The Arena

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”  Theodore Roosevelt

I learnt this quote earlier this year at GIBS and thought it profound but I forgot it much too quickly. It really does epitomise my journey into running. After the race that was UTCT, Fred sent this to me and it really helped to digest the disappointment of this race and the year that was.

I took on the challenge of my life this year. That is not an exaggeration. I know a lot of my friends couldn’t be bothered with my running but it has changed my life profoundly. Running 65km was always going to be a big ask but as they say, if it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you. I regularly have to remind myself of how far I have come because I am my own worst enemy. Whilst I am an expert supporter and absolutely love encouraging my friends with their running journey, I absolutely stink at motivating myself. I just can’t seem to tell myself that I am good enough. I think in my eyes I will always be that fat girl who never did anything. It is a problem and I think my self doubt irritates people. It is something we will be focusing on in 2019. Don’t get me wrong you will always have me smiling on the trails but I am very quick to tell everyone how useless I was or how slow I was. I need to change it. It is difficult to rewire your brain. I have tried to be more upbeat about my abilities but I don’t seem to be winning the battle.

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I made this my WhatsApp Status before the race to try and motivate myself and keep the self doubt at bay

So UTCT….. I have been dreading telling the story. I am so bitterly disappointed that I couldn’t make it. For myself but mostly for my Coach and Sofi. I really wanted that medal but it was not meant to be.

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Sofi and I at the start – all smiles

My first goal for UTCT was to make the Kloof Nek cut off at 8:30. This meant that I had to do 18.5km in 3,5 hours. It was going to be a tough ask considering I have never run that fast on trail before in my life. Luckily the first three kilometres are on tar and downhill so the plan was to not stop for a walk till we reached the foothills of Signal Hill. Mission accomplished and we had a lekker warm up through the quiet streets of Cape Town. We then went up Signal Hill and the trail undulated along towards Lions Head. Unfortunately both Sofi and I got sidetracked by the tourists on Lions Head and we missed the turn off the mountain. Luckily Sofi realised we had gone wrong when she saw the sweepers removing the markers down on the mountain. We very quickly turned around and made our way back down Lions Head. We were both cross with ourselves for committing the cardinal sin of following other people. There was another lady ahead of us. I am not sure when she realised she was wrong. We then motored down an awesome downhill section and went all the way around Signal Hill and back onto the foothills of Lions Head. At this stage I was starting to panic. Sofi was pulling me along and I was giving it my everything to try and make that cut off. The little detour had not helped my confidence.

We were nearing 18km and I wasn’t sure how far our little detour had been. I saw some people up ahead and thought it was the aid station. I got so emotional and squeaky. I lost my voice in CT for some reason. It remains a mystery why it disappeared. Stress may explain it… Anyway, the people turned out to be tourists who had no idea where Kloof Nek was. I was grumpy. This is where I started giving up. We were approaching 8:30 fast with no Kloof Nek is sight. I started drifting further and further behind Sofi with the realisation that we weren’t going to make it. The clock had struck 8:30 and we had gone past 20km. I had done my fastest 18km on trail but it hadn’t been enough. We found a tar road with a marshal who said it was still about another km through the Glen which was a hill! At this stage I was completely over it and asked Sofi to phone Fred to make sure he could fetch us. Good thing we did because they had extended the cut off to 9 so we still had some time. We summited onto Kloof Nek road to be welcomed by my trail buddy Darren Smith. I was hoping to give him a huge squeal of delight when I saw him but it was a very dejected hug instead. I think I was tired from pushing it but I think I was more mentally broken. I now had to get my head back into the game.

It didn’t help that they were packing up the aid station. But Fred, Debbie and my mom were there to refill my bottles and send us packing. Fred gave me a pep talk up to the mountain but I was seriously struggling. The emotional rollercoaster of thinking you out but you not was messing with my head so badly. Kloof Nek wasn’t that bad a climb but it felt like Everest. Even Daz couldn’t cheer me up. Sofi was smiling up, I was swearing up. It wasn’t pretty.

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Darren said “we love this shit” and I disagreed loudly
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Sofi was all smiles however and Daz got this awesome pic of her at the bottom of Kloof Nek

Luckily we had a herd of sweepers who took my mind off the fact that I was not a happy camper. I have a lot of experience with sweepers given that I often run at the back of a race. This herd of sweepers have to be the worst of the lot. My climbing strategy is walk as many steps as I can, rest and then continue. One of sweepers kept physically trying to push me on. He also kept insisting that I take out my poles. We had discussed the use of poles before the race and agreed that I would only need them on Alphen so they were safely tucked away. I was getting so irritated. When we got to the top of the climb under the cable way he was insisting that my quads were cramping and was trying to spray me with some stuff. Anyone who knows me knows that my legs don’t get tired, its my lungs that let me down. I nearly shoved the stuff down his throat. Sofi nearly kicked him in the nuts. We made a hasty retreat from them and motored along the contour which was stunning and by now I was feeling a lot more chirpy. I suppose I should thank the twit for distracting me.

