The 46km race that is not only 46km 😉
*Also, the longest race report for the shortest of the races…
I was packed days before leaving for the race, and I rechecked my bag the day before leaving to Merry Pebbles just in case, but I still managed to forget my thermal gloves at home, again*! I didn’t realise the gloves were still at home until the kit check, which I suppose is better than finding out on top of a mountain. Luckily my usual fingerless gloves were in the box I had brought all the loose kit pieces in, so I was good to start, even if my fingers were at risk of frostbite. Lucky for me I wouldn’t be running in the dark so I wasn’t too stressed.
*SkyRun was the first time, and then I did need them..
I packed my pack carefully and strategically after registration to ensure I knew where everything was and that it was logically placed. So I wouldn’t forget to put on my gloves I left them out of the pack with my shoes and glasses. Around about this time the rain began to bucket down outside, and it didn’t stop the whole night. I also didn’t sleep very well, wrestling for blanket and space on a worn out double bed mattress – the one downfall of having your spouse at the race, LOL!
I got out of bed half an hour before my planned wake up time, unable to sleep and unable to tolerate laying there awake and uncomfortable. I showered, made coffee and ate some breakfast. I struggled to swallow, but got it down, fully aware that I was going to need it.
At DNT my bowels defied my requests to move before I went out into a sans-toilet mountainside, but not this time. I had the opposite – my tummy conversed loudly with me, worked twice and threatened to wreak havoc for the race, but fortunately it seems to have just been nerves.
I was very anxious before the race start. The race briefing was far from a period of relief, and I don’t recall anything that was said, except for Debbie’s advice: sometimes the markers are above you, so remember to look up when you can’t see the way – very valuable advice that kept me on the trails a few times during the day, along with the great navigation skills I have picked up on our mountain missions.
And then it was race time and we set off, out of camp and past some buildings toward the trail, when I suddenly realised I didn’t have my gloves on, and that I couldn’t find them to put them on. Panic hit – it was probably just too soon for the race jitters to have subsided, but I wasn’t thinking clearly. All I knew was I needed them for the cold and for the potential forest falls. I was close enough to the start so I turned around and ran back to check the car, but they weren’t there. I sent Warren on a wild goose chase – because that is the job of the supportive spouse after all – but there were no gloves to be found. Debbie to the rescue again. She suggested buffs, and Warren was instructed to bring those to me at Ceylon Hut (even though I had two – one around my neck and one in my pack). On his arrival he brought my whole kit box, with no buffs in it. Perhaps a note worth making now is that I happen to have bought a spare set of gloves before leaving Joburg which I chose not to pack because I wasn’t going to use them. Perhaps a foolish error in judgement, but in that moment I had to make a decision and move forward, and it changed the course of my race. Right there I grabbed a set of sleeves, popped them in my pack in case I needed them to act as gloves, and ran out of the aid station – I didn’t even look at the table of food (as instructed), plus I had wasted valuable time already.
As I took off into the forest Ruanne passed me going in the opposite direction – I asked her if she was okay, listened to her answer and continued moving ahead. I didn’t realise at the time it was her, and I am not sure if she knew it was me, but it is a little funny that the two mindful runners had a conversation on the trail. I was stuck behind a small, slow-moving group of runners who were a little averse to letting me pass, but I bombed through as soon as I saw a gap, and headed up toward the first falls on the route, leaving them behind easily. It was easy going on the runnable stretches and I climbed strong.
I didn’t take out my poles until the incline became quite steep and then I managed to pass an older man that moved faster every time he saw me closing in behind him, but I remained consistent, climbing steadily and determined not to stop, until I eventually wore him down and passed him easily as he stumbled exhausted and slowly up the hill. After that I passed another woman who was struggling badly with the climb, and then a pair of ladies who had teamed up for the race. I was headed out of the Stables Hut aid station when they began to filter in – bottles refilled with tailwind, a half a banana and potato in my belly, a pit stop at the loo, shoe laces retied, and a quick chat with the Addo folk, who are super nice! I can’t recall exactly when, but at some point during the trail from Ceylon to Stables I adjusted my pack and felt something in my rain jacket pocket, which I had checked more than once already. Low and behold, it was the very gloves I had been looking for, and perfect timing since the climb with poles was much easier with gloves!
