Ultra marathon experience

Who’s to blame for this crazy mess?

I have to blame what I regard as South Africa’s greatest sporting event, the Comrades Marathon, for sending me “off the trail” (or “off my rocker” as some colleagues and friends would say) to the Freedom Challenge.

As a youngster, I played anything with a ball, including tennis, hockey, indoor hockey, squash and golf. Running was up to 10kms to keep fit.

Fatboy's 1st Comrades
But every year, at the end of May, I would be inspired watching Bruce Fordyce win what is arguably the world’s premier ultra-marathon, a real jewel in SA’s sporting crown. By the end of that day, as I watched thousands of more ordinary people like myself dragging themselves over the line, I would vow that “next year” I would be lining up for the “Ultimate Human Race”. Ultimately, after about 15 years of threatening, I did the 2002 “Up-Run”, followed by the far more leisurely “Down Run” in 2003, and this endurance sport bug had bitten.

On top of Africa with my friend "Slabs"
Although always my sentimental favourite race, my joints would probably not stand up well to many more Comrades Marathons, so, after a few years on the couch, 2008 saw a group of us climb Kilimanjaro. Then 2009 and 2010 saw me try my hand at Ironman (3.8km swim:180km cycle:42km Run) in Port Elizabeth – really great race but definitely less hard on the body than Comrades.

Finishing Ironman with my oldest son Christopher
 But doing the Mont-Aux-Sources 50km and Otter Trail 42km Runs in 2010 was probably a big step closer towards mountain bike racing. The big road races are nice, but one misses out on what our great country has to offer in terms of scenic beauty. These 2 trail races were spectacular.
Sorry 2 Oceans - here's the "World's most beautiful race"
Running the Otter Trail with my wife Tracy

But why not cover a lot more distance by converting from running to a mountain bike. And so, the start of my mountain biking came in the form of the Joberg2c race from Heidelberg to Scottburgh in May 2011. 9 days and 900 kms of riding later I was hoping that I have some feel for what the Freedom Challenge will be like.

However, I have since been meeting up with some members of this small little nutty group of Freedom Challengers, and they have been quick to assure  me that it will be nothing like Joberg2c. That was luxury by comparison. Craig Wapnick and Co did such a superb job of organizing the Joberg2c that we had everything bar the kitchen sink, and the traveling Seattle Coffee Bar that served us every day is testimony to this.

And so, here I am in early June 2011, watching the winter weather deteriorate, not really knowing what to expect, but knowing for sure that the Freedom Challenge is a new frontier and somewhat “off the trail” in my life as a social sportsman, knowing that I’ll miss the Seattle Coffee, and wondering whether to thank or to sue Bruce Fordyce and the Comrades Marathon Association for being the cause of all of this.