Stage 1: 26km - 2:13:57
I started the stage well and settled behind the fastest two starters of the day, Mahmut Yavuz and Anthony Ginter. I knew that Mahmut had run two good races this year (2nd in the Gobi March and 1st in Runfire Cappadocia) and that Anthony had run MDS a number of times with solid results so it was a good place to be. The pace was relatively quick although it fell into the range of effort that I had been expecting for this first stage. We ran together for the first 4km which were on rolling, hard-packed dirt roads. The first challenge of the race was a sand riverbed, followed by a few kilometers of soft sand road. When we entered the sand I held my effort at the same level (based on heart rate) and unexpectedly I pulled away a little. I held this effort and was running alone for the next 16km through the sand riverbed, on the sand road and back onto the hard-packed park road.
I thought that I was going to win the stage and open a decent time margin, but Mahmut caught back up to me when we were on the hard-packed dirt road. The pace was fast, but the effort was about the same as it had been throughout the stage. After the last checkpoint we headed down to the Orange River on a steep and rocky descent. This was followed by 3km along the banks of the Orange River which was rocky and difficult footing. I was able to run faster than Mahmut so I pushed through the last 3km of the stage, won the stage and gained just under a minute lead by the finish line.
|I saw a lot of giraffes during the week.|
|In the lead on a long and winding road through the park.|
|About 4kms from the end we descended down to the Orange River.|
|A tough and short section away from the river up to Camp 1.|
|Only 1min in the lead heading to the finish of the stage,|
Stage 2: 33km - 2:46:27
I expected this stage to be fast and at a similar effort to the first day. When I reviewed the day's route in camp after the first stage I noted that there was a 5km section up a dry, sandy gorge just after the third checkpoint at 20km. Based on how I had performed in the sand on the previous stage I decide to run a hard effort in the sandy gorge and see if I could pull away again.
Mahmut kept the pace high and we worked well together into a strong wind for most of the morning. The pace was right on the upper edge of where I wanted to run so I didn't lift the tempo in anticipation of the river gorge ahead. When we arrived at the river gorge I was happy to see that it was deep sand and difficult running. We both slowed although Mahmut slowed more than me and I opened a gap as I had hoped. I pushed at the high effort (the pace slowed for the tough conditions) and by the end of the river gorge I couldn't see Mahmut behind me.
The final section of the day was rolling hills until we arrived at camp. I held the effort and the pace picked up on the good ground underfoot. At the end of the stage I had a gap of ten minutes over Mahmut and was right on target to achieve my race plan.
|We climbed away from the Orange River early in the stage.|
|After climbing from the river, we descended a gradual set of switchbacks.|
|I ran with Mahmut for the first 20km of the day.|
Stage 3: 39km - 3:29:10
This stage preceded the long day and the general consensus around camp was to take it a little more easily to save some energy for the following day. That was my race plan and the fact that only the last 2km were sand meant that there were not too many places that would suit me to attack. With the lead I had over second, I knew that I could be more conservative on this stage and follow my race plan.
Mahmut, Tiaan and I ran together in a group for the first part of the stage. The pace was easier and it was great to have Tiaan join us in the front of the race as there was a lot of wind and having another runner to take turns in the wind helped. We held this level of effort, easier than the first two days, for the first 25km until Tiaan started to fade a little. I knew that Tiaan had run a very good long stage in 2012 so I worked with Mahmut to push and open a gap on Tiaan. We were running well and it seemed that it had worked well as we approached the final 2km which was a deep sand riverbed descent to camp.
I thought Mahmut was tiring, so I picked up my effort reasoning that going hard for the final 2km wouldn't hurt me too much before the following day. I opened a gap quickly and held the pace as well as I could until the finish. At the finish I was surprised that Tiaan arrived second a few minutes ahead of Mahmut. I had gained 5 minutes in 2km over Mahmut and Tiaan had shown that he was still a contender and strong after the first three stages. It was a good stage and I was well set for the following day.
|Lots of long roads and good running during stage 3.|
|In the last few kilometers we ran down a beautiful sandy canyon.|
Stage 4: 75km - 7:14:10
The long stage intimidated me and I was worried about how well I could handle the following stages after this long one. In the Atacama Crossing I ran well during the long stage until about 65km then struggled a lot and faded considerably towards the end of the stage. I also had little energy left for the last stage of the Atacama Crossing and I didn't want to repeat that in KAEM. My plan was to run a consistent effort throughout the day focusing on keeping hydrated, eating regularly and staying cool (I started the stage at 1pm).
