In 2012, I had my first bite of the Num Num trail, which I named the "Numb Bum" because it was incredibly tough on my body, especially my poor glutes. I was relatively new to trail running and I was horrified at how gnarly the trail was! I vowed never to do it again. In the years since then, I have come to love the gnarly trails.
4 years later I lined up to do it again. I have had a tough year so far with a lingering peroneal tendon injury and having had glandular fever. My training is not where it could have been, but it has been going well for the past two and a half months. The Num Num is a "training" run for my ultimate goal this year, which is another crack at the UTCT. In any event, we lined up on Saturday morning full of excitement for the day ahead. It was freezing cold at the race village, but a clear sky welcomed us and I hoped that it would get warm later. I wore my short tights (favourites from vivolicious). As the race briefing was about to start, I got a familiar flashing behind the eyes and pins and needles in my face, signalling the onset of a migraine. I was stunned into complete disbelief. How could this be happening? I had a brief argument with myself about perhaps calling the whole thing off, but this is hard to do at the start of the race. Wise or not, I decided to try and forge ahead. Perhaps it would only be a light migraine and pass soon...
Debbie provided the race briefing and we were off! The first three kilometers were relatively easy running. The runners sped off like bats out of hell. I held back and tried to maintain a sensible pace, especially since I was still struggling to see properly. During these starting kilometers my vision cleared and I was left with nausea and a jarring headache.
We reached the first technical descent and it was slow going. So many of the people who sprinted out on the first 3 km were struggling down the descent and also refusing to let us past. Finally, at the bottom, we managed to get past some of the runners, but we had lost quite a bit of time already. The first gnarly ascent was upon us. It was beautiful and wild. The climb took us up to the first aid station where we were surprised with a luxurious spread of snacks and refreshment. I was especially grateful for the apples. Wildtrail sure knows how to set up an aid station!
Our second aid station after another descent and ascent was at Candlewood camp. It even had a nice ablution block and once again a luxurious spread of snacks. I was still feeling nauseous, but otherwise felt good. I ate some more apple and some jelly babies, and we filled our soft flasks with another helping of singletrackfuel.
Feeling refreshed, we set off again. We had some interesting bridges and ladders in the next section, and also passed the waterfall. The effect of the drought was apparent as the streams were smaller than the last time and the waterfall was a bit thin. I do hope that we get some good rain soon!
We crossed another beautiful, wild section of land and finally got back on the road to 5 Assegais. Here a small group of volunteers and supporters were waiting to help us with sun-screen (Thanks Alita!) and to make sure the 15 km and 32 km runners take the correct split for their distance.
We veered off to the left and down the hill towards Pongola. This section of the trail was fairly runnable, as we climbed up to the edge of the cliff and ran along there for a while, before descending down into a beautiful foresty section and then through the grasslands down to the tar road. I was starting to feel a bit hungry and tried a bit of my snacks, but realised I couldn't keep it down. I was simply too nauseous. We met up with Melanie, a running friend of ours, and I told her about my Irun4 buddy, Jazmine. This kept my mind off the pain and helped me re-focus on the run. We reached the next aid station at the tar road crossing. Once again, there were apple slices and small cooked potatoes. I had a piece of apple and a piece of potato. I wanted to drink a bit of coke, but Clint suggested that I shouldn't as it could upset my stomach. I threw a little tantrum because my body was craving the coke. We set off into the gorge we knew would take us to Pongola rest camp, which had been the finish point on our previous Num Num race.
The gorge was beautiful and infinitely more navigable in the daylight. (On our previous Num Num, we finished after sunset and had only the ambient light of our cellphone screens to help us through the gorge). It really is so beautiful and peaceful down there, with a few river crossings and a ladder and a few bridges. I was starting to feel rather fatigued and my headache was becoming very hard to endure. Clint had the great idea of soaking our buffs in the river, which made them nice and cold and really helped soothe my headache.
We climbed up and up, out of the gorge and finally reached the wonderful Pongola aid station. An angel volunteer there gave me a Myprodol, which tamed my fierce headache into a dull throb. I ate some more apple pieces with salt and drank a cup of coke. We rested a while at Pongola.
The climb from Pongola up to Aloe Ridge was very tough. The sun was baking down and there was little shade for the first few km's. I told my husband that I remembered climbing some big rocks. There were plenty of big rocks to climb over as well as some dodgy, slippery pathways on the mountainside. By now we seemed to be running just ahead and sometimes just behind of two Asian men. They kept a similar pace and we started chatting during our breaks. Trail is about making new friends as well, isn't it? It is amazing how suffering together can form bonds between people!
My legs started to burn and I ran out of energy. I honestly think the only thing that was keeping me going was my SingleTrackFuel. The climbing got slower and slower. Eventually we reached the top of the mountain where I took a beautiful photo of the view while taking a break.
We could see the Aloe Ridge camp tents, but we could also see that we still had a kilometer or two to go. Once rested we set off again. There were incredibly big rocks here that we had to climb over and scramble through. It felt a bit long.
We reached what seemed to be "spitting distance" of the tent, only for the path to take us down into the gorge again. I felt the sting of disappointment at that moment, I won't lie. I considered simple cutting across the veld, but I was so glad I didn't. We climbed down into the trees, and then... there was a magnificent tunnel climb back up. Wow, what a treat!
We climbed up through the tunnel after taking a photo (of course), and followed the path to the last water table. Once again, the only thing I could consume was the apple with salt. We compared distances with our new friends. they had a fenix 3, which had clocked a distance similar to our Fenix 1 at that point, of 29,9 km. Our Garmin 620 had 27 km logged. We debated the reasons why these would be so different?
We steeled ourselves for the last 5,5 km. From the previous race, I knew that this last gorge would be the hardest one, as the climb is the longest and it is very technical. I don't know if it was the migraine or the myprodol, but on top of the headache and nausea, I started feeling dizzy and sleepy. I kept imagining just lying down on the trail and falling asleep. We were given a brief respite where we ran along the mountain edge for a bit before we plunged into a rocky, slippery steep descent. We then ran along the river bed for some time, over rocks, branches, ladders and little bridges. then the climb started. Up and up and up it went. It truly felt endless, but eventually we popped out of the trees and found a little ladder up the cliff. This looked promising, but when I climbed to the top, there was still a huge uphill waiting. I sat on a rock and cried a little. Clint scolded me. Neither of us were up to polite conversation anymore. In any event we knew the finish must be close. We walked up the mountain path until eventually, the campsite and the finish was revealed.
When we crossed the finish line to cheers and hugs, I was overcome by the fact that I managed to complete the challenge, before dark and with a migraine. It was simultaneously a horrible and very victorious and amazing run for me. What would have happened if I had not had the migraine? I will just have to go back again in 2017 and see!
My incredible, amazing husband held my hand the whole way. I know that I am super blessed to have him as not only a husband, but also a coach. Check out RacePace Coaching. He really is the best!