Over a month has passed since crossing that finish line for the second time and once again it feels like a dream come true, to be one of only a handful of people worldwide to have completed it is a great feeling but to come back for the second year in a row just confirms a degree of lunacy and a love affair with sun and sand that for the time being I feel won't cease...
Doing the race once gives you not only the joy of finishing but for those crazy enough to do it again, something way more important... experience
The 'knowing' of what to take, what to wear and how to go about certain things both leading up to, and in the race itself is priceless and really prepares you to not only have a much more comfortable and enjoyable experience, but to also perform better.
So how did it go....?
This year saw a lot more people take up this great challenge than last year, almost double with 45 starters and a great mix of nationalities and more youngsters too!
One of those 'youngsters' was Tiaan Erwee, my room-mate pre/post race, an exciting talent and definitely knocking on the door of trail running stardom! It was interesting, if not a bit frightening to see how an athlete capable of winning the race packs such a minimal amount of kit for the entire week, and pushes their body to the absolute limit.
I on the other hand had learnt my lesson from the previous year and packed more food than necessary with an additional four dinners... just in case. I had after all trained with a higher pack weight than I had when toeing the start line so all was good and my mind could be at ease for the whole week.
With an advertised distance of 30km for the day, it really was a nice warm up run for what would lay ahead of us that week, the bus ride to the start saw a few of us cracking jokes while many were silent and thoughtful, whichever you were doing was based on nervous energy, nerves which were wound even tighter by arriving at the start line well before the official start time and having to wait in the ever increasing heat for the gun (Patrick's horn) to sound....
When the horn sounded everyone shot off at such a rate of knots, I just couldn't help but think it was way too fast, so instead of racing I decided to settle down into a comfortable pace and not worry about who overtook... although due to my inherent competitive nature I did target those ahead, this was especially the case once the sandy river beds started. Knowledge of how to approach the sandy areas really is an advantage, immediately employing the 'Kalahari shuffle' and running in the footsteps of those who had been through already... once reaching about 20km the temperature had risen to somewhere in the 40's and since my special aluminum water bottle still had ice blocks floating in it, decided to give a CP crew member a taste, the look of disbelief was priceless!
It turned out to be a great day, crossing the line in 7th place and feeling strong, it was so great to see the smiles on everyone's faces once they had completed the day, each and every person conquering the first step towards a mammoth feat!
Before the race we had all suspected that day 2 would have a nasty surprise, the daily CP distance chart showed only 2km from the start to CP1 and the truth revealed itself in the form of a mountain which seperated us from the river's edge where we had camped for the night, and the plateau high above us. Being part of the quicker runner group had me start later and found myself running hard to keep up with the frantic race against the sun... this combined with a serious lack of climbing fitness saw me keeping the sweeper company for the first hour and a half of the day, dragging ourselves up the steep rock face felt like an eternity and a short breather was had every few steps until eventually reaching CP1 at the top.
|Emerging at the top of day 2's main climb|
|Still smiling, Ian the sweeper in the background|
|Going under a fence|
It was only once finding Genis and Pamela at CP3 and sitting down to rest with them that I could realize again that we were all in this together and I wasn't the only one struggling to just move forward, Genis was struggling with his heart rate and was taking the extra time to recover fully before moving on, his sense of humor however needed no recovery and as usual was cheerful and a beacon of positive energy!
A pain pill and a good amount of nutrition later it was time to embark on the final segment before reaching camp, it was agonizingly painful... but arrived at camp, hours off target and physically shattered.
|Day 2 route, ending in a dry river bed|
|Notice the long resting time between 6 and 7 hours|
After a massage the previous day to work out all the kinks in the back and shoulders, day 3 dawned with a rejuvenated vigor and determination, I had also found that by simply pulling the waist strap of the pack extremely tight, a lot of weight was taken off the shoulders and put onto the hips. This was such a simple revelation that I could hardly contain my excitement and pushed the day as hard as possible.
The start of the day was perfect with cool conditions being further helped by a shady rock face blocking the morning sun for the first 5km, I had started in the 2nd group and found myself completely in the lead by 7km after scaling a rock face with the aid of ropes and an 'all of a sudden' new found climbing skill.
