Bennie Roux – The Munga Trail run, 19 – 24 April 2017
The Race that changed my life
When I was told about the very first 400km Trail race in South Africa, and on African soil, I was ecstatic! A million thoughts started rumbling through my head all at once and with a pounding heart, I immediately knew: This one is MINE! I will be the first runner to cross the finish line and I will be the first runner to complete that distance on African soil in a timed race. That was the euphoria. Let me tell you about reality…
So, how far is 400km?
Johannesburg to Bloemfontein. Most people dread driving that distance with a car. For some it is easier to fly. Only a 1 hour flight from OR Tambo to Bloem. From this perspective, it seems impossible just to imagine running almost nonstop for 400km. Very little athletes take on these ultra events thus resulting only 26 brave athletes on the start line.
Let me start by stipulating what this mammoth race entails:
Approximately 400km done in a single stage, self-supported race with no running partner. That’s right. Alone. You, your backpack, ipod, the trails, nature and God. Maximum 5 days, in the sun and in the dark. On foot. First stop: destination. Rules are simple: Sleep when and where you want and carry what you need. In other words, plan, prepare, pack and start heading towards the finish line. With faith. Faith in God, in yourself, your training, preparation, knowledge and experience.
Every single kilometre on this trail was carefully selected, well planned and offered the ideal balance of variety, exactly what would make every experienced trail runner feel right at home. The route offered us:
8 Water Points and 5 Race Villages.
Water points offering a variety of foods, snacks, water, energy drinks, medical assistance and a comfortable place to rest. Bodies to be refuelled and batteries to be charged. Race Villages offering similar with the addition of hot showers, hot meals and warm beds for a few hours’ much needed sleep.
How do you prepare for something that will ultimately change your life?
Although you are not entirely sure how to prepare, you know one thing: This WILL change my entire existence. I just knew that I could do this. I just needed to figure out how to prepare. I am 39 years old, I am willing and able and I am blessed with a God-given talent.
Training for such an extreme event take lots of determination. It takes time. It takes support of loved ones. I needed something you cannot ‘google’ – knowledge on how to win a 400km race. I started looking for similar events globally and I reckoned if I can get in touch with runners that have completed something like this, I can ask for opinions and advice. Despite language barriers I was lucky to get hold of Alfie Pearce-Higgins. He came second in the Gobi Desert race in Japan in 2016. He gave me some useful advice that I made part of my race plan and I will always be grateful for that.
Training for this event is was in actual fact a compilation of advice from different sources, my own experience, knowledge and 30km daily runs. Adding to this: strength training, night runs, nutrition, a strong will, self-belief, a lot of courage and hoping for the best. The plan was simple: Run hard, rest well.
As the time for the event came closer, reality really started to set in and I began to have doubts.
FEAR started to set in:
“Can I do this? I don’t ever want a DNF result again!”
“What if the race is not planned well?”
“What if a water point or race village is not ready when I arrive?”
“What if I get lost?”
“What if my headlight’s battery dies?”
“What if I ‘outrun’ my love for running?”
And then the biggest fear of them all: “How would I feel if I don’t conquer my fears?”
At exactly this moment, my entire being ‘ordered’ a 400km run, and that is exactly what I received! When I approached the start I was calm and ready. My body and mind was prepared for the task ahead.
We started at Lakenvlei. The first 80km was a nice flat and runnable route through a pine tree plantation. After the first 16 kilos I took the lead and remained alone for the remainder of the race.
The real race started when we passed Verloren kloof, a massive climb of over 600m in only 3km, on semi-tired legs (120km mark) and very little sleep. I just took it step by step, nice and easy knowing I still have plenty do to after this.
The entire race was GPS navigation, adding to the list of risks was Low Battery on your GPS, although I made provision by means of a power bank. My trusty Garmin Fenix 3 helped me all the way, knowing your GPS device was key in not getting lost and also adding a bit of guts to trust your on will and faith in God to guide and protect you. I only got lost for small 300meter bits here and there and I am solely to blame for that, I can always blame the sleep monsters! Mental fatigue at some spots was really hard to cope. I can recall 3 spots on the route where I sure I was sleep walking. Once I notice the fatigue, I immediately addressed the situation and negotiated with myself to take a quick nap in the woods/bushes.
