By Kim van Kets
This may be the first in a series of reflections. I have so many random and disjointed thoughts that I have no idea how to herd them all into some semblance of logic or group them into themes, so bear with me.My first post race thought is that this may well be the “oldest” KAEM to date. The average age in 2018 was 49.6 years young. (Oldest: Harry at 70, youngest: Pavel at 33. Only a handful of folk under 40). I wonder if this accounts for the rather alarming number of falls we had this year?) It doesn’t surprise me in the least that there are predominantly older entrants in a race like KAEM because we all know that endurance increases as we get older, that it is more about mental than physical toughness, and that experience is key. Still, 2018 seemed unprecedented. I wonder if it’s the start of a fabulous new trend? I have been utterly inspired by the 60+ brigade who were out in force in the Kalahari. It’s marvelous to know that we are good to go for another 30 years at least. (I hope my retirement annuities stretch to include race entries, what with inflation and all.)
Another thought that made a deep impression on me post 2018 is that KAEM is within the reach of anyone who commits to adequate preparation. This experience is all about a whole bunch of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. It is not just a race for the chosen few super athletes (although we have our fair share of those too.) This event is a testament to the bravery and commitment of very ordinary men and women who allow themselves to dream big and to the crew of supporters who move mountains to help them realize those dreams. There are runners who sacrificed their own performance on legs/days/the whole event to carry a comrade through (there are COUNTLESS stories I could tell and I don’t even know them all.) There are crew members who stay up all night, who walk for miles between checkpoints to make sure a participant is ok, who sacrifice the chance of FAR more relaxing holidays, who put up with our grumpy low blood sugar/lost pain treat moments. This is what I said at the end of day 5, but I need to say it again:
KAEM is different from any other event I have ever done because it is a family in the truest sense of the word. Every crewmember and participant is utterly invested in the wellbeing and success of every single runner. Really. I don’t know how that happens but the level of camaraderie, genuine concern and love that develops in this extraordinary week is something quite astonishing. This does not happen at other races. I think the norm is that (at best) no one really gives a toss if you drop out and (at worst) many are secretly rather delighted if others fail. Maybe it further validates them. But here someone will (literally) hold your hand, come out to find you, sacrifice their performance, give you their rations to get you through. Its pure magic and I don’t even pretend to understand how or why it happens but I know it does because I have witnessed it year after year.
Random thought number 3: Despite the fact that I am usually a fairly optimistic and cheerful person and despite the fact that I had the most physically comfortable and happy KAEM yet, I had (for no apparent reason) a really mentally tough final day. This gave me the (uninvited but undoubtedly beneficial) opportunity to practice some good mental discipline. Somebody said in a conversation on the rest day: “Perceived effort increases in direct correlation to negative thoughts.” Of course it does! I had to get her to repeat it so I could commit it to memory. I am not particularly inclined to self pity and negative thoughts but they have the ability to sneak up on you like a pack of wolves. Especially when you are alone and when resistance to them is lowered by tiredness or pain. One negative thought can reproduce like bacteria and in no time at all you can be heading straight down the rabbit hole. (“I’m coming last in my whole starting group/ I am so useless, I am the loser queen of 4th place, I just totally don’t have what it takes, blah blah blah”.) I would never think or say stuff like that about/to my mates. In fact I wouldn’t say stuff like that to anyone who isn’t my mate. So why do I say this stuff to me? Within minutes of entering the downward spiral of despair, perceived effort ramps off the charts while actual performance basically stops. It’s a bit like throwing out a massive anchor or hauling on the handbrake. But self-pity is a very sneaky thing because it actually starts off feeling like an illicit pleasure. (Yum! I think I may just have a quick pull on this delicious self-pity! ) There’s something almost seductive about allowing yourself to slip down the rabbit hole. Clawing your way out isn’t nearly as good because it takes mindfulness and rather a lot of boring effort. With 20 km to go to the finish I had to practice getting out the rabbit hole. Practice HARD. With immediate effect. Anyway, we all know what to do; it’s the actual doing that’s the tricky part:
- Be reflective/self aware enough to immediately recognize, admit and apprehend pointless or destructive thoughts
- Admit that they are bad for me
- Recognize that they massively increase my perceived effort (and reduce or eliminate joy/strength)
- Make a conscious decision to occupy my mind with something uplifting/funny/ for which I feel gratitude (plan in advance what to think about in the inevitable dark places. If in doubt think about Harry.)
- Smile idiotically until my face gets the message to the rest of me
- Be sufficiently disciplined to keep patiently bringing myself back to the right thought pattern (rather than slothfully) disappearing into the deep dark woods of gloom.
Repeat (as often as necessary).
Random thought number 4 which is not unlike one of my post race thoughts from last year: Something else extraordinary occurs when a group of people are thrown together so out of their comfort zones and then pushed to the very edges of their previously perceived ability to endure exhaustion and agony. It’s much like going to war together or surviving a disaster. Everything is stripped away and we become more exposed to ourselves and to each other in a matter of days than we may in an entire lifetime of ordinary days and ordinary meetings. Hermien is sometimes able to capture that essence that is left after the stripping away. And that is why some of her images can move me to instant tears. We have seen the best (and most bizarre in some cases) of each other and witnessed the strength and the beauty at the core of our brothers in arms (even if only very fleetingly in certain cases and that is why friendships were forged this week that may last a lifetime. (Ok so it’s a bit of a pity we are all so old, lifetimes may not be that long..).
