Pre Race Day
I adore pre race rituals….and for everyone they are different. I have completed the ceremonial cleansing of the evil smelling shoes and backpack (mainly because Basil, my Staffy lifted his leg on it in a moment of petulant jealousy on my very last training run), I have tinted my eyebrows (it is not possible to feel powerful without eyebrows) and I have purchased kilograms of foot powder and many new pairs of socks (most of which will not fit into my pack but at least I know I can THINK about them in the dark moments). And then suddenly all the mayhem and the planning and the juggling and outsourcing and the meeting of last minute deadlines is over and I am on my way. I have a brief moment of utter panic at the airport as I realise I have left my Garmin watch/gps thingy at home. How? How? How do you leave your watch but remember eye drops and dried chillies? Fortunately I am distracted from my panic by having to explain to security that the many sachets of white powder in the hidden inner pocket of my pack are not in fact narcotics but Mycota Foot Powder (aka magic fairy dust). There is an overwhelming sense of fatalism, relief, euphoria. There is nothing else I can do about the gps, the food choices or the training. It is what it is. The relief is followed by the kind of excitement usually associated with the last day of term before the summer holidays. I wish desperately that I am capable of executing a few flick flacks, because really there is absolutely no other way to express my mental state as I settle into my seat on the first flight of the long journey to Augrabies.
On reflection this state of euphoria is surprising. If I force myself to think of the last time I did the KAEM. There was rather a lot of suffering if I am not mistaken. I remember for example that Phil would experience severe cramps every night and would thrash around in complete agony on the ground with ever muscle in his body writhing and twitching while the regular KAEM runners stepped nonchalantly over him. I remember throwing myself to the ground next to him (like a wrestling ref) and screaming “OMG PHIL are you ok? Speak to me! What’s happening?! Are you dying?? WTF why doesn’t someone help him??”The regular KAEM’ers would look unfazed: “Oh Phil always does that for an hour or two he’ll be ok just now.” I also remember feet that were so lacerated and blistered that they looked like raw steaks, and gnats diving into every available orifice and guzzling greedily at any exposed flesh until you feel half mad with the relentless annoyance of it all. I remember my own speciality of uncontrollable and deeply impressive projectile vomiting in 52’ heat. So lets be honest there is a fair amount of suffering that goes on here. Why such elation at the thought of getting to do it all over again?
There is a theory that if you perceive an experience as one that had a good outcome (you gave birth naturally and without drugs to a healthy child…you completed a KAEM) then with the passing of time the dominant memory of the pain reduces and the fleeting memory of the achievement increases until one only recalls the full moon, the exquisite beauty of the desert, the intense camaraderie, the feeling of elation as you cross the finish line. All the other bits are inexplicably forgotten. If this is a syndrome, then all the KAEM folk seem to have it.
At least half of us have been here before, some every year for almost a decade. The parking lot at Augrabies Falls National Park (one of the fabulous sponsors) could have been mistaken for the scene of a large,diverse family reunion (just less complicated;-)). How wonderful it is to see friends from all over the globe who I last saw at KAEM 2009. Is it possible that 8 years have past since I last did this iconic race? But it feels like only yesterday. The constant need to return to a race is surely the greatest complement to any event organiser and it is richly deserved in the case of Nadia and Estienne and their astonishingly splendid crew.
For readers who don’t know (and who haven’t yet done it) the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon is modelled on the legendary Moroccan Marathon Des Sables (only its better by all accounts, just saying;-)) and is certainly not for the faint hearted. The race happens annually in the ruggedly contrasting landscape of the Northern Cape’s “Green Kalahari” and is a self-sufficiency run held over six legs (one day/night) in seven days. Distances are set for each day, ranging from (in 2017) 21km to 74km. Athletes are obliged to carry on their backs everything they plan to use or consume for the duration of the event: food, sleeping bag and mat, cooking pots, toiletries, clothes (SOCKS!) and compulsory safety/survival equipment. Most participants carry 20-30 litre backpacks with starting dry weights ranging from 7-12kg (that’s without another 2 kg of water). Overnight shelter in rudimentary camps and water (which is strictly controlled and distributed during the race) is supplied.
The route is wonderfully diverse with landscapes ranging from overwhelmingly green vineyards along the Orange Riverto steep rocky outcrops, sweltering sandy gorges and riverbeds and those vast open stretches of nothing which are characteristic of the Kalahari Desert. Temperatures vary from mid 30’s up to as high as 50 (degrees Celsius) during the day to single figures in the evenings.
