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!

Durban runners blaze through the trails

Images: Anthony Grote

Press release: Durban runner, Eric Ngubane, showed his fine form when he claimed top honours in the uMhlanga Trail Run on Sunday. Crossing the line after flying through the 18km trail, Ngubane stopped the clock in a time of 1:13.00, running at an average of 4minutes and 3 seconds.

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Ngubane features prominently on the local running circuit, having won various prestigious titles and also being drafted into the South African team at the World Trail Championships in previous years. Having just returned from winning the treacherous Lesotho Ultra Trail, he will now take a well deserved break before hitting the trails hard in 2017.

The leading lady, Amy Burger took line honours in the 18km race, finishing with 30 seconds to spare ahead of Lisa Collett, and Durban runner, Zoe Papadakis, consecutively.

“It was epic,” said Burger on the event. “The last section on the beach was not a glamorous ending, I wiped out, getting knocked over by the surf. But I love trail running, and the challenges that go with running off road.”

mePapadakis added that the spirit was what made the uMhlanga trail runs so special.

“Everyone is having a great time,” she said. “This is my second time taking on the 18km, I do prefer longer distances because it is where you get to know yourself, when you are pushing.”

By far the cutest rising trail running star, 10-year-old Liam Johnson from Hillcrest wowed the crowd with his impressive run in the shorter distance, the 5km run. He completed the run seconds behind first place Hendrik van Rensburg who is three times his age. Meanwhile, Cari-Ann Smith from Westville finished with a comfortable five minute gap ahead of second placed Jodi Davidson.

Conquering Table Mountain

Media Release: Billed as a cultural experience rather than a trail run, the KZNTR Summer Series Table Mountain event took place in crisp, clear conditions recently. The 7km, 12km and 20km routes all ascended the iconic, flat-topped mountain outside Pietermaritzburg, which is steeped in local folklore and afforded participants magnificent views of the uMngeni and uMsundusi valleys, Nagel Dam and Pietermaritzburg in the distance.

“This race is special, it’s the one I make sure I do every time,” said said PMB local, Colin Boyes, who ran the 12km course for the 9th time. “The climb early on is a challenge when the body hasn’t warmed up, but the views and rare opportunity to experience a place that is sacred to the local community make it so worthwhile.”

There was a strong showing from local runners in the 7km and 12km events, but regulars put their stamp on the 20km event. The men’s 20km was won by Nomore Mandivengerei (1:23:11), who is putting the final training in before Ultra Trail Cape Town in 3 weeks time, Muzi Madikwa in 2nd (1:26:13) and Innocent Nyawose completing the podium (1:36:34). Kim Westbrook has returned to the trails with a bang, winning the ladies 20km event in 1:51:47. Chasing hard were Jess Kew in 2nd (1:53:15) and Zoe Papadakis (1:53:25) in 3rd, pushing each other to the finish line.

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Women’s 18km winners 

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

Running for awareness

Press release: The Kwa-Ximba trail run proved to be a resounding success over the weekend, with close to 300 runners taking on the unrelenting terrain in support of this fundraising campaign. The event featured a strong showing of local athletes, who delivered solid performances in the three routes.

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view from the top

Podium finishers

The 22km course was set to be a tough race with steep climbs and treacherous descents and the humidity and muddy conditions added to the technicality of the race.

In the men’s division, Spha Nzama managed to bag first place in a new record time, with Sizwe Mkhize in second and Nathi Luthuli in third.

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Women’s 22km winners

Meanwhile, the women’s division was hotly contested with Puseletso Dladla, who crossed the finish in first place, and Zoe Papadakis, who placed second, both beating the 2015 women’s winning time. Wendy Morgan rounded the podium off in an impressive third.

Speaking about the event, Dladla, who is a top athlete, was happy to have set a new record.

It was one of the toughest trails I have ever done but yeah I enjoyed,” she said, adding that she was happy to have broken the record by over ten minutes.

Papadakis added that, although it was a tough event, she had fun exploring the trail.

The community were so supportive and it really helped to have them egging us on,” said the Fry’s Brand ambassador and plant based athlete. “At one point, after a tough climb, I was exhausted, but then a whole group of kids decided to run with me. It was so amazing.

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CLinton Hunter blitzed his way to second place in the Men’s 16km

The 16km men’s division saw Gift Mlotshwa home in first place, with Clinton Hunter of RacePace Coaching in JHB hot on his heels in second and Mitchell Harty in third. In the women’s division it was Donnee Standeaven in first place, with Megan Wassung in second and Amanda Emmott in third.

The Kwa-Ximba trail run took place at Durban Green Corridor’s isiThumba Cultural Village on the Umgeni River, forms part of the Kloof Conservancy’s outreach programme and is run each year in partnership with Kwa-Ximba Conservancy. Bruce Crouch, Vice Chairman of Kloof Conservancy, said that they were working hard to try to find ways of combining beneficial use of natural resources and at the same time protect those resources.

Kwa-Ximba is currently rural, but housing development is spreading rapidly with only a small beautiful part being left relatively untouched. Unless there is an intervention soon then even the last remaining ‘natural area’ will be converted into housing within a few years.”

Crouch added that they have been helping form the Kwa-Ximba Conservancy with the goal of educating the residents on the value of the natural resources and the need to protect the environment.

Together with eThekwini Municipality we have embarked on a process to first create a stewardship area and, in the longer term, we hope we can convert this into a proclaimed nature reserve with all the legal protection that goes with it.

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Trailies having fun

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

Green Trail a success

Press release: Dozens of community members gathered at the Green Corridor on Sunday to make the most of Spring weather by participating in the family fun Green Trail Run. The adventure-filled event comprised of a 5km and 10km route and spirits were high as participants enjoyed a scenic run along the Umgeni River and to the edge of the Mangroves Nature Reserve.

Event winners

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10km men and women winners, Mbhasobhi Gumede and Zoe Papadakis

 

In the 10km men’s division, it was Inanda athlete, Mbhasobhi Gumede, who blitzed his way home in first place, followed by Mbasa Malunga in second and Sibusiso Njilo in third place. Bagging the women’s 10km win is local trail runner and Fry’s Family Foods brand ambassador Zoe Papadakis, who was followed by 12-year old Inanda athlete Mandisa Kkhunya in second place. 

Meanwhile, the 5km men’s division was dominated by young Inanda athlete Sphamandla Mkhunya in first place and Mnelisi Shangase in second place (pictured right) and the women’s 5km division was won by Mkhunya Smangele (pictured left) with local trail runner, Claire de Sylva, smashing her way to third place.

Supporting charity

The Green Trail Run was a resounding success and proved to be a spectacular day out for the whole family. The main race benefactor was The PinkDrive, which provides essential services to women across the country through education, awareness, support and it’s mobile mammography unit.

Traveling through urban and semi-urban ares, the unit enables disadvantaged communities access to education on breast cancer and other prevalent cancers, while also providing physical examination. The event was also in celebration of Arbor Month and saw a seed planted for every entry received.