2011 introduced me to racing trail runs. Hiking, exploring and general wandering was always part of the getting out there journey, but never to race anybody else. In fact, I can’t recall any trails in my past where there were ever more than 5 of us. A lot of the times when it was just 1 of us… Anyhow, so to baptize the trail run journey, we used the Helderberg 15km. Um, yes. About that.
For 3 days after that run, I could not walk down any stairs. For 6 days after that, my wife was still giggling whenever she saw me try walk normally. It was brutal. Tony and Brent know all about that. Granted, we took it on unprepared, not very running fit and with more enthusiasm than common sense: but that’s just a guy thing.
Fast forward one year (it’s amazing what can happen in one year) and I’m back at the foot of the Helderberg. I got my sights sent on the summit as the race starts and 2012 is proper Cape winter trail. Rain, cold, mud, wind. Not freezing (too much) mind you- but nothing like the mild 2011 conditions.
I knew it was going to be a tough race and as I ran up, up, up (before we headed down, down, down) but I was reliving some good memories of the year gone by. My legs were stronger now, my heart and lungs used to the beat and I had shaved off some extra luggage. Each part of the run made me appreciate the little things in life I sometimes never “stop” to take in. Not that I actually “stop” to take things in. I find my most soulful thinking happens when I’m actually on the move- and moving hard. There might be a lot of attention on the trail and on my form and progress, but there’s always something deeper taking place…
The summit of the Helderberg is something else though. You cut around the base of the peak and walk along these rocky ledges. Ok, jog. Carefully. And today, with the rain, we were running in the clouds. So much so, that you could not see past the edge of the rocky trail you balanced on. It was a scene from a trip through the Andes mountains, a moment frozen in time. One small step off the edge and you would forever disappear into the abyss below…
Reaching the top; stepping out above the clouds; the False Bay coastline trying to thaw out in the glimmer of sunlight below; the world from a distance- at peace. And time to race down! One deep breath and we started the equally vertical descent onto the contour paths before hitting the winding jeep tracks back to race HQ. In the end, a ±36 minute improvement on 2011, with sore, but (mostly) walking legs.
More than a trail run, Helderberg marks an anniversary of trail running, having had the privilege to have raced some of the most majestic scenery available in the Western Cape. And there’s a ton more to explore still. As much as I love the free running, the combination with racing adds and edge of excitement. Especially when you hear some heavy footfalls behind you on a single track and they’re gaining… It always takes me back to that opening scene in the “The Last of the Mohicans”: trail running keeps you in touch with your ancestral roots (even if you’re not Native American, you can still identify…)
Sure, it can get little more technical these days with the gear we use, but, wash all that aside, and you’re left with the heartbeat of a man, in the forest, on a chase.
While we’re on the gear, I need to mention the Neo Trails from Vivobarefoot that I chose to run in today. These shoes are without doubt the best trail shoes I have used. The wide, comfy toe box, the extra grip – even if did take one tumble but then I’m not sure anything sticks to wet clay going downhill on a switchback? – and the proprioception. It’s something Vivobarefoot are on about all the time. Having rolled my ankle 2 weeks ago using “normal, but neutral” shoes, there’s one essential lesson I’ve learned about proprioception on a trail:
Whenever your ankle is “about” to roll- or you’re about to twist something, your brain and muscles kick in and respond way faster than lightning. There was a time I could feel I was on the verge of a roll, but my foot responded immediately- something it couldn’t do 2 weeks ago because the connection between the ground and my foot (hence my brain) was lost. And the extra space inside the shoe allowed my toes to grip and respond- like they should.
But whatever works for you, awesome!- but for me- these Neo’s are the bomb! Looking forward to Fisherman’s