Globetrotting FrontRunner

Had you asked a younger Wandisile Nongodlwana if he could see himself someday travelling the world for work and running, while inspiring people to follow a healthy lifestyle and develop the self-belief to get out and go for a run, he would probably have stared at you blankly. Yet in spite of his incredibly humble background, this inspirational athlete is the reason many people have started running. This is the story of his journey from the rural areas of the Eastern Cape to the farthest corners of the globe.

By Manfred Seidler

If you are an ardent follower of running on social media, you may have seen Wandisile Nongodlwana’s trademark jump as he crosses the finish line of his latest event or adventure. You may also have seen recently that the 43-year-old Wandi, as he is known to many, was part of an international team of runners that took on the London to Paris Challenge organised by Asics in April this year. 10 runners from all over the world, all part of the global Asics FrontRunners programme, were selected to run from London to Paris and then finish the journey with the Paris Marathon. “We had to send a motivational letter to Asics on why we should be doing this, and I got in. The goal was to test various shoes for Asics. We ran in their new Metaride and had to give feedback, and it was quite an experience,” says Wandi.

While the challenge was supposed to be a marathon distance every day for 10 days, including the Paris Marathon, it turned out differently, with one day even being 75km long. “We had to deal with blisters, and people had shin splints. We had to carry our food with us during the day, as only breakfast and dinner was catered for. So the first day was a marathon, day two was over 50km, and day three became 75km. We were not all at the same fitness level, and ran at different speeds, so that did cause some friction, which was made even more difficult by the language barriers. We had a massive blow out in the group on day three, but that seemed to be needed, as from then on there seemed to be a better understanding and tolerance level. It was very interesting to see how people reacted to different stress levels and situations.”

Unsurprisingly, the trip left Wandi with many memories and indelible impressions. Perhaps the most profound came on the morning of day four, as the group ran along the famous white cliffs of Dover in the UK, before departing Newhaven on the ferry to cross the English Channel to France. “That was really special. And high!” he exclaims. “I lay down on my tummy, crawled to the edge and looked down. I was literally looking down on the seagulls flying around the cliffs. But lying there was also a spiritual experience for me. It was so peaceful. I lay there looking down for about five minutes. Initially the adrenaline was pumping, but then I calmed down and felt this amazing sense of peace and awe. It seemed that all the troubles in the world had become insignificant. I was that much at peace.”

Humble Origins

This jet-setting life as an international runner and brand ambassador is a far cry from Wandisile’s humble start to life. He was born on 24 December 1975, in the remote village of Soto Location in Mooiplaas, some 40km outside of East London, the eldest of five siblings. Life was challenging for Wandi and his family: Water had to be fetched from the river in buckets, there was no electricity, the family slept in one hut, and afternoons and weekends were spent herding the cows and goats. His mother had no education, and his father had left school in Standard 2. Life was a battle… so for Wandi, the escape was education. He learnt from a very early age that he needed to excel at school if he wanted to leave the rural and humble surroundings he was growing up in.

Wandi is a talented runner, but not in the realms of those select few who could earn a living from it – only a tiny number of South Africans fall into this category – and his running started much later in life, anyway. At school his first love was soccer. “I was a number nine, a striker,” says Wandi with that infectious laugh of his. When asked who his idol and inspiration was amongst the world’s top players, he replies that he didn’t have any specific heroes that he followed. “We did not have TV when we grew up. It just happened that way.”

Once Wandi hit Standard 8, he moved in with his uncle in Duncan Village, a township in East London. As with primary school and his junior high school years, Wandi threw himself into his studies in East London, and when he matriculated, he was awarded a full bursary from Liberty Life to go study Computer Science and Applied Mathematics at Wits in 1994. The hard work was beginning to pay off!

The Big Smoke

That bursary literally changed Wandi’s life, but it was a big move for the 18-year-old. “I literally only had 50 bucks, which my grandmother gave me. I also had the clothes on my back and a tog bag full of other clothing and toiletries. That was it.” As he says that, he holds up a regular sports tog bag to demonstrate how little it actually was. “Fortunately, the bursary covered everything, all my tuition and my accommodation. I went into a fully-catered res, so all meals were catered for. All my books, stationery, everything.”

The bursary also changed the fortunes of Wandi’s family, as it effectively made him the ‘bread-winner’ in the family. The small amount of pocket money he got from the bursary funds was supplemented by tutoring on weekends and in school holidays, and all that money went back home to help the family. After Wandi finished his studies and started to work, the money continued going to the family. “My first job, my first salary cheque went straight to my younger brother, who was in his first year at PE Tech.” That trend continued with his other siblings, too, and he then brought one sibling after another up to Johannesburg, paid for their tuition and also rebuilt the family home in Soto Location. His parents have passed on, so he is now the head of the household.

Today Wandi works for De Beers in IT, as a system manager, a position that sees him travel frequently to places as far-flung as Canada. His travel schedule for work, on top of frequent travels for running, means that he needs to spend as much quality time as he can with his wife and two children. “It isn’t always easy, but I make sure that the time I spend with them is the best time ever.” Wandi is a very private person and keeps his family life away from the exposure of social media, even though he is very active on social media as part of his running. “That is my life and is separate from my running, and the columns I do for Asics as an Asics Front Runner. That will always be sacred to me, and I will not expose them to that side of my life.” 

The Running Bug

Wandi’s introduction to running came some years back when he was part of a business relay event for work. “My leg was 7km long and the guy I handed over to was to run 11km, but at the changeover, he wasn’t there. You know, at these changeovers, there is always a big crowd and the person you hand over to is not always right there, so you sometimes have to look for them. But this guy wasn’t there, so I ran through the changeover point, thinking that maybe he would be further down the road. He wasn’t, so I just ran the next leg. I ran 18km that day, and I was like ‘Hmmmm, I can do this running thing.’ And that is how the running bug bit.”

“I then met a guy in the gym who would get there in the morning for training, but he was already sweating. He told me he was training for Comrades and ran in the mornings before doing his gym. It was quite funny… I knew nothing about having to qualify for Comrades. I knew absolutely nothing about running, I just knew I had to do Comrades.” And with that Wandi began training for and ran his first Comrades in 2008, finishing in 9:55:59. Having now run the race 12 consecutive times, he has posted a best of 6:39:45 in 2018 and has seven silver medals to his credit, including six in the last six years.

These days Wandi races in the veteran category and occasionally finds himself on the podium, which he says has reignited his passion for racing, but adds that his focus has changed from always trying to improve his times and chasing medals and podiums, to rather trying to inspire others to run. “In the past three, maybe four years, my focus has changed. It is now more about inspiring people. I want to show people that you can do well, whatever ‘well’ means to each individual. I won the Golden Gate stage trail race a few years ago with no sponsor. It was literally through dedication and hard work, so that is the message I am now trying to send.”

