Running My First 100km Ultra Trail As An Amateur

by | Nov 28, 2022 | Story Feature, Event Experience, Events & Racing, Run

We followed the journey of amateur runner Josh Stevens over his 6 month build up to the 2022 RMB UTCT. This is how his first 100km ultra went!

100km is a long long way to run but it seems to be all the craze these days. Maybe we’re getting too bored, maybe there is just something about the triple digits figure that beckons a challenge? Whatever the reason might be, the pull is real and a lot of the people doing these ultras are just everyday guys and girls with day jobs and a love for running on mountains.

We followed the journey of a particular amateur runner, Josh Stevens, over his 6 month build up to the 2022 RMB UTCT. With an initial ambition to run the 100 Miler being dampened by the demands of his new job, relocating to Joburg, and injury, he settled for the classic 100 km course. Lining up on a hellishly windy Saturday morning in Cape Town, the odds may have not been in our intrepid friend’s favour but he had come a long way to be here (metaphorically and physically). In the spirit of if you never go you’ll never know, Josh began the gruelling 100 km foot race and rolled with each punch thrown his way as well as riding the waves of strength and good fortune that came his way.

Josh Stevens Runs The Utct 100Km Ultra Trail As An Amateur
Seeing Sulli and Jason out on Lion’s Head was cause enough for cheeky smile.

At 12:23 AM on Sunday morning, Josh arrived back at the Gardens Rugby Club, on foot and absolutely exhausted. It had been a rollercoaster ride of note with all the curveballs one could expect over a distance such as this but he had hung on to the end and even surged forward over the final 20km, making up 51 positions to sneak into the top 100 finishers. His journey has been equal parts comical and inspiring to follow (you can catch the pre-race training diary series here) and it was powerful to see him cross the finish line knowing what it had taken for him to get there. It is only fitting that the Amateur Ultra Training Diary series is rounded off with some war stories from Josh himself on what went on out there so without further adieu, the words of Josh “Goggins” Stevens.

WA: Lining up in a state of being, what you might say was, a bit undercooked in terms of fitness, what were those start line emotions like at your first Ultra?

Josh: I was such a mess, a bad night’s sleep on the back of not packing my race number into my overnight bag made the morning chaotic. Managed to iron over some of my poor planning and slid into the back of the start shoot with about 7 min to the start. 

I was super nervous. The massive day ahead of me felt all too real and honestly insurmountable. I tried to do some breathe work to calm myself down but I was honestly too focused on not bursting into tears to really achieve much. 

I pulled myself together with about 1 min to go and the nerves seemed to slip away as we set off (although the self-doubt was well cemented for many more hours).

WA: Describe the vibe and experience of the race in the first 20km? Whereabouts were you in the field and was the pace what you expected?

Josh: Due to my late arrival I was very far back in the pack at the start. Looking at my timing sheet I crossed the start line 212 / 250 odd people, and by Kloof Nek I pulled it back to 123. A solid first stint where the goal was to put my mind at ease. I was also waiting for the inevitable pain in my left foot (mentioned in previous articles) to come back but fortunately it never showed itself throughout the entire day. 

A little jog through the city bowl to the base of Signal Hill powered by one of my favourite playlists, “Songs to Perpetuate Your Dissociation in an Aesthetic Way” got me out of my head and appreciating the vibe. It reminded me why I set out on this journey, the city bowl looking incredible, tons and tons of runners all out doing what they loved and so many supportive people along the way providing an extra boost to us all. 

My focus on the positives helped my pacing and resulted in me both taking the first 20 km very chilled and coming into Kloof Nek about 20 min before I anticipated around 2h40.

Josh Stevens Runs The Utct 100Km Ultra Trail As An Amateur
Moments before the freight train to the pain cave rolls out the station.

WA: When did you first start feeling the fatigue of the distance wearing you down and after that did it ever get easier again? Did the windy conditions bother you much?

