The English language has neglected to accommodate one of my favourite terms, as it only refers to experiences.
In Afrikaans, we break all experiences into two categories:
Ervarings are general occurrences/experiences.
Belewenisse are exceptional experiences that touch our soul.
We must be sure to fill our life with the latter and for me, UTD160 was one of those.
Why I ran UTD 2021
The start is at the highest pub in Africa, which was special in itself. My dad and late godfather took me up there when I was still well under the legal drinking age and bought me my first beer. They argued that you never know when the chance will appear again in life, so you might as well make sure you have a beer at the highest pub in Africa.
Little did I know that I would be up there again, but definitely not for a beer!
For the rest of that holiday we spent a few weeks travelling Lesotho, where I absolutely fell in love with the remoteness of the Drakensberg.
After being introduced to trail running in 2019, a few friends and I were entered into the UTD100 for 2020. Shortly before the initial lockdown period, UTD 2020 was cancelled. Then my godfather committed suicide.
With an additional year added to my UTD preparation, and the drive to run my heart out for my old man, I asked for an upgrade to the 160km.
Then it strikes!
It seems like altitude sickness is like seasickness. Some people experience it and some don’t. I think there is just no way around it unless you have the luxury to go live in the sky for a good while.
About 10km into the race, a headache hit me. This was strange given that I am not prone to headaches (my husband is a lucky man).
Probably to my benefit, this made me slow down a bit, but at 40km an acute combination of nausea and headache beset me as I ascended Black Mountain and Thabana Ntlenyana.
The first 73km is through the most magical secluded mountains. You feel extremely free and off the beaten track, with the occasional bell from a sheep and a Basotho shepherd minding his own business. It is something truly other-worldly that cannot be explained, but only felt by the person experiencing it.
The Lesotho part was my favourite, despite the severe altitude sickness. I wish someone had told me beforehand that:
- Headache is the pre-altitude sickness warning; just wait it out;
- Black Mountain is the real climb (Zoog Haynes’ solid pacing kept me going and we ascended Thabana together too);
- Altitude sickness will get better with every 50m you drop (a medic’s encouragement at Sani Backpackers was so helpful);
- Ginger biscuits help for nausea (thank you Corne for sharing your wife’s biscuits. I hope she does not read this!).
On any other day, Khanti Ridge must be a lekker run, but at that point of the race, it’s dark, it’s cold, there’s serious wind chill, it’s nearing midnight, and you have over 80km on your legs. It’s tough, but you get rewarded by seeing loved ones and the energy that brings at Premier Resort Sani Pass (100km).
My husband, an avid runner himself, joined me here as my pacer for the next 45km. The racehorse took a while to realise we would be walking, with an occasional jog.
What helps this side of the border are the more frequent aid stations where family can easily support. I am extremely grateful for my parents and father-in-law who supported me throughout the night!
The wheels came off a bit after my husband left at Drak Gardens road and I had to do a very easy 6km run to Mzimkhulwana hut.
In this section I got extremely lightheaded, constantly staggering, and in fear of fainting. So I did the rational thing and took a nice 15-minute nap at the aid station.
I told myself it’s my first 100 miler, I’ve been very sick in the first half, my feet hurt, I think I’m allowed to nap. It does make you feel a hell of a lot better and I treated myself to several more naps between the hut and the end!
All in all, I am just amazed by how Spurgeon and his team managed to pull this off. During a national pandemic, staging five races, of which three were ultras and one spanning two countries. You make it look easy, but damn well done, and thank you!
Read about the 2021 edition of Ultra-Trail Drakensberg in TRAIL issue 40.