The middle section of any endurance race is tough, whether it’s the middle day of a stage race, or the middle chunk of a 54km ultra! The middle section of the Merrell Whale of Trail is no different. From CP2 at Elandspad to CP4 at Lekkerwater you cover a total of 21.5km. It might sound short and cheerful, but it’s what the Race Organiser, Graham Bird, deems the toughest. So, save some energy for your pins (and your mind) to get through this section in one piece.
CP 2 Elandspad to CP3 at Noetsie
It’s a short, cruisy 4.5km from first water point on the route, CP2, to Noetsie, CP3 and you’ll likely be feeling refreshed and revived from some snacking at the water table. Noetsie is a significant point on the route, as it’s when you intercept the coastline and hit the half way mark on the route. It’s also when you hang a hard right and finally point in the direction of the finish. Be sure to give your race number to the marshal, and maybe even a high five. A small tip at this stage, avoid looking ahead to the finish at the sand dunes – they look further than they really are, and it might derail you!
Noetsie to Hamerkop Hut
There is a 7km stretch from Noetsie to Hamerkop Hut, which isn’t actually a CP, but definitely worthy of a mention as it’s the start of the beach. The section before the beach is the one to look out for though, and according to the Race Organiser, “the hardest part of the route.” Bird goes on to explain why, “This section has many small little climbs (little 30-50m ascents and descents) and will wear down even the fittest runner.” While the undulating coastal path will certainly test your physical limits, be sure you try to soak in your surroundings. If anything, use the high vantage point from the rugged cliffs to spot your first whales! A tip for this section is to full up with water at Hamerkop Hut (a short walk off the beach), as it’s a long 10km beach section ahead.
Hamerkop Hut – CP4 Lekkerwater
The notorious beach section! This 10km is arguably the most talked about section of the route, as it involves the long, gruelling beach crossing. The bonus of knowing about it ahead of the race though, is that you can prepare mentally for it, and tackle it with the right attitude. Don’t overdo things on the beach, especially if you time it poorly with the tides and have to deal with soft, thick sand. Take small steps with a high cadence and conserve a) your energy and b) your feet. If you get sand in your shoes and feel any blisters starting to rub, stop, sit down and empty your shoes out. There are still 15km to go after Lekkerwater, so it’s worth storing some reserve energy and keeping your feet in tact!
Lekkerwater marks the second and final water point on the route, so stock up, snack and rejuvenate your feet and mind with some friendly banter with the marshals. If you get through the middle section, you’re on the home stretch and have one more CP between you and the finish line! Tune in next month for a detailed breakdown of the final 15km.