SANI STAGGER TRAIL 21KM

By Stuart Riddle

About 10 years ago, after supporting some of her work colleagues, my wife Sheldene decided that she would one day enter the Sani Stagger half marathon.

At the time, neither of us were doing any running. In the latter half of the 1980’s I had competed in standard distance triathlons and had run the Elangeni half marathon.

Having not run for many years I started running again in 2017, when Sheldene had started to run. This resulted in us each losing about 20kgs, and the two of us joining Stella in November last year.

2020 was to be The Year

At the beginning of this year it was decided this was to be the year, So at 08.45 on 4th of March 2020, I sat in front of my laptop, nervously awaiting the 9 o’clock opening of entries for the Sani Stagger. I had been threatened with my life, that entries for the Sani Stagger 21km, usually filled within 15 minutes of opening. To make matters worse, being on my ROAG profile I had to do my trail entry first. (I was never going to attempt to run downhill for 21k’s). 09.10: I was entered for the 21 km trail and my wife and son, Keaton, for the Sani Stagger half marathon.

Later that month I very comfortably completed the Deloittes half marathon. Feeling I was on schedule for Sani in November.

Having survived lock down, shin splints and Glencairn trail run (nursing achillies injury), I felt ready for Sani.

Unfortunately, due to Covid restrictions and border closures the Sani Stagger Half Marathon was changed to the Sani Stumble (Sani Pass hotel 10km up to the SA border and back). Sheldene and Keaton opted to hold their entries over to next year. Sheldene was a supporter once again.

21 November 2020 Race Survival day

My hydration pack was feeling very heavy with the compulsory items. Reminiscent of army route march.

  1. space blanket
  2. 1,5l water (I only had 1l)
  3. Charged cell phone
  4. Whistle (I forgot)
  5. Emergency rations – 2x Energy bars must be produced at finish unless used in emergency ???
  6. Silicone cup – I used this at every stream crossed.

Friends had warned me that this is a VERY tough run. I wish they had been more specific. The start was very well organised. 20 idiots at a time entering the start shoot, lining up in 4 rows of 5, leaving on the sound of the cow bell as the start tunnel cleared. Timing was from mat to mat.

(My Garmin time matched my results within a few seconds) but that was much later.

Route started gently along the road with a small muddy stream after 300m, which everyone crossed slowly avoiding getting our shoes wet, which was very useful because around the next bend was the first of 2 knee deep river crossings.

Weather was perfect, cool but dry with very low oxygen levels. After 1 km we started to climb, this was a relatively steep climb which lasted for only 7 kms. The first hour seemed to fly by, unfortunately the kms didn’t.  After 1 hour I had only done 5 kms.

At 6km you reach the highest point of the course 2000m, this was after 1h9mins. The view was breath-taking, as was the whole race. Pun intended. We then descended for the next 4kms, the terrain varying from moderate to very technical, but at least downhill taking us from 2000m to 1600m, until joining the infamous San pass road for a short steep 1.5 kilometres uphill.

On to the single track again for a gentle 5 km climb, gaining 250m elevation. Finally, the 2km descent to the beautiful Gxalingenwa river, which we followed and crossed several times for the next 3kms.

Many people taking the opportunity for a swim in the clear and cold water. I however opted not to swim as my legs felt that the next false step would result in serious cramp. The last km across the lush thick grass of the golf and the very welcome finish.

Here I discovered two things, if I sit down my legs cramp very painfully and that craft beer makes a great recovery drink.

Conclusion

A great weekend with great company, thanks to Sheldene and Maureen for supporting, and Sam, Sharon and Mike for joining the experience.

I will be back next year, and hopefully improve on my time.

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