Remember my 5K PB race?! Well, the following day (22nd Sept. 2019), I participated in the Mokolodi Scorpion Trail Run. As soon as I saw it advertised, I registered immediately for a number of reasons, 1) It was a week before my Run The Berg Trail Race so I was keen to get one more trail done, 2) The late start meant I would get more practice running in the heat, and most importantly 3) I wanted to test my hydration pack which had just arrived in the post.
As Ditiro had done the Half Marathon the day before, he opted for the 55km MTB challenge while my friend Elisa and I ran the trail. It was quite a small group of runners and when it was time to go, most of them set off quite quickly. I was quite happy to be at the back of the pack and my first 3km were comfortable, 07:14/ 07:01/ 07:21 min/km.
The terrain in Mokolodi is quite rocky and rugged with a mixture of narrow paths and jeep track. The route took us past the dam and also included the climb up to World View which always has some good views. With very little rain, things were still quite dry and brown.
My mid run paces were slower, 07:45/ 07:52/ 08:04 with my slowest being the climb up to World View (08:54). After the climb, my paces increased again, 7:19/ 7:32/ 06:33 and for the first time, I was quite relieved with a short course – 9.27 km. Unlike the day before where I had continued running past the Finish Line to get the right distance, this time I ground to a happy halt! I soon spotted Elisa and we then had our fair share of fresh orange slices and met up with some other runners as we waited for Ditiro to come through.
On paper my race was a good one. I liked the route, the small crowd and my new shiny medal. But something was missing. And although it’s hard for me to admit – what was missing was real enjoyment. And this has nothing to do with the course design or the race itself. It really is a case of, “It’s not you, it’s me”. 🙂 I found an article which looks at ‘3 easily avoidable rookie errors’ and it really hit a chord with me. I’ve discussed the difference between trail and road running before but I’m going to look a bit closer at what I’m struggling with on a personal level.
What Is Stopping Me From Enjoying Trail Races
1/ I’m Overly Concerned About Pace: On the road, I focus on time and pace, and I love it! But doing this on trail doesn’t make too much sense. When you think about it, you can’t compare your times on tar with those on unpredictable terrain – muddy paths, rocks and roots, gravel, tufts of grass, narrow passages, water crossings, etc… Every trail experience is different, some easy and others technical. But whatever it is, it’s always going to be very different from road. When I asked my cousin Tapiwa who is an avid trail enthusiast, if she thinks of pace on the trail, her response was simple, “I don’t care about pace. I only look at my watch to see how long I’ve been out for. For me, effort matters more than pace”. She is spot on. But I still struggle to get out of my head and I continue to feel disheartened when I see paces on my watch that I would never see on the road. This is affecting my ability to tune out and enjoy the surroundings.
2/ I’m Impatient and Frustrated: The article emphasises that there is “Only one route to progression on the trail – patience and consistency”. I put a lot of work and effort into road running, taking things one step at a time and enjoying my small achievements. But I’m very impatient when it comes to trails. I don’t do many of them but for some reason I seem to feel that trail running should come easier and when it doesn’t I get frustrated. Why do I feel that I can just wake up and do well on trails with little to no practice? Just like I’ve put effort and time into road running, the same should go for trails. I also need to learn not to be so hard on myself and in ultra runner Cecile Bertin’s words, “Little by little the trail runner gets fitter, faster and stronger…never forget that it’s always nature that wins at the end. Respect and accept it.”
3/ I Feel Anxious: When I’m on the trail, I think too much. Am I doing this right? What am I doing wrong? How far till the end? What’s my average pace? I panic about hurdles that may or may not be there. And with all that thinking, I barely get time to enjoy the ride. In the end, I just work myself into a state and feel powerless and out of control. I asked Tapiwa what she enjoys when trail running. Her response was completely different from mine, “I see more beautiful sights on trails…I get a high on trails. The high makes me feel super human. Even when tired, I still find the energy to go up or go down… I just focus on how I’m feeling and it just makes me want to do an even harder trail to get that high.” Where she feels at her strongest, I feel at my weakest and most vulnerable. The article mentions that “ultimately it’s down to you to find a way that makes running enjoyable for you” and stresses that this involves keeping your eyes off your watch and that “a nice deep gulp of nature can make the whole thing worthwhile.” I’m not seeing the beauty around me because I’m so busy panicking about how I’m going to navigate it.
Of course, there is a chance that trail running is just not for me. And I will accept that. But for now, there is something that keeps pulling me to trail running and I can see myself enjoying it. But enjoying it will mean learning how to let go of these barriers that keep getting in my way. This was a lot of food for thought before I headed into the biggest Trail Race of my life – Run The Berg in the Northern Drakensberg Mountains of South Africa. Stay tuned for that recap! 😉
I’m joining two amazing runners, Kim from Running on the Fly and Deborah from Confessions from a Mother Runner for their link up, the “Weekly Run Down”. Hop on over to their blogs and others, and be inspired to be better and do better this 2020!