Drakensburg traverse: trail record smashed

Early yesterday evening, in rather spectacular fashion adventure runners Ryan Sandes and Ryno Griesel set a new record of 41 hours 49 mins for the Drakensberg Grand Traverse.

The two, having had a few close calls with injury and dehydration on the way, managed to be 62km ahead of the previous record at the same elapsed time.

At 00h00 on Monday, 24 March 2014, trailblazers Ryan Sandes and Ryno Griesel embarked on the ultimate Drakensberg adventure – the Drakensberg Grand Traverse. The two battled the elements and intense fatigue to break the existing record by an incredible 18 hours to complete the traverse in 41 hours and 49 minutes on 25 March 2014.

Ryan Sandes and Ryno Griesel - Finish lineSpanning parts of the Free State and Kwa-Zulu Natal provinces of South Africa, as well as the mountain kingdom of Lesotho, the unmarked route has broken many an adventurers heart with only 3 official records set since the route was first run 15 years ago. The previous Drakensberg Grand Traverse (DGT) record, of 60 hours 29 mins, was set by Griesel and Cobus van Zyl.

A tired, but remarkably upbeat, Ryan Sandes was elated at completing the attempt and achieving a new record. “This attempt started as a seed more than 2 years ago…to have finished it now feels quite surreal. We felt good from the start & knew if the weather held, we would have a great chance of breaking the record. However, until you cross the line, you can’t be too sure. There were a few anxious moments when I tweaked my ankle 2 hours into the attempt & I was worried that it might mean the end so soon. Running through the night was challenging at some of the more technical parts, but it really helped to have Ryno there. He knows the mountain like the back of his hand & it was reassuring to have someone so experienced with me.”

KT_140324_DGTRecordAttempt_Drakensberg_1726Griesel was equally complimentary of his teammate. “Ryan has got to be the best runner in the world when it comes to these conditions. Running the DGT, as opposed to speed hiking, takes a greater toll on your body than I realised. I became dehydrated during the first day and had a couple of tough hours, but Ryan pushed us through it and kept me going.” When asked how he was feeling, Griesel summed it up in one word: ‘Privileged’. “It was such an incredible experience to see this dream of ours realised after years of planning and to enjoy so much support from friends, family & strangers from around the world.”

In order for the attempt to be official Sandes and Griesel had to start and the Sentinel Car Park and end at the Bushman’s Neck Border Post. As there is no set route for the DGT, one can choose any route to do so as long as one passes eight checkpoints along the way including The Chain Ladders, the Mont-aux-Sources summit at 3282m and the highest of the all the summits (and the highest point in Southern Africa) Thabana Ntlenyana Summit at 3482m.

KT_140217_DGTRecce_DragonsPeak-169Both of the athletes cited the sunrise from this summit as something that would stay with them forever. As Griesel said, “The sunrise this morning from Thabana was a special moment and we both stopped for a few seconds to appreciate the view. It was both inspiring & humbling to greet the day from such a vantage point.”

Part of the equipment the athletes carried was a mobile tracking system that tracked their movements across the mountains. This data was fed into an interactive website – www.redbull.co.za/draktraverse – that tracked distance, time against previous record and conditions live. The site attracted more than 20 000 visitors from all over the world over the course of the event and users were able to show their support for the athletes by sharing live data from the site.

With his DGT record in the bag, Sandes now has his sights set on Ultra Trial Mount Fuji in April, before he comes back to South Africa to participate in the Wings for Life World Run in Franschhoek in May.

Images: Kelvin Trautman / Red Bull Content Pool.

