By the time I got to Water Point 3 (112km) I had been walking for more than 20km’s with tears running down my face ... pre-race favourite Naomi Brand tells her story
When things go wrong
It was probably clear as daylight to everyone following The Munga on social media this past week that this is no usual ultra trail. It’s a survival race. It’s 400km of grueling, lonely, non-stop blood-sweat-and-tears with everything you need to survive on your back, and only your thoughts and legs to get you to the other side. No drop bags. Water points spread far apart. Self-navigation over challenging terrain. The moment I saw this race advertised I thought to myself- THIS I ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO DO. I have never been exceptionally fast; I’m not built like a race horse, or as experienced as most of the pro ultra runners. BUT I have been blessed with a stubborn mind and two strong legs that can carry on for a very long time, and I know I can do it. To top it all off this was the inaugural event- and history was to be made. I couldn’t think of any reason why I shouldn’t do it. And you can ask Erik Vermeulen (the mastermind behind this amazing event) himself- I was one of the first people to enter.
I spent the Easter Weekend before the Munga at home with my family whom I haven’t seen in months. After a difficult few weeks of recovering from a 100 mile race I did, going through a break up, struggling with insomnia for days at a time and stress from studies hacking away at my immune system it was JUST what I needed. My nephew, the sweetest little 2 year old in the world, had contracted what you call a “crèche-cold”: a runny nose, cough and fever combo caused by one of those exceptionally fastidious viruses that spreads like a wildfire. By the Sunday afternoon I could feel a little something coming on … and as I lay in lay bed with tissues stuck both my nostrils and a throbbing head ache on Monday evening, I thought to myself: Shit.
But I wasn’t going to let this opportunity slip by, especially not after all my sponsors and family had done to make it possible, and all the months of training, energy and hope I had invested. So on the morning of the race I made my way to the start - all packed, and as ready as I could be. Even feeling a little better. The medic took my vitals, and said I was good to go even though he had a crooked smile that gave me the feeling he was also wondering if I really was. It was an amazing atmosphere to be part of: brand new Munga banners proudly erect, a mix of excitement and fear in everyone’s eyes and nervous laughter filling the race briefing hall. The start of something extraordinary with some of the toughest runners in the world to take part in it.
Bennie and I started the race fast and focused, and before I knew it we had already covered a lot of ground. I couldn’t keep up with him (for obvious reasons), and after he left me behind and the adrenaline started fading a bit I realized that my legs felt a little too heavy and my breath a little too short, and my nose kept running faster than my legs. I had the urge to walk all the time, even though I wasn’t even 50km into the race. And anyone who knows me would know that that is just not how I roll. But I kept motoring on through the cold night, refusing to stop or sleep in fear that I wouldn’t get myself going again.
By the time I got to Water Point 3 (112km) I had been walking for more than 20km’s with tears running down my face. My legs were so sore that I had to stop every 5 meters, and my breathing was erratic and my heart was beating in my ears. And I knew. Even though I was in the lead and everyone kept telling me to just hang on for a little while more and go a little further. Even though I was afraid of what people might think, and afraid of dealing with my own disappointmen t… I knew. And I made one of the hardest choices I have ever had to make. I pulled out.
I know that I can’t call myself a Mungral, and it kills me. But I also know I did the right thing. Only 10 minutes after I had made my final decision and the adrenaline started to fade my whole body started shivering and the fever I had suppressed came back. And I spent the next day in bed - coughing and sweating. My one friend sent me a message saying: “Many races. Only one you.” And I realised what a blessing it was that I got the strength to make the choice I did when I did.
The rest is history. I struggled a bit with navigation during the race and got lost so many times that I had already run 6km extra than I should have by the time I got to the first Race Village. I bundu-bashed, PROPERLY. I drank my water faster than I should have and dehydrated quite badly a few times due to the runny nose. I fell twic e- once into a river, and once on a gravel road while trying to open something with my mouth (and laughed at myself lying there in the darkness all by myself with a pieces of gravel stuck to my runny nose). There were Black Jacks (little seeds with hooks) on every part of my body and my socks were so covered in them that I had to throw them away at a water point. I got gyppo-guts. I got chased by a farmer’s huge black Rottweiler for almost a kilometer. And funny as it might seem - I loved all of it. And next year, if all goes well, I will gladly do it all over again to claim my Munga medal at the end.
I am truly proud of every single person who attempted this race. I feel honored to have had the privilege of sharing the trail with you. I am jealous beyond words of course, but also inspired beyond words. And will be stalking various people for tips in the near future. I am also impressed by the race organizers and grateful for the medical team and every single person who helped to make this the success it was. And I hope that I have sent the message to runners out there to use their heads, not their hearts and choose LIFE above everything else, no matter what the stakes are. No one wanted this more than I did. And I will be back for it.