Category Archives: Long Run

Mont-Aux-Sources Challenge 2015

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Mont-Aux-Sources was planned as a 2 day training run to test my pack, equipment, nutrition, recovery and to get more comfortable with camping (lol!). The idea was to do the 50km challenge on Day 1 and then attempt another 10-15km easy run on Day 2 with my pack. More about how all of this went in my next post.

Breathtaking views and images

I’ve yet to experience a race more beautiful and more challenging than Mont-Aux-Sources. This is not a race (well at least not to me)…it is a CHALLENGE!  A detailed race report of my first Mont-AUX experience is available for your entertainment here. So, I won’t go into any detail about the route and the profile (3400m elevations) in this post but rather share some of the amazing images I will carry with me for a long time.

I’ve made peace with the fact that I cannot capture the beauty of the Drakensberg on an iPhone. I decided before the race not to take any photos. I didn’t want to waste time trying to take the perfect shot, however by the time I got to Sentinel Car Park I found myself lost in just the most beautiful running scenes.

It was simply…breathtaking!

…and I was back in full selfie mode (lol!)

Amazingly Brutal 

It didn’t rain but it was cold and my calves did not cooperate. I suffered SEVERE cramps as I was trying to ascent to the top via the chain ladders. The pain was excruciating and I couldn’t help but scream like a woman that’s about to give birth. I had to be unstrapped from the chain ladders to give the calves time to calm down. I really don’t wish this kind of pain on my worst enemy. I wasted so much time just sitting there not even being able to lift my head up, trying to breath thinking this will only last a few seconds but it felt like forever! I was so scared going up the chain ladders as you had to extent your reach and stretch your legs to get off the first set of chain ladders. Yes, there are two sets! I didn’t trust my calves or my arms for that matter…who knows what can happen when you hanging on for your dear life (lol!)

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Photo: Courtesy Adventurelife.co.za

I really had a hard time getting to the top this time. I literally had to talk to myself…the operative word being…F-O-C-U-S. I was so scared that I was going to get another cramp. BUT, I MADE IT!

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Once on top I was flying again…I loved every minute on top of that mountain!

But the CHALLENGE was far from over…more climbing, still not at the top!

Down the Gully

I finally made it to the top and started the dreaded descent. I have forgotten just how long and scary this section is and with most of the guys gone I felt lonely trying to find my way down this DANGEROUS GULLY.

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Photo: Courtesy Adventurelife.co.za

It was all wet and slippery, just a single rope to hold onto. I somehow found the courage (or was stupid enough) to let go of the rope and trust my own hands and feet. It went well until I slipped and landed right on my butt. I thought that was it!

But I survived…

I started slowly again then slipped and fell and then suddenly out of the blue…freakin calf cramps…both legs…at the same time! I’ve never been so close to tears. I was just sitting there in the snow (lol!) Everything was wet…my gloves…my pants…my phone! I really thought I broke the phone. Scary part? I didn’t care to have a look. I couldn’t. I was in pain! It felt like every single muscle fibre in my calves were just torned apart!

I finally resorted to a muddy slippin slide on my bum down the gully; rather safe than sorry, right? I was a mess but I LOVED IT!

I am just in awe of the elites flying down the gully. How do they do it? They are all FEARLESS!

BUT I SURVIVED…AGAIN!

Back To Base Camp

Just over 7hrs and I was on my way to back to the start. I found myself in a similar situation as the year before where I had to run for my life to make that 2pm cut-off at Witsieshoek. My legs were feeling great and calves cooperated, felt like my race had just started. I was flying!

Finish

That last few kilometers are always tough in an ultra but I finished feeling great, collected my little trophy and made my way back to camp.

What an epic event. This is why I love running…just as you think you’ve seen it all you get thrown a few curve balls to test your limits and beautiful surprises like snow capped mountains!

I love Mont-AUX and will definitely be back in 2016!

Quote of the day: “Ask nothing of running and you’ll get more than you ever imagined!” Christopher Mcdougall

Let The Race Run Itself

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I attended a Comrades Marathon race briefing by Runetics. I was in two minds whether I should attend the briefing or not as I’ve studied and lived The Ultimate Human Race for the past three years, attended all the seminars by all the Comrades legends in my first year, read the books, surfed the net, read the blogs, listen to the podcasts, followed and stalked people on Facebook and Twitter (lol!), got myself a running coach and have run the race twice (UP and DOWN)…and in the process became obsessed with ultra running.