Record torn up at The North Face 100

It was a huge weekend of trail running achievement up in the Blue Mountains on the weekend, with records and PB’s smashed all over the Blue Mountains at The North Face 100, Australia’s biggest trail event outing. There were a few good runs had by the Trail Run Mag crew, too [Roving Ed Mal Law snagging a silver buckle in the TNF100, co-publisher Adrian Bortignon registering a handy time in the long one too; our AU editor cracking his first TNF50 and Asia Editor Rachel Jacqueline over the line for fifty fast ones]. But because we’re pretty confident you’re more interested in what transpired at the pointy end, rather than the midpack where we were plodding out some fantastic trails, we’ll pass you over to Daniel Lewis who reports from the front line of trail running.

_MJW0888Brendan Davies was in tears as he approached the Leura finish line in The North Face 100 on the weekend, then fell to his knees when he crossed it, so emotional was he to have won such a prestigious event in his own backyard.

‘It means a lot to me, this race, being a local guy,’ he said. ‘I train on this course a lot. It’s a dream come true to win a local event. This will always mean the world to me. It’s the biggest win of my career.’
The 36-year-old school teacher from the Blue Mountains didn’t even realise at the time that he had also managed to set a new race record of 9 hours 16 minutes 12 seconds.

Flat batteries meant his watch stopped working towards the end of the gruelling 100km trail running event  that takes in Narrow Neck, Nellies Glen, Megalong Valley, Jamison Valley, Kings Tableland, Kedumba Pass, The Six Foot Track and Echo Point, so he had no idea he had run the final sector of the race so strongly that he had broken the 2011 record of celebrated Spaniard Kilian Jornet (9.19.06) by more than two minutes.

Davies’ victory was greeted warmly by the trail running fraternity. ‘What a great performance from such a humble, friendly guy,’ was one Facebook comment.

It was only three weeks ago that Davies achieved a brilliant fifth place in a star-studded 100-mile (161km) race in Japan that boasted 9000 metres of elevation gain.

North Face second-place getter, New Zealander Vajin Armstrong (9.42.22), said it was classic Brendan Davies that the Australian had never sought to use the race in Japan as an excuse not to do well in The North Face.

‘A lot of people would have said, ‘I’m coming in a bit tired’. He made himself believe that [the Japanese race] was going to help him out there. He felt strong and fit and fast and he just took it to us all day. I was shocked a couple of times when we came to the aid stations and heard how far ahead he was. I was never upset about it because he’s a fantastic bloke. It couldn’t happen to a nicer person, to run a performance like that.’

Andy Green | NF100Going into The North Face 100, the hot favourite had been defending champion, South African runner Ryan Sandes. But Sandes started to feel unwell about five kilometres into the race. His stomach started churning and his food and drink started going straight through him, forcing him to repeatedly go to the toilet. The stomach bug saw Sandes  pull out at check point two, 38 kilometres into the race at Dunphy’s Camp in the Megalong Valley.

In his presentation speech Davies offered his commiserations to Sandes and said he hoped his own performance helped keep Australian trail running going from strength to strength. The four Australians and one Kiwi who made up the top five all broke the magic 10-hour mark.

Davies went into the race aiming for a time of about 9 hours and 40 minutes and felt it was his concentration on only running ultra-distance trail events that had enabled him to do the time he did.
‘The 100ks seem a lot easier than they did in the past. I had a storming last leg [in The North Face 100] which gave me the record in the end because I was behind at the last check point by 4 minutes or so. I can only think the reason I had that strong last leg was because of the extra training I’ve been doing and the extra training I’ve been doing. Instead of struggling I really powered through it this year.’
_MJW1341As part of his preparation for  the Mont Blanc Marathon in France at the end of June, Davies will also be competing in the Glow Worm Tunnel Marathon in the Wolgan Valley near Lithgow on June 16.

Towards the end of this year he plans to go to South Africa to do the world 100km road championships in Durban. He was 11th in the same event last year. Next year he hopes to do the famed Western States trail run in the US.

In the women’s 100km, another Blue Mountains runner, Jo Brischetto, scored a fantastic second place to Beth Cardelli, who calls Berowra home but was up in the Blue Mountains every second weekend to put in solid training sessions of up to 50km on sections of the course. ‘A lot of the time we would start [running] at four o’clock in the morning and finish at lunchtime.’