Once reaching the front of the field my goal became simple... Stay there! I knew that Hylton, Alwyn and Tiaan would catch and pass, that was inevitable... I had to let no one else pass today, and no one did... 4th place and a near to perfect run with no major issues!
|Day 3 route|
|Only 20 minutes of 'non-moving time' and consistent pace throughout|
By this stage a few competitors had withdrawn from the race, this is always sad because we all know the amount of time and sacrifice that goes into the training and buildup, a true warrior never gives up though and I suspect each will be back in the years to come, for those that were still in the race however, had the long day and night of day 4 to contend with, for some it would be the longest distance of their lives so far!
Personally this is what it's all about for me, the ultra within an ultra event... pushing the body and mind from sunrise to sunset and beyond. It all came down to this day and I would base my performance of the entire event on how this stage went, and what a performance it was... in my mind the greatest day running I've ever had!!
|Approaching the 50km mark|
The long stage is traditionally slightly easier in terms of terrain than the rest of the race but this year there was no respite... river beds, rough track and mountainous terrain were the order of the day, it only made the accomplishment of finishing so much sweeter.
|Bakiye from Turkey (Woman's winner)|
A time of 13:13 for 80km might sound a touch below par to the uninitiated, but combine that with 100km in the 3 days preceding it together with a heavy backpack, rough trail and 40 DegC heat and it's really something that I'm proud of.
|Day 4 route - only 1 hour of non moving time|
|Consistent pace with a near perfect CP turnaround rate|
After finishing the previous night at 23:13 I struggled to sleep mainly due to cramps but also due to the excitement of welcoming fellow runners home to the camp, this continued well into the early hours of the morning, each person having gone through their own personal battles with the Kalahari desert and each overcoming them, some had completely run out of nutrition, others had made it on feet that were completely destroyed, there was one though who had time and sheer exhaustion against him, but never faltering Kian, the great spirited man from Singapore arrived well into the morning with the sun firmly risen by 8am... what an honor to greet him in ovation after his 26 hour epic journey!
The day was spent enjoying well deserved rest, swimming, washing, eating and staying hydrated, until we were visited by crew members and friends who had not made it to this stage, it was great to see them.
Meng, a participant from 2011 and someone who kept me in the race after suffering paralyzing cramps on day 1 of last year, made a visit as well, to the complete surprise and delight of the runners that were part of the team he put together for their charity effort.
|Halloween on the rest day|
The day I had been most afraid of had arrived, last year this stage had me questioning whether I should give this sort of thing up completely, so this time I wanted the revenge! Once again one of the later starting groups, and once again setting off at a quick pace, this time with Tertius 'Bees' Marais, we made the most of the cooler morning temperatures and covered some good ground early... the going wasn't easy though and the early sections were through technical river beds with lots of rocks and trees which needed to be' ducked and dived'
|Day 6 start|
Eventually though the river beds made way to absolutely awesome rose quartz littered hills and jeep track, allowing us to pick up the pace while being filmed from the gyro-copter which whizzed overhead.
The latter stages of this day reached extremely hot temperatures and I consider myself lucky to finish when I did, the runners who crossed the line beyond 3pm really felt the brunt of the desert heat with temperatures approaching the high 40's
|Day 6 route - another ultra, another solid performance|
|A progressive increase in pace!|
The last day of something like this is always so amazing, every single person has a smile on their face and a spring in their step, and with seemingly superhuman strength and speed, everyone gets to the finish quicker than they've run the whole week. At some stage I remember sprinting along the national park gravel road that leads to the finish at the Augrabies Falls, no sense of pain, no sense of fatigue... VICTORY! and a whole 21 hours off my previous time!!
|13th Overall and a 21 hour improvement at 40h21|
I don't think it's possible to put into words the feelings that one goes through when approaching the finish line, it's so much more than anything else I've done, this desert chews you up, spits you out, and when you're crawling around trying to escape it chews you up again, No matter how good you are there is a definite amount of respect this desert deserves, and if you don't give her that respect, she'll not reward you by letting you leave successfully...
|The class of 2012 - Congrats to everyone!! and hope our paths cross again!|
I'll be back...