Now you can do a Up Run a Down Run or an UP and BACK – Each direction is 21km – so the Up and Back is a marathon.
The Sani Pass is the highest road pass in South Africa and one way to get from the southern Drakensberg in Kwazulu Natal through to Lesotho. For the past 6 years there has been an annual race from the border post in Lesotho down the hair-pinned bend gravel road through the South African Border post (8kms) and then along an undulating 15 km stretch to finish at the Giants Tea Garden.
With barely enough oxygen to fill the lungs, loose gravel on every corner and inclines that allow gravity to pull you through towards the earths centre, many runners pay the price for early enthusiasm and the mistake of thinking this downhill journey is easy. Hurtling through the lower border post their perceptions of dramatic ‘recording breaking PB’s’ crash as their quads and calf’s scream resistance to the relatively minor climbs of the final 10kms. Ambition and reality frequently end up separated by 10 or 15 minutes.
Held at the end of November, the day starts with a 1 hour drive in 4 x 4 vehicles from the finish up to the start. Although other vehicles have made the climb, only these dual axle drive machines can be counted on over this terrain, where mountain mules would be the next safest option. A brisk wind, and often mist, typically covers the top during the early hours. This is soon burnt off by the time the final participants arrive at the door of the “highest pub in Africa”. The Top Chalet also offers accommodation for those who prefer a long lie in.
As the clouds disperse an amazing view opens up infront, as does the realization of the precipitous drop of 1300m back to the start. A gun blast commences the adventure. The skidding of running shoes on gravel undermines the attempt to turn the first corner, and a sudden realization that an extra metre could have taken you down the ‘free-fall short cut’ to the bend below! A more cautious approach is adopted by most at the corners – only so that you can see the view of course! Ice corner, Suicide Bend and Haemorroid Hill are only a few of the aptly named ‘features’ of the run.
The Ladder – It’s tough going up – or DOWN! 18 km’s done and now the pace is slower UP or DOWN there are more than a few challenges to be conquered on the SANI PASS
As you descend the heat increases, and the search for another of the refreshment tables becomes more focussed. There is a sense of reward when you pass through the bottom border post – No time for passports, your race number is your ‘visa’ as the friendly officials wave you through. In truth it is only now that the race begins. As the running get tougher, the scenery and the locally named hills and corners served as distractive entertainment.Early breakers pay for their speed on the downs and the field takes on its final shape as they gravitate towards the finishline, their medal, a T shirt, and a wealth of prizes donated by the community.
There is a festive atmosphere around, as rigor-mortis sets in. For a few this is only the first half of the challenge as the annual mountain bike race is held the following day. For others the celebrations continue and lucky draw prizes of accommodation and local crafts lure them back for another visit to the relaxing and scenic southern berg resorts. Even the accompanying supporters enjoy the visit with a vast array for crafts, tea room, and country pubs to satisfy everyone’s desires. If running doesn’t attract them there is always the trout laden dams, horse trails, or the amply stocked nature reserves.
Cresting out at the top of Sani Pass after a Border to Border UP run in 1995 – The views are behind and the lungs burn Sosibo Jeffrey of Willie Mtolo Club in Bulwer out on the lead for another yearHe holds the record for the 21km version in 1999, in 1 hour 18 minutes.Not as slow or easy as it sounds
With the race barely over plans are already underway for the 2001 version. What about a canoe race and a triathlon on the same weekend? Or what about the ultimate challenge of an UP and BACK Border to Border? mmm – That seems to have legs!! – or at least for the first few kms!