Josh Stevens is training for the UTCT 100 Miler Ultra Trail Marathon in Cape Town with no prior ultra running experience. This is his first training diary entry.
How far do you think you can push yourself?
When push comes to shove, how much pain can you endure in the pursuit of any given goal? How deep into the pain cave can you venture before the wheels completely blow off? This is a mental game I often like to play with myself and have been doing so for many years. In search of the edge. A search conducted to see what I am capable of. An almost paradoxical search, as you reach each horizon you are met with the next, a little further away and a little less obtainable.
Considering this I have decided to aim a few horizons over. I decided to take a big swing and trust the process.
I, with no ultra-running experience, have the audacity to think that I can run the UTCT 100-miler at the end of November. I thought it would be fun to keep track of my progress to bring people along for the journey. So, let’s see a complete novice bite off way more than they can chew and try their damndest to not only finish but to run 170km over the mountains of the Western Cape Peninsula in under 28 hours.
If that has intrigued you, follow me down the rabbit hole and see how this impulsive decision (that took me about 7 years to pull the trigger on) came about and what the effect will look like.
I am an (unemployed) amateur athlete who enjoys spending time in nature, trail running. And like most 24-year-olds I struggle with impulse control. Let me tell you a story. There I was sitting with my little serotonin-deprived brain in my lounge on a Thursday evening, watching running documentaries when it had an incredible thought “if a little running brings a little joy, surely a lotta running will bring a lotta joy?”. I feel my series of messages to a friend, seen below, adequately covers the comprehensive nature of my decision-making process.
Well, now that I have explained what I am doing, hopefully, you’re curious to find out about the chaotic human who thinks all of this is a good idea.
My name is Josh Stevens, I grew up in KZN and attended Maritzburg College. There I was a bit of a mediocre athlete, never being quite good enough to play in the A-teams, and definitely being dragged down by my particularly uninspiring fitness levels. My initial relationship with running, like most, wasn’t great. It was boring and kinda hard and as a chunky teenager, I did not understand the appeal.
Well, that was until the end of my grade 11 year. I was bored during my December holiday, which resulted in my brothers dragging me to a boxing gym with them. I was hooked instantly. But being 17 and not legally being allowed to drive it became a hack for my parents to drive me to and from the gym, so I started running there and back. After a few weeks, I experienced the strange phenomenon of being fit (I guess). My runs stopped purely sucking. I actually started enjoying them, and I couldn’t believe that I was now running some earth-shatteringly fast Kms (4:30/km downhill on a tar road).
It sure as shit wasn’t incredible but it was enough to light the fuse on something that would become a deep desire. Around this time I also found myself getting into podcasts, and having a particular fascination with the Joe Rogan Experience. This introduced me to the world of extreme humans and allowed me to gain some insight into how they thought about the world and conducted themselves. The likes of Cam Hanes (who if you don’t know runs a marathon every day) and David Goggins (arguably the most hardcore man on earth.. what is it with Americans?).
Both of these individuals are far superior to me in their work ethics which kinda made their achievements, although they sounded incredible, feel wildly unachievable for any mere mortal. I had this mindset about ultras until late 2017 when I heard about Courtney Dauwalter and how she absolutely demoled (demolished) the entire field (including Cam Hanes) in the 2017 Moab 240 miler. Listening to podcasts about her and getting a better understanding of her background, quitting her job as a teacher to pursue a career in ultra-marathon running for what seemed like the pure pleasure that she derived from it was all I needed to want to do one, well at least attempt it.
This was when I set my sights on one day doing something like this, but I had no real plan.
In Feb of 2021 I had a pretty gnarly fall coming down Kasteelspoort and ended up bruising my right femur (who knew you could bruise a bone?) and this left me unable to exercise until May. 3 months off from exercise did drive me insane, I became unbearable to be around (just ask my friends and ex-digs mates). This is why, in mid-April, I entered the Cape Town Trail Marathon. It was a plan to force me to get out and get after it. Training for this and running the race was the final nail in the coffin and my obsession was officially cemented.
Now here we are, staring down the barrel of this thing. So far my training seems to be going well. I am mostly incident-free; a few falls here and there. My body definitely hurts most of the time but not in a way that feels significantly bad. I have totalled one pair of shoes already, lost 3 toenails and obtained the sexiest of sock tans.
I don’t think I have ever felt stronger (well I know this for a fact). I am running further than I ever have before and faster than I ever have before. I have developed an unhealthy attachment to Strava (#givemeafollow) and am beyond excited to keep going and see just how far I can take this.
Here’s a quick overview of my stats from the first 2 months that I started specifically training towards the 100-miler which was June and August.
|Total Distance Run||804km|
|Total Elevation Gain||36.39km|
|Number of Peaks Tagged||29|
|Local Legends taken||29|
|Friends who are tired of hearing me talk about running||Undefined (but I am sure it’s all of them)|
Some info on the race. The race starts on the 25th of November @ 17:00, it is 169km, has 7800m of climbing and the runners are given a 45-hour cutoff time. The race begins in the city bowl at the Gardens Rugby Club and makes its way out to Simonstown and back, exploring most of the Western Cape Peninsula. This is the 1st year that the 100-miler is running and I am outrageously keen to be a part of it!
My training to date has consisted of 4-week cycles, in which I have 3 weeks on and 1 week off, where I run between 3 and 6 times a week with long runs on Saturdays. I am also making a concerted effort to be good about recovery, stretching almost every day, and there has been a massive increase in my focus on nutrition. In my case, tight (not loose) lips sink ships (because I don’t typically eat enough).
I have found out through pure observation that if it’s a Saturday morning and the sun hasn’t risen, that it WILL be raining in Cape Town. The knowledge of how slippery the trails are and the inevitable chafe (I am working on this #vaselineisyourfriend) that will come with the wet will often have me standing at the boom of the Newlands forest parking lot just staring up the hill just thinking WHY THE FUCK do l enjoy this? The rain also adds to the cold, where numb hands are commonplace. Throwing in my poor ability to nail down and follow a nutrition plan has often left me in some outrageously miserable situations on the mountain. After a little pout, I somehow always find myself smiling. Maybe it’s the absurdity of what I’m doing or just my strong preference for Type-2 fun.
I guess the joy comes from the bottom of the barrel. You’re cold, it’s dark, everything is wet and you still have 4 hours of running ahead of you. I fucking froth for this. Getting to the bottom knowing you get to claw your way back. I enjoy a challenge, as is self-evident by now. And every Saturday I wake up knowing I am about to bite off a lot and then seeing how I handle it. It has been so cool so far, exploring new trails, appreciating my old-reliable well-run trails more and KOM hunting. Strava has become my North star, helping me plan routes, showing me my gains, and allowing me to hang it all out on some random bit of trail to obtain the deep satisfaction that comes with running faster than a bunch of strangers is immeasurable.
I can do a good job complaining, but I do absolutely love my time on the mountain. I find a meditative space out there, alone. It is doing wonders for my mental health, and it is really helping me hold it all together right now.
By now I can’t help but feel that many of you want to watch this potential dumpster fire unfold. Going forward I will be keeping a journal that you can find here, with a full update every 2 or so weeks, of my running endeavours, throwing in some stories from the mountains, updates on me and what I am learning. There will also be social media posts on the WILD AIR Running channel so give us a follow; you can stay up to date with the day-to-day of my training through my personal Instagram (@joshstevens27), my Strava and see what weird and wonderful soundtracks I am listening to on Spotify, the superior streaming platform.
No Risk, No Story
Live Fast Die Last
And Yours in Suffering
Josh (Goggins) Stevens