Too much of anything is bad but too much running is barely enough.
Often when you do a challenging event you think ‘What am I doing here?’, ‘Never again.’ Or ‘Why am I doing this to myself?’ I don’t know if I’m a sucker for punishment or simply crazy but these thoughts never go through mind. Last weekend at the ADDO, even though I felt as if I was dying seven deaths, I knew exactly what I was doing there, I knew I would do it again and I know exactly why I do this kind of thing to myself. Because it’s awesome!
It’s not often that I get pushed to the brink of complete physical and mental melt down by an event, doubting my abilities or if I will finish. When that happens I would probably do everything to avoid doing that event again but some events just make you fall in love with trail running. The ADDO is this type of event. In 2016 it was one of my big highlights and when I got the opportunity to return in 2017 to have another shot at the 76km, I was beyond excited. The two weeks before the race I was like an excited child not able to sleep, bouncing off the walls with nervous energy. The thing I love most about running, is that just when you think you have it figured out the trail running powers that be put you in your place and you learn exactly how little you actually know.
I’ve always been a massive fan of running in the heat and I was quite excited when I heard very hot weather was predicted for the weekend of the race. I even thought it would give me a bit of an edge as hot weather doesn’t really bother me. Oh how wrong I was…
The weekend started with seeing the brave 100 mile athletes off on the Friday afternoon followed by a game drive where I sat at a watering hole with more than 40 elephants, buffalo, zebra and warthogs doing their thing. That evening I went to bed early blissfully unaware of the harsh lessons I would learn the following day.
With a much bigger field than 2016 the start was buzzing with nervous energy and setting off I realised I would have a very different experience than what I hoped for. A quality field of ladies showed up and jumped out the blocks like a bunch of racing Grey Hounds. I realised if I tried going with I was going to be in trouble so I kept to my planned pace. In 2016 I got lost but still managed 11 hours so being a bit stronger this year I was hoping to get close to 10 hours knowing this would also result in a high placing. The wonderful Kim van Kets was running almost the same pace as me and we joined up after only about 5km. At that point at around 09h00 there was no sign of the hot weather that would cripple us later in the day, and we made our way along the route chatting away.
The flats and downhills were going well but keeping up with Kim on the hills turned out to be a bit of a problem as she transformed into a speed walker every time the gradient went up. Keeping up with her was extremely difficult and it felt as if I had the shortest legs on the planet. I was probably giving around five steps for every one step Kim was taking and I was struggling to hide the fact that I felt like an old car that was sputtering along, it’s engine about to blow out at any second. Just after halfway the work on the hills got to me and I realised if I tried keeping up with ‘Speed walker van Kets’ I would probably hit the wall a lot sooner than planned. I did however hit a literal wall when at around 45km we had to go up a hill that is so steep that if you fall over you will probably roll down the mountain crushing the check point and all the unsuspecting volunteers manning it. I was actually intensely worried that this would really happen, so took a break every now and again trying my best to take in the amazing views.
Getting to the next check point on top of the mountain was a massive relief as some nice running on top of the mountain awaited us. My spirits were however crushed when I realised it was now the heat of the day, temperatures had reached the mid forties and there were absolutely nowhere to hide. I first realised I was in trouble when I started getting a bit of a headache despite the fact that I was consuming in excess of one litre of fluid per hour. I tried not to get too negative and soldiered on but soon the humidity and high temperature was really playing havoc with my body. At this point I was at about 60km and I started feeling nauseous and dizzy. I was massively relieved when at that stage I saw a tree with some shade next to the trail and for the first time in my life I lay down in the middle of nowhere, not bothered at all about losing time or how I might look lying there in a sad little heap. The first thing I thought was ‘I’m just going to close my eyes for a little while’ and this gave me a bit of a fright. I knew falling asleep in that extreme heat in my dehydrated state would be very dangerous so I got back up and carried on up the trail. By this point I had stopped sweating, was burning up and had to really do everything in my power not to throw up. For the first time in my life I was on a trail and I was seriously concerned about collapsing. Looking back I feel like a bit of a sissy pants but I honestly thought I was going to keel over and die.
I got to the 66km check point and sat down almost breaking the poor camping chair. My planned time was out the window and all of a sudden the whole day was just about finishing the race. I was still feeling extremely sick so decided I would sit there until I felt better. After about 15 minutes I started cooling down with the help of the wonderful volunteers and I managed to eat something and drink some Eno’s. I was about to set off when Peter Koedyk rolled into the aid station and I sat right back down. I was so grateful to see somebody I knew that I was willing to wait another twenty minutes just so I would have some company on the last very difficult 11km to the finish.
The two of us set off and the kilometres seemed to go by quickly until we got to around 5km to go. We were going so slow that by this stage, night was falling and the single track became a very surreal experience in the dark. In the dark you can no longer see the spectacular surroundings and I was starting to have a very bad case of personality failure. I was very grateful for not being alone as there was a very big possibility that I would have lost my dehydrated marbles at that point. We inched towards the finish and got a bit of encouragement when the moon came up and turned our surroundings into something magical. We had survived the last climb and saw the lights of the finish in the distance. We made it!
One word stands out when I think back to my 2017 ADDO experience and that is ‘Humbling’. It was one of the most humbling running experiences of my life because yet again I learnt so much!
1. If you think you’re going to die you probably won’t so calm down. Don’t phone your best friend from the top of a mountain and get everybody stressed out! Take a breath and carry on.
2. Nothing beats a well organised race. Peace of mind is very important when you’re convinced you’re going to roll down a mountain into the afterlife. I always knew Sian and his team would be able to handle almost any situation that came their way and my appreciation for this can’t be put into words. Feeling safe is beyond important on a trail.
3. Eno’s really work when you’re feeling nauseous. I always take them when running in the desert and they stopped me from painting the last check point a very unfortunate shade of vomit.
4. RESPECT THE TRAIL! I was definitely over confident and had I respected the weather a bit more I would probably not have been so shocked coming down with heat exhaustion and given my best friend the fright of her life when I phoned her to tell her I’m about to die.
I came back from ADDO having again met a whole bunch of new and incredibly inspiring people and that is what I love most about running. The stories of normal people doing extraordinary things. I will definitely be back in 2018 and think this race should be on every trail runners bucket list!