This time last week, I was sitting in a Greyhound bus on my way to Laingsburg in the Cape. After a topsy turvy day/week of travel changes, panics and calm I was finally on route. The luxury bus was indeed that, with more than expected leg room, new chairs, and very professional hostess offering free tea and coffee I was impressed. My disappointment of not travelling by train was forgotten and I even managed to get some shut eye.
A small group of us travelled together and we got there two days before the start of my 80km event. We got off the bus early morning and went for a leisurely breakfast and talked about the reality of my doing 80km's on so little training. I must admit I had a nervous flutter or two, but decided that I was here to enjoy myself and make the most of my visit to this 'drive-through' town. The nice thing about this ultra-marathon was that there was no huge build up, and hype like there is the whole year for Comrades so it all felt less pressurised. 80km's is still however, 80km's, and I now understand distance and have respect for it, so I was feeling that I may be cheating myself a little into thinking I was prepared. In the months since my 62kms on Comrades, I had done one half marathon, and one 29km, with a few 10kms, and a handful of 4kms. I know that this does not constitute in any way preparation for an Ultra marathon, but I was hoping for a miracle.
In the relaxing days, the doubts would float through my mind, and I could hear the loud voice saying, 'you are not trained for this', but I managed to quieten it down with distractions about this amazing quirky little town. In the dissecting of the race, my friend Willem and I discussed what our strategy would be. I had urged him to do his own race, so if he felt good, he should go, and he said that I should do the same, so any obligations to pull the other through was out of the way. Then he came up with the idea of 8kms an hour, that would give us 45 minutes of leeway, so this felt good. I knew I could manage 8km's an hour, so that calmed me down and I let go of any remaining pressure and fear. We spent Friday celebrating our other friend's venture into our 'veteran' world by turning 40, and we ate cake and chatted and strolled and relaxed.
The town filled up in Friday afternoon, and a nice buzz set about the air. Luckily I was nice and calm, so by the time Saturday morning arrived I was looking forward to starting the race. Only 100 or so of us stood in the still-dark morning waiting for the Lady Mayor to fire the starter gun and some locals had shook themselves out of their beds to cheer us on. Ladies in their curlers, kids in their Pj's, men still partying, stood on the sidelines and waved us goodbye as we snaked our way out of the town and headed for the hills. The air was cold, with a breeze from the rear, which meant that some top layers of clothes stayed on to block out the cold.
The first 27kms of the race kept us on the N1 which meant that the long distance trucks rumbled by, some of them hooting and waking us up, while others shook the wind around us, and tried to blow off our hats. The young marshalls waved their red flags every so often to slow the trucks down, and every 3 km's cheerful people offered us icy water to fuel us on. The earth looked grey and clay-like in the dawn light, but as the sun tickled the hills in the distance, the hills began to blush into a spring pink, as our shadows began to take shape across the road. These shadows were initially very long and I stretched width-ways across our national road shrinking as the day slowly unfolded before us. We were running away from the dawn, which was rather nice to not strain into the light so early in the morning.
The marker boards passed by and we realised that our first two hours we had managed within our time frame, and was even 1km faster than anticipated. This comforted me, but also frightened me a little and I began to hang back a little letting Willem carry on in his own pace. I was determined this time to find my own pace and I was also doing some video clips along the way which would end up being my saving grace later in the day. I kept Willem in eyeshot and watched as the road weaved its way towards Matjiesfontien. Political parties, churches and schools all had water points along this stretch of road, and although small scale it was just the right spirit to keep me going. I realised that I was feeling all warm and fuzzy on the inside and the nice buzz was making me feel very positive about my running.
As the road straightened towards the Lord Milner Hotel, and the first turning point I stopped for a pit stop. I was surprised to realise that I was fumbling and struggling with my hands, as they were still so cold from the morning, and I didn't seem to have much mobility in my fingers. We turned off the main road at 27km's and headed towards Sunderland, one of the coldest places in the land. The sun was now high in the sky, but changing the direction of running meant I was faced with the icy breeze slapping into my body and face. Now this Jozi-girl, is not used to wind so I gasped when I realised that it was hard to run against it. My resistance kicked in and I walked and waited for my brain to get around this concept. I heard a rustle on the ground, and knew it wasn't the wind, and I spotted a small field mouse running along beside me for a moment. This distraction kicked me into gear and I trundled onwards again.