My feet were in tiptop shape while almost all the other athletes’ feet look like something out of a horror movie (those 80’s horror movies when graphics and make up were terrible). Reasons for my feet were simple; running in minimalist shoes (Vivobarefoot) I don’t ever abuse the rocks, I do clever foot placement. Change and clean your socks as often as possible, dry your feet at every Race Village and Water point. A lot of credit can also go to Injinji socks (glove socks).
All the Race Villages and Water points exceeded my expectations by about 100% with 1 exception – Graskop Holiday Resort, WOW it was terrible! The food looked like it was ‘left overs’ from the prison. The first shower was cold, luckily they found me a hot shower. With almost no real food from this Race Village, I almost fainted in the next 10km. This was at about 340km and with no petrol in the tank I had force feed myself with protein bars and revived myself. I was very lucky not to bomb out completely.
I was really getting lonely, my 4th consecutive night running alone with nothing else than me and the trail. I was getting to a point where I just wanted to wait for the next runners, just to have a chat. I reasoned that I will run away from them at the end as I have speed and I have rested much longer than anybody else. This was where the race got very interesting as Nicky was catching me, and I didn’t really have what it takes to run away from her. She was a MACHINE and she was going for the Ladies Top Spot!!
I took a very long detour and had to get back on the route where I left it. This resulted in me running as hard as I can only to found out that I am trailing by 10 minutes with only 16km to go. Adrenaline kicked in, Rian, Dylan and Louise treated me like a F1 driver… I downed a 500ml Coke, chucked 2 gels and filled my bottles with energy drinks – a bit risky I know… This was way too much sugar, but somehow I didn’t crash! I was already so slow but it felt like I was flying, until my watch beeped for a 1km lap to show me the split was just over 10min/km.
I caught Nicky and decided to stick to her until the last 2km of tar, the view really out of this world. I was relieved and ecstatic to reach the finish line!!!
There will always be just ONE person who complete a race first, for the first time. This was MY time! This was MY race! I conquered my fears! All Glory to GOD!!!
Respect to all, even those with DNF you guys were brave enough to start!! (See you next year!!!) Wil jy die sin inhe?
Wil jy die race results en finishers se name insit?
My race stats:
Stages km Moving Time Elevation Pace
Section 1 78.6 08:18:11 923 06:20
Section 2 83.9 12:34:00 2375 08:59
Section 3 83.5 13:36:49 1676 09:47
Section 4 92.1 21:14:00 3214 13:49
Section 5 58.4 11:49:09 1070 12:08
Section 6 19.2 03:13:11 519 10:02
TOTALS: 415.7 70:45:20 9777 0:10:13
Racing time: 101:20:00
Stationary time: 30:34:40
Estimated sleep: 11:30:00
Massage time: 1:30:00
Eat/sit time: 17:34:40
Garmin Fenix 3 GPS Watch www.navworld.co.za
Vital information!! Without seeing your progress and speed you could end up going too fast. I used a battery pack to charge, cause the information and navigation is that critical.
Nike Tailwind 12 Eyewear www.navworld.co.za
The transition lenses made for running in any weather conditions.
My Vivobarefoot Primus was great on the technical terrain and river crossings. Zero drop and zero cushioning allows for so much more natural control. Vivobarefoot also has quick dry material, and not even one blister in the entire race. Learn more about proprioception and you too will convert to barefoot shoes. Not a single blister!!!! Have to mention the Injini Socks!!! I had 2 pairs and they were amazing!
Ultraspire Hydration Pack www.nativesport.co.za
The new Velocity bottle system perfect quick refills, super light and breathable harness system, build for speed and racing.
I would like to thank following people:
Roan Rossouw (NavWorld)
Stuart Hutcheson (Vivobarefoot SA, UltraSpire SA)
Sonja Stafford (Vivolicous)
Nick Bester (Nedbank)
Kobus van Schalkwyk
Isabel Roux (Wife)
Hugo, Ruben and Sion Roux (Kids)
Hendrik Roux (Brother)
Andries Roux (Dad)
Annatjie Roux (Mom)
Carin Lourens (Sister)
Elize Lindeque (Sister)
Race organisers & Photo credits:
The Munga Trail