The Most Difficult Thing…Ever?


Last weekend I ran the Matroosberg Challenge. It was a tester/training run for me to see where my legs are after a year of injuries and with a view to a final decision about the Skyrun in three weeks time. Straight after the race I said it was the most difficult thing I had ever done…

Some brief background

In the past year I had a full ACL reconstruction with a 6 month rehab (only swimming and light indoor trainer) and then 10 month after surgery and a good recovery I broke the 5th metatarsal in my left foot during a trail race close by. This led to 5 weeks in a boot and quite a few weeks to recover full painless movement in the foot. The frustration levels, as you can imagine, have been significant, but at 45yrs I needed to do the recovery properly.

Enter Matroosberg….

I did the 24km trail run that starts with a reasonable 3.5km jeep track/trail and then goes straight up the Matroosberg mountain for 6km to just over 2000m. It then turns down onto a technical singletrack that takes you back down over about 4km. The balance of the run is on fairly open trail and jeep track so can be fairly fast.

I came into the race somewhat apprehensive but with some confidence from my previous results in runs/trail runs and started strongly. When we hit the climb at 3.5km the reality of this race set in. It was brutal and exceptionally steep and just went on and on and on…

Here, myself and I had a number of conversations, ranging from the absolute stupidity of doing ‘this kind of thing’ to the beauty of the mountain and the satisfaction of achievement. Nothing every true trail runner and multisport athlete out there does not know about intimately.

When we reached the top, a marshal had his hand out pointing straight down the single track and within seconds we hit the very technical downhill. It had been raining the previous 24 hours and the mountain was in cloud so everything was wet with a little stream flowing down our single track. It was near the end of this track that I realised that I was in some serious trouble. My legs were just not firing and the pain in my knee and foot was excruciating. I tried to differentiate between my mind and my legs but this was physical and ‘shouting’ loudly. I blocked it out and ran faster. However the ‘blocking out’ was definitely in my mind as one after another people started passing me and the more people who passed the more I beat myself up and the more my legs said ‘no way!’. By the time we hit the flat sections for the last 10km, where I had planned to open up a bit, it was impossible for me to get my legs to move in any kind of rhythm. I was walking, taking my time through the rivers because the cold water was fantastic for my legs but right afterwards I was back to walking. This continued on and off to the finish. At one point a guy passed and asked if I’m ok and do I need any help – I asked if he was offering to carry me because that was all that could help. We laughed and he continued. As we neared the finish I was so aware of ‘normally’ speeding up here, negative splits and strong finishes but the reality was that I was still actually considering just stopping altogether, right there.

I finished, but I was a wreck, emotionally and to some degree physically, and I was certain that my Skyrun goal race was not going to happen this year – above all I felt that finishing this race was the hardest thing I ever did….

In the hours and days to follow I realized that this race and all it involved for me was pivotal in my training and the lessons learnt and experience gained from the starter gun to right now as I write this, are immeasurable….

The physical impact of the steep technical single track downhill and particularly when preceded by the hectic uphill. Understanding that my legs are not yet firing as they can and should after the injuries and the exciting knowledge that I know what to do to change that.

We do these races for the beauty, the landscape, the challenge to mind and body and I realize that I want to do more and more of these, not only races but running in the mountains, skyrunning, connecting with all the beauty, starkness and power around me

Understanding the overwhelming power of our minds and tuning this with our bodies to go way beyond what we thought was possible. I knew this, I know this and I rediscovered this….again. I am strong, I can go far and fast.

No podium or placing in my age group in a race can be entirely and positively overshadowed by all the experiences in the race – and its ok!

The importance of good kit. The variable temperature during this race made my excellent First Ascent and Team Kelfords kit indispensable and this was a beacon of comfort in an otherwise physically very uncomfortable day..    What amazed me though, was that I saw a number of participants who clearly were not carrying the compulsory kit – to me this shows a lack of respect for self as well as the mountain environment they choose to operate in, not to mention the race entry requirements!

All of these learnings have come together to allow me to carefully consider the Skyrun and my participation. The obvious ‘right’ thing would be to postpone participation. I don’t always like doing the ‘right’ thing however and thus I’ve considered all angles over and over. I took a longish hike/run into my local mountains and just visited with myself and nature yesterday. It was clear that in this case the ‘right’ thing is the right decision and I will do this run next year. I will refocus my training over the next week, build the legs some more, do a few road runs and slowly get stronger and faster again.

All of the above is thanks to what I thought was the most difficult thing I have ever done… wasn’t, but it cleared my mind again, set my bar higher, showed me my inner strength and allowed me to grow some more.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. daine says:

    Hi Leonard,
    I also did the 24k matroosberg challenge, and have also in the last 2 years, had 2 full ACL reconstructions on the same knee.
    I’d just like to say there is light at the end of the tunnel (I think), but if you’d like to chat about this sort of stuff, please feel free to contact me. I’d love to compare notes on knees and such.

    Take care


    1. leonardm1968 says:

      Hi Daine

      Thanks for the message and reading my post – I’d love to chat some more about your knee rehab experience. My email – meadleonard at gmail dot com if you have the time to connect!

      Kind regards



  2. Tracey says:


    I am so glad I read this. My hubby and I have entered the 24km and it is the biggest race we have entered. I am sooooo nervous about the climb. thank you for explaining it and putting it into perspective.

    Hope your legs are feeling better 🙂


    1. leonardm1968 says:

      Hi Tracy

      I’m glad you found it useful. I’m still working on the balance post op but certainly advanced from the Matroosberg experience!
      All I can say is do a lot of stairs/extremely steep work. I actually think the process of walking up the steep slopes (the hands on quads thing) caused a lot of my post race discomfort as I was unused to that and only ever ran uphill!!
      Good luck – it is an awesome race!!


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