“I can confidently say that stories of pain and courage almost always include two things: Praying and cussing. Sometimes at the exact same time.” Brene’ Brown in “Braving the Wilderness”
I’m So with Brene’. Just saying.
Ok so I’m glad that I had my head around Chris Hadfield’s definition of readiness before I set off with my usual boundless optimism to run Karkloof. “Feeling ready to do something doesn’t mean feeling certain you’ll succeed, though of course that’s what you’re hoping to do. Truly being ready means understanding what could go wrong—and having a plan to deal with it.”
What could possibly go wrong? For ME I mean? Of course stuff goes wrong for other people on 100 milers (eye roll). I was pretty much certain I would succeed (my grade R report card clearly stated that Kim is over confident (it also says I am a very efficient eater. WTF? But that’s another story). One thing that I was willing to consider may go wrong was the weather. And I am very grateful for that because it certainly did go wrong, repeatedly and in every possible way. Since I had been alerted to the original long term forecast of freezing rain I had snapped into arctic survival mode. Even when the more immediate forecast was promising dry and balmy conditions I remained deeply distrustful. Every event I have done this year has taken place in freezing rain. Even in the desert. In the middle of a 4 year drought. So plan for freezing rain I did. I even consulted the “Run Like a Girl” community. “Do you lot have any superb and novel ideas for combatting cold that have not occurred to me? Especially the Canadian and Siberian subscribers to this community?” I REALLY struggle with cold, like much more than anyone I know. In fact much more than I should considering the fact that I am sturdy and robust and have German peasant genesand cannot be described as underweight by any stretch of the imagination.
So, I packed 4 full changes of clothing consisting of 5 layers each (seriaaas), 4 beanies, 4 pairs of gloves, latex gloves as a base layer, 16 pairs of socks, a flask, a hot water bottle, an extra space blanket poncho thingy (for actual wearing, not leaving in the bottom of my pack) and most fabulously of all 8 pairs of hand warmers which I planned to place in a dry sock (4 extra socks over and above allowance of 16) inside my running bra, 2 at a time, every 5 hours or so. I prepared to be mocked by my pacer, Running Raj, and pretty much everyone else. But I didn’t care. The pain of being ridiculed by my herd was nothing compared to the agony of hyperthermia. I felt prepared. Almost smug. I also felt slightly overheated. But not for long!
It was wildly exciting to see the running family again as they all started crawling out of the woodwork at the start. Races are always like mad family reunions, (just less complicated) and there were hilarious and emotional meetings going on all over the place. When absolutely everything on the checklist has been ticked off, all the distractions have been used up and one has abluted for the umpteenth time, then theexcruciating wait begins – 8pm (start time) is bedtime for me. How to trick the mind and body into heading out for a run at that time? By having breakfast of course! Dhuh!
And then the waiting wasfinally over, relief temporarily drowns out fear and we were off at long last. In the excitement and mayhem of the start I immediately lost Richard, Rene’, Sandra who I had hoped to hang onto for a while at least. I blame Richard (Glowstick) for cunningly replacing his standard lumo Polly shorts with something more under-the-radar. Maybe it was for the best, I was determined to run my own race and reluctant to share my hand warmers anyway. Our separation meant that I missed the drama of them having to stare down a porcupine on the narrow single track just out of Howick.
