Published on March 19, 2015
Linda Doke Drakensberg Grand Traverse
The Drakensberg Grand Traverse runs through South Africa and Lesotho, a fearsome 220km stretch of peaks in excess of 3,000m, unmarked trails and unpredictable weather. With the name derived from the Afrikaans for Dragon Mountains it’s obvious to see why this ultra-route is so feared. But at 4am on Friday March 27, Salomon endurance runner Linda Doke will be setting off in the company of Ryno Griesel and Cobus van Zyl in an attempt to break the standing mixed record of 78-hours 57-minutes…
With a week to go until the start RunningMonkey caught up with Linda to find out more about what tackling this South African giant entrails.
RunningMonkey: When and how did the idea of trying to break the record for the Drakensberg Grand Traverse come about?
Linda Doke: The idea of a mixed attempt, and incidentally, a woman’s solo attempt, had been brewing in my brain through 2012, and in January 2013 I contacted Ryno Griesel, who with Cobus van Zyl was the current record holder of the Drakensberg Grand Traverse.
Ryno is a fellow Salomon athlete, and we knew each other from various ultras we’d each participated in over the years. When I asked Ryno if he’d be keen to team up for a mixed attempt, he leapt at it! The woman’s solo attempt, however, he discouraged – purely for safety purposes. The Drakensberg escarpment is remote and exposed, and apart from the risk of physical safety hiking alone, there’s the very real issue of security, being in remote Lesotho.
As soon as I got the thumbs-up from Ryno, we started planning. One of the golden rules of hiking mountains where safety is concerned is to have at least three in your group. Ryno’s right hand man is his best friend and fellow crazy mountain man Cobus van Zyl, and it was with Cobus that Ryno achieved the Drakensberg Grand Traverse record they set in 2010 of 60 hours 29 min. So he roped Cobus into our plan, and bingo! I have the most knowledgeable and capable team members I could ever wish for. I would readily put my life in these guys’ hands if I needed to.
RunningMonkey: What’s the ambition in terms of a time you might set?
Linda Doke: The current mixed record stands at 78-hours 57-minutess. Weather dependent, we’d like to achieve something close to 65…
RunningMonkey: The rules state this has to be fully self-supported; what kind of kit (and weight) will you be carrying?
Linda Doke: I’ll be carrying a Salomon 12L Advanced Skin pack, which will contain my kit extras (waterproofs, thermals, etc.) and most of my food. The rest of my food will be in one of the guys’ packs. I won’t be using a bladder, but rather two 500ml bottles for easy filling (there’s no shortage of water up there). We’re not taking tents – instead we’ll use lightweight bivvy bags.
I’m lucky to be a Salomon gal, so I have the best kit to choose from. I’ll be wearing Salomon Sense Mantras, and the best running thermals and waterproofs for when the weather closes in. Timing wise I’ll be wearing my Suunto Ambit3 Peak.
We’re doing our best to carry as light as possible. Weight-wise, my pack should weigh around 4kg.
RunningMonkey: In terms of nutrition what will you be relying on?
Linda Doke: I’ve been doing ultras for years, and I’m still searching for the perfect combination of foods that keep the gut happy and body strong. Every event is different, and the further the distance, the greater the challenge for me nutrition wise – my gut is not happy having food shoved at it day after day without rest! Because of the nature of the DGT challenge (i.e. no support whatsoever, no food caches, no re-supplies), it’s critical for our success that we get our nutrition right, so I’ve really done a lot of research. I’ll be using a combination of high calorie real foods like nuts, drooiwors (a South African fatty dried sausage), salami, sachets of almond butter, and peanut butter filled pretzel squares (my favourite.) I’ll also use Rush Bars – made with all natural ingredients – and a high protein energy drink PeptoSport.
RunningMonkey: How’s your nutrition generally? Are you fairly strict with yourself?
Linda Doke: I love food! I wouldn’t stay that I’m strict with my nutrition, but I do try to keep away from heavy fats and processed foods. I’m an ardent ‘real food’ fan – I don’t touch margarine or skimmed milk or fizzy drinks. My weakness is good chocolate!
RunningMonkey: What’s your training looked like in the run up to this?
