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A Sucker for Punishment

A long time family member of KAEM is Rene Vollgraaff, who joined us in 2015 and 2016. Recently, she
accepted a different kind of challenge, much closer to home. Actually, at home; her very own 100 miler
backyard ultra. She has shared with us a few words about the experience.

When Rene Vollgraaff answered her phone, she already knew she had a ‘sucker for punishment’ tendency.
So when it was Frikkie Pienaar of Fresh Trails on the other end of the line, who organises the Mac Mac Ultra, suggesting she runs 100 miles in her backyard, her answer was obviously ‘yes.’
“Frikkie knows my weak points and knows that simply planting the idea in my head will most likely mean I’ll join in.”
So in her backyard in Johannesburg, Rene was grateful she had salvaged that piece of rope from the rubbish that her husband had tried to bin a few days earlier – hoarding tendencies can pay off sometimes.
The rope and tape measure-measured loop was 106.5 metres, which was shaped like the number six but with sharp edges.
“It started on the little lonely point, going down the long stretch, around the bottom of the circle, back to where the circle joins the semi-vertical stretch, then back to where it started. That’s 106.5m.”
Rene described this route as “pretty” which included some gravel, paved driveway, eight 90-degree turns, eight steps down and ten steps up.
Her epic feat took 27 hours and 27 minutes, which was 1,502 laps.
“I made a giant chart with 1,502 boxes that I stuck up at the starting point. After every lap I ticked it off with a green highlighter.”
Because one full loop went both directions, there wasn’t the initial need to change directions, but after a niggle of the knee around lap 1000 and the realisation that one knee was bearing the brunt of the 90 degree turns, a change in direction took place.
“It was definitely one of the tougher challenges I’ve tried. I’ve never done any kind of circuit racing, so running in small laps was a completely new mind game to me. Toward the end it became quite sore as well, but then which ultra run doesn’t?”
This backyard ultra included, that’s eight 100 miler runs notched now.
That same Easter weekend there were seven backyard ultra runners all cut from the Mac Mac Ultra cloth and subject to Frikkie’s persuasive ways. They formed a WhatsAp group to keep each other entertained with silly videos and encouraging messages.
“I started at 7.13pm on Thursday April 9, I had to still do a full day’s work first!”
Despite the enjoyment of the day, Rene admitted her mother would have had a ‘I told you so’ moment when she acknowledged boredom was a feature at times.
Never one to be a listener of music, the thought of a very long and monotonous Thursday night dawned on her. So out came her iPhone earphones for the first time ever, and the arm pouch her brothers-in-law gave her years ago.
“I listened to RSG …. Radio Sonder Grense. And I enjoyed it so much that I spend most Friday listening to it as well — everything from the Islam Ikra, through the Easter church service, some great Bach and Handel and an Easter radio play about the resurrection.”
Rene’s “poor husband” Lourens also had to deal with conversations that were interrupted every time she went around the corner of the house.
Lourens, who had been capturing some good footage on his new video, did go to sleep around midnight and requested a wake up call at sunrise.
“He wanted to video that was well, then it was overcast..”
The best part of running in her backyard was seeing the full beautiful cycle of night and day from the front porch. And having a loo and not having to squat was another highlight.
A tough part was not being able to get into a rhythm and counting every lap, although the miles did tick by.
“You’d suddenly realise you’ve done another 10 kilometres.”
According to her Garmin, the minimum temperature was 19 degrees Celsius, the high was 27 and the average was 23.
“The weather was kind and cloudy.”
Nutrition worked well, her Eetstasie included marmite sandwiches, cheese flavoured Simba chips, coke, honey, and sesame and grape seed paste.
“And I’m a big fan of Tailwind powders so I used that. And they don’t even pay me to say this, I buy the goods at full price!”
Apart from the nagging knee which had subsided a couple of days later, Rene had no chafing and zero blisters.
If it wasn’t for the lockdown, Rene said her answer to such a running suggestion would be “hell no.” But on second thoughts, her known tendency for falling to ridiculous challenges would probably swing her to a “yes.”
During the lockdown Rene was keeping herself fit by running around the house, doing some basic strength work and also some yoga.
“I’ve also been spending time on a bike trainer. My friend Cor lent me a bicycle because I was hoping to try the Durban 70.3 half Ironman in June. That was before talks of a lockdown and he insisted I also take the trainer because he didn’t want me cycling on the ‘dangerous streets of Joburg.’ I secretly rolled my eyes at the time, but now I’m very grateful for that bike trainer!”
Looking back on the day, Rene gained more from it than just a good training run.
“I borrow wise quotes from others, but only when I’ve felt it on my own body. So to that, there are two: Eliud Kipchoge and Nike saying ‘No human being is limited’ and then ‘It always seems impossible until it’s done’; different versions of which have been attributed to many people. Both are true, for me.”