Tomorrow is race day, but today is filled with, registration and kit checks and race and medical briefings.(Intrepid race medic, Doc Grant:“I urge all of you to take a pathological interest in both the colour and frequency of your pee for the next 7 days!” Dauntless route organiser and lover of sandy river beds, Estienne: “In the event of a fire, cover your extremities with any spare clothing, wet it if possible and plunge through the fire and out the other side. It shouldn’t be more than a meter or 2. That way you won’t lose ears and noses and stuff like that.”)Today will be filled with the endless packing and repacking of backpacks. It will be crammed withlaughter, nervous excitement and KAEM in-jokes and the relentless mockery of Richard (Glowstick) for, among other things;-), his unfortunate fashion choices. And we will adore all the pre-race mayhem, but more than anything we cant wait to be released into the glorious desert at 8am tomorrow morning to do what we have come here to do. And to do it well.
Day 1 – 25km approx. 36’
What a relief to set off at last from the start line under the many national flags at the beautiful Augrabies Falls National Park. As usual, the excitement causes everyone to explode out of their starting blocks (one of them in a SUIT!! Raising funds for Cystic Fibrosis) and very soon everyone had disappeared. By the time my brain had settled sufficiently to take note of my surroundings I found myself running with Gavin who told me an amazing success story about Sinenjongo School in Joe Slovo which he is running to raise funds for (www.sinenjongo.com). We spent some moments of mutual congratulation for the fact that neither of us are actual lawyers anymore despite our training, before, to my surprise, we crossed a stream flowing over the road (I clearly wasn’t concentrating when Estienne mentioned it in some detail). When I looked up again Gavin had disappeared and I was running with Tony! Tony is hilarious, gloriously upbeat, super inspirational (he is running with a complex health issue). He is also very clearly an agent of extreme chaos. I made a mental note that, if they were ever to meet, he and Peter (my husband and chaos agent number 1!) should not under any circumstances be left alone without mature adult supervision…
It was an extreme highlight to be treated to a massive gang (the real collective noun escapes me) of giraffe, at least 10 of them (including 2 babies!) lurking majestically just out of reach. Apparently they had retreated to a safe distance after being frightened by Richard (of course!) and Jane and as a result bolting across the road directly in front of them. (The giraffe were bolting…not Richard or Jane. Just saying.)
Shortly after our Aquelle water stop we encountered the first river bed which went on endlessly in true Estienne style. (Clearly he has influenced Dallas to incorporate them at every opportunity.) I was delighted by the sand as it had already become evident to me that I had made a poor shoe choice for the hard terrain. So much of the track was way rockier and harsher than I remember and my feet were already beginning to feel tender…And then suddenly were on the banks of the exquisitely beautiful Orange River and minor details like sore feet were immediately forgotten. The contrast between the blue sky, the glorious desert, the intensely green vegetation on its banks and the turquoise river are achingly beautiful. There was no way I could resist a super swift plunge into a particularly inviting looking pool. It was SO the right thing to do, my joy monitor immediately skyrocketed and my speed increased to the point that I felt as if I was doing Tigger Bounces along the rocky bank. I came across a French runner who had missed a few markers, gone astray briefly and done some extra mileage. On the spectrum of happiness he appeared to be the opposite of me so I thought I would tell him about my happiness inducing cupcake meditation technique (its quite simple you think about cupcakes so intensely that you can almost taste them). He seemed reluctant to try it so I suggested he replace the image of a cupcake with for eganéclair? Still no enthusiasm. Maybe he didn’t understand me? I spotted Morgan not to far ahead and was pleased to catch him in time to witness his complicated and painful passage under a fence. I imagine it was a bit like being born. Morgan was definitely breached and I briefly considered helping him through by giving the fence an episiotomy with my Swiss Army knife…..
For the last 6 or 7km I trotted along with John who distracted me with tales of all his exciting multi stage races until we came over a hill and suddenly we spotted the finish. 25km’s done and dusted. The highlight of the day for me was the discovery that my Gazebo (No.3 comprising Sandra, Jane, Belinda and me) were in fact the winners of the imaginary team prize (invented by us), ie we were the first full Gazebo of the day! Whoop whoop!
1 stage down, 6 to go!
Day 2 – 35km approx. 38’
My race blogs may get shorter as the week progresses…the difficulty is that for a long time after we arrive in camp our brains seem to be in power save. We sit down and then stare blankly at our packs with slightly glazed looks, uncertain what to do next. The gazebo mate who has been there the longest has to remind his/her mates to eat/drink/stretch/stop dribbling. But I am getting ahead of myself, let me tell you about the beginning before the end.
