Words: Tori Leckie, www.fitchicksandfastwomen.com | Photos: Erik Vermeulen & Micah Bagheea
Last year's Dodo Trail Race was epic. It was a pretty late entry on my event schedule… a serendipitous opportunity that came my way just a month or so before the race and needless to say, I snapped it up. Whilst the heat factor was at its worst at the time (I was living in Dubai then), putting a curb on quality training, I had a few good races under my belt from the months previous and thought, "Hey, it’s only 50 km. How hard can it be?" How wrong I was!
Photo credit: Erik Vermeulen, Adventure Photos
Yet still, this year I was eager to return… who wouldn’t want to given a luxury island, a stunning hotel that oozes style and splendour and a truly gold-standard trail race. I was all set – literally – until a spanner in the works came in the form of my passport being with Home Affairs and not with me. Ouch… bad timing if ever there was! So, I now write this from a slightly different angle, a Tori-style race report sans physical presence!
The Dodo is the greatest trail race on the Mauritian running calendar and a pretty awesome event to boot. A dodo, by the way, is a now extinct, emblematic bird of Mauritius. You can tackle one of three distances; the Xtreme Dodo 50 km / 3,500 m, Ti Dodo 25km / 1,500 m and Mini Dodo 10 km / 500 m. Each offers some serious trails to contend with. In fact, I recall with ease thinking that despite having run some pretty epic races throughout the world, I had never seen such technical terrain in my life.
Although this year's race, held on 13 July, was only the fourth edition, the event is run without a hiccup, organised to perfection from registration and briefing to checkpoint support and post race set up. It starts early, in the dead of the night, so you have nothing but the beam of your headtorch, the sound of your beating heart and the all-around sheer excitement to absorb, in bracing anticipation of what lies ahead.
By sunrise on the 50 km route, you’re well up your first peak, with the regular pauses to catch your breath being the perfect opportunity to swivel 360 degrees and absorb the outstanding views… the ocean, landscapes, salt flats and black volcanic rock softened by the rich, warm colours that signal the start of another day on this beautiful isle. From there on in, it is just one long day of super steep ascents, very hairy descents, wide-open spaces, dark, dense forest and a true trail adventure in every sense of the word. The route takes participants through the Black River Gorges National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a number of otherwise no-trespassing-allowed private domains. There are six major peaks to tackle over 500 m, including the island’s highest, Black River at 814 m, before a knee-hammering descent over 5 km, back down to sea level.
Photo credit: Erik Vermeulen, Adventure Photos
Many of the ascents and descents are so steep that weathered ropes and thick chains are clung to for dear life when not trying to monkey swing between trees to keep up some momentum. Switchbacks just don’t exist here and most runners wear gloves, as much of the race is spent on all fours. As for the weather, it is perfect at this time of year, warmer than our winter climes, even if based in balmy KZN with its glorious sunshine.
Looking at the race results, there was a great turnout with around 1,300 competitors from a total of 13 countries. Many competitors came from neighbouring Reunion, another outdoor paradise and a stomping ground for some amazing trail runners, and others from further afield; Europe, UK, the Middle East and, of course, South Africa, which drew over 50 competitors. I was delighted to see two SA runners in particular play a starring role, with Landie Greyling placing first female and her husband, Christiaan Greyling, finishing sixth overall, both in the Xtreme 50 km. The winner was World Trail Running Champion Ricky Lightfoot from the UK.
The gold sponsor of the race, and where I stayed last year, is the Heritage Le Telfair, aka a true slice of heaven. Located on the south coast of Mauritius, Le Telfair epitomises raw and unspoilt beauty. The grounds are gorgeous, the hospitality, service and ambience second to none and the wining and dining, delectable and delicious. Le Telfair is also home to the Chateau de Bel Ombre, a championship golf course, academy and driving range and a world-class spa; the perfect destination to ease tired muscles with magnificent massages, a vitality pool and hammam*.
As for Mauritius in general? If you think the island is solely a destination for honeymooners, intent on sunbathing by day, sipping cocktails at sunset and enjoying romantic, candlelit dinners by night then think again because what lies within the stunning coastline is utopia for those who love to explore and adventure off the beaten track. It really is a paradise playground for all those who love the outdoors. Alongside the pristine beaches and crashing waves that keep even the most demanding of water babes content (think surfing, snorkelling, wakeboarding, kitesurfing, fishing, paddling, SUPing and more), there are majestic mountains, dramatic landscapes and lush green forests for those who love to embrace nature, enjoy trails, get muddy, hike, bike, swim, trek, explore and discover. It is enchanting, an island full of contrasts, of sublime rest and relaxation yet thrilling adventure, of stunning coastline yet lush, green mountains of old and new, history and culture. In fact, I find an unquenchable smile on my face even as I type this.
It may seem premature, but if you are plotting and planning for an epic race and a goal to work towards, I can’t recommend the Dodo 2015 enough. You shan’t be disappointed. As is always the case with wonderful races in wonderful places, the tough moments are quickly forgotten and replaced by magical memories of sublime views, terrific trails, awesome adventures and friendships forged.
Just remember that this race is no walk in the park. I certainly don’t think many races on home turf remotely rival that of the epic Dodo!
For more on the event visit www.dodo-trail.com/en
For more on where to stay visit www.heritageresorts.mu/en
Flights: Air Mauritius and SAA fly from Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town
*Hammam - Turkish bath