Addo 100 Mile Trail Run race report or surviving in the bird cage
I was stunned, completely stunned. I could not believe it. Was this a dream, or had I actually just been run over by an ostrich? This tall bird (at least a foot taller than me) had run into me head-on and floored me. I don’t remember falling, or how long I was down or how I got back to my feet. I just remember having to dust myself off and staggering on. I was 40 km into the longest event of my life and certainly did not expect this! Here is a shortened version of the article which appeared in SA Mountain Sports issue 25.
The Addo was to be over double my longest run ever! I had planned meticulously. Nutrition, timing, where I wanted dry socks or a fresh pair of shoes (one size larger than my normal shoes because your feet swell over these long distances) was thought about and planned weeks before I set off. I was to travel from Cape Town to the race in the Addo Elephant Park in the Eastern Cape with a merry crew. The 1st of May saw us arrive in Addo at the briefing. I certainly was nervous about the task which lay ahead the next day. My aim was 1) to finish and 2) to finish in under 24h and earn the silver belt buckle.
The start was at 6h00 outside the Kirkwood Hotel the next day. A short section of tarred road lead us into the hills and phenomenal surroundings. There were some pretty serious hills from early on. Estienne (the RD) had warned us that the early section followed an old fence line (in other words take a straight line between two points come hell or high water). I soon found that I was running by myself. Walk up the steep, steep hills and down the other side just to do more of the same. There was mist in the valleys and the sun was not making itself known yet. Magic to be out in the hills.
All went very well until CP4 at 34 km. 3h38 into the day and I was going strong. We had a short flattish section of out and back. This was the first time I got a chance to see the other runners. I had never met Bruce Arnett before but he was looking strong in first and AO Okreglicki in second. Jo Mackenzie and Mimi Anderson were chatting away a couple of minutes behind me. In fact they would catch me at all CP’s and I really enjoyed having them around. They were having fun and that really reminded me why I was there.
Then suddenly the ostrich got the better of me. It happened so quickly that I had absolutely no time to react. (Apparently the thing to do is crouch down and make yourself as small as possible. Ostrich’s can cause serious injury with their claws. I am told that I was lucky.)
Forests and rivers followed that were real pretty. Sneaky detours spared wet toes. The going underfoot was serious 4X4 stuff with quite rough rocky terrain. Just what we had signed up for!
Out of the foothills it was. Up, up and more steepness until we finally got onto this amazing ridge and CP 8. 70 km and 7h33 into the race my pace was good. I changed into a fresh pair of Continental Divides at this point. A quick check on all toetsies did not reveal any immediate issues. We followed this blunt ridge for 15 kays or so. The views were magnificent. Then down steep dirt roads. Too steep to run so a shuffle was the best in saving the quads. I was glad to get down to the farm at CP 10. 88km and 11h36 down. A couple of slices of orange was a refreshing change from the Hammer gels, bars and Perpetuem I had used up to then. Suddenly the light started fading quickly as I entered the forest on the river trail section. Mimi and Jo caught up to me and it was a real motivation to hear their chatter in the darkness. Steep switchbacks took us over 300m of altitude gain up and into the darkness to Zuurberg Inn (CP11, 96 km and 12h49). We had finished the technical section (thank goodness) and the rest of the run was on dirt roads (some only passable by 4X4). The night was quiet and not too windy as we headed up the Zuurberg Pass. The first bit of nausea hit me somewhere around here. Just too much effort to get a gel down. Squeeze, swallow quick, rinse mouth, spit, psyche up a couple of minutes for the next mouthful…
CP 13 (110km and 15h36 down) arrived not a moment too late. I had left my Nano here as a treat for the night section. Plug it in and turn up the volume. Oh and espresso gels kicked in and gave me a much needed boost into the night. I tried to run for a whole song and then walk one. That did not last for very long. Made myself another deal. Run for a minute, walk for a minute, run… that just got me more tired and I slowed down. Darn! I had 9 ½ hours to cover 50km. I thought I would just have to walk at an average of 6+km/h including stops if I was to make my goal of finishing sub 24h! We headed up onto the plateau. There was a little wind and the temp was cool, conditions were perfect! Off in the distance I could see the lights of towns below us.
Finally I spotted two lights, they were close. That must be the turnaround?! I hoped and wished. I will be there in minutes!! On and on along this dirt road, on and on into the night, tunes and scattered thoughts my only companions. Minutes seemed longer than they should. Finally the lights rose onto a hill (oh no) then I saw AO’s headlamp bob toward me. My greeting was unanswered. A final hill and then I heard the voices cheer me on! Brilliant to see friendly frozen faces out here in middle earth. A quick drink of water and turn around (CP 14, 118 km and 16h49). Homeward bound! On the plateau I met Jo and we swopped encouragements. So where had Mimi gone? I had no idea, did not think to ask at the time.
The tricky stuff was all over and it was just a matter of beating the clock now. Could I maintain my walking pace of 6km/h or so? Running was proving to be too much effort for my brain and body. Just before the first of the long downhills. Jo caught and passed me easily. I thought of trying to put up a fight but realised that she was way stronger as she headed off into the distance. Minutes later I gladly accepted a cup of warm tea from her at the Zuurberg Pass Road (CP 12, 133km, 19h09). Tea has never been more welcome than this! Down the steep pass to Zuurberg Inn (CP 11, 140km, 20h17) and a refreshing snack of orange. I had 3 ½ hours left to do the last 20km’s give or take a couple minutes. (Not exactly a PB I thought) This was going to be close. On and on into the colder depths and finally some more lights. The mind playing tricks again telling me that Wellshaven (CP 15) was just around the corner. No just keep going. I was keeping a close watch on my pace and time to make sure that I was on target. Finally cheers out of the darkness and car headlights flashing at me. CP15 and 8km to go! (5 km to cross the main tar road and then 3 km to the finish at the rest camp in Addo) 1 ½ h to go! Focus and keep going. Whatever you do don’t slow down!
The medic drives past me. “You OK?, Just tired?” I nod.
The tar road. Look left, look right, look left again. Not so much. There is not a car in sight.
A minute later panic!
Somehow I have drifted off and missed the course and am not sure which way to go. Time is running out with 40 min and 3km to go to finish in sub 24h. Slow down, think! Retrace my steps to the last point I was on course. Then I remember the instructions of Estienne at the briefing to just run along the park fence. The marking tape appears again. Keep up the pace up this unending hill! Suddenly I turn a corner and am in the camp. I hear the cheers and clapping hands before I see them. I hug Jo, Bruce and Nadia and almost forget to cross the official finish line.
I am done! 23h39 and 3rd place in the men’s.
Smiles and several cups of tea.
The short walk to our chalet as the sky is infused with some colour seems to drag on for ages. Nothing hurts in isolation, my whole body is just very, very tired. After a short shower I crawl under covers and try to warm up. This takes most of the morning. I am drained.
All in all this is a brilliant event, one of the best I have done. Well organised with well marked paths everywhere. A nice mix of terrain underfoot. All of the folks involved were super friendly and very encouraging. I can only recommend it to anyone wanting to take part. Next year there will be a 100mile, 50 mile and 40 km events all on the 1st of May.