You begin life on all fours. Crawling. Then walking. Jogging. Running. You do your first 5km time trial, then 10, then half marathon, then full.. somewhere along the line you are inspired and decide to submit an entry to the Two Oceans almost hoping it will get lost so you’ve at least tried. But it doesn’t. Then Comrades. Then Puffer. You get used to people cringing at the thought of what you do for fun, you cant understand it as you believe anyone can actually do it too. Its surely not that weird? It’s all just a perfectly natural progression. And before you know it you’re classified as standing on the lunatic fringe, that proverbial edge of normality, of socially acceptable behavior, staring out over a vast landscape of possibilities, of opportunities, of challenges…
And out there, lying quietly under a rock unturned, was the next step forward. The most perfectly normal event one could think of, running from the Waterfront to Cape Point and back.
It was time to turn that rock over…
Friday morning. August 21st, 8a.m.
Standing in the soft rain, listening to a powerful dedication read out by Paul. Cant believe its here. Cant believe we’re here! 10…9…8… the countdown begins then we’re off. Suddenly, after all those months of anticipation and preparation, I could look down and see feet shuffling south towards Cape Point. The route out is hugely psychological, you know that every single step taken is to be repeated in reverse. We’re down Portswood Rd, through sitting rush-hour traffic (and they call us crazy?!) and onto Signal Hill. Soon the group spreads out, Alan & Paul & Derek drop back a bit, JT strong but then I’m talking to myself. Sure she’ll be alongside again soon.
Onto Signal Hill Rd, Athol drives along with Johnny’s “Scatterlings of Africa”, mind is singing, feet are dancing. Soon we’re past the cable station and going up Platteklip, the quad-killer. Finally up but feeling fantastic, still singing, dancing. Feels good to be on Table Mountain. The soft rain keeping things nice and cool. Maclears Beacon suddenly appears out of the mist. I know that next time I’m here things will be very different.
Downhill now through streams and rivers to Constantia Nek, to be greeted by the welcome sight of Lara with fresh fruit, and re-supplies for the next section to Silvermine dam. Running on my own and feeling wonderful in the peace, the solitude. Blessed to be out in the mountains on such a beautiful day, cool, wet, everything is just perfect!
Onto the Vlakkenberg, no matter when tackled one wonders if the “l” and “a” should not be reversed, or perhaps the “l” left out altogether. Soon crested, thick mist again and a sharp descent to the valley below, onto the switchbacks and Level 5 extension and level 5. My absolute nemesis, flat, and boring, but suddenly I’m in the forest, tall pine trees disappear up into the mist, wonderful running, muddy tracks and splashing in the puddles to remind myself this is fun. Finally onto zig-zags to Elephants eye, and wam. Cramp. Yikes – where did this come from?? 130kms to go, cant be true. Try to ease but first right then left quad so I’m hobbling, limping, then hopping. Drag the useless legs up the path, over fallen trees and wet rocks. Seized quads make an interesting ascent, but soon at the top and crossing the river. Rain in my face, mind starts to wander again while taking in the fynbos, legs have eased up, and I’m at the dam. No seconding team. Figure I’ve beaten her but no problem, I leave a message for her not to panic! Off down the Wagon trail, weather is slowly lifting and I can feel the wind shifting southerly, birds are twittering in amongst the proteas, and the mind is full taking it all in. The experience. The wonder.
I hear traffic, must be Ou Kaapse Weg. Round the last corner of the Wagon Trail and onto the tar. Lara & Lisa appear with supplies, and I’m off. Tar, urgh. Big trucks belch past leaving me spluttering in their fumes. Cars speed past. Yearning for the mountains already. Down Woodcutters grove, through Sun Valley and walk up Glencairn Express. Ryan comes out to joke about then he’s off, and I’m off onto Blackhill trail. Soft, too soft – its like beach sand out there. But everything’s fine, no more cramp. Just singing to myself and feet are dancing again. 50kms and still on my own, starting to get that ‘hunted deer’ feeling. Surely the pack must be on my tail?
Off Blackhill onto Brooklands farm rd, and past the menacing barking dogs. Thankfully its tied up so no land speed records past there today. Through the last field of fynbos. I know what awaits, over 50kms of tar. Onto Redhill – fantastic support, Andrew, Lisa, Andre, and Lara all there. On with road shoes, Andre on his bike, and we start the long haul south. The km’s tick by in gentle conversation. Good to have someone to talk to. Feeling great, weather is still perfect, legs fine. Somewhere inside the hunted deer is quietly starting to wonder about the pack.