Becoming a FrontRunner

The biggest impact on his running career has been in the last three years, thanks to his successful application to become an Asics Frontrunner. In 2016 Asics advertised on social media that they were looking for brand ambassadors, or as they call it, FrontRunners, and Wandi’s friend Charmaine Mohokare encouraged him to apply. “She told me I had nothing to lose, so I applied and I became part of the crew in 2017. Through being a FrontRunner, I have had so many opportunities and experiences to run races, so it has been really good for me. But being an Asics FrontRunner does come with responsibilities, and I still want people to just be inspired to be their best. After all, I became a Frontrunner because of trying to motivate people.”

By far the biggest opportunity that has come Wandi’s way through his association with Asics is the London to Paris Run, which he describes as a life changing experience. “I learned so much. We had runners from Russia, Portugal, the UK, Germany, and more, 10 runners from 10 different countries, and of course very few spoke decent English, which made communication very difficult. There were also different cultures, different outlooks on life, which made it a very interesting trip. For starters, not all of us ran at the same level, so we had to figure out how each person would run, and subsequently ended up in broadly two groups. Obviously there were also interpersonal dynamics.”

Having gotten through the longer than expected first few days and overcome the initial problems of communication and approach within the group, the 10 Frontrunners duly made it to Paris and lined up for the marathon, which they all ran and finished together. Wandi says the sense of achievement they felt as a group was immense, of having conquered a huge challenge, but even more gratifying was the newfound friendships, and all that they learnt along the way.

“That journey was one of deep introspection for me. I learnt so much, grew as a person, and discovered things about myself of a deeply personal nature, which show me that your background does not limit you. Work hard, look for opportunities and when these are presented to you, embrace them with open arms,” says Wandi. “I am deeply grateful for the opportunity provided to me by Asics, and I am looking forward to new adventures.”

Kalmer’s Corner — Trials and Tribulations of the T-Shirt

I know Comrades is already long gone, but this month I want to write about something I spotted when I was in Durban to support my Murray & Roberts teammates and the other runners. Two days prior to the Comrades, I did my two-hour long run on the famous beach promenade, and what kept me entertained throughout my run was spotting all the different race T-shirts from races all over the world, and from at least the past three decades. That got me thinking…

By Modern Athlete Brand Ambassador René Kalmer

I know Comrades is already long gone, but this month I want to write about something I spotted when I was in Durban to support my Murray & Roberts teammates and the other runners. Two days prior to the Comrades, I did my two-hour long run on the famous beach promenade, and what kept me entertained throughout my run was spotting all the different race T-shirts from races all over the world, and from at least the past three decades. That got me thinking…

We all have that one friend that is still wearing his Comrades T-shirt from the 90s. It has lost its colour, it’s grey, faded, torn, tired… (Yes, I am talking about the T-shirt, not the friend.) But wearing this shirt makes your friend feel bulletproof. He/she worked so hard to earn that shirt, and still wears it with pride!

What you will never know, though, is whether it was his first Comrades, or perhaps his last Comrades? Did he have a good run on the day, or did he crawl in just before cut-off. The fact of the matter is that however his race went, that shirt has sentimental value to him, and that’s why he is still wearing it.

Getting Shirty

Over the years race shirts have also evolved massively, going from classic, largely white cotton shirts, to featuring brighter colours, catchy slogans, with slim-fit, easy-dry, moisture-wicking materials, etc. Some races even give long sleeve shirts, whilst others have the route profile or distance on them, which you can use to brag a bit afterwards. But what is the etiquette when it comes to wearing race T-shirts? I suppose everyone has their own sentiments regarding this, but let us touch on a few.

  1. For how many years after the race should you be allowed to still wear the T-shirt?

My feeling is that as long as it makes you feel special, you can walk the walk (and talk the talk) wearing it. Sure, some people will ask questions, or look a bit surprised at the date, while your partner might feel that it is more fitting to wear it as a sleeping shirt than at races, but go ahead… You went there and got the T-shirt!

  1. Should you run the race in the race T-shirt?

They say you shouldn’t try anything new on race day, but if the shirt fits, go for it! I have very fond memories of the SPAR Women’s races, where literally thousands of runners rock up in their race shirts to paint the town pink, red or orange, depending on the year’s shirt colour.

  1. What should you do with race T-shirts?

Do you train in them? Do you sleep in them? Do you wear them to your club’s social functions or prize giving? Do you hang them in your bar? Or do you just keep them in the bottom drawer of your cupboard to take a trip down memory lane every now and again? My sister, Christine, surprised me a few years ago with a unique quilt she made me using all my special race T-shirts. (Still not sure how I feel about the fact that she cut up most of my race shirts, but it is a treasured gift…)

  1. Should I wear the shirt if I didn’t start the race?

This is probably one of the most difficult questions to answer. Perhaps you did all the preparation and entered, but due to unforeseen circumstances couldn’t run the race. Do you ‘earn’ the right to wear the shirt only if you actually run the race? I will leave this one open for debate…

  1. Should I wear the shirt if I didn’t finish the race?

It could be that a non-finisher is wearing the shirt to motivate himself in order to finish it next time. Also, keep in mind that wearing the shirt often leads to people asking you how the race went, and needing to tell them that you didn’t finish might just be that extra motivation to push harder next time. And let’s be honest, it’s not as if you stole a medal on the finish line…

  1. Are you allowed to wear someone else’s race shirt?

Again the same question pops up… Do you need to ‘earn’ the right to wear it?

  1. Which T-shirts do you keep, and which ones do you throw out eventually?

Some prefer to only keep the ‘impressive ones,’ like Comrades, Two Oceans, marathons and international races. Others keep the shirts from the first time they ran a distance, such as their first 10km. Over the years I have kept a lot of my race T-shirts, all for different reasons. Although I might not wear them anymore, they all have a special place in my heart. Or my quilt!

René Kalmer is a two-time Olympian, having represented SA in the 1500m at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and in the marathon at the 2012 London Games. She has also won more than 40 SA titles in track, road and cross country at youth, junior and senior level, in distances from 800m to the half marathon.


PJ’s piece — Share Your Truth

Running is easy for PJ Moses, talking not so much. He’s had trouble speaking since he was four years old, and stuttering has been a tough thing for someone like him, who often has a lot to say…

When I was young and I found it difficult to communicate, I would resort to violence, and the harder it became to speak the easier it became to be violent. I wasn’t an angry child, but I was quick to anger. I feared speaking in public because of the ridicule that would always accompany it. The fear, the anger and the frustration all led me down the wrong path to a dark world. My choices were poor, and in the end I found myself part of a world with very little hope of getting out the other side.

But being alive is hope in and of itself, and every day that I was still around meant that I had the opportunity to try and change the course my ship was heading on. I wrote because I loved it, and I ran because it kept me sane. This combination gave me the power to break free of my past and fight, in the right way, for a better future.

