The Inner and the Outer

George Euvrard recounts his experience at the Karkloof 100 Mile.

By on March 1, 2023 | Comments

[Editor’s Note: In this Community Voices piece, George Euvrard recounts his experience at the Karkloof 100 Mile in South Africa, a race inspired by the iconic Leadville 100 Mile.]

Just after I had taken part in the Karkloof 100 Mile, a 160-kilometer out-and-back trail run in the South African KwaZulu-Natal forests and mountains, my dear friend Karoline sent me her write-up on her 2011 PUFfeR Trail Run ordeal around Table Mountain, saying that my experience had reminded her of this tough run of hers. She then congratulated me on not abusing my body as she had done hers and later added that it was a foolish thing she did in her comparative youth. I loved reading Karoline’s description of her PUFfeR. I was in awe of her struggle to overcome her challenges, but I was slightly troubled by how she put herself down in her later evaluation of the event. Based on my recent experience at Karkloof, I found myself wondering if she was being fair to herself. On herself, according to herself, not according to others. Part of me couldn’t help feeling that she must have been in a phenomenally fulfilled space — no matter how physically broken she was. That didn’t sound like something “foolish” to me.

So I sat down at the computer to see what I was latching this on to … it was already receding to the horizon of my mind and fading with the passing of time.

Karkloof 100 - race start

The start of the Karkloof 100 Mile. Photo: Karkloof 100 Mile

The inner and the outer. The voices within and the voices without. My world and theirs. What makes sense to me, and how it looks to others. My experience and that of them. What counts? What is true?

During the latter stages of the Karkloof 100 Mile, I became aware of two distinct worlds — one I was experiencing firsthand and intensely and another one just beyond. They weren’t necessarily in opposition, and at times I consciously sought out the other for greater perspective and wisdom, but ultimately they were in separate orbits.

In my world, I had done everything as well as I could. I had gotten in some preemptive sleep; I had started slowly — in fact, I was stone last for the first few kilometers. I had consciously taken smaller and slower steps up and down every steep incline to avoid the later excruciatingly painful adductor cramps that I had previously suffered on steep races, I had eaten and drunk consistently, and I was contentedly confident. Moreover, I was just loving flowing along comfortably in the silent solitude of dense, dark woods and big, open spaces.

Karkloof 100 - early stages

George Euvrard enjoying the course in the early stages of the Karkloof 100 Mile. Photo: Karkloof 100 Mile

And then it crept in — imperceptibly at first — just a sudden realization that the “new” feeling of tiredness had actually been there for a while, that the engine had been somewhat spluttering up the steep bits, that it would be a welcome relief to stop for a moment. I started thinking that maybe I shouldn’t just walk past our cottage at the 74k mark in order to get to the turnaround at 80k quickly and then return to the cottage at 86k for my psychological halfway break — but that I should sit in that cold bath that I prepared on the way up too. My cell phone had also registered 69k by the time I reached the fourth aid station at Mbona Private Nature Reserve main gate, but Kylie told me that it was, in fact, only 64k in. Suddenly the turnaround was an extra 5k away. Not a biggie, but a dampener.

At 74k, I had my cold bath and a bowl of food, but I knew I was in trouble. The tell-tale signs were there. I was drained. I was also aware that the most I had ever done in a single-stage race was 76k, and I had only managed to complete that because the last 20k was down a gentle road, and even then, I was utterly spent. And it was 10 years ago. I knew I would be entering into new territory at this stage, and while I didn’t know exactly what to expect, I had hoped there might be a sustainable second wind that I never before had cause to draw upon.

There was no wind of any kind, however, and the hot slog to Benvie Garden went on forever — way further than the 6k indicated. During the fresh hours of the cool night, I had envisaged saying to Kylie as she joined me at this point as my pacer, “Come, let’s go and eat some stragglers!” But there was only one humorless straggler here by this stage. I gulped down some special energy powder, and we turned around. Back at the cottage at 86k, I staggered upstairs into the cold bath, ate a huge plate of mince, potatoes, and butternut, and set off again. Surely with all this food replenishment, I would get renewed energy and oomph?

