Where do I start..
A BIT OF PERSPECTIVE
I wanted to step up the race distances this year to challenge myself so I picked a couple of big races that I wanted to attempt. One of them being Marloth Mountain Challenge 55km Ultra in October and then the Ultra-Trail Cape Town 65km in December.I had a good half of the year with my fitness peaking and feeling on top of the world but then June hit and I picked up an injury and also managed to get sick at the same time! This was a downward spiral for the next few months and training was not going as planned and smaller races I had entered I just did them with little to no training and I wasn’t in a good space. Barely made it under the cutoff at Helderberg Mountain Challenge, in August, coming in with 3 minutes to spare. With Cape Town Marathon as a training run in September and Marloth Ultra 55km in October, I only had a month of training and a few people told me I should rather downgrade because Marloth is going to be very challenging. Having done the 35km last year there, I could of downgraded but that was not an option for me and stubbornly knew it was a challenge deep down that I was going to fail. Long story short, after 9 hours out there, I didn’t make the cutoff at checkpoint 4 but never regretted it once bit for trying to attempt it! After Marloth there was two months until UTCT 65km and I had to try and get as much training behind me as I could before race day. I managed to get some medium mileage weeks in before, with weeks of 18.7km, 28.1km, 42.5km, 51.8km, 62.5km, 56.9km and 31.3km. This was the best I could have done but would it be enough knowing that the furthest Ultra-Trail I have attempted I only managed to get to 41km and got a DNF?
THE DAY HAD ARRIVED
Come race morning and I was nervous as hell not knowing what to expect. Waking up at 2:15 planning to have coffee and something to eat was always going to be challenging. I wanted to make toast with avo but the thought of food just made me feel ill and besides, it was way too early?!? On the bright side at least my gear and everything was packed and ready the night before for a change! All I had to do was put on my running kit, ran in my Hoka One One Torrents and long sleeve tee, put on my trusty Balega ZA silver socks, rubbed Squirrel’s Nut Butter SA anti-chafe cream on every place I could think of and made sure I had enough Tailwind Nutrition South Africa packed in.Getting to the Ultra-trail Cape Town – UTCT race village was a 40 minute drive with Will and we had some last minute pep talks and positiveness before and we got to see the 100km runners fly by at the start. They went out at blistering pace going at 3:30min/km for the first few km, CRAZY knowing they are doing 100km!10 minutes before our 5am start, my zipper on the main pocket on my Salomon hydration pack broke off yet again. The teeth are broken and I think I need a new pack now otherwise I would need to replace the whole frikking zipper pocket or whatever you call it? Anyone know if this can be replaced easily and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg? Does this happen to anyone else or maybe I should switch to Ultimate Direction – South Africa? I started to kind of panic as I needed to figure out how to fix this. I needed to find some safety pins somewhere, thank goodness for Jan Ham who quickly went to fetch some and managed to close the zipper hole with a couple which just meant I had to unclip them first before I could access anything inside the pack at aid stations which wasn’t a train smash. I just didn’t want anything to fall out!Standing in the starting shoot was an experience to behold, the music, the atmosphere, the people, the excitement and once the announcer set us off, it was only ourselves, the mountains, the elements and the clock that separated us and that finish line. The cutoff for the 65km is 15 hours and 30 minutes so as you can tell, it was going to be a long day out there for me.
WE WERE OFF!
We set off in the streets of Cape Town in darkness passing De Waal park and made our way towards the foot of Signal Hill where we turned and headed back toward Lions Head. We were met with a beautiful semi sun rise as the clouds were hovering over the horizon. Cape Town was showing off!The first little climb came in at 8km with 200m elevation going around Lion’s Head and back down towards Signal Hill. I met up with Yashin and we were chatting about how his Uber arrived late and that he only managed to start the race 10 minutes later than us and yet he still caught up with me! We were met with some technical up and down sections towards the first checkpoint (10km) in about 1 hour and 35 minutes.
We then had to make our way around Signal Hill towards Green Point side which were met with the beautiful scenery of the Football stadium and the magnificent ocean views and headed back towards Lion’s Head for the last time before we got to the second checkpoint at Kloof Nek (20km) in about 2 hours and 50 minutes. I spent a couple of minutes at the aid station waiting for the volunteers to refill the tanks with water but it wasn’t happening fast enough so I opted to fill up rather with Powerade in my soft flasks. I was getting a bit antsy didn’t take anything to eat.
THE FIRST CHALLENGE
It was now time to tackle the first real challenge of the day. The problem was and is something I am yet to be disciplined about, and that is my nutrition. Up until that point the only calories I had taken was some Tailwind which was very watered down from the previous night as I only put half the amount in from a previous packet I opened and I didn’t want to open another packet otherwise i’d have an open packet in my bag and was too scared it would spill out. Am I ever going to learn?So anyways, up I went from Kloof Nek to Kloof Corner making sure I didn’t exert myself too much because Platteklip was coming up. I met up with friends who were supporting people on Kloof Corner as well as friends who were sweepers for the 100km runners. I decided to just have a quick sit down and at least have a bar to eat to get some calories in but I knew that my nutrition was already screwed up but all I could think about was to just get up Platteklip and then sort out my nutrition from there. Really Geoff? HAH.So I made my way across the contour path towards Platteklip, while still taking the odd sips of Powerade now and then and just before Platteklip I filled one of my bottle at the stream with just water.
