Race Report: Jacques Buys – Kruger2Canyon Challenge

It was a last minute decision to do Kruger2Canyon Challenge. I admittedly didn’t know anything about the race when a friend suggested it. Doing a bit of research and seeing the race takes place at the Blyde River Canyon, it was a no brainer as I have only heard of its beauty but never been there myself. Trail running yet again taking me to extraordinary places.

Day 1 set off to an early 5:30 start in the darkness. This is the first hint that the race organizers expect runners to be out and about for a very long time. The route immediately started climbing up Mariepskop Mountain with Johardt van Heerden setting the pace upfront. Pre-race chats indicated that this would be the hardest part of the route and has the potential to decide your race outcome depending on your effort. I found this out the hard way as my legs were burning halfway up the climb with my heart rate rushing at around 180bpm. Not a good sign in the first 3km of the 42km route. So I backed off and set into a comfortable power hike rhythm to the top of Mariepskop or what I assumed to be the top as I couldn’t see any point higher from under the tree canopy.

An awesome winding trail through the forest turned into a long jeep track downhill to a waterpoint at the bottom of the second big climb of the day described as “not as hard as the first climb”. In my personal opinion this was the understatement of the weekend and I went through some dark moments up the second climb of Mariepskop just thinking to myself “this too shall pass”…

Finally greeted at the top with some spectacular views. This was the first time I realised just how high we have climbed. Stage 1 finished with an adrenalin inducing downhill, the reverse of the first climb, all the way to the finish at the race village in Franklyn Park. The stats for stage 1 contained 2800m of elevation gain in a distance of 42 to 46km (some serious gps glitches under the forest canopy).

Stage 2 is known as the game reserve day. Race briefing for day 2 consisted mainly of a lecture on how to handle dangerous game encounters as the reserve we were setting off into had the big 4 (the big 5 minus the african buffalo) contained in its fences. This caused quite some disruption as the race directors assured us it would be a safe route on the one hand and explained what we should do when coming across a lion on the other. Nonetheless the stage was super well managed with game rangers along the route ensuring the runners’ safety.

The 28km route was described as being flat and fast with mainly jeep track running, which was not entirely true. The last 8km of the route sent us through some rather difficult trails through a dried up riverbed with loose sand and grass covering all the rocks and holes on the running path just to keep things interesting. But all the suffering, blood, sweat and almost tears at some stages made the finish even more rewarding.

In summary: it was a spectacular weekend of trail running and awesome vibes, super rewarding finishing each stage and chilling around the race village, sharing war stories of the day with friends. Kruger2Canyon is an extraordinary event and very well organized. I ended up coming in second being schooled by Johardt van Heerden but I am super satisfied with the result.

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