Ultra Trail Drakensburg 2023by Travis Warwick Oliver
My dream of finishing UTD 100 miler began only a few months after having my amputation, after being asked to second Jo Keppler. I witnessed something that absolutely scared me the most and never visioned myself completing a race as tough as this. It was then that I made the decision to make UTD 100 the ultimate goal of mine. (not knowing I would be there a year later in 2022)
2022 was one rough ride. Unfortunately I had to pull out at the 138 km mark with only 18 km to go. We learned so much about stump health and blade set up that year.
Fast forward another year and I was preparing myself for yet another attempt at the Monster UTD 100 miler. This time around I was able to put in much more training. Stump health is crucial to my performance on big block weeks. I have to make sure I do my best to keep things tidy. I was really confident that I would make it to the finish line this time around as I had a whole new leg. My body was feeling great and I knew what I was getting myself into.
It was now just to keep healthy for a week or two and make it to the start line.
I came into the race extremely calm and happy that I had survived the training blocks. Prior to the event I had to get a refit of my socket because I lost so much volume due to the extensive training I went through. This threw a bit of a curve ball as it’s like using a new pair of shoes on race day.
The race started off extremely slow, i was really battling with sweating in my liner which has to be drained. My number one goal for this year was stump health. What I neglect at 10km bites me at 100km. So every 2 km or so I would have to stop and take my leg off to drain and clean the sweat.
Aid station 1 ( Stone Lodge)
I arrived at Stone lodge in a reasonable time considering the amount of times I had to stop. I was sitting in about 42nd position out of 48. This didn’t bother me as I knew my stops would become less and less because I started to sweat less as time went by. We now had to climb up black mountain to the black mountain aid station. I’m extremely fortunate that I don’t feel the effects of altitude too much and so I could put the hammer down on the climbs and make up some positions.
Aid Station 2 ( Black Mountain )
I reached Black Mountain just as the sun went down. I got as much food and nutrition in as I could. We made a decision this year to stay on my running blade to summit Thabana which meant I didn’t have to only walk the next 30 km. This was an extremely good decision because this year I was able to run down Thabana and again make up some positions. The weather wasn’t too bad and we were so fortunate to not have a rainy summit. I had now made my way up into the top 30 and was feeling extremely strong and confident. I was very comfortable on my blade and felt I could possibly wear it the entire race without having to switch over to my every day walking leg.
Aid Station 3 ( Sani Backpackers )
I reached Sani Backpackers at around 3am, 2 hours ahead of my previous attempt. I was now feeling really strong and felt I didn’t need to sleep or swop over to my walking leg. Last year the descent down 12 apostles Ruined my race and I was really nervous to put my walking leg on this year for that section.
Again I took in as much nutrition as possible and got ready for the next 30 km into South Africa. The descent down Sani Pass was slow, I knew I had to take this one easy and just watch my stump didn’t get any blistering like the previous year. A few people passed me but I never let them distract me from my plan of taking it easy. They Say if you survive the Lesotho section of UTD the race only starts at the 100km mark. So the Plan was to get to 100km as fresh as possible.
Everything was going great and I knew if I kept up the pace I was that I could get to Water Fall aid station before 10:00 am. This year the 100km race leaders only passed me a few Km before the next aid station which was Salt and Pepper. Just before the aid station there is a really steep technical descent which is where things started to turn for the worst. Being on my blade meant I didn’t have a heel to help on the descent. This puts a lot more pressure on my stump and ended up bruising the back of my calf quite badly. I arrived at Salt and Pepper not feeling the best but knew I had 8km to go to the next Aid Station which is waterfall. Being a few hours ahead of schedule I knew I could take it extremely easy and try save my stump as best as possible.
My world came crashing down on me within a 10min span.
On the last descent of the 12 Apostles section everything changed. My energy levels had dropped even though I was eating well and keeping the fluid intake up. I got a really bad sensation behind my calf which almost felt like it had torn. Every step I took on my blade was extremely sore and at one point I didn’t think I would make it down the hill even though I could see the next aid station. Eventually making it to Waterfall at 12:00, 2 hours longer than my estimated time of arrival.
Aid Station 4 ( Waterfall )
II arrived at Waterfall in tears. It felt like my race was over and I had no idea how or why this happened so fast. We made a decision to take a 30 min sleep to try and regain some strength. This is where we saw something wasn’t right. I had been shivering the entire sleep and felt a bit drunk. After waking up I tried putting my leg back on and it just didn’t seem to cooperate. Again it was just crazy pain and I didn’t know how I could carry on like this.
Eventually after swapping liners and legs a few times I made it about 4km down the road and decided my race was over. We messaged the crew to let them know and within a matter of minutes my seconders arrived at my location. In my training block I had practised crutching incase I got a few km from the finish line and needed to crutch over. I just never expected to be attempting to use them from the 105km mark.
So there I was, not feeling too great, one extremely sore and swollen stump, about to tackle the next 60 km on my crutches. At first I wasn’t too sure this was a good idea. We eventually made our way off and headed towards the next aid station which was 16km away. This was the longest and hardest thing I have done so far. Crutching over mountains and streams and uneven surfaces on single track isn’t too fun. I threw a few tantrums and swore at my seconders who gave me my crutches (they weren’t even there)
It took me around 6 hours to crutch my way to Cobham Road Crossing Aid Station 5( Cobham road Crossing )
I reached the aid station completely broken. I started hallucinating and didn’t really know where I was. I knew the amount of effort it took me to get here would probably ruin my passion for UTD forever if I tried to carry on. So I made the hard decision to pull out of the race. It’s my sponsors, coach , never a great thing to do. I felt like at the time I had failed everyone. My Sponsors, coach, family and followers who were all backing me and supporting me. After feeling like I was on-top of the world not thinking I could take another step in a matter of minutes. Something wasn’t right.
We learnt the next morning that I had picked up a serious bacterial skin infection that started behind my calf where I experienced the pain which slowed me down at first. The Swelling this infection caused is the reason for the bruising sensation i experienced. The energy levels dropping was just because my immune system was taking a beating. The infection spread from my stump to my left leg which ended up sending me into hospital for a week. The infection had spread into my blood and I needed a serious dose of antibiotics.
I will be attempting UTD 2024 next year. This race is so special to me and I can’t wait to cross that finish line. Each year I learn so much and I feel that each time I pull out of this monster it just makes me hungrier to receive that Cowbell at the finish line.
A massive thank you to Ikhambi Distribution for trusting in me and allowing me to use the Shokz. Since the day I received these headphones my training and racing has changed. I don’t get sore ears anymore from having earbuds in my ears for so long. I don’t get that disoriented feeling. I can go on extremely long runs without having to worry about my earphones dying.
UTD was a great tester for these. I was able to run for around 10 hours without having to charge my Shokz. We don’t play music at the highest volume so I think this is a great way to get extra time to listen to your music. I found that being able to hear your surroundings while listening to music was another huge benefit as I could hear fellow runners asking me to move off track when they passed me down 12 Apostles.
Training on the roads in South Africa can be very dangerous and being able to hear a car approaching is another key element to the bone conductors. I don’t think I can go back to using any other product
Thank you for your support and I’m looking forward to our future together.