Winter Trail Challenge 3 – Faulklands Farm

The 3rd race of the Winter Trail Challenge 2015 hosted by KZN Trail Running took place at Faulklands Farm on Saturday 6th June 2015. There were three events to choose from, a 14km, 8km and 5km option. On both the 14km and 8km routes the course drops down into the Umgeni valley, while the 5km course stays on the top of the cliffs. Usually the 14km route includes two crossings of the Umgeni River, however due to high water levels, the course was changed to avoid the crossings. I had entered the 14km event, but seeing how it had been less than a week since Comrades, I wasn’t sure how well my legs had recovered and so I didn’t expect to be able to push as hard as normal.IMG_1066

Race morning was cold (dropping to 0℃ in places on the drive up), but luckily at Faulklands they build a nice big bonfire to keep you warm while you wait for the start. It was a smallish event, with about 120 people in total lining up for all three events, with the majority opting for the 14km event. The race started at 7:35am, and immediately a bunch of frontrunners set off at a blistering pace. The first 1km starts with a short downhill, then two short uphills before dropping steeply down into the Umgeni Valley at 1.2km in. The downhill on jeep track continues for about 1km, before the course changes onto cattle tracks. It was still cold down in the valley with frost on the ground in places. The long grass growing over the path made running quite tricky because you can’t see where your feet are landing or if there are holes or rocks in the path, however this soon clears up, and at around the 4km mark the course begins following the Sindingini river, a small tributary to the Umgeni.

This section is rocky and muddy, a really nice technical trail along the river bed. The course follows this river all the way down to just before the Umgeni, where on the normal course, the 8km and 14km courses split and the 14km course does an extra loop including the Umgeni River crossings, but this time both courses turned left and headed up cattle paths back up the valley. Up until this point, my legs had felt fine, but as the climbing started, I started to feel the 88km from last weekend in my legs, so I slowed considerably. After a while, my hip started to get quite sore, so I decided not to push it, and to rather take a walk back to the start without completing the course.

Unfortunately there is no easy way out of the valley, so I had a 3km walk up steep jeep tracks to make it back to the finish, cutting off the extra loop that the 14km course follows and basically completing the same distance as the 8km course (which turned out to be 9.3km). It was still quite cold, so I pulled a chair up next to the fire and watched the remaining runners finishing the events.

I really like the Faulklands course, it is challenging and technical along the river bed, and the views over the Umgeni valley are stunning. The river crossings are also actually quiet fun, but I was glad to skip them in the cold weather this time. This race was my first DNF in a race, but it just shows that you really should take proper time to recover after an ultra event. The race was won by Solly Manduwa (who also won at Hilton) in a time of 52:41, and the ladies race was won by Pippa McGregor in 1:10:25.

[UPDATE] It turned out that since I ran the same distance as the 8km event over the same trails, I was classified as 5th in the 8km event in a time of 1:01:21. Bonus!

Strava data for the race is here

Shoes: New Balance 1210v1 Leadville

Full Race Results

Winter Trail Challenge 2 – Hilton College

The 2nd race of the Winter Trail Challenge 2015 hosted by KZN Trail Running took place at Hilton College on Sunday 24th May 2015. There were 4 events on offer, a challenging 22km or 12km trail, an easier 10km “Comrades” course for those wanting a gentler option, and a 5km kids race. The 12km course dropped down into the Umgeni river valley, while the easier 10km course stayed on the top of the hill. The 22km course completed both the 12km course and the 10km course. With Comrades only a week away, I decided to save my legs and stick to the easier 10km course.

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It was a beautiful sunny morning, although still a bit chilly when all four races started simultaneously at 7:32am. I set off at what felt like an easy pace, and surprisingly started to pull away from all by one other person in the field. After running together for about 1km, I realised that the pace was maybe a little fast for me, this supposed to be an easy run with Comrades a week away, so I eased off a bit and was soon passed by the leading lady, and the 3rd placed man after about 3km.

The course went through the forestry plantations and stuck to the forest roads, which made the running easy and cool. We descended gradually for around 7.5km, with a couple short uphills, but nothing too challenging. The running felt easy and I really enjoyed the forests and views over the Umgeni valley once we got out of the trees. After 7.5km, the course started to climb with a couple of short, sharp hills, mostly scattered with boulders, so I walked the steeper bits to save the legs. Having run this same course last year, I knew that once we got back into the trees, it was a gentle downhill to the finish, so I took it easy until the top of the hill, and picked up the pace once we go back onto the forest roads. In the mean time, a couple of guys had passed me, but I was feeling really good and having a great time.

The final 1km to the finish passed uneventfully, and the race finished back at the Hilton College Gym. Final race distance was 10.8km, and my finishing time of 56:36 was good enough for 7th place overall, 4 minutes behind the winner, which made me pretty happy seeing as how it was supposed to be an easy run, even though most of the fast guys had opted for the 12km or 22km course.

The 22km race had a small but very competitive field including Jonathan Edwards and Claude Eksteen, however a couple of the front runners went off course during the first 12km loop and ran a few extra kilometres. This didn’t stop Solicitor Manduwa from winning the race in a very quick time of 1:46:45, more than 6 minutes ahead of 2nd place. Trish Balhmann won the ladies race in 1:59:41.

I really enjoyed this race, and it made me feel really confident for Comrades. My legs felt good, and the pace felt easy. Strava data for the race is here.

Shoes: New Balance RC1400v2

Full Race Results