People came and went in my headlamp and it was great to catch up briefly with Anthony Rush (an Addo 100 brother in arms), I chatted to Brandon as we came into the first checkpoint and was delighted to find Rene’ (a Munga Maatjie) and decided to do my best to keep up with her and distract myself with her fabulous conversation for the next while…sadly the arrival of Rene’ seemed to coincide with my first minor crisis. A brief spate of nausea. How annoying! I don’t get nauseous…manage situation, check hydration, have some electrolytes, swallow a selection of everything you can access with ease from your pack. (In my experience this will either make you vomit and feel better or will shock your belly into submission. Also, it must be the right approach because it’s endorsed by Kylie.)This unorthodox approach won the day and I was able to contribute to conversation once again. Whew. Try not to concentrate on your achy hamstrings. WTF I don’t usually even know I have hamstrings?Concentrate on something else! Find something to feel grateful about! I love running at night; I love imagining the terrain and being locked into the pool of light of my lamp. I love not really knowing if I’m going up or down and having no idea what the disembodied voices actually look like. The other senses are heightened; especially smell and we wafted our way through pungent farmyards and fragrant forests. But now my feet were sore. Like really sore. What if my arch is collapsing? What if I have a stress fracture? OMG! I will have to change into my B team shoes at Bushwillow. I’m so grateful I packed the B team shoes, I almost told them they were past it and weren’t allowed to come along. Focus on something other than pain, stop being surprised and outraged that you are not feeling like a Rockstar. This is life, this happens to everyone all the time (yes Kim, even YOU), things may not be going according to plan. That’s ok, they never do, get over it, make another plan. Hooray for Richard who came bounding up behind us and nearly caused me to void my bladder by making his customary vomiting bear noise (it was REALLY loud in the still darkness) and then bounded off over the horizon. He’s a great distraction. Rene’ and I hooked op with Lovely Lloyd some time just before sunrise and ambled along companionably enjoying the fact that it was nearly dawn and that the first night was over. We met just-recovered-from-vomiting-a-salad Jamie at the next checkpoint and were together for the happiness-inducing sighting of the magnificent zebras with their pleasingly plump haunches and skittish baby. The last leg to Benvie (half way) should have been a highlight. Beautiful easy running, soft green grassy tracks, exquisite hedges of azaleas but as Rene’ found her morning mojo (and poor Jamie lost his) I started to feel dreadful. My pain levels seemed way too high for a mere 80 km. The half way mark should be a massive mental boost but something weird happened in my head when I saw all the pacers and front runners and 50 milers coming past me in the opposite direction. I couldn’t distinguish who was who and decided they must all be 100 milers and I must be coming last. I knew this was illogical and irrational but I began to feel utterly despairing. I was very stern with me and insisted that I stopped being a baby drama queen and get my act together. I gave myself a number of motivational speeches and pep talks. None of them seemed to work. I had let myself down, I was performing terribly, I probably wouldn’t make the cut off, the humiliation and disappointment were real although I knew for a fact that most of my thought process was insane. I did that praying and cursing simultaneously thing. Why had I once again failed to manage expectations? Would I never ever learn???? In hindsight I am reminded that perspective is everything.
And then suddenly there were Kylie and Roger (Running Raj) and TEA and gourmet meal choices and everything was a WHOLE lot better. K and R would be my family unit of choice if I didn’t have a great one already. They are my herd/pack (depending on hunger levels) and when I am trotting along a trail with them, all is right with my world. I would go to war with them. They can make me cry with laughter just from the tone of their voices. I trust their judgement completely (oh dear) and I am more at home in their company than many people ever get to be in their entire lives. They make me feel very lucky and very blessed. Imagine a pair who make you feel all that good stuffand then imagine them combining all that with the further awesomeness of Mother Theresa/Trevor Noah/Jamie Oliver(or similar)/Steven Covey on steroids and you have a sort of idea of who I got to drag my ass back to Howick over the next (very many) hours.
One of the things I really like about Raj is that he actively discourages self-pity without having to actually say anything. He achieves this with extreme efficiency with a particular expression (fixed on the horizon, not the offender), and a particular set of his mouth/shoulders. This is perfectly clear to me even if I am behind him. This is very important in a pacer/second. Self-pity is the most unhelpful of all emotions. Selfpitymustfall! It is the first step in staging a comeback. Fortunately I am inclined to obey Raj.
Despite the arrival of Raj and the eviction of self-pity, the next 15 km were very hard. I was monosyllabic and Raj had to dip into a whole week’s worth of his usual word allocation to carry conversation. I was worried. Also I still thought I was coming last but didn’t want to state the obvious to Raj. I kept trying to do the maths in my head and it seemed that I would arrive in Howick in October. I had to move faster but I couldn’t. By the time we got to the first checkpoint a massive storm was rolling in. The wind was pumping, it was freezing and rain was imminent. Raj called ahead to Kylie to order tea, food, fresh socks, warm kit and a foot masseur! A man called Lean, who I had met for one minute at the start, actually voluntarily massaged my filthy 100km feet. It was almost biblical. This trail community of ours is something else. (Thank you Lean, I really hope I get to return the favour one day when you need it!) While Kylie fed and watered me and changed my socks, Raj filled my bottles and bladder and issued instructions for the next leg. The plan was for Kylie and Raj to alternate pacing me while the other drove between checkpoints. So Raj hurtled off to the next checkpoint and Kylie and I trotted along in slightly better spirits despite the dreadful conditions. It was amazing to catch up with my friend. I realised with gratitude that I would rather be suffering with her than running like a Rockstar on my own. Much rather. By now it was raining and thunder and lightening were putting on a show. Just when we thought nothing elsemeteorological could possibly occur; the heavens opened and began to pelt us with marble sized hailstones. At this point there was nothing for it but to giggle maniacally and shake our hiking poles defiantly at the sky. Rock bottom makes Kylie and me guffaw, but only when we are together. Suddenly we were elated. And then began the mother of all climbs. Funny, I don’t recall the corresponding downhill from the night before. How HOW? Unexpectedly Raj appeared like a vision in the mist, running lightly and very fast towards us. I so wished I could do that too! He had decided that the herd was better together (and rightly so) and so he spent the rest of the long day and night driving hell for leather to the next checkpoint, leaping out of the car, sprinting back to me and Kylie and then running/walking/lurching the rest of the leg at Kim pace. He must have run over 100km. At one point he politely asked if I was happy to run a downhill and I had to fix him with a withering look and reply: “Raj, I AM running”. (He was suitably chastened and didn’t have to be reprimanded again.)
