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Drakensberg Grand Traverse Run

Updated: Nov 15, 2022

I’ve always wanted to do the DGT FKT ( Drakensberg Grand Traverse, Fastest Known Time), however, being able to choose my start date meant I never chose my start date. As they say, the more time you have, the more time you'll use.

Last September, on an adventure with the current DGT FKT record holder, Ryno Griesel, I was witness to a special discussion about the concept of the Race over the #DGTFKT route between Ryno and Graham Bird (Co-Race Director with Spurgeon Flemington). The more they talked about the route, the more I was interested in seeing what this was all about.

I chose to race the first official DGT RUN for two simple reasons.

  1. I now had a date that I could commit to.

  2. Running the first race would be special. No FKT, but special in its own way.

My build-up to the race was cool. It was probably the most amount of running I'd ever done in a 6 month period. I was lucky enough to start this base fresh off completing Expedition Africa, Lesotho in relatively good shape. I have never

considered myself to be a runner and so this event was a tall ask. I built my own training plan that consisted of max 12 hours of running a week, with plenty of cross-training to keep me stimulated. I tend to get bored quickly, so although this "Expedition Race" was only running, I trained for it like it was an Adventure Race. Sadly though, the last one and a half months were a shambles. I fell ill which hampered my training and I had to be careful to not overdo things and panic train... It wasn't anything like the first 5 months of green boxes in training peaks.

Our 6 of the 7 Check Points

I was privileged to race with Wesley Antonites. I've wanted to race with Wes for a few years now, almost as long as I have known him. Wes is a cool, calm and collected adventurer with an "I'll deal with it when it happens” attitude. I, in turn, am an A-type; a borderline OCD-type adventurer who has too many spreadsheets for too few races. In that weird way, we complement each other's personalities and traits and allowed them to be played against one another as strengths when required. What we do have in common is an immense amount of respect for one another and the mountains we randomly found ourselves in. With years of big-ish mountain experience, we knew what we were getting into and knew that we each had the mental capacity to finish DGT no matter the conditions, happily, without much stress. We both felt this was our biggest strength as a team and looking back, it played out like that.

On our 5 or 6 training runs together we discussed - very casually- how our training was going, what our goals and expectations were and how we were going to do this. Expectations, among other things, are the secret spice that can make any AR or expedition successful and fun.

In race week and on race day, I was as calm as I have ever been, despite knowing I was about to 'run' 210km. Normally, I get all nervous and I start races filled with internal doubt. I guess after a few tough races, I am starting to mature and understand myself so much better.

We started off slow, I ran the first 200m out of excitement before we settled into a lekker 'trek' just as we had planned. We basically wanted to walk the first 160 km and then see what was left for the final 50km and leave it all out there. Simple enough.

Five hours in, I started to feel sick and had diarrhoea. We still chipped away happily, joking about how we had no idea how big this really was and how we actually had no idea where we were (at times). I tweaked the supplied and suggested GPX route file to suit us and we followed a little blue line on our Suuntos, often through valleys with no clue what was to the left, right or in front of us. As we zoned in on Cleft peak, the 2nd of 7 Checkpoints the sunset and the mist and rain rolled in. It was a little bit of a wake-up call. We were in the thick of it now. We summited Cleft, slept 2 hours and as we moved closer towards sunlight, my gut settled... However, Wes started to feel nauseous. Just as one of us was fine, the other seemed to feel low.

The mountain was wet! Wet underfoot and overhead. To say we spent 4 days with wet feet, not dry once is no overestimation. Early in the race, trench foot started to set in and I wasn't happy about that. We balanced our lows by swapping nav and pathfinding, sometimes slowing the pace when needed. Often, less responsibility on the mind was enough for each of us to recover mentally and Wes soon felt better.

After a fun day in the sun, we summited Mafadi in good spirits. Having Mafadi (3 451m) out of the way was a cool feather in our cap... It wasn't too soon after that that the feather disappeared in the wind with our hopes and dreams 😂. As we descended into the hardcore Jarateng, I started to feel nauseous. Trying to use most of our remaining daylight, we pushed to avoid storms, but we didn't really drop off the pace. Now starting to feel the 35+ hours of fatigue, we did one or two silly things, like spending an hour trying to cross a river to avoid wet feet, despite already having damp feet. Moving up and following the Jarateng river to Giants at night was tough. I started to feel more and more ill and we were both properly ‘MOEG’! Using my AR experience, I suggested we sleep earlier than planned to re-gather our mushed and wet brains. Just as well, while sleeping the heavens opened. Thankfully we were sheltered in our tent, dry. Cold, but dry!

Just after our second two-hour nap, I started to vomit for the first time. This wasn't ideal. We were at the base of 2 very big climbs to come, Giants to be followed by Thabana. Of all times, this is when we needed our strength. With Wes on nav and pathfinding, we soldiered on slowly.

After about 8 hours of no eating, for me. We arrived at Giants Castle (3 315m,) around 46 hours into the race, as the sun was rising. I felt awful and was looking for attention or worse, a way out. Pierre and Nicollete greeted us with loads of enthusiasm and strongly suggested that we looked like the best out of the 2 teams in front of us. As I opened my mouth to complain, Pierre very politely told me to get over myself and get on with it. Exactly what I needed to hear. After a meal and the stunning views of Giants, I felt so much better and was motivated to get this thing done. Not for long, roughly 2 minutes after eating, I vomited for the 2nd time, now emptying my guts with enough noise and Butter Chicken Curry for Wesley to exclaim, "Oh Terence you're like... actually sick, like, you looked f*cked!"

Lying on the floor, heaving for a few minutes allowed me to motivate myself - "well, you have nothing left to vomit and you're halfway, so get over yourself and get this done."

Photos by Mountain Abandon

We pushed on, moving constantly towards Thabana Ntlenyana (3 482m). Although I wasn't eating at all. I was consuming mass amounts of water and my “tailwind” pushed me on while Wes nav'd, allowing for some degree of recovery. I didn't eat till we arrived at Sani Pass Aid Station, the only Aid station of the race. Thabana Ntlenyana marked about 30 hours of no food consumption for me.

We refuelled like winners at Sani, eating egg rolls and drinking hot chocolate while we had foot rubs! The final kms to Sani killed our soaked and blistery feet. After a lengthy stay, now refreshed and ready to roll, we reminded each other of our goal. I stated to Wes, "We have basically finished the DGT!".

We hadn't run at all since the start, despite food and feet, the rest of our bodies were still fresh! We could smell that finish line! We set off with intent and didn't stop for much. Now feeling better, I nav'd and path-found like a beast, pushing our pace for a good few hours and over a good few hills. We had a few meaningful stops for food and clothing but overall, nothing could stop us now. We crested the final CP, Thamatu Pass well under our section goal time and to the surprise of many, including Nicolette and Pierre, who had cameras in hand. You know what to do on a trail race when there are cameras right? You run!