It’s a release. An escape from reality. I run to be free and express myself, testing how far I can push my physical and mental boundaries; it’s a bit like a drug – the more you run, the more you crave it.
I’m quite a reserved, quiet person. So I enjoy just getting out there for five, six hours. In my own headspace, my own world. I feel like I get pulled out of my body and am looking down at everything. When I’m in the zone, my thoughts become clearer, everything makes more sense, a lot more focused. A form of meditation.
A lot of what I do is mental – about 40%. You’ve definitely got to have a certain mental attitude if you’re going to run 100 miles… Some call it crazy, but it’s just what I love. Being out on the trails, pushing boundaries, waking up excited every day and really hungry for more because I enjoy what I do.
Last year’s hard lockdown was a challenge. As a professional athlete, the hardest thing was feeling that everything had come to a grinding halt, like I was achieving nothing.
I also realised quite early on that I’m not one for running around my garden, so I worked out a home programme with my strength coach – a lot of stuff with kettlebells and the stairs in the house. I did leg-strengthening work I probably never would have done if I’d been running every day.
I also set myself lots of mini-goals, making it possible to feel that I’d accomplished something at the end of the day. Whether that meant building a puzzle with my son, Max, or mowing the lawn.
While I was still craving mountains, my priorities were reset. I have collected over 150 passport stamps on missions overseas to run in new places (including Antarctica). But lockdown had the effect of making me hungry to explore my own country. After 13 years of ceaseless, amazing travelling, I had this yearning to explore more of Cape Town.
Before lockdown, I established 13 Peaks, a self-navigating, self-timed trail running – or hiking – challenge that encourages people to get out there and experience the mountains in our own backyard. It was born out of wanting to link up some of my favourite peaks on Table Mountain and across the Cape Peninsula. One evening I sketched those peaks in my notepad and linked them up in a logical route that would make for a great adventure. I wanted the start and finish to be in the same place, mimicking the famous ‘rounds’ in the UK.
The route starts and ends on Signal Hill and takes runners to 12 other peaks in between: Lions Head, Maclear’s Beacon, Grootkop, Judas’ Peak, Klein-Leeukop, Suther Peak, Chapman’s Peak, Noordhoek Peak, Muizenberg Peak, Constantiaberg, Klassenkop, and Devil’s Peak.
On my sketch, the distance between peaks didn’t seem too extreme and I guesstimated it to be about 55km. I convinced my buddy Kane Reilly to join me for a fun day of covering the route I’d put on paper. After 19 hours, having run over 100km with 6 000m of vertical, we had to get off the mountain. We only summited 12-and-a-half peaks because our headlamp batteries died, but the route was pretty epic – we had such an adventure.
I want others to try it, to take the challenge and explore our mountains. It’s not just about times; it’s about getting out there and exploring our beautiful wilderness areas. You can do it as either a one-day challenge in which you have 24 hours to complete the route, a two-day (or 48-hour) challenge, or a multi-day adventure in which you can take as many days as you wish, as long as you time your stops and pick up from the same spot where you last stopped.
Beyond this, I have only two ‘rules’ I hope people observe: Don’t be a chop.
And keep safe.