Somewhere along here, I overheard Kylie saying something to someone about “the lean,” but it didn’t mean anything to me, and I let it waft past. A bit later, however, I noticed that I was constantly falling over to the left as if being pulled by some invisible force. It took increasing amounts of concentration and energy just to stay upright and on the path. Eventually, I had to stop and just bend over my sticks — in a desperate attempt to regain some balance and rest. Deep down, I knew my race was over. If you know yourself and your body as well as I do, it is almost a betrayal to pretend to yourself that it might be otherwise. And I was at peace with this. I had wondered what lay beyond the 76k, and now I knew, and it all seemed very fair.

George lying down mid-race

The miles had taken their toll on an exhausted George. Photo: Kylie Dawn Hatton

But this is where I started to sense my universe dividing into two worlds.

My world — where I could feel everything, where I was totally in touch with every part of my body, where I was living my history, my present, and my dreams in one seamless flow, where I was actually very together.

And the other world — the world of other people.

I realized that I had, in fact, become aware of this other world a while back. In the build-up to the start, friends had been saying, “Go, George, go, we know you can do it!” “You’ve done the training, now is the time to reap the rewards,” “Well done, George, this one’s yours!” These were not lighthearted quips from casual well-wishes — these were affirmations from my most loving friends and experienced trail runners. If anyone knows what I need and what is possible, it is these precious people. But it was another world. In my world, I was quietly contented that I had done my best preparation in the circumstances and was setting off on an unknown adventure with an unknown outcome. Now there was another world of expectations — unquestionably well-meant but nevertheless at odds with my world. I started feeling that if I didn’t succeed in doing the 100 miles in the designated time, I would somehow have failed my destiny. I would not have done my part in the inevitable unfolding of what was meant to be. This was not part of my earlier conversations with myself.

George with his crew in the sun

George (right) with his crew (l-to-r): Kylie Dawn Hatton, Roger Steel, and Gwenda Euvrard (George’s wife). Photo: Kylie Dawn Hatton

People — usually non-trail runners — often wonder how I can spend so much of my time on my own on the trails, be it in training or on outings like my recent Knysna to Swellendam pilgrimage walk. I might appear to be on my own, but I am never alone. There’s me, myself, and my God, and it’s a party wherever we are! If anyone had to see me “on my own,” they would notice much talking, quips, and laughter and wonder what the hell was going on. This is my world out there on the trails. It is a wonderful community — warm, wise, loving, honest, and together.

Back to the slog to the Mbona Gate at 96k. I was starting to doubt myself. Not my real, experiencing me, my struggling me — but my other me. I remembered a dear friend and top supporter saying how because of her sensible eating of real food when she set a trail-run record, she never lacked energy — even though her legs got sore. I had been eating sensibly — where was my energy? Why was my body not good enough? What had I done wrong?

I knew that I had reached the end of my adventure. I was totally and utterly drained, more dangerously left-leaning than I had ever been in politics, and I knew that another 64k wasn’t even the stuff of hallucinations. But I also remembered my first “did not finish” on the Addo Elephant Trail Run 76k a few years ago, in such unbelievable heat that the organizers later enforced a two-hour pause. While I was totally stuffed, I nevertheless regretted afterward that I hadn’t given myself a final chance by resting and refueling for a significant time and trying one last time. So I told Kylie and Raj that it was my plan to try and recover at 96k as a last resort.

George looking pained and leaning to the left

A “dangerously left-leaning” George Euvrard, as he battles on. Photo: Kylie Dawn Hatton

Gwenda [the author’s wife] also knew of my Addo experience and didn’t want me to have any regrets afterward, so while I was quite happy to extend my rest period for life, she coaxed and pushed me into eating, drinking, and resting, and finally getting up and off again. Which world was she part of? Well, part of the other world, but we are so close, and she so much wants the best for me that for a moment, the two worlds were almost aligned. And it was similar for Kylie and Raj. I could sense they wanted me to go on, and I felt I would be letting down my greatest supporters if I didn’t give it one last try, even if I thought it a simple prolonging of the inevitable.

And for a while, the other world proved to be right. I set off with renewed purpose and energy, and for the next few kilometers, I felt on track again and started to dream again. I pulled out the discarded visions of finishing lines and buckles and chewed deliciously on their edges. I discussed my reimagined plans with my dear, patient, non-judgmental pacers — and they shared my enthusiasm.