Hahaha, rather embarrassingly the last hill before the Kloof Nek aid station (20 km in) had some teeth, which had me a bit concerned. I half expected the climb up to Kloof Corner to end me, but I think the combination between me pulling back on the throttle some more and then the incredible support towards the top (including a man with bagpipes) really kept me feeling good. 

Platteklip was a much lonelier experience with only day-hikers and UT100 runners on the trail. This significantly reduced the hype we all felt, when we only had each other. Coming out the top I was hurting, with a slow walk until I hit the flat the idea that I wasn’t going to finish really started to sit in the front of my mind. The twinges of cramp I felt as I started running again really didn’t help.

But between Maclear’s Beacon and the Scout Hut I righted the ship and was feeling strong again. I grouped up with two other runners (Andrew from Joburg and Eamon from Canada) and we grinded through the brutal 12 Apostles section. About 30 – 45 min outside of Llandudno I ran out of water which I didn’t think was that big an issue, until hitting the top of Suikerbossie and feeling like ass. 

Rolling down the hill into the aid station I was not doing well. Finding an unoccupied spot in the shade at the aid station I sat down and was convinced I was done. I could barely answer the questions I was being asked let alone bear the thought of having to run another 55 – 60 km. My main concern at this point was how my support crew was going to carry me all the way to the car after I pulled out. 

A long sit and many liquids later I once again became a human and managed to get my head back in the game and set off. The liquids must have really helped because I may have even tried to flirt with a lifeguard before setting off across Llandudno beach. That was definitely my lowest point, and while it wasn’t easy at any point it was definitely easier from there on out. 

Another low that is worth mentioning was the diversion after the Hout Bay aid station due to a fire. Leaving the aid station I looked up at Vlakkenberg and the flames coming off of it (knowing that I had to cross it) and jokingly asked if that was gonna be an issue before setting off. Only to have someone tell me, after an hour and a half of hiking to the upper contour above Hout Bay (Alfies Path) that said fire was in fact a major problem and that I had to go back to the Hout Bay aid station and get bussed around the fire. 

It wasn’t a massive issue and cut my race 4 or 5 km short but just the mental toll, at 66 km, to have to undo 90 min of progress and go back to the place you’d just put so much effort into leaving was a lot to handle.  

I was very concerned about the wind because I do have a tendency to get unreasonably grumpy about the wind. Surprisingly enough, my only issue with the wind was that it made me cold so I had to wear a jacket which then made me sweat ridiculous amounts when I would round a corner into a windless zone. It was a bit of an annoying jacket on, jacket off, back and forth. 

The final big climb up to the King’s Blockhouse did have a brutal left to right that was almost blowing me over about every other step but I was so close to the finish that I didn’t even care. 

≪Strong≫Running My First 100Km Ultra Trail As An Amateur≪/Strong≫
Sitting at Alphen trail aid station as night began to fall.

WA: Ryan said Suther Peak is the crux of the route? What was it like out there? What part of you and which section of the route hurt the most?

Suther was savage. Starting with the climb up to Rocket Road, basically off the beach, was gnarly. The Suther peak climb had me super grumpy. It was one of my lower moments, having to climb 2 metre tall rock faces 50 kms into my run when all I was doing was trying not to cramp and now I had to worry about falling backwards and dying?! It was too much. 

Honestly, while I never doubted him, Ryan was absolutely right that Suther was going to fuck me up.

While Suther Peak sucked, the section that hurt me the most, even if mostly psychologically, was the 400 steps section above Kirstenbosch. Idk why but it just always gets me, I have never once felt good going over there and I was sure I even double and triple checked that it wasn’t a part of the race. So it was a big hit to the psyche when I saw the arrow pointing up. I did indeed let out a very loud shout of profanity and displeasure (sorry to anyone who heard that).

WA: What lessons did you learn in terms of having the right or wrong gear? 