A group of 5 was leaving Stables at the same time as me – longer legs must have given them an advantage moving uphill (they were all notably taller than me) because they pulled away from me easily but then I caught up and then they were ahead and then we were together again. I was very conscious to run my own race and not let myself get sucked into their pace. I passed them as we headed toward where the route splits for the longer races. There I noticed one of the 50 milers was flying up behind me, and then suddenly veered right as I continued on to the Mount Anderson Split aid station. I saw two runners ahead of me but could not ascertain much more than that. They saw me and started to run. I ran the majority of the stretch from the split in the trail to the aid station and I felt fantastic. No pain, strong legs and feeling so good mentally. I bubbled over with enthusiasm entering the aid station, feeling super proud of myself and so chuffed with my body. The team at that aid station were fantastic – one guy in particular was super concerned, held my poles, filled my glass with tailwind and then water, offered to help with my bottles, but I didn’t need to fill them and I was in a hurry to keep moving, so I left quickly with a caring warning that the next 6km were treacherous, but it was only 6km before the next aid station.
I quickly put my poles away, realising the terrain was changing quickly and I didn’t actually need them anyway, even if I could use them safely for a little longer. I was alone for a little while before I heard voices. When they caught up with me I realised it was the woman I had passed going uphill some time ago, and the guy I had just left behind at the previous aid station. Soon after we passed another woman struggling with her poles, and I managed to stay with the woman from the uphill, who was moving quickly but efficiently. I could see where she stepped and where she slipped, which made traversing the route easy. Once I lost her I was joined by the guy we had left behind earlier again for a little while. At one point I slipped – it looked quite dramatic and he was convinced I was hurt, but I don’t even have a bruise to show for it. After that he went ahead for no more than about 15 minutes and I caught him and passed him on one of the river crossings. After that I moved quickly to Martizbos, where hill-lady was leaving as I was arriving. As I ran down toward the aid station a little girl was calling out my race number from the bottom of the trail (a little children of the corn as she appeared at the end of the path), and her older sister was recording it, children were playing and everyone was friendly (a relief after my first thought). I had checked my watch as I left the previous aid station and it was just before 12h00 so I had expected not to get out of the Towerwoud before 2pm given the conditions after the weather. Imagine my surprise when it had taken me only an hour and a half! Things just got better and better on this race.
I grabbed a cup of coke, and topped up my tailwind, used the loo and was on my way quite quickly. The guy from the forest came in as I was leaving, but I didn’t see the lady with the poles again until Ceylon Hut. On my way out of Maritzbos I remembered this was the race to the end, the Kings Black route, and that the plan was to give it my all, but the terrain soon started going uphill and became a run-walk scenario. I didn’t get to Ceylon Hut quite as quickly as I expected, but reasonably close to the pacing chart forecast. I was strong on the hills even though I mostly power walked them, and I was sure to run every flat and down I encountered, coming into Ceylon Hut feeling strong and rearing to go. Warren and the girls were waiting for me, and the same woman who had taken my number earlier that day was now barefoot and very maternal. She gave me some coke (never have I drunk as much coke as on Saturday) while Warren held my poles, which I wasn’t too keen to hand over yet again – all these men thinking I needed physical assistance or something. Cora asked me if I was second, and she wasn’t too impressed by my answer, which was that I was probably closer to second last, but nevertheless asked when I would be at the finish line so she could be there. All this took no more than a few minutes.
As I was leaving I saw the lady with the poles coming into the aid station and she was moving fast, so I put some energy into the climb to Bridal Veil. I didn’t see her again until well after the climbing, while we were running through the pine forest to the finish line. Before she passed me (with 4km to go), one of the 50 milers snuck up on me (at about 5km to go) and scared the bejesus out of me – the same 50 miler from earlier in the day. I don’t think he realized I was completely unaware of him until I got such a fright. He apologised profusely and sped away. In the last 2km I heard a very unhappy 50 miler stomping and scowling his way through the puddles and I let him pass before I carried on.
