Ultra Fiord 70 km: Nico’s Race Report

“It was #$%^ed up” was the first words by Riana when she came home. It was around 2 am the morning after she finished second in her age group at the 2018 Ultra Fiord  50 km event. “This is more than just a trail run, its pure survival out there”. We are in Patagonia where the forests are dense, the wind wilder and alpine conditions start at 600 m above sea level.

Patagonia, land of fjords, forests, snow capped mountains and extreme weather.

In her mind she pleaded with me not to do my event two days later, but never voiced it. I went on to do 55 km of the 70 km event and endured extreme physical exhaustion, drugged-like hallucinations of snake-type creatures and lurking Lord of the Ring-type trees and of course extreme cold, lashing wind and blinding snow atop some really hard going mountain passes.

On Chucabuco, the first pass of the 70 km route.

Now, after being home for a couple of weeks, I think the immensity of the race, the welcoming nature of the Chilean people and the enormous task of putting an event like this together is probably sinking in. Although both Riana and I need some time to reflect on Patagonia and Ultra Fiord 2018, I look back at those silver lined mountains, the immense beauty of the thick forests, the continuous slogging through the mud and the eery stillness while enduring the night, with a huge sense of achievement. To be able to be part of a race that captivates the human spirit in its rawest form, is something that is hard to explain. A race that epitomises our very existence on this beautiful planet.

This race is not a trail run, it was never meant to be. Patagonia pleads with you in its forests, on its mountain passes and through its mud that clings to your being. It pleads – “share me”. But that’s hard. Its hard to share the immensity of the place with anyone that’s not been there. Hard to share the wind howling in my ears as the snow drift slams into my face. My wooden hands unsure if they are still grasping my last trekking pole after the first broke some way down – somewhere in the mud. The mud. Hard to share the mud. Sinking in to my waist, wondering if my shoes are still on my feet. What to do if a shoe stays behind?  Mud that filled my shoes, my socks, my existence. Unending, relentless mud.

Figure. Running parts of the forested sections on the 70 km route. Source.

Hard to share the feeling that there is no escape in the race. Once you start, you have to endure to the end. Stay mentally and physically strong. On ascending to El Passo (our highest pass) the wind picked up and with it came the snow. Waves of freezing snow drift that whitened the vertical rock-strewn gully. My headlight pierced the damp dark and I forced my fatigued body up towards the probing, bobbing cocoons of headlights far above. Just get up and get down – up and down – up and down I kept repeating to myself. It was late at night, with a very long way to go still. And on the other side of the mountain pass the snow had turned into ice. My second and last trekking pole snapped and I had to slide much of the way down. Slide walk fall, repeat.

Me descending the first pass on the 70 km route. Source.

At last I reached the snow line and went straight back into the mud. Trees huddled in knee deep mud lined the track. My headlight catches reflections of the route beacons, or is it other runners? Hallucinations set in and I jump when the roots start to move. Sliding from tree to tree without my poles – grasping at branches, at leaves, at anything. How do I share that feeling of being utterly alone, cold and fatigued in some of the remotest parts of the planet. My emotions run wild, I run walk stop sit rest and walk again. Or did I just sleep while sitting? Sharing the moments of this race, the immensity of it all is hard. But needs to be uttered. Patagonia has an inhospitable beauty that needs to be shared.

At last seeing the glowing, floating ball of light on the road. The tent at 55 km. Extreme relief overwhelms me and I know that the only way of sharing this race, the only way of sharing Patagonia is to be grateful for her. Grateful that a place of such beauty and surreal wilderness still exist on our planet. Grateful that I have been able to run, slide and survive Patagonia.

My Love and I in Puerto Natales after our individual races.

Marathon Du Mont-Blanc: DNF and Other Things Unexpected

Sitting on a low step in front of Église Saint-Michel, I had a limited view of more than 2000 pairs of legs and shoes around me. How many thousands of kilometers did these feet cover before they could stand there. How many hours, how many sacrifices had to be made? I thought about my own training log of a few hundred kilometers since January. Would it be enough? Would my hundreds of hill repeats see me through? I was feeling strangely calm. Like more of a spectator than a participant. Not in an arrogant kind of way, but in a fearful way.

Continue reading “Marathon Du Mont-Blanc: DNF and Other Things Unexpected”

Otter African Trail Run: Retto Challlenge 2016 race report.

It has been more than 6 weeks since I completed the Otter African Trail Challenge, but to date I have not been able to get this race report out. Sure this draft has been sitting in my computer for 5 weeks now, but as per usual, I find it incredibly hard to pen down words to aptly describe a life altering experience such as the one that was The Otter. My usual flirtations with the same old three or four adjectives all look shallow and nondescript when I reread this; not at all reflective of what I carried away from this experience. Continue reading “Otter African Trail Run: Retto Challlenge 2016 race report.”