Telling My Story

Through writing on social media, I could finally let my ‘voice’ be heard. I chose to become the voice for those who didn’t have one, the voice in the darkness that can help lead someone who needs help and guidance to the light. Soon, people caught wind of my story. They were amazed by the part running played in it, and now they wanted me to tell my story. I was asked to do motivational talks, but my reply was that I couldn’t speak properly, and therefore I couldn’t do it.

It was the fear talking and holding me back, the same fear that made me get lost in the dark all those years ago. It was now back, to trip me up and drag me down to the depths again. I once referred to the frustration of stuttering as a feeling of being stuck in a cave and shouting for help, but the sound just keeps echoing back to you and nobody else can hear it. And this feeling of helpless frustration is what I wanted to avoid at all costs. However, through the belief of my circle of friends, and the desire to share my journey as a motivation for others out there, I decided to give this talking thing a go.

I started with a talk to 10 people, then a larger group followed, and then a video clip followed that. Soon schools started asking me to come and talk to their learners, and even though I still had the fear, I now also had the courage that came with taking on races that nobody who knew the old me would have thought that I could do. Running ultra distances on tar and on the trails, standing on the peaks of the most majestic mountains, and claiming the odd podium place here and there, has made me more courageous. It made me the brave man I always thought I could be.

Live On Air

Then somebody said they wanted me to do a live radio interview. I almost choked on my GU, because the fear was immediately back. How could I do something like that? The people listening would laugh at me and complain to the radio station. I would be a laughing stock. But what if I could inspire just one person? What if sharing my truth helped somebody else to change their narrative? Was it not worth the effort just for that slim chance? Of course it was, and I had come so far that I couldn’t stop now – I had to take the chance, no matter the fear.

The interview was hard. I was sweating like a pig, with a mouth as dry as the Khalahari, but I pushed through, because I focused on just telling my story and sharing my experiences. The host was fantastic and the whole experience was a beautiful one… I felt like Caeser after he crossed the Rubicon! There was no going back now, and every step from here will be a victory. So my message to you is that you should never let fear hold you back. Share your truth, because there is always somebody out there who needs to hear it.

PJ is a former Cape Flats gangster who took up running, and writing about it, when he turned his back on that dangerous lifestyle in order to set a better example for his two sons. Today he is an accomplished runner, from short distances to ultra-marathons, recently began working in running retail, and his exceptional writing talent has opened still more doors in his new life.

Sport Man Says – What’s the Dope?

How often have we said, “Wow, what an unbelievable performance!” after an athlete puts in a jaw-dropping performance? The problem is, can we trust that performance? Unfortunately, history points to the need for healthy scepticism, and it is the role of the media to ask these questions.

In 2009, Usain Bolt streaked away from the opposition in both the 100m and 200m to set world records that look unlikely to be broken in many a year, if one looks at the current crop of sprinters. In the marathon, Eliud Kipchoge has set the bar so high with his win in the Berlin Marathon in 2018, that he is being called a freak of nature. Meanwhile, Paula Radcliffe has owned the women’s world record in the marathon since 2003 – only Mary Keitany and Ruth Chepngetich have even come within two minutes of her time, and only as recently as 2017 and 2019 respectively.

Looking outside of running, Lance Armstrong won seven Tour De France titles on the trot, repeatedly destroying the other riders going up the infamous Alp du Huez climb. Who can forget the day he looked into the eyes of his then biggest rival, Jan Ulrich, and dropped the German as if he was a child just learning to ride a bike. And in swimming, we saw Michael Phelps win 28 gold medals in four Olympic Games, eight of which came in 2008.

Freaks or Cheats?

At the time, all of these feats, and many others, left us awestruck, and many still do… even the tainted results of Lance. They stand out because they are so far ahead of the rest. But it begs the question: Are these athletes just freaks of nature, and should we simply accept that these (and others) are legitimate performances? No, absolutely not, because the media’s responsibility is to ask the hard questions, however unpopular they may be.

Whilst Armstrong was completely dominating the Tour, few questioned his performances. Many thought he had too much to lose by doping, especially considering his foundation, and his credibility surrounding his fight against cancer. Yet, if it wasn’t for the tenacity of journalist David Walsh, Lance may have gotten away with the greatest con in sporting history. David was even ostracised by his fellow journo’s, as they feared that just being associated with him could lead to them being denied access to the greatest cyclist the world had ever seen. But it was David’s bulldogged attitude that saw to the fall of Lance.

My point? Quite simply that every outrageous or far-out performance should be queried. For example, at the moment the 2019 performances of Namibian Helalia Johannes, the 2018 Commonwealth Games marathon champion, are being questioned in many circles. In 2019, at the age of 39, she has unexpectedly improved her marathon PB by nearly four minutes in Japan, set a new half marathon PB in the Two Oceans Half, and recorded three 10km PBs on the way to winning five out of five Spar Women’s Challenge races. This has also seen her set five new Namibian national records, from 10km to the marathon. Some have questioned her performances, and have suffered a barrage of abuse for raising those questions.

It is the very nature of these outlying performances, though, that is raising the questions. And there is a very simple way to answer those questions, whether we are talking about Helalia, Paula, Eluid or any other athlete: Vigorous drug testing, and complete openness about the process. For example, Two Oceans and Comrades champ Gerda Steyn, as well as other athletes, are very open about when the anti-doping officials come knocking on their doors. They take to social media to say something to the effect of, “Wada woke me up at 6am this morning to test me, all in the name of clean sport.” This welcoming of the testers and putting it out there goes a long way to boosting your reputation as an athlete.

Freaks or Cheats?

Usain Bolt’s performances were beyond parallel, and his charisma brought back some much-needed excitement and panache to the sport. However, take a glance at the 10 best athletes behind him in the 100m, who like him have all clocked 9.80 seconds or faster, and you’ll see they have all either tested positive for performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), or at the very least have been associated with PEDs during their careers.

Then there is this comment by former Olympic champion sprinter Carl Lewis: “When people ask me about Bolt, I say he could be the greatest athlete of all time… but for someone to run 10.03 one year and 9.69 the next, if you don’t question that in a sport that has the reputation it has right now, you’re a fool. Period.” Now you can take comments made by Carl Lewis with a pinch of salt, because there is just as much speculation around his own performances that he is probably not the person you would want to quote in this regard, but the point is well made. Bolt did improve from a 10.03 to a 9.69 within a year. That is a monumental leap!

There have been no public links to PEDs with Bolt, but the question has been asked many times: How can someone who is not in any way associated with doping beat every single athlete who has been doping at one time or another, and that by the proverbial country mile? The exact same question was asked of Lance Armstrong many times, given that most of the riders he was consistently beating had been caught for doping at one time or another.

