Have you ever wanted to give up? To quit so hard that the thought of not quitting, or not being able to quit for whatever reason, makes you angry to your core. God knows I have. Hell, most of the time quitting is the least of my worries, it’s getting started that’s the real bitch.
To be clear, I’m not writing this in some vain attempt at another inspirational running post about never giving up or refusing to quit. In fact, there are many things I think we should all quit right away: Smoking (cigarettes at least), talking shit behind someone’s back, trying to please everyone all the time, driving while drunk or high, being a dick. I could go on but I think you get the idea. I’ve done all of the above and more at some point and probably will again in the future, so who am I to judge?
I like running, probably a little bit more than the average person but I’m an addict by nature and therefore my self-proclaimed passion for running ultra-marathons makes sense. I only started running about 4 years ago, completing my first marathon in September 2015. Since then I’ve run lots of marathons and even more ultra-marathons, most of them with my long-suffering wee buddy of 20 years, Richard van der Spuy. Before we started running together, the first 16 years of our friendship would read something like Hunter S Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I suppose we’ve always been keen to explore the unknown so to speak. Now in our 40’s, a hundred-mile trail run seemed like the kinda party we would enjoy.
Addo Elephant Park 100 miler is a beautiful bitch
On Friday March 2nd 2018 at 2:00p.m, Richard and I started out on another innocent little adventure known as Africa’s Wildest Run. The Addo Elephant Park 100 Miler. That’s 161km’s of trail running with a total elevation gain of 5600m, although my Suunto Ambit Peak3 reckons it was 6480m of elevation.
Understandably the field for such an event is rather small, I think only 56 started the race with us. At the pre-race briefing and while hanging out in the race tent before the start, it once again seemed obvious to Richard and me that we were imposters who didn’t quite belong. The other competitors always seem to be better prepared, more knowledgeable about what lies ahead and they all look stronger and more legit so to speak. I’m quite sure this is just our own insecurities manifesting, both of us have spent most of our lives battling insecurity and self-doubt, my own Mother still reminds me that I apparently pissed the bed until I was 6 years old. Personal confessions aside, I guess we kinda enjoy the self-imposed outsider tag.
Also, I can’t be asked to get deep into the matrix of higher grade admin that I somehow associate with race preparation and strategy. I leave that up to Richard, he’s much more diligent in these matters, I can trust him, he’ll know what to do and where to go if we have a problem during our little outing. So, there we were, in the race tent attaching GPS units to our kit and numbers to our T-shirts and making final preparations as best we knew how with about an hour to go before the gun. We were sitting at different tables at that point when Richard walked up to me briskly with eyes wide open carrying his open camel-bak in one hand with half his gear hanging out.
“I can’t sit at that table anymore dude, they’re freaking me out.” He said in a frightened hurry.
“WTF!?! What’s their problem?” I asked as if ready to defend my wee buddy from a pending attack.
“No no, they don’t have a problem, I think we definitely do though. I was listening to them talk about the course while they studied that fucking map that I’ve never seen and they were speaking about sections of the course and discussing a race strategy using words and phrases that I honestly didn’t even understand.”
“Oh well, maybe we just try follow them then hey. Shit.” I offered as a solution to what Richard now saw as very clear and present danger.
The Grand Deception – How to get the doctor to make you quit.
After about 20 hours and 111km’s of grind, I approached the compulsory medical stop of the Addo 100 Miler fundamentally committed to quitting, I was done. I had run 118km of challenging trail already, more than I had ever run before. I was part of a very small group of people who had dared to tackle the 161km Addo course in the first place and I had every right to quit. I was tired, sore, blistered and not exactly digging it, to put it mildly. I was also really scared.
I sat down in the camper chair and the doctor, smiling broadly, said “well done!” and then asked me how I was feeling. I looked up at him and offered a mumbled response. I don’t remember what I said but my lack of enthusiasm dampened his a little. As he continued to run the various medical checks I decided that the doctor would make the decision for me and he would pull me from the race.
Within a minute I had very deliberately sent enough confusing signals to the doctor to raise his concern. I acted a little bit dizzy and disoriented, I stood up and pretended to stumble as if off balance. A few more incoherent mumbles and the doctor informed me that he was making an executive decision to pull me from the race. I had done it, I had masterminded my exit without actually quitting. “Jirre I’m clever hey,” I said to myself. To which my inner voice replied in a tone best reserved for someone you loathe. “Ja, but you’re also a fucking asshole.”
In an instant, I realized that what I was doing was extremely uncool. I was manipulating the doctor to force me to quit, that way it wouldn’t be my decision and I would have a less shameful excuse for not finishing the race. Luckily the results of all my medical checks were 100% solid and after 5 minutes of desperate repentance I managed to convince the doctor that I was actually fine, he reluctantly allowed me to continue.
The Valley of Tears and when I finally quit
Strange as it sounds, I felt a huge sense of relief that I had managed to undo my deception and was allowed to continue into the Valley of Tears. A very aptly named 17km section of the course I might add, although I managed it a little easier than I had expected. Possibly because I dodged the bullet of my own duplicity or maybe because the cashew nut and date bar that I demolished gave me a much-needed boost.