The poles were my saving grace on the final downs. My knees hurt a little on some of the steeper hills we had to run down, but using the poles in front of me like fast feet was amazing – where everyone else skid down the hills I could run them easily and with a considerable level of control.
I found myself counting down the kms from as early as 19/20km, and ‘only 30km’ felt like a small number, just 20km, just 10, and so on.. I tried the park run mantra, but I found it less soothing than the actual kms. Humorously, with about 3kms to go, I ran past someone’s park run card, barcode facing up, and could not help having a little giggle.
When I came to the final river crossing the water was dirty and rushing and I had no idea how deep it was, so I packed away my poles again and got into the thigh high water. Holding onto the rope I remember thinking laughingly that I was deeper than what was considered a safe river crossing – the water was as high as my hips at some points – but I also remembered to look up the river, and I felt completely calm. I couldn’t see where to put my feet so just stepped carefully, but not too slowly. I hopped out the other end and felt the relief from the cold water in my weary muscles (you were so right). I knew the end was so close. I ran and I didn’t stop until I was through the finish line. As I passed the tents and turned the corner past the chalets I heard Debbie and Cora screaming for me, just them, at the end of the road waiting for me. It was the most beautiful sound! It was the only time I cried all day, the only time I even felt overwhelmed by emotion (sans the initial glove indaba – which was a very different feeling). When I reached them they ran in with me.
Crossing the finish line was bitter sweet – I was filled with both relief that is was over and almost melancholy because it was over, but also elation – my first ultramarathon in the bag!
I ran such a good race! I think it is the first race I have actually raced so far. My head was in the right place after my initial flustered start – I enjoyed every minute once that was over – the burn as I felt how strong I was moving uphill, the effortless ease with which I maneuvered the poles, the pain as it moved through its phases from sore to the other side of sore and almost numb, the downhills that felt so easy, knowing what to do in situations which may have thrown me in the past, not being afraid, being comfortable alone, the focus and the mental zone I was in. I felt completely confident in my ability and my body. I enjoyed every moment of my own company, of my time in the mountains, of every interaction. I felt whole and yet everything I experienced also filled my soul more. I didn’t feel alone, yet I felt a little separated from everyone else – almost on a different plane – I finally found my running zen.
Mac Mac was nothing I expected but everything I hoped for and more. I feel like it is just the beginning 😊 and I think I like longer distances. I just want to go further and do more. Maybe go faster (would be nice), but definitely further..
Something more I want to add about this amazing family of runners who rally their support for each other:
- Mandy sent me a personal whatsapp with some tips for the race – basically that the hard packed mud is slippery as hell and to be careful, but it was the sentiment that touched me, much like Marius’ personal thank you for my group message after the race. Both speak volumes of the quality of the Mindful Runners.
- While we were running a few weeks ago Debbie told me the dark green moss will kill you, but the bright green stuff is safe – most valuable advice I got outside of our briefing, and what friends should do for each other – share, support and build each other up.
- I remembered our briefing clearly as I progressed through the course and aid stations, and I followed all the things I remembered from it – where to take out poles, that I would hear Maritzbos before I saw it, where Riana saw the leopard, etc.
- I leveraged the usual stuff, that is only the usual stuff because I became a Mindful Runner – your voice telling me to stop, look back, take 5 deep breaths and move; your advice to be in the moment; Debbie’s voice asking me if I was drinking, and the now instinctive consciousness of my body’s nutrition needs.
I learn something new at every race and on every mountain mission, and this race was no exception:
- My second most important lesson from this race: Pack the spare stuff in case! And double check the damn packing list again, just in case! Even better, put the damn gloves straight on, even if it is raining!
- My most important lesson: Being in the moment, in the zone, focussed, or whatever you want to call it, is the most beautiful part of trail running and it is a gift only we can give to ourselves!