For me the year 2018 was the year to take a break from trail races. This didn’t mean no running, I actually managed to tick off a couple of really cool personal adventures, just no racing. The feeling of “fomo” kicked in around August. Runners seemed to have a ball at races like Ultra Trail Drakensberg, The Beast, Bastille, etc. and entering races like Karkloof, Cederberg Traverse and UTCT. I couldn’t sit on the side anymore and had to enter a race. It had to be a long one, just because I missed out on so many races.
So I started looking at the race calendar for any cool long, doable, races that somehow fitted in to my calendar. I love stage races and I seem to be good at it. I recover really quickly over night. None of the stage races seemed to fit into my calendar and they also come with quite a price tag. So the only long, one day race where I could actually have enough time to train for would be the UTCT in December. I looked at the entry fee and the amount of entries that were left and started saving for the entry.
I was about to enter the race one evening, but thought ‘let me wait a bit, just to see how the month goes. I’ll enter at the end of the month’ I can’t remember exactly, but it was likely the very next day when I got a message asking if I’d like an entry to the Cederberg Traverse 100 km. I started typing, yes plea…, when I had a flash back from my failed attempt at the race last year. A tough race is to put it lightly. Not just that, the race was on the 13th of October, I was hoping for at least two more months of training. Needles to say I finished my message, “that would be awesome thanks”.
Training was a bit of joke; I used it as an excuse to do more personal missions I haven’t been able to tick off. This included the Table Mountain Skyline Traverse (Mowbray Suburb to Sea Point), Cape Point Circular Hike, Circumnavigating the top of Table Mountain and the Table Mountain 12 Hour Challenge (doing as many routes on all four sides of the mountain in 12 hours). Oh, and lot of Trad climbing…. what? Long days on the mountain, scared and baking in the sun. Perfect training.
As always my wife, Stephanie, started planning my race strategy with me. She was going to be the one wasting her day worrying about me. Then putting me back together at the one aid station she was allowed to be, Algeria. We both took the day before the race, Friday, off from work to drive to Sanddrif and set up camp nice and early. The race briefing the Friday evening was fun as always, Trevor Ball the race organiser being himself yet again.
Stephanie and I were up 02:45 for breakfast. I like getting something solid down before a race and still have time it digest it all. Around 4am we were out of bed to get ready, freezing in the cool morning air. At 5:05 we were off, running into the darkness. I saw the front runners shooting off ahead, but I was there to do one thing, finish. I kept telling myself, “What’s the point of being in the top 5 during the race and not finish like last year”. If it was going to take me the maximum 30 hours, so be it.
We started off with a big climb up to the Wolfberg Cracks within the first 3 km’s. Perfect for me, I took it nice and slow, settling the food and warming up the legs. I took the rest of the morning taking in views, taking pictures and chatting to runners. Just another day on the mountain. I would say my race started with the traverse past Sleeppad Hut. This is where I realised I was starting to think about passing runners and managing my pace. Ironically this is where a fellow runner made a mistake and went horribly off route, which I didn’t know at this point, moving me in to the top 6.
The route became very interesting at this point, lots of technical descents and ascents which benefits me. With not too much effort I could pass runners on the descents and just stay close to them again on the flats. A low point which actually turned in to a high point was just before Middleburg Hut. I started feeling the heat and struggled to eat. But at Middelburg Hut I stopped for a couple of minutes, ate some nuts and had a quick chat with the marshal. This is where I learnt I was sitting in 6th place. I didn’t rush off though. I went down to the river, refilled my bottle, wet my buff around my head and had a little chat with runners 4 and 5, before they left me. I felt instantly better and started running comfortably again.
It wasn’t long before I passed runners 4 and 5 on the decent down to the traverse back to Algeria. As I started my traverse a saw a runner in the distance I noticed earlier in the day. He was clearly in pain. He broke his toe but was happy to get himself to Algeria. The second option was for me to run to Algeria and get help anyway. All of a sudden I was in 3rd place! I had to slow myself down on this traverse. We are running towards loved ones after 60 km at Algeria and you can easily make this the end of your race. As I did last year.