Similarly, there are many who question Eliud’s record, including highly respected sports scientists and sport journalists. He has run 12 marathons, winning 11 of them and setting the World Record in Berlin in 2018, and the only time he was beaten, it took a World Record performance to defeat him. He also came very close to breaking two hours for the marathon distance in 2017, clocking 2:00:25 in the Nike Sub-2 Project, and will be attempting to do so again in October. If Eliud breaks two hours, and I do believe he can, then people will be asking still more questions.

Where There’s Smoke…

Now for a very important disclaimer: I am in no way, shape, fashion or form saying that any of the above-mentioned athletes are guilty of using PEDs. Let’s be very clear about that. They are all innocent until proven guilty! However, the saying that where there is smoke, there is fire, also applies here.

When Lance literally came back from his deathbed to go on to win seven consecutive Tour titles, the world was agog. He raked in sponsorships worth hundreds of millions of Dollars, he was feted all over the world, and became an icon and inspiration to people the world over. And then the bubble burst, primarily due to the tenaciousness of David Walsh. Had the British Journalist not stuck to his guns and faced down lawsuit after lawsuit, the Lance Armstrong myth would have lived on.

More recently, the 2012 London Olympics have been exposed as the dirtiest Games ever, after loudly proclaiming that they were the cleanest. Athens in 2004 had 41 positives, Beijing in 2008 had 86, whereas London returned a total of just nine positives within the first three months after the curtain had come down. However, after retesting of stored samples of athletes who won medals in 2012, that figure has now rocketed to 87 in track and field alone, and a total of 132 throughout the different sporting codes. As a result, the women’s 1500m has been dubbed the dirtiest race in history, as six of the top nine finishers have now been associated with doping, either in that event, or during their careers.

This is why every anomaly or standout performance has to be questioned, because unfortunately, nothing can just be taken at face value anymore. Sadly, that means we are going to have to accept that some athletes we supported, admired, even adored, may someday be exposed as cheats. (The current anti-doping laws allow for samples to be kept in storage up to eight years, and to be repeatedly tested as science evolves. From 2020, this law will be extended to a 10-year period.)

However, we need to be clear about this: Superhuman feats do not automatically equate to cheating and the use of PEDS. There are genuine athletic ‘freaks’ out there, who will continue to leave us awestruck with their performances. Let’s celebrate them, but let’s not be blind to the fact that all is not always as it seems, and thus let’s be sure to ask the right questions.

About the Author

Manfred Seidler is a freelance Olympic sport journalist who has been in the industry since 1994, in both print media and broadcasting, covering four Olympic Games for SAC radio, and producing various athletics shows for the SABC. Follow him on Twitter: @sportmansa; Facebook: Sport Man SA; Instagram: sportman_sa


Dave’s 50 in 50 Dream

For most ultra-runners, tackling the Two Oceans Marathon once a year is more than enough, but this year Dave Chamberlain tackled the ultra route 50 times in 50 days in the build-up to the 2019 race. Here is the story behind this incredible feat.

By PJ Moses

When it comes to long distance running, Dave Chamberlain has done quite some distance on his feet. In years gone by he ran the length of Argentina, then ran across Canada, and followed that up with a run through the Namib Desert. Then in April this year he undertook his most recent running adventure, tackling the Two Oceans Marathon 56km route 50 times in 50 days, including running the race itself as his 50th ‘Voyage,’ to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the race in 2019.

So, the last thing you would expect to hear the man from Pretoria say is, “I don’t actually like running. I think I might even hate it.” Well, he sure has a funny way of showing it, given his various running exploits, but he quickly explains further: “Running is just plain uncomfortable for me, so I have a strong dislike of running just for the sake of running. It makes little sense to me.” However, add a charitable cause to the run, and then whatever the distance, Dave is your man!

For the Penguins

Thus in March he began his 50-day challenge, to raise much-needed awareness and funds for BirdLife SA, with the goal to raise over one hundred thousand rand to help save the African penguin from extinction. His daily run along the race course soon caught the attention of the Cape running community, and the media, and he was given plenty of support, sometimes had running company, and did a number of interviews as well. Naturally, he was asked again and again why he was doing such a seemingly crazy thing, and he gave the same answer each time.

“Over the past seven or eight years, I’ve completed other running projects, but what drew me to this most recent one was the desire to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Two Oceans in a way that had local appeal. Also, I mostly try to run for environmental causes, and so chose penguin conservation due to the position that penguins hold, especially from a tourism perspective and the threat of their extinction. They are even more endangered than rhinos! All those times spent birdwatching with my Dad when I was a kid just made them the obvious choice. Also, I chose to run for BirdLife SA, because they do amazing work, even while being under financial pressure to simply continue being viable,” says Dave.

Calling the campaign 505050 and working in conjunction with BirdLife and Utopia (who did the marketing pro bono), Dave started a crowdfunding campaign and even had a dedicated website where people could follow his journey on a daily basis, through vlogs and updated stats. With the logistics and marketing taken care of, all he needed to do was concentrate on the running, but a lot more went into the challenge than just doing 50 kays a day!

Preparing to Run

Initially, all planning for the event went along the lines of ‘that seems doable,’ says Dave, and he made sure not to let himself think too much about the distance, or else it may have become a major stumbling block to his success. “I’m actually the laziest person I know – sometimes even too lazy to order Uber Eats. In that case, I’ll usually just drink two litres of milk for lunch. So if I did any deeper research, then it might have scared me off from the idea entirely. Instead, I spent three months leading up to the start of it, travelling around SA and Lesotho, looking for hills to run up and scenery to photograph.”

He used the Sport Science Lab at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria for his base during his training, and focused especially on strengthening his core during this conditioning phase. He also had to work on his mental preparation for what lay ahead. “I seem to always learn – or perhaps re-learn is more accurate – that I’m an idiot. Mostly in a charming, naïve way, thankfully, but still. The repetitive nature of running the same route for 50 days, through a city, was interesting from a psychological perspective. It’s certainly opened my eyes to looking at different ways to approaching future projects.”

He says that he is lucky to count on a supportive family to back him up during his running adventures, although he says that it is a challenge trying to live up to his two sisters. Both are accomplished ultra-distance athletes themselves, having completed iconic races such as Comrades, Maraton Des Sables and IronMan, and Dave says they are a tough crowd to impress. “I am sure they were impressed at the beginning of my running exploits, but I think they have become used to it now.”

Looking Within

Given his apparent dislike of running, it comes as no real surprise that Dave did not really enjoy running when he was younger, either. “I was at an all-boys school and sport was always a part of the culture at the school. It was used as a tool to promote participation and a chance to try out different codes, but for me it was just a way to pass the time and nothing really stuck. I never developed a passion for any one particular sporting code.”

He may not have found a passion for running back then, but somehow it found him again some years after school. “My first running project was motivated by the need to catch a boat at the southern tip of Argentina, before it sailed, but since then these challenges have morphed into finding a way to travel cheaply, while supporting conservation, and also while fulfilling a desire to understand human psychology. Finding someone to be my ‘crash-test dummy’ seemed like a tricky undertaking, so I decided to ‘experiment’ on myself.”

