On the 28th to 29th September 2019, I will be taking part in an epic adventure, Runtheberg – a 2-stage trail race in the Drakensberg Mountains, Africa’s majestic mountain range and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The race event has two options, the Challenge Race, +-15km per day and the Extreme Race, +-25km per day. I have very wisely chosen the Challenge Race meaning I will cover over 30km in two days with a net ascent of approx. 1,140 metres. The race website describes the 30km route as “exclusively single-track, foot-path or mountain-running; moderately technical; some climbing / descent; boulders & rivers; lots of good running” and adds that there are “panoramic views, spectacular scenery and the best that the Montusi Valley has to offer”. The footage I have seen is indeed breathtaking!
Why Run The Berg?
My cousin Tapiwa has twice run the Berg and she wrote a blog for me after her second one. Both times I sat in awe at the tales she told of her Berg adventure. It was then that I started stalking the Runtheberg website and Facebook page; I took several peeks at their race videos but each time I resisted the temptation to take it any further, knowing full well that this was not something I could do. In a moment of weakness though, it made its way onto my 2018 Race Goals but by the end of that January, I had scrapped it off my list. But I still kept coming back to it and slowly, perhaps foolishly, I started to convince myself that this was doable. I finally signed up in February 2019 and it was not a decision I took lightly. I know my weaknesses – I don’t like going out of my comfort zone, I haven’t had much exposure to mountain climbing or trail running, I’m very quickly intimidated by obstacles like rocks, boulders or streams, and my training ground is a very flat city with little to mimic the reality of the Drakensberg.
But I am also very aware of my strengths – I may not like going outside my comfort zone, but I do it time and time again in both work and social settings. I’m no mountain goat but I have run over 30 races in the last 2.5 years including 4 Half Marathons in the last year alone. I know how to plan. I work very hard. I am extremely consistent. And I know how to finish what I start. Those strengths will get me over that Berg, if not my wobbly legs and clumsiness!
One of the first things I did after signing up was to contact Coach Nicola who I have worked with time and again on my running journey. I am not sure what she makes of my crazy challenges, but she completely gets me and always makes a training plan that suits my needs and goals. We started work in June with the first 6 weeks dedicated to building strength and endurance. I run about 4 times a week, a combination of Easy Runs, Speed Endurance Training, Hill Repeats and Long Runs. My short easy runs have mostly been solo affairs but it was really fun to do our local 5km “parkrun” twice with friends visiting from out of town.
Speedwork has involved mile time trials, tempo interval runs, and out and back pace work, with some strength training thrown in like the Oregon Circuit on the track (200m sprints with strength exercises in between).
There have been hill repeats on the treadmill as well as easy long runs. More recently we have added back-to-back Long Runs to get me prepared for the 2-day format of the race. So far I’ve felt quite comfortable running on tired legs.
I’ve also ventured onto the trail for a few of my runs, three of them in the Mokolodi Nature Reserve to get a better feel of trail running. The longest distance I’ve covered in the park is 15km. I’ve had one major fall but since then I’ve managed to stay vertical with only a few minor stumbles! Mokolodi is always exciting to run in and we’ve spotted several animals, warthogs, waterbuck, ostrich, cheetah and of course the ever-present impala.
Whilst exciting, it is also really peaceful and calm. The air is fresh and seems to cleanse the airways. My favourite part of the run is the path alongside the dam – we get there about 3km into our run when the morning sun is glistening beautifully over the water.
I’ve also done weekly strength work and although not consistent, I’ve had a few pilates classes as well. This though is definitely an area I need to work more on.
I really am such a novice when it comes to trail running. I’m used to grabbing my shoes, simple outfit and cap! So this is a new arena. The first thing I did was to buy a pair of Salomon trail shoes. They were on sale but what I loved was how comfortable they felt when I slipped them on. So far they have felt quite good on the run and aside from two blisters when I was breaking them in, I’ve been happy. They don’t have a soft or plush feel, but they are certainly very sturdy and safe when I am running on rocks and sand. I’ve also recently purchased a Camelbak hydration pack online as well as a space blanket. But there are a lot of other things I still need to get: the most significant being the waterproof jacket, thermal base layer, lightweight fleece top and gloves. I’ve never run in any of these so that will be interesting.
In the first month of training, I set a new mile record of 09:22 min (from 09:45). My goal for the year was to do it in 09:30 min so I was really pleased to have achieved this so early on and I’m confident I will be even faster by the end of the year. I also set a new 11 sec. 10km PB, 1:09:42 while doing an Easy Run in Central Gaborone.
In June, I did the 12km FNB Magalies Trail Run in South Africa. It was a great experience and also a reminder of how different trail running is!
In July, I attended a presentation by Mark Wolff who is a nutrition and physiology expert as well as an endurance lifestyle mentor. Mark discussed the basics of an endurance lifestyle and how to make sure an endurance athlete keeps healthy through effective training, nutrition and recovery. I also attended the Gauteng Trail Clinic organised by Trail Magazine South Africa and I came away with such a wealth of knowledge about trail running as well as some increased confidence. I’ll be sure to blog about both events as I took so much away from them.
What’s On My Mind?
I’ve been extremely consistent and have only missed one run. I can do better with strength training though and I think I will need to ramp up my hill work and hiking sessions over the next two months to have any chance of getting up and down the Berg. I also have to finish purchasing gear plus practising with it! Accommodation is booked, but we still have to sort out flights and a car rental service. In terms of emotions, there are so many, but the two predominant ones are definitely excitement and nervousness. I hope you’ve enjoyed my summary – I haven’t been very good at blogging recently but at least you can see the work is getting done! For more regular updates, be sure to follow me on Facebook too!
[Run The Berg Training Cycle: 215.2 km| 2019 Mileage: 767.86 km]
Have you done a similar race to the Berg? Do you have any tips to share on either training, gear or fuelling for the race? What’s your current goal race? What race took you out of your comfort zone? Let me know in the comments!
I’m joining two fabulous runners, Kim from Running on the Fly and Deborah from Confessions from a Mother Runner for their “Weekly Run Down” link up. I’ve been away for a while so it’s a little bit more than a week’s run down!