For the past few weeks, a lot of people have been saying things like, “It’s nearly the BIG DAY” and I’ve been a bit like… which one? Because on Sunday, 10 December I ran a really tough 65km of Cape Town trails at UTCT, and on Friday 16 December I’m getting married. Of course the latter is the more life defining commitment, and the endurance attached is not comparable to a single day physical challenge, but both count as BIG DAYS and 2016 is going out with a bang.
Last year I was a lot more involved in the organisation of UTCT, this year I played a smaller role and got to experience the other side. There is definitely magic at both ends of the spectrum. I’m currently riding high on the post-ultra endorphins as I battle calf cramps and I’m falling over my aching self to write it all down.
The global interest in UTCT is at an all time high, with it being included in the 2017 Ultra-Trail World Tour. This really defines it as the premier ultra-distance trail event in South Africa. With 1000 runners from 40 nations participating in 2016, I can only imagine the diverse field in years to come. The event is made up of three tough races which include 35km, 65km and 100km routes. I’m absolutely up for the 100km one day, I just need a bit more than the 17 hour cut off to complete it! This year I ran the 65km course. Here it is, in all its technical and challenging glory.
We started the race at 4am from the Gardens Tech Rugby Club just below the slopes of Table Mountain. Two nights prior I had assisted in the pre-race Elite Athlete Round Table by interviewing some of the big names and big hearts that would be lining up. On Saturday I stood among giants, heart racing, with a long day ahead. We started with the 100km heroes, the 35km kicked off 3 hours later.
As the most emotive music on the planet pumped, around 500 of us took off in to the pre-dawn Cape Town vibe. The route began with a nice warm up on the streets of the city, as revellers, drunk, high or both, poured out of night clubs and bars. “This some weird night race sh*t?” asked one youngster with heavy makeup smudged below her eyes. I smiled at my life and tried for the umpteenth time to calm the flick flacks going on in my tummy. We got to the trails of Signal Hill as the sky became lighter, and headlamps were switched off and added to pack pockets. The climb at Kloof Corner was the first taste of what was coming, and I was grateful for its familiarity. It felt easy, and the flick flacks subsided. My back garden, my beautiful Table Mountain. The contour path around to Platteklip Gorge is always tough under foot, but fun. I knew that a good 30 minute climb up the Gorge lay ahead and slowed down to an easy trot with a walk here and there. Platteklip is a monster, but once at the top I knew a really beautiful section awaited, so it was a matter of grinding it out and avoiding any stupid accidents on the way up.
We ran the front of Table Mountain across towards Maclears Beacon, which is a stretch of trail that swings from sandy strips to rocky outcrops and slippery boardwalks. I experienced some nausea here, and felt quite light-headed. I took a gel and had stern words with myself; long way to go, Kim! The views were incredible and the foreigners (even the Jozi ones) were snapping away. I didn’t take any pics of my own as I was unsure of the time I was going to take to complete the race. UTCT Race Director and friend, Nic Bornman, had advised me to aim for 12 to 14 hours which took me pretty close to the cut off times along the way.
The scrambly descent from there towards the dams played havoc with my knees. I had forgotten about that section, or blocked it from recce run memory, and I let quite a few people pass me. I had my first really low moment here, wondering if I was actually up for the challenge. I knew the finish line intimately having worked right below the finish arches last year, and I wanted a successful finish pretty desperately. Onwards, push on. The big, and very welcome, rains from the day prior meant we had water all over the mountain. such a welcome sight in the middle of a pretty serious drought.
The Woodhead Dam aid station was suddenly in sight. Once there, I offered up my collapsible cup for hot tea with a spoon of sugar and paired that delight with some fresh banana bread. A familiar voice called my name, and there was my dear friend Peter Moses looking pretty flipping pale for a coloured dude. I could see things weren’t going well for him, as he was in the 100km race and already sitting down feeling flum. We never know how things will go on the day, despite putting in all the training. I ran on feeling very down for him. After crossing the dam another familiar face popped up, Mr Jock McConnachie. I told him about PJ and hoped that Jock would be able to give him a pep talk. Around 30 minutes later, as I was taking the scary stairs down towards Constantia Nek, PJ came past me. I shouted at him to move his skinny butt, and reminded him of his strength. I learned later that he did not complete the race, and that there were plenty of fallen soldiers along the way. I know he will come back and face the 100km route again.
The next section passed in a haze. I took another gel and plugged in my earphones. Retreating in to your own bubble is a great coping mechanism on an ultra. I’m not a big fan of using music on the trails, as the mountain has its own soundtrack, but I needed the lyrics and the distraction for a while. Vineyards and some urban type trail brought us to the vibey aid station at Groot Constantia. I was a few km over half way, it was around 9:30am and my dad was there with Marmite sarmies, ice-cold water and some vaseline for back-chafe prevention. My wedding dress has an open back and I was worried about scabs on display a week later! I didn’t stay long, quick refuel and off again. Next stop the Alphen Trail, an area where we often walk the dogs or enjoy short, easy trail runs. Time to let the legs enjoy some uncomplicated running! I felt really good here, although it was getting warm and the water in my pack disappeared a few km before the Alphen aid station. One whole marathon (42km) on trail done and dusted, but still plenty of hard running up ahead.
I was well ahead of schedule when I arrived at the UCT Tennis Club. 55km done, 10 to go, and both mom and dad were there, as well as my good friend and UTCT director, Stuart. More Marmite sarmies, and a very welcome cold Redbull. The climb to the Blockhouse was looming, and I was pretty sure it would wipe the smile off my face. Mom and dad updated me on Q’s result in the 35km. He narrowly missed 3rd spot on the Vet’s podium due to a wrong turn, but had a really strong race; I knew he would. Encouraged by his result, I pushed on fairly quickly with thoughts of the finish line and a cold beer to keep me going.
I have never felt so awful on a climb before. The steep, hot, slope up to the Blockhouse seemed like it would never end. My feet kept sliding backwards, my calves cramped continuously and I thought I might vomit. It was basically one very long swear word, and it took all I had left right out of me. There was a lot of walking from thereon. Up on the trail beyond the Blockhouse you can see the finish line, and it looked incredibly far, far away. That was my next low point. I didn’t feel like eating, the great running company of the last 20km had fallen back, and I was pretty much on a solo mission home. Then just above Deer Park, Prodigal Khumalo came flying past me; the winner of the 100km! I forgot my sore feet and cramping calves for a while, inspired by how he had smashed the big one. What a champ. Tom Adams from the UK came past next, highlighting the difference between those that do this as a profession, and those of us that are out there for other reasons. Of course you question those reasons during a long day out, but the finish line usually takes care of all your doubt. 1.5km from the end, running on fumes, I came across Marcy Loubser. She was having a low of her own so I put my arm around her and said we’d finish it off together.
The finish was everything I had wanted, and more. I heard the MC shouting “Kimmy is in the house!” and then it was all a blur of happy high fives, a swig of cold beer, cameras, more cameras, a big hug for Marcy, a hug for me from Q. My parents were there, all smiles, and rather than throwing my shoes at the UTCT team, as I had threatened to do earlier, I thanked them for an amazing day out. I looked back at Table Mountain, and thanked my grueling and gracious hostess. She is so beautiful.
When the finish line is your friend, and you walk away with a medal in hand, it is important to celebrate both the opportunity and the outcome. These races don’t always go to plan; our bodies don’t always do what we ask them to. 11 hours 23 minutes, and my toughest race to date. Done. Ready for a wedding.