Conrad did a 42.3km Ultra Backyard trail Challenge. It took him 7+ hours, and some tired legs, but he did it. 

By Conrad Grobelaar

2020 Started out as any other year fireworks and bang we are in a new decade, to be honest, I didn’t go through the whole reflect on the decade thing I just looked forward to the possibilities of a new year. 2020 was set to be a big year for me! I committed in December of 2019 to running longer, more consistently and moving my base threshold higher for my goal, I set out to train for my first race of the Year and it was a big one Dusk till Dawn.

I ripped the bandage off in February and entered Dusk till Dawn, a race that I had wanted to do from last year this time, but circumstances prevented me from pursuing the goal. So I was fired up to make it happen. This year I was not going to let anything get in my way.

Background on Dusk till Dawn – it is set in the beautiful town of Sabie, Mpumalanga. The format of the race is a 12km loop with 450m elevation gain on the trails around the town and then the cherry on the cake is that it starts at 5 pm and ends at 5 am 12 hours to prove what you’re made of.

I had set a challenge for myself to run 5 loops, which amounted to a distance of 60km and 2250 meters of elevation gain trail running is not for the faint at heart. I set this goal to run 60km despite not having run a marathon before. I would not recommend or condone this behaviour. I signed up! I am not the type of person that does ‘normal’ things, I always try and push the limit of what’s possible both physically and mentally some examples include mountain unicycling and scuba diving. My philosophy in life is why to be normal why live in the confines of the world definition of normal. 

In January I started getting more serious with my training. I averaged about 50km a week with as much vertical ascent as I could get in the relatively flat area we live in  I supplemented the running with other strength work to get my legs stronger for the harsh climbs and descents. In February I ramped it up to 80km a week.13 Hour weeks and early mornings became the norm and my headlamp my trusted running partner.

On 23 March the lockdown was announced and this was the final nail in the coffin of the race. A certain and abrupt stop to all of my training.  From doing 80km a week to trying to do 5km in my garden the adjustment wasn’t fun. I tried to keep myself motivated, but I was utterly disappointed and frustrated Like many runners I run to stay in a good frame of mind and running loops in my garden definitely didn’t scratch that itch. But there was light and hope at the end of the tunnel lockdown wouldn’t last forever.

At 8 am, I stood at the start line with no real hype, no pump-up music, no mc getting the crowd fired up. I pushed start on my watch and I was off on an endeavour that would change my view of life forever.

In the first few days of the lockdown, the race organizers of Dusk till dawn presented the 42,3 Ultra Backyard Trail Challenge (UBTC) I exploded with excitement a challenge I was able to do within the confines of my garden and an opportunity to use the fitness I had been building for the race. There was hope a goal albeit foolish and crazy. Running an ultra-marathon in your garden what could be more physically and mentally challenging in this moment of lockdown? The criteria were as follows: whenever you want to start during the lockdown, post your start time and record your final distance and elapsed time. As a reward, successful finishers can order a custom cap that commemorates the achievement.

I was absolutely hooked on the idea of running a race for a limited edition cap that commemorates this lockdown in some special way a token that I came out of lockdown better than I went in.  What would be more special sharing my first Ultra with my family lap by lap?

I set out to create my route for the UBTC. I wanted to make the lap counting as easy as possible.


Laps  423

Turns. 3384

U-Turns 324

Time  7:37:00

Elevation  0m

Total distance  42,3km 

Pairs of Shoes 1

I set my sight on doing it on the first Saturday of lockdown I am an eager beaver. I marked the route and sorted the aid station made some custom race banners for my start/finish and aid station. I looked at the weather the night before and the chance of rain was 80% in the morning and 100% later in the day, but you know trail runners, they go out and find the challenge. The possibility of rain wasn’t going to deter me! I set my start time for 8 am, after negotiating with my family and considering the neighbours I went to bed I was nervous but excited. 

At 8 am, I stood at the start line with no real hype, no pump-up music, no mc getting the crowd fired up. I pushed start on my watch and I was off on an endeavour that would change my view of life forever.

1km in, I realized that I was averaging about 9min a km, that’s about my walking speed on a normal day. I did some quick math and realized that I was looking at a good 7-hour journey of discovery 7 hours to run a flat marathon ridiculous.

7km in my crew/family started waking up, my father cheering for me at the window on the one side of the house and then running to the other side to cheer me on. At this point the novelty of it all was still great and the stoke level was high. It is also around this time the first

rain showers would emerge, this particular one was not that bad. It was only a few minutes of mild rain and then a drizzle, all in all, it lasted about 30min.

10km in, It was just under 2 hours and at this moment I realized that my watch had crashed and reset itself losing all of the effort I had done. I was thrilled that I had been counting my laps; restarting would not be an ideal situation.

Halfway 21km in this is where things started getting tough. Normally I feel quite good at this point many of my training runs in the weeks prior would be longer. It felt like I had run more than 30km. My knees and hips were feeling every turn more and more. The realized that this was going to hurt and not just a little, it was evident I was in for a deep exploration of my pain cave. As I reached 21km I stopped for a few minutes and had some butternut soup definitely the best aid station meal I had ever had by a long shot.

28km in, it started raining again, and this time it was no joke it bucketed down. With the combination of the rain and the colder weather of the past week, I was freezing. I put on a long shirt over my base layer as well as waterproof jacket gloves and a buff. I was soaked to the bone, my shoes were double the weight, and I felt like I was slogging through mud. The rain wasn’t all bad; it brought some much-needed variation. 

My family came out and sat in the garage and the living room counting my laps. My hands were in my rain jacket trying to not freeze. All the videos and photos are courtesy of my father. My family/Crew stayed in the cold watching and counting lap after lap. The rain continued bucketing down for more than an hour. I had contemplated stopping and waiting out the weather, but I knew If I stopped, I wouldn’t want to go back out. Another hour passed and 90 more laps and the rain ceased. A moment of sheer joy erupted and the end started to become a not so distant reality despite crossing the finish line hundreds of times.

I was soaked but smiling, this was awesome! I had been pushing my limit of what I thought possible. I was running in the most adverse weather I could have gotten on the day and kept ongoing. I was in my happy place pushing the limits of my ability.

37km in, the mental challenge at this point became bigger than the physical. I had 5km left and the boredom was getting real. I had passed every point on the course more than 370 times, it felt like I was going nowhere but at the same time somewhere…

The tough reality of the undertaking got to me, I questioned everything I was doing In life. The beauty of pushing your limits is you get to a place where you’re absolutely exhausted and your ability to think diminishes and your inner self takes over.

The revelation I had in this place of vulnerability was that life is like running laps. It’s a new lap every day and you are faced with the choice run, walk or crawl.  Every day gives you the choice to do your best (RUN) or just the minimum (CRAWL) required to finish.

Adjustment in life comes in many forms, some are long term adjustments and other adjustments are short term. Learning to deal with the adjustment of daily life, and life as a whole as it changes its not just a skill you need for now but a skill you will use throughout your life. Take the hard option to run and not crawl.

42,3km the finish I had been running for 7:37:00 this was a massive undertaking and I had achieved it despite all of the obstacles and challenges I had pushed my limit further forever.

Would I do it again? Absolutely! Challenging myself and succeeding is one of the most rewarding experiences.

For anyone crazy enough to try and run a marathon in your garden or a normal marathon. Pick a race, find a good program, get a running buddy involved and go for it. You will definitely not regret it.

Happy running see you out there.

Conrad Grobbelaar.

About the Author:

Conrad is an avid trail runner with a goal to run 100 miles (160km) in under 24 hours and have fun doing it.

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