While we were heading for the infamous Platteklip I looked up and low and behold there was Fred coming along the contour towards us! It was so awesome to see him and immediately lifted our spirits. He chased (me) us along to the foot of the climb where another surprise was waiting in her slops! Debbie had climbed up the bottom of Platteklip in her slops (she now has a nice blister as a result – sorry Debbie). The tourists were amazed! Totally hardcore! Her cheering voice was so awesome that I really felt motivated to get up the mountain.

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That’s us being chased by Fred on the contour heading to Platteklip
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Smiling face for Debbie just before Platteklip

That lasted all of 5 minutes. Fred patted me on the shoulder and said right Liesl up Platteklip in 40 minutes. I thought ok how hard can it be. Well…. Platteklip is without a doubt the hardest climb I have ever done. It didn’t seem to want to end. I hit the proverbial wall with every turn of the trail. I would turn and sit (I swore I wouldn’t sit…) and look up at Sofi and she would smile and encourage me to keep going. I kept saying “dis so moeilik”(This is so hard) which was part of the problem. I just couldn’t breathe going up the climb and it was hindering every step that I took. Considering that it was lower in altitude than Jhb, this shouldn’t have been a problem. In hindsight, the fact that my iron levels are still low (which I didn’t know at the time) is probably to blame for this. I will have to go back and do this race with normal iron and haemaglobin levels to test this theory.

I honestly thought it would never end. Some bright marshal come trotting down and categorically informed us that we were 45 minutes behind the cut and then the CP marshal came trotting down and scanned us as he went past. That didn’t help but perhaps the most frustrating thing was the tourists. Both Sofi and I are used to having mountains to ourselves, its where we recharge. Going up the mountain we had people playing boom boxes, sliding down the rocks because their converse takkies had no grip, we even had a group of opera singers belting it out on their way down. It was a bit of a dog show.

We ran out of water up Platteklip because it took a while and it was another 7km to the next aid station from the top. I wasn’t too happy and I drank the irritating sweepers’ water. I was a little selfish at this stage because I was so happy to be at the top that I didn’t even ask Sofi how she was at this stage. Turns out she had a hell of a headache and wasn’t feeling so lekker. I recovered quickly and just assumed that we could continue. I feel so bad I didn’t ask. I went trotting off, completely oblivious. My lungs don’t bug me on the flats! As soon as the angle changes, it becomes a problem! Sorry Sofi! *blush*

Running on top of Table Mountain was lovely, we chatted and ran and it was one of the best parts for me. We then headed down in a very pretty but hot valley with some rather treacherous wooden walk ways. The aid station seemed miles away. At this stage I knew we wouldn’t make the Alphen cut and thought we could catch a lift from the Table Mountain aid station. The valley got a bit hilly but we eventually made it down and met some lovely ladies who cheered us on and told us that the aid station was not  far at all. I needed more people like that on this race. They were so awesome.

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Yay – we made the aid station at last!!

Nearing the aid station who popped out of the vegetation but none other than Fred. What an awesome surprise. I assumed he had come to fetch us… with the car. Next was Debbie cheering us in. Fred told me they had 7 litres of coke which may be enough for me LOL. I inhaled about 4 glasses of coke and 3 of water as I was so thirsty at this stage. We were all out!

This is when Fred said ok lets go. I was like ok where’s the car? It was then that I realised that we had to still run to Constantia Nek to get to the car. So off we trotted with Fred and Debbie and had a lekker chilled downhill run all the way to the car. In hindsight I shouldn’t have inhaled all the coke cause I think it made my tummy grumpy but it settled down and it was so nice to run with Fred. Running back to the car I realised that Fred and Debbie had climbed up 5km of super steep route to get to us. I was so grateful cause it made the last bit so much more bearable and took my mind off the fact that I would have to abandon at Constantia Nek. I was still running…

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Running down to Constantia Nek with Fred

Sofi and I ran to the aid station (what was left of it) together and we had to take out our phones and let the race know that we were stopping. We wouldn’t make the 6km to Alphen in half and hour and it wasn’t worth it to run there just to get in the car there and prolong the issue. Pressing that button was the toughest thing ever. I was devastated that I had not made it. I just burst into tears and have tears in my eyes writing this now. I hated quitting. I felt that I had let both Fred and Sofi down and I was devastated. It is still a very bitter pill to swallow. I had three DNFs this year but this one hurt the most as it was the goal race.

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Now to believe this…

But yes I stepped into the arena. I pushed the limits this year. I tested the boundaries. It exposed a lot and taught me a lot. I am hoping that 2019 will be a better year with normal iron levels, no broken bones and no more arachnid encounters (I got another bite in CT). I am going to focus on 40km races in 2019 and build my speed and confidence.

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My awesome support crew on Kommetjie Beach

So I am still on the road to Ultra…. the story continues…join me on the journey

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2019 Goal

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