Standing at the start of UTCT I was filled with a nervous excitement about the long day that lay ahead. Contrary to what I had planned out in my head, I woke up to rainy weather when there had not been a single drop forecast for the entire week. I suddenly had to spend my first part of my morning scrambling to find some ziplock bags to waterproof my kit.
When we lined up to start the race, I was lucky enough to secure a spot under the Redbull banner which made me one of about 15 people that stayed dry until the gun went off. As I ran through the streets of Cape Town I took a moment to appreciate how safe I felt with so many other runners around me. Those streets felt very different when it was just me, Carlos and Alex running during my recce in June.
I started the race with one goal and one goal only – “get to Constantia Nek in 3 hours 45”. I could handle the embarrassment of not making it past the 50km mark, but I could not let myself get short coursed only 27km into the race. Getting me past Constantia Nek was my one and only expectation of God that day and not more than 15 minutes would pass without me saying: “Lord Jesus – you have to get me through Constantia Nek” (I’m proud to say my expectation of God these days has grown immensely and I feel a little stupid thinking that’s all I expected of Him that day). I took more than four hours on my recce in perfect weather conditions and so I knew I was going to have to give the these first kms horns if I had any hope of making that 27km cut-off. There was no time to follow the advice given by so many of the elite runners that said: “take it easy for the first half – you’ll want to save your legs”. I have great admiration for the elites, but those sorts of comments certainly made me hate them at the time.
The weather really made UTCT hard. In fact it was so bad – I never got a single photo, not of myself nor the scenery on this race. Starting with misty conditions while running in the dark, then super slippery rocks, mud and wooden walk ways and howling wind just to make staying upright a challenge. I ran hard, but in those conditions managed to take longer than the time allocated to reach Kloof Nek Corner (thank goodness that did not have a cut-off). I took longer to get up Platteklip than I did in my recce, as I knew I needed to save my legs for Suther Peak, but that did not do much for my confidence at the time.
With only two decent wipe outs I soon found myself about to descend towards Constantia and the hope of making the cut-off seemed just within my reach. However, panic set in when my new friend (Mbulelo Thinta) who I had run most of Table Mountain with, looked at his watch and exclaimed: “Shucks! This cut-off is tight!” and proceeded to shoot off as if he was in an 800m final. Although I knew I couldn’t pull off such moves, I stuck my head down and ran and just slipped through the Constantia Nek cut-off. Oh the relief of not being short-coursed. Now all I had to do was make it to Hout Bay.
Having pushed to Constantia Nek, I slowed down considerably through Orange Kloof and continued through the Lundudno aid station. Knowing what it required to get to the top of Suther Peak, I assessed my pace and did the math and accepted that my race was going to end at Hout Bay which would have met my lowly expectation for the day. However, (and this is what I mean when I say God has my back even when the math doesn’t add up) I somehow flew over the top of the peak and clapped the downhill into Hout Bay, arriving at the aid station with 15 minutes to spare.
Quite shocked that I was getting to continue, I got going after a quick refuel. At that point I found some new inspiration knowing that if I got passed Hout Bay my friend Sophie Smith would meet me at the next cut – off point: Clay Cafe. It was hard though. My legs, tired from flying off of Suther Peak, did not love the very gradual climb towards clay cafe from the beach. My mind already does not cope well with flat running and now the legs weren’t too stoked either. What was even worse is that we ran straight through a horse show and all I could think was “I’d so rather be show-jumping right now” as I struggled to pull myself past the arena. I found myself moving slowly again and worked out that if I kept that same pace, Sophie would be fetching me from somewhere along the route. However once again I miraculously made it within the time guideline (as this was not a cut-off) and found myself still on track and heading on to the winelands (the easy part).
After descending from Constantia Nek the second time some I managed to run though Groot Constantia, still within the time. Then some serious disappointment set in, as it soon became apparent that the easy terrain of wineland roads had become a water-logged swamp, churned up by all the runners before me. I even remember goin up the one short climb by constantly pegging my trekking pole into the ground and then putting my foot in front of it so that I could step without sliding back down. I only have one trekking pole, which I scored because Georgina (who had given me a lift to Skyrun camp) had somehow accidently bought three and so we did a swap: my Marloth entry (which I no longer needed for UTMB) for the pole. I still have no idea how I got up that little hill without my beloved trekking pole.