Let The Rocks Define You – Namaqua Quest Day 3

It’s overdue, I know. Day 3 was a week ago, but after the race, with the prize-giving being way too long for my goldfish attention span, we hurried back to the hotel, showered, packed, checked out and started the next leg of our trip to Nearlynowheresville for our do nothing holiday. I’m only getting to reflect on Day 3 now.

Day 3 of Namaqua Quest was missing something. It missed a credible pre-race briefing. We found this out as EP and I, together with a group of very confused runners wandered up and down a hill trying to figure out where to go. We found it out when we passed one of the locals merrily collecting route markers off our route. I found it out when I ran tentatively down a hill for an entire kilometre without seeing a marker, constantly worried that I had gone wrong somewhere. I hate going down hills slowly. It’s such a waste of time and energy. Day 3 missed a credible race briefing. Which is in contrast to Day 1’s briefing, which was so verbose, a blind person could have run the route!

I love rugged, difficult, technical terrain when running trail runs. The less path, the better! So when I sign up for a trail run that is combined with a mountain bike race, I have to spend months mentally preparing myself for mundane, very runable (for normal people who can actually run) and quite unremarkable terrain. Day 3 delivered accordingly. We ran up a bit and then down a bit and then this gravel road opened up in front of us along a long stretch of rickety farm fencing. The people I’d been running with disappeared into the distance as my head injury dragged my bored body through frequent walks along this brown, mundane, eternal, dusty road. I was reminded that the road does not define me as a runner. It’s the rocks that define me! I like technical stuff. I like doing stuff that asks more of me. I have proven I can run. I ran the Comrades Marathon, so I can run. I want to prove something else. I’m not sure what I want to prove and I’m not sure to whom I’m trying to prove it, but I like rocks!

Where I grew up, in the Western suburbs of Johannesburg, the area where we lived was still developing and so our entire neighbourhood was a mix of half-built homes and majestic quartzite mountains. I spent large parts of my childhood running and walking and sitting and playing in the rocks around our home. I guess running through the rocks always takes me back to that time and I feel young and playful again. Maybe I’m not trying to prove anything. Maybe I just don’t want to be a grown up. Maybe the trail running gives me a little moment in life where I don’t have to be a grown up.

And here I was, just before the first water point – the flimsy pre-race briefing had not been clear about the number of water points we could expect – living as an adult on this very responsible and safe terrain in the desert, next to a rickety farm fence. It occurred to me that the race organisers could have made a very simple deviation off the road and through the flowers and desert shrubbery with very little effort or stretch of the imagination. They are probably responsible adults who don’t need to act like children on the weekends.

The water point was manned by the state veterinary services and they had a beautiful Staffie helping them. The water point was at about 6km into what we expected to be a 15km route. I had not drunk much of my hydration up until that point and didn’t need to fill up. I ran off, after giving the dog a cuddle and thanking the vets on duty for the valuable work they do, taking care of animals. And then my wish was granted! I got rocks! Lots of them! There were 3 discernible climbs on the route profile. We had started a rocky climb early in the race, followed by the responsible adult part of the route and now the massive 2nd climb was underfoot. I loved it. I passed a few people, but the markers were scarce and poorly placed. Added to this, the wind had blown some of the markers into the bushes they were on, making them invisible to the runners. I helped those behind me by untangling those markers as I passed them on my climb up this rocky hill. Then I came to a crossroads and there was not a marker to be seen anywhere. I’m actually quite a good marker spotter and I often sing a line from the song, Thrift Shop, when my spotting tags game is on point! (If you get it then you get it! I’m just a dork!) It’s so irritating when you’re in the front of a group or on your own and the tags are not clearly visible because you keep having to slow down or stop to search for a tag. I chose the downhill, hoping that I was now at the top of climb number two. I had last seen a tag about thirty metres back, so I could go forward down the hill a few more hundrd metres without a tag before I’d have to turn back to the last tag I saw. As I dropped down the hill, in the distance on the other side of the valley, I could see runners and so, either we were all on a very wrong road or they had seen something I had missed. Because I kept worrying that maybe we were all on a very wrong road and I was suddenly running low on water and God had dialled the temperature dial all the way to the right, I ran down this somewhat technical terrain with my handbrake on. Imagine how cross I was when, after a kilometre of handbrake running down what was ordinarily my favourite part of the race, the part where I get to be a kid, I finally spotted a tag. And it was so, at the bottom of the next climb, my sense of humour left the building and I started to trudge up the hill. It was flaming hot in the desert now and I didn’t know where or if we would get another water point. We were 8 kilometres in when Helen passed me and some other adult passed me. I was a petulant toddler whose toys had been taken away. I cursed the race organisers. I cursed myself and I became infatuated with the idea that I was going to run out of water and die of dehydration. Luckily for every up, there is a down and at the top of the 3rd climb, I threw myself most recklessly down shale-laden trail, jumping and sliding over and down the rocks. When I looked up, I seemed to have almost caught up to a lot of people and they were all wandering around, pointing and gesturing. I ran back to the last tag I could see and looked for another tag. When I pointed to it, we all semed to see it at the same time and we started to converge on it, only to discover that we had been here, running in the opposite direction earlier in the day near the start of the race. I would definitely have expected that to have been part of the race briefing. The fact that you go back along the same path you went on at the start. We were still unsure of whether we were correct or not when we spotted a man collecting the route tags. (Apparently, the locals take the tags as souveniers, not waiting until the race is over to do so!) A section of very technical rocks let me pass the adults, who then passed me as the rocks came to an end and we ran along a responsible path and a tar road.

