Behind the Dassie lens

As we headed back to work after a thrilling weekend down in Nature’s Valley, I was swiping through a couple of photographs on my iPhone that KK had taken from the Otter Trail Dassie 10km trail run.

The mixture of pics show me as a bag of nerves before the race, my daring efforts during the middle of the race (just after I ran into a tree), followed by hilarious pics of me gripped with fear as I crossed the balance beam over shark & piranha infested water.

We had made the decision to go down to Knysna even though KK had pulled out of the Otter Challenge race due to injury. We had already booked flights, accommodation etc. and we thought we’d go down to support friends running the race and just enjoy a weekend away.

It’s not what KK had originally planned for his Otter 2017 trip. But his injury had forced him to drop out. Not being able to run, missing out of the hype, the registration, race number collection and then the race itself wasn’t fun. Playing the supporter role is not what he signed up for.

But when I see the photos, I realize that throughout the entire time, not once did he make others feel bad or guilty. He didn’t sulk or get irritated by our excitement.

But his weekend revolved around me. He helped pick out my new hydration pack, thank goodness, as there was no water point on the Dassie. He nudged me every morning to go for my morning runs and there would always be cups of hot tea when I returned.

And on race day, he was there. He gave me his usual prep talk when I got my nervous running cough attack, he made sure I had all my kit and he popped up at every possible moment to take photos of me during the race, cheering me on, at the start, during the middle of the race when I wanted to quit, and at the finish line. KK was present.

His happiness for me finishing my race shines through in the pics. I can still hear his cheers from the side of the road and he was genuinely interested in my over-analysis of every step of the race.

Sometimes it’s how you show up to a race, more than crossing the finish line that shows what kind of athlete you are.

I know you’ll be back to run your Otter, but this ones for you babes!

I Ran-the-Berg and loved it

I’ve always made lame excuses about running trails. Claims that I if I was going to train, I’d pour more effort into road running than trail. If I had time to run, my focus was going to be on tar. But with KK training for Otter, he hinted that I should try the Run-The-Berg Challenge trail run. Yeah, why not? How hard could it be?

Collecting race packs

I won’t lie, by the time the race weekend arrived, I was nervous! It was the unknown and when we were fully engulfed in the Drakensburg on the Friday afternoon, the weather was overcast and windy. An SMS from race organizers instructed that we had to pack in some of the compulsory items, such as a waterproof rain jacket and space blanket. Luckily with KK out of the race, he had loaned me all his fancy trail running gear.

The night before the race, I kept having visions of getting lost. I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to complete the course. We were also given a pamphlet about snakes to look out for in our race packs. Great! If I wasn’t concerned before, I then lay awake till almost midnight trying to convince myself that this was going to be fun and that if all else failed, I could walk to the end.

The race is made up of two days of running. The Challenge event runs 15km each day and the Extreme event takes on the longer distance of 25kms. I knew that coming out of 4 weeks of bronchitis and undertrained that I would only run one of the two days. KK convinced me to run Saturday so that I wouldn’t spend the entire weekend stressing. I agreed.

The race started here…

We woke up to the most glorious of mornings on Saturday. The sun had come out, the wind was gone. It kind of takes your breath away looking up into those majestic mountains!

I clung on to a friend, Linda, at the start of the race. Experienced and uber confident, she showed no sign of nerves. Inside, I was like jelly. Following her guidance, we started in the middle of the pack and off we went. Within 500m, I was at the back with a few walkers behind me. Keep calm, just keep… calm.

It’s an odd experience. By the time we reached around 4kms, there were very few people running beside me. At times, when I looked around, I was all alone. What I expected to be a stressful situation was actually quite calming. I was able to breathe and take in the views. Gosh, they were incredible. Before I knew it, I had reached the 6km mark which was the highest point of the race. It was downhill from there.

As the terrain changed, so did the views. We weaved between forest trees, climbed rocky cliffs and then suddenly emerged into an open Savanah type grass field.

