African X Multistage Trail Run | 3 Days

The first time I ran African X, I was invited to join my friend Heidi whose running partner had suffered an injury and had to pull out; you may only enter this race in a team of two. Heidi invited me because of my experience with other multistage trail runs, and because she knew that I exercise and keep fit daily.

But, the race was due to start on the 7th May and Heidi invited me on the 19th April! I hadn’t done any distance running for many months beyond 5 or 7 km and I had only 17 days to prepare.

It gets more complicated – at that time I was living in Johannesburg, on the 26th April I was driving to the Kruger National Park with my future son-in-law Luc, a distance of 420km, spending 4 days there and then after returning to Johannesburg I would be driving back to Cape Town, a distance of 1,430km.

Notwithstanding all these complications, which left hardly any time at all to do long distance training, I said yes and immediately prepared a training programme in my pocket notebook – I still have it, here it is:

20TueRest(Nothing like starting a training programme with a rest day)
21Wed7.5kmTreadmill and knees strengthening exercise
22Thur15kmDevonshire park (a small park near where I lived, the perimeter was exactly 1km)
23Fri12kmTreadmill (planned it but missed this, can’t remember why)
24Sat15kmTreadmill (how many people do you know who can run 15km on a treadmill)
25Sun34kmSuikerbos Nature Reserve, ran for 3 hours (then went to the airport to pick up Luc)
26MonRestDrive to Kruger National Park
27Tue15km(Ran out through the fields and roads next to our B&B)
1SatRestDrive back to Jo’burg, take Luc to airport, leave for Cape Town
2SunRestDrive to Cape Town
3Mon24kmConstantia & Tokai forest trails
4TueRest? – depends on how body is feeling
5Wed8kmLight – depends on how body is feeling
6Thur2-3kmLight – depends on how body is feeling
7FriAfrican X race starts

I’m pretty sure that my major saving grace that got me through Day 1 and Day 2 of the run was the fact that I’d done most of my training, and had based my core fitness, at altitude and then the race was at sea level. Johannesburg sits on a high-altitude inland plateau 1,753 metres (6 000 feet) above sea level. This means it takes a minute longer to boil an egg there and visiting athletes must arrive a week early to acclimatise.

The final cherry on the top of this story is that the weather during the event was atrocious and in fact was so bad on the final day, with the race village and tents having been blown and washed away by storms during the night, that the final day’s run was cancelled for safety reasons.

The second time I ran African X I did train for it but only ran the second, longest and hardest day. Here’s why – I wasn’t actually registered to run the race and purely through being friends with the race sponsors and organisers I was permitted to accompany two young ladies that I had trained for the event on one of their days.

A few months previously these two young ladies, Lisa and Shirley, who I had known by association only since we ran with the same trail running club every Wednesday night, had approached me during one of our runs to ask me for some tips. They knew that I had run a few multistage races and had just entered to do their first one, African X.

I did a little more than offer a few tips – took them on an initial 3-day running test run, then prepared a 5 month training programme for them most of which I did the training with them. Really lovely ladies and I have become best of friends with them and their husbands. In fact have even provided Life Skills Coaching as well as Relationship Mediation for them.

The third time I ran African X I did just that, ran the whole way all three days. And this time the venue and route had changed which added even more spice to the enjoyment for me. And my running partner – none other than Shirley since Lisa was off having a baby.

If you are a trail runner of any sorts, or even a roadie with thoughts of getting into the endurance trail running scene, you can do no better than signing up for Africa X. It is hard but doable. It is situated in a stunning around based around the HouwHoek Inn, and you will go a long way and have to work really hard to find any fault at all with the race organising in every respect. Spending my three nights in the tent village was one of the most enjoyable long weekends I have ever had.

Jon O’Hanlon