Day 3 of Namaqua Quest was very beautiful. The Namakwa Desert is so gorgeous, I suspect even without the flowers. It’s so far from anything, but somewhere everyone should visit at least once. Day 3 showed off Namakwaland in all its complexity. The route was peppered with little trailer homes and run down houses where families, abandoned when the local mine closed, try to eke out an existence. There are shrub-filled plains and large volcanic, glaciated mountains. There is dust and dirt as well as tenacious little flowers. There are Quiver trees, which are a type of desert aloe and there is nothingness. It is a place for poetry and poets. I loved it there. The wind would drive me mental, but I loved it. Life is simpler there. Life is quieter there. Day 3 showed me that. I loved Namaqua Quest Day 3!

Yours, reliving childhood.

SlowCoach

To Sleep Perchance to Dream – Namaqua Quest Day 2

So if expectation did not meet reality on Thursday, today was much more so!Before I complain, I’d like to give a shout out to all Sanparks people. You do amazing work and you make our nation proud. Thank you to the rangers, the volunteers and the good people who run these beautiful parts of our country, making them accessible to us and visitors from across the world.Goegap Nature Reserve is spectacular. What I discovered today is the ocean that I spoke about yesterday was actually a glacier. The mountain face we climbed up today gave us the clues about the glacier and the striations on the rocks provided grip for our shoes as we climbed.

The glaciated volcanic mountains

The rocks are really impressive and the quiver trees peppering the almost barren landscape are a true delight. We saw some springbok….so close to Springbok. Although, talking to some people after the race, we may have imagined those! Quiver trees are really quite unusual. I was reminded of the Joshua Trees in the Mogave desert. It seems the most unusual trees grow from the barren desert.

Helen and I didn’t know how close the finish was at this halfway photo stop!

There was not much time to see anything else because the race, sold as a 10km, like this blog, ended too soon at 6.7km.

Yours in the barreness.

SlowCoach

They Grow Where They Are – Day 1 of Namaqua Quest

I was disappointed and little bit pissed off as I turned into the race village on Thursday. I had expected to drive up to the hotel with swathes of flowers on the left and right of the road. There had been a few little patches of flowers here and there and a few threadbare carpets, but nothing like the brochure! Mother Nature had not dished up the desert I had ordered.

There have been 3 sustained years of severe drought in Namakwa, an arid semi-desert region in the northern part of South Africa, close to the border with Namibia. Flowers don’t really like droughts and so there we were, in the desert, in the sun, in Spring. Where else could we want to be?

The 4 of us: EP, Luisa, Simon and I have been training reasonably consistently on really challenging terrain for the past 3 months for this race. We’ve been running up and down Westcliff Stairs. We’ve been running in Klipriviersberg nature reserve on tough technical routes. In our taper month we’ve been spending time in Cradle Moon and Delta Park, soaking up some elevation on more mundane trails. So we were ready for the flat, rocky, daisy-clad trails of Namakwaland. If Friday’s run was anything to go by, then we were ready for something that was not Namaqua Quest.

The massive lava mountains must have, at some point been covered by ocean and since emerging from the sea have spent eons being battered by a very angry wind. Fascinating rock formations on massive mountains and smaller, more palatable koppies as well as thick treacle-like beach sand on the lowlands are the result. We ran that!

The beauty of the Namakwaland daisies, I have found, lies not in their carpetness, but in their individual prettiness. I know that the whole appeal of the area appears to be their carpet-like appearance, but, as I ran along the treacle beach sand, I got to notice the individual beauty of each flower, growing exactly where it found itself. It really is quite peculiar how every flower grows wherever it is.

There’s no, this flower grows better in sand, while this grows better on the rocks. They just grow where they are. And they’re happy and beautiful where they are. It was a good reminder for me. Sometimes we’re driven to be somewhere else. Somewhere new, somewhere different. Somewhere that isn’t where we are. We hope that we will find the peace, the joy, the beauty we want for ourselves where we aren’t, rather than being the most magnificent version of ourselves where we are. In a world where you can be anything you want, be a Namakwa daisy.

The race started on a beach sand road, uphill. And as always, everyone fucked off into the distance while I was left, treading through the loose sand somewhere at the back. I wondered how much everyone else had trained to be buzzing off into the distance like that. So I took that as the sign that, in the absence of carpets of flowers, I’d enjoy the beauty of each individual flower I saw. And what a wonderful, joyful experience it turned out to be. I must have seen more than 200 different flowers. And not even several colours of the same flower, there are hundreds of different flowers. Some succulents, some bushes, some shrubs, some pretty little, flimsy stand alone flowers. All growing exactly where they are.

I can truly recommend getting off the beaten track when you come here and taking a walk through the beach sand, volcanic rock and hard-packed sand. Get to all the flowers.

Be warned that you may face some headwinds, growing where you are, but choose to be your most beautiful you, exactly where you are.

It’s in the trails that we find the meaning of life.

Yours exactly where I am.

SlowCoach