Thursday, May 29, 2014

Lesson 4 | Brrr!


That’s what hit me when I got out of the car at event number three of the Trail Series. I walked to the registration and coffee van in two layers, with a scarf. It was the Winter Trail Series after all. Even though the sun is up the air is still icy.

As it got closer to start time I realised that the weather hadn’t really warmed up. What to do? If it never warms up it would be a pain running in the cold, and I get colder quicker than I get hotter. My running kit at the time was very basic: road running shoes, shorts and a t-shirt. Nothing fancy. :) I decided to take my apple jacket and buff. My apple jacket is a lightweight water and wind shell. Not proof of either, but good enough. It can also fold up to the size of an apple, hence the name, and therefore not too big to carry.

Implementing all my previous lessons, we started out. Around 1km I pocket my buff, which I was wearing as a scarf at the time. Five hundred metres later I wriggled out of my apple jacket, while running. Folding it into the apple I wished it to be, while running wasn’t possible as the material is too light and got swept up by the wind, so I had to stop. Fortunately my shorts’ pocket was big enough to stuff my apple jacket in it, and I continued. This was very uncomfortable, as it banged against my leg. Eventually I ran with the folded jacket in my hand.

This time round the uphills were quite steep and I tried doing lesson 3, knowing that the downhill was coming, but eventually I had to walk. This also proved to be another lesson. The downhill was awesome and we got a beautiful view of the Hartebeespoort Dam.

Lesson learned: Pick the right gear for the distance you’re doing.
Firstly, I’m relieved I didn’t take more warm gear on the run, as it would have been frustratingly awkward to have had to run with more stuff. It was only a 7km run and the skies were clear, so it was bound to get warmer. Add to that I do get hotter when I run. From then on for short distances I just suck it up for the initial cold start, because I know after 1km it’s going to be fine.

This is just the tip of the iceberg (excuse the pun) when it comes to gear for runs, and as I gain more experience I will share it with you. Longer distance runs obviously require more planning and more gear, but short distances can be easily done with minimal gear, which makes entry level trail running awesome!

Feedback: Are you easily affected by the cold? Do you wear specific gear in the winter in spite of the weather or distance?

OK, it wasn't that cold! There was no snow.  /

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Proof that lack of gear isn't an excuse

I came across this Facebook album, by Marcos Ferro, who photographed the 80km trail run, Ultra Caballo Blanco.

Ultra Caballo Blanco | Copyright Marcos Ferro
It just proves, you can't use "not having the gear" as an excuse to start trail running. ;-)
Here are some more pictures of the Raramuri.

Lesson 3 | What goes up...

The second event in the Trail Series was at the venue where my very first trail run was. I was psyched, as I remembered the route from the previous time, but I still went to study the map. As I studied the map it dawned on me that either my map reading skills weren’t as sharp or the route had dramatically changed. It was the latter, so previous knowledge of the route didn’t help. I studied the map and saw that it started out flat and then had sharp turn onto a long straight uphill, then a sharp turn onto a very short flat part, which leads to a very steep and windy downhill and finally a fairly straight and flat route to the finish. One thing I couldn’t tell from the map was what part was jeep track and what part was single track.

Again applying lesson one, with lesson two being implemented, we set out. The first flat part was all jeep track and was almost 1km long. This caused a lot of people to pick up the pace, because it felt as though this was an easy run. I was tempted to do the same, but kept my pace as I knew the hill was still up ahead. At the turn that signalled the uphill for me, I was a bit shocked. Fortunately the uphill was also jeep track, but you could see it going up all the way to the top and almost everyone was walking it. I think when you have to stare at the mountain in front of you it does break you a bit. Most of the people that had paced it on the flat were now walking, but I just felt something in me telling me not to walk, but to keep running or should I say jogging.

It was small steps, but I knew if I started to walk it would be hard to start jogging again. Slowly but surely I passed a lot of runners who decided to walk it out. It was an epic mental battle for me, but I kept jogging. Finally, when it started to flatten out and I could see the arrow in the distance that pointed to the single track. I decided to reward myself by walking the last piece of jeep track and to catch my breath. Onto the single track the windy, steep and technical descent began. But I was in luck, because there was no one in front of me and I could go at my own pace. As I descended I realised that my breathing was more rhythmic. Eventually it started flatting out and got a lot less technical although still single track. I found a good rhythm and only one guy passed me from the apex of the single track all the way to the end.

