Grootvadersbosch … how do we even manage to tie our own shoelaces?

IMG_1374LOW RESGrootvadersbosch. The name that had cast a long, dark shadow over each trail run of the last twenty weeks. We would struggle up the inclines of each trail thinking, ‘If I’m suffering now, how am I going to manage two days of trail at Grootvadersbosch? How?

At the end of each trail we would say its name in the same hushed, respectful, fearful tone as Frodo and his comrades said ‘Mordor’ or Harry Potter’s crowd breathed ‘Voldemort’. Grootvadersbosch was going to be our undoing. A two-day stage trail, 33 km on day 1 and 22 km on day 2. We were going to die.

‘No, we’re not,’ I would say. ‘We’re still in training. Every trail we run is making us stronger. Every hill, every step, is making us fitter and stronger. We’ll be awesome by June!’

I cannot ever be accused of being negative.

The Peninsula Marathon marked the end of Week 1 of my 18-week Grootvadersbosch training. Little did I know then how much trail running one needed to do in order to run trail. My training log shows ten races run since the Peninsula Marathon. Four of them were trail runs. Of the remaining six road races, two were half marathons, one was 15 km, one was 12 km and two were 10 km. In total, I racked up 560 km in training and races before I lined up for Day 1 of Grootvadersbosch.

I knew it wasn’t enough. Some of the training weeks look sparse. Some look anorexic.

I needed more trail and I needed more long, slow runs. I needed more training. Two more months of training would have been just great, thanks.

But the day had arrived and we were off to Swellendam. It felt as if we were going to war. Or, at the very least, heading off to meet our doom on the North Col.

Things were going fairly swimmingly, though. I had sent off the last chapter of that tedious book I had been writing for months and so I could look forward to a weekend of no work and no stress about work. The weather had cleared, which meant that we would not have to wear any of that compulsory emergency kit that had emptied our wallets and that we would be lugging up the mountain in our overstuffed backpacks. Everything was arranged and paid for. All we needed to do was get in the car and get to Grootvadersbosch.

At some point before Swellendam I realized that the booking confirmation for our accommodation that I had emailed to my iPad hadn’t come through. And so ensued a long and rather frustrating conversation with The Kid. She just couldn’t grasp what she needed to do to access the document off my desktop and email it to me. Every attempted instruction from my side was interrupted with a ‘Yes but …’ followed by an exasperated grunt. The two in the front of the car were spluttering and giggling so much that each needed to be given a sound beating about the ears to shut them up.

Eventually The Kid managed to open the document, snap a pic with her cell phone and WhatsApp the image to me. It wasn’t ideal but it was something.

Then there was a call from Cape Nature. They were calling from the reserve where our accommodation had been booked. It was getting quite late, they said, and they noticed that we had not arrived yet. Would we still be coming? ‘Oh, yes,’ I said. ‘We’re almost there. We’re just outside Swellendam, so we won’t be long.’

The caller sounded unsure.

‘The gate closes at six,’ she said. ‘Will you be here before then?’

‘Yes, definitely,’ I assured her. ‘We’re about an hour away.’

We were a little bit worried about how we would be getting out of the reserve to register if they closed the gates at six. Would we be allowed out?

But, ever optimistic, we were sure all would be fine. The nature reserve was on the list of suggested accommodation. They wouldn’t have recommended it if there was going to be a problem.

As we cruised into the Grootvadersbosch area our mounting excitement kicked up a notch. Hysteria was one more witty comment away. The landscape and the light were just amazing and the car had to be stopped so that Firstborn Daughter and I could take some roadside snaps. The air was icy cold … did we pack enough warm stuff? Once we were back in the car and almost at the reserve gate, we came across a woman who was one of the organisers for the music festival that was also happening that weekend. Very friendly and welcoming, she asked us where we were staying.

 

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Roadside snap at Grootvadersbosch

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Prettiness all around, and we weren’t even in the mountains yet.

‘In the reserve,’ we told her.

She seemed slightly confused. ‘Where?’ she asked.

‘Otter’s Rest,’ we replied.

