Somewhere around the 20th April 2011 after a horrible 16km training run I announced to my wife in whiny and attention-seeking tones that there was “no way I can finish a half marathon.”
She disagreed and, as is usually the case, she was proven correct less than a week later when I completed my first Two Oceans Half Marathon in a sedate but respectable 1:51.
I spent the rest of the weekend (and the early part of the next week) limping, drinking and announcing to the world I was done with running.
Six years, five official marathons (plus several unofficial), two ultras and bucketload of assorted half marathon and other distances later I found myself at the start line of my first ultra trail run.
If the picture is a bit blurry it’s because I was weighed down with all this crap…
Nine hours and seventeen minutes after that start line picture was taken I announced to my wife in somewhat more definite tones that “I won’t be doing that again.”
In a world of fake news and false advertising The Beast lived up to its name.
And then some.
As you can see, delirium has already set in…six hours before the end…
When my watch gave up just before the eight hour mark it had recorded close to 2.8km of elevation gain. Had it survived until the end it would have gone well past 3km.
Nine hours and seventeen minutes. That’s almost four hours longer than I’ve ever been on my feet for a race. It sounds unfathomably slow…and yet was somehow good enough for 45th place overall.
I’m no expert but the weather may have played a part.
Running on Table Mountain on Sunday was like waking up in Silent Hill but with some extra wind and rain thrown in to make the negligible visibility more interesting.
Here’s a quick checklist to mark off the fun points:-
Was the weather bad enough to force sections of the race to be re-routed on the fly? Yep.
Did you, as a non cramper, get cramp less than halfway through the race due to cold? Yep.
Were you able to witness seasoned trail runners give up on the 50km route and bail out along the 30km route? Yep.
Did you have to try and climb down wet ladders with jelly legs while the wind tried to blow you clean off the mountain? Yep.
Did you almost hug the Marshall when he announced you’d missed the final cutoff and would have to skip a loop of 4km close to the end? Err…yep.
Words with awe in them are overused, but reflecting on the race today I am genuinely awestruck.
I’m in awe of the guy who won the race…wearing modified flip flops and getting around the course three hours faster than I did.
I’m in awe of the power of nature and its ability to make you feel small and insignificant at will.
I’m in awe of my two regular running partners who triumphed for very different reasons. One of them managed an 8th place finish which is extraordinary. The other, crossed the finish line with me…after two falls early in the race and six hours after his first bout of cramp. He even had enough good spirit to tell me some terrible (and hilarious) jokes during the last hour of the race. See – we’re still laughing at the end about how a Tasmanian called Brad and a Welshman called Nik walked into a start line…
I’m even a little bit in awe of myself (this is rare and I’ll soon deny it) for finding a way to finish.
Sunday taught me a few valuable lessons.
Firstly, it taught me that I should not enter any events that use phrases like “leg-busting” to describe climbs and nonsense words like “gnarly” to describe descents.
Secondly, it taught me that while I love being out in nature I have no real ambition to be a serious trail runner. I go uphill like an overloaded bakkie and I go downhill like I’ve got Miss Daisy on my back. I’ve ticked a box and am proud to have finished but I like my runs with a bit less rock-climbing and a lot more certainty about things like “being alive” at the end.
Thirdly, and probably most importantly, it taught me that you really can keep going long after you think you have to stop.
Come to think of it that last lesson might come in handy for the Puffer in August…
I have to say though…however tough my day was I think the volunteers who manned the checkpoints and the three hydration stops had it even harder. I cannot begin to imagine how horrible it must have been to spend the whole day on top of the mountain to make sure everyone was accounted for. Every single Marshall I passed was full of encouragement and had no shortage of good humour. I’m not sure I would have been the same under similar conditions.
I hope next year they get much nicer conditions to work in.
While I’m in the pub.