Lesson learned: What goes up, must come down, so run the uphill and "rest" on the downhill.
In every trail race I’ve done, the start and the finish lines are at the same place, which means the total ascent and descent will be equal. By combining lesson 2 with strategically running the up and down hills, you can gain a lot of time. Had I walked the long uphill, I would probably have gotten stuck behind some people on the technical single track and would definitely not have done as well as I did. I jogged the uphill which (and certainly does feel like) used a lot of energy. But running downhill uses other muscles and if you keep the momentum you can actually "rest" on the downhill. Of course I had no way of knowing that it would be a jeep track uphill and single track downhill. The question is, what if it is the other way around? That would be a lesson for another time. :-)

Feedback: Do you also feel your heart rate drop and breathing stabilise when you run downhill?

Relaxing on the down hill.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Lesson 2 | Know The Route

Shockingly, it took me a year after my first trail run to return to the dust and rock single track awesomeness that is trail running. This time round a good friend was training like a machine for the Gauteng Winter Trail Series. It consists of four events held four weekends in a row. There is a short course, which is between 5 and 7 km’s and a long course which is between 10 and 12 km’s. He was aiming for the short course, so I decided to commit and join him, by entering for the whole series. I figured this was the best way to motivate myself to partake. I was way behind on his training schedule and not nearly as fit, but did some road run training just to get the muscles loose.

We arrived at the event and I made sure to apply my first lesson, by getting 2 metres behind the starting line. Again, there was the countdown and off we went. This route had about 200m of slight uphill jeep track before it hit a windy and steep single track. Some people who had bolted from the start, started walking, but I jumped around them in order to keep my pace, not knowing how long I would be able to keep it up. Fortunately, it quickly turned into a single track descent with minor technical areas and the field started opening up, but I was overjoyed that I had started so close to the front as there was a huge bottleneck because of the quick onset of a steep single track at the start.

As I had space around me, I didn’t know whether I was going to fast or to slow, because I had no one to measure myself against. The run was in a park and I saw some zebras about 10m away from me. The route was an awesome combination of slight up and downhill single track that made the technical parts fun. The last kilometre was, however, the most technical and hectically up and down. At this point I didn’t know how far I was from the end, so I walked most of it. No one else was passing me so I figured we were still a bit away from the finish. Suddenly the track was flat again so I started jogging. Around the next corner was the finish line! A hundred metres away! I must either have looked like a pro-athlete or an idiot because I shot for the finish line, frustrated that hadn’t ran a bit more at the end of the race.

Lesson learned: Know the route.
In most trail running events the route and profile will be put up, either on the internet or at the event. I’ve been blessed with the skill of reading maps and having a good sense of direction. Using the profile (ascent and descent of the route) as mental markers you can gauge how far you are on the route. For instance, let’s say there is a sharp turn from south to east at roughly the 3km mark, or you can see a sharp descent at the 4km mark. If I had known how close I was to the end, I would have put in a lot more effort to finish strong.

Feedback: Do you a) always try to find out what the route and profile looks like, or b) don't want to know as it's part of the adventure? Please share in the comment box below.

A typical route profile /

Please ignore the elevation of this one. It was my old phone.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Star Struck

On Saturday morning I woke up at 6:00. Not great for a weekend, but I was happy to feel rested and getting into an earlier rhythm. Still lying in bed, I checked my Facebook, and saw that a new parkrun was starting that day and it was nearby. Keen for a change of scenery (and hoping it's a bit flatter than my local one), my friend and I headed out for the new challenge.

As we pulled into the busy parking lot, with parkrun banners everywhere, a lady parking next to us asked what race it was. I said it's a new parkrun, and she was quite surprised. She shared that she had actually come for a boot camp, but was reconsidering it for the parkrun.

We were just in time to catch the welcoming speech from the parkrun director, who then proceeded to introduce Bruce Fordyce. He is the ambassador for parkrun in South Africa. If you don't know who he is, I'd encourage you to check out the link. He gave a great and concise introduction to parkrun.