2016 SkyRun 100km race report

Sky run runners

Nico’s big race, the long awaited SkyRun 100km took place this past weekend. The race started in Lady Grey and crossed a section of the South African Witteberg mountain range to finish at the Wartrail Country Club. The SkyRun is considered by many athletes as the toughest trail run in Africa, as it is a self-navigated, self-supported race in a very remote and rugged setting, with roughly 4500m of altitude gain and loss. There are a number of peaks that need to be crossed with mandatory gear, mandatory medical checkups and strict cutoffs times that apply. Total time cutoff is 32 hours, with a 15 hour cutoff  to the 60km mark, the only place where seconds and supporters could meet and assist their runners. Continue reading “2016 SkyRun 100km race report”

Windhoek Light Wild Trail 2016 race report: That time I had to take a nap in a grocery store parking lot.

After running the amazingly fun Avis Xtrail (link) in Windhoek a couple of weeks ago, I decided to enter the Windhoek Light Wild Trail scheduled for Sunday 7 August. My dearest, generous Hubs suggested I take some solo girl time for this trip, while he stayed home with the boys. They are tough like that! (and me a little less so…)

Continue reading “Windhoek Light Wild Trail 2016 race report: That time I had to take a nap in a grocery store parking lot.”

Standard Bank Avis Xtrail 2016: Race Report

Knowing Windhoek in Winter, especially the Avis area in July, we packed exceptionally warm. By warm I mean I packed shoes and jackets for everyone this time, which is an extreme occurrence in this no-shoes-or-jackets family (read ‘boys’). I have raced in Windhoek in winter when temperatures in Avis read minus 4 degrees Celsius. It was bitterly cold, and my poor hubs had to entertain two toddlers for 2 hours on a frostbitten lawn while mama at least got to run up a little bit of body heat.

The second annual Avis Dam Xtrail, organised by OTB Sport, took place in Windhoek on Sunday 10 July. Although I love running early-early in the morning we were grateful for a slow start which allowed us some breakfast and temperatures to warm up to 11 degrees by times of the 8:30 am send-off.

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Starting line-up of the 15 km Avis Xtrail, 2016.

Continue reading “Standard Bank Avis Xtrail 2016: Race Report”

Great Wall Marathon 2016: Race Report

Continued from Prelude in C Major.

I went to bed very early the Friday night before the race, extremely nervous for what lay ahead, calves still aching after our short stint on the Wall the day before. I woke up at 1am (wake-up call wasn’t until 3am), and couldn’t go back to sleep. But the moment I woke up, I knew I would be fine. I was ready. My mind was in a good place, my stress had disappeared and I was looking forward to the experience of a lifetime. My bags were packed, gear sorted out and my hydration pack filled.

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Race ready!

Before breakfast I foam-rolled my calves and my butt (to ensure a firing butt, heaven knows we can’t afford a butt that doesn’t fire). Breakfast was at 4 am and, although I didn’t have an appetite at that time I knew fueling would be key to a possible 6 or 7 hour taxing run in high heat and humidity. I hydrated well the day before and had enough water during the few hours before the race as well. Luckily the coffee in China wasn’t very much to my taste so water it was.

At 5 am we all piled into our respective buses for a 1.5 hr drive to the start of the race. There was a quiet tension in the buss, the atmosphere loaded with adrenaline. I listed to my race day playlist and the familiar songs calmed my nerves.

Once we arrived most of us lined up outside the bathrooms for the last calls of nature. I met the two Running Rhinos from South Africa, Bradley Schroder and Greg Canning, who each ran (and successfully completed) the Great Wall Marathon wearing a 10 kg Rhino suit. Their campaign raises funds and awareness for rhino conservation.

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The Running Rhinos, South African running team. Source.

While shivering in the morning cold (although I knew it wouldn’t last…), the lady next to me in the bathroom line (accidentally) started talking to me in Afrikaans, and great was her surprise when I replied in the same language! Turns out she also hails from neighbouring South Africa and was in China for her very first marathon. We shared a little gossip about how awful we found those plastic bathroom ‘doors’, most probably the breeding ground of all unthinkable kinds and numbers of germs!

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These plastic ‘screen doors’ were found at bathrooms, some butchers and small stores… the source of great terror for a pedantic germophobe like me!

While all athletes were bunching to their various starting areas, we were entertained by a beautifully uniform-clad Chinese orchestra playing lively tunes, including Jingle Bells (?), much to everyone’s delight and entertainment (during the run some villagers also cheered us along with what I suspected was their only English: Happy New Year!) Bless them.

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Live entertainment before the start of the Race.

The race had a staggered start, with the faster runners (marathon and half-marathon) starting in the first wave at 7:30 am. I was in the second of four waves (I may or may not have put up a goal/dream marathon time during race entry, always be positive!) that landed me in the early wave…

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Just before the start of the race.

And then we were off! The first kilometer was a relatively flat one, after which a winding ascent of about 5 km on tarmac lead to the entrance of the Great Wall. From there we covered a roughly 3 km section on the Great Wall from west to east, including 2550 steps (according to the step-counter on another athlete’s watch the steps were way more than that… but who’s counting?) The steps were really steep in some cases (both going up and down), and in other sections they were so tiny and broad we had to run them two by two. Okay I just put ‘run’ in there for fun. I didn’t actually run the steps. I suppose there were people who ran them, but I definitely didn’t. I moved quickish. Many parts of the Wall were really too steep and treacherous to run on, and the flatter parts I mostly used for recovery. And meeting new people. And taking in the absolutely breathtaking wonder of the surroundings and the remarkable structure that is the Great Wall.

