3 years ago I started running and today, at the age of 51, I ran the Puffer.
We, Marcy, Vanessa and I, got off to an early start. We had organised a lift to the Cape Point reserve gate with the organiser, Serena and understandably she had to be there early. We piled into the waiting busses and headed off to the start. The runners were very animated, each one with a story to tell or a bit of nerve induced banter. We drove for a long time.
Finally we arrived and did the usual bathroom run before lining up at the start. Usually I am incredibly nervous before a big race and believe me, this one was a BIG RACE but because my focus had been on Grant and his Tuffer Puffer I did not have space in my head or my gut for nerves. It was a strange experience lining up at the start and not feeling anxious but rather looking forward to the day and what lay ahead. Marcy and I had agreed to run this race together and help each other through any rough patches. Our seconds were primed and we were keen to get moving. We said our hellos to familiar faces and running mates and suddenly we were on our way.
The run through the reserve passed quickly as it was still dark and difficult to determine distance or gradient. We soon passed the Real Jim at his water table and called out a cheerful greeting. We pushed on and as the sun peeked over the horizon we reached the gate and headed onto the road for our next milestone, the top of Redhill. At this stage the running was easy, conversation was light and some friendships were renewed.
We stuck to our pre-arranged Redhill strategy and dribbled our way up lamppost by lamppost and before we knew it we met our second, Lee-Ann at the top. A quick drink, a chat and the addition of my hydration pack and we were ready to move on. Past the barking/biting dogs, thankfully safely tied up and we headed off towards Blackhill and our Satori club mates. We heard the drums as we got closer and then we saw our personalised motivational signs that Bianca had made and lined along the road. Satori you were great and so encouraging and it was great to know we had your support. It felt rather surreal to be on the other side of the table for once and I made the most of the experience. We were both feeling very strong at this point and were way ahead of our scheduled time. Not wanting to lose anytime however, we did not stop for long but proceeded along the trail with the next water table at the bottom of Wagon Trail firmly fixed in our minds. Back onto the road, up Ou Kaapse Weg, onto the woodcutters’path which we walked, and then back onto the road.
The Wagon Trail loomed ahead. Lee-Ann got us sorted at the bottom with a change of shoes and socks, some more electrolyte drink and a reminder to eat something soon. We received a great welcome at this table from our morning running group and it was a great surprise to see them there. But our running second Justin was nowhere to be seen. Was he late, had he let us down? Nothing of the sort, we were by this stage 45 minutes ahead of our schedule. Let’s face it; you cannot stop the M&Ms when they get going. A quick call and Justin promised to catch us up on the trail. We headed off and up and up again adopting our dribble strategy. About halfway up Justin joined us and what an amazing second he turned out to be. He lied and told us we were looking fantastic, he set the pace just right, walked when we needed to walk and sang silly songs and added in the odd joke which we just couldn’t laugh at because by now the legs were starting to talk a little bit. On we went and the Wagon Trail was not the demon I thought it would be. We popped out at Silvermine still feeling relatively fresh and almost certain that we would make the cut off at Constantia Nek.
Lee-Ann got bossy here. Making sure that Marcy filled her supplement bottle and her water bottle. She bullied me into eating half a marmite sandwich and gave Justin instructions to remind me to eat the rest in exactly one hour. We obeyed.
Oh no, a twinge in the calf, don’t cramp, don’t cramp I chanted to myself. I took some electrolytes and the mini-cramp slowly subsided and I sighed with relief. On through Silvermine, down Elephant’s Eye path also know as Etienne’s corner as this was where Etienne took a tumble and broke his ankle just over a year ago and on his first time out running with our group. Level five, which Marcy said was a horrible stretch but, did not turn out to be so bad with Justin leading us on and making sure the cyclists gave way for us. Single track again and suddenly the tar road was in front of us and we headed down and towards the dreaded Vlakkenberg climb. Guess what? It was easy peesy lemon sqeezy. We had run up there so often that it had lost its power to intimidate. We now began to employ our other strategy which was to make sure that we just kept moving forward and ever closer to the Nek. Quickly at the top and then the rapid descent, we could see the flags and the people and that encouraged us to speed up a little. We made it to Constantia Nek with 45 minutes to spare!
