I hadn’t planned to write about this race. Which is strange, given that it is the farthest I have ever run in one go, and a race for which I trained HARD.
Perhaps there was just too much to process. Or maybe the intense heat in the first hour (and then the final 24th, 25th and 26th hours) just fried my Hippocampus to a crisp. The latter quite likely. I still feel a little brainless and vacant come to think of it.
Though some would argue that signing up for 100 miler points to the fact that you are brainless and vacant to start with.
The week back home immediately after the race was somewhat fraught, with a post-race dose of flu, a presentation on plastic at an Ocean Summit to prepare for and a very sick young Ridgeback to nurse. Not a whole lot of time, inclination or energy to cobble words and thoughts together on a 26-hour-long running experience.
A whole two weeks have passed since all 76 of us Mad Dogs & Englishmen (MD&Es) set off from Addo Main Camp at 2 pm. Yup! 2 in the afternoon. A grand old time to start running 100 miles in the African bush. Makes perfect sense!
Rumour has it the temps nudged up towards 40 degrees in that initial hour or so. For some reason, Addo heat is especially intense. It’s in-your-face honest-to-God-bitch-slapping-heat that really tries its level best to suck the brain matter out of your ears and slap it down onto the dusty earth below.
It’s fry-eggs-on-your-forehead hot. And I am really not trying to over dramatize things here.
The initial dirt road section, which takes us out of the reserve and up towards the Zuurberg, was a chance for us all to settle into a rhythm, ease into the whole vibe, maybe partake in some idle, sociable chit-chat with other MD&Es.
I partook in some fairly idle chit-chat, but not much – thanks to aforementioned heat. I said hello, howzit to Jo McKenzie. For just those initial 10 kays, my pace actually matched hers. We laughed a little, exchanged pleasantries about mutual friends, and then she was gone. Kabooom! Gone.
Jo ran like a demon, lead the woman’s race for much of the way, and finished second, and third overall.
I then had a little chat to Annelise – we even shook hands while running…and again, after Checkpoint 1, she was gone. Kabooooooooooom. She also ran an absolute pearler and won in a record-smashing time.
So at about 15 kays, it became fairly clear to me that I would be chasing Tracey Campbell’s pocket-rocket-silhouette for the whole race and that this put me as fourth woman. The latter a detail I was told time and time again to NOT worry me or think about or do anything at all with. Of course, it is ALL I thought about. “The race only starts in the last 40 kays” they all chorused. “It’s a long day out, Karoline – anything can happen!” they chanted. “Don’t be tempted to chase anyone – they’ll blow!” they assured me.
They didn’t blow. Not one of those wonderful three women. They bloody blitzed the course – convincingly. The whole 100 miles.
(The men did blow though. Many of them. Like flies. Or to quote the lovely Kim van Kets, “they melted like Salvador Dali clocks”. But more of that later.)
Anyway – back to chasing Tracey. I was immensely thrilled to catch up with her and run up alongside her at about 15 kays. We had a bit of a chat, but I could sense that she wasn’t really in the mood to engage in pleasant banter or to make light of the fact that we had both run out of water, and still had 5 kays until the next water point – so I let her go. Which was pretty darn thoughtful of me come to think of it.
This was to be how it was for the entire race. I literally became like a lion (an aged, quite ragged one, granted) – chasing my prey…..! I felt a little bad for Tracey at times. It must have been horrible having me on her arse. I realised this. Really I did. And given that I am the world’s most empathetic of empaths, I made a mental note to hang back once or twice, thinking how crap it must be having someone tail-gating you the whole time.
Well, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it…
I mention the whole predator-prey thing because it was real. Honest to God! There were times – in that 26-hour period, especially in the dead of night….when I could literally SMELL Tracey. I could tell that she had JUST been through the one river….or brushed past the one bush. THAT is how finely-tuned one’s senses become when all you have is your torchlight and the night is inky-black around you.
I started fixating on the ground for footprints, looking for wet sploshes on the rocks at river crossings to try gauge how far ahead she was. The whole gig was just short of me on all fours looking for freshly snapped twigs and bits of hair snagged on thorns!
(It must be said at this point, that Tracey smells just GREAT – all sun-lotiony and floral and stuff. Not sweaty, feral and nasty at all – which is how I started to smell at the 18-hour mark…. or maybe quite a bit earlier).
Things start to happen in your brain after a while – when you’ve been at it for 10 odd hours and it’s pitch dark and you are completely alone in the wilderness.
We had all been told about the potential for Hippo encounters around the rivers. This, dear reader, was my only real concern going boldly into the good Addo night. I am super cool with most wildlife – indeed, I was really WANTING to bump into big snakes, spiders, bushpig, kudu, jackal und alles. I love wild animal encounters – it’s what makes me tick, it’s why I run trail….
BUT a hippo? Not so much hey.
The race director was very helpful and most diligent in suggesting what we should all do IF we Happed Upon A Hippo. “Turn your headtorch off and lie down!”
