Nicolette Griffioen finishes as the first female in the 38km K-Way SkyRun 2019 route

With two final theoretical exams left to end my many-year degree and having the second one fall the day before Skyrun 2019, I reluctantly made the realistic decision not to run this year's 100km. I would take the opportunity to run UTCT instead. Unfortunately, my mom and boyfriend had both already entered for the 100km event and I knew I wasn't going to be able to sit in Johannesburg and dot-watch from afar all weekend. So, I booked an afternoon flight to Bloemfontein and organised a rental car to get me to Lady Grey. I would be there to support, come hell or high water!

In planning the logistics, I was in touch with fellow K-Way athlete, Wesley Sweetnam, who was heading up from Cape Town for the 38km. We discussed sharing the car and compared flight times to see if we could cut costs. Tragically, 2 weeks before Skyrun, Wesley was shot and killed at his home in CPT. We had not been close friends, - I'd only met him a handful of times - but from those few encounters I knew that a person full of passion for life, nature and the trails had been lost. I therefore decided to run the 38km Skyrun event in honour of Wesley.

Being a relatively recent addition to the 65 and 100km distances, the start line of the "round-the-block" 38km was fairly quiet. The late afternoon sun was still hot and high and despite adopting a relaxed pace along the dirt road to Edgehill, sweat was soon dripping into the dust at my feet. I tried to offer encouragement to each of the 100km athletes that I passed, knowing only too well the mental and physical fatigue they had experienced so far and the strength still required to push on through the last 35km.

A little later, as a I crested Bridal Pass, I took some time to appreciate the beauty of the mountains and how privileged I was to be there. The setting sun cast golden-hour light on the surrounding ridge lines as the valleys between plunged into darkness. I knew that somewhere ahead and somewhere behind both my boyfriend and mom were also watching this sunset from the trail.

The fading light was accompanied by a dropping temperature, but I pushed to reach "the turn" before stopping to pull on my light-weight K-Way thermal. A few kilometres of dark, but easy dirt-road running took me to a warmly lit hut with the aroma of stew wafting from inside. This was, however, only for the athletes that would be arriving later that evening and into the graveyard shift. I bypassed the hut, finally pulled out my headlight and set course for Halstone Peak about 12km away.

The concentration required for running and navigating after nightfall made the hours of darkness pass quickly as I enjoyed the pace on a part of the course that's usually painfully slow on the 100km route. My world was reduced to a small bubble of light, with only a few metres of ground illuminated ahead. With every increase in gradient, I expectantly prepared myself for the final climb to the summit of Halstone. When it eventually came, a surprisingly quick scramble had me up, over and homeward bound.

The final stretch to the finish was a fun descent as I tried to catch a light ahead of me. I was gaining ground until it disappeared over a ridge and I simultaneously made a slight navigation error. When I returned to the route, the light was nowhere to be seen, so I was left to run it alone, a few minutes behind. I crossed the line as the female winner of the 38km and found that it was none other than my boyfriend whom I'd been chasing down the mountainside. At that late stage in the game, he'd found the legs to hold off some unknown competition running him down and he'd also managed a sub-18hr 100km!

After a short shower and dinner, there was nothing to do but anxiously await the arrival of my mom. In between trying to sleep, unnecessary alarms to check live tracking and intermittently watching lights coming off the mountain, the early hours of Sunday morning passed slowly. At 3:38am the one light I was waiting for finally crossed the finish line. She had done it! My mom finished her first 100km mountain run - the K-Way Skyrun 100 - in under 24 hours. And being there when she came in made everything worthwhile...