Um... what the hell? Something isn’t right. I am on a hill, the gradient is steep, there is a lot of heavy breathing going on around me – remarkably none of it mine – and I am passing people. So, what the hell?
Race number four of the Cape Summer Series was a good one for me. I didn’t think it would be when we arrived – we being myself, lifestyle editor Bryony and her husband Jared, and the ever-present "other" Rob – with the wind at the start just less turbulent than a tornado.
All the talk beforehand was about the hills, that and how other Rob would not have a chance to beat his nemesis, Timmy, who was booked off sick at home for this leg of the series. Jared, running his first long course, was a nervous man as he contemplated taking on some serious elevation in Tygerberg. Bryony was just happy she was doing the short course… at least I think that was a smile – it could have been a grimace.
Thankfully the wind is behind us at the start which, true to the course, is at the bottom of a small climb, and we got out of the blocks quickly.
My focus on this race was to try and clock a fast time. There was no technical single-track to hurt me so I was banking on a strong run, and as we begin the fast descent I was clocking in at under 4.40min per km, well under my usual pace.
With the hills still ahead of me I decide to gamble and keep the pace I had started at, because if I blew out on the hills at least I wouldn't have dawdled before I got there!
But something strange happened when I began the first major climb of the race. Not only did my pace not slow as drastically as expected, but I began to pass a bunch of other runners. Hills have never really been a huge source of concern for me, though I've never really relished them. This time it seemed that attitude is starting to change. Sure, I am not gliding up like a mountain goat, but the improvement is there and I am starting to enjoy myself on the climbs.
The first hill finished with a steep ascent and the route then – rather cheekily – cut past the finish line before sending us fast downhill that mercifully, wasn't too technical for the likes of me.
As with all of the Trail Series runs, however, I knew the good going wouldn't last and as I bolted down the hill I was already anticipating the ever-present and somewhat ominous sting in the tail.
Having tapped into my more competitive side throughout this race – it is a race after all – I pushed those negative thoughts out of my mind and opened up. The fact that I was passed by three other guys probably helped in that regard, and I made good time as we all came barrelling down the hill towards some low tunnels and rapid single-track.
We met runners ahead of us as we were coming down, and it dawned on me that the hill we had just ran down would be the one we'd run up soon, but I pretend not to notice. To be honest, I was enjoying the run so much by that point that nothing was really getting me down.
As I swung around the loop and began the climb back up, I ran past other Rob (who was also in high spirits) and then Jared (who looked a little shell-shocked) and that is where I encountered the sting… and while it hurt less than it has in the past, it still left a mark.
Over one kilometre of climbing, on the back of 10-kilometres, is not to be taken lightly and when I reach the steepest part of the gradient, my run became a walk.
Thankfully, the final 500 metres was downhill and I charged down with reckless abandon, powering into the finish line feeling pretty satisfied with my day’s work. I finished in 41st place – the first time I have cracked the top 50 – and discovered I had cut a massive 17 minutes off the last time I ran this route.
I will take that with pleasure and with a 26km race in Grabouw this weekend, the confidence boost is welcome and well-timed.
- For more on the Cape Summer Series, visit their website HERE