We had a fairly good night last night because it would appear that there are no rampant snorers entered in KAEM 2017. This is an enormous blessing and was the main topic of conversation this morning with many runners emotional with relief. A hardcore snorer can really take endurance to a whole new level. My day began with shoe repairs. I have inexplicably developed a small hole in the toe of my shoe with the result that I had accumulated 2kg of sand in my right foot as opposed to only 1kg of sand in my left. Clearly something would need to be done. The materials available to me are dental floss, a small amount of duct tape wrapped around my toothpaste tube and a needle. Needlework is not my core competency, but fortunately Sarie, who was my neighbour last night , is (in addition to being a retired captain in the SAP) also an embroidery guru and was able to perform a repair consultancy service. KAEM runners are a diverse bunch of over achievers 😉 I am elated to say that my repair has held! All day! A triumph indeed. I will have to do some further maintenance tonight (under Sarie’s supervision I hope) and running repairs and preventative maintenance on a daily basis. I am confident in my developing needlework skills.
The route today felt very runnable and (with a steak consumed for supper, off of my slip slop in the absence of a more suitable receptacle) my pack was fractionally lighter. Best of all, there was a staggered start this morning with 3 groups of runners setting off at 30-minute intervals. Having started in the middle group, this enabled me to create mini goals every time somebody appeared on the horizon. I would slowly, patiently, relentlessly persistence hunt them (in a slightly disturbing “Lord or the Flies” kind of way but with no actual intention of eating them. Despite my dwindling food supplies. Promise.) This was sufficiently entertaining to enable the km’s to fly by and, together with the elation induced by my successful shoerepair, I had a really good day. The heat after the final check point almost caused a minor humour crisis which was prevented by the fact that the folk that I past seemed to be finding it slightly worse than me. The misery of others is a very effective personal springboard (as all runners know and exploit so I don’t feel at all bad for doing so).
The 39 runners are in and all that remains for the day is to wash my socks in a ziplock bag and produce an acceptable amount of urine in the right shade of yellow by sunset. Sandra is allowing her closer friends to utilize her food bowl to establish the correctness of the shade. It’s amazing how quickly extreme intimacy and ridiculously close bonds can be formed on the KAEM. Next level. Seriaaas!
I am pleased and proud to announce that Gazebo 3 was once again the winner of the non existent imaginary team prize which is going to be awarded by Gavin in the form of artistic yoga moves at the entrance to our gazebo in his modest, understated, classic black Speedo (also his evening wear). 2 days down. Already it feels as if its going way too fast and I am desperate to make this experience last!
Day 3 – 40km approx. 38’ (but definitely much hotter in the evil microwave gorges!)
We are at the River (thank God!) and I am delirious with heat and exhaustion and urgently need to join the rest of the camp for a hearty whinging session so this may be short. Today was tough. Someone ramped the discomfort monitor right off the charts. The first 20 km were exquisitely beautiful with a lot of rock hopping (in fact we nearly hopped all the way down a dry waterfall!) and the temperature was manageable. But right from the beginning today was all about sand. Uphill sand, flat sand, downhill sand, deep sand, less deep sand, blistering sand, course sand, powder fine sand…. I actually quite like sand but this was a bridge too far. In an effort to find something positive to focus on (in the said sand) I noticed that it was often studded with the most beautiful rose quartz and made me think of a perfect little trail of distracting Turkish Delights. When that stopped doing the trick I had to sing the Hallelujah Chorus in a Leonard Cohen voice (sort of) to keep my spirits up until people came within earshot and I was forced to quieten down. And then things just got tougher and hotter all day.
I briefly had a lovely time running with John Williams (we are both from East London although we just met each other this week. So we proclaimed our-selves to be team “Border” and agreed that no-one should underestimate the Frontier Folk). I don’t recall the context, but at one point he proclaimed that if I was a rugby player, like him, I would be a prop (or a Hooker. Oh dear). I’m not entirely certain if that is a compliment but I decided to claim it as one. I think the main point of the discussion was that there are some incredibly fast roadies doing KAEM but this is more about strength than speed and so we shouldn’t feel utterly intimidated by their gazelle-like shape and swiftness when we are more inclined to be prop-like. After leaving John I was pretty much on my own all day other than brief interactions as some of the fast starters overtook me.
And then it was pretty much a boiling death march all the way to the river. I imagined that if we were going to the river it would follow that we would go downhill (through the sand of course). Despite the obvious laws of physics we, however, seemed to be doing up-hill sand for the last 8 km. I nearly wondered off in the wrong direction down a road after missing a deeply obvious turn. Had it not been for Mich who suddenly appeared from the wrong direction I would have done a fair amount of extra milegae. He had missed the turn and his misfortune saved me a long detour along the incorrect route. We marched along exchanging hardly a word (a first for me) but feeling comforted by the presence and rhythm of another medium rare and deeply suffering body. Thomas, Richard, Coralie, David, Sandy Marelise and a whole host of other folk apparently made the same error which will probably be reflected in the results tonight.