When we met Gwenda at Msomi Crossing at 104k, I was starting to unravel again but forced myself to eat a biltong sandwich, drink a cup of tea, and keep going. I set off before Kylie and Raj were quite ready to go and tried to get ahead. Climbing up a rocky embankment out of a river, I lost my balance over backward (that lean again!) and crashed down onto the rocks — gashing and bruising my legs and taking a pounding in my face. At first, I just lay there, trying to check how badly injured I might be, but then I realized that the best check was to see if I could get going again. So I regrouped and saw that the leg wasn’t bleeding too badly and that while my face felt battered, there was just a mild taste of blood coming down the back of my throat from my nose. And on we went.

Karkloof 100 - eating and contemplating at 104k

Taking on some food at Msomi Crossing at 104k. Photo: Gwenda Euvrard

Into the night, into the darkness, into the forests, into the fog of exhaustion. The levels were inclines, the inclines were hills, and the hills were mountains. The left tugged relentlessly, and when I tried to bend my head the other way to straighten up, I simply became an S. And when I tried to straighten my torso, my back went into a spasm of pain. “How far to the next station, Kylie?” “Five kilometers.” Six kilometers later, “How far still?” “Four kilometers.” I told Kylie and Raj that I simply had to lie down, and I collapsed face down in the path. They sat protectively next to me in the dark, and their loving presence soothed me. But we had to go on, and so on we went. Every now and again, I would stop, hunched over my sticks, and my angels would patiently watch and wait. I heard something about a cutoff time at the next station, but it was irrelevant in my world. I considered just falling down there and then and waiting for Gwenda to come and collect me, but somehow I staggered on.

Eventually, we reached the old farmhouse, and Gwenda put her arms around me and implied that it was over. I remember the enormous relief of being in the same world, but at the same time, knowing that pushing on from the Mbona Gate had been the right decision. I heard discussions about the cutoff time having passed, but these were aberrations from another world. I was deeply contented and at peace with myself and life. I had experienced unspeakable joy and fulfillment and also dug deep into my caves of retreat and resilience. I had lived a lifetime in just over one day and tasted human existence in 101 ways. In my world, I felt at one with my ambitions and my actions. The further 44k of trail was no longer part of my world, nor was the finish line or the 36-hour cutoff. I didn’t need them.

George gets a hug from wife Gwenda on the trail.

A hug from wife Gwenda. Photo: Kylie Dawn Hatton

Later, wonderfully loving family and friends congratulated me on my achievements and said how wise I had been to know when to stop and when to look after my body. I glowed in their affirmation, but my world was different. The word “achievement” never featured in my vocabulary or experience. Yes, I did feel somewhat pleased that at almost 68 years of age, I had gone 40k further than my previous best, despite being in a similar state of emptiness, but this was simply part of a bigger experience of chewing on a bigger piece of life’s marrow. I wallowed in the afterglow of having lived intensely, of having lived with all my different parts — physical, psychological, and spiritual — all in sync and in full flow. There were no cutoffs or decisions to stop. All parts of me just accepted that this was where I transitioned from all-out effort to heavenly rest. There was no distinction between me and my body — we were one and the same.

And so, which is the real world — my world or the other world? Which is the wiser world? Which world counts? Are they even different worlds? I don’t really know. But I did get the very real sense that I needed to be true to my world — that ultimately, this is the one that most holds the calling to which I am answerable and which is most central to my evaluation of the worth of whatever I have done. At the end of the day, I need to look in the mirror and be able to look myself in the eye. My criteria might not be those of others, and my reference points might be different. And I need to have the courage to realize this and to live by this. What might seem stupid in someone else’s eyes might be worth it for me. What might seem silly to others might be deeply meaningful to me. And what might be a mistake now might be just another necessary step in my long road to selfhood. While I can look to the experience, achievements, and comments of others for insight and inspiration — it is usually inappropriate to use this “other” as the template for my own evaluation and judgment of my experience. My world spins on its own axis and deserves its own criteria.

A distant runner on a scenic green route.

George early on in the Karkloof 100 Mile, before his two worlds began to divide. Photo: Karkloof 100 Mile

And so, back to Karoline. I didn’t want to join in any “other” judgments of her 2011 PUFfeR ordeal, suffering, and injuries. I suddenly wanted to know what it meant in Karoline’s world. Provided that Karoline had not allowed her world to be colonized by others and was deeply in touch with herself and her dreams, I wanted to know what Karoline’s criteria were for evaluating the experience. Maybe being crippled for months afterward was worth it for her. Who am I to judge otherwise?

Call for Comments

  • Did George’s story resonate with you in any way?
  • Have you ever had a similar experience?
Guest Writer
Guest Writer is a contributor to