Race Reports

Elevation Chart

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...

start 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.

aid station 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.

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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!

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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!

climb2 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.

clint 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!

 

medal   dirtylegs

 

Since the UTCT two weeks ago was the first race I have ever not completed, I decided the best thing to do was get straight back up there. I entered us into the Brauhaus 45 km mountain challenge

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On Friday we drove to Rustenburg where we camped at a lovely campsite called Bergheim and scoped out the Brauhaus am damm, a delightful german brewery and restaurant where the race finish was set up.

The race registration pasta evening at Milhoro Lodge (the race start) was lovely! Sharon and Paul are veterans of this mountain and they gave us valuable advice on the best ways to get across the mountain safely. For those who dont know - this race is self navigated, there are no markers to show the route. It was both our first unmarked route and our first time on that particular mountain.

On race morning, armed with our Garmin Fenix into which Clint had programmed our waypoints and our fully stocked hydration packs, we lined up with around 90 other runners. Excitement was high as the gunshot rang and we were off! It was a 5 am start and the trail of little lights going up into the mountain towards checkpoint 1 was a magical sight. The trail was fairly easy going and steep jeeptrack. At Checkpoint 1 we were feeling strong. It was light enough to pack away our headlamps.

We set off on the first unmarked portion of the trail to Checkpoint 2. There was no path and we literally picked our way through the veld. Parts of it was runnable but some parts were very rocky. We followed our gps and all was well until... We had to choose between following other runners or going over a steep mountain. We chose following the runners since they had done this race before. Wrong choice. We found ourselves negotiating a forest at the bottom of a gorge and then literally having to climb up to checkpoint 2! Lesson learnt - you always want to be at the top of the mountain for this race!

After some much needed refreshment and once my quads stopped squealing, we set off to checkpoint 3. Checkpoint 3 was back at the same location as Checkpoint 1. This time we followed our gps and found the route much easier! At Checkpoint (19 km done) we were given a beautiful buff which we were required to show at Checkpoint 4.

The journey between Checkpoint 3 and Checkpoint 4 was by far the longest and most challenging part of the race. It is hard to describe the vastness of the 20 km between the two checkpoints. We seemed at times to be completely alone in the world, occasionally glimpsing other runners far away. There are no trail markings, no people, no water points. We followed our gps track and hoped we were right! A wrong turn gets you stuck in a gorge or on the edge of a cliff. The weather was fortunately good - fairly strong wind but at least not very hot like we had anticipated. Except for one brief encounter with a small gorge in the last few kilometers before the "elephant", our navigation was perfect! I had a little emotional breakdown - legs were shattered, mountain seemed endless... had a good cry on Clint's shoulder and then we pressed on.

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The "elephant" is a ridge that climbs higher and higher, both sides steep mountainsides with gorgeous views. It is an "on top of the world" feeling being up there. There was a footpath that we followed and scary climbs from mountain hump to hump. At one stage some baboons crossed the path in front of us. Finally we reached the "elephants head". I was elated! We would finally be climbing down the trunk!

The climb down the mountain deserves a paragraph of its own. It was loose rocks and slippery sand all the way! On shattered legs, I found this very tough! At the bottom we found a path that led to the dam wall, through a foresty bit and finally- Checkpoint 4! What a feeling! We had made it across the mountain and we had only about 5 km to go!

The last 5 Km's took us past the yacht club, through the bottom of the town where we were chased by little dogs (seriously?!), through a plowed field, a reed bed and finally more plowed fields at Brauhaus! That last bit of lawn were the sweetest meters I have ever run!

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Thanks to my amazing husband, Clinton and my wonderful son, Adrian, for all their support! Thanks as well to Brauhaus and to Sharon and Paul for putting up one hell of an amazing adventure!

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Special mention to Stewart Chaperon, coached by Clint, for running this race in record time! You are super tough Stewart, congrats!

To all our fellow trail enthusiasts - If you haven't done this race yet, put it on your list right now!

 

Let me start by saying that the UTCT was by far the hardest race I've ever tried. It was my first attempt at an ultra. It was on my dear departed dad's birthday and I decided to dedicate my race to him. It was also the day before our wedding anniversary and in the tradition Clint and I started - this year's anniversary adventure. I went into the race well prepared (I thought) and full of first timer's bravado. At registration we were told that the weather forecasts were favourable for the next day. Of course, the one thing that can not be controlled is the weather...

On race day we arrived at the start to be greeted by rain. It was cold, but the anticipation was that it would clear up later in the day. We set off through the city streets towards Signal Hill. The excitement was palpable! People from all over the world were running and everyone was in high spirits. The rain was gentle but persistent, and so started my first challenge. I wear prescription glasses. By the time we went onto the trail it was like I was looking through glasses of water. I was better off without my glasses, which meant I could only see about 5 m ahead of me.

Still, the trail was wonderful and we continued on schedule as per our plan. Eventually we reached PlatteKloof and started the serious climb into the mountain. The rain started belting down and it got colder and colder. Our water resistant jackets were soaked in no time. The progress going up was also slower than anticipated and we started slipping on our plan.

On top of the mountain, we encountered ice rain and howling wind. The trail became an ankle deep rivulet and the cloud was so thick we couldn't see other runners or the next marker. We were freezing, quite literally, and lost feeling in our fingers and feet. The terrain was slippery and treacherous. Clint slipped and twisted his ankle and his knee. His muscles cramped and wouldn't release. It was the first time I was truly scared that we would not survive a race. I knew the longer we stayed in those conditions the worse it would get. I rubbed Clints leg and coaxed him up. A friend shared a salt tablet with him and that helped too. We hobbled along for a bit until he could jog again. Then, we lost the trail! After searching around, we found the trail again. By now we had spent vastly more time than anticipated on the mountain.

After what seemed like an eternity we started the climb down. This should have been a relief but it wasn't. I don't know if it was triggered by the cold or the extra exertion of navigating the slippery terrain half blind, but my arthritis in my right knee flamed up. The descent became Increasingly painful. By the time we reached the Constantia Neck check point I could no longer run. I decided to walk to the next check point at Groot Constantia to see if the knee would ease up. Unfortunately my knee just wasn't having any of it.

At 7:23:59 and 32 km in, I had to concede that I was defeated. The disappointment burned in my heart and I couldn't type this race report until now. My husband was absolutely amazing through the whole experience and next year when I try again (yes your eyes are not deceiving you), I can't think of anyone else I would rather have by my side.

Lessons Learnt:

Of course, I believe we either win or we learn. The UTCT was rich in learning for me and I will share some of that here:

1. Never trust the weather
2. When things go wrong, dont panic. List your options and pick the best one.
3. The compulsory kit can save your life. Don't ignore it.
4. To run mountains you have to train on similar mountains.
5. Run with a partner you trust and have trained with, understanding each other is important.

Things that were positives:

1. The UTCT race organisation is sublime. The water tables are postively luxurious and manned by competent and caring volunteers.
2. My 32Gi endurance fuel was fantastic. I had enough energy at all times.
3. My Inov-8 roclite 295 saved my skin and neck on the super technical slippery terrain.
4. My amazing supportive and understanding husband.

I look forward to my next attempt in 2016, hopefully better equipped and prepared. And yes, I have already entered!