• by Allison Lamb

The Southern Cross 3-day trail run has been on my bucket list for a while. In its fifth year now, this race has grown from a predominantly pairs event to some 300 runners, both pairs and solos, exploring the beautiful trails on the Garden Route. SOX Lite, open to 150 runners, is the brainchild of Sonja Otto who saw a gap in the market for trail runners keen to try a multi-day event but not quite ready for the 30km-plus daily distance that most of them require. Also perfect for ‘middle of the pack, keep trying to up my game but no time to train’ me!

Registration at Fairy Knowe

We left Cape Town at lunchtime and squeaked into the Fairy Knowe hotel in Wilderness just in time for race briefing. I was very happy to see familiar faces from my running club back home, as well as from the Pondo Drifter Trail Run in Transkei (another awesome Trisport event).  We’d opted for dinner at the hotel that night and I sat star struck at the dinner table when we were joined by race photographer Dylan Haskin, videographer Chris Hitchcock and MC Jeff Ayliffe. While my partner chatted surfing (he was going to surf Vic Bay all day while I ran), I told Dylan that he was my favourite adventure sports photographer and that my ambition was to have a Dylan Haskin original. I actually said that. Out loud. Then I took myself off to bed to avoid further embarrassment.

Karatara to Farleigh (20 km)

I managed a spoonful of scrambled eggs at breakfast and empathised with a runner at my table who said she wasn’t being rude, just too nervous to chat. My head was all over the place; I’d left my tog bag in my room, just made it to the bus on time, only to have that bus miss the turn-off to Hoekwil. Luckily Christiaan and Landie Greyling noticed we weren’t going the right way.  Christiaan sat up front and navigated us good-humouredly to the start. The advantage to arriving late to the start was that was that we were warm and there was no one in the toilet queue!

This was the mountain day and while the SOX runners went up to the single-track higher up, the SOX Lite crew meandered up and down the undulating jeep track in the foothills, passing giant ferns and streams. I had a very chilled run, walking the hills and running the flats, thoroughly enjoying quietening my monkey mind. This day had a fast downhill finish that took lots of concentration not to get a speed wobble and fall flat on my face. Joy of joys at the finish line was vetkoek for lunch, which I practically inhaled, and then hopped onto the bus to go back to the race village.

Circles in the forest (10 km)

An even earlier start to this day took us deep into the Millwood forest. Today’s route took us on gorgeous single track over tree trunks; rock hopping through streams, with a very muddy uphill finish. Spur burgers and coffee at the finish at Mother Holly tea garden was a very welcome second breakfast and the early finish meant there was lots of time to explore Wilderness and surrounds in the afternoon. In hindsight I wished I’d booked the sports massages on offer as calves and quads were tired from the day before and by late afternoon I was pretty stiff.

Carmel to Fairy Knowe (20 km)

I woke extra early and really nervous for the last day. My legs were complaining at the unaccustomed abuse (I really must do back-to-back run training for multi-day events) and I needed to coax another 20 km from them. But that was soon forgotten as we raced downhill from Carmel through the forest onto the Victoria Bay railway line. This was simply spectacular running, along the disused tracks with the sea hundreds of feet below. Some technical rocky single-track took us down to Wilderness beach and around the lagoon. Boardwalks along the river led us to the Wilderness National Park with a monster climb to the viewpoint (luckily I had loaded up on jelly babies at the water point just before this so was in good spirits). Then a Pont crossing where some poor tourists, who just wanted to get across, landed up getting stuck ferrying a never-ending stream of runners. The last few kilometres were dig deep time, we were on railway track where I struggled to find a rhythm. Then finally flat, grassy track to the 60 m floating bridge across the Touw River from Ebb-and-Flow to Fairy Knowe. What an epic finish! I ran across the river to a high five from Hano and a medal from Sonja.

I loved everything about this race from the times I was alone inside my head to the inspirational stories from people I met along the way, turning a corner and seeing Sonja and Hano always smiling and high-fiving, feeling tired and then finding a well-stocked aid station where a handful of jelly babies, cheese ‘n onion chips and salty boiled potato and I was hundreds again, and then reliving it all again at the evening photo and video show. Put this race on your bucket list!

I got not one but three Dylan Haskin photos of me. Actually running. Like a real runner.

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