“It’s not finish that is important, it is the journey.” Some wise dude once said. Well the journey is no sweater when the end is in sight.
Here my personal account of my escape from Hell:
The drive from Cape Town to Prince Albert was a journey in itself. Stevie Hector, Michael Ohlson and I set off mid-morning. Hugenot Tunnel, Worcester, Laingsburg. Then the desolate stretch to the Prince Albert turn-off.
Once in town we quickly made our way to the school hostel for the registration and pre race meal. It did feel like a last supper. The Mad Scientist standing among us giving final instructions for the struggle for redemption that was about to face us. We wolfed down hostel food and dashed to our cars. More like a disorganised jumble as opposed to the neatly lined up vehicles, all driving in perfectly synchronised convoy on the Landrover G4 challenge broadcasts. My Mazda “Jo” loves dirt so we cruised up the Swartberg Pass to the Ou Tol Huis at the top. Here a hurried reload of all crazy souls into bakkies for the journey into Die Hell. It was still 18h00 or so. Plenty of time to drive to the start 50km away in time for the gun at 21h00. Or so we thought.
I was lucky enough to get a sardine slot in the back of a bakkie with three other smelly runners. A massive stash of cold coke was piled on top of us and we were off. Locals know their dirt roads and take great pleasure in scaring town folks as we soon hurtled down the switchbacks, gently down at first. The steeper and further down the road we went the quieter the conversation. “Oh shit” and “Are we there yet?” the common unspoken chant.
We stopped and all of us poured out ready to get on with it!
“No! No! This is not even half way!”
“All aboard” and off we sailed deeper into middle earth.
Those silly enough to enter the Hell Run have three options with respect to distance: the 38 km “Fun Run”, the 50 km “Escape from Hell” and the 80 km “I am ruler of all”.
I was doing the 38 km. I had just not gotten any descent training in since Bat. In fact last week was the first week that I logged some ok mileage. I wanted to do Hell Run as my last long effort before Two Oceans. My plan was not to race but just go at an Ok pace and then up the tempo for the last ten. In truth it is so difficult to hold back.
Finally we were released. Straight into a mega climb of 4 km where we gained 426 m. Most walked. Those that tried to run did not make much ground. I soon found myself in second position, suddenly tempted to give it horns. I did not know any of the other runners so I had no idea who was strong. I dropped back to third when a very strong woman passed me. At this stage it was one and two for the girls!
My plan was to walk all the ups. As a result I walked a large majority of this route. The moon came out bright and lit the way so headlamps were only necessary occasionally. The middle 10 kays or so seem blurry. Memories of Addo: walking on and on along a dirt road with nobody else around for miles, vision and thoughts narrow then turn inward.
On and on following the serpent’s spine of a road out of our hell. The weather was great. It was really warm so wearing only a t-shirt was perfect. The occasional breeze on the high ground a very welcome change from the dusty monotony. I was mostly running by moonlight only. Every now and again I would see a glow ahead, then turn around and see a couple of bobbing lights coming my way. It was really hard not to kick into race mode at times like this but just plod on and enjoy the journey and experience it as time on legs.
I was surprised to suddenly see a person slightly ahead of me. This was around 14 or 15 km to go. I caught Vanessa within a couple of minutes. We chatted. She had gone out fast and was now hanging on. It was great sharing a few moments on this lonely road. There was a much more determined light bearing down on us though! The German who was running the 80km was gaining on us, ok more accurately: we were standing still compared to him. He slowed for a few seconds then pushed on into the dark. (he ended up breaking records for all distances)
Lianne had mentioned a nice swimming pool next to the road. I could not wait. OK it was after midnight, I was in the middle of the karoo and there was the biggest frog I have ever seen watching over his kingdom. I quickly dived in and got straight out, put my kit back on and carried on the road.
Watching the km markers as I wanted to open it up a little for the last 10. Just to see what I could do. I was hoping this would give me a good indication for Two Oceans.
That is what I did.
The turn off came none too soon and then the pancakes! The best in the world. I chatted with other finishers until I finally found a quiet spot and crept into my sleeping bag to catch a few interrupted winks before my friends arrived.
So soon after dawn we took to the road and headed South, body tired, sleep deprived but happy to have escaped Hell.