Doing such long distances by oneself can appear to be a lonely experience, but Dave enjoys the time spent in his own mind. “I never get lonely on my runs. There is so much happening, whether in the world that I am running through, or inside my head. It is very exciting to see what is around the next corner. Also, when I run, I don’t listen to music, because it serves as a distraction. My big motivation for running is travelling, and I want to be present in the environment that I am passing through, so I don’t want to intrude on that experience with music. Also, from a safety perspective, I want to be able to hear approaching cars and bicycles.”

Challenging Undertaking

Even though this was not his first running project, Dave says it was by far one of the toughest. “The lowest point of the project came on days 19 and 23. “I am not a big fan of cities, but ironically I went through a dark space because I could not participate in and enjoy the city life that I saw everybody else immersed in. Being in Cape Town and not being able to go to a Kirstenbosch concert, for example.”

One of the other challenges he faced was getting himself out of bed in the mornings. “Once I was at the start in Newlands and began running, I was fine. I think that it helped to not have a reason not to do it. In much the same way that many people don’t have a reason not to go to work, in spite of the rush-hour traffic that they know awaits them.” And when running became hard and the pain and discomfort felt like it may overwhelm him, Dave would remind himself that “This too shall pass.” He uses this phrase as his “reminder to endure the bad times, enjoy the good times and to embrace life, because they are all just transitory.”

But no man is an island, and even though he was the one running solo most days, the support of others helped to carry him through. “You can’t do these big runs without some much-needed support from others, and I was lucky to have some very good friends who live on Constantia Nek, so I could get sandwiches to nibble on and jump into the pool to refresh. I was also ‘adopted’ by Harfield Harriers as an honorary club member, and their support meant the world to me. All the help just meant that I only had to focus on doing the actual running and not much else.”

With a Little Help from Friends

The project was initially a self-funded and self-supported effort, but Pick n Pay stepped up and joined Dave in making it a success. “Being self-supported, I was looking for three watering holes along the route where I could maybe buy a snack and drink. I approached Pick n Pay with a request for a couple of drinks and an energy bar discount, per day, but they came back and sponsored my entire nutritional needs for the project. For that I owe them a very big thank you.”

“Also, the people I encountered on the route each day were fantastic. It meant a lot to me, even if it was just a hoot or a wave as I ran by them. It was interesting seeing how the various suburbs along the route responded to my repeated presence, but if I am to give out medals for support then it would have to go to the folks of Muizenberg, Noordhoek and Hout Bay.”

Ironically, his biggest obstacle came during the actual race, at kilometre 17, when the crowd of runners around him felt like it was suffocating him. “I’d run the course for 49 days, with all the space in the world, and found the crowds on race day claustrophobic. Luckily, I was able to start running along the pavement, and escape the crush. And after that, with the gradient starting to kick up to the base of Ou Kaapse Weg, the road opened up nicely. So, I stopped being grumpy.”

Next Challenge, Please

This former scuba diving instructor is a man trying to keep busy, and when he is not working in the family business, Dave is usually looking for his next running adventure. “The moment that I finish, I’m already thinking of the next possibility. I think that it comes down to the fact that I don’t do these projects for running reasons, so the physical completion of the project is merely part of the cycle towards the next chance to travel, or to explore my psychological state.”

He is not a bucket list type of guy, but he has a few ideas for interesting adventures that may be worth a go. “I already have my eye on something for January. Without running projects, I would quickly turn into a blimp. I am keen to find out how many marathons I can do in a row, other than that I would love to run the original routes of the Tour De France, Giro Da Italia or the Vuelta Espana, just to annoy the cyclists.”

He is even considering a run across Japan or Nepal, but that would depend on how much cash he can save between projects. Other than running vast distances, Dave is also a keen photographer… or at least, he tries to be. “I sometimes try to take photographs, but then I’m struck with the dreaded thought of having to hop in a car, and drive five kilometres to my sister’s house, to go develop them in my darkroom, so I have a lot of undeveloped film in my camera bag.”

Dave the Dreamer

Dave is a big believer in chasing dreams, and doing the things that bring joy to your life. “We have no control over the past, nor the future. And, we only have marginal control over the present. When presented with these brief moments, take control, no matter how silly they may seem. Kids live in their own realities, and I challenge you to find a happier sound than a bunch of little hooligans running around living their best lives. Taking control of the present is the best way that I know to add value and direction to my life, and a sense of peace,” he says.

“How you choose to manifest that control is up to you. If you like stamp-collecting, dedicate an hour a week to completely immersing yourself in stamp-collecting. If you love to bake, but don’t know how to give back to society, go to a nearby orphanage, get a list of birthdays, and bake each child a cupcake for their birthday. The sense of recognition that that child will receive is far greater than anything that I can achieve through running, and it takes so little of one’s time. Change is possible, and opportunities are all around us. You don’t need to save the world. Bringing a smile to a strangers face is all that is required.”

The challenge he sets for all of us is a simple one, but one that many people struggle to fulfil in their own lives. “Never let anyone destroy your dreams, and never destroy anyone else’s.” Dave is doing his best to live true to those words, and so should we.

Walk This Way — Frequent Flyer

Of all the books in the world, the best stories are held in the pages of a passport. Having visited 17 countries so far in her race walking career, race walker Anel Oosthuizen has been blessed to see and experience quite a few of the amazing sites and cultures of our world.

Travelling is one of my favourite things to do, and although I prefer doing it by going on holiday with the people in my life that I love, all of my overseas travelling was thanks to sport. Every single one of those 17 countries I visited was because of race walking, so I think you will understand why I speak about my gratitude for my walking talent, because it has taken me all over the world to experience things that I would probably never have experienced otherwise.

Preferred Destinations

Now we all know that sitting on a plane for 18 hours is by no means all glitz and glamour, and recovering from (or worse, training with) jetlag even less so, but I have made so many incredible memories on my travels that will stay with me for my lifetime! I’d like to share a few of my favourites destinations with you, because each one of these places has special memories for me, and has been part of making me the athlete I am today.

Eugene, Oregon, USA: My first Junior World Champs and the first country visited outside of Africa. I was really young and inexperienced, and I still remember how nervous I was when we got there… and jetlagged! Seeing so many elite athletes on a world class track blew my mind completely, and it was then that I realised that hard work can really get you places. That was also when I decided to fully commit to qualifying for the Rio 2016 Olympics.

Rome, Italy: It was the last race I competed in before the 2016 Olympics in Rio, probably the most jet-lagged I have ever been, but the best experience of a new country, as I had family members flying over from London to come and support me. Having that kind of support at a race is unforgettable, especially when you are in an environment that you don’t know.