The scenery changed again as there was some farms nestled on the hills, and I noticed the spring green amongst the reddish brush. No flowers this year, I was told, as the rain hadn't been at the right time, but there was beauty everywhere and I was feeling great to be able to see it all. The very thin line of runners stretched further and further down the road, so I tried to keep my eyes near, and focus on my immediate surrounds, which definitely helped my brain. I trundled on, listening to the ducks at one farm, the high tweets of unnamed birds, and laughed when the sheep seemed to be calling out 'mam' to me.
I fought off some negative spots by talking to my video camera and I laughed even more when I realised I was laughing at my own jokes! I felt a strange feeling, and noticed that I had chafed under my shorts pocket where I keep an emergency water sachet, and had drawn blood because of it's iciness. Luckily there were no vultures up above, so I knew I was okay. The road stretched out towards what felt like the Namibian horizon, and then I noticed the dust line in the distance. The turning point onto the dirt road. This is where I caught up with Willem again, and we shared some sweets and a bread roll that a kind seconder had offered us. He was beginning to question his reasons for being on this road, and I felt surprisingly good, because the change of the surface for my feet, so I decided to trundle on ahead while my going was good.
This 20km of dirt road was the make or break spot for a lot of people, as the wind warmed up, and the water warmed up, the kids at the water points got tired and the brains began to sizzle. Cars would streak by spraying white dust into our weary eyes, and sometimes the view was obliterated in dust. This trail went on and ... and on. My camera became my new best friend, as I realised that by filming, I was forced to find something other than the non-ending road to talk about, and it perked me up a little. Every time I got to the top of a hill I would hope that the bend in the distance would be the tar road, but it usually wasn't. I began to pass some runners and offer some words of encouragement. I no longer remember what they were, perhaps they were lies, but a necessary evil at a time like this!
Some of the youngsters would run for 100's of meters towards me to give me water sachets, which meant by the time they got it to me, it had warmed up, so I would usually swap them with cooler one's when I passed the actual table. They would cheer me on, with 'go antie, jy kan dit maak' and their smiling faces would lift me up. I finally caught sight of a signal tower and was told by a volunteer that the road was near. I perked up at that thought and moved a little quicker. In the distance I saw these two pink t-shirts move towards me, and I started thinking 'why do they come out so far' when I realised it was my two friends who had somehow got out this way to spur us on. This definitely lifted my spirits and they were so pleased to see me looking so good. I turned onto the N1 with a happy heart, knowing that now there was only 14kms to go. I was well within time, and feeling great, so I was pleased to think that I could make it.
Just before the town border a cluster of youngsters sat on the rocks and cheered, and when I went past, one of the small kids asked if he could spray me. I agreed, and he started. The next thing his whole school seemed to appear all armed with the water sachets and started cooling me down. One of the packets was particularly cold, and I laughed as I gasped at them to stop, as I was well and truly cooled down! The whole town seemed to be out on the streets and pavements, waving and cheering and I felt a wave of appreciation as the cries of 'antie, antie' got louder as I neared the school. Again my hitchiking friend had found a lift to the corner to meet me with a colddrink, and we jogged comfortably along towards the finish. I turned into the last street and the schoolgrounds erupted as the lady on the PA announced another runner coming in. Me! I groaned when I was directed around the long way of the track towards the finish line, and I dashed to try make it under 10 and a half hours. I panted in with 40 seconds spare as one of the town's beauty queens tried to put my medal round my bent-over head. I had made it!
I was elated, and even better, I had no nausea, nor icky feelings. The next day my only pain was my sunburn, but I think it may even be windburn. My pale skin has been hiding under winter jerseys this last while and no amount of sunblock seemed to prevent the damage. What a trip, what an experience. I have far more words to say, but I do realise that this has gone on for too long already!
This antie is going to bed!