Untold Ultra – Fish River Canyon 100 km

Like water having carved the deep Fish River Canyon in the arid Namibian landscape – the second largest of its kind in the world, so have the memories in my mind of running its length on 22 June 2013. This website did not exist then, and now not being able to run due to injury these past few months has enabled some deep reflection and a reminder to tell a Tale which is as deeply entrenched as this beautiful canyon is.

Levelled. That’s how I’ve felt not being able to run freely. Albeit, understandably not a bad thing, not running brings about a certain sense of self-reflection on what’s past and what’s enabled one to get to where one is right now. Building humility and dependence on One that is outside of ourselves, these past 5 months have enabled me to look at this run and apply some lessons learnt.

This Tale is about Ultra Trail running at its core. There is no romance about it. It’s just getting down to it and working one’s way through 100 kilometres of desert, on one’s own and responding to whatever comes one’s way, good or bad. Normally for the worse, going beyond around 12 hours on one’s feet wears and breaks one’s body down, as did this race. This Tale gets real and shares some reflections written soon after completing it:

Hiking the trail in 5 days in 2005, I had been there before, and it was a stark reminder as I completed the descent into the canyon. Entering the abyss, the water carved canyon within a canyon (according to geologists), was a reminder that some things do not change – the terrain, even after almost 8 years of being absent from this crevasse. My first emotion was of complete despair, one of loneliness and utter disparity from where I am to what I am. It’s like something had changed – was it me or was it the terrain? I think I changed, as this terrain could not have after such a short absence from it. Missing the presence of my best friend by my side which I left at the beginning of the descent about an hour previously, and now while in this abyss, had made me feel this way somewhat. Clambering on, taking advantage of the bouldery terrain, there was no looking back or way out except forward as one meanders oneself down the crevasse like landscape.

From this feeling of despair came a feeling that I think is a reason one always comes back for more – a sweet spot of utter joy in the midst of pain and difficulty. Sometime later, although I was hurting and although I started to develop some sand blisters in places that made running difficult, I hit a sweet spot where I could not be in a better place, doing the best thing I’ve ever done – running an Ultra trail run. The emotion was a mixture of excitement, joy in running, off road adventuring, comfort in knowing where I was, how I was feeling and why I was doing this. This was all happening at the same time, and occurred after about 5 hours of running. At this point I was running with the 6th and 7th placed runners, so maybe it was being in the presence of them that made the difference, but be it as it may, this is what and how I felt. It makes one think if trail running is meant to be done alone – maybe not, as often the best memories are running with my best friend.

Pain in the knees, pain in the feet – this didn’t harbour anything as I clambered on.

The day laboured on, darkness fell, but yet I was walking and running with a new boldness that I didn’t have at the beginning. From the last check point, in darkness, but yet with a brilliant full moon, the last 18 kilometres took me just over 3 hours to complete alone.

The race for me ended after 15 hours 44 minutes, finishing in 6th position out of 27 runners.

The memories of traversing the Fish River Canyon will remain as deep as ever…

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