‘Otter’s Rest?’ she asked and looked slightly more confused.

‘Err … you sound worryingly unsure,’ Firstborn Daughter said.

‘I’ve not heard of it,’ said the woman. ‘There’s only one hut in the reserve and it’s not called Otter’s Rest. But these things change names all the time. I’m sure it will be fine.’

We drove on, feeling somewhat less confident about the weekend’s accommodation arrangements. The gate was open but there was no one at the office. Other guests milling about said one just went in. But we would need keys, surely? Oh, they said. Oh, they know nothing about that. They were camping. You don’t need keys for camping.

We walked up and down for a bit, scrutinized signs, made calls to the Cape Nature office, only to find that the offices had closed and no one was picking up.

Then I opened the snapshot of the accommodation confirmation that The Kid had sent and zoomed in to see what information I could glean.

‘Oh,’ I said. ‘Hang on … errr …’

‘Oh, geez!’ said The Boyfriend. ‘That doesn’t sound good.’

‘Umm … wait a moment … err … yes …’ I definitely had some useful information about our accommodation.

‘We’re booked in Knysna.’

Knysna. Goukamma Nature Reserve, to be exact. Lovely accommodation. Really lovely. Great views. Great facilities. Except … it was about five hours’ drive away from where we were. It would make getting to the start a little bit difficult, not to mention getting there before the gates close.

I had to see the humour in it. What else could I do? I was sure I would find somewhere else for us to stay. Just as soon as I could recharge my iPhone, that is, and just as soon as I could get signal. We were kind of in the middle of nowhere and plugs and signal were in short supply. The Boyfriend packed up laughing. Which one of us was going to tell Firstborn Daughter? She was going to lose the plot! She was going to break my kneecaps. At the very least she was going to fix me with one of her deadly glares.

She didn’t take it too well. She doesn’t like things that don’t go according to plan. And she didn’t want to hear another word from me.

‘Mom,’ she barked, ‘you really have to just stop talking now.’

‘Okay,’ I said, stifling my mirth. This was so ridiculous, so completely off the wall, I just couldn’t stop laughing. Yes, it was a complete waste of money and, yes, there was a good chance of us sleeping in the car and, yes, hell, dammit, it was pretty annoying … but it really was funny too.

She shook her head at me.

‘You couldn’t script your life,’ she said, and got in the car.

We headed back the way we came, towards the race venue, to register and see if anyone could help.

I found somewhere to plug in my phone. Except the charger was faulty. The phone kept switching off instead of charging. And there was no signal. I was starting to stress just a little. This was my fault, I had to fix it and, damn and bugger, I would have to pay for it. Firstborn Daughter and The Boyfriend were nowhere to be found. I needed to use a different charger if I was going to make any progress.

They finally reappeared from wherever they had gone. They had found somewhere to stay. It wasn’t ideal, but there was a room that we could share in a house just a few hundred metres from the registration venue. Someone had booked a large house and three people had cancelled at the last minute. One of the organisers had walked Firstborn Daughter and The Boyfriend to the house to ask the poor, unsuspecting people if they would mind having three total strangers squat with them. It was a huge imposition. Had I known what was going down, I would most definitely have refused. But, bizarrely, they said yes! They probably felt too pressured to say no. They were just a bunch of mates, all sharing a house, all settling in around the fire, sipping their red wine, and next thing they knew, some crazies were moving their bags into a bedroom in their house.

But they were absolutely lovely. They offered us wine, which we declined, and invited us to join them at the fire. We ended up staying both nights with them, and it all worked out fine. Better than fine. I am still absolutely amazed at how hospitable, friendly and trusting they were. It might be a trail running thing or it might just be that they are spectacularly generous people. Either way, I am eternally grateful.

I sent the Significant Other a text …

‘Right. So. Here’s a story …’ I began.

‘You know how I booked this great accommodation in the nature reserve, at the start of the race?

Ja.

Well.’

‘And?’ he asked.

‘That really great accommodation just happens to be in Knysna,’ I replied.

‘Oh fuck! How, why, what?’ he asked.

