“Just head out to Paarl, I am sure there are signs for Paarl Rock…”
It was with these words that my running partner – let’s call him “Mike” – and I set off for the third race in the Cape Winter Trail Series, with the type of foolhardiness that has been getting the two of us lost for over a decade. During runs and on the way to runs.
As Mike was driving us, I had expected him to have downloaded the map to the event. As I was the one who told him about the race, he had expected me to produce directions upon arrival. Clearly we each gave one another too much credit.
Thankfully, another mate, Chad Mehuizen – running for Alzheimer’s SA (you can follow him on Twitter HERE) – was more organised and with his help we made it to Paarl Rock Nature Reserve with about 15 minutes to spare. Mike and I scrambled out of the car, pulling on shoes and heart-rate monitors as our fellow competitors went through their final warm-ups…
My warm-up was a sprint to the toilet – nerves – while Mike bolted to the registration desk.
Incredibly, while Mike probably came out to Paarl with everything from a medical aid kit to a space blanket (he is a little paranoid, old Mike), he did not actually know whether or not he was supposed to register for the race on Saturday or on the day.
Thankfully, it was on the day of the race.
By the time the two of us lined up alongside Chad, there was one minute remaining to get our bearings, reset our watches and share a quick joke before the 400-plus runners sped out of the start chute.
You would think that after two years of running in these events I would be more organised, but alas if there was a prototype for a “disorganised runner”, it would be me. Mike, of course, would come a close second.
Chad, who had been at pains to tell us that his legs were not made for running, shot out the blocks like a gazelle as Mike and I kept to our initial game plan of “slow-and-steady may not win the race, but at least it will get us to the finish line in one piece”.
I never said it was a good plan…
After about 700m, the first climb came into view and it was a doozy. Any thoughts about running that monster were scuppered immediately – thankfully – with a logjam created due to the single-track forcing everyone to hike as opposed to bolt up the mountain.
But then considering the only people who could actually run up the climb had already done so, I don’t think many of us were complaining. Once we got to the top of that rather brutal little hike, we got stuck into the first half of the course, a sometimes brutal route – with some big climbs – that was not helped by the gale-force winds that seemed to be toying with us around every corner…
The wind did not help one poor chap behind us when he was seemingly pushed into some loose rocks and came a cropper on a downhill. Mike failed to offer him his medical aid kit, so maybe I was being presumptuous in assuming he brought it along.
Stairway to heaven…
Mike and I had agreed to stick together throughout the run, but knowing that he is stronger than me, particularly up the hills, I soon picked up that he was waiting for me on the climbs. It was at the 9km mark that I suggested he should push on if I fall behind, mumbling something about how I would catch up on the descent if he got too far ahead…
That was the last time we ran alongside each other.
But Mike had already ensured that I was running a better race than the first in the series. He generally manages to get the best out of me, so despite him pushing off, I was on my way to a good run. The fact that the second half of the route was easier than the first allowed me to soak in the environment around me.
“Incredible” does not do the scenery in the Paarl Rock Nature Reserve justice. Wide jeep track, interspersed with some single-track and large, imposing rock, creates an almost magical landscape for those of us lucky enough to run/walk/hike the route.
Winding your way down the jeep track, you are rewarded with the back-side of Paarl Rock, a sight that immediately lifts you for the remainder of the run, and fortunately it comes before what race director Owen Middleton describes as the “stairway to heaven” – a stairway that winds its way up to the top of the mountain and sets up the final descent of the race.
It’s a sting in the tail, coming shortly after the 10km mark, and while I started by running up the steps, by the time I was half-way up, I was shambling forward, my ragged breath thick in my ears…
The final 3.5km, of course, were just reward and flew by as I found some gas in the tank. I surged across the line to find Mike waiting with a grin on his face. We both agreed that in the final race – in Kleinmond in two weeks time – we needed to go out harder… and perhaps arrive a little earlier.
For more information on the Cape Winter Trail Series (and the Gauteng Series) and how to enter visit www.trailseries.co.za
Follow Rob Peters on Twitter HERE