Travel – Wild coast: Running the beaches

2014-11-07 18:45

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Three days crossing white sands, sharp rocks, lagoons and rivers, and ending it all with an ice-cold beer. Carien du Plessis describes her escapades traversing the rugged and beautiful Wild Coast

It’s an impeccable day on a never-ending beach in paradise. Brad and I are swearing like sailors and feeling like shipwrecks.

Objectively speaking, we aren’t that close to dying, but we (or maybe it’s just me) are muttering profanities as if they’re the only thing that will keep us alive.

Almost 34km of running on beach sand, through rivers, over hills and rocks can be a tad murderous, even for Comrades runners like ourselves.

It’s the end of day two of the three-day Wild Coast race and the soles of my feet are keen to lose touch with the earth for a while. What kept me going was the thought of arriving at our hotel and self-medicating with a R12 glass of box wine while watching the sun set over the sea.

The three-day race combined running (or, as in our case, a lot of walking, too) with spectacular scenery – beaches, green hills, rocks and blue sea. In some places cattle were, almost surrealistically, grazing on the sand.

For those who think running is hard work, there was one runner who left her husband and two small children in Cintsa, and devoted her time to running, eating and sleeping – a true spa holiday.

Running 112km (those of us who lost track of the path at times obviously ran a few extra kilometres) in three days is both easier and more difficult than you can imagine.

This is roughly what it was like:

Wednesday night

Runners on the late-afternoon plane from Joburg to East London were the last of the day’s arrivals. It was dark and a bit rainy by the time our minibus pulled into Kei Mouth. We were dropped off at the holiday flats where we discovered we had to share not-so-big rooms. My concern changed from surviving the race to wondering if I snore in my sleep.

In the dusty town hall, rumours abounded about sharks and crocodiles in the river mouths we’d had to run, walk and swim through. The chicken lasagne we had for dinner tasted like tuna. These hazards didn’t matter. Possible snoring would be worse.

Thursday: Kei mouth to Kob Inn (44KM)

I interpreted the fact that my roommate was awake before me as a bad sign, but her nerves rather than my snoring were to blame.

By far the most unkind act of the day was the medic weighing me after a solid breakfast. Our health was closely checked – emergency medical help along this piece of coast isn’t easily accessible.

Some runners actually gained weight on therun. The Bar Ones and nuts we got at the checkpoints must have played a role in that.

It was an exhausting day. I pushed all the way so I would finish before a high tide or darkness could catch me. As a result, I got to the Kob Inn in good time – mid-afternoon – about seven hours after the start. The faster runners got there in time for lunch.

The Kobonqaba River mouth, about 14km into therun, was our first big river crossing. It was cold and creepy. I panted and squealed like a star in a porn movie.

Other crossings we did in style, however. At 19km we tipped a guy with a row boat to take us across. This was, fortunately, not against the race rules.

Friday: Kob inn to the haven (35km)

The second day was more of the same, except by now we were experts on river crossings, and now feared blisters more than we feared sharks.

Perhaps the organisers purposely started the slow coaches early on to show off how fast the others were. They flew past us an hour or two into our run. The photographer in his helicopter circled us at this point as if he were trying to herd game.

Our first and only fence in the entire run was that surrounding Dwesa Nature Reserve, one of my favourite places in the world.

On the way through the reserve we negotiated densely growing plants and wild flowers.

And those hills, they drop straight into the sea as sheer cliffs. On the beaches are vast areas of flat rocks which lie in block-like patterns as if created by a supernatural force.

Near the end of the day’s run, we had to cross the mighty Mbashe River mouth.

Standing in the middle of it, waist-deep, gazing towards the rolling hills in the distance where the river came from, I thought of Madiba. He was born near this river.

This place has a beauty you feel with your spirit. There are no words.

Saturday: The Haven to Hole in the Wall (34km)

The hills were a welcome break from the long, stretched-out, white beaches that oblige you to run (see Baywatch). On the hills you can walk, especially if your ambitions don’t go beyond enjoying finishing the race. The views from the top were spectacular, as were the aloe forests.

We passed through villages where local kids bothered us for sweets.

From the top of the last hill, we gazed down at the beach and Hole in the Wall, relieved therun was over. It wasn’t. Our battered knees still had to survive a steep downhill to get to the finish line.

The cold beer after the medals was all the reward we wanted.

Although the place is now haunted by adrenaline junkies, Hole in the Wall has an important place in local mythology.

According to the prophetess Nongqawuse, it was through the hole that the souls of dead Xhosa warriors were to come to release the people from the hated British in 1857.

But first they had to kill their cattle. Not only the locals followed the instruction; hundreds of thousands of cattle were slaughtered.

The people were left destitute when the prophecy was not fulfilled.

Later that evening we had dinner and a prize-giving at the Ocean View Hotel in nearby Coffee Bay, where we stayed for the night. The party went on till 4am.

The aftermath

Five hours on the bus from Coffee Bay to East London Airport. Some of the guys killed time drinking takeaway beer. The rest of us stuck to chips, chocolate and whatever other padkos our fragile systems could stomach.

The city seemed urbane and ordinary. It hit us like a damn anticlimax.

Carien was invited by Wildrunner, which organised Wildcoast Wildrun. For more details on the Wild Coast and other trail runs, go to www.wildrun.com

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