At the end of November after a very successful Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon I took off to go do the Lesotho Ultra Marathon. My equally crazy running friend Nic Grannum accompanied me on the trip, him with slightly more tired legs than my own having also done the KAEM as well as the Skyrun 100k the weekend before.
To put my Lesotho experience into perspective I think it’s good to reflect on my strengths and weaknesses. Strengths being my strong head (or lack of any sense at all if you want to look at it that way), ability to carry on forever (some people attribute this to stupidity) and then the two best ones being running in heat and through sand. If you see me on a technical trail my biggest weakness will be extremely obvious. I think because I haven’t been running trails for that long and also don’t have access to lots of safe and technical trails in Pretoria there is no other way to describe it other than to say I really suck at running technical stuff.
Considering my lack of technical savvy it’s not difficult to imagine how it went in Lesotho. I don’t think the race was particularly technical and I truly enjoyed the first half of climbing up to over 3000m altitude. The race organiser also added a little twist giving runners the option to opt out of the long distance at the last water stop with 12km to go and do the 38km in stead. This would cut out the last and most horrendous climb of the day where you climb close to 800m in altitude in a very short distance. Everything was going well and I was positive about the race until I had to start going down the mountain which really did not go well. I felt like a baby elephant making my way down the mountain, falling over every second rock, cursing like a sailor. I ended up having three bad falls within about one kilometre. I’m not sure if it was the fact that I was slightly deprived of oxygen, tired or just because I am a baby elephant. After the first fall where I went head over heels grabbing onto a big boulder to stop myself from shooting off the edge of a semi-cliff I stood looking at the view for a while realising I had to have a big talk with myself if I was going to finish the race mentally and physically in one piece. The little talk didn’t help much as not even three hundred meters further down the hill, I fell after stepping on yet another loose rock. I stood looking at the view again also checking if anybody saw my pathetic little tumble before I set off again hoping it was my last fall for the day. I’m not sure what happened exactly but a bit further down I fell again for a third time and fortunately nobody was around because I was so angry with myself I got up and screamed like the Hulk. This made me feel slightly better and I don’t know if it was the oxygen depravation or fatigue but I even had a good laugh. I knew if I got too negative I would never finish the race and after all I was in the middle of the Maluti mountains doing what I love most.
The rest of the race I amused myself with the thought of the ‘How not to Descend’ clip I could make and become famous. The same way you always see ‘How to descend with Super Runner X’ and ‘Downhill secrets of Runner Z’ I could do a ‘How NOT to run down a hill with Altie Clark’. The clip would have tips like:
- If there is a loose rock step on it.
- If you feel like you’re going to fall, fall towards the edge of the cliff for maximum terror effect.
- Imagine yourself being a water buffalo going through the rocks rather than over them. Who wants to be a klipspringer gracefully skipping over the rocks anyway?
- If you have to grab onto a plant to steady yourself preferably grab onto something with thorns or some other kind of sharp thing that will draw blood or make you itch terribly.
- When you fall down (it’s really not a question of if) try to have as many people as possible see you to make sure you’re sufficiently embarrassed.
- If you get to a spot where your fear of heights reduces you to a quivering mess cry, scream and crawl on your stomach just to make sure people understand you’ve got the fear of Hades riding on your shoulder. They will feel sorry for you and tell you ‘you can do it’.
- Always take your space blanket and lots of snacks so that if you fall down one too many times and you feel too sorry for yourself to carry on you can wrap yourself in the blanket and have something to eat while you wait for rescue or inevitable death.
- If you do make it down the hill and manage to get to the finish hide behind a bush out of sight around 400m from the finish line to catch your breath so you can run into the finish rather than cramp out with 50 metres to go looking like the pretender you really are.
Approaching the last water point my companion Roddy that I had been running with since the start was feeling a bit negative wanting to opt out and do the shorter distance. We took a little break eating a few sandwiches and decided that if it took us the rest of the day we would take on the last 12 kilometres. Those last kilometres were some of the hardest yet most beautiful I have ever covered and I will never forget being halfway up the last climb, sitting on a rock and eating chocolate covered Jelly Tots. They made me feel sick but I was looking at the incredible view and realised I would rather sit on a rock in the Maluti mountains feeling nauseous from chocolate covered Jelly Tots, out of breath, with aching legs and feet than anywhere else on the planet.
As a competitive person it was a very humbling experience for me to be so very bad at something. I was shoved out of my comfort zone and had to convince myself constantly to stay positive and remember to appreciate and enjoy the experience. After more than ten hours of a bit of running, a lot of falling and even more laughter and happiness I was not even bothered by my bad position in the field because I loved every single moment even when I felt like a baby elephant.