TRAIL Mail #6: Friday 12 Feb 2021
When the trail goes dark.
Running versus chores.
Otter's shiny new sponsor.
Do you check your heart rate?
When the trail goes dark.
I love to walk. You know, the slower, more relaxed version of running.
Morning walks welcome the new day with a mental sun salute. Day walks are rare, but perfect for clearing the mind. Afternoon and evening walks are for quiet reflection.
Yesterday evening I walked in my favourite park as day faded into night. I thought about the significance of nightfall. Especially when I've done long races that stretch from one day to the next.
It can be a time of uncertainty. I thought of the 100km at SkyRun 2012, when I was a few seconds too slow to don a pair of tights in a brief pitstop at the top of the Bridle Path. I could hear and see the lights of the group I had been with, but then it was if black magic happened, and within two minutes the folds of the earth swallowed their beams and our shouts. There were lights from other runners all over the mountain towering above and behind me, but the sense of utter isolation was both devastating and exhilarating. When you're a course rookie and you've been relying on others for navigation, you suddenly feel very small with a giant twinkling universe looking down on you. "What will you do now?" seems to be the question it's beaming to you.
It can be a time of oneness with creation. At the 2019 Addo Elephant Trail Run 100 Miler, I greeted the first night (yes, there were two for me) with gratitude after that afternoon's scorching torture. The setting sun glowed weakly against the waving grass and fynbos, and then there was only the cool relief of night. I reckon ultrarunning is 90% mental. When you promise yourself that you're going to enjoy yourself no matter what, it's like you become hyper-aware of the wonder that's around you. The night held no fear, even though I ran nearly all of it alone. Around 1am, a pair of eyes glowed brightly in my headlamp's beam. The once-dozing jackal and I did a circular dance around each other in the jeeptrack, then I left her, with a heart pounding hard from joy and adrenalin.
It can be gnarly. Like the 2019 Ultra-Trail Drakensberg 100 miler, moving painfully slowly at over 3,000m in the Lesotho mountains, with a howling side wind and sub-zero conditions. The only sound apart from the wind demon is the crunch-crunch of the frozen ground of Thabana Ntlenyana under my feet. With others around, it's a lot easier to endure this. Navigation is shared, everyone is looking out for everyone else. This is true collaboration. It's proof that humans can work together for common good if we choose that mindset.
Night is something we all experience, phsyically and metaphorically. We can enjoy it or we can suffer through it, and be crushed. How fit, prepared, and resilient our minds are is ultimately the greatest determinant of how we will experience it.
If pushing your limits through trail running spins your engine, you may be frustrated right now by the restriction on events. So why not use this time to train your brain? This is itself part of the test.
You can do this by being inspired by the experiences of others, like the 2020 K-Way SkyRun and Otter African Trail Run, both featured in our latest issue 38. And look ahead with a positive mindset: check out details for this year's Ultra-Trail Drakensberg and other events in our online calendar.
Wherever you are in the dark of night, may it be a valuable guide and teacher.
Happy (dark) trails!
Deon Braun, TRAIL publisher
WildSeries Three Cranes Challenge. Fri 26 – Sun 28 February (KZN) POSTPONED to 8-11 July. 29km/25km/23km, 29km/40km/23km. Bushwillow Park, Karkloof. Scintillating forest trails through the beautiful indigenous Karkloof Conservancy. Start 6am. wildseries.co.za
Lake Gariep Run. Sat 1 May (EC)
40km, 20km. Driekwartblou Guest House, Gariep Dam. A trail run in the Karoo next to the biggest dam in South Africa. Start 7am. R550/R650. lakegarieprun.co.za
We were blown away by the depth of your weekend adventures on our Trail Trophy Facebook thread.
In our favourite for the week, Nelius Swart gets the best Kleinmond has to offer, captured by Kelly Shepherd. "The Three Sisters Loop in the Overberg must be one of the most beautiful, bursting with fynbos and flowers."
Their photo may appear in a future TRAIL issue – and so could yours. Send us your best action photo, and tell us about the run. (Not professional event images, it needs to be a photo by you or a friend.)
Prefer telling stories? Write us a letter and receive a pair of Feetures socks
Craig Turton at Otter 2020, experiencing Type 2 fun on the first climb at Nature's Valley. photo Peter Kirk.
Otter African Trail Run sponsor for 2021 (and 2022, and 2023).
The Otter was one of the few prestige events which went ahead last year. In the TRAIL office, we commented that its traditional staggered start and single aid station made it COVID-safe long before the pandemic's restrictions on events. You can read a 10-page feature on Otter 2020 in TRAIL 38, our current issue.
We're really pleased that the Grail of Trail has received a boost to continue challenging and inspiring runners on the magnificent Otter Trail for years to come. New sponsor Emperor Asset Management was announced as the event's presenting partner for the next three years.
Head of Wealth for Emperor Asset Management, Craig Turton, completed his first Retto (the reverse Otter) in 2020 and fell in love with the magnificent wild coastline within the Tsitsikamma Section of the Garden Route National Park.
"Having done the Otter for the first time last year," explains Craig, "the words I can use to describe the experience are breathtaking, iconic, challenging, professional, quality, and best in class.
"During the race, you experience our beautiful landscape and nature as she is meant to be, untouched and spectacular. The views of the ocean, the streams you pass through, the waterfall, the quietness of being out there on your own, fighting your own internal demons while you are thinking of what is coming next. Is it another 400 steps to climb or a technical pass around a cliff? But at the end of it all, I thought back and just wanted to do it all over again."
Wow, that's enough to make any runner want to enter.
W.I.L.D woman Meg Mackenzie heads for Chamonix.
Our TRAIL issue 12 cover athlete, Megan Mackenzie, has represented South Africa in the Golden Trail Series for three years, and fell in love with Chamonix. She even lived in Europe in 2018, dirtbagging in a van from race to race. Now Meg will make her dreams come true by making Chamonix, a skiing commune in the French Alps, her new home, she announced on Instagram.
Don't worry: The smiling speedster won't be out of touch with her South African roots. She is still co-owner of The Run Project with James Montgomery, and has started a new social media platform called W.I.L.D women to unite and inspire the women of the outdoors with Australian trail runner Lucy Bartholomew.
Meg will also still be a part of the TRAIL team, occasionally writing articles. Here is her and James' piece on trusting the training process from issue 37, and you can look forward to her article on gender-specific training in our coming issue.
"I really don’t want my SA roots to be forgotten," confides Meg. "I’m not leaving, I’m just following dreams! And I’ll be back with even more experience, knowledge and hopefully more to share with our beautiful country and community."
We wish her the best of luck, and know she will achieve whatever she puts her mind to!