The Xtreme Dodo 50km Trail Run has been on my bucket list since fellow South African trail runner Landie Greyling first completed the race a few years ago. Being passionate about birds, the name of the race is probably what captured my attention! And who can resist an “island ultra” anyway?!
The inov-8 TerraClaw 220 worn by Nicolette during the Xtreme Dodo 50km trail race.
I could hear crashing waves, smell the fresh ocean breeze, taste salt on my tongue and feel sand under the soles of my Terraclaws. But I could SEE nothing! Beyond the artificial circle of light illuminating one hundred-and-something nervously enthusiastic trail runners, the darkness was still complete. It wasn't going to be a sunrise beach run after all.
With about 3000m total elevation gain, I did not expect the Dodo 50km to be a walk in the park. But the first time I really started to worry about the vertical distance was on race morning at the start line (yes, possibly a little too late to squeeze in some extra hill training.) Thabang Madiba (3rd male finisher) jovially said to me, “Are you ready to suffer? We’re going to climb and climb and climb… But when you get to the highest peak, wow, it’s so beautiful.”
At 5:30am we headed down the shoreline accompanied by a spectacular display of fireworks and cheering spectators. I had planned to take advantage of the first few kilometers - the only real flat section of the race - but my legs were having none of that so early in the morning. I reluctantly settled into a comfortable jog. The first climb arrived all too soon, but fortunately I was warming up and managed to maintain an easy pace to the top. Somewhere near the summit we broke out of the tree line and were rewarded with breathtaking views of dense green valleys amid swirling white mist in the dim first light of day.
Despite the amazing scenery, one thought occupied my mind at this point - "If that was climb number one, then heaven help us on number 6 later!" The first descent provided little time for recovery. In fact, it was one of the most challenging technical trails I’ve ever had to negotiate. In and out the forest on narrow twisting single-track, low light conditions, and more slippery roots and rock than actual ground surface!
This trend continued for about half the race, and although it was energy sapping running, I loved it! The trail up to the highest peak of the race was especially muddy, feet sinking in thick sludge if you tried to run on the trail, most people opting to hike instead. But once again the view from the top made all the effort worthwhile. I paused to absorb the serenity of my surroundings for a brief moment before plummeting into the cloud below once more.
Running through Black River Gorge National Park, the largest reserve in Mauritius, was a highlight of the race. Only accessible by foot, the Dodo Trail takes you through the heart of the island’s unique indigenous vegetation. In awe of my surroundings at this point, I was feeling surprisingly strong. From the water point at 25km we climbed a long sustained jeep track which wound its way gradually up a forested mountainside before descending back into the gorge on some awesome single track. 10km later my exhilaration was wearing out and fatigue setting in. The temperature was also rising and the morning mists had by now evaporated. The next 15km were going to be tough!
At the 39km mark I refueled at a buzzing water point and felt energised by encouragement from volunteers and spectators. Soon the penultimate climb of the day could be seen stretching up ahead, dotted with runners from the 25km race. Although not the most scenic part of the island, the hot dry conditions of the west Mauritian coast are nonetheless beautiful in their own way. I tried to focus on that positive thought as the sun beat down, sweat streamed from my face and I joined the painfully slow skyward hike. After what seemed like hours we finally topped out above a shimmering turquoise bay below. Knowing there was one descent left, I now had only one goal: the finish line.
I slipped and slid in a cloud of dust down a steep trail, reached the last jeep track, the final stretch of tar road, and eventually the river trail which I knew would take me to the end. And then all too soon, I was there, the Dodo Trail done! I collapsed on the soft green grass, relieved to stop running and happy to have won, but mostly just grateful to have experienced such amazing mountain trails in an epic country. An adventure of a lifetime - thank you Inov-8 and Mauritius!