June 18, 2024

Shorter doesn’t necessarily mean easier…far from it!

Ultra Trail Cape Town 35km – Not for the fainthearted!

When one decides to participate in the Ultra Trail Cape Town (UTCT) you are spoilt for choice.

Depending on fitness levels, trail junkies can decide to enter the 100km, 65km and 35km on the Saturday. This year the UTCT organisers have astutely introduced an option of a 21km trail on Sunday.

So, when I was given the opportunity two days before the UTCT last year to choose between the three distances. Common sense prevails and logic tells you the shorter distance must be more appealing and oviously feasible.

So, it was a no-brainer to opt for the 35km.

However, if you haven’t prepared adequately and you think you can run on memory.

Think again!

I found out the hard way that in trail running and more especially in the UTCT 35km trail, shorter doesn’t necessarily mean easier…far from it.

To put things into perspective – In a running career spanning 20 years – I have never experienced a 35km trail race tougher than the UTCT. And for those that know me, I have been around the block a few times and successfully negotiated quite a few toughies in my time to say the least.

With the benefit of hindsight it was perhaps not a good idea to attempt the 35km. But when race organiser of the UTCT came to me afterwards at the finish of the 2017 run, he reaffirmed what I had just experienced – that the 35km is tougher than the 100km and the 65km simply because the majority of the terrain in the short route is so technical and not runnable.

However, the experience was unequivocally rewarding and the sense of achievement far outweighs the adversities you have to battle on that epic short route. At least thats how I experienced it.

Adnaan Mohamed and Sonja Britz – Superhero powers and teamwork are sometimes needed to negotiate your way through adversity on the trails. Pic: Tobias Ginsberg

But then you get a guy like Hassiem Fisher, a local trail enthusiast, who regularly runs the 35km route as training in preparation for the 65km.  He will be running the 65km for the second time this year. Hassiem shares his experience of the short route for the benefit of those attempting this LITTLE MONSTER.

HASSIEM SAYS: “At the start of the 35km you immediately turn left and you get an uphill.  You will start feeling your calves and thighs burning from the start as you climb up to Tafelberg Road.

“It is going to be a bit chilly in the morning so your lungs are also going to hurt. You have Kloof Corner to contend with.  Once you get to the top of Kloof Corner, the oxygen will only then start circulating in your legs – that is if you haven’t warmed up before the start.

“All along the contour path going up Plattteklip Gorge is where a lot of runners experienced cramps for the first time. This is because oxygen in their veins and legs hasn’t really starting pumping properly yet.

“You have to be very conservative until you get to the top. Going down from MaClear’s Beacon it is very runnable.  Once you get into the valley it becomes a matter of jumping from one rock to the other in the path.

“‘The routes are well marked and once you get to the dams at Scout’s Hut you will experience the welcome relief of the water station where you will be able to take a welcome break. You can then stretch your legs and make sure you are properly hydrated.

“’Once you cross the dam at the top of the mountain, the 35km and 65km route splits. The 65km participant will turn left and meander downhill along the grey jeep track to the bottom of Constantia Nek.

“The 35km runners however have to turn left and run for about 500m to Nursery Ravine. This is where the fun and games start. The terrain becomes very tricky from here. Nursery Ravine has to be approached with extreme caution.

“It is a very steep downhill over very technical terrain.  You have to concentrate and watch your feet all the time because it is very easy to trip over something. You will also find when you stand still your legs will start shaking like jelly.

“When you get to the bottom – and takes a while to get there – it might be good idea just to allow your legs to recover a bit from the tremendous impact of the long downhill.

“Once at the bottom you hit the contour path you can finally start to at least run a bit on the boardwalks in the shade until you get to the turnstile at the Old Zoo.

“You also have to be very cautious here especially because there are lots of loose rocks to contend with. On tired leg this can be quite dangerous and you continuously have to keep your wits about you. There is a long haul up the Jamieson Steps which you hit on tired legs to the big refreshment station at UCT.

“Once you at the water station, it is not necessary to should not rush through it. There will be lots to eat and drink. Grab some Red Bulls.

“The big steep climb up to the Block House follows this. You can approach this in three sections.  After the first segment which is the longest of the three, take a break on the gravel road. Take the second segment and rest a bit and tackle the last one to get to the top of the Block House.

From there it’s all very runnable along the side of Table Mountain. It will then be late afternoon. Be careful because the wind blows quite strongly. There is a lot of tall grass. You are tired and you have to make sure you watch your feet all the time.

“I believe you can walk most of the ups, speed up a bit on the flats and be gentle on the downhills. When you come to Dead Man’s Tree into Deer Park the rocks are quite big.

“This is about 4km from the finish. You have to very careful where you place your feet. The last thing you want to do is to twist an ankle just before the finish.”

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