Having considered myself rather fortunate to get an entry to the 2011 event, I eagerly made my way in the early hours of the morning to the start near Lakeside. I knew very little about the event going into it, I just knew that I wanted to do it. More than that, I didn’t really prepare. No route maps, not even the details of the race until the night before. Just pitch up in my shoes and run- the way I like it
I did assume though that there was going to be at least one tough climb near the beginning. I didn’t quite imagine what unfolded next.
10 groups of 20 runners leave the start area and head up along one of the Silvermine tracks. This one went straight up. I was in group #9 so I had some time to watch the forerunners. Within 90 seconds of starting, the front guys had already started walking. Uh-oh.
Group after group burst up the rocky single track only to start crawling just as quickly. The more intimidated started walking from the get-go. After all, there’s 12km to go and if you went through the route map you would know, there’s 2 climbs just like this one. I didn’t, so my strategy was simple: go as hard as you can for as long as you can and then hang on.
Go! And boom!! out the gates I went, scrambling up the track, determined not to walk. I pushed that first 1km so hard my quads were aching, my lower back cursing and my lungs burning. 500m up over 1km is a pretty gnarly ratio. I also realised we were scheduled to come down this very same path- a thought I suspended during the 18 minutes it took me to scramble up.
But I also realised that as soon as you’re up on the top, no matter how hard the climb was, you can recover while running so no point resting while you work. And thankfully the end did come. Running along the top of the Silvermine was amazing. Of the 12km trail run, I reckon about 11km was single track? There was one section with jeep track (and a small section with no track) and the rest was all typical softsand amidst jagged rock on the mountain amongst the Western Cape fynbos.
The drop into Kalk Bay was hectic. Steep and rocky and I had more than one vision of me tumbling head over hills as I raced down catching the odd branch and rock with my feet. At the bottom and turning back towards Cape Town, I thought “Yay! mostly flat all the way home now…”. The second little climb, which I expected to last only 2 or 3 minutes went on for almost as long as the first.
It was equally steep, just the legs weren’t as equally capable. But, we were here to race and so race we did. 13 minutes and 1km later, I was on top of the world- again. I managed to lose the trail a little and almost went over the edge of a rather fascinating drop onto the jagged rocky beds below but thankfully, the cautious descender that I am made me look before I jumped.
The last 1.5km going downhill was pure havoc. I don’t think my quads have taken a beating like that in a long while. While I sit here typing out this reflection, I am reminded with every gentle movement of my legs. And when I get up in a little bit and descend the steps to my room, I will be even more vividly reminded why trail running is so much more than “just running in the forest”.
Rumour also has it that some in-form mountain goats have broken the records for this run, but we’ll wait to see the final results and race round-up from the Quantum Adventures team.
TRAIL RUNNING TIP: I learned this one from mountain biking. On a bike, every time you get out the saddle to tackle a climb, your hear rate will skyrocket. Check it out for yourself. You can research the physiology behind this for yourself, but one of the reasons this happens is because of the sudden change in relative altitude of your heart in relation to the legs doing the work. Your heart needs to sustain the same blood flow against a change in gravity, essentially.
Now think about this going uphill on a trail run. Your move your upper body up and down with each steeper section as you bend over, then stand up, repeat. In short, you’re stressing your physiology unnecessarily. So how do you not do that? Easy; get your hands dirty. Scramble up the steep sections (on all fours if you have to) and stay low for as long as you can.
Yes, you will need stronger shoulders- not your typical runner’s upper body shoulder strength. Yes, your core and lower back will work harder. Yes, your hands will feel it. Yes, you might inhale some dust. But this is trail running- get down with it