So much for Saartjie’s Nek being the monster of the Old Mutual Om Die Dam! By the time I reached the legendary hill, I’d long been dealing with my own monster - a massive pain on the outside of my right knee that had introduced itself by the 21km mark.
I’d wanted to complete my maiden ultra-marathon in a sub-4.30 and I looked well on my way to even doing better as I motored through the first 20km at an average five minutes per kilometer.
But then the pain all started and I wanted to quit. Unaware that our coach - Malatjie - was also running, I sent him a text: ‘Good morning coach’. I’d hoped he would respond, so I could tell him of my problem. He didn’t, and his phone also went unanswered when I called.
I kept trudging on, my pace now going into the six minute per kilometre range.
Our club - Fat Cats AC - were out in their numbers and earlier on when I was running for a sub-five hour, I overheard some of the runners asking “where are these Fat Cats from?”
And so it was with great pleasure that I spotted our photographer for the day - Rasta - on the side of the road, his mountain bike ‘parked’ as he snapped pics along the route. Upon my explaining what was wrong, two other Cats (Luambo and Cindy) came by and shouted encouragement, advised me to walk and gently beg my knee to take me to the end.
Having stopped, taking off again was the most painful experience I’ve ever had to endure. That I didn’t cry was because I didn’t want the many beautiful women, who were running Om Die Dam, thinking less of me.
I persevered and soon I was running again, although at a much slower pace - just over six minutes per kilometre.
One of the tips I’d got was to try ice the painful spot and at the next water point I got my frozen relief.
I very rarely curse, but never have I mouthed so many ‘F’ words in my life. At one point, another runner passing by turned to look, for I’d said the word out loud, such was the pain.
I said a little prayer, for the umpteenth time on the day - I actually felt the tingle in the knee early in the race - asking the Lord to help me through. He did, through the many Cats who ran past me and egged me on, their encouragement giving me a second wind.
And soon, I was approaching the notorious Saartjie. A trick I’ve learnt very quickly in running, is to avoid looking too far in front of you but I couldn’t help but see just how high the runners in front of me were.
Incredibly, instead of discouraging me the sight spurred me on.
I looked down and kept running, my mind filled with memories of the hill training sessions we Cats had at Loveday Street in Nuwe Muckleneuk, Pretoria earlier this year.
Pretty soon I was done, the yellow placard on the side of the road confirming this much. “Saartjie is trots op jou” (Saartjie is proud of you) it read.
I was proud, too proud that I had done the monster and also proud that I’d had joined a club with such caring members who took their time to share an encouraging word.
The final 14km, through the suburbs of Schoemansville, were still tough but by now I’d become accustomed to the pain in my knee. I treated those km’s, like I do my easy runs, never walking even given the pain I knew I’d feel doing so. About a kay and a half from the end, my good friend Richard Laskey, who was the MC at the event, called out my name, which was like getting wind beneath weary wings.
Incredibly though, the last kay felt way longer than the ones before.
In the end, however, I finished the race at a time of 5h12 ... It was a painful but thrilling experience.
And Saartjie had nothing to do with it.