Tuffer Puffer 2014

Never again, I had said, never again. That was back in 2007, after my second Tuffer Puffer. Somehow, over the seven years since, I had forgotten I’d said that. I guess I can blame my short memory partly on time’s ability to morph naivety into reality, and partly on having since run something far worse, on many levels, than Tuffer – the Grand Raid de la Réunion (Diagonale des Fous), which in 2012, being that race’s 20th anniversary, was its longest distance, a very nasty 175km (with 10 500m of vertical gain).

And so it was a blend of naivety and poor memory that saw me signing up to run Tuffer Puffer 2014. Or perhaps it was a TBI (Temporary Bout of Insanity). Either way, all ye reading this, please do not, under any circumstances, either suggest or allow me to suggest that I do so a fourth time. 
Never. Non. Nein. Nyet. Not ever.

The Tuffer Puffer is, by way of definition, the Peninsula Ultra Fun Run (PUFfeR) run “there and back”. For those not in the know, that means double the route of the Puffer, which is an 80km race from Cape Point over the mountains to the Waterfront at Cape Town Harbour. Traditionally, the route of the Tuffer followed that of the PUFfeR, starting in reverse, at 8am on the Friday morning, running to Cape Point, turning around and running back the same way. About 4 years ago, the Cape Point Nature Reserve no longer allowed people into the reserve after dark, so the race had to be rerouted via Scarborough and Misty Cliffs, then back past the Cape Point gate, past Smitswinkel, through Simonstown, and up the nasty 4km Red Hill zigzags to Pine Haven, where it rejoins the original route and continues all the way through to the Waterfront. The distance remained unchanged, as did the ratio of trail to tar.

Marc de Rooy and I on fresh legs on Signal Hill just 5km into the race                 (pic credit Eric Tollner)
The race begins at 8am the day before the PUFfeR, so that the runners are well on their return journey (some even close to completion) by the time the PUFfeR runners start their challenge at 5:30am on the Saturday. Over the years the 80km route of the PUFfeR has enjoyed a few shortcuts here and there which, being all legal, have shrunk the distance of that race to around 74km. So, although referred to as a 100-miler (164km), Tuffer Puffer is not, it’s more like 145km.

But do not be fooled by that absence of 20km, it’s still bloody far.

A maximum of 20 entrants are permitted to take on the Tuffer each year – this limit being set by the fact that for safety reasons Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) does not allow people onto the mountain after dark.

So that sketches the race history, now onto the day itself…

I wasn’t sure how my legs would welcome this event. Having raced the Fish River Canyon Ultra (82km) last month, the Outeniqua Quest (108km) a month before that, and the Whale of Trail (54km) in May, they’d been put through their paces and the chances of them welcoming a fourth ultra in four months were slim. But come the day, they felt surprisingly perky and, like the unexpected good weather, that was most welcome!

Karl and I on the road section near Misty Cliffs, 60km under the belt                     (pic credit Eric Tollner)
The tough thing about Tuffer is not so much the distance as the fact that the middle third of the route involves 46km of tar. Any trail runner knows that 50km of trail is easier on the body than less that distance on the road – tar is about monotonous hammering of same-stride form, and it does nothing to boost body or brain. In the Tuffer, the tar section begins at about the 52km mark, and you don’t touch trail again until around 98km.

As the great Dean Karnazes said in UltraMarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner, “sometimes you have to go through hell to get to heaven”. With Tuffer, heaven comes first – with +50km of exquisite trail (interspersed with short bouts of road that go almost unnoticed). Then comes the hell: +45km of tar, culminating in a 4km slog up the nasty switchbacks of Red Hill from the Simonstown side. By the time you’re back on trail again, the legs are well worn. In fact, they’re bitching relentlessly and wish to do nothing faster than walk.

Descending Platteklip with the city lights below
On the return leg of Tuffer, it’s compulsory for runners to have seconds. My crew were the best I could’ve wished for – they cheered me up, they entertained me, they nagged me to eat, they very patiently walked whenever I required. Together we stargazed, inhaled the night fragrances of the fynbos, fantasised about food, dreamed about coffee, plotted and planned future races. Karl kept me chugging along over the marathon section of tar from Scarborough to Simonstown; Gerard helped me run up (most of) the Red Hill switchbacks and all the way to the start of the Wagon Trail; Kylie and Roger took me across the long section from Wagon Trail to Constantia Nek; and Chris and Rob had the (to many, unenviable) task of doing the final section: Constantia Nek, up to Maclears, across the top, down Platteklip, along Signal Hill, and down to the finish. My main-man Craig was the driver – for 24 long hours he was the crew’s pivot, the fetch-and-taker, the stocktaker, the feeder, the clockwatcher. Craig is my rock.

For me it’s the night section that makes all the pain of Tuffer worthwhile. There’s something very special about running through Cape mountain fynbos on a cold, clear night. The rich fragrances on the Black Hill section could only be matched by the star-studded sky of that night, and the only sound for miles was the crunching of our footfall on the sandy path. On my previous Tuffers I’d watched the sunrise from the top of Table Mountain; this time we were running along Signal Hill while the sky was lightening, and that wonderful feeling of knowing I was way ahead of my previous times helped make that sunrise even more special than it looked.

Crossing the finish line
Race organiser Kim, Chris and Rob as dancing girls, and Craig as cheerleader made up the roaring crowd to welcome me over the finish line in 23:54. Never was the tarmac more comfortable to sit on than that moment, cushioned by the knowledge that I’d completed my third Tuffer, improved my time, was the 1st overall finisher, and had set a new women’s record.

A huge thanks to my Tuffer crew – Craig, Karl, Gerard, Kylie, Roger, Chris and Rob; to friends Andrew, Eric, Caryn, John, Karoline, Filippo, Chippy, Wally and Ghaleed for their encouragement during the race; and as always to my sponsors Salomon South Africa, PeptoSport, and RUSH Bars. Without you all, I wouldn’t be able to complete these wonderful events.

Photo credits to Eric Tollner and Chris Allan

Labels: , , , ,