I found my self on the trails

I’ve been so absorbed with training and trail running, so much so that this post is way overdue *cue dramatic sigh*

Still, better late than never right?

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Running free in my Vivolicious capris

The bulk of my year has been focusing on training for my first Skyrun, 50km ultra trail and stage race- three things that have been on my bucketlist for ages.

Words alone are not going to do much justice describing the emotions leading up to and following these momentous occasions but what I can say is that it has been the most incredible, revealing, trying and wonderful journey.

If I could use one word to capture my 2017 I’d go with raw.

Raw because the year kicked off on a heart breaking note. Raw because I went into the new year mourning my old life and dreading massive change.

Raw because that is how I felt: broken, bleeding, tender.

Raw because I was so far out of my comfort zone already that it seemed like the perfect time to tackle the things I had always wanted to do but feared.

Raw because I quickly realized how that independent girl I once was had disappeared, I had lost my identity and sense of self over the years, and that was probably the hardest pill to swallow. But running has always been my saving grace and it led me back to that former self.

That first sky run was where it all began.

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Skyrun done

I was petrified to make the trip alone, then to go run a distance I have never run in mountains I have never been in and add to that the fact that it was pouring with rain, it was freezing, I didn’t really know anyone… I was scared.  So conquering something like that, it was the most empowering gift the universe could have delivered. I found a bit of myself in those mountains.

Doing that 50km was another moment that defined me- but it was also raw. A different kind of raw.

Training for that run was intense and I found myself out on the trails alone for hours on weekends. That kind of solitude will strip you down emotionally and mentally. It forced me to visit some dark places and learn some hard truths about myself but it also forced me to build up a different kind of strength- one that I would need on race day, which is exactly what my coach, Clinton Hunter of RacePace Coaching, knew.

He always seems to sense exactly what I need in order to be a better athlete, which is why he is so phenomenal. He and my strength and conditioning coach, Rhain Hoskins of Paragon Fitness/Crossfit Ried have this uncanny ability to see parts of my mind that I don’t let anybody see, which is how they know automatically what I need as an athlete, and how they can also cut past my bullshit.

They see the insecurities, the strengths and weaknesses, those self-limiting boundaries and help you past them- THAT’S what defines a good coach.

Their guidance has been instrumental, not just in me achieving my goals, but in helping me realise so much about myself as a person! All the training, all the hard days, the blood (literally!), sweat and tears really helped me on race day.

This run was in aid of Child Welfare Durban and District (CWDD) and thinking about those children really pushed me through the hard moments. Everytime my energy started to drain I thought about their beautiful, smiling faces, I thought about the amazing work CWDD are doing to help these kids- it was enough to elevate me.

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Running for Child Welfare Durban and District

I finished that run feeling so happy, relieved…emotional! And it’s weird but something changed in me that day.

There has always been this little girl somewhere deep inside my heart who has been afraid: of being alone, of failing, of life, the future. But that day I felt that fear drain away. I cannot really explain it but I have heard athletes say it before, that a single experience can change you.

For me, I think I found my inner strength in that run, and it was only magnified when I finished my first stage race.

Strangely enough, I found that run the hardest of the lot, something I was NOT expecting. I probably went into the event cocky and over confident that it would be a breeze compared to a 50km trail run. How silly.

That race was RAW.

Day 1 was hot as hell and day 2, the last few kms were really testing. I fought back tears that last km: I was tired and sore.

Then I fought back a different kind of tears when I crossed the finish line and saw all the familiar faces of people I had met this year, some who have become my closest friends, and my heart just filled with so much love for these crazy people.

This race was a different kind of lesson. I realised how lucky I was to have such incredible people in my life, to have such wonderful, supportive friends, and to be able to feel such overpowering love for them, it was humbling to be able to feel that kind of real human emotion again.

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yay for friendships forged on the trails

That day I realised that life had put me on this insane journey this year and it may have shaken my world up, but it also allowed for me to meet the most important people in my life who I love with all my heart. Interestingly enough these relationships were all forged on the trails or through trail running, which goes to show how special this community is.

