What happened at UTCT 2016

Phillip Gibb  —  August 7, 2017 — Leave a comment

Ultra Trail Cape Town is this really insane event that has 35km, 65km and 100km route options. Do not left the 35km fool you; the amount of elevation gain packed in this mini monster can reduce you to tears. The 100km was focus for a long time, I had volunteered the year before so I could get a discount on the entry. It is seriously challenging technically as well as distance wise, but most of all (because of SANPARKS restrictions) the cut-offs are more insane. It actually make for a really worth while challenge. If you happen to get under 15 hours, well then, you are special.

The race takes place early December, a great way to finish the year and set you up for a well earned rest over the Christmas time. This year it takes place on the 2nd December. If you decide to run, then definitely join the Recce runs; it is quite amazing that they organize those runs. If you decide on the 100km then don’t believe the 50km per week minimum, I think it should be 75 with a whack load of climbing more than once a week for at least 6 months, scary stuff, respect!

Ok, down to my experience …

Spending pretty much of the year with the 100km UTCT as my one and only focus, I was naturally scared, excited and utterly delusional. It is quite possible that I had invested too much in this one race, especially emotionally. This was going to be almost double my average mileage and my longest run, but that was not going to deter me, in fact it seemed to me that a weekly mileage of 50kms was pretty much acceptable since I had supplemented that with a little bit of cycling and regular gym sessions; not to mention that I was couched weekly and followed a plan. Granted, I twisted my ankle quite badly 4 weeks before, so I did not follow the plan perfectly.  And ….. I failed.

The Start

There I was at the start line, a little too close to the front, I mean really, who was I kidding? Like most I had not had enough sleep; which was to be expected, and like an idiot I used an energy bomb that was more aimed for body builders than endurance runners. I guess I was hoping that the kick would carry me over the all important cut-off at Constantia Nek. I was dead wrong. Even when I got to Kloof Nek I was already falling behind my goal.

The pace from the start was way too fast – the same mistake I had made at the PUFfer. Heading up to Signal Hill and then to Kloof Nek was not too bad, even up to the contour path and along to Platteklip. By this time I was starting to follow the plan that I wanted, but the damage was don’t and the penalty was to come. Perhaps it was Plattekip that tipped me over the edge, because after I turned away from McClears Beacon the cramps started to dig their dirty claws into my thighs. The amount of time I lost try to recover and getting stuck behind a big group of 65km runners was so significant that I was 20 mins behind the cut-off. I was not aware of the issue, not that I could have resolved it because my knee was hurting down the long concrete road to the final descent to Constantia Nek.

Constantia Nek

Arriving at the VOB crewed check point I thought that Tim was joking when he said that I had to divert. When the truth took hold, I literally sat down by a tree and sobbed; the weight of 10 months of investment and hard work broke my heart, I was so angry, I felt robbed. In hindsight I probably would not have finished the 100km if I had made the cut-off because of my knee, so the 65km medal was fortunate.

From Constantia Nek through to Groot Constania I managed to miss my family as they go lost trying to find me – the idea was that they would had met me at Hout Bay. Man alive I needed them, there is a limp in my throat even now as I fight back some tears. Fortunately I met up with some friends along the way – the trail is like that, there is always someone you know running out there, you might not know each other’s names but it is always great to connect.


By this time it was also evident that my legs were not used to this distance, yet once again trail buddies and familiarity got me through Newlands Forest as if it were a normal training run. But man alive, did my legs remind me that it was not a training run as I got to UCT. My word, they were not legs, they were pain sticks. So thankful was I when I saw my family, my poor kids were so worried. If there ever was a time that I needed my family it was then. I felt ill tempered and frustrated, probably a symptom of over exercise? Thankfully there was some ice that I could cool myself with. Then, throwing back Red Bull and some terribly evil snacks, I pushed on with my nemesis of a hill approaching.

This climb, because of where it is in the race, is utterly malicious. On all the recce runs, even the one this year, I have struggled. Hell, any hill is hellish after 50kms of trail running throbbing in your legs. When road runners talk walk-run strategies trail running have walk-sit strategies, at least I do. Sometimes walk 20 then stand with hands on knees, gasping for air as my heart hammers away in my chest, count to 10, repeat. I finally made it, well I was not ever going to give up.


After the contour path, which seemed to hurt my left knee, I was very apprehensive about the seriously steep descent through Deer park to the finish. No amount of adrenaline for the final kays to the Finish Line was going to overcome my knee issue. At this point I was fairly convinced that I would never have finished the 100 if I had made cut-off. Stepping down with my right leg made my left knee feel as if it was tearing off the tendons. I basically hopped down so as to avoid too much flex in my knee. The truth is that I had what was suspected to have been Fat Pad impingement from a few months back – I thought that I had overcome especially after resting an ankle sprain, but the pounding was too much and there was not hiding on the slope


Anyway I made it, all 65kms, wow, that is a feat all on it’s own, respectable enough even though I had failed to run the full route.

I was bummed, though, not making cut-off was really a R1000 failure if you consider the entry fee. Yet still, it was an awesome race, very well organized. Yes I do plan to run again, this time training with more knowledge and running with more wisdom.

Lessons Learned

  1. Do not start so fast
  2. Do not take fancy energy boosters with ingredients with I have done no research on. This and too much caffeine simply makes you burn what you have quicker.
  3. Take more note of pacing and time cut-offs. Next time I would like to find an app that could give me a guide to whether I am behind or ahead
  4. Don’t take it so personally, it is a fun adventure.

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