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Wartrail 2020 – DSV Cyanosis Adventure Racing

Clinton Mac / 24.02.2020
Heads down on one of the big climbs
Heads down on one of the big climbs / © Xavier Briel

[The DSV Cyanosis Adventure Racing Team of Clinton Mackintosh, Nicholas Mulder, Darren Berry and Tracey Campbell completed this year's Ledlenser Wartrail Challenge - here's their race report.]

“This is a boutique race; it will never have the numbers like SkyRun but that’s OK.  This is a very tough race not suitable for all.” These were the words of Race Director Adrian Saffy during the race briefings.

Wartrail Challenge is an iconic multiport race consisting of two options, the traditional 3-day race with one discipline per day, or the non-stop Wartrail Challenge. The courses are roughly the same except the non-stop MTB leg is 150km and not 120km as is the case in the 3 day multiport race.  (The multiday athletes hit the 120km MTB leg in daylight and the non-stop racers inevitably do this leg at night.  The difference in time racing the same terrain in the daylight and at night is huge.)

What makes the non-stop a little more interesting is you get to choose your start time, there is a “dark-zone” on the paddle leg and if you time your race start properly you will arrive at the paddle put in with about 30-40 min before the dark-zone lift so you leave with the multiday athletes.  This means you’ve got to plan your pace properly, you have to factor in a very technical 60km Mountain Run, a very tough 150km MTB leg with a number of bike carries in the dark to get to the paddle start before the 6am dark-zone lift.  Well that’s how we planned our race.

Team DSV Cyanosis love this race, it’s as strategic as it is tough, and it is so rewarding.  We were the last team to leave the start at Lady Grey.  Tthe reason this town is so special is that most of the land we traverse through (275km) is arranged and supported with the help of the local farmers and their hospitality is incredible. Their enthusiasm and support for these events is infectious to all who participate and spectate.

This year was no different, we chose to leave at 07h 00 planning to run the Witteberg mountain leg in around 9hrs and we expected a 12 hour MTB leg.  I have done this race 4 times, winning in 2014 with Nathan Thompson and 2015/2016 with Nicholas Mulder and in 2018 we had a DNF.  So, we knew that the MTB leg would take about 12 hrs based on previous years, putting us at the paddle with at least 45 mins to transition.  Of course, there is always the risk of things going pear-shaped but that’s what makes it a challenge.  The other teams in the non-stop left about 5/6 hrs earlier and the closest team left around 1h 20min ahead.  We had them in our sights and it’s always a good feeling to chase rather to be chased.

The Chase Is On

We started well with what we thought would be a pace to keep us on plan, but this is the mountains and things happen.  Altitude sickness slowed the pace down in the first 20km but we kept hitting the CP’s within 5 mins of our target time.  This mountain run is tough.  Once you get to “The Tower” at CP1 after 7km of constant climbing you are not rewarded with pristine footpaths and beautiful tracks.  The only paths are animal tracks and those used by the 100’s of Skyryun athletes in November each year.

This time of year these tracks are so overgrown that avoiding an ankle injury is a challenge. Well we managed this for around 40km.  Just after we went over the highest CP we hit a fence line and the plan was to run this section to the last CP and chase any time lost so far.  We were already realistically looking at a 10 hr run and this would have repercussions on our MTB leg.  We were not leaving ourselves any leeway for any major mechanicals or other issues on the MTB.

Probably not the best idea as this run is known for high grass and rocks, and Tracey managed to find that one rock that would test the teams resolve.  She rolled her ankle.  I was a little behind so all I heard was her screech and the saw her laying in the grass looking skywards.  Never a comforting sight or sound.  She got up on her own and hobbled along testing her ankle, for me her stability looked OK and although in some pain she managed to move forward unabated, so we decided there was no need to strap it up and continued.

Tracey soldiered on without much more discussion.  We hit the last CP behind our schedule time and pushed the last 9km trying to make the sub 10 hour mark.  This last stretch in the valley seems endless, and it just goes ON AND ON ... We really ran that last 6km hard and crept into the run finish in a time of 09h 57min.

Night Riders

We planned a 30 min transition to change kit, put on bike lights and eat, so we were out on the 150 km MTB leg quickly.  It was so good to be off our legs, well only for the first 5km as we rolled down the flat valley floor and we hit ‘the Climb”.  At the 5km mark you see the dirt road heading up and up and up, the first of many climbs on the ride.  The 12km climb in the afternoon heat on already tired legs was not the “I am happy to be sitting on my bike feeling we really wanted.”  We had a plan and we wanted to keep to it if we possibly could.  

We were told while we were transitioning that the multiday MTB leg of 120km record was broken that morning and they did it in around 6hrs and some change.  That is hugely impressive but not remotely doable at night on tired legs.  (In my opinion the multiday athletes have more of a mental challenge because they get to see what’s coming next in the daylight!)

The MTB leg has 2 significant bike carries you simply can’t ride, there are no paths.  So, in order to progress its bike on your back and you climb the mountain until you hit a track.  You push for 100m, climb back on in the hope that you can ride for longer, and realize only after repeating this 20 times that it is not worth mounting. Accept the bike push and get on with it!  We progressed with only a few mechanicals and hit Joubert Pass.

Anyone doing Wartrail Challenge feels that this is the iconic bike ascent of the entire leg.  A BIG pass climb that you must traverse to get back into Lady Grey and then its “only” another 40km of relatively easy riding to get to the paddle.  Every year we seem to forget how long that last 40km really is. We think it is easy going but that dirt road is corrugated and undulating not to mention already racing for 23 hrs straight.

Paddle To The Finish

When you arrive in a TA you quickly forget the hardships of the previous leg.  It’s like a “reboot”.  You quickly change your focus on to the next challenge, in this case a 63km paddle down the notorious Orange River.  It seems that every year we arrive at Wartrail in the days before the race they have really good rain and the river is pumping.  This means that every year we are optimistic for a fast paddle with less sandbanks to negotiate, taking around 3.5hrs rather max rather than a 5/6 hour slog.

The day we paddled the river was flowing at only 200 cubics, not the 700 cubics it was on arrival two days earlier!  Hello sandbanks and hello zig-zagging across the river to find the fastest flowing water.  (You ALWAYS think other boats are moving faster on the other side so you make a dart for their side only to beach on a sandbank submerged in 20cm of low water.)

It really is an incredible river, and when you are looking around you do get to see a few beautiful things.  This year we stopped to admire a beautiful Fish Eagle perched on a dead tree next to the river.

Nicholas and Darren took a spectacular swim in the middle of the river on a questionable “little” rapid. The rapids have eddies in them so if you do get your timing wrong you will take a beautiful morning swim!  We pressed on and finished Non-stop Wartrail Challenge in 28 hours 27 min.

Wartrail Challenge is exactly that, a challenge!

It’s a unique race and it will always be. It really does attract the person that wants to test themselves above and beyond the norms.  Not all those who arrive are there to win or to compete for podiums, most are curious what lies beyond their perceived limits and to finish a Wartrail Challenge 3 day or Non-Stop is winning enough!

DSV Cyanosis Adventure Racing Team is privileged to race around South Africa and around the World with the help and backing of key sponsors that have ultimately become partners to the team. Thank you to our title sponsor DSV (Transport & Logistics) and to our product sponsors who have been with the team for over 16 years First Ascent / Petzl / Salomon / Specialized Bicycles / Mocke Paddling.

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