Some things worth mentioning that didn’t make it into yesterday’s blog because they happened after my deadline:
- Patrick very sadly left us…gone but not forgotten. As did Kenwynne the day before. They both remain an inspiration.
- We agreed that none of us had experience any first world problems since the start of the race. One of the reasons we do this stuff.
- Zelna arrived in camp looking as if all of her toenails were floating on water beds (actually blisters for the uninitiated who wouldn’t have made that connection). She is very brave. I would have been weeping while curled up in the fetal position if my feet looked anything like that.
- Gavin did not have the confidence to make a call about the colour and quantity of his urine without our collective input so decided to void his bladder in front of the entire camp at dinner so as to make sure he had everybody’s input. We agreed that his hydration was satisfactory.
- Estelle is the camp saint after patiently stitching several pairs of shoes (including mine) with patches fashioned from a sacrificial piece of her gaiter. She has been proclaimed to be the “Kalahari Cobbler / Saint Estelle” and a biography and full length feature film is being planned to document her saintliness.
- We bade Zelna a very sad farewell this morning. Her report follows:
“I decided not to continue on day 3. I could blame it on blisters, my sore shoulder, or many other things but this is another race. It is so beautiful, so ruthless and so soul searching. The truth is that I was not ready but I learned a lot in 2 days. I learned that:
- Weight is everything
- The beautiful human spirit in runners is alive
- Humour goes a very long way
- You need a reason to run
- Trail runners are tough and 35km in the desert can feel harder than Comrades
- The simple things are the most important
- Messages and emails from friends and family matter enormously in the desert
Thank you to all the volunteers who are in fact angels in disguise (agreed!) You matter so very much to the runners. The race is so well organized. I will be back with a lighter backpack, gym sessions, more trail experience and hopefully a friend to run with me. All the best to everyone who is still out there. You can do this!” Zelna
(By the end of day 3, an unprecedented total of 9 runners had withdrawn.)
Day 4 – The Looooong Day (in fact the longest 74km in the history of running)
Temperature: Blisteringly hot and freezing cold
“There are some
who like to run,
they run for fun
in the hot, hot sun!”
Some stats to begin with: We started out with 41 runners, 25 of whom were men and 16 women. We are now down to 17 men and 14 women. Draw your own conclusions 😉
Advice for the long day: “If you feel good, remain calm. It won’t last. If you feel bad, remain calm. !t wont last!”
The long day started between 6.00 for the tortoises and 12.30 midday for the hares. Everyone else set off in small groups of 2 or 3 at 30 minute intervals depending on their cumulative time by the end of day 3. I was extremely fortunate to be in a group with Mich and Toosie (who are incidentally on the completely opposite ends of the “chatty” spectrum.). There was no doubt that this was going to be a super tough day and our stated strategy was: “If you plan to go fast, go alone. If you plan to go far, go together.” We were going far so we agreed that unless something went badly wrong, we would do just that. Our other plan was to remain joyful (relatively) for as deep into the day as possible and not to give way to check point yearning too early. We broke the day down into 10 stages (9 checkpoints and then the finish) and tried to approach it much like eating the proverbial elephant. My absent watch would hopefully help to create a Zen-like acceptance of the fact that the check points would materialize when they were good and ready to do so. The heat at 10.30am when our trio set off on a sandy uphill climb was utterly unbearable. I couldn’t help thinking how it would feel at 12.30 when the last group set off. Gratitude for small mercies…
The hours between 10.30 and 5pm passed in a blur of intolerable heat and sand and rocky foot stabbing nightmare as storm clouds built and built with no relief. It seemed to be raining on the horizon all around us but not actually on us. I have seldom experienced such drama in the Kalahari. Massive storm clouds, flashes of illuminating pink and purple lightning (I kept imagining I was having a Damascus Road experience), peals of rumbling thunder that made the ground shake and fabulous windmills (the perfect desert accessory!). Despite our suffering we were overcome by the astounding privilege of getting to see the incredible display the Kalahari was putting on for us. A full moon would have been amazing but a Kalahari storm probably trumped even that. At last the rain came in a burst of relief just as the sun was setting, with that beautiful smell created by giant drops of rain and Kalahari dust. And for a few minutes we were elated and grateful and then we stopped at checkpoint 5 for a quick meal and within minutes we were all bitching and moaning that we were cold. Never satisfied I tell you! And it didn’t stop raining until just after midnight when we eventually limped (at astonishing speed) into the camp. We even had to stop to dig around in our packs for space blankets as we shook with cold in the driving rain and wind. The hours of darkness were punctuated by bursts of chatter followed by deathly quiet. If the silence persisted for too long, Mich would point out that our muteness was worrying him. Toosie would then dig really deep and burst into song or I would cast around for yet another inane story to pass the time. And just when we thought it would never end, the long dark night of the soul (“cutting between bone and marrow”) was over and we embraced each other and the blessed relief of finally being still. The only challenge that remained was the small difficulty of contorting oneself into a crouching position to enter the gazebo and getting over the horror of getting straight into a manky sleeping bag without washing after 14 hours on the trot. Fortunately standards are non-existent by day 4.
