It was supposed to be easier this year. The experience gained from having pushed those unknown boundaries last year, the ‘been there, done that’ mindset implies you can do it again, but from a week out I knew this was not going to be any easier second time around. The months of training and preparation went well, but come race day there are two things you cannot do. You can’t change the weather. And you can’t outrun a storm.
We set of from Ferryman’s with the wave of a hand and a cheer from the dedicated few who arrived to show their support. A little more than 90 minutes later and I’m on Table Mountain. With a lump in my throat I see our halfway point, over 60kms away. I lower my head in respect for what lies ahead and focus on the rocks underfoot as the descent to Constantia Nek begins. At Vlakkenberg the first sign of the rising temperature appears. Cramp. Both quads, and I’m reduced to limping up here trying to keep both legs straight. The cramps and the subsequent mind games are set to stay with me for most of the race.
More than 40km later and the long road to the reserve gate is steadily broken down and beaten in small run-walk chunks but for the first time that day I glance up and see a small bank of clouds in the western sky. Suddenly the nervous anticipation of the storm becomes real and I’m wondering how fast will it arrive? How fierce will it be? How far will we get before it hits us?
We pass the halfway point and the mild nausea that’s been plaguing my thoughts for the last few hours are finally too much and I am forced stop to rid my system of the day’s food. The quietness of being in the reserve, the feeling of absolute solitude and aloneness, adds to the moment and we all feel our spirits soaring for a few brief moments, but the nausea soon returns and my spirits slump.
The predicted gale force wind is picking up and I brace myself for the onslaught. Running head on into it becomes futile and I slowly tick off the mental landmarks that bring us closer to Redhill. At Elephant’s Eye I desperately try to get a glimpse of Table Mountain up ahead but its dark and covered in billowing cloud. I’m left wondering nervously what on earth are we in for up there?
The gruelling climb from the neck, up into the thick mist and rain, takes its toll and the dizziness returns before hallucinations set in to accompany me all the way to Maclear’s. The descent off Table Mountain, down Platteklip gorge, is a nightmare with the wet rocks. The painful zigzag path never seems to end, but like everything else this run has thrown at us it too is slowly overcome, step by step.
The last few kilometers along Signal hill are run in high spirits, I’m deeply disappointed by having goals for the run evaporate into the clouds, but equally relieved at getting this far and all that matters now is getting to the finish. As we round the last corner just before 10:00 there were friends and cheers, and streamers and tears, and when at last I stopped and collapsed I just smiled because this time, I didn’t have to speak to myself to get up and carry on running.