Something small to eat, which was all I could manage. A change of top, a dry cap, a fresh buff and a hanky had me ready for the last 20km. And of course the whole new outfit was perfectly colour co-ordinated. A quick chat to some friends who had come along to support and goodbye and huge hugs for Lee-Ann and Justin for all their help so far on our journey. Our second seconder had agreed to help out a mate from Silvermine to Constantia Nek but he had promised to catch us up on the climb up the Nek. We seemed to have set a trend here of seconds having to race to catch us but it all worked out okay.
Slowly we made the long slog up the Nek. This is always a tough stretch and more so on tired legs. We had passed the 60km mark comfortably but now the head had to be strong and keep the body moving. It took a while to get up to the concrete road and we needed a stop at the top to replenish and re-focus our energy. It was at this point that our friend Di, said she would go ahead and that we would probably catch her on the hill. She never said which hill though and the next time we saw her was at the finish. What a great race day she had and to think that 3 years ago she asked us to shoot her if she ever ran Puffer again. She has her permanent number now.
We made it past the doctor and the long, bone breaking climb to Maclear’s Beacon began. Now it was all about slow and steady. Keep drinking, take an energy gel or a rehidrat where necessary, and stay positive. Etienne was with us now and he led us onward and upward, occasionally hauling us up some of the larger rocks. It was hard. The legs were sore, Marcy had a sore back but we plodded on. The mantras were taking over in my head, “I am strong and powerful and full of energy” I said over and over to myself. Snatches of songs played across my brain – “ain’t nothing gonna break my stride no body gonna slow me down, oh no, I’ve got to keep on moving….” You use whatever works people, and all the stuff I consciously keep in my head keeps the crazy and the stop mechanism at bay .
After an eternity we reached the top and I could have kissed the ladies from the Pine Nuts who were manning the Maclear’s Café. A cup of hot tea for Etienne and I, a leg rub for Marcy and we were off to follow the yellow footprints towards that spine jarring descent of Platteklip. It was cold and windy at the top but with every step we were moving closer to the finish and this, together with Etienne’s encouragement kept us going.
Platteklip. The worst part of the race for me as I hate this descent. It is very steep, the steps are huge and irregular, and the path twists and turns and seems never ending. The wind was blowing strongly right into our faces and at times it felt like I would be blown off my feet. With each step down my quads screamed for me to stop.” Stop, sit down you silly woman, why are you making us do this, we are tired, it is enough.” I gave my legs a firm talking to and told them who was actually in charge and so I kept going. Eventually we got to the stream, we crossed over and onto the contour path and lo and behold we started to run and it felt wonderful! A short while later we took the turn towards the cable station, another nasty descent but not as long and not as difficult as Platties. Onto the road and we were met by Paulline and Sam’s smiling faces. What a joy to see them and to know that the finish was near. Just a hop, skip and a jump up Signal Hill and then down, down, down, all the way home.
Quick drink and off we went. We found the short cut easily having done a recce a few weeks before, past the Kloof Nek parking and across the road to Signal Hill. We looked at the hill and decided to employ our dribble strategy again but the excitement of being so close to the end gave us renewed energy and we ran most of the way up that hill. I had my head down and just focused on Marcy’s shoes in front of me as she slowly pulled ahead of me. This was where Marcy was strong, on the home stretch. We were met by one of the Weskus members who ran with us and chatted for a bit and then proceeded to radio our drinks order though to the table. What a welcome sight that table was, we ran onto the red carpet into their tent and I was handed a steaming cup of tea, made just the way I like it. I took a seat and enjoyed my tea knowing that I was going to finish this race and finish it well. Marcy was keen to go, she could smell the finish and wanted to move on. Down we went and the legs complained some more but I ignored them, past the noon gun, a quick pat on the lion’s head at the gate and down onto High Level road. There was no stopping us now and we sped up as we crossed Somerset Road, down Portswood Road, around the corner and there was the Ferryman”s. We were done. Tired and sore but elated. No tumbles, no injuries, no serious complaints at all just a good day out on the mountains with some really good friends. Thanks Marcy for being an awesome training and running partner. The M&Ms will be back.
This race was a challenge for me both mentally and physically. Usually I run long races with Grant but he was busy with his own challenge which he completed very successfully, and he is the one who helps to keep me positive. This time I had to rely on myself, my running partner and our wonderful seconds and they all did an awesome job. This race has made me stronger and I know for sure that if you think you can or you think you can’t you are probably right.