When Cardelli first started striding out with the Berowra Bush Runners in Sydney’s north in 2007, she struggled to complete 10km.But on the weekend, the 33-year-old claimed her third The North Face 100. What is more, she bettered her own race record with a new fastest time of 11 hours 1 minute and 8 seconds, more than 17 minutes quicker than her 2012 effort of 11:18:49.

_MJW1193Only 12 men beat Cardelli to the finish line overall and her only disappointment was that she hadn’t become the first woman to break the magic 11-hour barrier. Cardelli wasn’t wearing a watch but knew during the race that she was on track to do a very fast time.

“I was trying really hard to break 11 hours,’ she said.

Her training involved heading to the Blue Mountains every second weekend in the months leading up to The North Face to put in solid training sessions of up to 50km on sections of the course.

Cardelli first started running by joining the Berowra Bush Runners simply because she wanted to meet people after moving to the area.
She is grateful the group also helped her to become a lover of running.

‘I didn’t run at all [before joining Berowra Bush Runners]. My first 10kms with them, I was pretty much a wreck, but I thought ‘if I just keep coming back …’ Your body just eventually gets used to it.’

Next up Cardelli is heading to Italy to do the 118km Lavaredo Ultra Trail in the mountains of the Dolomites, another North Face race.

For the first time this year there was also a 50km North Face race. The men’s winner was road running hot shot, and recent star of the Sydney Trail Running Series, Vlad Shatrov in 4:15:21 and the women’s Brooks Trail Run Fest Queen of the Mountain winner, Gippslander Kylie Murray, won in 5:19:50.

The North Face races started and finished at the Fairmont resort in Leura and at the presentation ceremony on Sunday the resort was heaving with hobbling but happy runners who were busy comparing times, injuries and war stories.
When The North Face 100 was first held six years ago, it attracted about 170 competitors. But trail running is a booming sport and this year there were 1022 entrants in the 100km North Face race and 508 in the new 50km race. However, only 698 made it to the finish line of the 100km, although their average time of 16hrs 41mins was a big improvement on the 17hours 16 mins of 2012. This year’s oldest 100km runner was 70.

Keeping the competitors fueled up required more than 5000 litres of water, 1700 boxes of noodles, 250kg of lollies, 800kg of fruit and 2500 sausages. Competitors said the addition of the 50km event had made the running less isolated because there were so many more competitors and spectators. North Face 100 race director Tom Landon-Smith of AROC Sport described the 2013 event as possessing a ‘special vibe’.

A celebrity competitor was Antarctic adventurer James Castrission from Blackheath. Castrission was thrilled to finish 13th in the men’s open division of the 50km race with a time of 5:40:24. It was a ‘perfect day with an incredibly positive vibe from all involved. Awesome to be a part of it,’ he said.


Enter the Sandes Man: TNF 100 preview

Trail Run Mag catches up with South African and Salomon super trail star, Ryan Sandes, to get a vibe on how it feels to be the favourite in this weekend’s The North Face 100, a race with a fair few thoroughbreds on track, and the changing face of trail running as it booms across the world (hello Transvulcania…). INTERVIEW: Chris Ord IMAGES: courtesy RyanSandes.com.

1. Straight in to it – you’re roundly touted as the most likely winner this year, how does that pressure play on your mind leading into next weekend?

I think there are a number of competitors that can win the race so I am not focusing on the results too much. My main focus is to have a strong run and the rest will come. 100km is a long way, so anything can happen.  

2. Some pundits reckon you’re tuned enough to break the race record (which has been broken every year the event has taken place). Thoughts? Is that something you have in your head when you’re running well at the halfway mark or…?