Honestly nothing major to report, but in a long day of running having the right things is just one less thing for you to think about which can be vital. The only issue I had was not having a watch with sufficient battery life so having to switch between two was admin, but also fortunately not something that derailed me – and fortunately I could stitch the three GPX files together to show off on my Strava 🙂

WA: How would you rate the performance of your support crew? What would you say makes for a great support crew?

My support crew crushed it! I am incredibly grateful for how generous they all were to donate their Saturday to watching me attempt to end myself. 

I would say having a group that knows the right amount of push back to give you, who listen to what you ask them for. So in my case a crew that was pushy about me eating food when I didn’t want to but great at giving me exactly what I needed and even preempting what I was going to ask for.

Josh Stevens Runs The Utct 100Km Ultra Trail As An Amateur
My support team. Cannot thank them enough.

WA: What was your highest moment of the day?

Honestly hard to beat crossing the finish line after over 18hrs of being out there on the mountain. Just the final moment entering the rugby club knowing all of that work I had put in had paid off. All those hours were for something. I was really drained by then having pushed hard from 75km so I had very little emotion left to give but the satisfaction levels were incredible. 

WA: What does it feel like to have finished your first 100km ultra? What would you say to people who have a dream to run a distance like that someday?

It’s a little surreal, at time of writing it is the day after and I am still processing it. It was such a long way with so many moments packed into the day. It both felt a lot less than 18 hours long and looking back it’s hard to believe that it all happened in a single day

If you put the time in you’ll crush it. Recycling a little advice (that I now have a much greater appreciation for) it’s about managing your lows more than anything. So while all the physical training was important (read: vital) and nailing a nutrition plan is important, the mental aspect is paramount. Things are going to go wrong regardless of how well you plan. A little ankle roll here or your body not taking on nutrition there and you have to adapt, fast. And above all if you enter something like this, remember why you did because that is what will keep you going when things get dark.

“Ultimately I think my “why” was fueled by seeing how far I could push myself. To see how far into the pain cave I could venture before I broke. And rather satisfyingly I went pretty fucking deep and didn’t. Guess that may leave my “why” unfulfilled, but I am content for the moment and just gonna do my best to enjoy it before I get caught up in the next thing”

On race day, there is nothing more to be done but enjoy the work you’ve put in. Make a friend or two on the route, help people out where you can and just enjoy the general stoke. It is gonna get hard, so find the positives and fixate on those. 

≪Strong≫Running My First 100Km Ultra Trail As An Amateur≪/Strong≫
Josh’s result and time from the 2022 UTCT Ultra Trail 100

WA: Getting your nutrition right was a bit of a battle that you fought through the 6 months of preparation, how did that work out on the day for you?

Surprising to everyone following along (and mostly to me) I got my nutrition right on the day, albeit with some help from my support crew pushing potatoes, sandwiches and even plain bread rolls (in a final attempt of desperation to get me to eat).

WA: Any final reflections on this epic journey? Has it inspired you to push for more?

It’s hard to believe that it’s all over. After months and months of grinding and anticipation, boom it’s all done. It has been amazing to be able to share my journey with this process, and I am really stoked that I will have a written account of the whole process for me to look back on in future. 

I have been offered so many great opportunities and been able to reach so many people. More than anything I am stoked that I got a chance to share my love of running with those who would listen. 

Yoh, as of today stairs have become my number one enemy and I am a non-functional member of society. I fear about the quality of the work I will produce tomorrow and part of me believes I may never run again. But I know this will not last and that between my preference for type-2 fun and love of throwing myself in the deep end I will be back on another startline in the near future. 

Right now I am excited to branch out and not have to focus on running for a bit. My obsessive personality, while it loves trail running, is in need of something new to focus on for a bit. This process has been super rewarding but I am glad to close this chapter (at least for a little bit).

Live Fast, Die Last 
Memento Mori
And forever and foralways yours in suffering 
Josh