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!

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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.

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.