Cell C AfricanX Trailrun: An Emotional Rollercoaster Family Reunion ~ by Jan Ham

This coming Friday sees the 8th running of SA’s premier multi-stage trail run, the Cell C AfricanX Trailrun presented by ASICS. The AfricanX Trailrun boasts the biggest field in any team trail running race, and gives your average Joe the chance to interact and toe the line with some of SA’s elite trail runners including the likes of AJ Calitz, Ben Brimble, Landie Greyling, Megan Mackenzie and many more.

This Friday I’ll be starting my 6th AfricanX, the highest number of any particular race I have ever done. Last night I sat around the fire, enjoying a glass of wine with my beautiful wife, Nini, contemplating what is lying ahead this weekend, when she brought up a few interesting facts/opinions.

When she thinks back to where my trail running really started it was definitely the AfricanX. Out of all the multi-stage events I have run, she has missed only two, but never an AfricanX. Since my first one back in 2011 with my great friend and trail mentor Patrick Cruywagen, she has always been there on the final day with our kids so I can cross the line with one, if not both of them in my arms. I still vividly remember the first time in Kleinmond in 2011, I could hardly get up or walk the final morning due to ITB, but pride, a very supporting teammate and the fact that I didn’t want to disappoint Nini got me through to the finish. Till this very day I still get goose bumps when I hear 2011’s theme song “Happiness” from Alexis Jordan when it plays over the radio. The pride I saw in Nini’s eyes that day (and I still do at every race since then, especially AfricanX), makes me return year after year to relive that feeling.

Now a lot has changed in my 6 years of running the AfricanX. We’ve had a change in title sponsors, in race village from Kleinmond to Houw Hoek, and in terrain, distance and concept. From technical mountain running in the Kogelberg Biosphere, the famous beach section in Kleinmond and the marathon stage on stage 2, to the smoother, well pedicured single tracks of the Elgin/Grabouw Valley, a tough climb over the historical Gantouw Pass, and eventually to the leaders starting an hour later on the final stage in 2015, being welcomed home by nearly the entire field!

And I have had a couple of changes in partners. Patrick was the reason I started trail running and he “coached” me through my first couple of multi-stage events. He then left for the UK, and I started running with my Columbia TRAIL teammate Cole Stanton. As luck would have it in the previous three years we ran together either one or both of us would struggle with some kind of injury, and this year is no surprise. Last year I made a quick swop and got my friend Will Saaiman to run with me. Injury free and taking it relatively easy I helped him through stage 1 (stage 1 & 2 would be the longest single running distance he has ever done to that point), he helped me through stage 2 (it’s terrible having all your tips, words of encouragement and support thrown back at you) and we finished stage 3 in good stead even though he was in serious ITB pain, but with a finishers medal to boast!

In my closet I have five of the most prized “hoodies” or event garments. I wear them on special occasions when the AfricanX calls to me, and as a very superstitious runner, I’m looking forward to donning my latest 1 on Sunday afternoon once I get home. I always only wear the event garment on completion of the race, never before or during. It’s worked for 5 years, why not another.

This year see’s Cole and I going for number 4 together, and with all the advise I have given over the years to novice runners, the most important in an event like the AfricanX, is to get to know your partner, one thing Cole and I have down to the tee. As with any race things tend to go pear shaped sometimes, and it has happened with us on more than one occasion, but we’ve never lost our cool, nor our sense of enjoyment after struggling through those darker patches! Yes, we might silently swear at the other in our heads, but never out loud (and I have seen this happen on many occasions). We’d let the struggling runner take the lead, set the pace, and brake down the remaining distance bit by bit.

What makes the AfricanX so special is that that it feels like a family reunion each year. Familiar faces on the trail, familiar faces behind the organisers desks/tables, familiar voices welcoming you home each day and even familiar faces in the crowds.

I have met and made many great friends during my time at AfricanX. The crazy crew of Muddy Mark (the undisputable dress-up king of trail running), Robert le Brun (aka Brundle), Blake Dyason (who’s love and passion for our trails is contagious), the “Red Sock Friday” kingpin, John McInroy, world class commentators like Altus Schreuder, and even a Camel man, Pieter du Plessis.

The CellC AfricanX Trailrun presented by ASICS still leads the way when it comes to organising an amazing experience, and I’m already dreading Monday morning when you spend your morning going through Facebook pictures reliving the previous 3 days!

So please travel safely (leave the racing for the weekend), and see you all tomorrow night! For the newbies, relax, take it all in, and I promise you you’ll have an awesome adventure compliments of Stillwater Sports and the CellC AfricanX Trailrun crew!

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