After the Diacore Half Marathon, I took a week off but then quickly returned to some light running as I had long registered for the FNB Platinum Trail Run in Buffelspoort, South Africa. The event was a 2-day affair – my husband Ditiro did the “Magalies Monster”, a 65km mountain bike race on the 1st June and I did the trail run on the 2nd June. The scheduling of both events was perfect as it meant I watched the kids on the first day and Ditiro did so on the second day. I had three distances to choose from, 8km, 12km, and 24km. I decided to go for 12km and my goals were to have fun, test out my new trail shoes and get more trail running experience.
Race Morning: When we arrived at the venue, the music was pumping and many people were stretching on the grass. The race commentator was lively and cheerful, creating such a fun atmosphere. There was also an FNB Photo Stand where you could have your photo taken and uploaded onto Facebook using the hashtag #WhyIRun. Having survived his mountain bike event, Ditiro was very relaxed and happy not to be racing. It was quite chilly (around 3°C) but thankfully once I had done my warm up stretches, I felt okay to run in short-sleeves.
The 24km runners set off first and then 15min later it was time for the 12km group. As this was not a goal race I was not very nervous and was just looking to have a good time. The runners around me were also relaxed and just seemed pleased to be out on this winter’s morning.
The Race: Once the gun sounded, we all made our away out of the ATKV Buffelspoort Resort, first on the grassy bit and then on a paved path.
We soon hit the real trail and our adventure began. The trail goes through a mountainous region that forms part of the Magaliesberg Mountain Range west of the Buffelspoort Dam. The terrain was varied and challenging but I must say quite doable even for a novice like me.
We ran along tree-lined jeep track, some single track, narrow farm roads and gravel road. At one point we made our way through a very dark tunnel underneath a tarred road which was quite scary. Of course, it was only a few metres long but it seemed to go on forever and I felt quite unbalanced. There were also a number of orange plantations, stream crossings as well as very rocky areas where we had to hold on to some rock ledges to get across.
Just before we reached the Finish Line we crossed another small stream and this is where I found Ditiro and the kids waiting on their bikes! I was so excited to see them and I’m so glad the photographer caught me lunging towards them!
Ditiro cycled up ahead to try and get more photos of my finish and the kids followed me on their bikes almost until the gantry. The course was longer than expected but I still had some energy to sprint at the end! I ran the 13.23 km course in 1:43:35. Another race, another medal earned.
After the Race: We stuck around for a little bit with the kids. I had two of these chip-sticks! They tasted so good and I just sat on the grass eating them. I must have looked so content doing so as three different people asked me where they were being sold! After stretching my legs, we soon hit the road for our four-hour trip back to Gaborone.
I haven’t done too many trail races but I’m starting to find things I love about them and things I still have to get used to. As I am currently training for Run The Berg, a 2-stage trail adventure, I thought it would be quite useful to capture some of my initial thoughts.
Things I Love About Trail Running
- I’ve probably done about 10 trail runs now (including some races) and one thing that always stands out is the scenery. From this trail race, I loved the different features, the rock outcrops, the orange plantations, the shaded passages and streams, and the panoramic views. On other trail runs, I’ve loved the flowers and seeing various wild animals. I’ve loved the sounds of birds and insects but also the quiet… the stillness…
- Not only do you get to see and hear things on the trail, but you also feel different. It’s like you’ve escaped to a place of tranquility and calm. Somehow the very act of running in such terrain makes you feel more at peace with yourself and the world. I’m not much of a meditator, but the experience feels quite meditative in a way.
- When I run on the road, there is usually a time goal I’ve set myself. I frequently glance at my watch. That’s my focus. But on the trail, the focus is different. I always start by looking at my watch but quickly realise this is a futile exercise and end up drawn to the sounds and sights around me. On this race, someone asked me to take a photo of them by a small waterfall and I was only too happy to oblige without thinking, “How dare you interrupt my race!”
- The people. Definitely the people. I am a proud road runner but can I just say trail runners are awesome! Obviously there is a competitive element to the sport but there is also this amazing “we are one” or ubuntu feel. In this race, someone fell before we had even left the resort and so many people stopped to help her up. One article I read had this to say, “If you go down in a road race, the road runners will jump over you and let volunteers know at the next aid station; trail runners will stop, pull out their meds, first aid-kit, emergency beacon, give you CPR and carry you to the next aid station.” And this is not to say road runners are mean-spirited at all – just that trail runners go above and beyond. Trail runners also just have this fun and chilled vibe! Look at this stranger giving me big ears!
Things I Have To Get Used To
- I always tell people I love the predictability of the road – roads feel safe, steady, reliable and secure. There is no question or fear of where your foot lands. No rocks to hop over, no streams to cross, no obscure paths or obstacles to navigate, no snakes to look our for! It’s just you and the road and your focus is on hitting the pace you want without stopping and starting. I feel strong on the road but a lot more vulnerable on trail.
- While I feel quite stressed by the changing terrain, I love watching trail runners do their thing. They somehow always seem ready for obstacles. They are clearly thinking a few steps ahead and know what move they are going to use for the different turns or how they are going to hop over rocks. Their head and feet are so beautifully in sync. That’s what I need to get used to. On the road, I trust my body and what it can do. On trail, I have no trust in myself at all. I spend so much time hesitating where to set my foot.
- I often pass the water stations on road races and I find myself doing that on trails too. But other trail runners actually stop and there seems to be a far wider spread of goodies to choose from. I still need to get used to stopping without panicking about time wasted!
- I’ve complained about road races not being measured correctly but it’s usually by a few hundred metres and not kilometres! When we hit 12km on this trail race we were in the middle of an orange plantation with the end nowhere in sight! Another runner said to me, “We still have to cross the road and then another stream before we are home”. LOL. The course ended being over 13km long! I guess it’s hard to accurately measure a trail and it just gives us more time to enjoy our beautiful surroundings!
- I mentioned earlier that the focus of trail running is different which I do enjoy. But there is a big part of me too that loves counting kilometres and studying pace. How much have I improved? Was I able to hit those tempo paces? How fast did I do that incline in? Was it better than last time? I love the stats and in so many ways I measure my strength using them. I have to find a different measure of strength in trail running – getting up and over obstacles in an agile manner, may be a good measure to start with!
What other differences do you find between road and trail running? What do you love about trail running? What do you love about road running? Are you all about the stats? Can you run without your sports watch? Let me know in the comments!