I explain the situation, and add that I don’t even have wine to give them.

‘Christ,’ he said. ‘ I would be apoplectic, angry, agitated, assaultive and just plain fucked and a bit unhappy.’

‘One must maintain a sense of humour,’ I reminded.

‘Only you can do that.’

‘The water is brown,’ I tell him. ‘We didn’t fill up with tap water at home and we didn’t buy bottled.’

 

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The tap water was the colour of whiskey … so coloured because of the fynbos roots. It’s safe to drink, though.Which is just as well, since we had nothing else.

‘I must say, I’m failing to appreciate the humour in all of this this debacle!’ came his response.

‘It’s hilarious,’ I said. ‘And I’m sticking to it.’

‘You got mental problems man.’

We signed in at the registration table, got our numbers and our fancy green travel mugs, got to know our new best friends and settled into our weekend home. I made a huge pot of pasta with tomato sauce, abstained from the wine, as I had decided to have a wine-free week (completely overrated, I might add) and settled in for an early night. The terror of the next day’s run was weighing heavily on us.

The next morning we were up early and got ready without a hitch. The bathroom story went smoothly too – with so many people in the house I had expected a queue, impatient knocking at the bathroom door and some bad tempers. But we all managed to stay out of each other’s way.

The three of us made our way to the briefing venue, which, as we understood it, was at the same place as registration. Then there was to be a 3 km warm-up jog to the start. As it turns out, the briefing venue was not at the same place as registration. Nope. Of course not. The briefing venue was at the start … 3 km up the road. We had five minutes to get there. Firstborn Daughter and The Boyfriend set off at a cracking pace. I did not.

First of all, there was no way that we could run 3 km in five minutes. So, running was futile. Secondly, there was no way I was running 3 km and then lining up at the start of a 33 km run. The run on its own was far enough. And, lastly, if they would just stop running for a moment, they would realize that taking the car and driving to the start was a much more sensible option. But they kept going, occasionally looking back to see where I was, and slowing down to walk.

A car pulled up alongside me. ‘Would you like a lift?’ asked the driver, who also happened to be one of the organisers. Well … yeah, I would?!

The three of us bundled in and made our way to the start in a far more sensible manner.

‘Why are you so late?’ asked our driver.

‘Err … we went to the registration venue,’ I confessed.

He laughed. ‘Aren’t you also the person who booked accommodation in Knysna?’ he asked.

‘Guilty,’ I said.

It was becoming apparent to all who came into our orbit that I am somewhat deficient upstairs and was probably on a weekend pass from some institution for people who function in a very special way.

By the time we arrived at the venue and joined the back of the crowd, pretending that we had been there all the time, most of the information had been shared already. We got the bits about how we could break shoulders, arms and legs if we didn’t cross our arms over our chests and fall on our backpacks. And we got the bits about falling over the edge. We should stop and look at the view, not run and look or walk and look. Moving and looking meant certain death.

And there was mud. Lots of it.

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Abject fear on the faces of the weekend warriors

Then they did a roll call. But, before reading out the names, the race director had to clear up something that had been puzzling him all night.

‘Some of you decided to sign in and also cross your names out. I’m not sure why you would do that. So I don’t know if you’ve registered or pulled out. If I call your name, please shout loudly so that I know you’re here.’

My name was the first to be called.

‘Here,’ I said.

‘Why did you cross out your name?’ he asked.

‘Well, other people who signed in before me had crossed out their names, so I did the same.’

All eighty or so runners turned to look at me. Oh, how they laughed …

Then he read out Firstborn Daughter’s name.

‘Why did you cross out your name?’ he asked her.

She pointed her finger at me. And the runners laughed like drains again …

I gaped at her. What?! She had signed in before me. She had crossed her name out. I had followed suit. Selling her own mother down the river without even blushing!

‘Just don’t follow each other on the trail,’ he cautioned, amidst more laugher.