Things I would do exactly the same:
- Pack fabulous pizza ingredients and execute a food triumph on the rest day!
- Pack 10 pairs of socks and change them at the smallest hint of flagging joy levels.
- Pack a large zip lock full of foot powder and leave a magical trail of powder puffs across the Kalahari
- PLAY at every opportunity
- Create and inhabit a fantasy world of my own invention
- Form a first impression and then take delight in proving myself totally wrong
- Use dried chilies, smoked herrings, pizza slices as currency for other necessities (like apricot crumble).
- Leave my gps at home so as to avoid checkpoint yearnings
- Wear my amazing Merrell trail shoes that left my feet perfectly pink and blister free with intact nail polish
- Pack a mini spritzer/spray bottle
- Pack a very thin sarong to use as a sheet/skirt/changing room/shroud/girder of loins
- Encourage Harry to continue to attempt to colonize everyone and everything (including the weather)
Things I would remember to pack/not pack:
- no revolting commercial freeze dried food (other than desserts)
- wax earplugs to block out the wind noises and the disturbing sounds of the “Ghetto”.
- vacuum packed cheese and salami sandwiches (clever hiking trick of Karlien’s)
- add a desert dessert pizza to my repertoire. I’m thinking nuttella, banana chips, mini marshmallows, toasted sesame…
Bizarre ideas that surprisingly seemed to work out:
- Ian’s idea to bring the Irish.
- Paddy’s idea to bring a great big novel along in his bag. Forever Young I think it was called. An apt title for the elderly but young at heart participants of KAEM 2018.
- And the winner: John’s utterly bizarre idea to run in 2 completely different shoes:
“To cut a long story short my right leg is appropriately 3 cm shorter than my left leg and foot also one size smaller due to a childhood hip disease I had for a few years resulting in an underdeveloped right leg.
So I’ve always walked with a slight limp as I don’t have any height adjustments to my right shoe. So when I run I can feel the height difference but I’ve learnt to live with it.
This year in preparation for KAEM I bought the usual shoes I run in, Altra Lonepeak as well as a pair of Hoka Speedgoat II, which I thought I’d try again after buying the Speedgoat I a few years back. I was planning on seeing which pair I prefer and would use that pair to run the KAEM with. Unfortunately my left big toe was slightly touching the front of the Hoka and as we all know that’s a big no no for running 250k’s.
A week before leaving for KAEM I had a brainwave to try running with the Altra on my left foot and the Hoka on my right foot as the Altra has a zero drop sole and the Hoka has a relatively large sole, which as I hoped , would raise my right leg up so my legs would now be the “same length”. I tried running around the garden and it worked fantastically. My choice was made and I ran the KAEM with two different types of shoes. As they say “ never try something new before an ultra “.
I definitely could feel a positive difference on flat roads as well as running up hills and was very happy with my decision.
Now I’m stuck with having to buy two pairs of shoes before an ultra , which for someone with a shoe fetish is wonderful news.”
Where does one even start? I mean really?
- Nadia and Estienne, words fail me. Thank you for dreaming KAEM into reality. You have created a beautiful legacy.
- Dallas…you are enough of a legend for me to forgive you the river-beds. Thanks for all the hours of missioning that made this happen. Could you just please remember to bring your wife along next time?
- Thanks Gen, (the apparent calm at the centre of the storm) Simon (I want to be your groupie!) Hermien (an absolute force of nature – maybe a Kalahari thunderstorm?) Simone’ (the pocket sized dynamo), Dangerous Dave (exactly like the big bad wolf in my childhood Red Riding Hood). You are all astounding and somehow create a magic alchemy despite being polar opposites.
- All the medics from Namaqua Paramedic Services. Yho! I have a story about each of you but suffice it to say that you made each of us feel like the epicenter of the universe every time we saw you.
- Fiona, Chris (my special super man!), Jess and Nicole . You basically cobbled us back together again every day. My legs feel better than they did before the race started. You are the best!
- The entire crew. So totally invested in our wellbeing. How you make every one of us feel as if we are your very favourite child and there is no one in the world you would rather see. There is no way that this race could happen without you. Exhausted, filthy and boiling for the privilege of handing out luke warm water and enthusiasm/love/care to smelly runners…it takes a very special kind of person to do this day after day with apparent pleasure. How? HOW?
You all stand out and you are all astonishingly kind. We come back because of you. Thank you.
- The main manne in the Camp, Tannie Brendes, Louis and Boys (Baby Rambo 1 and 2). Words fail me. How am I supposed to live without you? And those animal skin hats. OMG!
- Aquelle and OWK Wine Producers: The water and the wine. Thank you so much.
- SAAB Grintek Defence Partners, the guys who kept it all together from a comms, visibility and tracking point of view. We are awed by you.
- Plato Lodge, Daberas Adventures and the landowners, thank you, there is no race without you.
- Augrabies Falls National Park, thanks for keeping us in such style before and after it all.
- Augrabies Falls Lodge and Camp, thanks for being the crew headquarters and feeding us like kings. I have stretch marks because of you. Just saying.
- Airlink, thanks for saving some of us a really long drive.
- Hydrastay, for giving us an energy boost when we needed one, aiding recovery, minimizing cramps.