My first introduction to PUFfeR was courtesy of my wife @beanker back in August 1998 during our first year of dating. She asked me to come along to Silvermine to keep her company as she was seconding for her father (Rob Tarr permanent number 7) who was doing yet another PUFfeR. My first thought was what the hell is PUFfeR but I quickly decided against asking as I figured any excuse to spend time with this girl is a good one so why not. We headed out that morning into the rain, cold and overcast day that awaited us. We arrived at Silvermine top car park and stepped out into an eerie silence with low mist engulfing the Pine trees (you remember the pine trees that used to be there don’t you?). We headed over to a small impromptu gathering of people huddled around a small table chatting incessantly yet seemingly waiting expectantly. After a short time I heard some voices off in the mist and looked down the road where some figures could almost be made out. As they came closer they were chatting and laughing, apparently they had taken a wrong turn and had come up to the dam the wrong way. I stood there slightly amused and asked where they had just come from “Cape Point” was the nonchalant reply. I stood there probably open mouthed for a while taking in how far these guys had come but my fascination and imagination had been indelibly captured by this strange race. It was shortly after that that @beanker’s father emerged and collected supplies from her whilst I took a few photos with our ‘non digital’ camera. He checked how far ahead the next person was said his goodbyes and headed off into the mist. I was still in awe that he was going to continue running on to the waterfront that day. I remember imparting at the time that I thought he was mad and I secretly hoped that it was not a genetic condition. How wrong i was as @beanker would show me years later!
Move 13 years on and @beanker and I entered for the 2011 PUFfeR and rather surprisingly got in. I say surprisingly as only 125 runners do the PUFfeR each year and my focus had rather been on Challenge Cape Town in November. As @beanker was so keen to take part I thought what the hell it will be fun to run it with her.
Regrettably whilst out on the trails during a training run in early June she pulled up with foot pain and after an MRI sometime later we discovered that she had actually fractured the cuboid bone in her foot. She was devastated and I similarly was gutted also and contemplated pulling out of the race but @beanker typically advised against it and encouraged me to take part. I agreed but in the lead up to PUFfeR my training load started taking its toll as I spent long hours alone swimming, cycling and running outdoors through winter and it at times became exhausting . It was challenging trying to balance the long weekend trail runs along with my triathlon training. The long cycle and swim on Saturdays followed by the long run and a cycle on Sundays was tough but in hindsight it was great physical and mental preparation for what lay ahead.
So August 27th and the day of PUFfeR finally arrived along with my usual butterflies, anxiety and sleepless night before. We arrived at Cape Point gate at 4:30am to take the bus to the start and I said my reluctant goodbyes to @beanker as I set out on my first PUFfeR journey. The mood on the bus was far from what I had expected with lots of excitement, laughter and the odd bit of banter that did much to lift my spirit and lack of self belief in my ability to measure up against some very experienced runners. Seeing my good friend and excellent physio Miranda Symonds and Joe @newbert also helped alleviate the tension I was feeling. When we arrived at Cape Point carpark shortly before the start the air was chilly and we all huddled together in the dark. The start finally arrived and we all moved 50m forward and then we were off. My pre race plan was to start relaxed and maintain a moderate pace for the first 30 to 40 kms and conserve enrgy for when we hit Silvermine and the climbs ahead. That plan went straight out the window as I got carried away and first 5kms flew by in just over 20 minutes. It was around this point that I picked up a rather painful spot in my left knee and it would become my nemesis during the day ultimately testing my resolve and determination to finish.
For those that have not heard of or run the PUFfeR before don’t mistake this run for purely trail. There is a very large chunk of t@r at the start and also at the finish to sap the life out of your legs. The first 22kms of the run are all on the road until the first trail that takes you via the Lewis Gay Dam to Black Hill. Due to the discomfort I was feeling I pushed the first 30kms to the Satori water/drumming table to bank the kilometres and time in case I had to walk a lot later. My first major wobble came shortly after that at the 35km mark at the woodcutters trail at the bottom of Ou Kaapse Weg.