Previous week I had went up Platteklip and I knew kinda what to expect and it helped to ease the pain just a bit. It was still a long and grueling climb and we were met ¾ of the way to some awesome bagpipe music cheering the runners up. This bagpipe guy was there for quite and while and I can’t believe how much lung capacity he has! There were times I just wanted to sit down and take breaks but thanks to Frances who was pushing me on, I persevered through to the top. Platteklip was done and dusted. 24.5km and 4 hours 45 minutes on the clock
IT’S BEAUTIFUL UP ON TABLE MOUNTAIN
From here we went across to Maclear’s Beacon and then down and around to the Aquaduct path towards Echo Valley and down to the Valley of Red Gods. This section seemed way longer than I had anticipated and expected the aid station to be relatively close to but boy was I wrong. Then again, with my nutrition being off and the sun coming out in full force along with the technical trails down towards the next checkpoint at Table Mountain Hut, I didn’t realize it would take so long to go 5km. The scenery up there was stunning and kind of took your mind off the race at times. Once I got to the aid station at 30.8km (6 hours 16 minutes) it was time to just take a pitstop and refill. I decided to fill my 1.5l hydration bladder with water as well as refill my soft flasks with Tailwind. I ate some salted crisps but it wasn’t enough to do a dent in my stomach I needed something substantial and because most of the 100km and the 35km runners had already been through there, there wasn’t much I could have.
DOWN TO CONSTANTIA NEK
The next section was supposed to be an easier section with very runnable jeep track and road down towards Constantia Nek but because my body wasn’t getting the calories in as it should I wasn’t going to push it too hard knowing that I might just crash and burn and once I hit that, it would probably be over and out and would just be embarrassing to explain to people that it was nutrition that caused it and not some epic story. I managed to jog walk jog walk which helped me get down to the next checkpoint at about 36km. This was only a water point and I didn’t stop here because I had enough water but still I was not taking in any calories! When am I EVER going to learn? 7 hours 30 minutes and about 8km to the next checkpoint!
ONWARD TO ALPHEN TRAIL
This section was also runnable with trails through some vineyards, roads and some parks but I still was not going to run this section too much. The sun was blaring, hot and I was exhausted and just pushed through with the odd conversation with runners now and then.I hit Alphen Trail Aid Station (43km) in 8 hours 25 minutes and I sat down and one of the volunteers asked me to give her my bottles to fill up. She was amazing and filled it up with my Tailwind and asked if I wanted to eat anything. There was soup and noodles and other foods BUT yet again I didn’t eat. I knew I should have spend at least 10 minutes there to at least get some energy and recuperate but I just wanted to push through. I also didn’t want to waste time because I was afraid I would not make the cutoffs closer to the end.Another reason I decided not to stay longer was that Chris Mocko aka C-MONEEEEEY, (if you have not seen his youtube channel https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_36-WBvZ_G0 , go and watch his latest vlog on UTCT. It’s a gem.) had just come through to the aid station and he was about to leave and I thought, I will never get this chance again to run and talk to him! I also thought, maybe this will give my legs and body a wake-up call because now I get to run with Chris! Needless to say, that only lasted about 800m as my body reminded me that 1) I don’t have the energy to do this right now and 2) how do you expect me to keep this pace?
PUSHING THROUGH THE MIND
The section from Alphen Trail to UCT was the most toughest, longest, hardest, painful section I could have imagined. With the climbs in Ceilia Forest, the 400 steps, the technical sections on the contour path above Kirstenbosch then down to UCT and the fact my body was literally screaming at me with cramps and fatigue, it felt like HOURS I was out there. Those 14km took me about 3 hours and 30 minutes which just shows you how much I was struggling. My amazing wife was sending me little Whatsapp messages through this section and it helped me a lot through here to keep the mind from taking over the negative thoughts it was having. There was awesome supporters on route here with boards of motivation! Thank you! A few 100km running friends came passed me and we shared some pain and motivation to just keep on pushing.
GETTING TO THE END
I got to UCT (56km) in 11:56 still well under the cutoff of 12:55.The UCT aid station was like an oasis for me. I took in a couple of cups of coke as well as some redbull. I managed to eat some salted potatoes and crisps. Filled my bottles again with some Powerade and then set off again with only 10km to go with another 3 hours and 30 minutes until cutoff. The last big climb of the day was up to the Block House and if I am correct it was just under 2km with 300m climb. Brutal if I have to say the least. The next part was just a long and some technical sections on the contour path around Devil’s Peak and what was supposed to be an easy runnable section became a very cautious section for me on my tired legs and body. Knowing myself when the legs are too tired I tend to drag feet which in a number of races, I tend to trip and fall. I had a lot of time left so my only goal was to get to the finish line safe without any injuries or incidents.Arriving at the last checkpoint at Dead Mans Tree (63.5km) at 13 hours and 56 minutes I knew I could actually manage a sub 14 hours 30 minutes if I started jogging the last bit. There was only 2.4km left according to the marshal, but at this stage I wasn’t trusting any marshal, so I decided push for it anyways. It was a nice runnable jeep track and I actually seemed to find spring in my legs for the first time since I don’t know when!
Getting towards the race village gave me so much energy with people shouting your name and congratulating you was pretty much a joy to hear! Crossing that line felt so so relieving as well as a feeling of accomplishment. Throughout the race there was doubt in my mind that I was not going to finish this and I think this is also what helped me get to the end!Getting that medal put around your neck and being handed an ice cold Jack Black beer was simply the icing on the cake. There are so many people that needs to be thanked but the list is way too long! The organizers of the event, teams behind the scenes, the aid station volunteers, the sweepers, the photographers, the marshals, the supporters, the runners, sponsors and I am sure I’ve forgotten more. Without any of them, this event will not be possible!As someone else had mentioned on their blog and I am going to say it here too,