Winter Trail Challenge 5 – Table Mountain PMB

The 5th race of the Winter Trail Challenge 2015 by KZN Trail Running took place at Table Mountain in Pietermaritzburg on the 20th June 2015. There were two events on offer, a 12km route and a 7km route. This is a challenging race, with a steep climb at the start, and amazing views over the Dusi and Umgeni River valleys. I did the 12km route, which circles the entire top of the mountain, while the 7km route stays mainly on the Dusi side of the mountain. The race starts at a local school, and there is a great vibe at the start and finish with music and local dancers, which really adds to the atmosphere.

The mountain doesn't look so big from down here...

The mountain doesn’t look so big from down here…

It was a beautiful morning, a little chilly, but sunny and not too bad, and a larger than usual crowd of runners lined up on the start. The race was started at around 7:40am by the local Nkosi, and immediately the course starts climbing up the mountain, around 200m in the first 1.5km. This first climb is quite tough, it starts with around 800m of dust road before getting onto a single track. Most people were brought to a walk by this stage by the steep gradient. Once on the top, the route follows the edge of the mountain, which like Table Mountain in Cape Town, is definitely not flat on the top!

A beautiful morning at the foot of Table Mountain PMB

A beautiful morning at the foot of Table Mountain PMB

The course follows cattle tracks for most of the way to the far end of the mountain. These can be quite challenging to run on since they are quite narrow and often covered by long grass so you can’t really see where your feet are landing. After about 3km, the 7km course splits off and heads up a hill while the 12km course continues round the mountain. In quite a few places, the course goes off trail and you end up running through long grass. There was also a small river that had to be crossed, and in trying to get over without getting my feet wet, I managed to land one foot in a hole filled with water and took a bit of a tumble. No harm done, except for one wet, muddy shoe. Once you reach the far end of the mountain, the course follows the cliffs on the Umgeni side, with magnificent views over Nagle Dam and the Umgeni river. At some points, the course goes very close to the edge of the cliffs, with some high drops. Careful footing is a must!

Unfortunately I wasn’t feeling great, probably because of the new breakfast cereal I tried in the morning before the race which didn’t seem to agree with me, so I wasn’t going quite as fast as I wanted and walked a couple of the hills. But once I reached about 8km, I started to feel better and picked up the pace. It wasn’t long before we started the steep descent back down the mountain to the finish, and I tried to run it quite hard. I love downhills, especially technical ones. I managed to catch most of the people who had passed me on the top, and ran pretty much full pace down the final kilometre to the finish, setting a new 1km PB in the process (3:42). The final race distance was was around 11.1km, and I finished in 1:10:15, 2 minutes faster than my time last year.

The Durban Runner displaying all sorts of running goodies

The Durban Runner displaying all sorts of running goodies

Apart from not feeling great, I enjoyed the run. The views from the top are really spectacular, and we had a perfect clear day. It is also really cool that most of the money raised from the entry fees goes back to the school and local community. It was also cool to have The Durban Runner, USN and Trail Magazine involved, with USN providing some much needed refreshment at the finish. The top three male runners where all part of Martin Dreyer’s Change-a-Life Academy, which is producing some really fast guys. The winner was Mthobisi Mzolo in 47:41 while the ladies race was won by Pippa McGregor again in 1:01:35. Strava data for the races is here.

Shoes: New Balance 1210v1 Leadville

Full race results

Andrew Booth at the prize giving.

Andrew Booth at the prize giving.

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Winter Trail Challenge 4 – Giba Night Run

The 4th race of the Winter Trail Challenge 2015 by KZN Trail Running took place on a chilly Wednesday evening at Giba Gorge on the 11th June 2015. There were two events on offer, a 10km route and a 5km route. The actual distances of each course are actually a bit shorter, around 8.6km for the 10km and 4.3km for the 5km course. I decided to run the 5km event, and to try and push a bit harder than usual to see how well I’ve recovered from Comrades.