 

 

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Overcoming the slump

To be honest, these past few weeks I have been feeling really blah lately. You know when you feel sluggish and stagnant on your runs? Like you are  putting in all this training and yet your performance is stale.

It is probably because I have been feeling very nervous about running my first SkyMarathon this month (this is the furthest I have ever run, let alone at altitude). However, after weeks of slogging along feeling desperately demotivated, everything just came together on Sunday and I know it is because of the amazing team that have been working behind the scenes with me.

On Sunday morning I was still whining to my coach, Clinton Hunter from RacePace Coaching, about how despondent I was feeling. You have to admire a coach who is at hand at 5:30am on whatsapp to give you a much needed pep talk, which I really appreciated.

He has just had massive success with one of his athletes,  Stewart Chaperon, who clinched an amazing second place to Ryan Sandes at the 76km Addo Elephant Trail Run.  He has a way of nurturing the best in his athletes and he has been a key component in my performance last year. When I am exhausted I know that there is method in his madness and I can now see the gains.

kettlebellEndurance running is a whole other ball game to me but I have been lucky enough to be working with Rhain Hoskins and his team at Paragon Fitness/Crossfit Reid, a really awesome gym based at Durban High School that focuses on various training styles from Hardstyle Kettlebells to Crossfit, TRX suspension training and functional training.

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Rhain killing it at Paragon

Rhain has been offering me custom one-on-one training designed to meet my specific needs as an athlete and a lot of our focus has been on Hardstyle Kettlebell training with some functional stuff thrown into the mix. The training techniques use maximal explosiveness, high tension and power breathing, and this has translated directly into positive results in my running in a few short weeks. I can feel my endurance has improved, I have more power and my overall strength and fitness has improved drastically.

Training aside, I have wanted to take a more holistic approach to my life. I have gone through a stressful time in my life and admittedly, have neglected my body a bit. I have been feeling a need to nurture body, mind and spirit and finally decided to get my butt into gear and explore a more natural way of eating. Laura May, an incredible dietician, athlete and fellow vegan, has been so incredible in helping me in that aspect.

She sat down with me for hours, chatting about my training and dietary needs, devising an incredible meal plan with the most delicious vegan recipes that are healthy and easy to make. The results were immediate. I was no longer feeling dizzy and sluggish on my runs, I was sleeping better, feeling less hungry and loving food again.

I have a history of eating disorder from my teenage years that included bingeing and purging as well as starving myself. It was a long time ago but you will always have a timid approach to food. Which is why it is important for me to work with someone who can understand this, why I am so pedantic about certain foods and and the role ‘trigger’ foods play in my life. To have Laura by my side really means the world to me.

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exploring in my Vivos

The correct equipment is paramount to any athlete and I have been so fortunate to have the encouragement and support from Vivobarefoot, an incredible brand that shares my love and passion for barefoot running and natural movement as well as concerns about the environment. I have been running in Vivos for over a year and would never go back to a regular shoe brand. I have to admit that every run has been a comfortable one in these shoes and I am stoked to tackle DNT in my Vivos.

Our evolutionary success as humans is directly related to our ability to run but that natural talent isn’t foolproof. 50 years of padded running shoes and poor posture mean about 80% of runners suffer from injury every year. With its complex system of springs, levers and nerve endings, the foot is one of the body’s major sensory organs. Humans are naturally good at walking, running and sprinting. Jogging, or, slow, sticky heel-striking in padded shoes is not a natural movement and is responsible for countless runners’ injuries.feet

This is why I am such a big advocate for Vivo, because they make shoes designed around your natural foot shape, to give your feet the space to function naturally and gain the strength, flexibility and sensitivity needed to live barefoot.

Fun in the mud at Hilton

It was a wet, muddy day of fun at the KZNTR Hilton College Trail Run on Sunday. This is such a lovely route and the cool, misty conditions just added to it’s charm and intrigue. Still relatively new to the trail scene, I first tackled this race last year, finishing up in third place on the 12km. So I was excited, and nervous, to try my hand at the longer distance in preparation for my first upcoming Sky marathon next month.

