Conquering my mountain

Last weekend I conquered my mountain- literally and figuratively.

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I conquered my mountain

For two years, from when I first started running, I have wanted to tackle a skymarathon but there has always been a voice in the back of my head telling me I can’t. It took some coaxing from my coach, Clinton Hunter (RacePace Coaching) and from race Drakensberg Northern Trail organisers KZN Trail Running (KZNTR) but I finally decided to swallow my doubts and just commit to #2017DNT. It was the best decision ever.

Driving to Oliviershoek in the Drakensberg, I had no idea what to expect. Weather forecasts had predicted treacherous conditions, with showers, cold, mist and even a suggestion of snow. I know unpredictable weather forms part of the mountain running experience but I could not help but feel apprehensive of what was in store.

Arriving at the pre-race briefing the evening before, temperatures had dropped drastically and we were freezing. However, spirits were high as fellow runners gathered at the venue, all nervously excited for the mammoth task that lay ahead the following day. The jovial mood was infectious and, by the time we returned to our chalet, I was feeling really excited.

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taking shelter from the rain

The following morning, we woke to pouring rain but, by then we were all beyond caring. The atmosphere was somewhat solemn as the 150 or so skymarathoners contemplated the run but we all found solace in the idea that we were in this together. Taking shelter, I did a last minute equipment check.

Felt a bit like a hamster hoarding copious amounts of food in my Ultraspire Alpha 2 hydration race vest but a vegan athlete’s gotta EAT! I love this vest because it is lightweight but features a significant packing capacity so I could store all my dates, banana chips, gels and other munchies with my phone, space blanket, bladder and basic medical kit.

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Life is better in Vivo

Checked my Vivo Primus FG. Aboslutely love these shoes. I remember over a year ago, suffering from repeated injuries and strains, I decided to switch to barefoot/natural movement running. A few seasoned runners said it would be crazy to run a skymarahton in these shoes. I’m glad I didn’t listen because my Vivos got me through the race comfortably, with no pain, strain, hot spots, blisters or chafing.  There was nothing left to do but get this run over with. 

Walking to the start I noticed a cold runner huddled under his space blanket, shivering. I couldn’t help but smile and, looking at me, he grinned goofily.

“We are all $%^#$ mad,” I said, my sentiments echoed by a dozen or so other participants.

Counting us off, Andrew Booth of KZNTR left us with a reminder that this was what trail running was all about (a reminder to perhaps put on my big girl panties?) and then we were gone. The first few kms were cheerful ones but, as we began our first big ascend, the banter eased up. Freezing rain beat down on us as we navigated up the slick, misty mountain and to the escarpment.

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the massive climbs

I remember looking at my watch and thinking how the hell we could have possibly only covered 12kms. I felt the first wave of mild panic rise in my chest. My hands and nose were numb, my muscles were aching from the cold and we were only a quarter of the way in. Would I finish? There are huge chunks of the race that I don’t really remember but what really kept me going was the sight of Kim Westbrook’s red jacket up ahead.

I need to backtrack here quick. Kim Westbrook is a phenomenal local trail runner and person. I met her last year at King of Phezulu and her warmth, happiness and spirit really made a huge impression on my soul. This amazing lady has all the talent in the world to warrant her acting like an arrogant athlete but she is humble, caring and sweet. She is not phased about winning, she is there to have an amazing time and, to me, she epitomises what trail running is all about.

At DNT, I ended up associating Kim with familiarity, with warmth and joy so, in an environment completely daunting and new to me, she was my beacon of hope. At the half way mark there was a fuelling station and we spoke briefly and it gave me second wind. We made a pact, our goal was to survive this race. Nothing else.

The last 20 kms were tough but I found my groove. Admittedly I had an embarrassing  moment where the paramedics had to ‘rescue’ me when I froze on particularly daunting section of rock climbing, but it was something to laugh about and I appreciate their chivalry.  By the last ten I had found momentum to go all out. I felt the months of training on the trails and also put in the gym, under the guidance of Rhain Hoskins from Paragon Fitness/Crossfit RIED, pay off.

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I love my mom

The thought of seeing my mom’s face at the finish really pushed me through it and I sprinted the last two kms home. Crossing over the finish, there was my mom and Kim and I got teary eyed. I had did it, we had survived. They both engulfed me in a bear hug and I felt something in my heart give way.

It is weird. you hear about people having revelations up in the mountains and I had always scoffed at that. The thing is, I have been going through some personal stuff (yes, a divorce- a nasty word that makes you feel like a failure, a bad person) and, these past few months I feel as if my heart had turned into stone. That is one of the reasons why it was so important for me to do this race. I wanted to prove to myself that I am strong enough to survive- this and my life. And up in those mountains I felt my layers stripped away until there was just my own truth left.

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‘clean’ post race legs

Climbing back down and to the finish I realised that I have so many amazing friends and experiences to be grateful for. I realised that I had closed myself off to so much joy because I had become a bitter, miserable person. Engulfed in that bear hug with Kim and my mom I felt tears of joy spring to my eyes. I felt my heart open up and an overwhelming sense of love for all these incredible runners wash over me. Then Kim said something that left me stumped, astonished, inspired, beyond happy. I was the sixth lady! In a race where we planned to ‘survive’ she and myself had made fifth and sixth position in a field comprising of elites.

I get it now. Why we put ourselves through such physical stress, why we keep pushing through the pain, why we spend all our time and money training, recovering, planning and running. Trail running, Skyrunning is a deeply personal and incredible experience. And I will do it all again in a heartbeat!

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.

exploring in vivo
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.