Modern Athlete Magazine Issue 162 October 2023 | Page 64



( MIS ) ADVENTURES trail ( mis ) adventures


Out of this World

With miles and miles of untouched ‘ nothingness ,’ the Salt Pans Ultra 100km in Botswana is like nothing I have experienced before . You feel like you are on another planet , like Charlize Theron in that alien movie , Prometheus , and this made it my most epic trail running adventure to date !

Having started the race at 2am on the Saturday morning , the first 30 or so kays were run in the dark , brightened by the moon and 21 headlamps as we made good headway . Actually , it looked like we running on the moon . Around 6am , the first of the breathtaking sights of the race greeted us : A sunrise that crept up behind us like a ninja . Although I think I write as beautifully as Hemingway ( OK , OK , I am just joking ), my words simply cannot do it justice – and nor will any photo . I just turned around and enjoyed it for a while .

Heading off again with the sunrise behind me , I realised why I am seemingly incapable of not getting lost at a race . I appear to have zero ability to run in a straight line , and every time I looked at my watch , I was off course . Then again , with nothing in front of you , behind you or next to you , there is no point of reference other than your watch and body compass . In my case , I think the problem was that I sort of forgot to check the watch often enough …
Still , I made steady progress and managed to get to the fourth aid station at 60km relatively quickly and feeling strong . I had a cool-down , received some words of encouragement from my friend Marcel while checking in on my friend Christilli ( Marcel ’ s partner ), who was miles and miles ahead of me , and set off to the next aid station , which was 18km away . I was now in the longest , hardest stretch , and it was close to 50 degrees ... and I had sense of humour failure number one . I went through how I was going to tell the next aid station that I had had enough , and that I was withdrawing . Then , in the distance I saw the table . It looked so close , but little did I know that the pans mess with your sense of distance more than anything else .
Carla and Christilli in the front at the start of the SPU100
A spectacular sunrise on the Pans as the kays are ticked off
Losing the Plot …
Typically , as I finally reached the station , received cheers of support and had a cool off , I found a second wind and decided to carry on . “ The next table is at 89km , the last one before the final stretch ,” I said to myself , but as I left that fifth station , I was informed that the majority of the field had withdrawn , and I was the last runner out . No pressure !
I tried a bit of running , but then realised that making the 17-hour cut-off was impossible , and that ’ s when the wheels really fell off . I was in floods of tears , wishing for my mommy ( insert embarrassed face here ), and for what seemed like an eternity , I just watched the majestic sunset . It was beautiful and spectacular , but I hated the fact that I was so slow that I was seeing it while still out on the course … and then it was dark .
One of the awesome race volunteers headed out to keep me company for the last kilometre . Or so I thought … Imagine my horror when I figured out it was still another 3km to go . I was so incredibly grumpy , until , in the distance , I saw a quad bike approaching . It was Marcel and Christille , and I found out she had won the event overall ! I screamed with joy for her , and her wonderful partner got off the bike to run in with me . ( I let her off the hook and told her she could take the quad back .)
I duly finished , but missed cut-off , also having done two extra kilometres due to my inability to run straight , but when I came in , the cheer I got from everyone was enormous , and I felt as though I had won the most prestigious race on the planet . Out of 21 starters in the 100km , only five had officially finished , plus one unofficial finisher ( me ). What an epic adventure !
Bucket List Race
The Salt Pans Ultra is incredibly tough – you need to train for the distance , you need to train in heat , and for the 100km , you need serious ultra running experience . So , if you don ’ t think you ’ re quite up to that yet , at the most book for the half-distance 50km race … but book ! This race is unlike anything you will experience anywhere else in the world ! Thank you so much to Dale , Stefan and the rest of the team that made this not only an event that I will never forget , but that I will undoubtedly return to over and over . This epic race is a bucket list experience that I hope all my fellow runners get to enjoy someday !
Taking strain in the heat as the long day continues …
About the Author
While Carla ’ s ‘ day job ’ is Head Tennis Coach and Director of Tennis at Game Set Match Tennis in Johannesburg , her second love is trail running , which she tackles with an unquenchable thirst for adventure , a never-say-die attitude , and a healthy sense of humour about all the misadventures that befall her on the trails !
Images : Courtesy Salt Pans Ultra & Carla Farina
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