“Never Again”

“Never again!”, those were my words shortly before savouring my first beer after some six hours spent running the Timbavati Traverse across the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve in support of our anti-poaching teams that protect this reserve and its incredible wildlife. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to support this great cause – I did, and it was the one thing that kept me motivated to push through – but it was more because my knees, ankles, toes, heels, and dust-covered legs had been screaming at me for at least the last 20,000 of the 53,000 steps that I had taken that day.

It was a load of steps to take. Steps that took us across 45km of unspoilt landscapes of the Greater Kruger’s Big 5 wild spaces, passing herds of impalas, steenbuck, waterbuck, and giraffes and zebras that were too alert to have twenty runners sneak past them without taking some notice at what must have been quite a sight for them! Luckily the few elephant bulls that we passed were far too interested in feeding to notice us, and we slowed down to admire them before quietly moving on. Arriving at each of the drink stops, we were greeted by smiling faces, ice-cold water, calorie-restoring snacks, and the odd funny sign that would bring a smile even when it was the last thing I felt like doing. Hippos occupied many of the dams we jogged past, and we even surprised a few individuals that had taken to a spot of sunbathing on the banks before slowly returning to the water as we passed… I know I was not the only one wishing that we could join them as the sun beat down on our sweaty skins.

Considering how poorly my training had gone, I was quite pleased with how my body was holding up as the kilometers slowly ticked by. It wasn’t a race. It was an experience, and we all ran together at a pre-determined pace of a little over 6 minutes per kilometer, and by not rushing around trying to outcompete one another, we could all enjoy the privilege of running around in the wilds of Africa. Each drink stop signified that, yet another leg was complete; mentally, this was great. But with only a couple of legs left, I began feeling like I had no legs left! Every step ached. And I still had a few thousand to go. The refueling stations helped give temporary relief to my tired feet and input much-needed calories into the body, but the final push was going to require as much mental strength as it would physical. ‘This is for a good cause Chad, and my suffering is nothing like the rhinos are going through’. Step by agonising step this pushed me forward; it also helped to know that I would never do this again.

Digging deep, we all found the energy to smile for photos at the impressive baobab tree close to the Timbavati Headquarters; we were close now, only 700m left. We could hear the music, the festivities, and the cheers of friends, family, and loved ones as we all ran up the final straight to cross the finish line. Somewhere my body found some moisture in reserve to shed a few quiet tears as I realised what I had just accomplished. I had given myself zero chance of finishing; I was so sure that I didn’t have the training under my belt to get anywhere near the finish line, yet here I was giving sweaty hugs to far too many brave people that dared come and congratulate me. Five hours of running, 53,000 steps and innumerable curse words uttered under my breath, but I had done it, I had completed my first ultra-marathon… and certainly my last.

Never again. The same words were still coming out of my mouth as an ice-cold golden ale had helped quench my seemingly insatiable thirst at the post-run party, and people were still walking around congratulating us, and asking how the run was. Another beer, some delicious pizza (without any feelings of guilt having just burnt some 4,000 calories), but the comments were still the same…never again.

Waking up the next morning to go and meet my guests for a game drive, I was hobbling around like someone approaching their 90th birthday, let alone their 40th. Never again. This, despite being lucky enough not to have lost any toenails during the run – is a thing I am told! A hat blew off the vehicle as we were driving, but I had to ask Glen to climb off the tracker seat to fetch it, as getting in and out of the vehicle was a little too tough for me. The next day was a little easier (easy enough that I ran past a male lion whilst checking on fresh tracks), and as a present to myself, I even went for a run on my 40th birthday a couple of days later.

A week passed, and I listened in on a debrief by the Timbavati Traverse organising committee as they started speaking about plans for next year’s event, what worked, and what they can change to make it an even better experience for the participants. When potential event dates were getting discussed, I subconsciously started thinking about when my training would need to start. Whoa, what! Did my mind just really do that to me? Did it honestly forget about all the pain I had been through only six days earlier and now it was working out when I needed to start preparing for the next one? Apparently my conscious and subconscious have a very different idea of what “never again” means!

It is not the first time this has happened to me – I have only done one slightly similar challenging expedition before, and that was climbing Mount Kilimanjaro; I was equally broken at the end of that, but like with the Timbavati Traverse, as the pain wore away, what remained were the life-long memories of having partaken in an incredible experience. The sounds, the sights, and the scenery were one thing, but it was the comradery of the group running the Traverse together that will stick out in my mind for years to come; the encouragement, the support, and the celebrations. Pain fades. My aching knees will heal. The memories that this experience and group of people created, however, will live on forever. They are memories that are sweetened by the immense – and painful – effort that we all went through to create them, and I don’t believe that any of us would choose to have it any other way.

Never again….now a term that I am realising is said by people that probably don’t mean it. Perhaps I should have learned a lesson from Charles Dickens when he wrote ‘never say never’; after all, I was never going to finish the ultramarathon, and here you are all reading about it (again, but this is the last time, I promise!). If, like me, you ever want to promise to never do something ever again, why not keep an eye open for next year’s Timbavati Traverse and then reward yourself with some quality R&R at Tanda Tula Safari Camp… I can promise you, that is something you will definitely want to do again!

Until next time