Riiiiiiiiiiight. That’s exactly what I am going to do when face to face with a 1 500 kg beast getting sniffy because I’m between her and her babba…..
Thankfully there were no hippo to worry about, so the two bigger river crossings (which both boasted a taught rope tied across them) were an absolute breeze, and the only thing I had to worry about was the odd giant earthworm and a pissed off warthog at sunrise.
I loved LOVED running alone at night. And I was completely alone. Well, bar the occasional waft of Tracey, who seemed to get faster as the night wore on. I would ask at every water table “How far ahead is Tracey?”…..”Oooooh”, they would say….”probably about 10-15 minutes?”…..then the next water table “Hmmmmmmmmmm, maybe 5 minutes?”…..then sometimes I would actually meet up with Tracey at a water table. But never long enough for much more than a mumbled greeting as she would be off – kaboooom!
The water tables were all quite epic – all with their own character and vibe and personality. They were like oases in the desert – seriously heaven-sent little moments of stillness and friendliness and warmth and water and sometimes soup and almost always a Tracey catchup update.
The legendary Ellie’s Tavern was quite the most exceptional of all water tables. I have fond memories of the little puddle of light deep, deep down in the valley below at the end of a very, very steep downhill. One hears all about Ellie and her fabled, famous millionaire’s shortbread, which is spoken of in hushed tones. I am quite appalled to admit that I never sampled the stuff. Oh the shame!
But I DID sample the incredible hospitality and warmth and love that every single volunteer exuded at that water point. Particularly on the return leg – which happens AFTER the much talked about Valley of Tears. I needed Ellie and her team of merry elves a whole lot then. I got to them somewhere around mid-morning on the Saturday – with about 115 kays in the legs, or maybe more. This after misplacing my sunglasses, my one water bottle, my buff and my cap along the way somewhere – or at the drop bag station. My specially-for-the-race braided hair and thus very exposed scalp was literally sizzling in the Addo sunshine.
The loss of all sunshine-diversion-apparel discovery was made about halfway along the Valley of Tears, which elicited a good bout of self-pitying weeping. Appropriately enough.
At that point too, my tracker unit was starting to jab repeatedly into my scapula, causing untold pain and anguish, and more goddamn weeping (in the Valley of Tears). Oh, and let’s not forget the CHAFFING that had started to take place in a place where the sun doesn’t shine, and which, upon squatting to pee, was quite literally akin to having hot sulphuric acid splashed into an open wound. Again, more tears (in the Valley of Tears) and a whole whackload of F%&ks.
It’s one thing having a childlike tantrum when you have an audience. It’s quite another when you have none whatsoever. I had none (in the Valley of Tears), and so they were relatively short-lived affairs, as after the first barrage of F*&cks and sobbing, you feel unutterably daft and pathetic, so you suck up your snot, wipe away the tears (with your non-existent buff) and carry on.
Which is pretty much when I stumbled into Ellie’s Tavern – for the second time. They held me, they patched me up, they offered me a jaunty old hat, they soaked my sizzling scalp, they gave me a massive dollup of Vaseline for the raw arse AND they even found a pair of old sunglasses with McGyvered plasters as a strap to keep them on.
These people were quite simply magicians. I fell in love. They warn you about this. The falling in love bit. You get sucked in see – and you don’t want to leave. And it’s not just because they’re SO nice…it’s because of the monster ARSE of a mountain that you then have to climb as you leave.
I have recently watched Free Solo – an epic doci about a loon who climbs up a steep rock face for hours on end without ropes.
Well I was that dude. Climbing that bastard jeep track, without ropes. I imagined myself in my own Nat Geo documentary, and somehow it got me through.
The final 40-50 kays were a bit blurry, but good, in that I knew I was going to finish the beast.
There was a brief moment of joy when I saw Tracey (who had been very elusive for many hours) ahead of me. My second wind kicked in and I chased after her with huge enthusiasm. She turned around, saw me, got a big fright and was GONE.
So that was that really.
The last 15 kays were very, very sore and I had legs that were not terribly keen to come to the party, but I knew I had to just keep on swimming…
The less said about the final ascent to the finish the better.
What was wonderful and so very well timed was the final kilometre of the race. I summited the final monster mountain, looked around and there was Duracell….(who had just done the 76 k race). He looked strong and happy and VERY chuffed to see me, and he basically saw me through to the finish line. I weaved, wobbled and staggered my way to the blessed finish line arches and it was all sweaty hugs and happiness.
I finished 4th woman, 7th overall in a time of 25:53:04.
The fact that only 3 dudes finished ahead of me makes me more proud than the 4th woman bit.
This race really, honestly shows how women have the tenacity and strength and stamina and mind to do these crazy distances.
Annelise, Jo, Tracey and me….we all did women proud that day – coming in as we did in the top 7 – and leaving many a Salvador Dali clock flopping over rocks and tree stumps – in the Valley of Tears – and beyond.
With massive, elephantine thanks to Sheena and Sian and their truly spectacular team for organising a SUPERB event. And to my wonderful coach Linda for her excellent training programme, guidance and support before, during and after this journey.