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Admittedly, I have been a bit weary about the slightly longer distances, it is something I am still tentatively exploring, but it was reassuring and calming to line up at the start next to so many good friends and familiar faces. The camaraderie and spirit of the trail running community is what makes this sport so special, and there was tons of that going around as we all stood in the rain, waiting for the race to get underway.

Last year, when I first ran Hilton, I was in a completely different place physically and mentally. I had literally just began working with my coach, Clinton Hunter from Racepace Coaching, so my strength and endurance was not up to scratch (he quickly changed that!), and my health was suffering from poor eating habits (I switched over to a plant based diet and my health and performance increased dramatically).

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Paragon Fitness tribe!

With all this in mind, I ran the first half of this race rather cautiously, only kicking it up a few notches by the tenth km. Recently, I have been working closely with Rhain Hoskins from Paragon Fitness, who has been overseeing my conditioning and strength training, and it was really great to run this event with him (although he was way ahead of me for most of the route). He is really inspirational, and somewhat of a mentor, always talking about digging deep and giving 100% effort, and that was what I drew upon to help me through moments of fatigue (I am still relatively new to longer distances remember).

The course was pretty tricky to navigate, with all the mud and some technical sections and climbs at the start. Again, last time I ran this route, I did not have the greatest shoes or equipment with me, which really made it more difficult. This time round I returned armed with my Vivobarefoot Primus Trail shoes and UltrAspire hydration vest, and it made a huge difference.

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By the last km, I was feeling stronger than ever and was so excited to come home as the second lady. This was such a wonderful event and I really take my hat off to Lauren and Andrew Booth of KZNTR for putting together such well run events. I also need to give a special shout out to my mom who stood in the rain and cold for hours, supporting us. And to all my wonderful friends for always making this such a fun day out. Massive respect to the podium winning ladies, Puseletso Dladla and Kirsty Bomford who finished in first and third respectively. such phenomenal athletes!!!

Finding my strong

Why do you run?

How many of us get asked that on a daily basis? Some of us do it for health reasons, others for stress management… for me, well my reasons are a little more complicated.

I started running simply as a way of dealing with frustrations of competitive surfing but ended up finding a whole other aspect of myself in the process. I had no idea that something so simple as running would completely alter my life’s trajectory and everyday I am so grateful for the journey it has set me on.

me-3Through running I have found my strong. Yes sure, the physical benefits are great, but what I mean is that, through stripping down and rebuilding all those layers, I have found my inner strength and centred-ness, and that has spilt into all other aspects of life.

Runners tend to rant and rave about the endorphins and the runners high, but we don’t always speak about our lows and hardships. For me, this is where I really got to know myself.

I had an epiphany during a particularly tough run in the gorge. It was hot, I was exhausted and alone and miles away from my car. The only option was to carry on going. I felt all emotional composure dissolve and all those fears that I neatly compartmentalise into boxes everyday broke free and consumed me. I am talking about the big insecurities that deal with life, death and financial security. Suddenly I was just so overwhelmed.

As humans, we tend to label our fears and insecurities, and then neatly store them in the depth of our consciousness, in a dark place where we can ignore them. But, sooner or later, we are going to lose our shit and these thoughts are going to come rushing at us. For me it was in the gorge. Alone. In the heat. Miles away from my car. 

It was interesting because, without the energy to put up any barriers or facades, I really got to see my true self that day. I got to see what my deepest fears were, I got to see what my greatest weaknesses were. More importantly, I got to see what my strengths were because, despite the fatigue and despondency, I really had no choice but to push through and carry on. It was so empowering.

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awesome friendships forged

Since then I have embraced every tough run with open arms because it is one more opportunity to master my own strengths, both physical and emotional. Last year I ran Table Mountain in PMB with heatstroke. I did 18kms, falling about eight times along the way, and dragged my feet over the finish line. It was a really bad idea and definitely wouldn’t advise ANYONE repeat my mistake but, by the time I realised there was something wrong, it was pretty much too late and I had to keep going. I honestly thought I was going to die, I felt so sick… but I didn’t. I DIDN’T… That was the key  lesson. I was not sure if I could cope but I did.