The race did not end at 15kms, something I learnt the hard way. In the end, my Garmin recorded 17.4kms. I was cheesed. But not once during the race did I feel like quitting. In fact, with no one around me, the only person I was racing against was myself. It dawned on me that while a road race is mentally tough, I didn’t feel the same pressures as I did on the trails.

The ugly sense of urgency & panic was gone. I wasn’t as hard on myself when I walked. I loved stopping a couple of times to take photographs.

And when I crossed the finish line, there was no big clock to remind me that I was slow or that I had missed a cut-off. There were only cheers, and a beer truck and boerie rolls. There is definitely a different culture at the trail runs. Refreshing actually.

On the Monday morning, I bought myself my very first pair of proper trail shoes. It feels like I’ve leveled up when it comes to trail running. I’m so ready for that Dassie trail run down at Otter now.

If anything, the Run-The-Berg trail race reminded me that running is about having fun. It’s about proving to myself what I am capable of. I didn’t get lost. I didn’t even come last. I am stronger than I thought. Yes, I coped and boy, I kinda love trail running.

At the race briefing the night before the race, the race director Warren quoted something similar to this:

And it will stick with me forever after I came and conquered Run-the-Berg!

It started out as a bet. But I ran with it anyhow.

It started out as an agreement. A dare. Our trail running buddies, Dan & Linda agreed to run a road race if I would come along and try out a trail run. They stuck to their word and ran Varsity Kudus (*gasp* of all races!) in January. The pressure was on!

So last week, I headed off to run the Biogen Love Run 2016 night race at the PWC Bike Park to close off my end of the bargain.

The PWC Bike Park

The PWC Bike Park

All set up & ready for the runners

All set up & ready for the runners

It was my first trail run. I have never even run Park Run before.

Here’s some differences I noted compared to road running:

  • The field is smaller. We’re used to a couple of thousands of runners lining up at the start of a road race. Here there must’ve been a max of about 350 runners. You can imagine my panic thinking I would come last in such a tiny field!
  • It’s casual. Very casual. Runners arrived and sat on the grass embankment, some snacking on crisps, others playing on their cellphones. No one was doing any serious warming up. No lubing or vaselining.
    Before the race. Notice how relaxed everyone is!

    Before the race. Notice how relaxed everyone is!

    More runners gathering and relaxing before the race.

    More runners gathering and relaxing before the race.

  • No ASA or temp numbers are needed. We each received a little bar-coded card to pin to our clothes. Race results were up the very next day too!
Runners ready! The first batch, ready to go. Headlamps being turned on.

Runners ready! The first batch, ready to go. Headlamps being turned on.

  • Runners go out in batches. On road races, everyone goes off when the gun goes off at the same time.
  • The paths are quite narrow. This means that passing someone slower in front of you is quite a challenge. I was unsure of the trail race etiquette, but goodness me, hardly anyone moves out the way for anyone else. It’s as if, sorry Jack, make your own way around me.
  • People walk. They walk and no one else gives a damn. In road races, the walkers get a bad rap. Faster runners are always complaining that walkers should have their own start or that they get in the way of ‘real runners’. Trail running is different. If you want to walk, you do, and no one gives you any grief about it.
  • You get dirty. My socks and my shoes were so dusty when I got home!

I really enjoyed it. It’s way less competitive than road running. It has a very relaxed vibe to it. And everyone seems to do their own thing and have fun.

Super bright headlamps! I look like I'm about to go looking for gold!

Super bright headlamps! I look like I’m about to go looking for gold!

img_1980 The best part? My time was fantastic! I averaged 8:14 mins per km. I thought I’d be much slower. And, I came 9/26 in my category and 109/234 total of 5km runners!

The question I’m sure you’re asking is, “has the trail bug bitten?” A little. But I’d definitely need to go shopping for the right trail running shoes and a camel pack and perhaps try out a more technical course? And a daytime run. But yeah… It was fun. Dan and Linda, you guys were right!