Race Report: Jacques Buys – Ultra-Trail Drakensberg: Giants Cup Uncut 62km

Blessed with yet another adventure having the privilege to run the Giants Cup Uncut (GCU62) as part of Ultra trail Drakensberg. 

Set off from Pretoria at 5 am to make it to race registration at Premier Resort Sani Pass where like-minded (slightly crazy) trail runners gathered, contemplating their race strategy through the mountains.

The race set off at 6 am and we immediately started heading up one of the most beautiful gorges I have ever seen. With the heavy rain earlier in the week, water was flowing out from everywhere making it pretty hard to resist all the swimming spots. I kept a controlled pace with the saying, ‘pacing is racing’, fixed in my mind. After reaching the top of the first climb my heart rate was uncomfortably high and wouldn’t recover as usual. I figured that it might be the altitude that got to me. Luckily the view from the top was something to behold with the sun rising through the mist. I decided that this was the perfect spot to take a picture, using it as an excuse to also catch my breath for a few seconds (classic trail runner’s trick). Continued on, trying to keep the pace uncomfortably slow on the descents and flats as I knew the distance would get to me eventually.

On the flat leading towards the first aid station, the race organizers decided that it would be a good idea to introduce a strava segment in an ultra-marathon trail run and to add to the temptation, advertised it with boards counting down the meters to the start of the segment. Halfway through this segment, temptation got the better of me and I decided to put in a bit of an effort just to make completely sure the legs were awake then stopped at the aid station for a quick snack which was part of my nutrition strategy of taking in as much solid food as possible and a High5 gel every 20 to 30 minutes.

Rolling hills followed up to the halfway mark, with breathtaking views all along the route, this is, of course, the Drakensberg where pretty much everywhere you look you can’t help but admire God’s creation. Castleburn Farm hosted the halfway aid station where I filled my hydration pack up with water and coke before heading up a very long and at stages very steep climb. This is where the first signs of cramping started so I backed off the throttle and luckily the twitches went away.

At the last aid station, I felt really fatigued, sat there for about 3 minutes trying to keep a banana down and had a quick chat with the people running the aid station. Honestly can’t remember what we talked about but felt a lot better leaving for the last 15km.

I was very satisfied with my race up to this point considering that this was only my second ultra-distance and I haven’t done any long distance training for preparation but this is where everything turned around. With only 10km to go to the finish, my legs completely seized up cramping and this time a change of pace didn’t make any difference. At some point, I fell to the ground and couldn’t bend my legs at all. Very frustrating as I didn’t feel fatigued, dehydrated or anything in my mind, my legs just decided: up to here and no further. Ended up hiking most of the way back to the finish. To top it all off the last 100m before the finish had an elevation gain of about 100m (might be a bit of exaggeration but after 62km that’s what it felt like).

Even though it didn’t end on a high note, the amazing route, views, water crossing, support and most importantly the chocolate milkshake at the end made it all worthwhile. Luckily you only remember the good parts of an adventure. Will definitely be back again.

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