Friday Five: FIVE Lessons from Running the Berg

I am so excited to be linking up with Running on Happy and Fairytales and Fitness for the Friday Five 2.0! Please hop over to their blogs and others for some great inspiration.

For those of you who are regular readers of my blog, you know who Tapiwa is. She has featured in several training and race recaps! We often start our races together, have a good chat before she pushes off for her powerhouse finishes. We have a great running partnership and if I am to define it, I would say we bring out the best in each other. We have had some great adventures and mishaps – getting mugged in one race and spending half the time thinking we were lost in another. But we always come out stronger… and laughing! Tapiwa was a top athlete at school, excelling in the 100 and 200 metre sprints. In her adult years she has made the transition to longer distances. She mostly does road races but her heart is most content when she is out in the wilderness on some mountain trails. In September 2017, she did the Runtheberg which is a 2-day stage race in the Drakensberg, Africa’s premier mountain range, stretching from the Western Cape to the Limpopo in South Africa. This challenge was in the Northern Berg, between the Highveld and the Indian Ocean, 300 km out of Durban. There are two options for the race, the “Challenge” which is 15 km per day and the “Extreme” which is 25 km per day. Tapiwa did the Challenge and for this  post I asked her: What FIVE things did you learn from Running the Berg? This is her phenomenal answer.

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1 – When anxious I find ways of calming myself

I don’t usually get a good night’s rest the day before a trail race. I lay awake, trying to convince myself that it is going to be fun. Even after completing the first 15 km on Day 1, I have to prepare myself psychologically for the next 15 km the following day. I tell myself I am going to complete the race. I tell myself that if all else fails I will just walk to the end. Waking up is not a problem. That weekend the mornings were clear, sun was out but it was cold. Looking up into the majestic mountains simply takes one’s breath away. Looking up, it was CALMING.

2 – I am privileged to have a healthy body and sound mind

Day 1, the first 6 km is uphill. This is when my ability to zone out kicks in. I take in the views and listen to my breathing. Weaving between forest trees and climbing rocky cliffs. At this point in the race I tell myself to just keep running, just run this minute, just clamber up the next rock outcrop, just don’t stop. On Day 2, it’s harder to keep running when your toes hurt. But that pain was not enough to hurt my race. I just kept going.

3 – The Power of the Human Spirit

On Day 2 the terrain changes from the first days of rocky cliffs to an open savannah type of grassland. With 5 km left to completing my 30 km challenge, I had a mantra, I DON’T HAVE TO DO THIS; I GET TO DO THIS. I was among the slower trail runners and I connected with other people who needed encouragement. We were all helping each other. We were just those ordinary people being extraordinarily courageous. We were not elite athletes. We just didn’t want to fail. The amazing power of the human spirit…

4 – No one reaches their full potential without learning from others

On both days there was a lady out on the trail, Mbali. For the last 2 km of Day 2, she helped me find ways to keep moving at a decent pace. I actually ran fastest in those last 2 km! I could even jump and pose for a picture. I wanted to live up to the role I had set myself – that I had the audacity to try something great and inspire people in the process. In doing so, I faced my own fears, I faced the fear of pain.

5 – I just don’t quit and I am always up for a challenge

No matter how much things hurt, not once during the race did I feel like quitting. The only person I was racing against was myself. The goal – to finish. And I finished what I had started. After crossing that finish line, 30 km completed through such treacherous terrain, there was no big clock to remind me that I was slow. There were only cheers, a beer truck and wors rolls. I met up with my crew of Zulu maidens and we planned our next trail. We were all ready for an ULTRA TRAIL. And indeed, the Cape Town Ultra Trail in December was our next race….but that is a story for another day.

Thank you Tapiwa for taking the time to reflect on your journey and some of the lessons you took away. I think we often forget what great things we are capable of, what phenomenal challenges we can accomplish, and what obstacles we can overcome if we put our minds to it. The resilience of the human spirit. I for one have always been inspired by your determination to get the job done. My daughter Kaia reminds me of you – you face each challenge with a quiet confidence and formidable strength. It leaves the rest of us wanting to push ourselves even more. 

Time Adventure Team Challenge, Race Recap (#9/17)

My ninth race of the year was on the 20th August 2017. It was my first ever team event and I earned myself a nice 13-minute PB on a 5k Trail Run! What a fun and exciting day we all had! Enjoy Number 9…

The Time Adventure Team Challenge is a four-stage event held at the beautiful Mokolodi Nature Reserve, a 20 minute drive from Gaborone. It is home to a variety of species, including rhinos, giraffes, zebra, warthogs and various antelope. It also has an abundance of gorgeous bird life. Stage 1 of the Challenge was a 10 km Trail Run, Stage 2 was a 15 km cycle, Stage 3 was another 15 km cycle, and Stage 4 was a 5 km Trail Run.

Our Team: We had three members – my friend Elisa was our 10 km runner, my husband Ditiro was our rider for both Stages 2 and 3, and I took on the 5 km Trail Run. We arrived at the race, excited and READY for action! Our team’s name was “Trail Attack”. How fabulous do we look in our green outfits!?!

The Race:

Stage 1: At 08:30, Elisa set off into the wild bush. Standing on the sidelines, we felt so excited that our little adventure had begun!