And then I needed the toilet. The race was about to start. And I needed it. I made my way towards it. Got halfway. Got nervous about them running off without me. Went back to Firstborn Daughter. ‘Just go,’ she said. ‘You were almost there. Just go.’ Off I went again. Then it sounded as if the race was about to start, and I headed back. ‘Go!’ she said. I tried again. Nope, they were definitely going to set off right now. ‘I can’t,’ I said. ‘They’re going to run off without me.’

The race director got to the end of his talk. ‘We’ll set off in two minutes,’ he said, as which point there was a stampede for the ablution blocks. And I was at the back. And so, when the hooter sounded the start of the race, I was running from the ablution blocks, last one out, with stuff falling from my unzipped backpack. I scrambled to pick the stuff up, shoved it back in the pack, zipped it while I was running and joined the herd.

‘Oh, hang on,’ I thought. I want to be at the back. I’m too slow to be in the middle of the crowd. They run on my heels when we’re out there on the trails and then I have to step off to make way for them. Rather start at the back and stay there.

And then I realized that I hadn’t started my Garmin yet. The Boyfriend, running next to me, saw what I was doing and realized that he had forgotten the same. We saw someone else standing off to the side of the stampede, holding her arm aloft, trying to locate GPS. ‘Hey, she’s done the same,’ he said, and stopped to give his watch a moment to find him.

Firstborn Daughter had had enough of our nonsense. She had set off at an enthusiastic pace, was way ahead of us, and was having no more of it. She stopped, planted her feet in her no-more-nonsense-from-you stance, and glared back at us.

‘I’m going to have to kill both of you before we even get onto the trail,’ she barked.

Terrified of her wrath, be both got going again, sans GPS and giggling like kids.

I let them go. Once we were under the trees, there was no way of locating GPS. My watch eventually started timing me about a kilometre into the run.

I settled down. Happy, smiling runners passed me. I wasn’t going to see them again. Not until much later. Perhaps not ever. It didn’t matter.

We made our way through a muddy jeep track, up some inclines and into the mountains. I sucked at my Osprey mouthpiece. No water. I had somehow packed my backpack bladder in a way that blocked the tube. I tried a few more times. I really didn’t want to stop. But there was nothing else to do. I couldn’t wait until I was thirsty before I did anything about the water situation.

 

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The first bit of mud

I stopped and unpacked the backpack. I pulled the bladder out. Rearranged the tube. Shoved the bladder back in. Ripped the tube from the bladder. Plugged it back in again. Reloaded the backpack. Finally got going again.

Some distance up the start of what was going to be a long, long climb, I noticed that my race number, which I had pinned onto my backpack, was flapping annoyingly in the wind. I stopped again. I couldn’t risk having it fly off into the mountains. Oh dear. The windshell that I had stuffed into the criss-cross elastic on the outside of the backpack was missing. It would have fallen out when I tried to fix the water problem. I would have to go back. Bugger!

I turned around and headed back down the trail.

I am such a rookie! This is ridiculous!

Heading towards me was the sweeper. He had picked up my jacket, thank goodness. I didn’t need to run all the way back. Running any of the way back was bad enough, though, especially if you’re not the world’s fastest trail runner and you have 33 km stretching ahead of you.

With my number secured, windshell tucked in and water freely flowing through my mouthpiece, I finally settled into a rhythm. I could see Firstborn Daughter and The Boyfriend up ahead. They were running too fast, I thought. She was doing fine but The Boyfriend wasn’t going to be able to keep up the pace. He had never run further than 25 km, and the distance was daunting. Darkness enters his soul at 15 km even on a good day. And this trail was challenging. The first half of the race as all uphill: 15 km of up, up and more up. Steeply up in places. Very steeply up in others. I could see him putting his hands on his hips from time to time. My heart rate was racing, even though I was walking. I was powering up the hills. Too steep for me too run. One day, maybe. I keep telling myself … one day.

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Hands on hips, already deciding about the improbability of future trail runs

I took a look at the view. Wow …! Spectacular. There seemed to be hundreds of softly curved hills, like endless folds of moss, rising and falling into the distance. Even if I had the capacity, I doubt I would ever be able to become a fast trail runner. There is just so much beauty all around. I keep wanting to stop to take a photo, and I keep wishing I had my camera with me so that I could at least try to do justice to what I see. An iPhone can take some fairly decent snaps but I need more.

