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Juliana Ambrosi's Harties Loop Experience - Do Hard Things

Written by: Juliana Ambrosi

Juliana Ambrosi - Harties Loop 80km

Not long ago, Terence and Thomas's vision was born, culminating in the announcement of the first trail run around the Hartbeespoort dam. When the Harties Trail Experience was launched, I knew immediately it was an endeavour I needed to tackle. The concept of the four races, all leading to a single grand loop around the dam, captivated me.

We Jozi trail runners often lament having to travel to races across the country. We grumble about our lack of a mountain, but in reality, we have one – and it's more than decent. So, when an opportunity like this emerged, it was an easy decision to support the event.

Out of the initial four races, I managed to participate in three. I missed the Iron Throne race, although I had run that route on several prior occasions. If I commit to something, I aim to be as prepared as possible. Yet, the jitters on race day were palpable.

Being the inaugural event, no one truly knew what to anticipate. The cut-off time was set at 20 hours. At 4 a.m. on Saturday, 26 August, 31 brave souls gathered to embark on this route. Of these, only five were women. Now, having completed the race, I'm here to share my experience. And honestly, "Om die Dam" pales in comparison to this challenge. I might even argue this was more demanding for me than the 65km Skyrun.

Sitting here with my coffee, reflecting on the run, there's a unique pride in realizing that I am one of only four women to complete this entire loop, along with a select group of men.

The Strava map paints a beautiful picture, and I'll proudly wear my race T-shirt.

Revisiting the start, the 80 km route both began and ended at Villa Paradiso, adjacent to the Harties Cableway – a perfect race venue. Having secured a room at the venue made a significant difference, simplifying my logistics. Those extra hours of sleep were invaluable, knowing the physical challenge ahead. Often, the travel and logistics are more daunting than the race itself.

At 4 a.m., we lined up in the pitch dark, headlamps alight, eagerly awaiting the signal to begin. Security guards escorted us on the roads to the trail section, and the first 20km felt pleasant and were easily runnable—a perfect warm-up. Running in the dark has its charm; it forces you to be in the moment, focusing solely on each step.

Juliana Ambrosi - Harties Loop 80km

For me, witnessing a sunrise is the highlight of any day. Missing it throws off my entire day's rhythm. So, during this run, I eagerly awaited the sun's appearance and was not disappointed. The sunrise felt like hitting a reset button; the hours in the dark seemed to vanish.

Despite its beauty, the course had its challenges. I'm notorious for losing my way and this run was no exception. I ended up covering 86km instead of the intended 80.99km due to my lapses in attention. At one point, I mistakenly covered an extra 1.5km along a dirt road before realizing my error.

Navigating the Poffadder trails, I anticipated reaching Van Galens, the halfway mark at 42 km. One's perception of distance is funny. If this were a road marathon, by this point, I'd be finished. But in an 80km race, you can't afford to be exhausted at 42km. The lead-up to Van Galens felt endless, reminiscent of the approach to Balloch on the Skyrun. After a brief pause at Van Galens for refuelling and a restroom break, I was off to tackle the more challenging section of the course.

Navigational challenges persisted. This run has underscored the importance of trusting my GPS and checking it regularly.

Vultures Peak

Navigating from the Greek Church to the JointEze aid station was particularly tough for me, even though many enjoyed this segment. I don't mind uphill battles; however, choosing a path amidst rocks and the constant fear of slipping was more daunting than any climb. The gusting winds on the mountain's peak didn't help, often making me feel unsteady.

Watching the vultures soar and trying to maintain my balance against the relentless wind, it felt like the world was racing past me. The sight of those birds was breathtaking; I've never seen so many at once. For almost 20km, it felt like they were my dance partners, accompanying me on this journey.

The sight of the JointEze station was a welcome one, as was the relatively smooth descent leading to it. With one final refuel, I braced myself for the formidable Iron Throne.

The climb after leaving the aid station was arduous. I wasn't exactly sprinting, more of a determined hike. I often segment my runs mentally, always finding a second wind in the final stretch. But this last leg was unexpectedly prolonged.

After another pitstop and some words of encouragement, I had only 6km to Mount Amanzi. Somewhere before reaching it, I took a harsh fall, severely grazing my leg. I persisted, resorting to the "roll with the rocks" tactic, which unfortunately didn't serve me well.

Navigating to the cableway wasn't too bad, but the fierce wind prompted me to don my long-sleeved top. My Garmin indicated less than 5km remained. But that distance felt endless. A moment of panic ensued when I couldn't locate the trail markers, and my watch signalled I was off course. After nearly 20 minutes of scrambling and on the verge of tears, I found the markers. With my headlamp back on and a renewed urgency, all I yearned for was the finish line. But the course seemed to have other ideas: taking me up, down, and even backwards. With just 1km left, another fall slowed me down, but soon after, the finish line came into view.

Harties Loop Views

What a journey. An unparalleled experience. To my surprise, I was the first woman to cross the finish line. While it wasn't a vast competition, you have to be "in it to win it."

This run was an incredible mix of awe-inspiring moments and trying challenges. Experiencing the Majaliesburg in such a manner was a genuine privilege. Running continuously affords me the chance to embark on such adventures, and I remain grateful for every opportunity.

As an amusing sidenote, after over 14 hours of running, my watch labelled the activity as a "recovery" run. The irony of this was not lost on me. Sitting down after the race, feeling every ache and pain, I could only chuckle at my watch's interpretation of the day's events.

The camaraderie among trail runners is unmatched. The bonds formed on these challenging terrains are lasting. Many of us entered this event as strangers, but we left as friends, bound by the shared experience of sweat, determination, and the sheer will to conquer the Harties Trail.

The impeccable organization by Terence, Thomas, and their team deserves a special mention. For an inaugural event, everything was nearly flawless. Aid stations were well-stocked, volunteers were encouraging, and every detail, from security to marking the trails, was well thought out. Their hard work made our journey smoother and more enjoyable.

Juliana Ambrosi - Harties Loop 80km

In reflection, the Harties Trail Experience is not just a race; it's a testament to human endurance, spirit, and our inherent love for the outdoors. It challenges us to move beyond our limits, to confront our fears and to realize that we are all capable of more than we ever imagined. This is why we "do hard things." Not just to prove a point, but to remind ourselves of the extraordinary potential that lies within each one of us.

As I nurse my sore muscles and tend to my bruises, I already find myself wondering, "What's next?" Because in the world of trail running, there's always another mountain to climb, another trail to conquer, and another adventure awaiting just around the bend.

Juliana Ambrosi - Harties Loop 80km Podium


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