Everything was in sync at Algeria this time though. Stephanie and our friend Kathy knew exactly what I needed. But in a firm way so that I didn’t get to comfortable and never leave. I left Algeria 4 minutes later than what I should have but it was because of a dip in the river which changed my life. A change of socks, shirt and adding tights under my shorts made me feel like a new man. I left Algeria at a really hot part of the day though, and my new shirt was soaked in the next river within 10 minutes.
A big climb up Duiwelsgat awaited me and this was officially the longest I’ve run up to this point. To make it worse I would not feel good again for the remainder of the race. Lots of nausea and force feeding awaited me. I caught a glimpse of the 2ndplace runner moving really quickly far above me and I knew I wouldn’t see him again, and I didn’t. I got to the top of Duiwelsgat just before sunset. After soaking in spectacular late afternoon views down the valleys, I started feeling the loneliness and I soon had my headphones ready and listened to music that I will never look at the same again.
Do yourself a favor and listen to The Wolf, by Eddie Vedder https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AoYjaiA4DVo and imagine yourself running all alone at sunset through a plain with unbelievable boulder shapes all round you. I actually ran to Sneeuberg hut without a headlamp, I didn’t want to spoil the lighting. At Sneeuberg hut it was time to get the headlamp out though as there was no moon and it was really, really dark.
I had my headlamp at full blast the entire time so that I could move easier over the terrain. Lesson learnt, save the batteries where you can. I started feeling really rough at the Maltese Cross and when I looked back at what I I’d done, I caught a glimpse of the 4th runner, Martin, chasing me. I shot off and with my headlamp fading quickly and the marking not so easy to follow; I was down to pretty much walking pace. At times I had to go back and make sure I was on route. It was really dark.
Frustration started creeping in, but I just couldn’t move quicker over the terrain with the amount of light I had. I knew that a couple of kilometers before checkpoint seven, the last checkpoint, there was a jeep track waiting for me. Surely I would be able to move quicker and keep the gap between Martin and I. Not so much, it was so dark that I couldn’t do much running to checkpoint seven.
After leaving the checkpoint it was clear that Martin was much closer and had way more light than I did. Then the navigation went from bad to worse to horrible and I actually stopped, secretly hoping that it would be the leading night marathon runner closing in on me. But no, it was Martin and he was friendly enough for me to tag along. He also had a proper GPS device and we basically didn’t bother with the route markings and followed he’s GPS.
At one point the route took a sharp left, and left the “jeep trail” into the bush. It was marked with glow sticks and we started following them. After five glow sticks it stopped, we looked around but couldn’t spot anything. So we started following the GPS again, even though we were briefed to ignore the GPS at this point. Obviously Martins GPS ran out of battery as well and we had to, in the dark with no bearing find our way back. For a moment I thought our race was over. But, we somehow managed to make it back to the glow sticks and with closer inspection we found pink markings every 20 meters or so.
We continued to work together, one of us looking on the left and the other on the right. At this point the night marathon leader did pass us with ease. To be fare he had what seemed to be a fog light around his head. Eventually Martin and I stumbled our way on to another jeep track and eventually found the main dirt road that would lead us back to Sanddrif. We were running at a faster pace then, than what we’d done about 9 hours ago. I asked Martin something that’s been bugging me for the last hour, “so are we going to sprint it out, or are we going to finish together”. He wasn’t keen on running faster but said I was welcome to go for third place. I would honestly not have been there without he’s help so we decided to finish together.
The traverse took me 19 hours and 39 minutes to complete. This was by far the longest I’ve been on my feet at one time. It was a full running adventure; it had distance, navigation issues, a sunrise and a sunset. More importantly the outcome was uncertain and that’s what I love about adventures.
Now to plan my next race…