Stage 4: Jayena to Alhama de Granada, 67 km:
The urine fairy smiled upon me, and all was well with the world. The other stroke of luck was the top tip (one of many that week) shared with me by Kaare, one of the Danish runners. He said: ‘I suggest using the Scout’s toilet’ and he gave me a thumbs up and a conspiratorial wink. This information was gold.
I force-fed myself porridge and then waited around with the other runners for our staggered start. The mood was good this morning and everyone was cracking jokes, mostly at the expense of David, a fellow South African and an exceptional runner, who had the unfortunate habit of getting lost – clearly not the one to follow!
When we started running, I felt surprisingly good (let’s just be clear, ‘feeling good’ is relative within the context of this being the fourth day of gruelling back to back days of trail running in 40 degree heat!). I managed to keep up with most of the runners up until the first checkpoint, after which things started to stretch out a bit – apart from intercepting David, who had taken a wrong turn again! Tim, one of the Belgians, and I, found ourselves keeping up a similar pace – mostly because the urine fairy had smiled on him too and he kept having to stop. The course did that undulating thing which gave running a roller-coaster feel (slowly up, up, up….fast down, down, down). We ran alongside a spectacular lake, with unbelievably azure blue water, which seemed to stretch on for kilometre after kilometre, right up to the second checkpoint. Tim and I plodded on, chatting about the week, running, life, the universe and everything else. Checkpoint 4: I guzzled as much coke as I was allowed and could safely swallow without choking or vomiting. The checkpoint was outside a restaurant and I scared the patrons playing pool by staggering in, dripping with sweat, asking to use their toilet.
Outside we met Hans, one of the Dutch runners. He had cheered me up no end that week, with his dry sense of humour. He was incredibly experienced, running hundreds of kilometres over mountains most weekends during peak ultra-racing season. He generally started at the back of the pack…and always finished in front of it! He imparted the next top tip of the week: Use every bit of shade! Use every bit of water! It transpired he’d even gotten a local farmer to drench him with water from a hose.
We set off again. We passed a fast-flowing channel of water, which flowed into the fields to water the crops. I put my now dry cap into it to wet my head. Then we passed through a little stream of icy water. I sat down in it, taking Hans’ advice to heart. Use every bit of water and every bit of shade!
Checkpoints 5 and 6 were sort of a blur of friendly faces, encouragement, coke and ice. Fred passed us a few times, muttering, ‘Why are you talking so much?!’ We passed him, then he passed us, then we passed him. The hills rolled on; we walked them and tried to keep running on the downhills. I was exhausted but started to become distracted by my intestines playing havoc, writhing inside me like a pile of snakes. And the urine fairy was waving her magic wand at me (thanks…but now is not a good time… can I call you back?). Every field, tree and bush started to look like a toilet.
And suddenly it was all over. Tim and I burst through some bushes and tall, reed-like plants to see the glorious site of the finish line through the trees. Eight hours thirty nine minutes! Apart from wanting to fall over, I felt wonderful. Friends, food, ice cold showers, ants, toilets galore – it was a beautiful thing!
We were all taken to a nearby restaurant for supper (The Mad Duck? The Crazy Duck? Something like that). Despite ravenous hunger, I had found it increasingly hard to eat as the week progressed. I can usually eat my own body weight in food in 5 minutes, but I slowly chewed my way through pasta over about 2 hours. The banter and the mood were good.
A number of runners had finished later than me, in near darkness, and they arrived late to supper. It had been such a long day in the sun for them and I could only imagine how exhausted they must be. They are the real heroes!