.WHAT RACE ARE YOU RUNNING?RUNNING THE RACE OF ADVENTURE

Ultra-Trail Drakensberg 100 Miles (160 km) – 22 - 24 April 2022

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"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me" - John 10:27

This verse came to mind as I was traversing the high-altitude expanse of Lesotho on my first 100-mile trail run. The sheep and goats immediately respond to the calls of their shepherds of this land who are only dressed in white plastic gumboots, short pants and a Basotho blanket.

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Running 100 miles within a cut off of 45 continuous hours requires responses to each moment. With the sheep and goats of Lesotho their responses to their shepherds evokes the ring of a bell that lies hanging around some of their necks. Each 100-mile race has a unique 100-mile finisher prize – for Ultra-Trail Drakensberg 160 it is one of these bells. My vision was to finish for this prize between 08:00 GMT 22 April and 05:00 GMT 24 April 2022. Some photographs credited to official race photographers, Jonathan Newman, and friend.

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But I too had to respond. And the response involves suffering. Almost every. Single. Step. Like my Saviour Jesus Christ, the ultimate Shepherd of the those who respond to Him, I had to suffer to get to the finish line and obtain the prize. Except my suffering paled in comparison and the prize Jesus gets is far more than a metal bell – it is for His glory. This 100-mile long Tale, indicative of the time and detail it takes to prepare and complete this distance is dedicated to Jesus. My Shepherd. For His glory:

Known as South Africa’s toughest 100 miler which crosses an international border with the Kingdom of Lesotho, I knew I was in for a hard race, and I was somewhat nervous in trepidation which felt foreign going into a race for me. I’m glad I was as it kept me malleable to be able to respond to the myriad of changes that kept coming throughout the race. No matter the 100 miler, one can never be prepared enough. And each one requires a different approach in the lead up. I disciplined myself with this reality in mind. With an average yearly drop out of about a third of those who start this version of this distance, it was about digging deep and having some grit to endure and persevere. Dig really deep.

279095775 5578794358847608 1842253906163481561 n100 miles is about process, patience and people. On board a shuttle enroute to the race start at the top of Sani Pass.

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220420222309Where small people and big mountains meet: Amakehle Amabili check point at 10 kilometres on the edge of the Drakensberg down into South Africa.

The shepherds kept calling and the bells kept ringing. I kept stepping – the blisters surrounding my heels gained in size as the 73 kilometre section in Lesotho kept on wearing on and getting wetter and more boggy underfoot due to the increase in rains in the region in the lead up.

279270819 5587384021321975 8689477569197259253 nServing people, without which this event would not happen: Sani Stone Lodge Aid Station at 32 kilometres.

The altitude at Thabana Ntlenyana (highest African point south of Kilimanjaro) affected me somewhat and it felt I was summiting Kilimanjaro and Mt Kenya all over again as the sickness settled in with minus 6 degrees Celsius temperatures, wind chill and being in the cloud nearing the summit. But although I was alone, I was well within my element in self-navigating with ice surrounding my feet and where the beam of my torch was lost in the fog – just focus on the GPS and keep moving. It was about tagging the top at 3482 metres above sea level and getting down as fast as I could to get more oxygen in. I did start to feel better when I tried to force myself to bring up on the final ascent, however. The ginger biscuits also provided some instant reprieve for the sickness at times.

279216865 5578792385514472 6276484256623864880 nThe magnificence of the Lesotho landscape made for some needed distraction from its harshness underfoot - big rivers etching their way through the expanse making their mark as was the race in my mind and body.

279243974 5578502065543504 4982692651589319284 nIt's worse than what it looks - most of the damage in skin separation happening at a deeper level, Sani Backpackers Aid Station, first cut off point and end of the Lesotho section at 73 kilometres. I was actually feeling pretty good here, as far as I can remember. I still had around 90 kilometres to go...

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Beautiful Drakensberg sunrise scenes on Saturday morning of 23 April above and below in making my way down Sani Pass and into the South African section of the race.

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279108414 5578813995512311 2816890544931546235 nDepending from which perspective or people group one looks at it, the Drakensberg, or uKhahlamba, is so named to mean 'Dragon Mountain' or 'Barrier of Spears' respecitively. 