And now we have a glorious day of rest at the river, punctuated by little swimming sorties across the border to “Nambia”, doing our laundry (7 pairs of socks!) and endless lying around and as we try to recover and gird our loins (as Steve puts it) for another big 46km day tomorrow. My primary concern is girding my feet (as opposed to loins). My shoes are paper thin, totally the wrong choice for the rocky tracks (though good for the sand) and in great danger of not making it though the last 70 odd km. I’m thinking of imploring the Kalahari Cobbler to sew the soles of my slip slops to the bottom of my running shoes and am off to methylate my blister. So much to look forward to J
Gone but not forgotten on day 4: Thomas (L)
Special mention: Thanks to Plato Lodge and Daberas Adventures for accommodating us on their land. Thanks to SAAB GrintekDefence Partners for partnering with KAEM to keep track over everyone and manage communication (among other things). Thank you to the astounding crew and medics who make every one of us feel as if we must be their very favorite child every time they see us. Honestly, you guys are the best part of this race. Thanks to the extraordinary Camp Kommandant and his partners in crime – you look so hardcore but you are total sweethearts and utterly nurture us with your special brand of Kalahari camo-care. Gazebo 3 are still winning. Just saying.
Day 5 – 46km (Bloody Scalding as usual don’t know actual temp)
Today began with way too much optimism considering how it ended. Whew. Its never over ‘til its over. I woke up in top spirits. I had an excellent sleep, opened my eyes before dawn and lay watching the fire flies and shooting stars switch off their lights and prepare for bed as the Orange River Alarms began their frantic singing and chirping in the reeds. And felt profoundly grateful for the privilege of being exactly where I am. I love this beautiful desert and I am so grateful for the fact that I am fit and healthy enough to experience it this way. I am so grateful to the crew and organisers who make it possible and to Pete who is keeping the home-fires burning while I am away. I had a bit of a moment, as one does. Then I gingerly tested my feet and was elated to establish that they had been healed by the Orange Archangels of the Kalahari (aka the medics) and that I was no longer a cripple! It’s a miracle! I began to proclaim to everyone within earshot that day 5 is a magical day of happiness in which all lactic acid miraculously disappears, feet are restored, bodies suddenly accept the new routine we impose on them, the rigors of desert and camp living become our new normal and all is fabulous from this day forth and even for evermore…. Mmmmm Well there is possibly a little truth in some of that and we did all set off at a jaunty pace and maintain our happiness levels for quite far into the day. But I do think I may have been getting a smidgen ahead of myself.
I ran with Steve and Emily for the first bit, which was glorious fun. Anyone can say virtually anything to me in an English accent and I immediately collapse with laughter so I may not be entirely objective about this, but Steve is very funny. He is also very active or his age ;-). Emily, who is only 25, completely blew me away with what she told me as we trotted along (still happily). “So, when did you start running and what interesting races have you done?” I asked conversationally.
“Oh I just started running this year and I’ve done a half marathon J”
“WHAT??!! OMG, you have got to be kidding? How? How is it even possible to CONTEMPLATE this if you haven’t done a LOT of previous suffering?”
Emily continued to trot along looking unfazed and I was almost immobilised by my admiration for this astonishing young woman. I think perhaps she should rule the world.
At the next checkpoint Mich arrived unexpectedly from behind to report that he, Toosie and Saint Estelle had become lost in a riverbed. They had blown their whistles plaintively (delighted on one level to be using all their compulsory kit) and uttered some very un-saintly expletives and then they had become separated and he had been hurrying to catch me up. We trotted on together for the rest of the day (and now that Toosie and I were not chattering non-stop) he was able to get some airtime. Mich is 60, has a job in Civilian Intelligence, has run a silver Comrades in his day, has a Masters degree at the age of 19 and has 2 sets of twins 2 years apart (together with his lovely wife who is on the crew). Again I was in the presence of extreme awesomeness. We spent the rest of the day together and were pretty happy other than for 2 prolonged periods, the latter worse than the former. We ran for 5.5km along a stupid fence next to a road (inside an awesome Game Park). And it offended us. Deeply. We hated the fence. We were filled with fence rage. The fence fuelled a creative burst (partly inspired by yesterday’s Dr Seuss rhyme) and we produced the following:
We do not love this silly fence
In fact it makes us feel quite tense
We fear we’ve lost our humour sense
VirTjek Punt 4 onsflippin wens!
