Race Report: Jacques Buys – Num Num Trail

The Num-Num Trail Challenge

I have secretly been waiting the whole year for the weekend of 27th July, Num-Num trail weekend. Had a score to settle with this race as last year caught be completely off guard and I completely blew up in the second half of the route, totally underestimated the toughness of the trail. Knowing what to expect this year and going in with the game plan of saving as much energy as possible for the last 10km I felt much better prepared mentally as well as physically. Well at least that was what I thought…

Just to give a bit of background to the Num-Num trail: The route is used year round as a 5 day hiking trail consisting of around 32km. 32km in 5 days sounds easy but experiencing the trail first hand you realize that this is not your average flowing, fast moving trail. The elevation profile of the route looks like a heartbeat graph and rocks and roots cover pretty much every inch of the hiking path. The Num-Num Trail Challenge (emphasis on “CHALLENGE”) crams this 5 day hiking trail into a single day trail run. The technicality of the trail requires 110% focus every second of the way. One of the things I took from last year’s event was to turn your cap around when heading into forest sections so you get glimpses of the tree branches while you focus on where you step, learnt that the hard way by taking a few knocks to the head.

The race set off at 7am Saturday morning after a very intimidating briefing of what to expect on the route. An immediate 200m vertical climb spread out the field and I found myself along with Lucky Miya and Arlo van Heerden in front of the field at the top of the first climb. At the first water point we were told that some runners took a wrong turn and ended up cutting out a part of the course. This didn’t bother too much as we quickly caught up with them but passing someone on route is very difficult as more than 90% of the route is technical singletrack. We had to pass a few runners on a steep uphill, draining a lot of energy, sending my heartrate into the threshold zone. So I decided to slow things down and Lucky made a gap on me and Arlo.

At the second water point, 11km in, we were all still in sight of each other. A long descent followed after the water table and I was able to keep a constant gap towards Lucky without burning any matches. But on the climb that followed, the race shifted into second gear. This was the steepest climb of the day and Lucky pulled away from me as I followed my strategy of power-hiking that whole climb still trying to save as much energy as possible for the last 10km.

Almost at the top of the climb I filled up with water at water point 3 around halfway through. To my surprise I was informed of a 2 minute gap to the lead, was expecting to lose at least 5 minutes at that point. Excitement started building up as I was still feeling fresh. But I contained the excitement as I felt it was still too early to start burning all my matches to try and catch up. A very good idea as I got to enjoy the awesome trail winding towards the spectacular Uitkoms waterfall, the highlight of the entire route. I dipped my head and my cap under the water at the foot of the waterfall and decided that is was time to start pushing with around 12km to go to the finish. Everything was still going as planned before the start.

From the waterfall it was another long climb towards water point 4. This is where things starting going south. Twitching muscles in my upper legs brought flashbacks from last year and I knew cramping was inevitable. Immediately digging into my vest I took on some High5 gels and tried to take as much fluid in as possible, took a few oranges at the next water table trying everything to prevent muscle spasms.

On the way down toward the last water table my legs completely seized up, cramping so bad that I wasn’t able to bend my knees, had to sit down for a while and wait for the cramping to pass while Arlo came past me trying to motivate me to keep going but I couldn’t even get up. Just as I got going again, another cramp set in on a technical downhill causing me to lose my footing and take a nasty fall bruising my knees and causing a lot of bleeding on both my hands as I tried to avoid losing a few teeth. This was that dark moment in the race. All the difficult races have those moments where you start questioning why you are putting yourself through this suffering. From here it was on to survival mode, just persevering towards the finish. Not much to say about the last few kilometers except that once again crossing the finish line was a true relief.

My expectations for the race were quite high as I felt like I was in good form so I was disappointed with the result, not being beaten by Arlo and Lucky, but I had a set time in which I thought I would be able to complete the route. After a few days of reflecting on the race I realized that I came in with the exact mindset I was sure I would never have: Performance becoming more important than actually appreciating the gift and privilege of having the opportunity to run in such an awesome, breathtaking place. After all, the whole idea of trail running is to get out and enjoy nature and explore untouched places not easily accessible. 

The Num-Num Trail Challenge once again lived up to its name of being one of the country’s toughest trail runs, super amazing trail and event that will always haunt me (but in a good way). Will probably be back again next year.