108km Non-Stop Trail Run

Race Report – Outeniqua Quest
Social media sometimes limits us to 140 characters, slightly more when you say it on Facebook. But what I experienced could not be described in just a paragraph (and a friend requested a report), so here goes.

7 June 2014: After a kit inspection and being weighed (not allowed to lose more than 10% of your bodyweight) in, we were all lined up for the start of the inaugural (don’t you just love that word) Outeniqua Quest (OQ) for a 6AM start. It is a trail run that consists of the Outeniqua Hiking Route that you can do in one of three options. Option 1 – the “Lite” option. A 49km run with 2175m altitude gain. Can I just say one thing about this: Coke comes in a Lite form, or a diet chocolate can be described as Lite…using “Lite” to describe this route is completely misleading. Option 2 – Two day OQ. Race with the “Lite” group on day one and continue (at 5 AM) the next morning with another 59km and 2060m altitude gain. Option 3 is the Non-Stop OQ and includes all of the above.

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I decided to go for option 2. This was the logical choice…run (and walk a lot) and enjoy the scenery. You are getting to do one of South Africa’s most beautiful hiking routes in two days. I calculated that with the VERY generous cut-off times you should be able to make it if you do the route at a super slow 3.5km/h (4km/h to be safe, with pit-stops every now and again). See, I had it ALL worked out. But then, just before the race started, the Race Organizer, Hano Otto said the following: "If you can sort your mind out, your body will take you there" (more about that later).

Everybody started the race with a short jog down the road and then into the forest. It wasn’t long before the excitement settled down and race nerves kicked in, with people realizing that there’s still a LONG day ahead. Running through dark forest single tracks in silence, almost hearing your own heartbeat, thinking who would be so crazy to run this far.

After 16.4km I reached the first checkpoint, Windmeulnek. I recorded a video where I said that I’ve just done the biggest climb of the day…but that’s the biggest climb ON PAPER. A route profile on an event like this means almost nothing, as the terrain that you do it on can change it completely. It was a beautiful and scenic run from there, overlooking large mountain tops and deep valleys. Also included in the second leg is some lovely downhills.

On route to Platbos I joined two other runners who were doing the non-stop route. In my mind I thought all the non-stop guys were all the fast runners way at the front…it is here where I started getting ideas about an “upgrade”. Checking in at CP2 I knew that I’ve now done about the furthest distance I’ve ever done on my two legs. From here on, there would be a couple of firsts.

Halfway towards Millwood I celebrated with my fellow runners, as I just did my first ever marathon. But now I was still feeling ok and I thought that I might as well crack on with the rest of the race. I phoned my wife (who would need some psychological preparation of what I was about to do) and asked her to find out if the race organizers would allow me to “upgrade” from the 2-day race to the non-stop event. Apparently they thought I was crazy, as a couple of people requested to downgrade. I on the other hand had Hano’s words still buzzing in my head “If you can sort out your mind…”. Getting in at Millwood, I celebrated another first – my first ultra-marathon. I did so by enjoying half a beer, which my top quality support crew (A.K.A. wife) bought on her way there. She also prepped my type of steroids – a GOOD quality cappuccino with fresh full cream milk (yes, it makes a difference, even if it’s just a difference in moral). After that and a great bowl of soup I was ready to go again.

If ever I was going into unknown territory, it was now. Running more than 50km on one day, on my own, in the dark…as halfway towards Rondebossie Hut it started getting dark. Here things started to get messy…a large river crossing on a cold evening, followed by a nasty climb and some boulder hopping-it is here where the route profile started to mean less and less every hour (except maybe if they printed the profile in extra thick bold lines).

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I made it to Rondebossie without ever seeing someone else. As I walked in at the checkpoint, the fireplace was going and I was ready to order a pizza and open a good bottle of red wine. But there was no cell phone reception or Mr. Delivery, so I guess I had to continue running after a decent break. It’s then when 2 other runners came in. The one guy that came in did the Comrades marathon the previous week and you could see this guy was “pap tyres”. A week’s rest and then a race like this, no way! He got his space blanket out and crawled up in front of the fireplace. He wasn’t going anywhere any time soon. The other runner now had to find a new partner to run with in the long dark stretches…her options were limited.