Taipei, Taiwan: I went there, with one of my best friends, to compete at my first World Student Games. It was such a different experience to what I am used to, as I got some time to actually explore the city and use their public transport, etc. I also had probably one of my hottest races ever, with the temperature clocking in at a boiling 41 degrees Celsius at around 8 o’clock in the morning! (In Rio it reached 44 degrees.) That is when you come back to your own country and really appreciate our more bearable, ‘cooler’ summers!

Banska Bystrica, Slovakia: This country feels like a second home to me now, as it has been my base for preparation in the European season for the last two years. Both times I made it my home for a month at a time, and learnt so much about their food and culture. It has also been the place where I have gotten mentally stronger, thanks to training with 50km World Champ and Olympic Champion Matej Toth and his training group. Having them as a support group after travelling there alone has been one of the things I have appreciated most while training there.

Lugano, Switzerland: This is the most beautiful race I have ever done. The 2km loop for the 20km is located on the banks of Lake Lugano, which is absolutely breathtaking, and the city is like something I have only seen in movies. Being a more expensive country to visit, I enjoyed seeing the difference and contrast between the places I have been to.

Podebrady, Czech Republic: My favourite memory of a race thus far, twice taking part in the European Championships 20km. This is where I set my SA Record, and then broke it again by a millisecond, and this was also where I walked my Olympic qualifier for Rio 2016.

Life Lessons

In visiting these countries, I’ve learnt a few things that have been useful throughout my travels and walking career.

  • You cannot always control your race circumstances, so learn to adapt to local conditions.
  • Jet lag is often unavoidable when you’re travelling long distances, so plan for it, and rest, rest, rest!
  • Different countries, different foods, different eating habits – try and stick to your usual diet as far as possible, especially before your race, and preferably keep the tasting and experimenting for later!
  • Lastly, and most importantly, seize the moment and enjoy your experience. You may only get to visit that place once in your lifetime, so try to take in as much as you can!

About the Author: Race Walker Anel Oosthuizen is a multiple SA Champion and Record Holder, and represented SA in the women’s 20km at the 2016 Rio Olympics.


13 Peaks to Solve a Quarter-life Crisis

The 13 Peaks Challenge was conceived by Ryan Sandes and after he had run the roughly 115km route, he invited all trail runners to give it a go, with the aim to summit the 13 peaks of the Table Mountain Range on the Cape Peninsula. One of the most recent to finish the challenge was Leigh De Necker, and this is her story of an epic two days of summiting.

A quarter-life crisis is an odd thing. Mine started about a year ago, and included one (and a half) unsuccessful romantic relationships and their respective break-ups, family dramas, moving house, financial struggles and career uncertainties. So, stuff we all have to go through… In order to deal with this, I run. I converted all my frustration into the energy that got me running faster and stronger than ever. I was fired up and ready to take on my second ultra-marathon. But, two days before the Two Oceans 56km, I got chicken pox. A vaccinated, 28-year-old, on Easter weekend, with chicken pox!

I was forced to miss the race and was quarantined. I screamed, cried, swore, threw tantrums threw things, scratched a little, ate a lot. I was incredibly unpleasant to be around, and to look at. Turns out, viruses and anti-virals really mess with your heart, physically, and rob you of all your fitness (and happiness). Okay that is dramatic, but stubborn as I am, I decided to train anyway, and as my luck would have it, I got injured. By that stage, I was sitting with about 23.1% sanity remaining.

So before I went around kicking children, I decided to allow myself time to recover and I entered a consolation race, the Knysna Marathon. Fast forward to training for said marathon, running it, and doing pretty well, considering my misfortunes, I fell in love with trail running all over again in the process. Things were looking up! But, then I lost my little dog, Gigi, in a tragic accident, and with that experience, I lost my last little bit of sanity. So, before sanity would return (or in order to regain it), I decided to take on the 13 Peaks Challenge. I’m not sure if I was literally trying to run away from all my problems, or if I was really just in search of some kind of perspective. Hope?

Up for the Challenge

So yes, this was a fantastic idea, considering I had never run more than 56km on the road and only 25km on trail. A two-day, 115km, 6585m elevated mission up 13 of Cape Town’s most iconic mountains definitely seemed realistic… especially since I have zero sense of direction. So bad, in fact, that I still get lost looking for peanut butter in the supermarket I visit weekly. So, if I were to do this, without accidentally navigating my way off Chapman’s Peak, it would have to be with a little (or lot) of help.

Luckily, it didn’t take much to convince my friend Sean Altern to join me. He is always over-prepared for such things, while I am always underprepared. Sean is patient, I’m not. Sean doesn’t swear, I do. Sean is always calm, I’m not. So Sean basically prepped everything, while I contributed snacks, bad ideas, inappropriate jokes and wet wipes (that nobody ended up using anyway).

Leading up to this, I could not think of anything else but the challenge. I spent a lot of time running (and getting lost) in the mountains to prepare, but I knew it was 90% a mental game! The combination of nerves and excitement was overwhelming, but also a relieving distraction from all the issues causing the above-mentioned quarter-life crisis.

Very Early Start!

Before I knew it, it was 4:30am on 2 August 2019. Breakfast was chicken mayo and vegetables on toast. Since I’d never taken on a challenge of such proportions, I figured I’d eat a bit of everything, and hopefully the body would find something useful. JJ Bell and Sean picked me up and we were on our way to Signal Hill (Peak #1). Alex Topliss met us there for the start, and we took a few photos before setting off at 5:07am. It was dark, but a perfect winter’s morning! As we trotted on and up, reaching the summit of Peak #2 (Lion’s Head), we looked down at our fellow Capetonians also sitting at their peak… peak traffic.

Waves of fog and cloud slowly crept in from the sea and over the city lights as we looped down, but it didn’t take long to start the next climb up Kloof Nek, and we enjoyed a jog along the edge of Table Mountain. We looked back every so often to see the top of Lion’s Head peeking out above the blanket of clouds, which we were now well above. The sound of waterfalls, traffic, hooting owls, hooting cars, rustling leaves and trees is an endemic remix only Cape Town can offer. As the city lights dim and the sun lights up the mountain, a sensory overload of magic is experienced. It was all fun, laughs and inappropriate jokes, Sean listening quietly while Alex and I spoke a bunch of nonsense. Sean must have known what was coming, as it didn’t take long for the infamous Platteklip Gorge to shut Alex and I up. I had never climbed the gorge before, but people always spoke of it being quite nasty. It was.

Upon reaching the top, we started running again. It felt like we were running on the moon, leaping between cratered rocks and dodging puddles. Well, Sean just ran through the water, clearly not too concerned about the dreaded “trench foot,” despite his constant referrals to the condition. We skipped and slipped our way over a few frosted boardwalks to reach a big pile of rocks triangled to form Peak #3, Maclear’s Beacon, the highest point on Table Mountain as well as the Cape Peninsula. The view included beautiful sneak peeks of bits of mountains, city and sea between patchy clouds.

