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Ultra-Rookie! My first ultra...with a torn hamstring

Updated: Dec 2, 2022

From the beginning of the year, I had always planned to attempt my first ultra-trail race - not looking at the 100 miler races - a ‘short’ ultra. After sustaining an injury in January which forced me to remove the concept of running Ultra Trail Drakensberg 65km from my mind, I was left with not much of a care to even consider this year being the ultra-race year.

Fast forward, basically to the end of the year, my boyfriend James and I were out for a drive and we looked and each other and said “Let’s do UTCT!” 6 weeks before the race, we decided to enter Ultra Trail Cape Town’s inaugural 55km.

Why not?! I had said many times that I didn’t know my true potential when it came to running long distances and I wanted to give myself the opportunity to go till I couldn’t anymore! Granted you don’t need to enter a race to be able to achieve a sporting goal such as that, but it was the way I wanted to achieve it!

Personally, I was very aware of the possibility of it being all talk and not committing to seeing it through, so we decided to keep the whole thing a secret! At first, the idea to keep it secret was to protect me from the fear of failure as I was very much thinking about what other people would think if I did not make it. Ignoring all those extra thoughts, we decided to keep it between the two of us and enjoy the journey and challenge together.

Going into this pretty blind, all we did was increase the distances for our long runs but kept everything else and any other sports we do the same. Thinking that it would all be fine until it wasn't! Since we didn’t have a lot of knowledge on Ultra races, we decided to attend a gear and nutrition talk hosted by Mindful Runner’s Fred Richardson. It was a huge help, and from the talk, we decided to go gear shopping.

Less than a month to go. We were in the middle of one of our long runs out in the Magaliesberg when after completing a technical downhill seamlessly I decided to face-plant the ground while running the flats. Oh, what a sight my leg was, and what a fun 3km hobble back to receive some medical attention. So that resulted in a few days off but a week later we headed to the Magalies again and, clearly stones are out to get me (this is no reflection of my downhill skills), and I experienced another crash landing. I must confess, I shed a little tear, I thought UTCT was becoming non-existent. I soldiered on and tried to keep positive knowing that my legs were not pulling their weight, and to add more drama to the pot, my ITB had started acting up again!

We finally reached a point where we were saying ‘next week.’ Everything was sorted and we were going to enjoy a couple of days in Cape Town before the race! As previously mentioned, we didn’t change our weekly routine or drop our other sports. 10 days before the race, I attended Lyra (also known as aerial hoop) and learned a really cool move... then I TORE MY HAMSTRING!

Are you kidding me? I know they say bad things happen in threes but after two falls in the mountains, did this really have to be my third and final one?

Even though I was in so much pain and physically could not move without flinching, my brain was being a real champ and I was feeling positive that I would overcome it and still run! I was determined to make it right in time, so with hours of sessions with a chiropractor, and lots of meds, I got the green light that I would still be able to partake in UTCT 2022!

It was race week and the adrenaline and nerves were building! I was going to make it to my race, I was so strict on looking after my hamstring and making sure I did everything my doctor recommended! However, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to miss the Expo and meet new people and listen to elites share their pearls of wisdom. An incredible race build-up.

It's Race Day!!

The nerves were gone, I couldn’t believe that the day was finally here and I was standing at the starting line to take on the biggest physical challenge I had ever done! Of course, there were a few concerns, but I was there and I was going to do it no matter what!

There was something so numbing about the start that after being on the side-line of so many of these events I could not comprehend that I was one of the athletes!

3, 2, 1 go and I have 55km ahead of me. Being an oblivious runner, I don’t enjoy knowing how far I have to go, I prefer to just…run. Even so, I was surprised at how quickly I forgot what challenge lay in front of me and I just put my head down and carried on.

It was true when they said that this new race was one of the most beautiful, but I can’t deny that I missed a lot of the scenery to concentrate on where I put my feet. After a few falls during training, and now experiencing new terrain, I wasn’t taking any chances.

I never thought that I would be in such a good mood for something that is so taxing on my body. I had never run more than 27km in one go in my entire life! From halfway I was PB-ing my distance with every step! I loved the vibe when coming into aid stations. Felt a bit like royalty as people filled my soft flasks and constantly asked what I wanted or needed. Being me, I had no problem standing at the table and semi-pigging out on potatoes and salt.

As the hours rolled by and experienced a stint between stations where James and I both ran out of water and were fighting through midday heat, I did have a moment of weakness and slowed down to what basically felt like a standstill. We kept moving through, of course! Nothing was going to stop us even though we were experiencing our own drought.

We witnessed sheer talent observing other athletes on the downhills, and after approximately 35km, my knees were not agreeing with me anymore. Even the uphill’s, which I have grown to love, decided…no! Even so, I continued to have an epic time out there! Mind over matter and my mind were stoked.

The UCT aid station was such a turning point and I learned that there were only 10km. The vibe was incredible, and all I could say running in was ‘I’m going to EAT.’ I was so excited and after experiencing three aid stations, I thought I would do this one properly! All the potatoes, Coke, water, sweets, sunblock…a moment to breathe, and before we set off…a Myprodol.

From there we went up, quite literally up all the way to Block House! The terrain was not the most inviting and the wind was so strong, but at that time of the day, the wind kept me cool. Plus I had just eaten, so I was happy.

“Single digits” James would say! He reached Block House first, he turned back to look at me, and we both put our hands in the air and cheered. “Home stretch,” he said, not thinking that that was still going to be another long hour and a bit to go. Running along the contour path and the city bowl coming into view was incredible, so amazing that I took my eyes off the path for one second too long which resulted in my foot stepping too far to the right that I could have ended in a fatality! What made it scarier was the fact that as I fell, my legs cramped which made the mission to stand up a bit more of a panic, but I’m a badass and carried on!

The finish line was close, and we could hear the people waiting to welcome us home. My poor knees had seen enough that I couldn’t run for more than 50m at a time before needing to walk. I powered up and got myself a running stride for a photo finish.

Finally, on the field, the announcer says our names, holding hands, and with the biggest smiles on our faces, James and I crossed the finish line together! 10h34m later, we completed UTCT PT55.

We did it and we did it together! Our furthest run ever, with only 6 weeks of training and injuries on top of that! I am so grateful that we got to experience this together and we had an amazing time supporting each other through it!

The goal was set, and it was achieved with the best attitude, mindset, and the best company I could have hoped for.

Cheers to the next challenge and next adventure, but for now, we are going to bask in this achievement.

Thank UTCT for an incredible experience and for opening our eyes to ultra marathons.