“Even a bad day on the trails is still a good day”…a favorite saying in trail running circles, but a few times during Ultra-Trail Cape Town I had conversations with myself in which I started questioning it.
When Summit Events announced the inaugural Ultra-Trail Cape Town (UTCT), I was hooked on its concept of a 100km trail run on the rugged single-track hiking trails of South Africa’s most beautiful natural wonder Table Mountain and the surrounding Cape Peninsula including Platteklip Gorge, Karbonkelberg, Llundudno and Hout Bay’s beaches and the Constantia Winelands.
Race day 25 October 2014 was not a quiet one for the weather gods. From the word go at Cape Town High School, runners were faced with an unrelenting South-Easter (a strong, persistent dry south-easterly wind) gusting its lungs out, covering the top mountain trails in misty, blustering conditions.
For many entrants it would be a challenge just to finish the 100 km’s, including 4200 meters ascent (and 4200 meters quad busting descent, seeing that runners finish at the start venue). But Ultra-Trail Cape Town had an extra obstacle, in the form of a 15 hour cut-off time. I thought I’d try to put the 100km’s challenge into perspective by looking at these top runners’ achievements:
1st place at UTCT Eric Ngubane 10 hr 41 min: earlier this year Eric finished the 89 km Comrades Marathon in 6 hr 18 min.
2nd place at UTCT Andrew Hagen 11 hr 45 min: Andrew is only the second person ever to finish the 50 km Three Peaks Challenge, in under 5 hours, back in 2012.
So, here we have two top runners’ finishing times taking up more than two-thirds of the available 15 hours to make cut-off, which illustrates the little time available to the average guy and girl trail runners, to make cut-off!
The result of this tight 15 hour cut-off, is that when you hit a bad patch, you better figure out a way to cope very quickly, as the luxury of sacrificing precious minutes to slow down or sit around is not an option. My bad patches were triggered by not drinking enough during the first three hours of the race, when the low temperatures on top of the mountain sort of switched off my thirst mechanism and forgetting to hydrate became easy.
During a bad patch later in the day, and this time it was a really bad one, I was once again reminded of just how tough a sport ultra trail running is. The slightest positive gradient felt like a hill and the slightest downhill threatened to lock my legs in a painful cramp.
And just when I was convinced that there was no way I would make cut off, I was reminded of another great truth. One that you only experience when you suffer long enough. And that is the amazing resilience of the human spirit and body. When I almost believed that all was lost, I threw caution to the blustering wind and pushed my on-the-verge-of-cramping legs to levels of pain I’ve never endured before. It was then when the most amazing thing happened: my legs kept working and never cramped!
Thank you Ultra-Trail Cape Town for that experience. Yes, even a bad day on the trails is still a good day! Well done to race director Nic Bornman, his team and the volunteers for their professional race organization, route markings and checkpoints at the inaugural Ultra-Trail Cape Town.
I will definitely be back in 2015 to take on this challenge again. Lighter, fitter and stronger.