Its 4p.m. 67 km’s done and we’re at the gate. Refuel for the reserve, Lisa joins us and we go through. Parks official calls us back – Where’re we going? To Cape Point, running in the race, hello??!. Permit only valid from 5 o’clock? So we must wait here for an hour???? You must be kidding. Okay – here’s our Wildcards. Drivers license or ID?? This is seriously insane. Bureaucratic incompetence at its legendary best. On phone to race organizers, precious time ticking by. Hunted deer can smell the pack getting closer. Eventually we’re allowed through, 13kms to the magic turnaround. Lisa & Andre chatting, I’m just watching tar. Tar. More tar. Waves on our right and mountain on left, we must be close. Round the last corner and we see the parking lot. Run up to the Cape Point sign for a photo shoot, fend off a crazed peanut-starved-baboon intent on stealing my supplies, then we’re off again. The long road north begins…
With Andre at the halfway point.
The last of the sun’s rays filtering through clouds over the Atlantic on our left, False bay getting slowly darker on our right. Tar. More tar, the km’s drift by in conversation, in walk-run sessions. Spirits still high. We see lights coming ahead and know the pack is arriving. JT running strong, talkative as ever. Congrats & well wishes then we’re on our way again, hunted deer north, the pack south. Andre & Lisa chatting, I’m calculating, half an hour from the point equals an hour’s lead. Hunted deer satisfied but still edgy. Night time now but then more lights, Alan, then Beaumont, heading south. Another runner but its Arne, coming to join us, the extra company is superb, I’m starting to weave, light-headed but I know the gate is close now, and more re-supplies. Come through the gate at last, clapping, & support is amazing, cant believe so many people out here! Find Lara & refuel. A hundred metres on I grind to a halt, one mouthful of energy gel about to come back out. Then more and more. Everything I’ve eaten today. Everyone now concerned, 65kms still to go and I’m spilling breakfast lunch & supper all over the road, but I feel instantly better – obviously something had to go. I guess the baboons can have those peanuts now.
On with the plod, the tree-lined road from the gate is long but we talk and plod and talk and shuffle. Ryan joins us, Andre still on bike. Then things start going wrong. I think. Lightheaded. My mind is a balloon, floating, staring vacantly out, tied to my shoulders by a piece of cotton and spinning in the breeze. I’m weaving, not fully there. I’ve heard this is where runners lose it completely but it cant happen to me. Ryan & Andre talk. I shuffle on, mesmerized, hypnotized by my shadow ahead on the road. Its all I look at. Stare at. Focus. On the shadow. Legs ticking over. They’re moving so I must be moving, right? Good, keep shuffling. Focus on the shadows. More vomiting on Redhill and more concern, but I just keep staring at the shadow. Focus on the shadow. Keep shuffling. Keep the shadows of the legs moving. Even if they aren’t yours you can control them? Watch. Try it. The left one moves, now the right one moves. And we go forward. Left. Right. Forward. Shuffle. Focus on the shadows. Eyes drift for a second as car lights pass like a long-exposure photo, the delayed streaks imprinted in my mind. Focus dammit. Angry with myself for that. Don’t look around. Look at the shadows. Left. Right. Forward.
Ryan showing off his miniature headlamp
Somehow it starts feeling easier, mind starts drifting back, there’s sand, branches and bushes scratching us, I hear dogs barking. Dogs barking. We’re at the ‘barking dogs’? I look down. No shadow. Up – headlights. Blinded. A figure walks towards us in the lights asking ‘who are you?’. Police? Roadblock? Here? No, its John, come to find us. Unbelievable. Last year this guy wasn’t interested in running, now he’s here, legend! Last few kms of tar road, focus. Then we stop. I lie down, legs are throbbing from the unforgiving tar. An old school friend, Leigh, appears out of nowhere, legendary leg rubs, backpacks, and we’re off, back on the trail. I look around. Blackhill. Sand. Soft. Running in heaven again. I look up. Stars, no more shadows to focus on. Hunted deer happier to be moving along now, although the pack must be close.
Suddenly we hear cheering , flashing hazard lights, and we’re back grinding down Glencairn express. Off onto the Woodcutters track, where’s the path??? How could we miss it, been here a hundred times. Find it, going up up up, and then down to the Wagon Trail. One last leg rub, backpack on, and we’re off into the Silvermine mountains again.
nap-time on the Wagon Trail
Somewhere around midnight now. Way past my bedtime so a quick nap on the Wagon Trail much to Ryan-the-desert-king’s horror. I see it written on his startled face – no one winning a race should stop to sleep, but 5 minutes and I feel like a new person. Owls scared off the path by our headlights. I hint for another nap a while later but Ryan suggests an espresso gu rather. Nervous but I force it down, works like a bomb! Silvermine Dam, up Elephants Eye and back down to Cramp-corner. Seems like an eternity ago that I was hobbling up here. Level 5, walk run shuffle, and eventually we’re over Vlakkenberg. By now it officially has other names. Lights on the trail up ahead, Chris, John (again – cant believe this guy?!) and down to Constantia Nek. Support fantastic, Lara refuels, we’re off.
