It has been almost a month since the 2016 Addo 76 trail run and I have had a lot of time to reflect. I can say that it was by far one of my biggest trail running highlights the past year and I will definitely be back in 2017 for the hundred miler even though my words directly after the race was ‘There is definitely no 100 miler in my near future’. As usual the memories of pain and exhaustion fades too quickly and by breakfast the morning after the race I was already entertaining thoughts of returning for the massive challenge.
I don’t know the ADDO National Park very well as I visited it with my parents about twenty five years ago and I can only remember seeing tortoises and being very bored in the back of our car. I even went so far as to call it the ADDO Tortoise Park to the great amusement of my parents. The landscape has always been breath taking but my memories of the area did not include the abundant animal life that would greet me on my second visit many years later.
The weekend started on an absolute high when we went for a game drive the Thursday afternoon. Being a bit of a sceptic I did not expect to see much game and we even got out (legally) at one of the view points despite the warning sign stating to be watchful of lions. Yeah right. We didn’t see much except for tortoises but the park soon put me in my place when not even three hundred metres from where I was mocking the lion warning, there were three massive lions lying right next to the road. Even though our route would not go through the area of the park where dangerous game roamed, I realised that the race the following day would be seventy six of the most amazing kilometres I have covered in my life.
After the KAEM in 2015 I decided to focus on the ADDO as the terrain suited me and the distance was also something that I felt comfortable with. My preparation was perfect (except for 10 very unfocussed days in Amsterdam) and I was looking forward to the race. On the way to the start we had Rasta Jabulani Dube on the bus with us and much of the way, despite most of the runners still being fast asleep, he sang Shosholosa and some Bob Marley songs getting the spirits up as high as they could be on the way to the start of what would be a very long day.
With my form being very much like Forest Gumps’ box of chocolates I didn’t really know what to expect but a few hundred metres into the race I knew I was going to have a good day. I felt amazing and pushed myself a bit, which actually led to the proverbial end of my race. Even though I have been running for a long time I made one of the most classic beginner mistakes about twelve kilometres into the race when I followed the runner in front of me rather than the route markings. After about two kilometres down a rabbit hole of disappointment, the runner in front of me realised we were on the wrong track and we had to turn around. By the time I got back to the trail I had done four kilometres extra and had dropped from a strong fourth place back down to twelfth. I was so negative I first wanted to scream and throw my race food at somebody followed by a good cry on a rock, but as it was completely my own fault, I managed not to scream or cry and started to try and pull myself back together. I decided sixty kilometres would be extremely far to go if I was going to feel sorry for myself so I quickly calmed down and decided to just run the rest of the race at a reasonable pace and try to enjoy it. Slowly but surely the amazing terrain pulled me back in and before long I was singing Three little birds in a very squeaky and out of breath voice as I was making my way from water point to water point.
At some point during the race I passed Jabulani and with about twenty five kilometres to go I looked over my shoulder and saw him catching up to me. I decided to wait for him in the hope he would sing one of the songs that had been stuck in my head all day long. When he caught me I told him I was so happy to see him and asked him if he would please sing Three Little Birds to which he replied obviously exhausted ‘The song is now only in my heart’. We chatted a bit and carried on at quite a steady pace running along some stunning jeep track when I started humming and it was just wat was needed as Jabulani started singing Three little Birds almost as good as the master himself. Running on top of that mountain in the ADDO National Park with a new friend singing Bob Marley at the top of my lungs was probably one of the coolest running moments of my life.
From there I was on such a runners high that I carried on picking up speed towards the finish even catching up to the fourth girl at the last water point. I ran like somebody very much unlike myself down the last descend but soon paid the price reaching the last bit of single track slowing to a crawl approaching the finish. With probably about three kilometres to go I caught up to one of the back markers of the 44km that was standing in the middle of the trail claiming to have seen a puff adder. I was so tired by this point that even if the very poisonous snake made its appearance from the bushes, latching onto my calf muscle telling me I tasted good, I would have probably just kept going. I had trouble figuring out the poor man standing next to the trails expression as he was either angry that I chased the snake away or stunned that I didn’t see it. I reached the finish after what felt like the longest two kilometres of single track of my life with a brand new set of memories and moments that can only be understood by other ultra-junkies. Yet again trail running provided me with the most extreme feelings going from beyond negative to ecstatically happy singing with a stranger on a mountain back to complete exhaustion in one day.
I spent a bit of time at the finish line watching some of the hundred milers coming in not being able to fathom what they had to be going through, considering how I was feeling after doing only half of their distance. I was especially inspired by Linda Doke that ran an incredible race finishing with severe muscle pains but never giving up and my friend Nic G also completing his first hundred miler before going back to the United States. Thanks to Sheena, Sian, Dallas, Jane and the rest of the team on organising a race that gives you more than just a running experience, I will definitely be back for this race next year and almost want to insist that it should be on any trail runners bucket list.