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IMG_1336LOW RESThe trail stretched up ahead of me. I needed to put space between the sweeper and myself. I was feeling pressured. I’m sure he wasn’t pressuring me at all. But I could hear him behind me and I was worried about how much time he would have to spend out in the mountains, waiting for me to haul ass.

IMG_1361LOW RESA woman was just ahead of me. She was slower than I was but she wasn’t giving way. Eventually I asked her if I could pass her so that I could catch the other two up ahead. She made way and I left her to be the buffer between the sweeper and me.

Over the next fifteen or so kilometres I kept looking back to make sure that she wasn’t getting too close to me. It was a time of joy every time she was out of sight. The sweeper seemed to have slowed down considerably because he was no longer in sight either.

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Up, up and more up

The first 10 km took just over two hours. The first 15 km took about three hours fifteen. At 16 km the trail finally showed some mercy … it started to angle down. Aaahh! Sweet bliss! Not that I didn’t like the up – I loved it! I loved the feeling of my heart racing, my lungs working, my legs powering me forward. I have grown stronger over the last twenty or so weeks. I feel myself leaning towards the challenges now, grabbing hold of them, knowing they will hurt but they’ll hurt good!

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Note the tiny specks at the top of the incline – and there was more to come

But heading downhill was welcome. It was time, I thought, for the trail to ease up a bit. If the trail angled down like this, the last 13 km should take about two hours, putting us on a five-hour finish, maybe five and a half hours.

I had held Firstborn Daughter and the Boyfriend in view all the way. Sometimes they were tiny specks of red and black way in the distance. Sometimes they were closer. I could judge by their body language how I was going to feel at a certain point. And I could tell by The Boyfriend’s body language that he was starting to beg for mercy – whether silently or out loud, I couldn’t tell.

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At some point they waited for me and we continued together, Firstborn Daughter taking the role of Sergeant Major, and calling ‘walk’ or ‘run’ at intervals.

‘I’ve had enough,’ said The Boyfriend. We had reached about 18 km. It was going to be a long, long day if he had had enough already.

‘There’s no way I’m doing tomorrow,’ he announced. Apparently Firstborn Daughter, whose chest was still not quite as well as it should be, had called ‘no way’ on Day 2 as well.

We could see the trail stretching ahead, gently sloping downwards. It was a pretty sight. And we could see the trail we had headed up just a few hours earlier … and we were mighty pleased with ourselves!

My Garmin’s battery was almost empty. I was on this epic trail, and the damn thing wasn’t going to record all of it. I got the iPhone out and activated the Strava app so that it could record the second half of the trail. But the iPhone was running dry also.

‘Run,’ called Firstborn Daughter. And, like obedient (or terrified) troops, we fell into a single-file run behind her.

And then there was a gasp-cry and the sound of small rocks rolling and crunching. Firstborn Daughter was down. She went down so quickly that she didn’t even put her hand out to try to break her fall. Down she went, onto her side, her leg buckling painfully under her.

That was it. At 20 km there would be no more running free and wild across the trails – even if ‘free and wild’ exists mostly in our imaginations.

My buffer caught up with us, looked down at the tear-soaked, red-faced, miserable heap on the ground, muttered some words of sympathy and disappeared from view. The sweeper turned up. I could just imagine what was going through his mind. Ah man … there was a rugby match on in the afternoon, South Africa against Ireland, and he was sure to want to be home in time to watch the game. Bad enough that we were so slow. And now we were going to leopard crawl the rest of the way!

He strapped up her ankle as best he could and said that there was no easy way off the mountain. She would have to hobble. We fashioned a trekking pole from a branch and started the slow, slow struggle home.

 

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Lean on me …

‘You don’t have to stay with me,’ said Firstborn Daughter.

Yep. As if I was going to run off and leave her to grit it out on her own. Feeling quite bad for the sweeper, we did try to convince him to leave us to it. We would be fine, we said, and I’m sure we would have been. But he stayed with us. He radioed for a vehicle to wait for us at the nearest access point and off we went, in single file, along a trail that had now kind of lost its appeal.

