This time one week ago, Chris and I were sitting on a bus en route to Wildekrans Wine Estate for our final stage of the African X trail run. We had already finished 2 back to back days of breath-taking (and body-beating) trail running in the mountains around Grabouw – 36km and 34km routes – and had about 23 more kilometres to tackle before our challenge was complete. I had little doubt we would finish that day: I have always accomplished whatever I’ve set out to do, so this race was no different. However, I remained humble as we warmed up at the starting line as I firmly believe in my theory:
If you don’t have humility on the inside, it will come find you from the outside.
That’s not to say I don’t approach every race as if I’m about to win it (even when I know the elites are miles ahead!), but I always make sure to cut myself a slice of humble pie before I trip and dive face first into it!
Unfortunately, whenever I’ve tackled a race into which I have poured my entire body, heart and soul, I find that very little creative energy remains for writing. By the time I have recollected my strength, already one or two weeks have passed since the event and it is a mission in itself to thread the memory back together. (Flash back to the Seven Passes Ultra Marathon in December – I think I left you all hanging at the part where I was crying about a broken foot and why my peanuts weren’t in the car). Thankfully, a few other runners managed to keep their writing discipline intact over the weekend, so you can read their African X reflections here: Bearded Brothers Trail Running and Full Stride. As for myself, I’ll offer a brief synopsis of our African X adventure.
Houw Hoek Inn, Grabouw
By 19h00, it seemed that most of the 700 odd runners (and that’s a double entendre!) had arrived at base camp by the Houw Hoek Inn in Grabouw. Registration was abuzz with activity and Chris and I collected our race numbers along with some of the coziest and most stylish sweaters I have ever received at a race. Don’t we look so fresh and hopeful here?
Dinner was served in the large banquet hall and the evening’s proceedings were already underway by the time we found a seat. The supper buffet would become a comforting staple at the end of our race days, and I was impressed with the offerings provided for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. Fresh greens and vegetables were always available and a seemingly bottomless bowl of pickled beets never failed to make an appearance in the spread. A hearty vegetable based dish (lasagne, stir-fried veggies) was always piping hot and delicious and often a fish option would be available.
I was only occasionally disappointed at meal times when the main protein items for pescatarians/vegetarians were either battered and fried, combined with rice, or tossed in mayonnaise. Sometimes I wished for something fresh and plain (maybe rather grilled hake, or not-so-saucy boiled eggs). But of course I had my hemp protein and nut butters with me all weekend, so I didn’t worry too much about getting my recovery nutrition through the buffet.
And there were beets. There were always the beets!
A dash of rain drizzled down and the clouds promised brilliant running conditions for the following morning. Chris and I grabbed a coffee on the patio to keep warm, but eventually we had to face the weather and find our home in the Tented Village before we could call it a night. Before retiring, we filled our packs with Tailwind, pinned our numbers onto our race tops and reviewed the route in our heads. The adventure had just begun…
Houw Hoek Inn to Houw Hoek Inn
36 km – 900m elevation gain
About a month back, Chris and I, along with Rae of Bearded Brothers Trail Running and Sue of Cape Town 12 Run, had the opportunity to recce this route. As we made our way through Day 1’s course of undulating single track, jeep trails and fantastically fun switch backs, I was very aware of my gratitude for being able to anticipate both the upcoming challenges and sections of ease.
Chris and I were able to find a regular and reliable pace to keep us motoring along from start to finish. That seemed to be our strategy: consistent effort and stubborn determination. Mid-course, we realized that we hadn’t seen any other runners in what felt like an hour, but eventually, up ahead we caught sight of a few teams trickling down the long switch-backs towards the final check point. Neither slowing down nor speeding up, we kept forward and passed a handful of teams in the final 7km of the course. Okay. I’ll confess. When we passed that final mixed team with perhaps 3 km to go, I ran like a bunny from a fox, refusing to let up or look back. By the time we reached the bridge crossing a 100 or so metres from the finish, I had to ask Chris if “we were safe”. He laughed and said we were fine, so I allowed my panic-pace sprint to subside as we passed over the tracking mats and under the Asics arch.
As we crossed the finish line on Day 1, I was flooded with feelings of accomplishment, humility (2 more days to go, sister!) and appreciation (for my awesome partner, the weather, the marshalls, etc). I had started the race with a minor calf strain in my right leg, brought about by a series of hard races and speed training sessions, an injury to a pinky toe and then too much beach/sand dune/barefoot running. The sensations rose and fell during the course of the race, and I believe it was the adrenaline and my own stubbornness that kept any pain and limping to a faint whisper. It wasn’t until I sat down after 36 km and could see my entire leg was shaking and an unbalanced gait refused to be hidden that I knew I had been pushing my limits.
Nevertheless, after some ice therapy and a plate (or 2) of nutritious lunch, I felt the discomfort ebb from my leg and the confidence flow back to my heart so that I could be ready for Day 2. And it was a good feeling to know my sense of humor was still intact when I later stumbled across Seamus’ (very flattering) photo of myself on the FullStride blog!