Slip-Sliding Away…

After a few majestic poses on top of the beacon, we said goodbye to Alex and descended the back of the mountain. It was surprising to see so many frosted board walks, and Sean slid right down one into a bush. I had a long, loud laugh, before asking whether he was ok. He was, and our fall scores were officially, Sean 1 – Leigh 0. This side of the mountain was shaded, so it was a little chilly, but the descent allowed us some time to move faster and warm up. This was also the first water refill point. We relied largely on drinking water from the rivers, waterfalls and mountain streams, and nature provided us with ice cold, fresh water for the duration of our adventure.

Another cool thing about this challenge is that the journey between and to the top of each peak is so different, from the vegetation, to the rock formations, to the paths leading to the summits. Grootkop (Peak #4), was no exception. The path (or sometimes lack thereof) was overgrown with dense bushes. In between some rocks we found the occasional Aloe hiding, which was awesome to see. This one was a real Bundu-bash getting to the top, where the clouds did not really allow us too much of a view, but the mission up there with our legs in full 4×4 mode was great fun!

As we bush-whacked back down, creating our own path for most of the way, it was a little cold until we made our way down through the clouds, passed the shadow of the mountains and back into sunlight. There was a fair amount of single track to Judas Peak, #5, and for any trail runner, a stretch of good old single track is pure bliss. Judas Peak was one of the easier climbs for me, but one of the most spectacular views. Hout Bay was clear in sight now and so was our next peak.

Stunning Views

The decent down Judas was incredibly steep, taking us through all kinds of gullies and cracks, but with some really awesome views. The ocean was flat, 50 shades of blue, making it look deceptively tropical. We did experience a small rockfall at one point, which I initially thought was a baboon, bergie or caveman coming after us (your imagination goes a little wild after being in the mountains for six hours). The path eventually spat us out on Suikerbossie Road in Hout Bay and then it was literally straight up Klein Leeukoppie (Peak #6).

We definitely underestimated this one. It is terribly named, because there is nothing “Klein” about it. The path sometimes just ends randomly, forcing some rather intense rock climbing. In a lot of ways, the climbing was actually great – using our arms to pull ourselves up gave the legs moments of relief. Fatigue was definitely being felt, though, but it is so important to stay focussed, as the smallest foot misplacement could result in a nasty fall.

We eventually made it to the top, to yet another breathtaking (literally) view. We decided this was a good time to take a 15-minute break to have something a little more substantial to eat. Up until this point, we had been snacking on biltong and energy bars mostly, so a peanut butter and jam sandwich for me and a bag of Big Corn Bites for Sean (and simply just sitting down), really gave us the boost we needed to proceed.

Spot of Trespassing?

Straight back down and we got in touch with JJ de Villiers from CCP in Hout Bay. Sean and I had a WhatsApp group with JJ, Ray Chaplin and Ryan Sandes to send progress updates and share the adventure, but also for safety reasons. Due to security concerns in the Hout Bay area, JJ had offered to meet us on Sandy Bay beach and watch us go up and down Suther Peak (#7) safely. However, finding JJ and Sandy Beach was a laugh… The map led us to an electric fence and closed gate (which we only later discovered had an intercom for someone to open for us).

Not knowing this at the time, we missioned through woody vegetation to find a way around, but ran straight into another stretch of fence. The top was barbed wire, so the only way through was under. Gentleman Sean bent and lifted the bottom of the fence while I squeezed under. I couldn’t lift it high enough from my side to help him, though, so he lay there wiggling, unable to move past his crotch area. I laughed at him again, but eventually he slipped through. This put us on somebody’s private estate, so the concern of a viscous dog or sniper attack was real! So we ran along the road quite quickly, infused with subtle panic, trying to look as though we belonged there, and eventually we made it out alive. Along the way, we explored a few roads which were interestingly named after either flowers or really old people, before finally making it to JJ.

We had a brief introduction and briefing from JJ and then up Suther Peak we went. I was a little low on water, but was so distracted by how epic this climb was. I do see why it is referred to as “Suffer Peak,” but it’s a beautiful, pleasant kind of suffering, as twisted as that sounds. In between bright green plants were little bright yellow flowers (Sean, the nerd, was dropping scientific names everywhere). There were a few leafless, bare, burned trees, and looking through their frames back down on the ocean, now lit up by the midday sun, was nothing short of spectacular. This was definitely a favourite!

Game Face On!

Back on Sandy Beach, JJ rewarded us each with a strawberry Steri Stumpi, and I sat on the beach chugging from a five-litre bottle of water. Ray was there too, taking photos, laughing, joking – perfect company for a little pit-stop. We refilled on water and refuelled our spirits, then trotted back down the streets named after old people. The next stretch involved a lot of road running, through to the other side of Hout Bay, dodging pedestrians and drivers who should never have been awarded their licences. Meanwhile, Ray leap-frogged us to capture some epic photos. Sean and I walked the ups, but every time we saw Ray and his camera, it was “Game face on, pose, run, look fresh!”

My Garmin’s battery died at the Chappies tollgate, and of course, I had not brought the charger, but Sean’s Fenix was still running, and of course, he had his charger. (Sidenote: I want a Fenix.) A Red Bull before our mission back into the mountains had me fired up to summit Chapman’s Peak (#8) before sunset. Now infused with sugar and caffeine, I think at one point I even suggested the one-day challenge, but there was no comment from realistic Mr Sean. The light was stunning, with sea, sky, mountains, plants all saturated with deep blues, greens, orange and yellows, and we made it just in time to enjoy the sunset at the beacon.

I had set up another WhatsApp group before the challenge for family and friends, where I posted pictures, videos and updates, and where I got the most incredible support and encouraging replies. One of the many things I gained from this experience was a boost in appreciation for all the indescribably awesome people I have in my life, who love me and back me in all my madness! After tagging our eighth peak on the group, I received another unexpected message, from somebody who really, and seemingly carelessly, broke my heart in the past. A message that, a month, maybe even a week earlier, would have really rattled me. I did, admittedly, send a few strong four-lettered words echoing through the mountains, but I quickly settled into feelings of indifference, liberation, healing, forgiveness, contentment and peace.

One More Climb

We spent a while going on in the ‘almost dark’ without our headlamps, just as a safety precaution to not attract too much attention to ourselves in the low light. As we popped over another little hill, we switched our lights on and then it was up and up to our final peak for the day. I really struggled with this climb. It had been a long day on the legs, and I was overwhelmed by the enormity of what we had already done. Every step felt heavy, and the climb felt really long and steep. Now that we were back in the dark, I was also disorientated, which exhausted me further.

When it started to get foggy, I realised we were high up, ascending through a cloud layer again. Sean was constantly encouraging me, which helped too and I could hear my phone buzzing from my support crew. Finally, we hit a steady jeep track, went through a hazy layer and into clear, starry skies at the summit of Noordhoek Peak (#9). “Sean, look how awesome Simon’s Town looks!” I said. “Leigh, that is Hout Bay!” Clearly, I was still disorientated, but on such a high… again, literally!

