I challenged myself to run 20 races this year as part of my #20in20 Race Challenge. With the COVID-19 global crisis, that may be very difficult to achieve now. I’m not calling it quits yet but no one could have predicted the start that we have all had to this year. As it stands, all FIVE races scheduled up until May have been postponed or outright cancelled, including what was to be my first marathon. But I’m grateful that before the crisis hit, I managed to get three races done, two of which I’ve already recapped on the blog – the Y-Care 15K Walk Race and the Phobians Pretoria Half Marathon. The third race was the Gabane 20K Trail Run held on the 7th March 2020 in the small neighbouring village of Gabane, about 30 minutes from Gaborone.
My husband Ditiro and I arrived at around 05:15 for a 05:30 start but were surprised to find only 5 cars parked, one belonging to our friend Ngoni. We collected our race numbers and then headed to the toilets. I was pleasantly surprised to find these were real toilets, super clean and WITH toilet paper (always a huge win!). When we got back, we still didn’t see too many people about so the three of us hopped into my car as it was quite a chilly morning. When we emerged though we found that the few people we had seen were not there anymore! The race (with only 25 participants) seemed to have started without us! We hadn’t heard anything but without wasting any more time, we quickly started our watches and set off on our run. It being the day before International Women’s Day, we wore purple with white caps. Ngoni couldn’t find something purple, but she made up for it with her beautiful purple lip colour.
All we knew of the course was that it was 8.5km out and then back the same way. After exiting the venue ‘Top High Events Garden’, we kept a close eye out for orange tags marking the route which led us to the main tarred road. We turned right for a short bit before crossing the road into the village. We ran past some scattered houses, and then turned right and headed straight for the Gabane Hill. Ditiro was already far ahead but Ngoni and I stuck together for the first couple of kilometres. We reached the base of the hill around 2km into the run, our splits, 08:12/ 07:45 min/km. It was quite a steep climb up the hill with beautiful views of the village on our left hand side. As we clambered up, I was momentarily worried that this race would be more about climbing than actual running. We got to a section that had two steel pipes going upwards. As I ascended, I interchangeably used the pipes and the rocks on the other side for balance.
We could hear water gushing in the pipes so when we got to the top we were not surprised to see a huge water reservoir. Once this climb was done, I was happy to find a beautiful and mostly flat jeep track. I pushed ahead on this section and was alone for most of it. I loved the quiet and peacefulness of my surroundings. I noticed the small things – the lilac-breasted roller (Botswana Flag Bird) perched on the motsotsojane (False Sandpaper Raisin Tree) and the beautiful flowering African Foxgloves that sometimes lined the path. Other trees included the maselesele (Kalahari Christmas Trees) and a few morula. Although I didn’t spot any, this area is also known for baboons and monkeys, spitting cobras and scorpions. (Ditiro, who is a vet, has had several emergency call-outs in this area because of dogs who’ve been bitten or stung.) I passed several of those who had started the race on time, many of whom were walkers. Most sections had quite a hard surface but towards the end of the first half, we hit some really sandy bits which slowed me down a bit. Around the 8.5 km mark, Ngoni caught up with me and just as she did, Ditiro was making his way back so he managed to get a really great photo of us in action! He said we still had a bit to go so we immediately knew the course would be long.
And indeed the turning point was 1.5km away. To get to this point, we veered right and onto a narrow single track with bushes encroaching the path. I got quite a few scratches on this section. We had to climb onto a big rock where we found piles of drinks as well as some marshals chilling at the top. My splits for the first half of the race ranged between 07:38 and 06:59 on the runnable bits, and 12:33 and 10:45 on the climbing sections. On the way back, I met a woman walking towards me. She said she had turned back when she had seen a barking baboon. I assured her that so long as we didn’t aggravate it, we would be fine. She didn’t look convinced at all! We ran together for a bit but when she started walking, I ran ahead and told her that if I saw it, I would turn back so we could run together. Luckily, I didn’t see any baboons and having encountered many when hiking Kgale Hill, I was confident that she would be fine. I got to the steel pipes and started my descent. It felt a bit more treacherous than going up so I was happy when I finally got down. At the bottom, I knew I just had 2km left, and pushed for a strong finish. Close to the main road, I found a lone police car who stopped traffic for me. I felt bad as I was the only runner crossing at that time! When I got to the finish, I realised I still had 200m to make a round 20K so I went past the start and added a few more metres. It doesn’t take much to make me happy! My last two km were a solid 07:04 and 06:59 pace.
I ran the course in 2:43:23 (08:10 pace) and was really content. My goals to finish strong and happy were achieved. And the added bonus was how confident I felt throughout the race.
My regular readers will know my struggles with trail running – I’ve discussed it here and here. My biggest issues have always been that I’m overly concerned about pace, I get impatient and frustrated by how much longer it takes and I feel really anxious navigating obstacles. That’s not to say I haven’t had epic adventures, my Run The Berg Trail Experience is a case in point but truth be told, road running relaxes me and trail running stresses me out. BUT I had a real mindset shift at the Gabane Trail Run. I came into the race knowing that this was a 17km training run for me with the bonus of a medal for my efforts. With no real expectations, from the get-go I just wanted to have fun. This mindset shift made a world of difference. I felt alive out there. Admittedly, it was not an overly technical course – aside from the short climb up the hill (and then down on the way back) most of the course was flat or slightly up and down, not enough to even warrant walking. 95% of it was runnable and this made me feel a lot more confident. I also took in all my surroundings which is something I don’t do enough of on trails.
I was happy that I let go of all my anxieties and just enjoyed my experience. Ditiro had a solid race but decided to take a slightly different route on the way back. He ended up running through the village and greeting all the early rising residents who were extremely helpful with directions. Eventually he found his way back to the large water pipes and found the correct trail.
When Ngoni came through we took a few more photos and this is what she had to say about the race, “It was the first real challenge of the year for me because I’d been inconsistent with my running. The first 2km were a breeze but as we started climbing I completely collapsed. I did not recover until around the 5km point, and that’s because my fitness level was pretty low at the time. But after 5km I started enjoying the trail because it was pretty flat. A great scenic trail, and given another chance, I’d definitely do it again!”
When we got into town our first stop was Mugg N Bean for a much needed cappuccino and then we proceeded to pick up our kids from my dad’s place. My only regret with this race was that there were only 25 of us. It really was such an awesome race and I hope in future it attracts more participants. The trail is very doable for even the strictest of road runners as most sections are runnable and it is also a great experience for walkers and hikers. I didn’t even mind the fact that it was a longer course than advertised as it really felt good being out there. Other runners commented that they couldn’t feel their legs afterwards! So for future races, it would probably be best to state from the outset that it’s a 20K! But overall, what a treat this race was – beautiful landscape, runnable with wide jeep track and plenty of fresh air.
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!