Heading towards the next checkpoint at the Alpen Trail, I started feeling some awful pain in my left knee, which became worse if I stopped and then got going again. Having stressed that this would cause me to miss the cut – off, I managed to make it on time even though I shouldn’t have and was yet again welcomed by Sophie who looked more excited about me getting to continue than I did. Heading on towards the aid station at UCT, I soon realised that my knee had completely blown and I was in a lot of pain, but that didn’t stop the excitement of a possible finish setting in. All I had to do was make the next cut – off and I would be an official finisher and would be in the clear for qualifying for UTMB! I got moving, did the math, and for the first time in the entire race it checked out and I was on track to make it through. As I ran I found that the pain in my knee became less intense if I just ran normally and ignored it for long enough.
As I began running through Newlands Forest I suddenly came upon my friend from earlier in the race, Mbulelo. Ironically, his right knee had blown and he was hobbling forward steadily. After convincing him that the pain really did decrease a bit if we could run and ignore it for a while, we both headed off with a goal to get to the cut – off point. In Newlands Forest there was an incredible number of little river crossings which required some rock hopping and balance, making use of every stabilising muscle our legs had to offer. This would just cause our legs to seize up and we would have to start running through the pain all over again. I would love to know how many times we went through that awful process. If you ask anyone who knows Mbulelo, they’ll tell you that he is extremely talkative, never running out of things to say – hence he has a fast growing career in MCing sporting events. However, there was no talking going on between us, just some really painful groans and yelps.
Newlands was extremely wet and slippery but we ran our fastest and hauled ourselves down that mountain to UCT. Our first glimpse of the fence into UCT with two marshals and a radio next to it, got us shouting as loud as we could “Tell them we’re coming! Tell them we’re coming!” We raced past the marshals and sprinted through UCT only to find ourselves running straight for Nic Bornman standing ahead of us. It was a perfectly played out scene from The Amazing Race where the last team arrives on the mat only to be told they are the last team to arrive. We missed the cut – off by a matter of minutes and quickly began begging to be let through with no success. Even though we should have been in tears at that point, we had so much adrenalin pumping through our veins that we could not express anything but the joy that killing ourselves over those last 10km had given us. I had made it way further in the race than I had ever hoped or dreamed. Nic certainly felt way worse than we did in that moment and inevitably my anguish would only set in much later.
And that was it. Sophie took me home and I crashed for the night, moved really slowly the next day and became more mobile as the days went on. The two weeks following the race however, were seriously tough on my mind. Not only had I wasted R1800, I had missed my chance of qualifying for UTMB and still could not walk without sever pain in my knee. I couldn’t help but question: “God what was the point? Was this just an exercise to humble me? Did I get it all wrong and my running wasn’t actually being blessed at all?” I must have played that video clip of Rieghard Janse Van Rensburg running through the finish with his family as the last finisher at least 30 times, each time thinking: “That should have been me. Oh why couldn’t that have been me?”
It was exactly two weeks after the race. By then I had overcome my post race depression, let go of UTMB, stopped arguing with God and accepted that the gift of finishing UTCT and running UTMB was never mine to begin with and was not something I would ever deserve even if I one day got the opportunity. This ability to lay down my heart’s desires and strip myself of any sense of entitlement is something I would not have learnt if it weren’t for those two weeks and I am so grateful for it. God knew what I needed and he knew just how to teach me. I never want to feel entitled to any of my running experiences but rather see each one as an opportunity I am lucky to have. I think as soon as runners fall into the trap of feeling entitled, whether they are back markers or elites, they are in a dangerous place and run the risk a of loosing that feeling of satisfaction that got them running trail in the first place.
At the end of that second week I received an email from Nic which started out similar to his last one that was filled with apologies for the fact that he had to cut me off. The email was also addressed to Mbulelo, and the two runners that were cut – off after us (Anthony Rush and Charl van der Horst) and went like this:
You were sadly on the wrong side of a crappy TMNP ruling where we can go beyond 15 hours for the race. It breaks my heart because you would all have done it in 16 hours which would place you in the top end of any race anywhere in the world. But had I let you go we would lose our permit going forward.
There is no doubt that you would have finished if it were not for this ruling. In my opinion you are all UTCT finishers so I will be will registering you as finishers when we submit to UTMB (3 points) and Western States (lottery) meaning you can use UTCT if you want to race in these.
I will also be sending you a free entry into next year to have a crack again if you keen- we feel your pain.
…. and I’m really trying my utmost to get 24hours for the race.
Well all I can say is that I was so grateful that email came at 4pm, as from then on my day was a right-off and involved nothing but me boasting a cheesy grin on my face until I went to bed.
Suddenly my UTMB dream was on the cards again and the math had been skewed in my favour. In my mind qualifying for UTMB was already in the bag. All I had to do was finish Skyrun the following month and I had a whole 30 hours to do it.
See my next blog to read about the Salomon Skyrun 2015.