Soon we set off and I was thankful for the park being broad, so that passing was easy. Also, we were running on grass trail mostly, which I love. The first section was a slight up hill and it filtered the front a bit. It's a double loop, so once you've run the loop, you know what's coming. On the second uphill, Bruce passed me, but I kept on his shoulder. I stayed with him on the downhill and then passed him again on the flat section. On the second loop the same thing happened. 

I was a bit star struck, as I realised I was running behind South Africa's most acclaimed ultra-marathon runner. A deep sense of gratefulness filled me. 

On Bruce Fordyce's (right) shoulder.Post by parkrun South Africa.

With 500m to the end I kicked and went to another place mentally. The world faded a bit and everything was burning. I made it to the end and beat mister Fordyce by 10 seconds. I also ran a new PB for 5km. A good day indeed. Below is my Endomondo tracking.



When my friend and I got back to the car, we saw the boot camp lady, and I asked what she did in the end. "I did the parkrun." she said with a smile. :)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Lesson 1 | First Trail Run

I remember seeing an action photo of a serious runner, running up a steep hiking trail with a sheer drop on the one side and rolling grasslands on the other.  This was the spark that got me into the idea of trail running, although at the time I didn’t even know it was called that. Forward a couple of years and I’m waiting with some friends, midway in the bunch of 200 odd runners ready to take on my first trail run. It was midwinter and quite early, so moderately chilly! Training for this event equalled zero, but we were all doing it for the fun. It was the 5km route, so all ages were present, and I chuckled as I saw two 8 year old brothers squeeze in at the front of the starting line. There’s no gun shot, only a countdown and off we went.

The first kilometre was flat jeep track of 5 metres wide, so I was passing a couple of people, which fuelled my motivation and I started picking up the pace. There was a sharp turn, and then BAM!: A very rocky single track uphill and everyone slowed to a walk. With no place to pass, it got quite frustrating as the pace wasn’t fast enough for me. Finally, at the apex there were more space on the side and I rapidly started passing people, but the route was quite full and I was forced to do short bursts, by passing some and waiting for a gap behind others.

The descent was a lot steeper than the ascent, so I gladly slowed my pace. After the descent we ran a flat single track along a gushing river. I tried to pick up the pace, but I had no extra energy. I started wondering if this really was a 5km track, ‘cause it started to feel like we were approaching the 8km mark. After a while I realised that the bursts I gave to pass people had drained me, so I made peace with the pace and enjoyed the mesmerising scenery along the river trail.

Lesson learned: Place yourself at the start, where you think you will place at the finish.
If you can do this, you won’t get stuck behind someone or hold up other runners, which does happen on trail runs. If it’s your first run ever, not just trail run, start in the middle. From your result, you will then be able to gauge where to place yourself next time.

Feedback: What was your first trail run experience like? Please share in the comment box below.

Oh, and those two 8 year old brothers came in the top 10 of the 5km and top 3 in their division!

Image courtesy of chrisroll /

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Gift of Timing

I went for a 10k run at lunch time. I want to get more conditioned for heat, as most of my training runs are early in the morning or at dusk. I definitely sweat a lot more, but wasn't abnormally thirsty. The route is along all the busy roads surrounding our suburb. About halfway I saw a police helicopter circling up ahead and the traffic was starting to pile up. I got to the scene. It was cordoned off with police tape, numerous police vehicles and some bumped cars lined the road. Initially I was annoyed as this accident was in the way of my route. It was also right at an intersection that would not compromise on the distance too much. So after standing around for a while I diverted down the other route, as I wanted to do a good time too.

Later that day, my house mate asked if I heard about the shooting on that road. I was shocked. He gave me his grape vine version. You can read the news article here. One man was killed and three others wounded in the shoot out. Immediately I realised that if I had gone for my run a bit earlier, I might have been in the crossfire. 

I thought through my morning. How annoyed I was about the small admin time wasters. I realised that those time wasters were a gift. Those things that "wasted" my time, might have saved my life or have prevented trauma.

I now try to see everything as a gift, and I'm grateful for it, even though I don't see the purpose immediately.

Monday, April 21, 2014

WIL2D Defined

Just a quick definition of my acronym tag, WIL2D. It means What I Learned ToDay. 

I suspect I might always use this tag, as I believe we all learn and grow everyday in some way or the other.