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After descending the NOTORIOUS Goats Track we passed through the Yin Yang Square to great cheering of the supporters. The MC also announced that I was the second Namibian to pass the square that morning, but sadly I never got to meet my fellow countryman/lady. Then off to the country side we went as the temperature and humidity started to rise. I carried my own hydration pack, but there were plenty of aid stations offering bottled water, energy drinks as well as bananas in some places. It was really hot, and I was very cautions of heat exhaustion . I took in a lot of fluids, even refilled my hydration pack at some point, but also took electrolytes and three Slow-Mags along the way to prevent cramping. And it definitely paid off.

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Route of the Great Wall Marathon, Jixian.
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Route Profile of the Great Wall Marathon, Jixian.

From the route profile I expected the small hill in the country-side section to be insignificant (compared to the Wall), but it turned out to be another nice, long climb but with less of a view. The villagers were friendly and cheering us on, with little children clapping and giving high fives all along the route. That was really moving, and reminded me of my two babies back home and how they always high-five runners when they support a race.

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The sections between villages were hot and tiring, and at some point I reverted to my music for some inspiration. There usually comes a point during any race where I start to focus more on my tired body and less on the driving will to finish the race in a decent time. Before long I end up strolling and finding excuses not to run even if I feel rested again. That is where I find music to be of a great relief, to get my mind off the current task and get me moving again. During this run the thought of the two Running Rhinos constantly inspired me; people that are willing to endure a lot of physical discomfort for the greater cause. The plight of the critically endangered rhino is also very near to my heart, and the focus of a fund raiser run/cycle event that we organise in our home town.

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Some views from the country side and villages along the route.

After the loop in the country side the marathoners returned to Yin Yang square, so passing there a second time after the start, and I recall the prize giving had already started. When I passed the square after the 8.5 km run on the wall the first time I heard the MC announce that the first lady on the 21 km entered the square with me… Ha, well I guess there were people running a bit faster than me!

Nevertheless I still felt strong as I headed towards the Goats Track to tackle it from bottom to top this time as we ran the Wall from east to west. (I said run again…) That goats track was one difficult climb, I must say, and I passed a lot of runners sitting or laying down on the steps, shoulders sagged with very far off gazes in their eyes. I talked to all of them, offering water, and they all seemed to just be tired but not defeated.

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Some resting runners.

During this last section on the Wall I just kept moving, albeit slowly, and actually talked to a number of interesting people, which made it one of the most memorable sections of the race. I happened to meet up with Henrick Brandt who has completed every one of the Great Wall Marathons since it’s inception in 1999. His first Great Wall happened to be his first marathon, and thus he keeps returning every year.

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Last section on the wall, walking with Mr Great Wall (as he is known) Henrick Brandt (first from right.)

After we stepped off the wall I had to remind myself that I was actually in a race and should start running again. The final seciton was the 5 km covered in the start of the race, which was now downhill. Ironically a lot of people told me afterwards that this was the hardest part for them. I think mentally you feel you should be done after completing the hard part, which is the second round on the Wall, and 5 km just was far on tired legs.

When I entered the Yin Yang square for the 4th time, it was to massive cheers from the audience (always nice to finish late, there are many people to cheer you on!) I finished in 6:29 which I was quite happy with, with plenty time left to the 8 hrs cutoff. I was immensely happy to receive my beautiful medal, as I felt I worked for it long and hard and often doubted if I would be able to accomplish this huge goal.

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Stunning race medal!

All runners received a complimentary ticket for a massage after the race. I hung around the physios’ tent for a while observing the agony on their poor patients’ faces, thinking to myself that the Chinese were out to get us… those whom they didn’t destroy on the Wall they ould finish off with a brutal massage! Then one of them grabbed my ticket from my hand and, wickedly smirking, directed my to a bed. I though this was it, they are going to break me! Sure enough the lady was quite forceful but it felt good in so many ways, and I can honestly say that between my Slow-Mags and my Chinese physio-sergeant I didn’t have any major aches or pains the next day!

We were transported back to Beijing after the race, most of us (world-travelling adult athletes) only took our medals off once we got to our hotel rooms in Beijing, 3 hours later. All of us SO proud of what we have achieved and experienced that day.

Race week was aptly ended with a gala dinner at a very nice hotel in Beijing on the Sunday night. The food was delicious, everyone was relaxed and friendships were made. The organizers showed a video of the event on a large screen, and reliving some special moments of the days before stirred some emotion in all of us as we knew our adventure was about to end.

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We had some really tasty dinners after the race, including traditional Peking roast duck!

All in all I have to commend Albatros Adventure Marathons for a superbly organised race. From our arrival and reception in Beijing, our sightseeing tours, transfers to Jixian and the Race to the last morning where they organised transport for each of us to the airport to catch our various flights, all went smoothly and was SUCH a big adventure. I can most definitely recommend the Great Wall Marathon to anyone who seeks to run a superbly organised, VERY scenic yet TOUGH international race.