After about 5 km of downhill, the trail took us even more steeply down into a ravine. The views were breathtaking but the disheartened warriors were silent. Except for The Boyfriend, who had had some time to think, and who decided to put me straight on a few issues: he was doing no more long trails, maybe even no more trails, ever, and he was not doing Day 2. He might run about 10 km, at the most, 15 even, okay, maybe even 20. But that’s it. No further than that. I believed not a word of it. Puh-leeze!

The descent into the ravine was challenging. The path was narrow, muddy and slippery and there were a few tense moments where I worried that my firstborn was going to topple over the edge. I could see her leg shake each time she put her foot down. An uphill would give some relief.

And all the while I was thinking ‘I really want to finish.’ I figured it would take eight hours for us to get off the trail. The last runner home last year finished in 6:20. We joked that we would easily be able to break that course record – we would aim for 6:30 but, being overachievers, we could push ourselves to do seven hours. And there we were, still on the trail, aiming to exceed even our seven-hour goal.

What would be worse, I wondered … having eight hours written behind my name, or DNF? I wanted to finish. Even if I had to have my name at the bottom of the list, with eight hours written next to it (and no explanation next to it!). But would it impose on the sweeper? He had been so patient and his day had been stretched to the max. Would he have to stay on the trail if I did? I didn’t want to ask.

We reached the ravine and Firstborn Daughter asked if she could sit down for just a few minutes. Exhausted, in pain, but still in charge of media, she asked me to take a photo of the river. It was all so pretty and she didn’t want to miss out on having a pic. Finally we crossed the river and headed up out of the ravine on the other side. The uphill went surprisingly quickly. The bakkie was waiting for us. Firstborn Daughter and The Boyfriend were overjoyed.

The Boyfriend made towards the vehicle.

‘You’re not injured,’ said the race director. ‘The ride home is for injured people.’

I can’t remember his response but, whatever it was, it was pretty clear that no one was stopping him from driving the rest of the way. He had been on his feet for longer than he had ever been in his life and he was getting off them now. Now.

Then, suddenly, the bakkie shuddered behind me. There was a cry and a crash. I spun round.

Firstborn Daughter was sitting in the fynbos, clutching her head.

She had clambered into the car head first – an ungainly method at the best of times – and had smacked the top of her head into the door frame. Eager to get off the trail and off her feet, she had gone in so fast that she pretty much bounced right off the edge of the doorframe and fell back into the bushes. By now I could no longer keep a straight face. My facial muscles can hold a sad expression for only so long – it’s just the way I’m made – and I had far exceeded that time. I was sorry she had hurt herself. I made sympathetic sounds. But I had to laugh.

It was time to leave them. I wanted to run. The sweeper assured me that he still had to clear the signs from the trail and that it would be no trouble at all if I wanted to finish the race. By now my iPhone was running low and I would probably not be able to track the rest of the run.

So, with The Boyfriend’s running watch strapped to my arm and his cell phone in my FlipBelt, I set off on a final little run for the day. I was feeling good – certainly well rested! I was stressing about the sweeper coming up behind me, though. I didn’t want to keep him out on the trail any longer than I could help it.

And then my ITB said ‘Whoa! What the hell, woman?! Where do you think you’re going?’

Ah, no man! I was NOT walking the rest of the way. I hauled my backpack off my back and, while maintaining a forward motion, rummaged around for my emergency first aid kit, found the Panado, took down two and kept on going. Miraculously, the painkillers kicked in after a while and my ITB, though not pain free, eased off a little. Mostly I ran the ups and walked the downs, as down was just too painful.

I was almost home. It was about a 7 km run from the bakkie to the finish line. Nothing else could go wrong …

About 3 km from the end I spotted some off-piste markers glowing cheerfully in the late afternoon sun. I stopped. I looked for an arrow pointing to the markers. There was none. But I was the last one on the road, so it was possible that the arrow had been lifted by then. I pondered the markers. They were orange, same as the rest of the markers on the trail, but not quite the same style. But it has happened before that the markers were not exactly the same throughout the trail. And it has happened before that markers were moved off the trail to mess with the runners. What to do …? I looked back to see if the sweeper was behind me so that I could ask him, but he was nowhere in sight.

