By: Alisdair Leslie
It was Friday night and tension mounted as the clock approached 10pm. There were smiles, fists were bumped, and good luck wished, but you could tell everyone was a bit nervous. And you can understand why when you realise they are about to set off on the inaugural Karkloof 100 miler – and it is raining. The rain did not stop, but as soon as the gun went the worrying did, and the task became beautifully simple: head torches on, look for the little yellow markers and just keep going until you hit Benvie gardens in 50 miles time. Then grab a quick marie biscuit or two, turn around and head back to Howick.
The old hands hung back, knowing full well that 100 miles is actually quite a long way, while the 100 mile virgins, such as myself, had their toes on the start line to lead the charge. We knew that six-minute kms is basically walking and that it would all be over before tea-time.
Needless to say, such naivety and arrogance was rewarded in time! I set out with my good mate Andrew Erasmus, who runs for Salomon and Dolphin striders, when he can be persuaded to hit the road, with just that plan: six-minute kms until half way, then see what you can do after that and hope for the best.
Not really knowing where we going through the rain-soaked blackness, we followed an endless snake of fluorescent tags marking the trail. First through the Umgeni nature reserve (where we were lucky enough to startle and then chase a porcupine), then into the Sappi forests above Howick, through the pastures beyond and into the Karkloof itself.
Check points came every 17 kms or so, well stocked with goodies and well wishers. As dawn cracked, albeit damply, we found ourselves running the smooth grassy trails of the Mbona nature reserve on the way to the turn around point at Benvie gardens. Damp, a bit cold and a bit tired after 80kms on the trail, Andrew and I turned just after 7am in about 5th and 6th place. Pacers were allowed after half way, and so we were joined by his brother Stephen, for the second leg.
It was quickly apparent that, as much as Andrew’s pacing strategy and training were paying off, my unfounded belief that I would be okay on bog standard post Comrades work was not. So two kms later I wished the boys well, plugged in the ipod and prepared for a long painful and lonely trudge back home, dreaming of the breakneck speed that 6-minute kms now seemed.
However, all was not lost as, at check point 7, who should rock up but the White Buffalo himself, our very own Craig Georgie. “Man up Leslie”, he cheerfully announced, “I am getting you to the finish even if I have to carry you”. And that was that, the relentless motivator that he is, supported, joked, cajoled, persuaded, teased and bullied me over the next 50kms.
Through relentless rain, moments of self-doubt, a prolonged bout of vomiting, a face plant on a broken bridge and one incident when he (accidently) nearly separated me from my generative organ with a stick (you’ll have to ask him about that one), that splendid bugger did indeed carry me to the finish line, a good 20 hours and some minutes since the start.
A welcome beer was thrust into our hands. I had a little cry, kissed my kids and better half who had heroically waited in the rain to greet us, and we were all done! Andrew did indeed have the spectacular second half he wanted and nearly chased down the leader, finishing second to him by minutes in an impressive 18 hours 19ish.
For me though, such dreams of conquest didn’t seem to matter so much really. The journey turned out to be a lot tougher than I had expected, but, with the help of my friend, it hadn’t beaten me, and that was enough to be going on with. Re-reading this, I am not sure if it sounds like a recommendation or not. All I can say is, I am signing up for next year tomorrow!