My first ever trail run yesterday and it nearly killed me. I felt pretty rough as I crossed the finish line, but it was only this morning when I saw the photo my wife took of me
dying recovering in the shade of a handy tree a couple of minutes after that (and no, I’m not sharing it here) that I realised quite how rough I looked as well.
The reason for my unfortunate appearance was twofold: ridiculous heat at 7:30 in the morning in Paarl and ridiculous hills at 7:30 in the morning in Paarl. The two combined to produce a dangerously hot and hellishly steep run up Paarl mountain, which is more mountainous (and hotter) than it looks.
First things first, I didn’t sleep well. I never sleep well when I have an early start the next morning and I never sleep well when my kids wake me up a total of 7 times between midnight and 4am. That said, the last 90 minutes of my night were sheer heaven.
So, up and at ’em with a Red Bull and a Bar One for breakfast and out to Fairview, where the parking was well organised and race registration was a breeze. Goodie bags contained cheese and wine amongst other treats, but I did the sensible thing and left those for later. We stood in the shade of the grape bins and watch the 15km go off just after 7:30, before I lined up for my start at 7:45. And then we were away.
The first km was a dream – records show that I knocked it off in 7’14”; not bad considering the crowds and the terrain – winding through the lower slopes of the vineyards, running literally between the vines, grabbing a grape or two for sustenance on the fly (not really – wrong season) and into the welcome shade of the forest – WHERE THERE WAS A CUNNINGLY HIDDEN HUGE HILL.
To be fair on the organisers, they had said that there were going to be some hills, but to disguise the first one in peaceful, shady woodland was just unfair. Still, I ran up that hill and it was only when I reached the top and emerged into the sunlight that I realised that I wasn’t actually at the the top.
Not anywhere near.
In fact, we climbed and climbed until almost 5km into the “8km” race (more of that later). And after about 3km, I swear that I was more tired than at the end of the Two Oceans Half back in April. Still, onward and (slowly) upward along the well-marked route and I began to realise that trail running probably wasn’t for me. Even trail walking wasn’t feeling particularly attractive. I was getting slower and slower, with a 10’10” for the fourth km and a shocking 11’47” for the fifth. In my defence however, I was overtaking as much as I was being overtaken, so I’m guessing that no-one was finding things particularly easy.
But it was hot and there wasn’t a breath of wind and I was seriously struggling.
At this point, veteran trail runners are probably pointing and laughing.
“Amateur!” they’re saying, and actually they’re absolutely right. Yes I am.
Reaching the summit of Paarl mountain, 4.84km in and 566m up, I chucked down a couple of cups of coke and a couple of cups of water (one in, one on) and started the descent. Even though I’m usually great at going downhill, for the first 500m my legs were still in shock and it took a great deal of persuasion to convince them that we were now heading back down towards the place with wine and an air-conditioned car ride home. But I have to say that once they realised that we were heading in the right direction (downwards), they came along and joined the party. I banged out a 6’22”, a 5’59” and a 5’37” and all was finally going well.
Eagle-eyed readers however, will be wondering how I hadn’t actually managed to finish the 8km race, despite having run 8km. Well, this was because the 8km that I had run had actually left me some way short of the finish line (and with it, the wine and the air-conditioned car ride home).
Truth be told, this didn’t seem to put my legs off and I actually slipped in a fairly magnificent (given the situation) 5’30” for the ninth km. Even then though, Endomondo tells me that I had another 650m of hard graft to do to get myself over the finish line.
It was the longest 8km I’ve ever run. By exactly 1650 metres.
And the time? 1:12’41” for an average of 7’31” per km which I was hugely happy with. “Yay me.”
Yes, there are aches and pains today, quads and calves being the main areas of concern, obviously. But nothing that won’t be sorted by Tuesday, I don’t think. (I’m not saying which Tuesday though.)
So will I try it again next year? Yes – and it should be easier now I know what to expect, although how one can train for those hills and that heat, I actually have no idea. Run up hills like those in that kind of heat, I guess?
All in all, a really testing, but eventually enjoyable run. Things at Fairview were really well organised and the route was really clearly marked all the way round. If I was pressed, I’d vote for an earlier start time (it was already foolishly hot at 7:45) and a more accurately measured distance. Also, if they could maybe take a couple of hundred metres off the top of that mountain, it would probably make things much easier for all concerned.
Incidentally, the winner of the 15km race clocked an average of 4’20” per km for his run.
But I bet he missed the awesome views from the top.