electric.
With the lessons learnt from last year after testing our new and longer route we decided to cancel the enforced overnight stop at Balloch for athletes doing the full race. We however enforced strict cut off times a compulsory medical check up and strict compulsory kit requirements. This allowed enough time for runners to complete the route before we were forced to pack up and return to reality.
Registration done and briefing finalized we started breaking down this 450sqm tent to erect it at the Wartrail Country Club the next day. That was when I got “The Call” and chills ran through my body.
Skyrun would not be Skyrun without the support and loving attitude of our amazing family of sponsors marshals and the local community. These individuals and businesses are just as passionate about our events as we are and without them it would be almost impossible to host an event of this extreme nature.
The alarm went off at 3am Saturday morning and we started to prepare for the 4am start. Its always a highlight of our day to see the Sky runners filter out of the shadows dressed in their full battle gear fighting a contrast of sleep and excitement. The sleepiness only lasts a short while before the excitement and fear of the unknown take over and everyone is amped to face their destiny for the day.
Roll call complete and Ryan Sandes starts the countdown to begin the 2011 Salomon Skyrun in association with Thule. The surreal snake of lights filtered out of town and into the mountains on their journey of discovery with myself and Billy Mollentze sweeping the field.
The day turned out to be a er with conditions being tough due to a lack of water and moisture in the mountain, pumping winds and dry dusty air. Thankfully our great team from the Bloemfontein 4×4 Echo Club that manned the Olympus CP were able to transport water to the point and this was a life saver.
Over race radio I was in touch with the happenings on the course as I steadily made my way through the route with the athletes that I collected along the way. It is always a pleasure to sweep the Salomon Skyrun because I have the opportunity to get to know strangers and you learn so much from these individuals that you form an instant bond and commitment to them to keep them safe and get them home.
The first part of the Skyrun route is tough and remote. It is however amazingly beautiful and being at the back of the field you get the opportunity to appreciate the Creation and marvel at the rugged unforgiving wilderness that we as Sky runners are attempting to conquer each year. On this route one soon realizes that in the greater picture you are just a small piece in a very large puzzle.
The sweep group picked up stragglers along the way and eventually came into Balloch at about 9 pm with a group of about 10 athletes. That’s a cool 17 hours for the 1st 65km.
After a quick bite to eat from the amazing spread laid out by Margy Frost we had 40 minutes of sleep before departing Balloch at 00h00. I was expecting quite a large contingent of Sky runners to leave Balloch with me at the agreed time. To my surprise I was only met by two athletes. The three of us headed out into the night with an unbelievable full moon lighting up the infamous Balloch Wall that loomed as our next HUGE obstacle. Step by step we started our approach and eventually where at the base proper of the Wall. I switched off my headlight and ascended the wall in the moonlight with owls hooting every once in a while creating a heavenly atmosphere.
Once on top of the wall the wind chill soon had me shivering uncontrollably waiting for my group to summit. We wasted no time in starting the treacherous descent and that got the body warmed up very quickly to my relief. The descent down the wall is tricky and extreme and you have to be cautious as any wrong move could spell disaster.
Once we had descended to the valley we picked up the pace and cruised into Edgehill for a five minute breather. There we picked up two other athletes that had spent the night at the shed and started our journey to tackle the Bridle Pass.
Now the Bridle Pass is a “BIIIIAAATCH”!!!! This small path ascending a huge almost vertical valley is the only way up to the top of the escarpment. In the past this has been tricky for some athletes to find. The path is hidden behind the “Loskop” and runners have to first navigate their way through the bramble forest of Wildfell before finding the tricky overgrown rock strewn path. We decided to create a manned waypoint halfway up this path and we manned this with the fun and crazy Gower family and their friends. This waypoint was a hub of activity in the middle of nowhere as only crazy out there youngsters can create and was definitely an inspiration when I arrived their early Sunday morning to the sounds of “SEXY AND I KNOW IT” the smell of boerewors cooking on a gas stove and the signs of a festive evening in the wilderness. Forget about rocking the daisies; this was rocking the Pass.