Life ebbs and flows like the ocean. There will be good times and there will be bad times. It is easy to stay strong when things are on an even keel, but when the world as we know it shifts and throws us off balance, THAT is where the real test comes in. Before I started this amazing running journey, I often doubted whether I was equipped to handle life’s curve-balls. However, all those tough sessions has shown me that I am stronger than I ever thought or believed was possible.

So, why do I run? I run because it is where I can be my true self. I run because it is where I am the most free, where I am the happiest. But I also run because it is tough. Because it makes me stronger, it makes me braves and it gives me courage to embrace life.

A muddy start to 2017

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happy trail runners

Media release: Runners from across Durban braved wet weather and testing muddy conditions to support the KZN Trail Running (KZNTR) fundraising event in support of Coedmore Castle on Saturday. Taking place at the Kenneth Stainbank Ezemvelo and KZN Wildlife Nature Reserve in Yellowwood Park, the trail run proved to be a resounding success, with a portion of the proceeds going towards the upkeep and maintenance of the historical castle.

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Women’s 15km winners

The trail run was the first for the 2017 racing season and featured a strong contingent of athletes taking part, including seasoned trail veterans. Blair Thompson clinched first place in the 15km route, with Colin Van Der Bergh and Travers Pellew in second and third consecutively. In the ladies division, it was a close call, with Puseletso Dladla coming home first a minute ahead of Zoe Papadakis. Rounding off the podium in third place was Xoli Madida.

The ten km men’s division was dominated by Zothile Moto, who came in first place ahead of Johan Pretorius and Nicholas Forsyth, with Kirsten Glen coming home first in the women’s division, and second overall, ahead of Hlobisile Madida and Awie Viljoen. The 5km featured a strong showing of juniors, with U16 athlete, Corbyn Marais, placing first ahead of Naomi Maujean and Oly Maujean.

trailThe Coedmore Castle has been left to the state however, the family has retained responsibility for its management and upkeep. The property still features the old homestead, Coedmore Castle and granary, dating back to 1885. The granary has been recently restored into the Mary Stainbank Memorial Gallery and the castle still features the 19th century furniture and personal artefacts and is maintained by the Stainbank family.

Women dominate King of Phezulu

kim-westbrook-and-neville-muteyiwa-lead-the-18km-pack-out-into-the-phezulu-wildlife-estateMedia release: The 5th episode of King of Phezulu was hosted at Phezulu Safari Park on 12 November 2016 in what has come to be traditional overcast and cool weather. Heavy rain the night before held some runners at bay, but those who got out of bed were well rewarded with some great trail running and game sightings on new routes.

Distances on offer at this classic race are short, 18km, 10km and 5km, but somewhat extreme in their nature. Plummeting down into the Valley of 1000 Hills runners and walkers are challenged when climbing back to the Finish point at The Phezulu Safari Park deck.

“It’s very tough, but so worth it. I would not be doing it if it were easy, the feeling of accomplishment on the finish line is amazing. It’s an epic race that’s in my backyard” said Rowan Dancer who completed the long course alongside his wife Sarah Dancer.

Trail running as a sport is no stranger to seeing ladies dominate in terms of overall numbers and even on the podium. King of Phezulu was exceptional with ladies taking 2nd, 3rd and 4th overall in the 18km, with Neville Muteyiwa (1hr:42) the only man able to keep ahead of the trio, Kim Westbrook (1hr52), Zoe Papadakis (1hr52) and Robyn Mare (2hr01). 2nd and 3rd men across the finish line were Matthew Rencken and James Gallias, 6 minutes behind Mare.

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Ladies dominated in the 18km course, finishing in the top 4 overall. From left is (second) Zoe Papadakis, KZNTR’s Tracey Steart, (ist) Kim Westbrook and (3rd) Robyn Mare

Some talented runners also took on the two shorted courses. Notably Mitchell Harty won the 10km in an impressive time of 50 minutes, Lindi Meyer was the first lady home (1hr02). In the 5km the first two runners, Thulasi Nzama and Gruff Sambrook took tied first place in 30 minutes, with Suzanne Dos Santos Niz the first lady in 39 minutes. For full results and information about future events visit www.kzntrailrunning.co.za

Focus on depression

I struggle with depression. Four of the hardest words I have ever had to say. Why am I admitting to this? Well, 10 October (my birthday coincidently) was World Mental Health Day and, as part of an ongoing campaign to continue meaningful discussions surrounding the topic, SADAG is encouraging people to talk openly and honestly about their experiences… The idea is to shatter misconceptions and debunk myths.

