It was on the loose plan to run at various hours of the day or night and change routes, it was a perceived case of either not getting caught or sweet talking your way out of it if you did.
“After all, I am a runner. I run six days a week. I’ve got ultras planned for later this year. And… do you know how much crazy I have to burn every day by running? It’s safer for every one that I go out and run!”
But alas, the Covid 19 official state lockdown came down hard for Estelle Geerkens and her training partner, and all such thoughts and plans were rapidly quashed. Her husband is an essential worker so the family had a weak link, thus the choice was made to only leave for essential shopping. Although Estelle had heard early reports that law breaking runners were flouting the lockdown rules, she vowed not to.
“Next thing I noticed, there she was. Huge, muscular, a shining mane and swooshing tail, demanding my attention. The moral high horse. And of course I got on it!! An unfamiliar feeling of rage engulfed me every time I heard people were out running.”
The frustration that lockdown would now be extended because of actions like this was frustrating to say the least, and frustrations must be vented.
Thus, the backyard ultra runner was born.
Estelle lives 200km north of Pretoria, based in Mokopane, (the old Potgietersrus) Limpopo, and had heard about the Italian guy running a marathon on his seven metre balcony, and of course the Fresh Trails challenge in South Africa was booming.
“Any of you that know me would know I’m a sucker for a good challenge. So I accepted.”
‘Race day’ was set for Sunday April 5th, 2020.
The weather Gods were smiling and delivered perfect running conditions; a bit overcast for most of the day but no rain. Admittedly, race day was picked to align favourable conditions.
Official start time was 5am, but the relaxed vibe of it all had the start line toed at 5.15am.
Estelle said the laps ticked off faster than expected, and the plan of hydrating every 10 laps, (156m x 10) eating every 20 laps and changing direction every 50 laps was adhered to.
The route started off on grass, (more like dirt due to the drought) then onto paving, followed by a sharp left turn around the pool, 20 metres of paving, then one step down onto paper thorn-infested grass, then a sharp 90 degree turn left. Then more dirt until she reached stepping stones on variably light and size. Followed by easy grass running, then more paving. Then a sharp left onto more dirt. Followed by stepping stones onto paving in front of the garage. There was some navigation between the parked cars, zig-zag style. Then another sharp left, followed by a sharp right followed by a sharp left, all in five meters. Then paving through the aid station to the start/finish line.
She realised on day one of lockdown that the modern GPS watches weren’t designed to cope accurately with repetitive small laps.
“So a high tech method of a 10m string and tape was used to measure the route.”
Anti clockwise was the starting direction, and direction change was more a case of avoiding possible niggles than avoiding boredom.
“(Changing direction) doesn’t make it all that more interesting.”
On the day, no females had completed the ‘ultra’ distance of 42.3km in much under six hours, so this became the official goal after about 200 laps.
Consistency was key and the magic kilometre number in 272 laps was clocked in at 5:13:00.
“The natural thing was t keep going.”
The lap tick table was made for 60 km; 42.3km for the challenge, 56km for Two Oceans Marathon, 58km for the official Two Oceans Marathon distance for 2020, and then 60km just to fill the page.
Every ultra runner needs some support in some shape or form, and this is about when Estelle’s fellow ultra runners chimed in, albeit from afar.
“At around 56km Alfred Thorpe and Lindie Steenkamp started to whisper obscenities in my ear. Things like why don’t you go really big. Like a 100km. We will sponsor a ticket to Cape Town and good red wine. Again… I couldn’t say no.”
A shout to her boys to print another page one of the lap table was the making of a “easy as pie” 100km day.
“Like any other race out there. Once you have entered and committed to the race you have to complete. So I really had no choice than to go on to do the full 100km.”
The total elapsed time was 14:20:58, for 100km totaling 642 laps, including 5:13:00 for 42,3km which was 272 laps.
Keeping track of the number of the number of 156m loop laps was easy.
“Good old paper and pencil. Ticked of every lap as it was completed on a table.”
Distractions came in the form of her eldest son Wihan joining her for the first 42.3km, thereby also completing his own Backyard Ultra. Then out came the trusted iPod after the 45km mark.
What’sAp chats with the above mentioned fellow KAEM’ers, as well as Toosie Bowden helped the time tick by.
“And avoiding residing fur runners kept the alert high. Although I must say their interest was very ad hoc.”
Looking back on the day, a few thoughts crossed Estelle’s mind. Picking her friends wisely was a big one, as they took her places she could never imagine herself going.
“And never short change yourself. You are capable of so much more than what you credit yourself for.”
Although these backyard ultras have received a great following, Estelle is a great believer to never do something “to be seen.”
“The fulfillment must come from inside. Outside input will never fill an internal void.”
Estelle said this was physically literally the easiest ultra she’s ever done, with an unchallenging route where once a zone was reached the miles clocked themselves.
“But mentally its requirements were way up there.”
Niggles were minimal apart from one “naughty toe” while nutrition of Tail Wind, bananas and dried apricots kept the fuel tank full. And sipping on coke was a first.
Squirrels nut butter on mentionable and unmentionable body parts did the trick and there was no chafing at all, and a shoe change from her old pair of Altra Escalantes for the brand new pair at 75km also kept comfort levels high.
“The correct gear and nutrition are vital. Even for home runs.”
Getting to run, when you essentially can’t, added to the vibe of the day, and Estelle admitted she’s a sucker for a challenge and would “never in a million years” have considered this if it wasn’t for the lockdown.
Although it’s good to put this one in the bag behind her, if a challenge like this was presented again, she’d take it.
“Bring on the next angry virus to the world and how knows?!”
But with South Africa still in lockdown, opportunities for the remaining days are still not accounted for.
Because it’s not every day that one gets the opportunity to think outside the box and find alternative ways to challenge the mind and body during a global crisis such as this one, and Estelle holds with high regard those extra ordinary things being done be ordinary people, every day.
“You don’t have a choice about the hand life deals you, but you do have a choice how you are going to play it. Don’t play snap if you have a poker hand.”