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.