A photo by Benjamin Combs. unsplash.com/photos/5L4XAgMSno0

Am I crazy?

The sad truth is that many people still regard depression as a weakness or associate it with being ‘crazy’. However, it is in fact an illness involving your body, mood and thoughts. Men and women of all ages can be affected by it and it can be cause by various factors.

For me, it is genetic and biochemical (depression is believed to be caused by an imbalance of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. In other words, when the functioning of certain neurotransmitters is disturbed, depression can occur.) I am not a sad person. I am not miserable because my life sucks. In fact, I am not miserable at all! I am just living with an illness that causes a bunch of physiological and psychological symptoms.

The big D

I was about 8 when I first felt the numbness of depression in the pit of my stomach. That is always where I feel it. It is a slow wave of nausea that slowly spreads throughout my body, transforming into a persistent and overwhelming sense of fatigue, exhaustion, numbness, frustration, anger and physical pain. It occurred to me that everything was pretty pointless and I could not shake that feeling of foreboding. It made me so tired.

I did not realize it at the time, but that feeling was depression rearing it’s cold, ugly face. Since that day I have been living with that dark, uninvited companion. It hit me hard in my teens, resulting in years of eating disorders and frantic mood swings, and it took years for me to figure out why I was so different to everyone else. It took another several years for me to learn how to control and cope with it.

For me, one of the hardest things was dealing with the stigma attached to depression. People often told me to snap out of it, they said that I had problems and issues, that I was a disturbed person, that I needed to pull myself together. For those reasons I refused to believe that I was living with depression and refused to seek professional help, instead looking for alternative reasons to explain why I was always feeling so sick.

Eventually my doctor sat me down and gave me a full explanation on what depression really is and how it was manifesting physically in my body. Nausea, stomach ache, fatigue, dizziness, muscle aches, mood swings… it was all due to a simple chemical imbalance.

Road to recovery

I have undergone various treatment methods and have finally found one that works for me, but it is different for every person, which is why it is so important to seek professional help. I am just grateful that I have had running to help me through this.img_4624

It has kept me on an even keel. the trails is where I let everything go. Where I can let my walls come down and just be me. It is where I meet my true self and where I can express myself without inhibitions. Running is when I am truly free and it has saved me.

I hope that, by speaking out about this, it might encourage others living withi this illness to find help! We are not meant to feel this way. You deserve to feel alive, not dead. And you deserve proper treatment!

Information on depression

SADAG is at the forefront of patient advocacy, education and destigmatisation of mental illness in the country. Its expertise lies in assisting patients and callers throughout South Africa with mental health queries.

SADAG released the following information on depression.

What is a Depression?

A Depression is a “whole-body” illness, involving your body, mood and thoughts. It affects the way you eat and sleep, the way you feel about yourself, and the way you think about things. A Depression is not the same as a temporary blue mood. It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed or wished away. People with a depression cannot merely “pull themselves together” and get better. Without treatment, symptoms can last for weeks, months or years. Appropriate treatment, however, can help most people who suffer from Depression.

Symptoms of Depression

Not everyone who is depressed experiences every symptom listed. Some people experience a few symptoms, some people experience many. Also, the severity of symptoms varies between individuals.

Symptoms of Depression include:

  • Persistent sad, or “empty” mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed, including sex
  • Feelings of hopelessness and pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness and self-reproach
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia, early morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain
  • Decreased energy, fatigue and feeling run down
  • Increased use of alcohol and drugs, may be associated but not a criteria for diagnosis
  • Thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts
  • Restlessness, irritability, hostility
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
  • Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain
  • Deterioration of social relationships

If you think you, or a friend or family member, might be struggling with depression, please check them out for more information www.sadag.org