I generally jump at any opportunity to take my trail running shoes on a trip away from the Concrete Jungle. So when Barry Tonkin from St Francis Sport invited me to be part of the second BestMed Chokka Ultra Trail, I didn’t have to think twice… I entered immediately!

On Saturday 5 August I made my way to the airport and waved goodbye to Gauteng. After a rather short flight to Port Elizabeth, and an even shorter drive, I was in a totally different and absolutely beautiful part of the country! Registration was just as quick and efficient. The staff were friendly and even more excited than I was to see so many runners turn up, either to pick up their entries or bravely enter last-minute. I then made my way down to the beach to support the 3km and 5km kiddies races that had just kicked off. Enjoying myself, with my feet in the cold Cape St Francis ocean and fresh salty air in my lungs. I glanced around at the picturesque scenery surrounding me; a wide soft strip of white sand outlining a bluer-than-blue ocean, an orange sunset-sky and the light house proudly erect like a guardian angel watching over the small town… And I thought: THIS ONE is going to be one for the books!

Come Sunday morning, the 62km runners gathered all geared up with head lamps, hydration packs and long sleeves for the early 5am start. The weather had given us all a scare the previous night, angrily spitting down bucket-loads for most of the night. But as we were huddling together under the BestMed banner there were only a few puddles in the road in front of us. The crisp morning breeze and open sky full of stars also held a lot of promise.

Image credit: Chris Scott Photography

And away we go!
The race started quite fast, as one would expect with the strong men’s field present. The headlamp beams of Quintin Honey and Nic de Beer soon disappeared into the darkness as they chased each other for the lead along the winding paths passing the lighthouse. And, as if the skies knew we were all starting out on an epic adventure, the brightest shooting star I’ve ever seen streaked across the sky just as we passed the lighthouse!

I tried to keep a steady, fast pace from the start and to stick as close to the front pack as possible – but a nasty slip-and-fall on one of the footpaths only a kilometre into the race already cost me a few seconds, and some of the speedsters passed me while I was recovering from the fall. Single track soon turned into jeep-track, which then led us to a stretch of pristine beach just as the sun peaked over horizon.

Image credit: Xavier Briel

I was fortunate enough to enter the infamous dune field at 32km with two strong men, Bruce Arnett and Deon Appollis. These guys pulled me along as we scrambled up and down the 16km stretch of undulating white sand hills. Fortunately copious amounts of rain from the previous two days had compacted the dunes to some extent, making the steep ups and downs a bit more runnable.

I’d forgotten to fill up my water bottles before hitting the fields and became quite dehydrated and desperate to finish quite early into the battle-zone. But just as I was about to throw in the towel, I stumbled upon a lonely track with some writing in the sand next to it saying, “Had enough of sand”. This made me smile and realize that we’re all in the same boat, and if this guy pushed forward… then so can I! So I fixed my eyes on the greenness beyond the dunes and kept on going step by step.

Finally, WATER! (Seriously, I can’t remember when last I was this happy to see a water table.) We quickly filled up and the pace picked up again as we attacked the final 15km with new vigour. The terrain – ranging between 4×4 jeep track, tar, jetties and beach – was flat and easy on our tired legs, giving us a chance to turn up the speed as we headed for the finish line.

Bagging a win and adopting a penguin
I honestly didn’t expect a win as I haven’t raced since my terrible ordeal at the inaugural Munga trail run. That said, I was more than grateful to be the first lady across the finish line. The highlights of the day were too many to count. But the best moment was without a doubt being rewarded with the ultimate prize; the opportunity to adopt a penguin at the Cape St Francis SANCCOB facility. The prize giving had a festive atmosphere as young and old, runners and supporters all gathered around to fill their tummies at Joe Fish Restaurant.

Image credit: Chris Scott Photography

For me personally the race has been a huge victory, as I’d been focusing my training on improving my speed – doing more intervals, fartlek and tempo runs. And, although my speed is not nearly where I want it to be, my Chokka results gave me some indication that all the hard work is paying off! I left Cape St Frances with a happy heart, not to mention overweight luggage filled with prizes – including a penguin soft toy, a bottle of RAKA wine, protea flower… and at least half a dune of sea sand!

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved: First, Barry Tonkin for inviting me. To the whole team, including Barry, Eric and Esti Stewart and Chanel Hauvett – you guys put in so much work behind the scenes to make the event the success it was. To all the sponsors, I was showered with so many gifts that I could barely carry them to my car! Then there’s K&C Properties for sponsoring my entry, and my sponsors NavWorld and Raidlight South Africa who always kit me out with the best gear. And finally, a big thank you to my family and friends for all their ongoing support.

What gear I used and how it helped me

  • Garmin Fenix 5: This amazing new addition to the Fenix range not only helps me with training – its improved tracking features help me a great deal during races too. During training I use the intervals feature to log my times, and also use the metronome function during hill repeats to work on rhythm and pace. On tempo runs and during races it helps me to keep a steady pace and stay on track.
  • Raidlight Responsiv Vest for ladies (comes with 2x 750ml soft flasks): A light-weight, tight-fitting race vest that hugs your body, minimising chafing and discomfort – ideal for long distance running.
  • Raidlight waterproof jacket: Just for in case…
  • Arm warmers (no name brand): To maintain a little body heat when starting on cold mornings. Plus they weigh next to nothing and can easily be removed and put in your pack without you having to take it off.
  • Racefood: Only the best running nutrition out there!
  • Evoc Performance fuel

Why the BestMed Chokka should be on your bucket list

  • This race gives “value for your money” a whole new meaning. The opportunity to run in such a beautiful area is made even more special by the exceptionally friendly team of organizers who go out of their way to assist any runner. Then there’s the well-marked route, well-stocked water tables and excellent prizes and spot-prizes. Add it all up and it makes the amount you pay to enter almost unreal.
  • The race really has a little bit of everything: flat, easy-to-run-on footpaths and 4×4 jeep tracks, calve-crunching dune fields, some rocky technical bits, a river crossing, tar and – my absolute favourite – running on a stretch of secluded, pristine beach.
  • A percentage of the race entry goes towards SANCCOB and the wonderful work that they do to rescue and rehabilitate seabirds in the area (read more about them on their website).
  • The race caters for the entire family. There are kiddies races for the young ones to enjoy (1,3 and 5km races), as well as a swimming pool and play area at the Joe Fish Restaurant for the non-runners. There are also events for runners of various fitness levels – distances include 10km, 18km, 23km, 30km and 62km races. And all races start and end at the same venue, making it easy to include the whole family or a group of friends taking part in different events.

If this race is not entered into your 2018 running calendar yet, jot it down it now! – (c) 2017 NavWorld

About The Author

Naomi Brand

Farm girl, adventure seeker, artist and up-and-coming veterinary surgeon. Ultra trail runner Naomi Brand, 28, has been taking the competitive running world by storm with her proactive attitude and fighting spirit. When not stuck with her nose in books, she spends as much time as she can in nature doing what she loves best – trail running, saying: “Trail running has not only become an important priority in my life, but an integral part of my lifestyle.”

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