Sitting at my desk in my little home office chewing on the memories of PUFfeR 2016. Legs are sore, feet are tender and race day pics keep popping up on my Facebook feed, taking me back to an ever growing list of memories of a very, very tough day.
PUFfeR is exactly as it should be. A Cape Town institution with a small field of less than 200 entrants, and usually around 150 finishers. You begin in the Cape Point nature reserve, and make your way by headlamps and moonlight through the first 14km of tarred road. It is silent but for the rhythm of fellow runners tapping the tar and, if you remember to look back, the long and winding constellation of brave runners and their headlamps bob along in a peaceful formation. There is some chatter, race plans exchanged. At 14km, the reserve ends but the tar continues, with a good few climbs as you hit Redhill and a 2km slog which is when most of the field realise that the fun is over. The field spreads out, and the first two water points pass by. By the time the sun is up, the race has really only just begun. At 37km, and after a really taxing little climb up a section of Ou Kaapse Weg in to Noordhoek, the first real trail begins. The Wagon Trail is not to be underestimated as it takes you in to the Silvermine reserve, and spits you out just in time to catch your breath before you start a heavy climb up to The Mast. The drop from there is steep and on a winding tar road, heading towards Hout Bay. Then comes some fun, tricky trail and some dirt road climbing with the promise of a festive Constantia Nek to keep you moving. From the Nek, all battle wounds begin to show and a few runners don’t make it past this point. Straight up, up up to Maclears on stairs and technical trail. From Maclears, over the top of Table Mountain and down the infamous Platteklip Gorge; 2.4km of straight down, and no mercy from the terrain. You come off Table Mountain on to Tafelberg road where, if you are lucky, you will be cheered through the heaving mass of tourists waiting for the cable car, and won’t be hit by a bus. 8km to go, mostly road on jelly legs. Organiser Andy pops up here, all smiles and full of encouragement. After a fairly revolting climb up Signal Hill which ends with the West Coast AC water point where you can request anything from a pancake to a beer, there is a blessed (mostly) downhill in to the suburb of Greenpoint. You can choose your route from there to the finish line. Some steps, some traffic to navigate, and then the final trot in to a finish area where the beer has never tasted better, and tears flow as readily as the Castle Lite.
This year there was a little more hoopla added in the form of pre-race activations, social media hype and I’m almost certain I saw the no-fuss race director, Andy, longing for the old finish line which generally comprised of a single traffic cone, some smelly fishing boats and his slow clap on with left hand slapping his thigh, right hand holding a cold beer. There are no route markings, those in the know can cut a few km off by taking short(ish) cuts, and each water point is manned by a Cape Town running club. The food along the route is pretty varied; potatoes, pancakes, sweets, chips, biltong. The buzz at Constantia Nek, which you reach at around 50km, is always magic. It is a special race, it should never change.
I was hoping to write a very different blog about my day out. I had a lot of big plans to be up there in the front of the pack, having finished 8th lady last year. I did a lot more training than last year, and took 20 minutes off my marathon time between then and now. I think I did the work, but I blew like Hiroshima at 40km and tried to quit at 60km. Q joined me for the last 25km and if he hadn’t I’m pretty certain I would have stopped.
When my mom and dad handed me Marmite sarmies and potatoes at the Nek, I wanted to curl up in one of the camping chairs that they had set up, and just close my eyes. When I arrived at the Maclears summit my running club was there and I had a little cry on our Chairman’s shoulder. I did not want to continue.
I don’t think I started too fast, I felt great for the first section. I can’t really say what went wrong. When I finished I was completely spent. My coach, Nic had won. My friend Pete was third overall and I was thrilled for them. I saw my friend Joe and he was basically floating as he had finished 6th. Incredible! I was bitterly disappointed in how my day had gone. I was 11th lady home, and 49th of a field of 149 finishers. Statistically that could sound impressive, but I was more than an hour off the time I had wanted and felt gross.
I know it isn’t all about the race day. My friend and top-notch athlete manager Nic Lamond gave me a talking to while I was sitting in a stinky, crumpled mess on the grass. He said, “If you hate the training, get out. Because it has to be about the training, and you must love it. The race is just one part of it and anything can happen on race day.” He is right, and I loved the training. I’ll keep training, and learning.
I’m not done.