It was at the end of 2014 that I first started dreaming of running UTMB. Having only just completed the Salomon Skyrun as my first 100km race ever, UTMB was only a dream and very far from reality. If there is one thing about me however, it is that I am a doer not just a dreamer and there are probably few people in the world who take their dreams as seriously as I do. It borders on obsession at times. The problem with UTMB was that I was not in control of whether or not I could enter. To obtain an entry at that stage, one had to qualify by earning 8 points over a two year period using no more than three races. Then once qualified, there would be a lottery where registered runners had less than a 40% chance of being drawn for an entry.
So I set a plan for myself: I had already completed a Skyrun in 2014, all I had to do to get my 8 points was do Skyrun in 2015 and then one 2 point race, so I entered the Marloth Mountain Challenge. However in February 2015 UTMB changed their point system and now required me to have 9 points to register. This was terrible news to me because it left me no choice but to attempt the Ultra Trail Cape Town, which at the time was the only other 3 point race that was registered for UTMB points.
In UTCT’s first year 2014, I looked into the race and having spent four years studying in Cape Town, I understood the route description well. But when I saw that there was a ridiculous cut-off time of 15 hours my thoughts were simply: “Hectic, well that’s a race I’ll never do – it’s clearly designed for elites only”.
I remember that moment that I saw the change in UTMB’s point system like it was yesterday. Dylan was driving and I was in the passenger seat explaining my predicament to him. At that stage of our relationship I was always setting my sights on big things that I believed I could do and so wanted to do, but Dylan would usually take some convincing. Now I was dealing with something I did not even believe I could do and the words that very casually came out of Dylan’s mouth will stick with me forever: “I think you can do it”. I can’t quite remember what I said in response but the feelings of shock, of thinking what’s happened to my husband (my voice of reason), of thinking he is crazy and has no clue what he’s even saying, and the tears I was trying to keep down all come back to me very quickly. Could he possibly be right?
That short little conversation marked the start of a journey that would not only get me to the finish line of UTMB, but would change the way I perceive and do life forever.
From February 2015, I had exactly 8 months to qualify and become fast. I have never been a fast runner. I am strong and have a good head, but speed is not something that has ever come easily to me and I’m sure I have left many people wondering: “How on earth does she run 100km if this is how she runs 20?” Having already paid for Skyrun and knowing that I would still need to fund an entry in UTCT, I was limited in how many smaller races I could do that year. However I managed to run the Ingeli Sky Marathon in April 2015. 42km in 5:55:53 – not fast at all, but according to the qualifying rules of UTCT it was all I needed.
I emailed Stuart McConnachie to check if I could use Ingeli to qualify and he accidentally responded with an email aimed at his colleague Nic Bornman:
“She’s also a tight one, she came 3rd. Jock Green was 2nd in 4:44. I just want to give these folks the chance and if they fail then it’s part of the race fabric. Just makes it more appealing. Can I give her the go ahead”
The email that responded to my request said the following:
“Look I’ll be honest it’s going to be tight for you. A good day out and you’ll make it for sure, the time limit plays a significant role as it forces runners to push when perhaps they’d hold back and be more cautious. We do have two options for runners who aren’t on course to make it, short cuts for want of a better word. One will join you with the 65km route the other you cut out the winelands section and run just over 80km. Both give you a 65km race medal and the points towards UTMB.”
These responses made me realise that I was really out of my depth with considering UTCT and if I was short coursed I would only earn 1 or 2 UTMB points which would mean nothing to me as I had to earn 3 points to qualify. So I worked hard and scheduled a recce of the first 50km of UTCT in June 2015 thinking that if I could at least pull off the first 50km within the cut-off time, I would be on track to possibly finish the thing in October. Stuart and Nic were really great at giving me advice and helping me to plan my recce and some runners from the Carbs Trail Running group accompanied me.
Alex Dierks & Carlos De Jesus joined me for the first 25km to Contantia Nek and then Martin Bongers and Chris Holdsworth took over from there to finish with a celebratory beer in Hout Bay. However as great as the recce seemed, I finished those 50km about 3 hours slower than what I needed to and realised that being spoilt with 80km of single track literally at my doorstep had led me to forget how to run down hills that weren’t technical. It was as if I could not coordinate what my legs were doing and so running non-technical down hills became a key theme in my training.
With the hope of funding my entry into UTCT, I did not do any other races in my build-up. However, I started noticing that even when it came to things like training opportunities, everything was just falling into place and working in my favour. One such example is that I really wanted to get to the Salomon Skyrun training camp in August, but I was in Joburg without my own transport and not much in the way of funds to spare, but I believed it would be good training in light of what lay ahead. After trying everything I could to get there and failing at it, I received a message two days before camp:
I hope you are well. We met at Magalies Crazy run last year. Meg McKenzie mentioned you are looking to share a lift to Skyrun Training Camp next week. I’m driving from J’burg on Friday and back on the Monday if that works? Would be great to have some company.”
Out of nowhere I was all sorted because of one short conversation I had on a bus a year before. This sort of thing kept happening and being a Christian it sparked a question in me that has completely influenced my running journey since then. I was having an internal battle with God about why he was blessing my running so much when it did absolutely nothing to further His kingdom. It was a selfish ambition and it wasn’t like I was converting people to Christianity while running. Little did I know the impact that just one question would have on me.
Through this journey of just one question, God has taught me three really valuable lessons that not only apply to my running but to everything I do: 1 – To trust Him to have my back even when the math doesn’t add up; 2 – To be ok with not being in control (something that does not come easy to me); and 3 – To be willing to give it all up at anytime (something that doesn’t come easy to anyone).
The first time the math really didn’t add up was in my build up to UTCT 2015. During that time between a good training weekend in Skyrun territory and literally 3 weeks before UTCT, I kept on setting training goals for myself once again thinking that if I could do X km in Y time I could confidently enter the race. Well I failed to meet my goals every time and if I did the math, there was no hope of me leaving the 50km mark at Hout Bay in UTCT. However, it was three weeks until race day and only then did I commit to entering, knowing that wasting R1800 on a race that I probably wouldn’t finish would be much easier to swallow than the regret of having not tried. I decided that if the weather conditions were perfect and I developed no ailments during the race I just might be able to dig deep enough to finish this thing.
Some pics from Skyrun Camp August 2015: