It was a particularly long day with many ups and downs, many thoughts, many laughter and plenty of experiences.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to bore you with the details of every one of the hundred and nine thousand steps. This post will rather feature some of the highlights of my run to give you some idea of what this little thing called UTCT is all about.
The Ups and Downs
Firstly, it is absolutely not a walk in the park. A lot of walking, yes, but you have to at least do a little bit of running if you want to get to the finish line before the organizing crew goes to bed. The route takes you through, up and over some magnificent landscapes in and around the Table Mountain National Park, with mountains, coastlines and hundreds of supporters all thrown in the mix. Let’s break it down;
You start in front of Table Mountain, one of the Seven Wonders of Nature, and sprint through town at eager beaver pace to find some locals awake just after 4 AM in the morning, utterly mad. Go up the side slopes of Signal Hill, join the tar road and head back up and around Lions Head where you’ll pass more early birds trying to get to the famous lookout point to catch the sunrise in time. You veer of that climb at some point and make your way back to Signal Hill where your first water point awaits, roughly eleven kilometers in.
Drop down on the Sea Point side of things and make sure you swing to the left to make your way through some forest sections back to Kloof Corner where your second water point awaits at twenty kilometers. Some people arrived at Kloof Nek before their support crews were awake, others were still running in their sleep. I for one came into this water point still fast asleep and could hear my name loud and clear. It felt like something out of a scene from three blind mice as I could not recognize anyone. To my surprise my support crew were standing right in front of me. Apart from not eating bananas like a monkey, my nutritional plan was still kind of going OK at this point, but a bit more on this later.
Thereafter, brace yourself for the magnificent all out screaming and cheering from the tunnel of mountain club supporters as you make your way up from Kloof Corner to the Table Mountain contour path. You’ll hope to find some rhythm on the contour path as you head towards Platteklip Gorge. The route up Platteklip Gorge is an absolute magnificent and cheap way to get to the top of Table Mountain as opposed to standing in the queue for three hours for a spot on the cable car. Fortunately, during this event you won’t have to face any tough decisions. Bagpipe songs echoed through the gorge, the whole bloody way, and it was absolutely fantastic. I reckon that musician didn’t have beans for breakfast though as he kept playing for hours, what a legend.
At the top of Platteklip Gorge I was finally awake and looked at my watch for the first time in the race. It was twenty-seven odd kilometers in and we already gained close to two-thousand meters in elevation, roughly half of what was expected over the full distance. That in itself gave me a bit of a mental boost.
Next you cover some technical bits on the top of the mountain with lots of Fynbos giving you a proper tickle on the legs. If you’re allergic to those, well cheers then, you won’t finish. Drop down to another water point just before the Woodhead Reservoir still on the higher slopes of the mountain. You’ll find an absolute great South African vibe here with lots of sandwiches and sliced oranges to lift the spirit. At this point my nutritional plan started going south. What started as a calculated spreadsheet of Calories in versus Calories out, soon changed into chucking everything out the window and filling my bottles with half coke and half water the old-fashioned way. I could simply not take the sweetness of the chocolate and cafe late flavored highly nutritional drinks I’ve used so many times before. I had to start thinking of a plan B before reaching half way, and the bistro in Pretoria was only just out of reach.
After that little breather you cross the dam wall where after the marshals wrestle you keep to the right as the thirty-five kilometer sign points to the left which can become quite tempting. Right is was, down a strange flowing concrete path which was one of my worst fears coming into the race. I thought it would be much steeper and that the legs would take a hammering going down there, but it was actually not bad at all. You drop way down and into Constantia where you refill with water before the eight kilometer stretch to Llundadno.
This section was quite runable as I even caught up with some people on horses which offered me a lift. Mysteriously, I ran sub-world record pace for a while for some odd reason. Back to reality, you kind of get the feeling that Llundudno is close but it takes a little while longer than one would think before you pop out at the top of the famous Suikerbossie hump that causes plenty of swear words among cyclists each year in March, the make or break point in the Cape Town Cycle Tour. Wave to the strugglers at the top and drop down through the streets of Llundudno to the next supports point.
At Llundudno you need to stack up on food and water and also get your plan B “slaptjips” order in for your next stop at Houtbay. This was my plan B, I just had to reach Houtbay, sit down and have a proper meal. The Llundudno supporters point had a nice holiday vibe to it as it felt like buying an ice cream at a vendor before heading back to relax on the beach. But, as opposed to ice cream I made sure I refilled with some electrolytes and got plenty of fluids in. Oh, and a banana. It was printed into my brain by the marshal that I had to have enough water on me before leaving this station, a minimum of one and a half liters. This proved quite important as the next section was long, exposed, happened in the middle of the day and there was one monster of a stumbling block in the way.