In Elisa’s words, “The Time Team Challenge was a very tough and challenging trail run but at the same time incredibly enjoyable. The surroundings were beautiful; savanna bush, hills and lakes. I didn’t come across any animals but the sound of hippos as we ran past the lakes was a lovely reminder that we were running in a game reserve! The time just flew by in this race. There was a lot of focus on many things which distracted from the actual activity of running. You really had to watch where your feet landed so as not to break your ankle on the abundant sharp stones along the paths and in between your eyes had to keep darting up to check the markers to ensure that you were on course and did not veer off and get lost! The trail was fairly flat until 6 km where there was a sudden and steep ascent to the top of the hill, which they call World’s View. Just when we thought we had made it… we were confronted with stairs to take us all the way up. After finally making it to the top, the descent was such a relief and a chance to make up for the slow ascent. From there it was home free, with a sprint finish at the end!”

Stages 2 & 3: Ditiro was determined to do both riding stages, meaning that he would ride a total of 30 km on the somewhat unforgiving terrain.

In Ditiro’s words,“I found a place in the line-up where Elisa could easily spot me, and once she did we had a smooth baton handover.”

“The first bit of the track was hard but slightly rutted and within 3 minutes of the race, I lost one of my water bottles. After a few minutes of solo riding, I caught up to a few riders who I passed. The track varied from beautiful winding single track to extremely bumpy bits to thick patches of sand. There were some hills and two dry riverbed crossings. I maintained a brisk pace but was slowed down a couple of times where riders couldn’t move out of the way or where I had to negotiate obstacles. It was beautiful scenery although I only saw one impala. After finishing the first leg, I was quite tired but also anxious as the second leg had a big climb. About halfway, I felt my left quad starting to cramp slightly. I quickly sucked on my electrolyte gel and tried to increase my water intake which I had forgotten to do in the first leg. I also spent a few minutes helping a guy fix his bike. I managed to do the big climb with the cramp still niggling and I stopped to get more electrolytes and water at the top of World’s View. I also took a selfie with one of the marshals who just happened to be my dad-in-law!” 

How cool that my dad was a race marshal!!

“I then blazed down a very bumpy downhill. I nursed my cramp slightly using lower gears but just as I got to the dismount area, my left leg caved in! Shathiso came running and the marshal helped to transfer the batons.”

Stage 4: At 11:30, under a beautiful blue Botswana sky, I set off like a bullet. Don’t laugh! I really did set off quite fast. But then 30 seconds in, huffing and puffing, I thought, “Hold on! Relax. Run your race!” So away from the crowds, I slowed right down and found myself alone in the quiet bush. I made sure I focused on where I was stepping to avoid any loose stones, but I also made sure I looked out for the bright pink markers on the trees as on my first race of the year (also a 5k Trail Run) I ended up getting so lost, finishing in 53:53 minutes! Within the first km (07:40 min/km pace), I had caught up to two runners who I overtook quite comfortably.

The Route: I was very happy that my section was quite flat. Compacted sand and not too many loose rocks and stones. Sadly, I didn’t pass any wildlife on the way! 

There was a slight elevation in the second km and my pace slowed to 08:18, but after that I stepped it up and hit a 08:02 pace in the third km and 07:39 in the fourth! I know I was working hard because my average heart rate was 170 bpm! I remember looking down at my watch and seeing 4.1 km and thinking, “Okay I am almost halfway” but then realising that this was a 5k and not a 10k run! That jolted me into action and I took it up a notch, hitting an average pace of 07:33 for that last km! Ditiro says he was pleasantly surprised to see green emerging from the bushes. I could hear the crowds cheering… and the MC shouting “Team Trail Attack!”

That’s when I lifted my arms, held up nine fingers to signify my ninth race and came storming through the finish line! Oh, what a beautiful day! What a special moment.

My time: I did my 5k stretch in 40:05 minutes, a massive 13 minute PB on a 5k Trail! I was beyond ecstatic!! Our Team Time was 03:42:17 hours and we placed No. 67 of the 102 Teams/ Individuals who completed the race! Just look at our beaming smiles!!

Lessons/ Discoveries

  1. Team Events add a whole new dynamic! I absolutely loved it – it’s not about individual performances, it’s about what the team does. We had so much fun, rooting for each other and hearing how each of our races had gone! There is also a bit of added pressure because you don’t want to let the team down. But what a fabulous time we all had.
  2. As I am slow and steady, I do prefer the longer distances, but having said that – it felt good for the race to be over so soon, especially in that heat!

Pros of the Race

  • Beautiful! Beautiful! Beautiful! The setting, the natural surroundings, the stunning blue skies, just everything.
  • The brightly coloured markers were fantastic – there was no chance of getting lost this time! I kept chanting in my head, “Follow the Pink on your Left”. It was always clear where I needed to go and what direction I had to take. The marshals were also strategically placed in the ambiguous spots!
  • Executive porta-loos with sinks and even air-fresheners. Big plus!
  • Very clear instructions on how to do the “baton” exchange
  • A kids’ play area with lots of activities and childminders. We didn’t bring our kids along, but now we know we can for next year’s event! A HUGE plus point for people with small kids.

Cons of the Race

  • No medals! I was looking forward to adding one more to my growing collection! 😉

Would I do this race again?

Oh yes! Most definitely! Yes! Yes! Yes!

I’m linking up with HoHoRuns and MissSippiPiddlin for their Weekly Wrap! This week they have Finding Fabulous at Fifty as a guest host! I’m also joining Courtney at Eat Pray Run who is busy training for the Berlin Marathon!