Run For Joy, Run UTD 100 Miler. Chapter Four

“Running one of the toughest trail runs South Africa has to offer, as an amputee.”

Chapter 4:

In the end, it is the Journey that matters.

Just after sunset, Tyler and I left the check point at the Olde Duck Restaurant. With 128km’s in my legs and with night quickly descending on us, the effects of sleep deprivation hit me with its full force. All I wanted to do was close my eyes. I struggled to think clearly and convinced myself that I was feeling this way because I had skipped my obligatory glass of coke at the most recent Aid Station. The sudden craving for coke and the struggle to keep my eyes open were beginning to torment me. I had been awake for over 38 hours.

A little while later we stopped for a wee break and with sweet relief, I sat down, put my head in my hands and closed my eyes.  What a magical feeling!

A minute later, Tyler crawled out of the bush she had disappeared into and with shock, found me fast asleep on the side of the road. Her head light woke me up and she helped me up again as we began meandering along the banks of the Umzimkulu River. It was clear as day to both Tyler and myself that I had entered the trenches and we didn’t say a word as we continued into the dark night. Sleep deprivation is a fairly common occurrence for ultra-runners. However its effects can be vastly different for each person. Some people get visions. Others begin to hear voices. As we made our way along some farm roads, I heard a loud and distinctive cough. Convinced the hallucinations were about to set in, I quickly questioned my sanity. Thankfully Tyler had heard it too and it was a cow in the adjacent field. Turns out cows can cough!

My stump had been in pain for the best part of the day. Up to this point in the race, I had been able to get short breaks from that pain every time I stopped and re-adjusted my liner. But not anymore.  A small bridge crossing suddenly became the biggest mountain to cross.  I could barely place my blade on the small wooden slats as I was so wobbly from exhaustion and the extra wetness on the ground from the rain meant that my blade felt like I was ice skating on certain surfaces. The pain in my stump flared up and this time it just wouldn’t go away. We looked for a spot to sit and re-adjust.  The alien-like blister was begging to be popped and drained but with no sterilised needles, it was going to have to wait. I screamed out in pain as I placed the liner back on my stump. And Tyler had to turn away to hide her tears from me.  My heart sank further.  I knew I was going to need some time to sleep and recover at the next Aid Station-Drak Gardens Road Crossing.  I desperately needed time alone.  Time to disappear into my head and find whatever strength was left to get me through another night of pain.

Tyler phoned ahead to my support team and my family who were waiting there and gave them the update. Being the professionals that they are, Bryce and Darren had food and the campcot all set up for me on my arrival and ensured that they quickly set about making me comfortable and letting me lie down and rest with as little fanfare as possible. Now was not the time for big speeches and bravado.

Tyler and I had arrived at Drak Gardens Road Crossing at 10.30pm.  That gave me 20 minutes for a nap and 10 minutes to get food and drinks and on my way to the next check point. A few minutes earlier, I could only dream about sleeping but then when I finally found myself lying on that campcot under the tent, I could not sleep a wink for the whole 20 minutes.  Bryce came to wake me and I was immediately up, hopping to a chair, downing my glass of coke and attempting pull my liner over my stump.  My blisters were now hot to the touch and the liner was not going to make it over them.  Thankfully there was a Medic there who offered to help and we set about popping the blister.  Around 70 ml or a ¼ cup of fluid came out and with it was instant relief.  However, having taken the tight liner off during my nap, and with nothing to compress it anymore, my stump had swollen a lot. I battled for several minutes to get the liner over it.  Once again, the pain was excruciating.  And with a freshly popped blister, the ‘cushioning’ that the liquid had afforded was gone and the pain as stump met blade was too much to bare.  Added to all this, the anti-chafe cream felt like hot meths against the open wound. Eventually with a-lot of ‘vasbyt’ I was able to slide my leg on.