Before we get to that stumbling block, as you run out of Llundudno and onto the beach you seriously need to look out for cricket balls flying around. Some kids were playing an intense game of beach cricket, hoping to be scouted by the IPL gurus. From one beach to another and we suddenly had to deal with different kinds of balls at Sandy Bay. We encountered a strange beach and we were not quite fitting in with the dress code, something unfamiliar to Vaalies going to the south coast for their usual holiday. The Baywatch girls probably did not get the supporters memo which left plenty to the imagination. This at least encouraged one to move through this section at rapid speed which is not a bad thing during a race after all. Once you’ve erased some of the newly formed scars you do a bit of boulder hopping along the coast before going up the first part of the steep Karbonkelberg climb.
Following the initial sting of Karbonkelberg is a little contour section on some gravel road before reaching the big nail in the coffin. A steep scramble all the way to the beacon right on top of the hill. One needs to adopt to the mindset that you do not turn off this climb until you’ve reached the very top. This Karbonkelberg monster was a nail in the coffin for many of the elite runners and the red line for plenty others. I haven’t heard of one person coming out of this section that didn’t have second thoughts of finishing the race. We were crawling up here.
After some rest on a lonely rock at the top, a nice drop down into Houtbay helps you to get back to sea level at a glance. Tummy cramps were becoming an issue for me at this point whenever I reached for a gel. I suspect that the intense heat also played its part in forcing the body to misbehave at this stage.
The “slaptjips” waterpoint at the sixty kilometer mark was next and “slaptjips” never tasted that good. A shout out to Jo-Andri that got the order spot on. If you get to this point and forgot to place an order earlier this is the time to test your charming skills with the volunteers, just look tired and play the hundred kilometer card, I can guarantee it will work every time. You need to do anything to boost your spirit before heading out on the final forty kilometres of running. This was probably the low point for most.
The next section from Houtbay to Constantia is an easy runable section, an uphill drag with a road race vibe. On paper you should fly here, but this is probably the section where I struggled the most. I absolutely hate road running and it really chowed me mentally as I really struggled to find any kind of rhythm and reverted to a hike-jog style for long stretches. It felt like eternity. After a decade I finally reached the next water point at Constantia and drank lots of water to try and flush the system. The scenery changed and the vineyards did its magic. I remember a lady saying it is about six-point-five kilometers to Alphen and I thought, OK, let’s try and run this. It got better as we moved out of the sun and back into the shade of big trees and forests sections and onto the lovely Alphen trails. My spirit was back on track.
The Alpen Park supporter point was another beauty. It was big and there was another classical Cape Town festive vibe going with plenty to eat and drink. I probably stopped too long here as I refilled with water and coke and had some potatoes on the go. After a gear check by a marshal I was ready to go. Oh wait, I finally remembered to ask for my earphones, something I kept on forgetting to do from the start of the race. This was a game changer.
With fifteen kilometers to the last supporters point at UCT I had some music in my ears and decided to try and fly through the next section of forests. Newlands forest is a lovely canopy covered section where you can swerve between trees, do some rock hopping and hammer some stairs. It’s a technical piece with lots of trail running elements thrown in the mix. I came fresh out of the Otter Run which included a ridiculous number of stairs so was quite used to this terrain at this stage. To my surprise my legs were suddenly feeling great again and I could move across this section with ease, catching plenty of short course runners and making up some time.
The final supporters point emerged at the UCT campus and it was a stunner. When you give a sponsor like Redbull the opportunity to organize a supporters point they pull out all the stops. A big banner, loud music, loads of people cheering and Redbulls on the house. It was the icing on the cake.
OK, lets get to the final section. You climb out of UCT on a steep side slope of Table Mountain until you reach the Table Mountain contour path for the second time. I must admit after the Karbonkelberg climb I really though we’d be going right to the top of Devil’s Peak for this one. But it seems someone in the route design team managed to find some sense of humor at this stage which meant we stuck to the contour path instead. I will have to submit a complaint in this regard. Nevertheless, the afterburners that I’ve used going through Newlands forest ran out of jet fuel and I was crawling again. My half touch, half cracked, cell phone screen also tossed in the white flag at this stage and I could not get any music back. All of this possibly created a mental block as I’ve calculated that even if I’ve walked to the finish line, I would comfortably make the cut-off time of seventeen hours and complete the race. That was the goal after all. As we headed downhill for the final time my legs began to hurt. Some knee niggle caused by falling on a bridge in the build-up emerged and a hip pain from earlier in the year raised its head, but I knew I had this one in the bag.
As I jogged onto the far end of the rugby fields where the finish line banner was looming a few hundred meters away, I had a quick glance at my watch and it was at thirteen hours and fifty-nine minutes on the dot. A had one minute to zig-zag across two rugby fields to break the fourteen-hour barrier and it was game on. I ignored all the niggles and switched on the afterburners again to cover the final section in forty-seven seconds to arrive at the finish line in a time of 13:59:47.
It was an experience I’ll never forget and I recommend anyone that loves trail running to get this UTCT event on your bucket list, whether you decide to take a bite at the hundred or anyone of the other distances.
It was a day and year well spent,
Cheers 2018 and cheers to all the adventurous friends that’s been part of it, your all growing on me like algae.
Live a little,