October 2004. London. I’m about to step out the door for a 5km run and I’m not sure I’ll make it.
October 2014. Cape Town. I’m about to step out the door for a 100km run and I’m not sure I’ll make it.
The driving factor to get my arse out the door in these two situations was remarkably different, but ultimately, it boils down to one common thread.
The Comfort Zone.
Following that run in 2004, I’ve been extremely privileged to be able to complete many races. Half marathons, marathons, triathlons and a handful of Ironman events. I say privileged because not only is competing in these races expensive; the act of movement is not something everybody gets to enjoy. I’ll stop there before I go too deep.
So why 100km? Over mountains. With a 15 hour time limit? Because that’s exactly what the Ultra Trail Cape Town involves.
That common thread is why. To move outside of my comfort zone. My focus over the last few years has been on Ironman triathlon. The goal of simply finishing my first one quickly moved to finishing the next, and the next, and the next, as fast as possible. Chasing a time. Or a Kona slot (more on this in a future post). Admittedly, there were other, superficial, influencing factors. A first for Cape Town – my ‘hometown’. On ‘The Mountain’. Trail running. A route I’ve invested much time exploring, in awe.
(For the record, Cape Town is trail running heaven. If you don’t believe me, check out my Instagram feed.
Hovering the cursor over the enter button, my mind was clear. It said, “You’re biting off more than you can chew here dude. 100km is a LONG way. I don’t think you can do it.”
I’m a socially motivated athlete. I obviously compete for ‘myself’ and any pressure to perform comes from within, but I find sharing goals with friends and family massively motivating. That’s why I tend to make a campaign out of it. I guess it’s a poor excuse to rally up support. Or, a way in which I help apply pressure on myself to do something. Ask anyone who’s done a race where they’re able to be tracked and they’ll tell you – it helps to know people are following you online. It keeps you going. Each time you cross a timing matt – they’ll know I’m still going.
Sir Winston Churchill famously said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” That’s where #keepgoing came into it. My campaign mantra. My driving force. It’s what I trained my brain to say every time the thought of “This is too hard, just stop” entered my head.
If you asked me to write a report on what I did during my fourteen and a half hours of racing, I couldn’t. Some parts are vivid, others a blur. Even days after, I’m getting flashbacks to experiences of the race. Some that make me smile, others wince. So here’s a short summary…
Making my way to the start line, I bumped into Raynard Tissink doing his final race pack checks. It was good to see Ray as we’d done a route recce together a few weeks before and had agreed to not shave until after the 100km. We wanted to look like ‘proper’ trail runners. The mood at the start was jovial. Still pitch dark, with the nervous flashes of headtorches darting about. Soon we were ambling through the streets of Cape Town, with Ray complaining about the slow pace. Slowly, slowy catch the monkey Ray-man.
Lion’s Head (not the top), Platteklip Gorge (the almost 1 hour climb that gets you to the top on Table Mountain), MacClears Beacon. Not that I could see the beacon. The top of Table Mountain was covered in thick cloud. Thankfully I’d enjoyed the view on other occasions so no view meant I could focus on moving forward.
A few kilometres from the Constantia Nek check point, a friend, Kevin Flanagan, caught up to me, meaning I had some welcome company from the check point, pretty much all the way to Hout Bay (halfway). Running across Llandudno and Sandy Bay beaches was beautiful. The Atlantic Ocean looked massively inviting.
“The first real bit of suffering was soon to follow”
The section off the beach, over Karbonkelberg and down to Hout Bay was painful. Kev started dropping back on the climb. Eventually he’d find a rock, sit down and have a few words with himself. I wanted to do the same. It’s when the doubt set in. Running downhill became excruciatingly painful. And Hout Bay was only halfway. Feeling that sore, with 50km still to go, had me stressed. Keep going. Keep going. KEEP going. I made the 50km check point and with fresh reserves (in my Camelbak), I shuffled out of Hout Bay.
Constantia Nek, the Constantia winelands, the Contour, the University of CT (UCT). By this point, it was a simple matter of moving from check point to check point. On average, about 8km apart. Coke and water being my saviour. It really is the best sports drink in the world.
Leaving the final check point at UCT was a huge confidence boost. It’s when the belief came back. I wasn’t going to come this far and not finish! The final mountain to climb is the aptly (on this occasion) named Devil’s Peak. I felt like I was in the Devil’s cave. That familiar, dark place. I’d been here before, only this time it was pitch dark. Keep going.
As I ran around the Devil’s Peak contour, the city once again revealed itself. I actually let out a massive WOOOOOOOOHOOOOOO, and proceeded to run off course. Shit. I’d run (downhill) 600m in the wrong direction. It was at this exact point that I learned that the body (and mind) always have more. From struggling to move my legs, the adrenaline kicked in and I started running back, uphill! It felt effortless. I was floating. If I didn’t run, I wouldn’t make the 15 hour cut-off.
As I found my way onto the correct path, I saw a familiar face. KEV! Without a word, we knew the task at hand. 10km to go, less than an hour and a half to make cut-off. I ran that final 10km in absolute fear. Fear of failure. Fear I’d celebrated too early. What a fool.
Only when I turned the final corner onto the finishing field did the fear fade away. 14 hours and 38 minutes. I crossed the line, thanked Kev for the company and doubled over. I stayed like this for a minute or two. Time became irrelevant. I’d done it. Then came the tears. I’ve never been ashamed to admit I’m an emotional being. I wear my heart on my sleeve. Someone in the crowd thought I was retching, when in fact I was sobbing.
I sat down, pulled my phone out for the first time since I’d put it away on the start line, called my parents, and allowed tears of joy to stream down my face as I let them know their son was safely home.
I made it.
These incredible photo’s were taken by Andrew King.