Trail terror

4 December 5, 2016

By next week Sunday, the Ultra Trail Cape Town will be a thing of the past. Whether I had turned up to run it or not, it would have happened. One thousand runners would have attempted either the 35, 65 or 100 km route and by Sunday night they would still be sitting in the warm glow of their accomplishment.

And right now I am looking at the train smash that is my training log.

13 km this week. Just over 20 last week. Not one week over 40 km in weeks and weeks.

And I’m supposed to be running an ultra on Saturday. An ultra that goes over a mountain. I feel sick. For weeks now I have avoiding looking in the direction of the mountain as I drive along the N1 on yet another trip to the northern suburbs. I sometimes allow myself to glance at the trail running across the plump waistline of Devil’s Peak. That’s the road home. The downhill track towards the finish line. There would still be 10 km to go, but the city would be in sight. The worst would be over.

I look at training logs of other runners on Strava, people who take their training seriously, people who sign up for big races and then do big runs in training, and I feel sick.

My training log looks pretty decent up to the Cape Town Marathon. And then it all just falls apart. Disintegrates. Vapourised.

What to do?

Do I turn up? It seems so disrespectful of the race, of the effort put in by the organisers, of the effort put in by all the other runners. Do I turn up and hope to survive, just hope to finish? Do I see finishing before cut-off as a win? Do I accept that a DNF can happen to the best runners in the world and that I might also have those three letters behind my name?

Ah. My word. My runs over the last few weeks haven’t even included a hill. Let alone a mountain.

How am I going to do this?

I am so absolutely terrified of what lies ahead that I don’t even have thoughts formulated in words. All I have is a leaden feeling of dread. It comes to roost in my stomach and then it sends waves of terror through my chest and arms. It closes my throat and it paralyses my legs.

Every time the Significant Other and The Kid ask me, ‘What’s changed? You were fine a moment ago and now suddenly you’re short tempered. What’s happened?’ it’s because I have suddenly been reminded of This Thing looming over me.

I tell myself that I have worked all year for this. I have signed up for all sorts of trail runs. I have done the toughest trails – Jonkershoek, Montagu Mountain Mania and Grootvadersbosch. There were various shorter trail runs – Groot Constantia, Lourensford and Uitkyk, as well as Strandloper. And then there was Sneeuberg: 111 km covered over three days of desert heat and dust, at altitude – I keep forgetting about the altitude. And I topped that experience with the sheer hell that Trail du Mont Rochelle.

I have taken on the trails along mountains, deserts, rivers and beaches.

So far I am only 19 km away from having run 1 800 km this year. I have clocked up an elevation gain of over 30 000 m. I have run three marathons – if you don’t count the 40 km and 44 km (inadvertently) run on the Sneeuberg Traverse.

Sure, the last five weeks have been pretty terrible. I have been exhausted, post-flu, post-London, post-London-flu-type-relapse, post-Sneeuberg, post-Trail du Mont Rochelle. I’ve struggled to run. I’ve had to talk myself into running 10 km without stopping for a walk break. If I can run 10 km without walking, I’ve been telling myself, then all I have to do is run 10 km six times and the job is done. And chunks of the distance will be hiking, not running, as I’ll be climbing the mountain – like that’s a piece of cake! Parts of the trail will go downhill. And then, on the flat stretches, all I have to do is run 10 km without stopping. Six times. And then the job is done.

Oh. My. Word.

If it were as simple as that, the whole of Cape Town would be lining up.

It starts at four in the morning! I’ve not once managed to get out of bed at five in the last few weeks. In fact, Nor have I managed to stay awake for an entire day. Do I even go to sleep the night before the race? How do I do this? OMG! I would have to be there at 3:15 am, so I would have to leave home at 3:00, so I would have to be out of bed at 2:00 … no, 1:00 … Oh. My. Fuck.

Okay. Let’s go back to the pep talk. Every run this year has been aimed at gaining experience and fitness for Ultra Trail Cape Town. I have ramped up my mileage. Yes, I have had to take it easy over the last weeks, but the year’s runs are still sitting in my legs.

And Hal Higdon says you should taper for three weeks. You should be well rested at the start of the race. Rather undertrained than overtrained, he says. Or someone said that. I’ve always managed to turn up undertrained. That’s for sure. Except for Cape Town Marathon. I was well trained. And that bombed spectacularly. Twice, in fact.

And I don’t have a goal for the UTCT. The goal is simply to finish. For CTM I wanted a sub-five hour. A 4:30, in fact. But for UTCT there is no pressure. It’s simply a case of getting out there, letting all the young bucks pass me as soon as possible, definitely before the single track, and then spending the rest of the day – 14 hours – out there on the trails, making my way home. Even ET got home eventually. And Frodo and Sam made it from the Shire to Mt Mordor and back again. Atreyu makes it out of the Swamp of Sadness, even without his horse.

But I just had such big training plans. I was going to be so much better prepared. I was going to be awesomely prepared. All those Platteklip and Lion’s Head climbs I had scheduled. One or two climbs per week. It didn’t happen. All those abs classes at gym. Ditto.

It’s just so frustrating. As a woman, I can’t go out on the trails by myself. Roads are okay, but yomping up trails by myself is just looking for trouble. So here I sit, undertrained, with the entire route just outside my front door.

I have found Tuesday Trails and Mates, and I have joined the Mountain Club. So I’ll be set up for plenty of running groups next year. I just need to get through Saturday, 10 December.

I survived 12 and 17 hours of labour. I survived eight hours on the trail in Sneeuberg. I made it down that killer of a trail at Mont Rochelle. I made it up and down Grootvadersbosch and Montagu.

I can do this.

I think … Maybe … I hope …

I’m so ridiculously terrified!

If I can just remember to breathe …




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