So, after 3 years of training with the primary focus on conquering this grueling race I feel like someone that’s about to graduate with a B.Comrades degree!

It’s not that I don’t find these Comrades talks useful; I do. There’s always a question or two or some advice given by the experienced that makes you think and sent you back to the drawing board! One of the things I love about ultras other than the challenge of pushing my physical and mental limits is the uncertainty relating to the outcome on race day. This will drive you nuts in the days leading up to the race. I suppose it goes for any race distance, however it feels like the odds just multiply ten fold for an ultra. You can have the most perfect build up, taper and race strategy but when race day comes you work with what you have, embrace what gets thrown at you, enjoy the ride, accept the outcome (PB, goal achieved or lesson learnt) and hopefully emerge stronger for that next crazy adventure!

Running is my hobby. I shouldn’t be spending so much time dwelling on this (hehehe…addict!) but with months of hard training and your race outcome still a bit uncertain what do you do? You plan, strategise and prepare for…every single thing that is going to help you get through race day (including pre-race strategy, pacing and nutrition). Well, that is what I’m doing and I am sure so is every other Comrades looney, which is why I initially thought of not attending the briefing session. I have my plan, my race day and my pacing strategy clear in my head. I must admit not as detailed as the previous year where I had the route dissected with gradients and paces (lol!). So at this stage I really don’t want to listen to or be influenced by others’ views and opinions but I decided to attend and to just keep an open mind.

As soon as Ray (from Runetics) started to talk about pacing there were lots of questions. I suppose everyone came prepared with their own strategies from the Race Start to the Finish; even for that extra 800 and something meters added to this year’s race distance…but then Ray said “Look, at some point you got to let the race happen” …and that’s when the penny dropped (for me).

My goal for this years Comrades is clear. It  will by no means be easy with it being an UP RUN but I’ve put my heart and soul into my training. I really wanted to see how far I could push myself both physically and mentally (and I need to be fit and strong for all the trail running waiting for me in the second half of the year). However, I’ve become a little obsessed with this sub 11hr goal – what my splits should be, where I need to be at what times and strategising (i.e. WORRYING) what I am going to do if I fall off pace; it’s now just starting to stress me out. Absolutely crazy to think you can plan everything for a race this long. There is only so much planning and preparing one can do and then you have to let the race run itself!

So, I am going to relax – not at all saying I’m going in unprepared and without a plan (to be unraveled in my next blogpost) but I won’t be wasting any  valuable energy over the next 10 days trying to out-think every eventuality 🙂

Magaliesberg 22km Challenge

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Running the Crazy Store Magaliesberg Challenge has been on my mind for a while. Hubby did it last year and it sounded like a lot of fun. So this year was my turn. I’m very selfish when it comes to my running but sometimes feel guilty spending Saturday or Sunday mornings at races so whenever there is an opportunity to turn a running event into a family affair I do! With trail and track it is easy. My kids love it, even my teenager. Not much of a choice tough…new places and outdoor adventures vs TV or iPad games? I hate getting to events late so the challenge with taking the whole family to races is getting everyone up and ready in the morning to be on time.  It basically comes down to sacrificing an hour of sleep to ensure everyone is ready, but I’d much rather prefer everyone comes with me and we all have a good time. I’ve since learnt to organise everything the night before so that everyone is ready at least one hour before I would have left if I was going by myself. Must say that strategy has been working well. We arrived at the venue on time and very relaxed! We had coffee and muffins and then I went to register.

Out of My League

I was seeded with the A batch. Let just say I was a bit optimistic with my finish time. The start was very exciting to say the least with the helicopter hovering around and then following the runners as the A batch sprint off. What de hell was I thinking. I did not even warm up! The adrenalin rush just to keep up and the feeling of running fast is amazing! Needless to say I could only keep up that performance till we disappeared into the bushes and out of helicam sight :-).

I was dropped by the A-batchers! I started to relax and ran my own pace. Finally, I could breath again…

Pushing My Limits

The first 5km I ran faster than planned (blame A batch runners), but then the terrain became a bit difficult to run with some big loose stones and hills to climb. I didn’t plan on racing this event. It was going to be an easy “hike” or run/walk. But I was feeling so fit and full of energy I decided to run as much as I can of the course. I felt so strong. All I could think about was how much I am enjoying it! I was really proud of myself.