Follow the markers, I figured. So I followed the markers.

They led me down quite a pretty dirt trail, amongst some bright orange aloes and some tall trees. And, quite soon, face-to-face with a troop of baboons. Oh shit. I was clutching a half-eaten BarOne in my hand and these fellows would definitely want a taste of it. And then they would probably want to inspect my backpack for more goodies. I was not running through this crowd. It was unlikely that they were trail running fans and had turned up to offer their encouragement and support.

I fished The Boyfriend’s cell from my FlipBelt and called Firstborn Daughter’s number for advice. The Boyfriend answered. He sounded vague. He couldn’t work out where I was and didn’t know about any baboons on the trail. Then he mentioned that there was some trail that looked like it was part of our trail, but it wasn’t, and that some other runners had gone down there too.

Time to turn around. Again. It’s not as if 33 km of trail isn’t enough …!

By now the sweeper had passed me and I could see him running up ahead. Of all the ridiculous things that had happened this weekend, this to me was the funniest. I was so far behind that even the sweeper was going to cross the finish line ahead of me!

I kept going, laughing to myself. I was certain that our ridiculous little group was going to become the fabric of some amusing trail legends. I hoped the fireside storytellers remembered all the details.

The Boyfriend stood waiting for me near the finish line, much to the confusion of the sweeper: he was certain that I was way ahead of him, how had he passed me? I caught up with them, waving and grinning. The end was just around the corner!

‘You’re making me look bad,’ called the sweeper. ‘People will say I can’t keep track of the runners!’

‘Well done, lady,’ he added.

I followed the muddy road around a bend, then onto a lawn and up a few steps. The red trail flags nodded in the wind. Two people enjoying sundowners on their comfy couch by the fire stood up to cheer for me. ‘Well done,’ they called. I was half proud, half embarrassed. I had finished but, wow, in what a time! They wouldn’t know that I had spent about 7 km walking at sprained ankle pace.

I passed under the big red inflatable arch and heard the sounds of a lone clapper. The Boyfriend had taken a shortcut, positioned himself on a bench at the finish and was offering some solitary support. Firstborn Daughter had been put to bed and was sound asleep.

Eight hours and two minutes. Oh, my word …! How ridiculous. But it was not a DNF. And it had been fun. I had loved it – all of it!

Would I still get a medal, I wondered. I was too embarrassed to ask. The time keeper, who by now had almost finished her glass of wine, offered me some energy drink, a pancake, a sausage roll. I declined the sausage roll, but I took down the pancake and the energy drink while eyeing the last few medals lying on the table next to her.

She wasn’t offering them. I was going to have to ask. I really wanted to finish, and now I really would quite like a medal. Silly, I know, but there it is …

‘Um … do I still get a medal?’ I asked ‘Even if it took me eight hours?’

‘But aren’t you running tomorrow?’ she asked.

Ah! It was a medal for the two days, not a medal per day. Or, if you were running only one of the two days, a medal for that day.

‘Err … I’d like to think about it,’ I said. Tomorrow probably wasn’t going to happen. I wanted to run but there was a good chance that I would risk injury and risk missing out on the training I need for the Mauritius Marathon, which is in four weeks’ time.

I got my medal. A shiny full stop at the end of a completely ridiculous two days.

We came, we saw, we made fools of ourselves.

But I’ll be back! I can’t speak for the other two. Not now, anyway. Too soon, and all that, you know. But I’ll be back!

 

PS: Grootvadersbosch is a two-day trail run organised by Quantum Adventures. It is excellently organised by the nicest, most helpful, most accommodating bunch of people you could hope to find anywhere. The trail itself runs through the Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve, which is a World Heritage Site. If trail running is not your thing, go there to camp and hike instead – it is simply spectacular. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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