I was in agony and it was perfect timing that @newbert came trotting along and joined me from that point forth. After changing into trail shoes at the Old Wagon Trail I pushed on with @newbert to the 42km mark at Silvermine Mountain bike car park. My nutrition plan had gone a bit out of the window and my sugar levels were seriously low when we arrived at the checkpoint. I remember @Beanker and my good friend Warren were there waiting for us but the rest is a blur. Warren joined @newbert and I on the leg to Constantia Nek and I was so stoked to have him with us as I was taking strain and his ever jovial mood lightened my flagging spirit.
I started to feel much better as we conquered Vlakkenberg and arrived at Constantia Nek with plenty of time before the cut off. It was great to see running friends’ @Rogeema and @Fadeelahk who had come out to support. Arriving at the Constantia Nek carpark was a relief and I felt confident that I had enough in reserve despite having to go over Table Mountain to the finish. The climb seemed relentless but we kept a good pace going and it was only the downs that were painful on my knees. It was great to eventually reach Mclears Beacon and The Pine Nuts table that awaited us. I had a cup of rooibos tea and some spray on my knees and then headed off with @newbert. Unfortunately I was not able to keep up with a resurgent @newbert and had to let him go as we made our way across the Table. At Platteklip Gorge I slowed to an almost snail like shuffle as every step down was excruciatingly painful on my knees. The friendly encouragement and offers of assistance from fellow PUFfeR runners was amazing but I urged them all on as I faced my demons on that slow descent. The descent seemed like an eternity and I was relieved when I hit the lower cable way trail. I quickly forgot about the pain as I took in the incredible views over @CapeTown on what was a picture perfect day.
I managed a slow jog along this route where I caught up with Di King and we on the way down to the Cableway where I met @beanker. The finish was practically in sight with 10kms to go and only Signal Hill as the last climb before the gradual descent into the Waterfront. Running up Signal Hill was incredible as strangers stood at the side of the road some getting out of their cars to clap and cheer me on as I ran along the Signal Hill Road. Maybe it was because I had my Sunflower Fund top on or because I was hurting but either way it was incredibly motivating. It made me determined to run the whole way up to the last support table on the route manned by the West Coast Athletics Club. The West Coast guys were simply amazing with their relay runners that ran the last couple of 100 metres to the table with each PUFfeR runner and walkie talkies to take drinks orders before we got to the top. It was certainly well timed and it would have been nice to have stayed longer to share a cold beer and a laugh with them but I needed to get to the finish.
The last couple of kilometres to the waterfront were particularly lonely and gave me time to reflect on my PUFfeR journey that day. I slowed to a walk as I began once more to think about @beanker as I had done throughout the day and I suddenly got all emotional as the disappointment of not being able to finish the race with her hit me quite hard. I woke out of my dreamy state as I heard a group of runners not too far from me and remembered I was in a race and still had to cross the finish line and so I began running (read hobbling) again. I kept the group at bay and ran the final kilometre into the Waterfront. Crossing the road to Ferrymans at the Waterfront to the PUFfeR finish was only topped by having my amazing wife @beanker there to welcome me. I was sore, tired and a little bit speechless at the finish but felt so happy that I had battled through to finish.
I proudly collected my PUFfeR rock, trophy and finisher top and stayed to watch the other finishers come home. We enjoyed a couple of drinks, some great food and stories with other runners and cheered on the winners at prizegiving. It was great to chat briefly with the PUFfeR winner Nic de Beer who is such an enormously talented yet humble guy. I was stoked for fellow Satorians Karoline Hanks who was 2nd overall and 1st Lady and Ross McGregor who finished 3rd overall and was 2nd man home.
The PUFfeR race slogan is “Running in heaven, Feeling like hell”. Running through many of the Cape Peninsulas nature reserves in one day gives you such an appreciation for the natural diversity our fairest Cape holds. PUFfeR is a run that must be experienced to be fully appreciated.
I certainly got my money’s worth on the day and have much to improve on but I had banked a whole day of memories that will stay with me until I get to the start line at the 2012 Hi-Tec PUFfeR.
Get out there and make the most of what we have on our doorstep every day.
Scotty or R2D2 (as I am known on the trails)