Registration at Giba

Registration at Giba

The 10km event set off first, with the 5km event starting a couple minutes later, led out by Andrew Booth to guide the route for the first few hundred meters. My strategy was to try and stay with the front runners as much as possible and see how it went, but two guys went off the front at a blistering pace that I knew would not be sustainable for me, so after about 800m I slowed a bit and was passed by 2 other guys. I stuck behind them, and the three of us wound our way through the forests of Giba. Soon we started catching the second placed runner, and by the time we reached the turnaround point at the dam, we overtook him. By this point, the first guy was already around the dam and heading back, around a minute and a half ahead of us, so I knew I didn’t have much chance of catching him on the way back.

The first half of the course up the the dam was mostly gradual uphill (nothing steep or long, only around 40m vertical gain), so the way back was generally downhill, which suits me better, so I opened up a bit on the descent from the dam and passed the 3rd guy and ran behind the 2nd guy for a while, before passing him on another downhill section. Running quickly down trails in the dark with just a headlight is really fun, but a bit tricky because its hard to see potholes and rocks. From then on, I ran alone for the rest of the race, pushing hard on the downhills and keeping up the pace on the uphills. In the end I finished second by more than 2 minutes, with the winner breaking the course record. My time of 19:51 for 4.3km was pretty quick for me, and my lungs really felt it, but me legs felt good with no pain.

The mens long event was won by Craig Turton in 37:55, while his sister Robyn Krause won the ladies event in 45:19. I followed up the race with a great burger/beer special at the Giba restaurant to end off a good evening at a great trail running destination. Stave data for the event is here.

Shoes: New Balance RC1400v2

Headlamp: LED Lenser SEO5

Full race results here

Good vibe at the Giba restaurant post race

Good vibe at the Giba restaurant post race

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.

IMG_1055

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

Winter Trail Challenge 1 – Maweni

The Winter Trail Challenge 2015 race series hosted by KZN Trail Running started off with the Maweni trail run just outside Pietermaritzburg on the 16th May 2015. The race starts from the Maweni Trail Centre, and there were two distance options, either a 7km or 14km event. With the Comrades Marathon only 2 weeks away, I decided to do the 14km event, but to take it really easy and use it as a training run.

IMG_1054

The weather on race morning was chilly and overcast, pretty much perfect running conditions. Around 100 people lined up for the start of the 14km event, and at precisely 7:36am the race started and we set off. The pace was pretty quick up front, and for the first 1.5km the course followed a jeep track slightly downhill, which turned out to be a good warm-up for the first climb of the day, a 100m climb up steep single track. Fortunately it was only 700m long, but my calves really felt it, must be too much road running recently. With Comrades in mind, I walked the hill, and once we reached the top, the trail flattened out again. The views from the top over the Umgeni river were spectacular, I almost tripped over rocks a couple of times being too busy admiring the scenery.

What goes up must come down, and a steep decent back off the hill followed, leading back to the start line after around 5km into the race. A small climb through the sugar cane, a sharp descent, and some paved farm road led us to the Faulklands Farm house (where race 3 of the series starts). Another small climb led to the start of the valley top single track at 8km in, which runs along the edge of the Umgeni valley. I really love this section, fast, flowing, rocky in places, and mostly downhill. Unfortunately it ends after just 3km, and the climbing starts again.

My legs were feeling a little tired at this point, probably from fairly heavy (for me) training the last few weeks, so I took it really easy up the climb (around 90m over 2km), walking the steep bits and jogging the flat bits. once at the top, there is another nice downhill single track section for about 1km, so I put the hammer down and just had fun flying down the hill. Then some gentle rolling trail through the forest back to the trail centre and the finish line.

The final course distance was 15.1km according to my Garmin, and my final time was 1:33:45, which I was quite happy with having taken it fairly easy and walked most of the hills. My final position was 32nd overall, the race being won by road speedster Jonathan Edwards in 1:02:43, with Keren Worlock winning the ladies race in 1:16:11.

My legs felt more tired than the should have, so I decided to really cut back training over the next two weeks to make sure I’m 100% ready for Comrades.

Strava Activity – Maweni Trail Race

Shoes: New Balance 1210v2 Leadville

Hydration system: Salomon S-Lab 12l 2014

Full Race Results