The 2018 Fire and Ice Ultra in Iceland was a tough and challenging race in a special part of the world. I returned to South Africa with many fond memories of Iceland, the race itself, and people who I met before and during the race.
Iceland is called the land of fire and ice for a reason. The landscape is shaped by billions of years of volcanic activity (fire) and freezing temperatures (ice). It is a harsh, and at the same time uniquely beautiful environment, and running endless kilometres on black volcanic rocks and ash is an experience which I will remember for a long time.
Although it was still only early autumn, we experienced freezing cold nights with strong winds and temperatures dipping below freezing point. Conditions during the day while running were not much better, at least early in the mornings, and running in various layers of clothing was the norm for most of the race.
In the end, I’m very pleased with achieving two important milestones linked to completing this race. It was my tenth desert race in total, and by finishing the Fire and Ice Ultra and a race in Europe, I also became the first African to complete a multi-stage desert race on all seven continents. My desert running adventures have taken me to all corners of the world, and I’m very grateful for all the special memories, and friendships made in the process.
Click here to view more 100 photos from the race.
But in terms of performance, the Fire and Ice Ultra was never the race I hoped it would be. I trained very hard, ticked all the boxes regarding my planning and preparations, and was really looking forward to a good run and overall result.
However, in many ways, my race was jinxed even before I left South Africa.
A few days before travelling to Iceland I picked up the flu, and although I felt much better by the time the race started, I never had the energy and strength to perform as expected. I almost didn’t make it on to my flight from Johannesburg to London because South African Airways and Icelandair don’t have a baggage handling arrangement, and being in transit in London, they could not guarantee that my bag would make it to Iceland. And then, when I finally arrived in Iceland, I was informed that my luggage with all my race gear and equipment was left behind in London. Fortunately, my luggage arrived the following day, but this was the type of stress that I could have done without a few days before the race. No gear and equipment mean no race.
Unfortunately, when the race finally started on 26 August, my streak of back luck didn’t stop. Within the first hour of the race a strap on my backpack broke which required some quick-thinking “MacGyver” moves to fix, and a few days later I broke one of the bottle holders on my backpack. This time a few safety pins came to the rescue. To make a challenging situation even worse, especially as I was not feeling well given the after-effects of the flu of the previous week, I started experiencing severe pain in my right knee during the long stage on day four.
But despite all these frustrations, my visit to Iceland and participation in the Fire and Ice Ultra was still a very special experience – flying over snow-capped volcanic craters between Reykjavik and Akureyri, visiting the Goðafoss and Dettifoss waterfalls on the way to our first base camp, running next to the Vatnajokull glacier on day one and around the snow-capped Heirdubreid (the “Queen” of Iceland’s mountains”) on day four, doing the Viking hand clap (“huh”) every morning before the start of a new stage, going to bed at night after a day of running in a “black” landscape and waking up the next morning with everything outside covered in snow, swimming in the Myvatn Naturebaths after stage five, spending the final hour of the race on my own and reflecting on my desert running adventures of the past eight years, and finally, running across the finish line at the end of a tough and challenging race and celebrating with all the other participants.
But beyond the running challenge and Iceland’s unique scenery, the people associated with this race made my overall experience extra special – my seven tent mates for the week, the organisers, the volunteers and medical staff who looked after us in often very difficult conditions, and every runner who despite ability, injury or blisters finished the race.
The Fire and Ice Ultra is a unique race and should be on all desert runners’ “bucket list.”
So, what’s next?
After completing ten international multi-stage desert races and achieving my objective of finishing one of these races on all seven continents, my desert running days are slowly coming to an end. My body is telling me it is time to start slowing down, and I’m ready to listen.
However, I have at least one more race in me, and next up is the 250km Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon (KAEM) from 20-26 October 2018 in the Kalahari Desert in South Africa. In 2010, the KAEM was my first introduction to desert running, and I’m returning to the Kalahari to run my second KAEM in support of an exceptional organisation – the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital (NHCH).
Retirement needs to wait for one more desert race…