We long for our gazebo tents
The urge to stop is quite immense!
And then we hooked up with John and refined our verse into a rap and grumpiness dissipated as we became high on our own awesomeness. (We actually said that. Really.) But it was true and we trotted along on a wave of happiness until Richard came up behind us, made his vomiting bear noise as a greeting, and nearly caused John to soil himself.
The final check-point was already visible and the last long day was in the bag, and then the wheels fell off for me. Properly. The last 8km to the finish was much like descending into hell. I don’t think I have ever experienced more intense heat or more complete foot agony. The healing was temporary. Clearly. My mantra became “Oh Dear God please Make This Stop!” (Said in a marching rhythm over and over and over again). Were it not for Mich marching along stoically beside me, I may have curled up in the fetal position or touched an electric fence on purpose. I think everyone felt much the same as there was (apparently) a designated crying chair at the finish and nobody arrived in camp without cursing. Nobody. Just saying.
But now it’s done and we are beyond relief and are all lying around the camp in the recovery position high-fiving each other when we can work up the energy. Other than me of course, I’m typing. And Dion, the racing snake. Dion is sweeping his tent. As he does:-)). Nobody has the “gees” (energy) to make any comments (and they wouldn’t be for family consumption anyway). Although Belinda has stated that her low point of the day (and there were many) was squeezing a sachet of anti-chafe into her mouth in error after mistaking it for the ginger sweet one of the medics had given her for nausea. Here ends day 5. One more bittersweet sleep to go. Hallelujah! Sob!
Final day – 21km, unspeakably hot as always.
“Ooh I’m going to MISS camping!” says Emily wistfully as we all sit around the “fire” on or last night. Really? Really? I’m sure we can get Brendes/Rambo (our glorious Camo Camp Kommandant/CCK) to rig up a gazebo for anyone who is keen at the finish. But as for me, I am looking really forward to clean white sheets and no bugs and not playing ping pong with a big hairy spider all night (Jane and I kept swatting one from my sleeping bag to hers and back again.) Still, there is a certain nostalgia about the last evening. CCK and his fabulous Henchman arranged an awards ceremony for us after dinner and were in the process of creating a fire for atmosphere when they were interrupted by a revolt. The picket was led by Gavin, who was in no mood for mincing words. “Dude! Like, none of us WANT a fire ok? We are dehydrated and have heat stroke and feel as if we are already in the pit of hell. Could you maybe rather rig up a water feature?” Our poor Kommandant looked crushed. He loves making fires. Its one of his best things. I tried to negotiate a compromise (just a tiny, cool, fire? Purely for atmosphere, perhaps?). CCK ingeniously came up with the idea of inserting a storm lantern into his artistically arranged kindling. Sorted! Richard of course walked away with all the stirrer/loudmouth and similar awards. Tony was Mr Congeniality. Pierre was commended for his glorious tan (vivid shades of white and crimson). Saint Estelle was the desert Mermaid. Our Turkish legends, Bakiya and Balil, took the “vasbyt” awards for perseverance (richly deserved). And of course Gazebo 3 won numerous accolades (we decreed the awards ourselves and they were all of our own invention) for being the only intact gazebo and being generally awesome on every level. The Turks and the unlikely group of desert Rappers (John, Mich and me) then took care of after dinner entertainment before we all settled down in the oven for our last night out.
21km doesn’t usually sound far. Objectively it isn’t far. But OMG it felt like a seriaas challenge when we opened our eyes at first light this morning. Just getting broken feet into torture chambers/running shoes was a test! Also it was already swelteringly hot of course although it was only 6.30. We all ate the last unappealing scraps in our backpacks with extreme distaste or tried to palm them off on each other. (“No, no please you have my deliciously nauseating power bar, its irresistible, really!”) Once again there was a very staggered (good choice of word!) start with batches of survivors shuffling out of the camp 30 minutes apart. I set off with (French) Patrick, Sandra, John and Mich at 9.30. We had agreed that today was all about survival and camaraderie and that we would neither race each other nor leave a comrade behind. It was a good plan and we hobbled off in military formation determined to see it through, though anticipating the slowest half marathon time known to (wo)man. But we got it done, with a lot of help from our friends, the awesome crew. The crew did gently point out that although they hadn’t really noticed up until that very moment (Ja, right!) we were now becoming noticeably smelly. Despite the blinding, windless heat and the endless river beds and the unforgiving rocks right until the very last minute our mini battalion just kept plodding. (I mean really Dallas and Estienne…. show a little compassion? There is a perfectly good road that goes directly to the finish?) We paused on the top of the dramatically majestic Moon Rock to take in a big view of the ancient place we have journeyed through this week, then negotiated our way through the reeds and finally came to the road. And just when we thought that it would really never end things began to look familiar and suddenly it was all over. Just like that. How utterly surreal to hear music, see the finish line, have a can of ice cold liquid pressed into your hand. Be handed appetizing food on a platter and have a sparkling swimming pool at one’s disposal. (It may well have to be drained after incubating our filthy bodies all afternoon.) It was quite overwhelming. There are always tears of relief and happiness and gratitude to all the folk who make this possible and today was certainly no different. I don’t even know where to start, so thank-you’s will follow in tomorrow’s reflective blog.
