The Distraction

It is quite fitting that the distraction was Sky Run 2018 and you will see why later. I decided last year that I would go and second my friend Sofi at Sky Run this year. It is a race that doesn’t quite feature on my radar quite yet and I quite like seconding. I have the voice for it…

I didn’t realise that it would be a really nice distraction from the nerves for UTCT. I got to focus on other runners and their stress rather than my own. So I have had two good weeks of running after the anaemia drama and I can certainly feel the difference. I am feeling so much stronger and not nearly as tired. I did some mean elevation training on the fancy dreadmills at Sasol so I was quite chuffed with myself. The treadmills at Sasol have been rather useful. I hate a dreadmill but these have the most amazing settings. They can go downhill (decline of -3%) and they can go uphill (include of 30%) so I did some very useful climbing training on them in addition to the famous GOAT at Kloofendal. I was glad to have a much better day out at the GOAT after my spectacular melt down there the last time.

I have been quietly confident that I will be ok for UTCT until the night before we departed for Sky Run. My friend Darren told me where he would be working at the race and it happened to be the first cut off. 18.5km in 3h30. I think I got heart palpitations. That is a tough ask. But I may have something to help me.

So this last weekend was Sky Run. For those who don’t know, Sky Run is a 100km, 65km or 38km race across the Witteberg Mountains in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. It is mean. It is self navigated with night running on a mountain and is not for sissies. It often snows or has rain and thunderstorms. It takes a lot of training, guts and madness to do. We travelled the long way to the beautiful Witteberg Mountains near Lady Grey on Friday and met up with all the gang at War Trail Country Club. Unfortunately service delivery protests had forced the race organisers to change the route to start at War Trail instead of Lady Grey so we had to scramble on Thursday to get tents and camping equipment for the weekend. We managed to sort ourselves out and I think we were pretty well organized in the end. Sofi and I had two queen size mattresses in our tent!

Sofi in our luxurious tent

Not only was I seconding my amazing Sofi, I had a small herd that I would help get through Balloch. It is quite a lot of pressure and I take it very seriously. I think I may have driven Sofi a little crazy cause I wanted to do everything for her. She is after all an elite runner so she deserves a servant. It is however such fun helping the guys. I really love being a supporter as much as I love being a runner.

The new route for Sky this year raised many eyebrows and blood pressures. There is one massive climb on this race that everyone talks about, Balloch Wall aka The Wall. It is mean and they decided that this year it would be a good idea to do it twice. Having seen the wall for the first time with my own eyes this year, I would have been pissed.

Throw a heat wave into the mix and the #hellofarun becomes a #hellrun, literally.

Humour me as I retell my day(s) of Sky Run as it was an interesting one.

We woke up at 2h30 (actually 1h45 as in a tent you hear all the neighbours who were clearly a little nervous) and I let Sofi do her thing. She was so calm. I would have been having 10 thousand strokes. Coach Fred and I saw them off with some loud cheering and I was looking forward to a nap before we went to meet them at Balloch Cave.

The crew at the start – all smiles at 4am

Nobody told me about Raas Bekkie however…. I have experienced him on other races but none are quite as unique as Sky Run. He was on the mike from 4am on Saturday till 11h00 on Sunday. So sleep after the runners left was short lived as the music was going and sleep was not going to happen.

We left Wartrail later than morning and did a quick recce of Bridal Pass for Debbie so she would find her way in the dark later that night on the 38km. Then we headed for Balloch Cave. Balloch Cave is the main seconding point on both the 100km and 65km races. It is a small oasis which you don’t want to leave. It was quite an adventure getting there. There is minimal space at the cave for cars so they shuttle you down in a taxi. The poor taxis! They didn’t do well on the narrow dirt track. We had piled all our stuff onto the trailer and I had visions of the thing going floating down the river at one point! I was panicking as it was all our runners bags which had their important gear etc. We all had to pile out near the cave as the taxi couldn’t get over the narrow bridge with us in it! Needless to say we and the bags arrived safely and we took up position to watch the runners come in.

