Ultra Trail Cape Town, My First DNF

In houtbay - Photo HDHagen
In houtbay – Photo HDHagen

Bennie Roux took on the Ultra Trail Cape Town 2016, here is his experience and what happened out there..

Where do I even begin with this report???

Let’s go back 1 year (UTCT 2015), when I had one of my best races ever, apart from leading the race for some stretches I ended up 4th overall only minutes behind the first place.

So I knew Cape Town and her mountain was just as in-love with me as I was with them.  I marked UTCT to be my goal race for 2016, but……..

Here follow a long list of excuses, so bear with me or skip to the chapter.

I obliviously thought I was Superman with endless power and endurance and can recover quicker than Flash.  Taking on the following races and not just to train but also to race who ever showed up.

My first ever 100 miler (Addo) February 26, this was a big jump for me where I also learned a lot about myself and in hind sight I learnt that one should recover longer from 100 miles than just 7 days.

Did all these races and expected to be in tip top shape, fully recovered and stronger as ever before:

  • Two Oceans trail March 25,
  • Hobbit Stage Trail April 29,
  • Comrades sub 7 hours May 29,
  • Kruger2Canyon Stage Trail June 18,
  • Houtbay Challenge 68km SA Champs July 23,
  • Wolkberg Stage Trail Aug 6,
  • Heaven and Hell 5000m elevation October 1,
  • Golden Gate Stage Trail October 21,
  • Kaapsehoop Road marathon November 5,
  • Tough One November 27.

Well, over raced and over trained did get me to 40km in great time and great position and then all my wheels came off at the same time.  The extremely hot temperature and humidity also got the best of me going up Karbonkelberg.

I never ever in my life felt so depleted and exhausted.  Walking on easy down hills, I knew it was over for me, things can now only just get worse. I felt dehydrated and dizzy.  My health is very important to me as I want to continue running until I beat Wally Haywards(Age 80) record for the oldest finisher at Comrades.

Just after 40km, still strong and in front of Tom who came second - Photo HD Hagen
Just after 40km, still strong and in front of Tom who came second – Photo HD Hagen

Lessons learned from a DNF:

  1. A DNF does not mean you failed.If you learn from the race and see the DNF as an opportunity to grow stronger, you have succeeded.
  2. Always, always stick to the plan. This is your race calendar and also your race plan/pace.
  3. Go into a race confident in your ability to make decisions.Yes, you will reach very, very low points. Yes, you will want to give up. But, if you have reached the level of fitness where you are running a 100-mile race, you have the mental strength to keep going — and, you also have the mental strength to know when to call it. Trust in yourself.
  4. See running as a gift and a tool that allows you to see and learn about the world and yourself.Don’t limit running to simply finishing or not. Running, and life, is far more beautiful and complex than crossing a finishing line.
  5. Never lose your love for running.Revisit this love often, and use it to reinforce and balance when things get rough.
  6. Be very clear about your motivations for running an ultra (or any race for that matter.) Are you hooked on an ego trip? Are you an adrenaline junky? Understanding and being clear about your motivations will frame how you approach a race. They can provide a foundation for clear, logical thinking when you process things at the finish, or in the medic tent.
  7. Be aware of your strength to choose and decide how you will think and learn from your race – be it a win or otherwise.
  8. By entering a race, you are choosing to put yourself into the exhilarating unknown.This is awesome and powerful and totally kick ass, so embrace new thoughts, feelings, and lessons as they arrive.
  9. Be smart about your training and choose your races.Make sure there is enough days to prepare and enough days to recover.
  10. Understand that the reasons for a race going south are generally related to running faster than your current fitness or conditions allow.Adjusting to conditions, the course, and understanding your body are necessary. This means run smart, and realize your race plan is only as strong as your ability to adapt along the way.
On top of table mountain - Photo UTCT
On top of table mountain – Photo UTCT

Final thoughts..

At the end, it was all worth it. The training, the disappointment, the joy around 40 km when I felt invincible, and even the DNF. While lessons such as this one are difficult and challenging to learn, I will started my next training cycle more confident and more sure of my abilities than ever before. The outlook for the 2017 racing season is bright!

So here is how I look at it.  DNF = Did Not Finish but is also Did Not Fail.  I made it 52 km on a tough course.  I learned a lot.  I will be back next year and snag a medal.