I would imagine the winning time will be under 9 hours 30 mins ,so I am sure the winner will get close to the coarse record. No, I am personally not too focused on the record but I will have the record time stored in the back of my head somewhere ;-). [9hrs 19min 06 seconds]

3. You have been quoted as saying last year’s run didn’t go as smoothly for you as you would have liked yet you still managed third with a sub ten hour time – what was the Achilles last year and what’s changed about your form/approach this year?

Last year was my first mountain 100km race, so I was not sure what to expect. I made a few mistakes like not drinking enough during the first 30km, which hurt me during the middle section of the race. I am a more experienced runner this year and hoping for a more consistent performance during the race. 

4. You tend to arrive early and really get to grips with the trail your’re about to run on – how much of the TNF course have you rerun in the last week and where do you think your crux will come (and why)?

The one thing I love about trail running is that I get to travel the world and explore new places. I always try get out to my races early to experience the local culture and environment as well as running parts of the race route. I have run about 60% of the route… I think the race will come down to being strong in the final 30km.

5. Many may have expected you to be running at the Transvulcania – why did you choose to race here instead of there?

I entered the TNF100 Australia before the Sky Running Ultra series was announced but that said, I really enjoy Australia and wanted to come back for the race again. 

6. How does the Blue Mountains course suit you in particular – strengths and weaknesses on it?

I would like to think I am quite an all round runner so the course should suit me … I’m not giving much away here :-). 

7. You had 30 mins plus over fourth placed (Goerke) and other locals (Donges, Davies, etc al) last year, but they are being touted as serious threats with a much deeper field this year than last – how do you think the competition has changed over the past year?

Yes, it’s really exciting to see how trail running is growing around the world. I think everyone is improving and it is going to be a very exciting race. I think there will be a lot more people under sub-10 hours this year. 

8. Everyone’s talking about how the sport of ultra and trail running in general is changing rapidly, with ‘celebrity’ runners the likes of yourself and Jornet in ascendancy – talk to me about how you as a person and as a runner have changed over the past few years of racing?

I am still the same person as a few years back… the main difference is I drink less tequila now J .  More Red Bull and Vodka.. haha! I started running relatively late and competed in my first ultra in 2008 – the whole experience has been life changing. It’s exciting to see the sport becoming more professional and creating so many opportunities for trail runners. I have been lucky enough to run on all 7 continents and explore the world through trail running. 

9. You remain based in South Africa – is there any pressure to be based in Europe or the States these days, given the competition, or is ultra trail a truly global sport, doesn’t matter where you’re based?

I spend quite a lot of time abroad but still keep Cape Town my base. We have great running there…just no altitude. I think when I run UTMB I would need to spend a lot more time in Europe getting used to the Euro trails. Their climbs are massive and the running can be very technical. At the end of the day trail running is a global sport and it’s really easy to jump on a plane and fly to a race in the US etc.

10. You seem to be a runner that escapes major injury time – what’s your approach to physical preservation?

I try do a bit of cross training like mountain biking etc. I do a lot of core work and spend a lot of time keeping my ‘wheel alignment straight’ i.e. I see a Physio, Chiro, Lynotherapist, Massage and Biokinetisist regularly. 

11. How many ultras do you think, in peak form, your body could handle in a year?

3-4 a year .. maybe 5 at a push.  

12. Beyond winning the TNF100, what are you targets in the next year or so?

I am running Western Sates 100 in June and would love to line up at UTMB soon. 

13. You’re sixty kays in, the hurt is there…where is the Sandes’ mind at – take me through some honest moments of where you’re at mentally, what demons come to you in particular while out there on trail and what you lean on for inspiration to get you through?

Running in an individualist sport but I feel I am running for more than just me…I focus on the surroundings and try and keep my mental attitude as positive as possible. Luckily I am normally running in the most beautiful parts of the world so the hurt is not too bad.

Thanks Ryan, good luck on the weekend at The North Face 100. Remember: 9 hours 19 mins and 05 seconds is your mark…

Trail Run Mag will be on course reporting and updating live via TRM’s Facebook. ‘Like’ us and stay tuned.