Whatever, I now found myself at the refuel station after the Valley of Tears having completed about 130km’s of the course. For a brief moment, I may have even felt quite upbeat and positive, the end was in sight kind of feeling, I’ve got this, I’m very strong and clever and honest and wonderful. If I did feel any of this it was certainly fleeting. Once we got up the steep hill and onto the long ridge with about 30km’s to go, my race pace was reduced to a medium/fast walk at best. It was now dark as I entered my second night on the trot, I was fatigued to the extreme and the pain was real. I have however discovered on my journey so far that I seem to enjoy the pain more than most. I have no idea why yet but maybe more about that in a future musing.
Now, on top of the ridge with about 30km’s to go my entire being was reduced to its simplest possible form. It could not be simplified any further while still remaining whole. I was non-binary so to speak; my entire life’s mission was singular and that was to take the very next step. Sounds easy enough but before taking the next step I had to conquer my now insatiable desire to quit. With every single step, despite how tired I was, the battle between taking the next step and the desire to quit raged inside me like a runaway forest fire. Even when I disassociated what little I had left of myself from the rage inside, still it grew in intensity with every step. Honestly, If I could have legitimately quit with only 3 steps to go until the finish line I would have. I crossed the line at about 1:00a.m, sat down and said to Sheena (the race director), I quit. “Ok,” she said, in a way that demonstrated her advanced skill in not giving a fuck about my struggles.
I really do love trail running, especially the 100 miler
Less than a minute after my declaration to Sheena, Greig Pringle crossed the line. I met Greig at Skyrun and we had become friends based on our mutual love for suffering. Greig and I had run together from about halfway on Addo, we had been through a great deal of self-induced pain and hardship together, encouraging each other as much as we could along the way. Greig had also carried on despite tearing his hamstring with about 15km’s to go. As he crossed the line with only Sheena and I to greet him, Greig started to shake uncontrollably, probably in a state of shock and unable to regulate his core temperature. Sheena looked at what was left of me sitting on a camper chair and asked me with a frown, “What the hell’s wrong with him?” pointing at Greig. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud before suggesting ironically that perhaps he had just run 161km through torturous terrain, could it be that he was tired and sore, perhaps even needed medical attention?
That’s something I truly love about the ultra-distance trail runs that I’ve completed so far. No crowds cheering you on as you enter the stadium to complete your feat. No loudspeaker blaring your name as you approach the elaborate finish line with eager volunteers handing out medals, no paparazzi. Just the race director ticking off your name and maybe a friend or family member who agreed to pick you up after the race. Priceless.
Richard finished a short while later with a dude that he had picked up at the half way mark. As he crossed the line I opened the car door and shouted,
“You’re a fucking champ Rich.”
“Thanks man, so are you.” He replied.
Richard sported a broad beaming smile and from where I was sitting looked a lot fresher than I did. His name ticked off on the finishers list he joined me in the back seat of the car and Tanya, Richard’s wife, started the drive back to our digs about 30km away.
Richard and I spoke a lot for a good 10 minutes or so before passing out. We didn’t say a lot though, we mostly just repeated a few statements over and over with slightly different tones and inflections at best. We laughed and smiled though, we were definitely happy and probably even a little proud of the fact that we had finished.
Jim: “That was so hard man, so fucking hard.”
Rich: “All I wanted to do was quit, for so long dude.”
Jim: “I’ve never wanted to quit so immediately for so long ever before in my life.”
Jim: “I told Sheena that I quit for sure as soon as I crossed the line.”
Jim: “I’m actually cross that I didn’t quit sooner.”
Rich: “But we didn’t quit man, we finished that stupid thing.”
Jim: “Man, that was so frikken hard.”
Rich: “Jim, I was hallucinating so hectically towards the end man.”
Jim: “Me too dude, tripping balls.”
Jim: “Greig told me at one point that he was following the guy in front of us, I had to stop him and tell him that there was nobody in front of us.”
Rich: “WTF, dude.”
Jim: “That was proper hard. I just wanted to quit so badly.”
Rich: “I honestly quit more than a hundred times.”
What next – The Day after Addo 100 miler
The next day we chilled hard. We ate a lot throughout the day as we began a journey of post-race reflection that would last for weeks, months even. I’m writing this 6 months after the race. We’ve completed West Coast Marathon, Two Oceans Ultra and Comrades, Bastille 50, NumNum and Sping Mweni since we ran Addo 100 miler, but the experience is still fresh in my mind. I’m still trying to figure out what we learnt running Addo while also trying not to overthink anything. Richard and I still enjoying referring back to the adventure in all its torturous glory. It was an experience, it was fun, it was wild.
Tomorrow we’ll be lining up for our 2nd 100 mile race at Karkloof. Some good friends will be joining us for the their 1st 50 miler; Shane, Ryan and Dom. Our gang of imposters is growing.
Hopefully we’ll all finish with enough of a sense of humour intact to sign up for Addo 100 miler in 2019. Yes please.