So about that heat wave. Conditions were insane, the lead runners took much longer than expected and listening to the race radios it sounded like utter carnage out there on the mountain. Dehydration was going to be the order of the day and with minimal water on the mountain, your hydration strategy would make or break you. I also neglected my own hydration by feeding my water to the girls!

It was a chilled wait for our team but when they arrived all hell broke loose. Enter Sofi, she was tired but determined. I had made her some soup on her fancy propane stove. It took me a good 15 minutes to read the instructions to ensure that I didn’t blow up Balloch Cave but I managed to get the thing going. What a cool stove! Anyway, she had her soup, we restocked her pack and she was ready for action. We all gave her a hug and when Fred gave her a hug I could see she was digging really deep to keep it together. I turned away cause I just wanted to cry on her behalf. But off she went down the road and onto the wall. She nearly gave all the followers at home a heart attack because she didn’t check out of Balloch. She wasn’t the only one, not many knew that you had to check back out at the tent. Luckily they all picked her up at the next Check Point and panic was averted. I was none the wiser with no signal. I didn’t get near the computer to check as it was being hogged by grumpy tannies.

One of my favourite memories of the day was when I was told that Dylan Vogt, doing his first run longer than 42km, and happens to be a very good climber, decided to climb a boulder problem when he saw a good one on the route and still came in 6th in the 100km. A real energiser bunny that one!

We had heard about a medical emergency on the mountain on the radios but they talked in race numbers so we were not aware that it was our very own Matt. He arrived in a car at Balloch looking very pale and was on his second drip. So scary. But we got him a nice cup of tea and a coke and I am pleased to report that he will be back next year to tackle some unfinished business.

The heat took so many victims. Some people, when weighed in at Balloch, had lost as much as 10kg in weight. The medical team had their work cut out for them and they unfortunately had to take people out of the race. They did this very well as it seems that apart from the numerous drips and treatment for dehydration there were no major emergencies (I speak under correction here). Watching the disappointment on the peoples faces was so hard. People who had been cut on the mountain had to walk back to Balloch and you could see their body language as they walked in. It was heartbreaking and I just wanted to hug them. I know what it feels like to be cut. It sucks, especially after all  your hard work. I was especially grumpy with the marshal at Balloch as she was very abruptly dismissing these runners out of her chute. I felt so bad for them.

My friend Yvette was one of these disappointed runners but I got to give her a big hug and she joined the seconding team and we had a lot of fun together helping our friends for the rest of the day. She was however relieved that she didn’t need to do the wall again.

Riana and Ilze were up next. Riana on her first 100km and Ilze smashing her 65km. They were both in high spirits and we were like a pit crew getting them out of Balloch. Ilze had an exciting morning. She had tried to kill herself by ingesting her tube of sunblock instead of her caffeine shot! She is still alive to tell the tale. Apparently she won’t have heartburn for a while.

I have to mention my friend Corne’s entry to Balloch. His dad had all his stuff laid out for him and ready. All but the Epsom salts bath was waiting for him. It was rather impressive and I felt a little inadequate! LOL Corne smashed his 100km too!

Then came Robyn. Robyn looooved Balloch. She didn’t want to leave and we couldn’t get her to focus. It was too funny. I had to shoot to help Owen but Yvette and Fred got her sorted and kicked her out!

My fellow Randburg Harrier Owen looked so fresh. He jumped up when the Dr asked how he felt and the Dr took one look and sent him marching out of the medical tent to continue his race. Owen told me to time him and he wanted to spend half and hour in Balloch. I got him out of there in 20 minutes and he was off up the wall.

Awesome Owen

It was 4 hours of manic running around. I did 30000 steps and probably should have hydrated better myself.

