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Trailrunner

My first 100 miler

By Extreme stuff16 Comments

The legend of the first marathon runner dying is rooted in ancient Greek history. To announce the victory to the people of Athens, the legend says that Pheidippides, a messenger and soldier, was sent to run from the battlefield at Marathon to Athens, a distance of approximately 42 kilometers. According to the story, Pheidippides ran the entire distance without stopping. Upon reaching Athens, he burst into the assembly and exclaimed, “Νενικήκαμεν!” which means “We have won!” After delivering this message, Pheidippides is said to have collapsed and died from exhaustion.

Now, if you run four marathons in a row over the mountains and survive, they give you a belt buckle and the title of a 100 Miler. But you do feel like dying four times on the way to the finish line. 🙂

It is an absolute miracle and protection from God that I ran 165km over that very technical wet terrain without falling once, like Habakkuk 3:19 – God, the Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on high places.

The route is absolutely stunning, but brutal. It was well marked and well thought through. I love it when you can’t quit a race because it is too remote; if you quit at 130km, it will take you longer to get back than just to finish the damn thing! 🙂

Some tips Get seconds that lie for you and do not give you love. Brett and Neil were excellent in telling me that I was looking good and strong, but I realized they lied when I vomited everything they just fed me at Wilderness. Landie is like a drill sergeant in endurance races, and she will never let me sleep, so when she was not around at Oakhurst, I took a 7-minute nap to try to get the nausea thoughts out of my head. It did not work, and I realized Landie was right. 🙂

Brett, wake me up with a coffee when I snore- it took 7 minutes 🙂

Train less, plan more I didn’t do 160km weeks, but I trained hard, harder than anything in the last five years, I would say, but I lost about two hours due to bad planning, not to fitness. I would say my fitness was spot on, and I think I could have gone out even harder, but with my inexperience in 100 milers, I was rather conservative. My new motto is – Run when you can, because at some point things will go wrong and then you need the time in the bank to fix it.

My monthly running totals looked like this:

  • Dec – 240km (Holiday and wine)
  • Jan – 297km (Lack of motivation and goals)
  • Feb – 255km (Sick)
  • Mar – 401km (Great)
  • Apr – 424km (Better)
  • May – 416km (Including the Miler)

It was not the distance but the combination of workouts I chose that worked well in the end. I chose to self-coach this race, as I had to learn for myself what works and what doesn’t. I apply this methodology to many of my miler athletes, and I have so much still to learn and experience firsthand. No amount of mileage can give you the results you want, but the right combination and a healthy body.

My race I was told that in milers, you spend hours with someone and really build strong camaraderie… Well, not in this miler. I was alone for 25 hours! From the gun, Doug set out at a pace, and I followed by keeping him in sight, but running with respect to the three quality athletes that settled in closely behind me. Brandon, Gabriel and Kennedy. I ran well within my aerobic capacity, climbing at a heart rate of 150bpm with nasal breathing to calm the nerves… I loved every step of the technical start.

Descending from Keerberg was a bit of a scare for me as it is like a sheer cliff with some footholds, but I managed to get down there alive and prayed that everyone else did. Going into Herold, I was told that the gap grew to 8 minutes and was quickly fed two jaffels and sent into the dark rainy night by Landie, my parents, and my two kids. This section was hard and slow as the rain, fog, and trail camber made running impossible. I caught the last glimpse of Doug when he disappeared over the top at Dizzy Heights and was convinced that I would find him later, but I also saw the headlamp behind me, which belonged to Brandon Hulley, another force to reckon with… I loved the descent from the top, through Tierkop, and ran a few 4min30/km into Dikkop. My last smile of the race😄…

Dikkop 66km still feeling strong and 10min ahead of schedule

After Dikkop, we were heading into Groeneweide, the most runnable MTB trails of the race, and there I was walking whenever it looked like a hill. Surprisingly, Brandon’s light did not get closer, and I kept moving. I got nauseous and had stomach issues and was struggling to keep anything down except for some soup and coke at Groeneweide. I knew electrolytes would be the solution, but as I reached for my bag, I could not find them… they were lost at Dikkop; and here I was running 33km without any electrolytes… I had my first sit down at 81km, and this was a bad habit I adapted from here onwards. I somehow managed to keep moving as I was still very close to my goal pace. I lost my humor on the steep climb from Wilderness River back to the 7 Passes Road just to drop us back down again to the river…. I did not read the route properly and arrived in Wilderness nine minutes outside of plan but shattered, vomiting whatever I tried to take in… I managed to keep in some crisps, and my seconds lied to me and said I looked strong and they would see me at Oakhurst.

The trail to Oakhurst was a memorable one; I had never run there before, and I enjoyed the night sounds, called a hadeda, and it answered about five times while I pulled the pontoon across the river. I got really lonely and at one bench sat down to see if any runners were coming from ahead so I could at least chat with someone, but no one came, and I marched forth. I once sat on the trail at the top and fell asleep on my arms and woke up when I fell off – it worked well. Music played a big role in getting me out of this mood, and I played Pianoman while singing along. I moved fairly well into Oakhurst but an hour behind plan. The vibe was so good I wanted to stay and took a nap to wake up with a coffee. The nap was seven minutes long, but I did not get my nausea under control. I managed to eat a jaffel or two and walked the most runnable jeep track of the night. Bergplaas was coming!

Bergplaas is very remote, and I was feeling like a dead man marching in the forest at 4 am. I was hoping to see some life, a bushpig, an owl, or even Doug, but it was quiet, just me, my sick body, and a corrupted mind. I prayed a lot, switched my playlist to gospel, and somehow got through this section to see the most amazing sunrise at Bergplaas aid station. I sat down and realized how far I had come and how far I still had to go. I realized the privilege of being hungry and having food, shoes, although I had some blisters, and supporters who do aid stations.

The rest was tough; I puked more, but realized it does not kill you and does not have to slow you down, so I made peace with that and actually enjoyed this section. The climb into Tierkop was a breeze, and I then saw Landie, who surprisingly showed some empathy and encouraged me to just finish it. It was so good to see a familiar friendly face again!

I took forever through the aid station and down to the dam to start the last ascent of the day, but did I get a scare on this one. When I started the climb, I could see not even 1km behind me were two runners fast approaching! One in white and one in red/orange. My heart sank into my shoes, as I thought this was Gabriel and Brandon working together to dethrone me from 2nd into 4th after 24 hours of racing. I smashed two Biogen gels and gave everything. For 2 kilometers, I raced them without looking back, head down and giving it my all until I heard behind me another familiar voice of Ryan Sandes, who was leading the 40km race! I collapsed into a grateful walk and finished with a smile, but strong, in 2nd place in my first 100 miler.

A 100 miler is a team sport as there is no way I could have done this without the approval and help of my wife (two weeks before her first Comrades), the help of my mother-in-law with the training, babysitters, seconds, bio, my strength coach Ronel at Runstrong, Pilates and breathing, and some track sessions with Ernie’s group, Brandon taking me on the route, Jacques and Zane keeping me interested, Biogen, Buttanut, and Bootlegger fueling me all the way, and Aquabox for pure mountain spring water. But above all, it was not possible to do this without a healthy body and blessings from Above. I did it 4Them!

Everything is in the support an nutrition in a miler

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