This “other runner” turned out to be an angel in the deep and dark valleys and up the long, steep hills. This was not Louise Clamp’s first long run (unlike me) and I really think her experience pulled me through to the end. Diepwalle is not just diep, it’s d@nners diep!! What a steep, continuous, straight climb. I was swearing at the original creator of this route – I am sure he was a sadist. It was a long, slow hike in the dark and the CP did not seem to come closer. We did receive a warm welcome when we finally made it and took a 40min break, lying down for a while before the last long stretch in the dark.

The route to Fisantehoek had a couple of river crossings and we did not often see route markings but we kept going on what we thought must be the route (luckily we stuck to the right route the whole time). I was now entering zombie-land…one foot in front of the other and Louise’s reflective clothing in front of me. I tried walking as fast as I could but I was struggling to even get up to 4km/h at this stage. Louise on the other hand was starting to smell the finish line and had to wait for me a couple of times at the top of hills or at turns and at water crossings. When we arrived at CP6 I encouraged her to head out and finish without me…I was going to take a break and enjoy the sunrise.

If you can sort your mind out, your body will take you there.

Hano Otto
After a cup of coffee, a few slices of banana bread and great motivation from the crew at Fisantehoek, I was ready for my last leg. I was sore and just wanted to take it easy and MAKE it to the end. I called my wife to give her a heads up for when I’ll be at the finish, as she was staying over in George with friends. She told me that the prize giving was at 10AM and that I should try to aim for that. She also said one important thing that helped me on the last leg – the pain can’t get any worse, you just have to deal with what you feel now. That helped me to speed things up again and I managed to run through the pain. The other great assistant in moving a bit faster was sunlight. It really helps if you don’t have to stumble over roots because of legs just not lifting up high enough. Almost halfway into this leg I achieved another first. My first 100km trail run.

After crossing the N2 I was doing my best to cross the finish line before 10AM and I was well on track. I really wanted to stop and take pictures and enjoy the scenery, as it is truly beautiful. But time was against me if I wanted to be in time for prizegiving. Then “suddenly” the finish line appeared in front of me. I did it. Did I really do it? I’ve NEVER been a runner. I swam a lot at school & people used to laugh at my running style. I had to pinch myself. The fact that I just did 108km without doing more than 16km training runs, ever doing any marathons before…what the hell happened? I simply could not believe it!! 7kg’s lighter and just under 28hours I pushed myself more than ever before…

The mind is a STRONG thing!!

This race could not have been possible without Hano and Sonja Otto and the fantastic team at Trisport SA. They are great hosts and put together a superb event. Having different race options allows more runners to join in on the fun and that’s great! I would also like to thank Team Life who did Expedition Africa. They are friends of mine and played a big part in my motivation, as these adventure racers really show us how we can really push our bodies. I would also like to thank Alwyn and the rest involved at the Helen Harder Foundation, who gave their support all the way and showing real interest. And finally, I would really like to thank my wife. The support for a race like this is almost as difficult as doing the race. Thanks for all the food, coffee and motivation. What next? Any suggestions welcome.

*Some of my friends are already on about doing the Comrades Marathon. But how do you explain trail running to them? I struggle to run 5km on a flat tar road but put me in a mountain and I am happy to go for hours. I would probably never be rated as an ultra-runner if I don’t do the Two Oceans or Comrades. But why? I’ve been on an adrenaline high for days after the OQ, limping with an attitude. I’ll never say never but I can probably say I won’t do it any time soon.


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    June 12, 2014 Alicia says :

    Dear Alfred
    A friend of mine, Coert van der Merwe, did the Outeniqua Quest and added a link to your race report on his facebook page. Wow, goosebumps!
    I entered the Two Oceans long trail run this year – it was a ‘on the spur of the moment’-type thing. At that stage (last year), I had never run more than the occasional 10km road race. I wasn’t sure if I could even run the ±23km up Devil’s Peak, I certainly had not trained enough, but I made it in time for a medal and it was so much fun. Of course the Two Oceans trail run is nothing compared to the Outeniqua Quest, but it is incredible what one can achieve once you put your mind to it.
    I’ve been in limbo ever since and I’d love to enter something – anything – that will challenge me and focus my training. After reading your race report, and chatting a little to Coert, I think Outeniqua Quest will be IT! I’d also love to do the Whale of Trail next year (but I think it’s very popular and sells out quickly) and, perhaps, one day, the SkyRun… J
    Thanks for the great race report, happy running!
    All the best

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