Date: 24-25 April 2020
Time: 24 hours
If anyone told me a few years ago that I would do a 100km training run, without it being an official event, I would have said, dream on. Not only is this physically a huge challenge, but also mentally. Getting your head around that distance takes some mind gymnastics. Getting your head around doing it outside of the support, comfort and camaraderie of others in an event, takes extra strong brain gymnastics.
During our 19k’s for 19 days challenge, and the prospect of it drawing to an end, I was concocting another challenge in the back of my mind. Something a bit more challenging. Because, let’s be honest, any abled body can walk/run 19 kilometres a day for 19 days. It might just take some people longer, while others would do it much faster than I was able to. And so the idea of keeping going for 24 hours on the same route we used for the 19k’s, was born.
Starting on a Friday sounded like a good idea. We would finish on a Saturday and still have a Sunday to recover from the sleep depravation. Recovering from the fatigue, pain and soreness will take quite a bit longer. I also thought it would make for a good change to do the night shift early on, as opposed to most events where you start in the morning, reaching the night shift when you are already tired, very sore, and your muscles fatigued. Four o’clock in the afternoon would therefore be our starting time.
As always, there are lots of things in everyday life that require attention. One of these was closing off the vege garden with bird netting to keep our pesky feathered friends from eating everything I put in the ground. From all the brassicas, silverbeet, kale, and beetroot, to everything else that have green tops. In-between working on the netting, I cooked a pot of soup and boiled baby potatoes as part of our sustenance for the “event”. We were somewhat ill prepared, but figured we have some jelly sweets, soup, salty boiled potatoes, date balls and oranges, and we are not out in the sticks should anything go pear-shaped. At some stage during the night, I remembered we also have potato chips/crisps, a four year old bottle of Coke (which was completely flat on breaking the seal) and sesami snaps. As always, flavour fatigue plays a big part of these outings, so the bigger the variety, the better. However, the soup, salty spuds, and date balls fixed most cravings.
With no time during the Friday to take a nap, we dashed through the shower, and quickly set up our aid station in our driveway for our 4pm start. We had extra warm clothes and headlamps in the back of the car, as we knew the sun would set in about two hours. On the dot at 4pm, Gerry and I started on our 24-hour stint. When we passed our neighbours about 150 metres down the road, we saw all the lovely signs they drew in the road with chalk. Messages like “Go Gerry and Wouna”, “you can do it”, “keep it up”, and “keep going” with stick-figures of a running boy and girl were such a boost. When we turned around at the road-end to come back past their place again, they had a boombox out, Paul was dressed up in his Springbok rugby jersey and scarf, and to the sound of Afrikaans music and cheers from the whole family, we were sent off properly. Of course Paul was having a beer, and I had to wonder if we were being mad given that we could be sitting by a fire and also having a beer on an evening that promised to be beautiful.
We ran some of the downhills and briskly walked the uphills, hoping to keep up the regime for a big chunk of the 24 hours. By 6pm it was almost dark, and we had to start using our headlamps. Partly also to be seen, as we didn’t bother with high-vis vests. Gerry’s shoes were lighting up like nothing else, I had reflective bits on my clothes, and besides, we were in lockdown. There were not supposed to be a lot of cars out on the road. Especially not in our wee area on a dead-end road. It was always going to be a long night. At least twelve hours of darkness lay ahead of us.
With the sun setting, so too did the temperature drop. It didn’t take too long before I had to add some thermals. Gerry donned a pair of gloves which he didn’t take off until we finished.
At ten in the evening, Gerry quickly dashed inside to turn on a small flame under the pot of soup. Two hours later we both went inside, me to put on thermal tights, and to help fetch the warm soup and more rations for the night. With both the soup and boiled water in thermos flasks, instant coffee powder, a few tea bags and cups, we were ready to continue on. We have been going for eight hours by then, so a third of the time done, and a little over a marathon. Up to that point we were still jogging some of the downhills, while walking the rest. But from 12am I was worried about falling and risking an injury, as my muscles were starting to fatigue quite a bit. We ended up walking most of the 16 hours that was left until 4pm on Saturday.