I was missing one buddy at this stage and I couldn’t trace him! Matt and Yvette were tired, as you could imagine, and we needed to catch the shuttle to the car so we made our way to the pick up. As we were waiting there I saw this characteristic figure come trotting down the hill and I was so happy to see Peter coming past! I gave him a huge hug and sent him on his way. That was all my peeps accounted for at Balloch.

We then had another adventure with the shuttle. I refused to put the bags in the trailer and everyone on the shuttle proceeded to follow suit so we packed in like sardines and didn’t have the trailer. But when we tried to cross the same bridge Yvette was hanging out the window watching one wheel dangling awfully close to the edge. I was silently freaking out waiting for us to land in the river. So once again we had to pile out from under all the bags and allow the shuttle to go across the bridge empty. We eventually made it to the car and back to War Trail.

We had missed Ilze coming in for her finish but found her feeling very chuffed with herself and so she should be! She made 6th lady! I knew when she was looking so strong at Balloch that it would be good day and she smashed it out of the park.

We grabbed a shower and some dinner and made it to our tents by 10pm. So you would think it would be quiet in camp with lots of tired runners. Not so much. With Sky Run you get Raas Bekkie and he was now in full swing guiding runners down the ridge in the dark with the music pumping. So sleep came with difficulty. I snoozed till 3am and wanted to check on Debbie who was doing the 38km. She was tucked into bed and had smashed her race. Later that morning she relived her experience of accidentally mooning the 100km winner on the mountain. We laughed loud!

I came to Sky Run to support my friend Sofi, she won the 65km last year and is a phenomenal runner and one of my special special friends. A Bubbly of course! So I checked the leaderboard at 3am and decided to slip back into my sleeping back with an alarm to catch her coming in. Well you can imagine my disgust when I was awoken with her unzipping our tent. I wanted to sleep outside and wait but it was frigid and I would have given myself hypothermia and I timed it all wrong! I am so cross with myself. She came third and smashed it. By her own standards she wasn’t satisfied with her race but I am super proud of her. To run 100km in those conditions and come third is absolutely spectacular.

We let Sofi get some sleep (this was hard with Raas Bekkie) and waited for the others to arrive. Instead of dot watching we were watching for heads popping up on the mountain. Riana, Robyn and Owen came trotting in and it was a good morning. They are Sky Runners! It was super special to cheer them in. Even better is that Sofi, Riana and Robyn (much to her surprise) were all on the podium. I felt so guilty when I had to wake Sofi up for prize giving.

Sofi and Riana with their gold medals!

I hadn’t been paying attention to the mountain for a bit and I was so excited when I turned around and saw Peter trotting down to the finish line. He has had a challenging year with races and I was so extremely happy to see him that I let my screaming voice out… loudly. Even Raas Bekkie handed me the mike and told me he couldn’t compete with that. LOL!

A skew screaming photo of Peter

Fred was sweeping the back of the 100km and came in with a very broken Allison and Albert but even her dehydrated body understood that it was finished and her face lit up as she crossed the finish line. Being a back runner, I just feel for the people that come in last! I loved that AJ, the winner of the 100km waited to congratulate the last runners! That was pretty cool.

So as you can see, I was suitably distracted this weekend which was good considering its less than two weeks to UTCT. I am absolutely terrified but I know that I have done all that I can now. With a few hurdles along the way I think this is the most intense training block I have ever come through. I know my body can do it, my only doubt will always be my speed. But I am trying my level best to keep telling myself that I can do this.

I am picturing one thing in my mind and that is me and Sofi crossing that finish line together. Yes you read that correctly, my awesome friend offered to run UTCT with me two weeks after she has done 100km Sky Run. It will be more of a hike for her but she is doing this to help me make those cut offs. I don’t think I would be as positive as I am if she wasn’t doing this with me. I am not sure how I am ever going to thank her for this but her being by my side is going to be my saving grace. Dankie Sofi!

Cape Town here we come

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