On our way up Table Mountain
Table Mountain, the final big hurdle. 19hrs. Half an hour behind what I hoped. But this is my favourite, most beautiful mountain and I’m starting to love being out here again. Chris sets small goals, one at a time, Bailiffs, Nursery, Skeletons, Castle rock, scramble, and we’re at Maclears. Its freezing up there. A quick photo shoot in the biting wind, then hunted deer scuttles off while Chris & John enjoy a well deserved coffee & rusk. Soon we’re together again, rock hopping to Platteklip, and down down down, zig-zagging towards the city lights. On the contour, I look behind and the morning star is shining bright – dawn not far away and I’m smiling. Smiling big. Waterfalls, and rivers, then lower cable station, and more fantastic support. Hunted deer lingers, then sets off. No longer with eyes white in fear of the pack.
if there is one moment in my running life that I will remember forever, this is it. Watching the sunrise from Signal Hill, a few kms from the finish.
I know we’ve got this now, we’re home, and the emotions are starting to well inside. Across Kloof nek, and Signal Hill. Magnificent sunrise on our right, what a privilege, an honour to experience this. When your body feels so drawn and depleted, moments like this make your spirits soar. We’re all awestruck by this moment. The colour of the sky is starting to glow pink, then orange. Camera flashes and trying to take it all in, and then we’re off down past the cannons onto High Level, then Main Road. Jarring descent but it doesn’t matter anymore. Blisters can rub all they like.
On Portswood Rd again, the moment I’ve been dreaming of. Chris & John about to run ahead but I stop them. We all stop. Handshakes and thanks and slaps on the back all round then they go. I’m alone again. Just me, and this last straight road. Emotions finally coming up as I’m choking back tears. Glad no one out for their Saturday morning run came past then. They would’ve thought ‘shame, that guy must be having a really bad run to be crying on Portswood Rd!”
Turn right at the circle, there’s the pedestrian crossing, and all I hear is friends cheering. Goosebumps. Tears. I’m done. In. Finished. Finished finished. I can stop. Handshakes, hugs, more tears. Its over. Its finally over. I can stop. My mind is still running but the legs have stopped, I sit down on the floor and just breathe.
the finish at the V&A. There are no words to describe that moment
realising we’d broken that magical 24hr mark (my watch had stopped sometime in the night on 15:59:59!)
I feel like we’ve had the privilege of taking part in a very special event, of watching both the end of one day and the birth of another from along our beautiful mountains, from the tar drifting silently beneath our feet at Cape Point while the sun dipped into the Atlantic, to the morning star that guided us into daybreak as we came down Table Mountain.
So much has happened, and yet it feels like a complete blur. Like a day has been added to my existence, somehow! Somewhere in-between 11 hours of darkness passed by in the tunneled white beam of our headlamps. Over endless miles of tar. Over rocks. Through rivers. Up mountains. And safely down the other side.
48hours on, the only tell-tale signs of the trip of a lifetime lies in these sore and weary legs that are twitching with the rhythm ingrained in them over those 160kms, a circular motion of a small shuffling stride repeating itself over and over and over.
We certainly are blessed with an amazing arena in which to run. Thank you to all who shared that journey – Lara for her amazing and close support, day and night and day again – tackling this run wouldn’t have been possible without you. My mom & dad & Kit & Judes for the amazing messages of support from far & wide, throughout the night. Lisa & Michelle for keeping Lara company throughout the night, and running in the point, Andre for cycling that long daunting road south & Arne for coming out and joining us in the reserve too. Leigh for the surprise leg rubs! Ryan for bringing the worlds biggest headlamp and lighting the way to Constantia Nek, the Kennedy’s for coming all the way to the reserve, and John & Chris for running over Table Mountain – (what a memorable first outing to Maclears John?!) Tony, Pete, Carol, and Iain for the encouragement along the way, and to all the Harriers who’s messages of support kept coming in on Friday – you’re brilliant! A special note of thanks too to Linda (a.k.a. “Coach”) – your experience, wisdom, & constant encouragement in the months of training was truly invaluable.
Lara, faithful and phenomenal support through the day, night, and into the following morning.
Chris (L) and John K (R) – a big thanks for getting me safely over Table Mountain