The night was tough, even though we were two people, and always had company. I cannot imagine what the same experience would be like if you were on your own. It was a new moon, and everywhere was pitch black apart from our headlamps. Initially the stars were out and it was a lovely evening. A short bit later, it clouded over, and it became more misty, which made our headlamps glare. 400 metres down the road the stars where out again. This kept happening, coupled with a light wind all through the night. I even had to put on my rain jacket for a couple of laps as a few spits of rain made me wonder about a wet couple of hours, which luckily never materialised. It was one weird night. The fact that we had not slept in however many hours only added to the ominous experience.
At about 2am in the morning, someone, a boy racer perhaps, further up the dead-end road decided it was a good idea to make donuts with his souped-up whatever car. The noise in the dead of night was overwhelming.
We saw a cat, and eyes that could have been a possum. Strangely enough we did not hear a single possum. We did hear some noises which I thought belonged to hedgehogs, but was not sure.
We also have a feral cat. Not that you can ever “have” a cat. Cats have a mind of their own, but we started feeding this cat a couple of months ago. For ten years I have chased the bugger away, thinking it might catch/eat the guinea fowl. By now, the same poor cat has grown old and turned deaf, and it is still around, skinny and looking worse for wear. It always hangs around our place, presumably because we do not have a dog or some such to chase it away. I started feeling very guilty and sorry for the poor sod, as it obviously is in no condition the catch or kill a guinea. At some point during the night, said cat decided to sit next to our black board on which we counted our laps. It was watching us going back and forth, up and down the road for a few laps. Gerry decided to give it some food so that it can be on its merry way, so we did not see it for the remainder of the night.
We tried to keep up our sustenance and eat as much as possible. That is the only way to keep your wits about you during extended, exhausting, excursions. The occasional quick stop for a hot cup of coffee, tea or soup was much needed. We did not want to venture into the house too often, to minimise the agony of having to go out in the cold again. Hence the thermos flasks outside. To get up and keep going after sitting for a few minutes, was hard to say the least.
I thought it would be daylight by 6am, but unfortunately it was still dark. For twelve hours I had been looking forward to daylight again, only to have to wait another twenty or so, agonisingly long minutes. Eventually, the horizon started to turn light, and soon we could leave our headlamps behind. The wind picked up a bit, and only got worse through the day. It eventually turned into a rather dreadful, gloomy, windy, cold, and a few spits of rain-kind of day.
Shortly after 8am, Paul was in his driveway with a cup of coffee, cheering us on again. With it being daylight we started jogging the downhills again, but I noticed that I was much slower. After a couple of laps of trying to jog, we gave it up for a bad job and walked all the rest. By then we knew that if we can just keep going, albeit slowly, we could make 100k.
Since the challenge has always been to keep moving for 24 hours, and not to cover 100km, there was no reason to get to 100k any quicker. Early in the process I briefly considered aiming for 120k, or so, but I soon realised that that would be a bit ambitious, giving my current fitness level.
By 3pm we had done 100k. The urge to stop was rather strong, but we kept going slowly and managed to do a couple more laps, with some stops in-between. We even made, and walked with coffee a couple of times, we were going that slow.
And to finish off with a bang, our neighbours again made a big fuss. It was fantastic to have their support all day, checking in on us, chatting bits and generally encouraging us to keep going. The girls had a rope across the road, while Paul played Chariots of Fire on his pod. Katy prepared a lovely lasagne for us for dinner, and even dropped off a bottle of wine while we were doing our last lap. We could not have wished for more.
By the end, we had not slept in over 33 hours. While the lasagne was heating in the oven, I took a warm shower to try and heat up my frozen bones. Since sunset the previous day, I had not warmed up for 22 hours, despite three to four layers of clothes, beanie, and buff.
We poured a glass of wine, ate a delicious meal, and went to bed at about 9pm. Happy and content, but not sure how I was going to be able to get out of bed the next day. Everything was sore, but sleep was oh so good.