It would have been my first DNF since I began running. I considered this as I sat on a rock in a clearing in the blazing heat. I was 3.78km into a 13km race and it had taken me almost an hour to get that far. The maths of what lay ahead was another thing I considered as I sat there on a rock in the blazing African sun. The temperature was in the upper 20s , if not already in the low 30s. I probably shouldn’t have been there. I had started a head cold the day before and it had kept me up all night, unable to breathe properly. My heart rate had sky rocketed into the 200s as we started and as I sat on my rock in the blazing sun, it didn’t bother to drop even a little bit. Luckily my ears were blocked and so my heart was audible as a rhythmic thump in my head the whole race. I considered the fact that I should not run with my heart unable to recover even a little bit. Over twenty people streamed past me as I sat on that rock in the blazing sun, considering giving up. People that I had worked hard to pass or to stay in front of the few kilometres before. They all whimpered and gasped the same as they came to this clearing where I was perched on my rock. I considered that now I was stuck behind them if they were fraidy cats down the hills, not that I was expecting much downhill from this point onwards.
One of my first memories when I started this whole Comrades Marathon nonsense was the day I met Paula. She and a group of other Illuminati came running up to us at track as they finished their warm up and joined the rest of us who were stretching. She was a tiny frame with loads of muscles and emblazoned on her t-shirt were the very large words DEATH BEFORE A DNF. I was instantly terrified of her! But I think about those words often. My youngest son has often asked me after a race, “Did you finish?” I wonder what his frame of reference is because I would expect someone to ask, “How did it go?” or “How did you do?” or “What was your time?”. But he always asks me, “Did you finish?”. My answer is always the same, “Did you get a call from a paramedic or a hospital? No? Then I finished!” And here I sat on my rock in the blazing African sun, contemplating death before a DNF.
Eliud Kipchoge once said, “I don’t know where the limits are, but I would like to go there!” I think I may have that in me. We really are unlimited. If a lion were chasing me, I would be a better runner but near death very seldom happens to me and so I don’t bother to take myself to the limits of my ability. I’m not sure what the deciding factor was that made me get off that rock and carry on with the race. I now knew I was near the back of the pack and surely, the sweeper wasn’t far behind me. My water in my pack was already starting to get warm and my heart was thumping musically in my ear. I guess I got up and started the trudge up to the Cable Car station at the top of the mountain to figure out at a deeply subconscious level where near death might take me.
I didn’t tap out there and I didn’t tap out on several other opportunities to do so. Even at the cable car station, which 8 kilometres into the race was still not the highest point! I did, however, have enough “going there” by 9 kilometres and I started walking. Strolling really. My legs were sore, my 2 litres of water was finished and I was done for the day. I just walked the remaining 4 kilometres. Nice people finishing the 21km race came storming past me. Several others who I had passed earlier on came hobbling past me. I was done. I was dehydrated as evidence by the pork sausages hanging off the ends of my hands.
I was bleeding on my arms, legs and face from thorn trees and the strangest altercation with a tree. I was walking along a wide, empty path. The tree had a branch hanging in my view. I was looking up. I walked straight into the branch. I wasn’t even surprised because I could see that tree was going to land in my hair. It scratched my eyelid and I had a few bits of tree stuck in my hair when I got home.
Luckily, I’d had the presence of mind to close my eyes otherwise my son might have been getting that call after all!
It took me over 4 hours to “run” 13.8km! In my defence, the winner of the ladies race, who also walked the last 4km, did the race in two and a half hours….and she’s come top ten in Soweto Marathon, so it’s not like she’s a pleb like me! As I finished, Nina of My Road Less Traveled (MRLT) asked me how it was. In my dehydrated state I told her, “This was the hardest race I’ve ever done. Your races always remind me that I’m alive!” MRLT races are very tough. I would not recommend them to first time trailers. In fact, her races are not trail races, they’re mountain races. You should read up about the difference. When she says 13km, be prepared for 14km or 15km and if you’ve only ever run on road, imagine that it’s the equivalent of 25km on the road. I’m not joking here. It will also be beneficial for you to have sufficient upper body strength to climb and clamber and pull yourself over stuff. (Still not joking here) Only the bravest will take on Nina’s races. They are so hard, but the sense of accomplishment you get from finishing them and from shouting down your demons is incomparable to any other feeling. If you were a first timer yesterday and you vowed to never again trail run or never again do a My Road Less Traveled race, know that I have done most of MRLT’s races and this was by far the hardest. By very far! MRLT’s races will test your limits. Find out where they are. Your limits, that is. If you are not interested in finding your limits, try other trail races. Some are actually runable!
Yours in the going there…