I said a week ago that I was going to have such an awesome race that Morgan Freeman would have to narrate it. (One should always aim high.) What I meant was that I really hoped to not projectile vomit, to be alive at the end and to meet cool people. And I didn’t vomit, and I did survive, and I met the best people. And we really are all more astonishingly alive than usual because that’s exactly what KAEM does for you. It reminded me of Dawna Markova’s beautiful poem:
“I will not die an unlived life
I will not live in fear of falling or catching fire (although there were moments on this race where I feared both!)
I choose to inhabit my days,
To allow my living to open me
to make me less afraid, more accessible,
to loosen my heart until it becomes a wing, a torch a promise.
I choose to risk my significance
to live so that which came to me as a seed
goes to the next as a blossom
and that which came to me a blossom
Goes on as a fruit.”
(Now please do not go and ruin this beautiful image by recalling CCK’s many unfortunate references to desert flowers ie. carelessly discarded bits of loo paper.)
It is finished. I am off for an industrial clean and a sleep in a real bed. Reflection and thanks to follow tomorrow J
The Day After – Reflections
‘I don’t push it and I don’t hang about. If I just keep putting one foot in front of the other, it stands to reason that I’m going to get there. I’ve begun to think that we sit much more than we’re supposed to.” He smiled. “Why else would we have feet?”
The young man licked his lips as if he was savouring the taste of something that was not yet in his mouth. “What you are doing is a pilgrimage for the 21st century. It’s awesome. Yours is the kind of story people want to hear.’
An extract from “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” by Rachel Joyce (which I happen to be reading at the moment, on loan from my running mate Sally).
There is so much to process and so much debriefing that needs to happen and so many nuggets filed away in my memory. I look forward to taking them out to turn over and over in my mind like a smooth stone. A kaleidoscope of images and snippets of conversation and the memories of very particular emotions have been making me completely unable to sleep. It’s exactly like watching a movie in 3D all night in my head. So what follows are some random and disjointed thoughts:
When I got out of bed this morning I was struck by how much I had appreciated (without realizing it) the complete absence of choice available to me in the last week. I certainly don’t always want to live that way, but there is a glorious simplicity in having to put absolutely no thought into what you plan to wear, what you plan to eat or what you intend doing with your time. It frees your headspace up more than what you would imagine…I miss that.
I am so grateful for the health and strength of my body. I realised for the millionth time that it is a machine rather than an ornament. I mean Gazebo 3 firmly believe that even our hair growth (legs and pits) conspired to help us by slowing down so as to contribute some power saving to the overall additional effort required by the difficulty of getting through every day. (This is based very much on theoretical rather than empirical evidence). I felt particularly grateful this week for the reassuring consistency of my amazing appetite. I am astounded by it robustness. The heat and exhaustion sometimes made the rest of my very glamorous gazebo look a little wan and disinclined to have their dinner. They became (increasingly) lithe and whippet like as a result. But not me, no way! My desire to eat even ramped up a notch or two and I would manage to snack all day, consume my main meal at supper, and then routinely wake up for surreptitious midnight feasts of salami sticks, almonds and Jungle bars, trying not to make disturbing feeding noises that may rouse my neighbours. I have put it out there before that my very earliest pre-school report states that “Kim is somewhat over-confident” and then a little later it adds: “and she is also a very efficient eater.” (A little direct if you ask me) Both attributes have to some extent remained constants in my life, sometimes a blessing and sometimes less so. This week the efficient eating part was a blessing of note. I did the jeans test this morning and I have not even lost 1 gram! And that’s more than ok with me because if there’s an apocalypse I am going to rock it! (Ok I think that may be the over-confidence side kicking in now…) And I would so choose Camo Camp Kommandant and friends to be part of my post apocalyptic community. They have skills! Just saying.
