By Kim van Kets

I know today is meant to be a mere formality…I mean what is a measly 26km when you already have 224 in the bag.  But that’s the challenge of this day.  You think it’s over but its not.  This was my toughest day, hands down.

As always lets wrap up yesterday before we get ahead of ourselves.  Stage 5 was very tough for a lot of people and it was a huge relief to have everyone home in one piece.  It was touch and go for a lot of runners and the angel medics had their hands full dealing with nausea and stomach issues, incredibly high body temperatures, dehydration and shredded feet.  By far the most interesting ailment was the lurid heat rashes being sported by a number of runners (Nikki, Sophie and Julie deserve a special mention.)

Some of us walked out to meet Nadia, Julian and Fransa as dusk was beginning to fall and as we walked I was struck by the beauty of our camp. When I approached the race village much earlier in the day in the full glare of the sun, tired and focused on getting off my feet, I didn’t appreciate the care with which the camp had been chosen and the loveliness of its setting.  I’m so glad I got to approach it again at dusk, to see it in all it’s elegant beauty set among the ancient piles of rocks, the Bedouin type tents looking like a celestial city in the shimmering pink distance.   (Thank you for all your care and attention to detail Louis and Rambo.  You guys rock!)

Everyone was shattered at the end of a brutal day and the awards ceremony was fairly brief.  There were no real surprises: Princess Ian was the Stirrer (of course), Harry was the recipient of the Duct Tape award, John was the Snorer for the second year in a row.  Sarie was the Desert Mermaid (most glamorous and groomed), Este won the closely contested Hectic Tan Award.  As always there was much banter and hilarity and large doses of well-meaning abuse.  One of the highlights of the evening was having Harry demonstrate that he was able to wear his KAEM buff as a skirt (something that only a very few very petite women have managed over the years and certainly not something I can ever aspire to.  It should be noted that Fergus may now also be in a position to wear his buff in a similar fashion following his unfortunate and unplanned hunger strike.  This will make him only the second male ever to achieve this feat.)

The absolute best part of the evening (other than the exquisite red moon rising behind us as we all gathered as “Survivors for the first time) was the fact that Altie gave me one of her precious apricot crumble servings.  OMG.  I have no words.  The absolute ecstasy of that dessert. Next level stuff. Indebted for life!

Additional comments from Stage 5

I started the 5th stage 8 minutes behind Pavel who was in 4th place.  I harboured the secret intention of challenging him or at least making him earn it.  At the 42km mark, with 6km to go, I eventually caught sight of him.  He looked as though he was struggling in the heat.  Coming up to him I launched a limp-wristed attack with the crazy idea of taking 8 minutes on him in 6km.  Looking back now I realize that my arms were moving faster than my legs.  And Pavel was having none of it.  He stuck to me like a sweet on a blanket.  PAVEL! The People’s Champ! Russell Nugent

And then today dawned and the anxiety of the staggered start began to take hold as we all waited around in the increasing heat, cheering our comrades off in small groups every half hour from 6am.  Somebody came up with an excellent word of advice: “Don’t strip your thread out there today!” Indeed.  No-one should ever strip their thread.  I set off at 9.30 and pretty much everyone in my group immediately disappeared over the horizon (I worried about their thread).  Their sights were firmly set on beer.  I really enjoyed having Fergus’s company for the first leg. (He is a very strong runner, of the finely tuned thoroughbred variety, and I only got to hang out with him because he was in a weakened state after being unable to eat for a number of days.  I of course was in the exact opposite condition, having not lost a single gram……on the contrary.)

Fergus and I parted ways after the first checkpoint and I spent the rest of the 20km alone.  As I said earlier, I found today spectacularly hard and I had to dig deep, do some power posing, practice my poem and finally be quite stern with myself in order to recover my joy and power myself to the finish.  It was long and hot and supremely difficult.   This is a mental race more than anything and you can’t allow yourself to slack off until you have taken the very last step.  Some of our comrades really struggled over the finish line today and demonstrated the kind of bravery that you don’t get to see often in our coddled every day life.  You are all Legends and I’m proud to know you.

Sooo well done to the speedster podium finishers: Bennie, Xavi Mark, Erica, Toosie Estelle, you are (humble and very lekker) Legends too.

The real hero’s of this race are the people who are out for the longest.  It is incredibly difficult to be up in the dark before everyone else every day and home last.  It is so hard to spend all day in the sun and on your feet and to have almost no recovery time.  I am blown away by the bravery it takes to do this every day.

KAEM is different from any other stage race I have ever done because it is a family in the truest sense of the word.  Every crew member and participant is utterly invested in the wellbeing and success of every single runner.  I don’t know how it happens but the level of camaraderie, genuine concern and love that develops in this extraordinary week is something astonishingly unprecedented.  This does not happen at other races.

I suspect that my brain may have partially melted and I am currently overwhelmed by choices…especially FOOD, wardrobe and toiletry choices (I am accustomed now to having a toiletry bag that contains a ration of 1 wet wipe a day and my toothbrush and evening wear in the form of a buff and a comparatively clean pair of shorts).  I think I can only face the idea of getting clean and (relatively) groomed in phases.  I will hose myself down now and have an industrial scrub.  Maybe tomorrow I will attend to finer details… The absence of Gazebo 7, the presence of the doors and windows and the chilly aircon are all making me anxious.  I am planning to allow my brain and this uncommon experience to settle. Race reflections and many thank you’s to follow soon.

Comments (few and far between by this stage)

En so breek die laaste dag aan.  Hier het ek harde mense leer ken, en ek het baie respek vir elkeen wat deelneem.  Ons twee SA atlete, Bennie en Erica is so nederig.  Ek is trots op hulle.  Amazing dat hulle saam met my die trail deel en bietjie gesels met die verbygaan.  Ek sal baie moed moet bymekaar maak om terug te kom, want dit was TOUGH. Paul Maree (and this is from someone who has done the Cape Epic a couple of times, Iron Man, Comrades the WORKS! Just saying.)