By Michael Mostert
The Mtunzini Bush Challenge is one of my favourite KwaZulu-Natal Races. Its a 16km race through the bush and beach at the picturesque Umlalazi Nature Reserve on the North Coast. I had the opportunity to do the Mtunzini Bush run two years ago and simply loved it. So despite my injured ankles, thanks to the Table Mountain Pmb trail run, I decided that I had to return this year.
On race day, I woke up at 3am to get ready for the Great Trek up the north coast, picked up a fellow runner en route, kicking and screaming, and headed up the N2 to Mtunzini. As we arrived my fellow travel companion pipes up: “This is a bad idea… The sun has not even come up yet! where is the sun?”
As the sun finally peaked its head over the forest it was countdown time as hordes of multi coloured kits lined up at the start line. The welcome speeches were done in both English and Zulu by the club chairman which were received with loud cheers. The runners and walkers set off to the cry of a fish eagle which sent goose bumps down my spine.
The race starts off with a descent down a grass track and then proceeds onto the golf course. Nervous runners and walkers were waiting for the dreaded shout of “FORE” as we looked for potential places to dive to miss possible flying kamikaze golf balls. Fortunately Tiger Woods was not on the course that morning …
The race then takes you through the newly built suburb on the outskirts of the little town of Mtunzini as you wind your way down some single track paths towards the coastal forest. The route takes you on a number of undulating hills through the coastal forest, and includes sections on wooden walkways, branched bush steps and dirt roads. Ducking under low branches becomes very important, especially for someone like myself.
At the 8km mark we were met with a water point manned by KZN Wildlife with a buffet of sweets, bananas and marsh mallows. I really wanted to pull up a chair and tuck in… but no ..my walking partner dragged me away by my ear as we carried on towards the Lagoon. We then proceeded past the camp site with the smell of crispy bacon on the pan not helping the cause! After making a right turn by a troop of monkeys, we made our way onto the beach. What an amazing site to see unspoilt beach, white sand and litter free, all we could see were the runners before us and their footprints. Our eyes were also firmly glued to the horizon as whales had been spotted the day before. The 2km beach sand slog was made easier due to the rain the night before which made the sand a lot firmer than two years ago. After the beach section we disappeared again into the cool forest meandering our way back to the start.
We ascended the long final tiring hill to the shouts of cheering and applause. The smell of fried eggs and filter coffee slowly enticed us over the finish line where we collected our well-deserved medals and T shirts. The finish line was an oasis of culinary delights from bacon rolls and baked treats to local craft beer on tap which I am sure will pick up a few Stella runners ears …
I did not manage a podium finish but was fortunate enough to get the Walkers Male age category prize (40-49) for the 16km course. Lots of clubs use the Mtunzini race as a weekend getaway and camp in the reserve for some team bonding which is something I think Stella should think about doing next year. Its my favorite race when it comes to scenery and is well organised. I would recommend adding it to your bucket list for 2018. You will see me there for sure, a lot leaner, meaner and hopefully, fitter:)