I registered for the 4 Deserts Sahara Race (which takes place in Namibia) a year ago, but this past September, I was ready to pull out. I had joined my pals, Rob and Stig, for a hike along a section of the John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It was a tough course, 26 miles at elevation with lots of ups and downs, but even for that, my performance was poor. Barely 10 miles in, I was lagging and shortly thereafter I was reduced to a pathetic shuffle that lasted the rest of the day. My slow pace caused us to miss our shuttle back to town and tried the saintly patience of my mates. All day, I chewed on the thought that I was an arse to think I could run 150 miles through a desert in Africa.
It wasn’t the first time I’d wallowed in defeatism and self pity.
A few years back, I took part in the Transvulcania Ultramarathon in the Canary Islands, a very challenging race of 47 miles and over 14,000 feet of combined elevation gain. I was thoroughly beat when I reached the halfway mark at Rocque de los Muchachos, also the highest point on the island. I wandered into an aid tent, filled with a green haze formed from the sweat of other competitors, sank onto a bench and decided to give up.
But after sitting for a few minutes, I thought better of it, stood and carried on. A half mile after leaving the Roque, every muscle in my legs cramped and I spent the next 10 hours gingerly making my way downhill, every step an agony, toward a finish line I thought would never appear. I did finally reach it, 10 minutes ahead of the cutoff and two runners ahead of dead f***ing last. When I took off my shoes, my feet swelled to the size of footballs.
Perhaps my self pity was not out of place.
Before I left for the Sierras with Rob and Stig, I had paid for my airfare to Johannesburg. The thought of losing a good chunk of that money caused me to pause just long enough to once again let go of my senses. I decided to carry through with the crazy race in Namibia and it occurred to me that I might try something I hadn’t done with my previous tough events: prepare properly. I hired a running trainer, Sarah, with experience in these sorts of things and charged her, along with my longtime fitness trainer, Darryl, with banging my old body into shape. Sarah and Darryl provided the ingredients my training regimen was clearly missing, knowledge and a sunny disposition.
So, now I’m spending lots of time slogging through the Santa Monica Mountains with a hefty pack on my back, looking like Quasimodo’s taller brother. I’m bench-pressing barbells equivalent in weight to a Chevy Nova. (That may be a slight exaggeration.) I’m balancing on inflatable balls like a circus seal. I’ve even gotten my nutrition in line. I now eat oatmeal for breakfast most days, and my regularity, if not my fitness, has definitely improved.
I’m hoping this new regime will help me manage the rigors of the six-day race and reach the finish line north of Swakopmund. I’ll let you know how it works out in May.