Somewhere in the middle of this leg, Welile and her lovely pacer came charging past us. Cheeky if you ask me. Certainly at this stage of the race. She was running well on the climbs but hobbling on the downhill’s which allowed us to persistence hunt her before Bushwillow. What fun to connect with this fabulous woman who still managed to be enthusiastic, funny and glamorous after 110km. She even had perfect lipstick in a glorious shade of red. How is that even possible? I presented her with an award for being fabulous in the form of a pair of spare socks, then collected another foot massage from Lean (bless that man) and set off again, hoping to make the second last checkpoint before dark. My strategy included: absolutely no stuffing around at checkpoints. It served me well.
We had a fairly good rhythm going by this point and had begun to steadily catch people. Oh good, so I wasn’t last anymore. I was particularly grateful for hiking poles on the next leg; I mainly used them as ski poles for skiing down the endlessly long muddy slippery slopes. Hooray for skiing! I seemed to be fairly good at it – anyway it felt easier than running/walking/lurching. And variety is always fun J I felt intense sympathy for anyone who didn’t have hiking/ski poles. We just made it to Rockwood before dark and while I voided one bladder, Raj filled the other, Kylie whipped up a smorgasbord and I managed a full change of 5 wet layers while contorted into the front seat of the tiny rental car. Seamless. One more checkpoint to go. The heavens opened at this point, the wind picked up and despite all my best efforts at arctic survival I was freezing as night fell. My worst nightmare. Raj was instructed to set the pace and I scurried along behind him doing my best to keep up and not to demonstrate any self-pity. It was pure survival at this stage but it seemed that things were falling apart for everyone. This was evident from the fact that we kept seeing headlamps in the distance which enabled me to find another gear, reel them in and springboard off of any tangible suffering. Desperate times….The last checkpoint at Karkloof 11 was a hive of activity and included all of the amazing friends of Kylie and Raj who were staying nearby for the weekend. They came out in the inky drizzle to admire us, give us tea and dispose of disgusting filthy discarded socks and gloves.(All this despite the fact that I had dominated and disrupted their chilled week end away in the Midlands. Its all Grace, I tell you).
Despite the fabulous company, Kylie and I were out of there in record time. I could smell the finish now and there was to be no dillydallying at checkpoints. There was rather a lot of mist by this point which made it difficult to see, and even with the impeccably marked course we struggled a couple of times to see the way ahead. I was grateful for Kylie and her relatively fresh pair of eyes. Then the final reunion with Raj, some more skiing down slopes, some hectic slippery climbs (4 steps up the hill, slide all the way to the bottom, start again), trotting along the edge of a precipice with the Howick falls visible in the distance and the final route march to the finish. And at last it was all over. Full circle. Surreal as usual. What a race.
Enormous thanks to Linda for coming out to meet us for the last few km’s (and for whipping me into some sort of shape in 3 months) and to my amazingly enthusiastic sister, Judy who was waiting at the finish despite the fact that it was now after midnight. Thanks to Andrew and Lauren Booth and their astounding crew of organisers and volunteers who create this incredible platform for astonishing running and extraordinary passion. Thanks to all the people I ran with and chatted to, even if it was only for a short time. Thanks especially to Rene’ for the company during the night. Thanks to Kylie and Raj, my Guardian Angels. (I have no words. Actually that’s not true….I always have words. A LOT of them. You two are nextlevelamazing. Just saying). Thanks to Judy who nurtured me endlessly after the race and ensured that I had actually put ON weight within 24 hours of finishing. Thanks to Richard for not having a stroke and for being involved in my post traumatic stress management after the race and for helping me understand that I didn’t come last: “Well done Kim, you were the first veteran woman! And there is nothing wrong with specialising in coming 4th!”
I think from now on I may stick to Parkrun…but hang on, its only 6 months to Addo…now there’s a plan! But before that there’s the small matter of the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon in just 3 weeks.