We left the Gower clan after enjoying their war stories for a while and made it to the top of the pass to be joined by Kelvin Trautman who had been up all night capturing the race on camera. With Kelvin in tow we made quick work to cover the odd 6km to the Turn CP. Unfortunately we lost one of our clan on this section due to serious blisters slowing him down completely and the rest of us pushed on when we knew he was safe to the CP.
We were welcomed by the friendly 4×4 Echo Club members at the turn who had created a village in the middle of nowhere and who had catered for the athletes and cared for them throughout the night. These guys are genuine stars and a huge part of Skyrun. They give shelter and warmth to shattered Sky runners before the long stretch home.
We left the Turn CP in high spirits and soon settled into a efficient shuffle following the jeep track towards Halston peak and the final CP before home. Here we picked up a father and son team and together we started our ascent of Halston’s. On top we took in the amazing view and then started our descent towards the finish.
Now again I have to admit that I had forgotten what a killer the last section from Halston Peak to the finish is on tired broken athletes. IT NEVER SEEMED TO END. I even started swearing under my breath at the crazy blokes who thought this out but soon realized that I was swearing at myself. How’s that for being totally poked?
We had decided to hold prize giving before I arrived so as not to hold up the athletes that still had a long journey home. I therefore was not expecting much of a reception when we arrived but to my surprise we had a great welcoming party and I was so so proud of the group that we brought home. We had left some of the stragglers with our marshals from Halston and once they came in; as well as a Sky runner sliding down the last descent on his bum because he was unable to walk; I finally was able to shut down and for the first time breath a sigh of relief. Another Salomon Skyrun completed with all athletes safe and off the mountain.
It is with gratitude that we want to thank our title sponsors Salomon and Thule as well as our other sponsors Red Bull; Nomadik Tents and Wedgewood Nougat for contributing to a life changing experience for all the athletes that are brave enough to enter an event like the Skyrun.
We also are extremely thankful to the local communities of Lady Grey and the Wartrail district. It feels like home away from home when we arrive and you guys are the back bone of our events in that area.
Without our marshals we wouldn’t be hosting a tough extreme and challenging event like the Salomon Skyrun. You guys are our as well as the athletes life line in the mountains. I cannot begin to express how much we appreciate you.
The Bloemfontein 4×4 Echo Club has been doing the Skyrun for the past 10 years longer than what I have been organizing the event. They are simply irreplaceable. Thank you all for your time contribution and expense that you incur to make our journey of self discovery possible every year.
Cyril and Charl Van Heerden thanks boys for manning Snowdown CP and living your own adventure.
Adi’s Angels you guys are always so positive and such an amazing sight to see when we approach Avoca CP. I said many prayers of thanks that you all survived the horrible accident without serious injuries. It is clear that you are blessed and protected by Angels. We missed those screams of encouragement at Avoca but hope to have you there next year with those “WHOOO HOOOOS!!!!” echoing through the mountains.
Deon and Jan thanks for on short notice manning the Avoca CP. Deon you are always a great satisfaction to have on the route your wisdom and calmness is very comforting for us as race organization. The Free State Mountain Club are an integral part of the Skyrun family.
Peet, Annelie, Charmaine, Louisa and the rest of the Free State Mountain Club thanks for braving the wind-chill and running up and down the mountain to get water for the dehydrated athletes. It was great having you there to accompany me to Balloch.
To Billy thank you my friend for sweeping with me from the start to Balloch. I know it was tough for you my friend but am grateful to have had your company.
Laura and Danie thanks for looking after the runners from Edgehill Saturday night. You guys played a huge roll in ensuring that a lot of Sky Runners made the finish.
To all you Sky runners whether you finished or not. We salute your courage and wild at heart spirits that made you take up the challenge. Some of you were successful some of you were not but that is beside the point you had the strength to expose yourself to a true test of your being and as in life we cannot always achieve what we set out to first time round.
We look forward to seeing you all next year.
Adrian and Mike