There were a lot of fast steep downhills and short steep uphills and the only way I could get my body up the hill was to run the downhill section fast. At some point I was thinking I am a mountain bike – insane! Then there were the longer steep uphill sections (the once that would make me stay away from trails…) but everything was moving so fast, there was no time to think…just do! I literally had to tell myself don’t think about how you going to get up there just get up there. Grab grass, a branch, the ground…just grab something, get your footing right and get your butt up there! OMG. If I had to get stuck or slip and fall. Hilarious – opened my eyes to the importance of core and upper body strength!

The Desert Bulldozers

Everything went really well – I was running the race. I now understand the importance of having the right shoes! I ran with my Brooks Cascadias. I’ve done a bit of research on the shoe. Suppose to be “the trail shoe” for medium and long distances trail running.

My “don’t think…just do” strategy worked because I trusted my shoes. They are not yet perfect (for me), but they have grip! Loved that feeling of landing on an incline and not slipping. Not once did my ankle roll. The shoe is a bit heavy and is feeling a bit hard on the upper (reminds me of safety shoes) – it’s a real desert bulldozers. But I like the cushioning and the support plate to protect your feet from sharp edges. I had a look at some of the other trail running shoe brands and felt soft (flexible) and I am now playing with the idea of getting other shoes but if this is going to be the conditions I run in all the time than it’s probably better to stick to the Cascadias for now. I have Mont-Aux-Sources coming up so I better make friends with my shoes.

Keeping my longterm goal into perspective…everything I am doing must prepare me for my race in the desert. I can see now it is going to be lots of experimenting….that goes for shoes, clothes, food and a whole bunch of other stuff. No point taking anything with me that is not going work or that I wont need. But first the shoes.

The Epic Fall

So while everything was going so well I started to notice at 12km that my right calf wanted to go into a cramp. I backed off with the running and started power walking uphill. Terrain was also very rocky so everyone was walking at this stage. at 13km we started the descent – I was happy about that! I started to run easy again. I can’t run downhills, not even on road. So was happy to just move along and felt good. At 15km I was on a runners high….such a beautiful day, we’re descending what more could I ask for…and then out of the blue a massive cramp attack in both calfs…at the same time! I was still flying through the air (in the zone) but the minute my foot touched the ground I went for a dive! The difference between falling from a slip or tripping over something and falling from losing your balance because of calf cramps is that when you fall you can’t move…at all! Trust me, any attempt trying to move will result in extreme sounds. Crazy Store Magaliesberg Challenge had me screaming like a women who was about to give birth on a single track! So embarrassing…but amazing support from all the trailees to the rescue! I had two ladies each massaging a calf…halarious! Finally I was able to move the legs and got up. Manage to walk the next 3km, but from there on my “race ” was pretty much over. It was still another 5km to go. Do you have any idea of how slow 5km go on trail when you too scared to run? Finally managed to just relaxed and started running easy again…no pushing thinking I am some ultra trail elite runner!

River Crossings

Close to the  finish there is a river crossing with a flimsy, dodgy wooden bridge. I made myself as light as possible running over that bridge as fast as I could (no way I am falling into that water!), but almost ran into the arms of the gorilla! Then another river crossing, no bridge…so no thinking, just walk through the water with your shoes on. So refreshing!

This was a 22km trail race that ended up being 23.5km…1.5km of turns and ups and down and river crossings can get a bit much after you’ve already run 22km!

I must admit though, I don’t remember when last I had so much fun running. I absolutely loved everything about this race. Yes, I had a real scare with my fall (lucky that I was not injured) but it is all part of the trail running experience. Hope I am forever cured of my fear of falling! What amazed me most was how brave I was to challenge myself to do things I thought I was not able to do…must have something to do with the fact that I decided not to “over think” things too much…. Just Do It! Will take this atititude with me to my next road race 🙂

But first, Mont-Aux-Sources, a 50km trail race in the Drakensberg – BEYOND MYSELF FROM EXCITEMENT!

Quote of the day: “Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal. My strength lies solely in my tenacity “- Louis Pasteur