Linda Doke: Preparing for an endeavour of this sort is quite different from preparing for a conventional race – this is going to be about having the physical endurance and mental stamina to keep going, continuously, over very tough terrain, for anything up to 80 hours. Over the past eight months I’ve raced six ultras, being careful to rest well in between. That way I’ve managed to keep injury-free whilst maintaining my endurance.
RunningMonkey: And in general terms what’s your usual training regime? Any cross-training or is it all about the trails?
Linda Doke: I don’t keep to any regular schedule or programme; I prefer flexibility to regimentation. That said, my average week does entail the usual combination of essentials – short fast, tempo, hills, LSD (Long Slow Distance.) On the cross-training side, I should do more, particularly on the flexibility side, but I do some light weight training (legs) and a bit of core.
RunningMonkey: There are certain route criteria that have to be met, but outside of that there’s some latitude in your choices, right?
Linda Doke: Yes. The route criteria of the Drakensberg Grand Traverse is simple: it’s a traverse of the Drakensberg escarpment from north to south, starting at the Sentinel car park perimeter fence and finishing at the Bushman’s Nek border post perimeter fence. Various checkpoints must be visited along the way:
• The Chain Ladders
• Mont-aux-Sources summit (3,282m)
• Peak summit (3,277m)
• Champagne Castle summit (3,377m)
• Mafadi summit (3,451m)
• Giant’s Castle summit (3,314m)
• Thabana Ntlenyana summit (3,482m)
• Thomathu Pass must be used to descend to Bushman’s Nek.
Apart from these specifics, the route is of our choosing. Whether you stick to the valleys between these points, or take a straight line (!) is up to you.
RunningMonkey: How and why did you settle on the route?
Linda Doke: Ryno and Cobus know the Drakensberg extremely well and have researched the route over the years, trying certain options here and there. The route we’ll be taking is the one they’ve found to be most optimal.
RunningMonkey: Since Ryan Sandes and Ryno Griesel obliterated the male record last year (41-hours 49-minutes, taking almost 20hours off the previous best) has that put extra pressure on you for the mixed record?
Linda Doke: None whatsoever. The time that Ryan and Ryno achieved was so incredible that I believe it won’t be touched for a very long time.
RunningMonkey: Their successful attempt was very high profile, has that created an increase in interest in taking on Drakensberg?
Linda Doke: Definitely, particularly internationally. The thing about the Drakensberg however is that it’s extremely remote up there. People don’t realise all that’s involved in attempting the DGT, record or no record – it’s not just another mountain range…
RunningMonkey: You’ve smashed some incredibly impressive races – Cape Odysseys, Trans-Alpine Run, Mont Blanc Marathon to name but a few. Which, if any, do you think have come closest to what the DGT will have in store.
Linda Doke: I don’t think any race I’ve done will come even close to what the DGT is about. If I was an adventure racer, I would have closer comparisons, particularly on the sleep deprivation side. The furthest I’ve ever run continuously was the 174km Grand Raid de Reunion (Diagonale des Fous) in 2012. That took me 44 hours, and it was on trail. The DGT has no paths, has no seconding tables or cheering crowds to lift the spirits. This one is real!
RunningMonkey: Aside, presumably from finishing, any particular highlight of the route you’re looking forward to?
Linda Doke: The incredible views and vistas up there are incomparable to anything I’ve ever seen. It’s truly magnificent.
RunningMonkey: Conversely, anything in particular you’re dreading about the challenge?
Linda Doke: I guess it’s fair to say I’m dreading weather moving in. The thought of being at 3,000+m in a thunderstorm and freezing winds, at night, terrifies me! We’re hoping for a good weather window!
RunningMonkey: What keeps you going when the going gets tough?
Linda Doke: The fear of failure will keep me pushing on.
RunningMonkey: What do you have planned after the Drakensberg Grand Traverse?
Linda Doke: A good solid couple of months of rest! By then I’ll be itching to race again, so I’ll be doing the Ultra Trail Cape Town (100km) in October, and probably the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon (7-day self-sufficient desert race) in November.
RunningMonkey wishes Linda, Ryno and Cobus the best of luck for the Drakensberg Grand Traverse – we’ll keep you posted with updates…