The first 14km were on plan and I was running with Mahmut and Tiaan again. After the second checkpoint we arrived at another dry riverbed. I held my effort consistent and again opened a small gap on the others. I didn't increase my effort, but tried to run cleverly by sticking to the edges of the riverbed out of sight and hopefully demoralizing the others. This would be the last time I would see the others until the finish.
The rest of the day I stuck to my plan 100% and I was really pleased that I didn't fade and could run strongly through the entire stage. The stage had a staggered start so all of the field excpet for Mahmut and Tiaan had started in front of me and I worked throughout the day to catch them. It was good for motivation and fun to see everyone in the race through the day. By the end of the stage I had caught the last person in front of me when I had 5km to go and ran into camp first.
I thought that I had increased my lead significantly because I felt I had run a very good stage, and I had, but Mahmut also ran a great stage and arrived 9 minutes after me. Overall my lead was now 25 minutes which was a great margin that I would need to guard carefully in the following days.
|It felt like most of the stage was set on soft, sandy jeep tracks.|
|There were a couple of never-ending sand road sections added in.|
|No day would pass in the race without at least one sandy riverbed.|
|More sandy road in the late afternoon.|
|I ran alone for 60km, but a staggered start meant I saw everyone in the race.|
Stage 5: 45km - 4:13:13
With a 25-minute lead my plan for this stage was only to hold my overall position and reduce the distance where Mahmut would have an opportunity to attack and win back time. The stage was relatively uneventful. I ran beside or behind Mahmut the whole day leaving it up to him to take the initiative if he wanted to change the race standings.
I was tired and had a tough day. It was the hottest day of the race and windy with a dry warm wind making me feel dried out and dehydrated. However, with a simple and clear goal for the day I was able to hold on and finish the stage together with Mahmut. There was only one stage left to the race and I felt relieved that my lead was still intact.
|The day started with a rocky climb from the overnight camp by the river.|
|Lots of sand in the early part of the stage.|
|During the week we crossed into and out of the park under the fences.|
|Following all day to hold my overall lead.|
Stage 6: 26km - 2:06:00
The last stage was 26km and I had a 25 minute lead so I knew that I could hold on. Nonetheless the race is not over until it's over so I stayed alert and made sure I would be ready to run hard and respond to any attacks or surges. The field was again staggered at the start with the intention that the fastest runners would arrive at the finish last where all the other competitors would be waiting. Mahmut, Tiaan and I started together.
The pace on this day was easy and it felt great! I was pleased to be running more slowly than the rest of the week and I tried my best to enjoy the scenery and the fact that I was in a beautiful place and, provided nothing went wrong, I would win. We stayed together all the way until a few kilometers from the end.
My brother had started a few hours earlier than me, but he had got lost in the last part of the course and was taking longer than his anticipated time so I caught up to him before the finish. Tiaan and Mahmut ran ahead and I took my time, enjoying finishing a fantastic race together with Brian. It was amazing to finish together with my brother and meet my dad at the finish line. We had all finished the race and I had achieved my objective and won my second stage race of the year.
|Stage 6 started with a smooth road leading out of the park.|
|We ran over Moon Rock in the last few kilometers of the stage.|
|Slowing down as I catch my brother almost at the finish.|
|Finishing the last day with my brother.|
|A very happy family at the finish together.|
Overall - 22:02:57
I was extremely happy to win this race and perform better than I had done in the Atacama Crossing earlier in the year. I managed to run my race plan and the plan was good enough for the win. At the finish I learnt that I had run a course record which was a great surprise and awesome bonus.