Something extraordinary occurs when a group of people are thrown together so out of their comfort zones and then pushed to the very edges of their previously perceived ability to endure exhaustion and agony. Its much like going to war together or surviving a disaster. Everything is stripped away and we become more exposed to ourselves and to each other in a matter of days than we may in an entire lifetime of ordinary days and ordinary meetings. Hermien is sometimes able to capture that essence that is left after the stripping away. And that is why some of her images can move me to instant tears. We have seen the best of each other and witnessed the strength and the beauty at the core of our brothers in arms (even if only very fleetingly in certain cases 😉 and that is why friendships were forged this week that may last a lifetime.
And I could go on and on and become deeply profound but I won’t so back to the practical things:
Things I would do exactly the same:
- Pack fabulous packets of mini ginger nuts!
- Pack 10 pairs of socks and change them at every opportunity during the day
- Pack a large zip lock full of foot powder and leave a magical trail of powder puffs across the Kalahari
- Run my own journey without thinking about trying to race anyone (go figure…my closest rival ran Comrades in less than 8.15!!)
- PLAY at every opportunity
- Pack way more savory food than sweet
- Salami sticks!
- Create and inhabit a fantasy world
- Form a first impression and then take delight in proving myself totally wrong
- Try to innovate in 1 area every day
- Use salt and dried chilies as currency for other necessities
- Be in Gazebo 3
- Leave my watch at home so as to avoid checkpoint yearnings
Things I would change:
Choose different shoes. I would have been 100% more comfortable if I had put more thought into the harshness of the terrain and chosen a shoe with a more robust sole.
- Pack a mini spritzer/spray bottle
- Pack a very thin sarong to use as a sheet/skirt/changing room/shroud/girder of loins
- Pack hand sanitizer (it feels like a waste of water to wash your hands so things get a bit manky)
- Pack even more electrolytes than what I did. I used Drip Drop which totally worked for me but I could have done with 3 times more than I had.
- Pack sardines!
- Richard’s shorts
- Richard J
Delightful nuggets that made me laugh out loud:
- The multifaceted genius of Tony proclaiming Steve Shipside to be “Tugboat” to Dave (the Fathership?). So many layers of hilarity and cleverness in there. Really, it’s just too much!
- Being told by CCK: “Jy’s ‘n rowwemeisie! Jydrajouskoene van die binnekantafdeur!” (Loosely translated: You are a such a rough/hardcore chick that you wear your shoes out from the inside!) Oh my complete nerves! It’s just the best! Almost as good as being called a “Ramkat”!
- Telling Jane I would go to war with her at the end of day 6 and having her respond, in a tearful squeak: “But I don’t think I even want to go to war!”
Where does one even start? I mean really?
- Nadia and Estienne, words fail me. Thank you for dreaming KAEM into reality. You have created a beautiful legacy.
- Dallas…you are enough of a legend for me to forgive you the river-beds. Thanks for all the hours of missioning that made this happen. I suppose we will have to give Jane back to you now, but thanks for the loan.
- Thanks Gen, (the apparent calm at the centre of the storm) Simon (I want to be your groupie!) Hermien (an absolute force of nature – maybe a Kalahari thunderstorm?) Simone’ (the pocket sized dynamo), Dangerous Dave (exactly like the big bad wolf in my childhood Red Riding Hood). You are all astounding and somehow create a magic alchemy despite being polar opposites.
- Doc Grant and all the medics from Namaqua Paramedic Services. Yho! I have a story about each of you but suffice it to say that you made us (and our blisters) all feel like the epicenter of your universe every time we saw you. How? How?
- Fiona, Chris (my special super man!) and Jess. My legs feel better than they did before the race started. You are the best! (I mean second best, after Gazebo 3 of course).
- The entire crew. You all stand out and you are all astonishingly kind. We come back because of you. Thank you.
- The main manne in the Camp, TannieBrendes, Louis and Clinton. Words fail me. How am I supposed to live without you? And those camo hot pants on day 4. OMG!
- Aquelle and Namaqua: The water and the wine. Thank you so much.
- SAAB GrintekDefence Partners, the guys who kept it all together from a coms, visibility and tracking point of view. We are awed by you.
- Plato Lodge, Daberas Adventures and the landowners, thank you, there is no race without you.
- Augrabies Falls National Park, thanks for keeping us in such style before and after it all.
- Augrabies Falls Lodge and Camp, thanks for being the crew headquarters and feeding us like kings. I have stretch marks because of you. Just saying.
- Airlink, thanks for saving some of us a really long drive.
I will be back. (in the obligatory Arnold Schwarzenegger accent).