I headed into the night ready to tackle the last stage of the UTD 100 miler.  But only 5 steps down the road and I was forced to stop.  I could not find a pain-free way to walk after popping the super-sized blister. I placed my head onto my walking poles and tried to breathe through the pain.  Then I tried again.  I made it a few more steps before, with gritted teeth, I stopped once again.  I had barely made it a 100 metres from the aid station and Bryce and Darren had been watching my efforts the whole time. They arrived a few seconds later with a stool so that I could sit down and re-adjust my leg to find a pain-free position. I applied more lubrication, carefully slipped my liner on and then fought to get my blade on. It felt like a knife stabbing the bottom of my stump which transferred a nerve pain into my lower back. How was I going to carry on?

Bryce and Darren offered to continue with me to Cobham Aid Station in case I needed help. I was more than happy to have them along and hoped like hell that the pain would dissipate enough to let me get some walking momentum going. But a mere 100 metres on, I was forced to stop. Again.

I was so emotional because I knew I had the physical strength to get to the finish line but there was no way the stump was going to allow it to happen.  I think the 3 of us knew there was only one option at this point. Both Bryce and Darren were not happy to see me carry on in so much pain although they were loath to verbalise their thoughts in front of me, knowing how badly I wanted to finish the race. Tyler had stayed back at the Drak Gardens Aid Station but now she came running up to me.  I remember quite clearly saying to Tyler that I didn’t know what to do.  Pulling out of the race with a ‘mere’ 20 km’s left was going to kill me.  I sat and thought about why I had chosen to run this race.  Who I was running for.  All the people who were supporting me, cheering for me, believing in me.  And I thought of all the training and all the sacrifices made to get me to the start line.

I was crying at this point and felt helpless confronted with this inevitable decision. To end this incredible journey that I had been on for the past 37 hours and 141 kms was so much tougher than I could have thought.  I turned to Tyler in a haze of emotion and confusion and said- “So, do I just press stop on my Garmin watch and it’s all over?”  And that’s exactly that I did.

My Journey was Over.

But now as I sit here, 2 months post Ultra Trail Drakensberg, I realise that in that moment, MY journey hadn’t stopped.

My Journey was just Beginning.

Returning to civilisation after 2 days in the wilderness was an eye opener. My Instagram feed had exploded as my journey across the Berg had been captured online by my team mates.  My friends, family and followers from near and far had been on the journey with me for every painful step and the messages of support for both my 100 miler attempt and for my campaign for Joy was overwhelming. 5 days post UTD I had raised enough money to pay for Joy’s new wheelchair and she is now wheeling herself around in style and comfort and we cannot believe what a difference it has made to her life.  Helping other amputees find their mobility was something I had yearned to do for the past 12 months.  And whilst the launch of our non-profit organisation- Rejuvenate SA- happened several weeks before I ran UTD,  I know for certain that this project was birthed on the summits of those mountains, the foothills of the escarpments and through the incredible teamwork I experienced during every moment of this race.  Disabilities are overlooked in this country every day.  But at the same time, when we pull together, humanity can overcome even the biggest challenges.

Rejuvenate SA is here to Provide Inspiration.  To Provide Hope.  And to Provide Mobility to those that do not have the funds or means.  Our underpinning belief is that to be able to move is a basic human right for all.  And I will continue to move mountains to make this happen.

Please visit us on our web page- or follow us on Facebook or Instagram- @rejuvenatesa

To end off, I would like to personally thank the race organisers- Spurgeon Flemington and his team- for a world-class event.  And to my fellow runners- you are all true mountain warriors!

It was a hugely emotional time to stand on the finish line at 5am on Sunday morning and cheer the last runners across the line.  To see those final few finishers achieve what I so nearly- and dearly- wanted.

The Ultra Trail Drakensberg is a race I will hold close to my heart. It humbled me in every way possible. But I learnt that a disability is merely one version of the truth.  The human body is capable of so much more.  I wish I could thank everyone who helped and supported me by name.  But that would probably take a whole new blog!  A massive then you must go to my seconding team- Bryce and Darren. Having the right team behind you makes all the difference. You two are true champions. To Luvan from Durban Prosthetics- a special thank you for all the time and effort you have devoted to me. And lastly to my girlfriend who has been with me from the start.

You are my rock.

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