                               Aid Stations are places of transition. Together with Lisa as my seconder we had these times of support practised and nailed down well. Keeping the GPS charged was always the first thing to do. Waterfall Aid Station, 101 kilometres. By now I had been awake for around 33 hours and its where I started to race with my pacer, Jonathan Newman of Johannesberg.

t/sdcard/DCIM/100GOPRO/GOPR0068Making our way up and away from the Sani valley below with fellow ultra runner Garion Krauss, whom I spent many an hour with both in Lesotho and South Africa.

20220423 135911Jonathan is an experienced speed hiker friend who knows the Drakensberg extremely well. Keeping me on track in many ways, he was indespensible in the process both in the lead up to the race and more importantly on course, including recording great memories of lots of walking and talking between many!

t/sdcard/DCIM/100GOPRO/GOPR0075Traversing the edges of Lifton Lake.

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Things started to get interestingly real after being awake for around 36 hours and I needed sleep, above. Eventually I succumed to a 10 minute nap below amongst some cattle. I felt a whole lot better after!

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By the time I had got through the second cut off point at Old Duck Aid Station I started to abandon any ‘good’ time to complete the distance in. I figured nobody was going to think anything more or less of me or give me a special badge trying to be a hero in ‘getting a good time’ because that’s how I’m wired in being competitive. No, by this time I had gone through quite a bit, downed countless Panado’s for altitude sickness in Lesotho and a handful of anti-inflammatories for my feet which screamed with pain I have never felt in more than 20 years of running. My flesh was peeling raw from my feet due to the relentless moisture and wetness this route guarantees, and rain deep into the second night added to the fun. There was absolutely no way I could have prepared for such water in my shoes over so many hours. I figured a 100-mile finish within the cut off time is a 100-mile finish!

                               My feet felt like they were falling apart. Putting aside all finesse, I just strapped them with a layer of 'artifical skin' to get me to the finish. Olde Duck Aid Station at 124 kilometres.

Hallucinating was another response I had to work through: there was a time where I noticed two people watching me near Cobham Aid Station around 02:00 on Sunday from a balcony. I looked, blinked and looked again and they were still there. In passing where I thought they were I was bitterly disappointed they had gone. Leaning against a rock that ended up being a bush. You can imagine the fall! Or the baby that looked like he was cheering me on at the golf course near the end. It was just a trail marker flapping in the wind! The rocks on river crossings kept moving and wouldn’t stay in their place for me to navigate to cross the rapids. These are usual realties on a 100-mile trail run. Only a humorous response to these enabled me to see these as part of the bigger picture.

                               The end of the pacing section at Drak Gardens Road Aid Station at 139 kilometres came quite abruptly for Jonathan, and now it was up to me to finish well.

From just before the last aid station of Cobham, I ran like I have never before. Making up 10 places in 12 kilometres it was a culmination of reflection and it seemed like the past years of preparation, long distances and endurance events and summiting mountain peaks around the world all came together. I was like a flying wreck of joy and being in one of sweetest spots in a way that fitted so well with who God made me to be – an endurance athlete and to push myself to places few fear to tread. And for that I just ran and ran in celebration! I also reminded myself that as much I had thought of giving up at times, there was just no way I was going to let anything keep me from making the 45 hours. Thoughts of the 03:00am weekly 4 to 9 hour training runs came to mind, and the sacrifices my family had to go through and I wasn’t going to let that all go to waste.

279082291 5578645002195877 107403571679086105 nThat 100-mile feeling: numerous finishers of 100 miles have written about the unique feeling that they experience when crossing the finish line of a 100 mile race. I felt this special moment running along this final straight a hundred metres from the end. Privilege.

This vision was there for almost four years, yet it was my lifetime of preparation and 8 months of concerted discipline in training wholistically in running, daily nutrition and rest that just got me to the start line in one piece. Crossing the finish line is another race entirely.

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                               Every run, and especially a 100-mile prize, only happens because there is an unseen supportive team behind the effort. I am so grateful to my loving wife Lisa, and my two sons Josiah and Jethro for their incredible sacrifice they have endured to enable the crossing of the start and finish line of Ultra-Trail Drakensberg 100 Mile 2022. And to my friend Jonathan Newman as my pacer on course!

100-mile trail running is about lessons in responses to suffering. The complete process, especially in training and preparation, and including post-race recovery is an expedition - something unique for which I am immensely grateful to Jesus for, but like with anything in life it is about learning, making mistakes, hurting and doing it all again. As with any lessons learnt, the ongoing process determines if or how much one has grown and learnt through keeping the bell ringing as I respond to His calls to continue running the race God has me on.

279287455 5575770185816692 9077753607388423860 nSoli Deo gloria.

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