We took a ‘Blair Witch Project photo’ with our headlamps and then took the opportunity to reflect on the day and say a prayer. We thanked God for newly found perspective, and appreciation for family, friends, nature and the strength we just proved we have in our bodies, hearts, minds and spirits! It was really powerful, and I’m grateful to have shared it with a friend like Sean, and everybody from my support crew, albeit indirectly. I also took the opportunity to honour and pay tribute to my Gigi girl, which was a special moment for me too.

It was auto pilot on the downhill through Silvermine, past the dam, back on the road, out the gate and across the road onto Ou Kaapse Weg. We were pleasantly surprised to hear the legend JJ de Villiers cheering us on for an awesome end to Day one. Ray and JJ Bell were there to meet us with blankets and more Steri Stumpies, and Ray had got me my favourite dinner, a peanut butter bliss smoothie and Prince Wrap from Kauai for the trip home to rest.

Back to the Trails

I did not sleep well. My legs were a little sore, but my biggest ache was the bottom of my feet. I think it was from the sand in my shoes. I was, however, more overwhelmed by the experience, reflecting on it and going through all the messages from family and friends. I slept lightly for about four hours and then got up just before 4am. It was chicken mayo, veggies and chocolate for breakfast, and the running started just before 5am.

Another start in the dark and as we set off, we noticed a set of eyes reflecting the light of our headlamps. It was a little bokkie. This was so cool to see, and on another perfect winter’s morning, we summited Muizenberg Peak (#10) just before 6am, looking down on a lit-up city still fast asleep. This was a nice warm-up peak to get the heart pumping and legs going again, but I was having trouble getting water from my hydration pack, and was concerned that there was an issue with the drinking pipe.

After a crazy amount of fiddling fuelled by frustration, rage and thirst, I finally discovered that by simply twisting the little mouth nozzle to 90-degrees, the free flow of water is unlocked. I have had this pack for months, done countless runs with it, and I only realised this now! I may not have provided too much functional use or benefit to Sean, or myself apparently, but there is no doubt that my moments of being an absolute imbecile provided Netflix-level entertainment. This was followed by a quick toilet stop, which further strengthened our friendship, as Sean graciously passed the ‘white gold’ to me from the neighbouring stall. Then it was a bit of complaining about sore feet, a sand-removing shake of the shoes and back over Ou Kaapse Weg, through the gate, past the dam, this time heading towards Constantiaberg.

Tired Legs, Slow Progress

We found a rather large slug on the path, which we dubbed our mascot and pacesetter, as his pace was representative of the speed at which we were going! I could feel yesterday’s fatigue and was moving very slowly, but moving nonetheless. It was misty as we climbed, but the morning sun shone through, bringing out the saturated colours of our surroundings as we summited Peak 11. I tried to jump onto the beacon for a photo, but my legs were not ready for that kind of commitment and I just ended up kicking Sean instead.

The downhill along a mountain bike track allowed us to pick up some speed again and see from a distance the mountains and surrounds of Hout Bay we had conquered yesterday. Then there was a (relatively) small climb called Vlakkenberg, which I also suggested be renamed to something more appropriate (but inappropriate to repeat here). We came across some trail runners who recognised us from the social media posts Ryan Sandes had been doing, and they gave us a round of applause and encouragement as we passed.

We descended past a pig farm and back onto the road at Constantia Nek, where Ray was waiting with friends Gen and Justin. It was such a nice surprise to see them, and they joined us up to Klassenkop (#12). The company was great and the way up was mainly a steep Jeep track, which made a pleasant change from the millions of rock and stair climbs. As we passed De Villiers Dam on top, the path converted to single track, which then became bushy, then rocky (like the moon again, or what I would imagine a place like Utah to look like), and ultimately involved crossing a gully, via a tree, to get to the beacon (a pile of rocks). This was another of my favourites, being particularly unique, and the laughs with Gen and Justin made it that much more awesome. Gen also fell. I laughed again. Later I fell too, so Karma. And overall fall scores were tied.

Into the Home Stretch

I had done Devilʼs Peak (#13) the week before, so I felt confident about the last stretch, but I had heavily underestimated the mission between Peaks 12 and 13. Day 2 had a lot more distance between peaks than Day 1, and I started to feel a little frustrated, because we would climb up and then go down again, then up, then down. Nursery Ravine was a very steep, technical down, but eventually we entered the forest, so in my head we were almost close to my ‘home turf.’ After more up, down, up, down missions, my feet were starting to burn and for the first time, I was starting to feel a little fed up.

Eventually we came across a landmark I thought I recognised as an area I run through often. White rocks. Well, turns out there are a lot of patches of big white rocks in the forest, and we were in fact 4km further back from where I thought we were. It was, once again, very disorientating, but this time also disheartening. I became frustrated with myself because I already have a complex about how dreadful my navigation is, so this really ticked me off. Sean continued to be encouraging, but I was grumpy and had lost my sense of humour, so I told him to allow me to sulk.

Finally, a waterfall I really did recognise, and Ray standing under it with more Red Bull. My smile was back, because for the first time in the whole challenge, I knew exactly what I was in for. Red Bull chugged, another one in my backpack and up and over Newlandʼs Ravine. Sean was motoring, but I was still going at the pace of the Constantiaberg slug… but I was going. Sean did stop to wee a lot, though, throughout the challenge, which allowed fantastic opportunities for me to snack, often. With the sound of his piddles, coupled with the rustling of my energy bar wrappers (along with my clicking ankles and the bass from my heart beat, compliments of the Red Bull), we created our very own “ode to the peaks” anthem.

Time to Reflect…

Then, Devilʼs Peak was done! In trying to find the appropriate rock to balance my phone on for a self-timer shot, I probably added an extra kilometre to my total distance. Anyway, out onto Tafelberg Road, Ray and Tam were waiting with more Red Bull and an assortment of sugary snacks, and then it was auto pilot to the end. There was no more pain, no more frustration, and I was hardly taking in the views anymore, just the occasional glance up to where we were, and where we needed to be.

Racing to catch the sunset, dodging a string of cars that were trying to do the same, we finished the 13 Peaks loop at Signal Hill at 18:17 on 3 August, having run 37 hours, covering 115.8km and 6585m of elevation! Tam and Ray popped the champagne, and I was climbing the beacon like an ape, and doing handstands all over it. Sean just celebrated calmly like a civilised human being.

At the end of all of this, I found the perspective and hope I was looking for. I learnt a lot from the beautiful heart my Gigi dog had, and increased appreciation and love for the incredible people I have in my life. I found physical, mental, emotional and spiritual strength I did not know I had. It was my so-called quarter-life crisis that led me to this point, so maybe a quarter-life crisis is not such a bad thing after all, but rather a blessing.