Day 3 – Monday 17 October

5.30am
The silver moon glows in the pastel blue sky, before suddenly disappearing behind the orange-brown mountain that towers over camp. These are magic moments that remain in the memory long after this event is over. There is a busy hum about camp as everyone stirs and gets ready for the new day. The excitement is obvious, but it is understated and restrained, a kind of humble recognition of the challenges ahead. Some are thinking strategy, while others are just thinking survival.

With great sadness we said good-bye to Phil and Bendaniel last night, both leaving for medical reasons. Both have dreamt about being part of this experience and spent much time and effort preparing for it, and then suddenly for reasons beyond their control, it is all over. They are bitterly disappointed and we promise to carry them with us in spirit.

7am
Off some us go, others to follow at half-hour intervals. First hour is up a lovely little gorge, all boulders and sand and bushes. And then it is out on the top in the cool shade of the orange-brown mountain. Ah, these are good times. The body is still fresh, the air is cool, the colours are clear. I run with Debbie and despite not knowing each other we settle easily into a comfortable sharing of ideas and experiences, and before we know it we’re chatting about deep things that normally take years in ‘normal’ social interactions. That is another wonderful thing about trail running; one cannot but raise one’s consciousness in this bigger picture of nature and interconnectedness. Thanks Debbie.

9am
Down into a sandy gorge. Estienne has this wonderful way of describing a route – go down a sandy gorge, turn left into a more sandy river bed, climb out and turn right into a sandier gorge, and then take a left turn into an even more sandy valley.

10am
Dirk and Tomas come gently by, every movement so efficient and smooth. They look in great shape, glistening in the early morning sun. We watch in awe and respect, because they’re clearly in a different league. Maybe if I shave my legs tonight …?

11am
Out on my own in an indescribably wild wide world. This is the wonderful balance of the KAEM; you can be all on your own, and yet the support is hovering invisibly all around. Every now and again Dangerous Dave appears and checks you’re okay, Dallas scoots by and waves, Kevin keeps an eye on you with his 16 years of experience, and all the others hover around at water-points to help you with whatever you need. Sorry I can’t name all of you, but please know that everyone of you touches us in a special way every day.

11.20am
I’ve just had a wee! If you’re not a runner, you won’t understand the significance of this. It is like have a full medical check-up on the trail, and being given a clean bill of health. So we celebrate every time we do it. Yes, runners can sound strange to outsiders – shu I’ve just drunk the last bit of moisture out my bladder so I know I’m in trouble if I get thirsty now.

11.40am
Juslaaik George, I”ve just stepped over a snake! What kind of snake was it? Listen I wasn’t about to ask it anything! Hello Guiseppe, looking good. Here’s a ginger nut, Belinda … and no Eric I haven’t forgotten you this time. Go Geert go. No I haven’t seen Altie. Yes Edward it is indeed a great day …

12.05pm
I cannot do justice to the countryside. We run through fields of rose quartz that glow in every shade from bright white to deep pink. It is as if some cosmic force has just thrown out bags of jewels all over the place. I pick up a lovely heart-shaped one for Gwenda back home, and then have to stop myself picking up dozens more because they are simply irresistible.

1pm
As we head back down into the hills off the plains, there is this extraordinary little white koppie of quartz standing like a piece of land-art in the midst of an amphitheatre of black and brown. And wow here’s an old farmhouse ruin made of ‘bricks’ of white quartz and pitch-black rocks.

2pm
The last 5km of the 39km day are in ‘an even more sandy’ river bed, and we eventually stagger into camp – our home and our sanctuary. Some folk are watering themselves down with a hose, others are lying under the gazebos, the masseurs are in full swing, and the angels are doing their heavenly work in the Medi-Clinic tent. Thank you to Charl, Marelize, April, Randall and Charles for sorting out our blisters, soothing our chafings, stitching up our cuts … and so it goes on. As importantly, you pamper us with your genuine care, and we just purr with appreciation!

Those at home, please know how much your emails mean to the runners. I see them sitting around like POWs who have just received a letter from home – quietly reading every line, savouring every word, drinking in every touch of love. We might look tough on the outside, but inside we’re pathetically soft!

Some changes up front in the field. Dirk experienced some foot problems and Tomas took the gap, easing into a lead of 10minutes for the day. This leaves Dirk with an overall lead of 10 minutes as they go into the long day tomorrow. Thierry is watching from 3rd place. Amongst the women, Maretha increased her huge lead, but Altie had a rough day and Allison moved into 2nd position, followed by Rene in 3rd place.