Mother Nature stopped my first attempt at the Knysna Half Marathon two weeks ago, but despite the sudden downpour at 5.30am on Sunday morning, I had a feeling that the same would not be happening ahead of my first long run of the Cape Winter Trail Series…
The first event of the popular series was held at the Paul Cluver Wine Estate and after a short 40-minute drive, my running partners and I found ourselves gingerly tip-toeing our way to the registration table in an attempt to avoid the mud and puddles along the way. There must have been a light dusting of snow somewhere nearby because it was bone-chillingly cold in spite of the many layers we wore.
Once we'd secured our numbers, it was off to the portaloos for a quick bathroom stop (five portaloos for over 600 people? Perhaps that wasn't thought through…) and then a hasty march back to the warmth of the car to pin our racing numbers to our shirts and rest more comfortably for the hour we had before the gun went off.
Half-an-hour before the race, I realised I might just need to go to the loo again. A combination of nerves and two cups of rooibos tea before leaving Cape Town might have been to blame. That meant going back to the portaloos and the impressive queue that now accompanied it. We gamely joined the back of the line and waited. Five minutes before the gun was due to go off, however, we were forced to abandon our sigil... So, I had no choice but to tell my bladder to hold that thought while I went back to the start to await my first 16km trail run!
It started out well enough. An undulating downhill gently rolled up into a short uphill, a few more gentle inclines left us at a flat, and then… a formidable climb up a veritable mountain greeted us. So the walking and gasping for icy cold air began.
I'd like to know what the organisers were thinking when they set this race to be the first one. Were they rubbing their hands with glee, anticipating newbies like me stumbling towards the finish line? I did some impromptu post-race research and found that I wasn't the only one to think that the Paul Cluver 16km was a tough course. Even Rob Peters, who is iafrica.com's running guru, agreed that a three kilometre hill was a bugger, while a few ladies just shook their heads at the reminder of the pain. At the time, it really did feel like it would never end - just as I thought I'd reached the top, there lay another steep climb. My mantra was "one foot in front of the other," and thankfully my body listened.
To add to the toughness aspect, reaching the top of that endless hill was a short-lived triumph, as the wind meant it was necessary to keep moving in order to avoid hypothermia. Fellow runners and I threw ourselves down some muddy single track, letting gravity dictate our pace. The downhill offered a respite for my exhausted hamstrings.
Soon, the course had us stumped again. There, in a ravine, were ropes and rushing water - a beautiful setting, to be sure, but one that required a little scrambling to reach the other side where jeep track mercifully opened up and led us through another five kilometers of undulating vineyards. I had reached a point of slight delirium by the time I crossed the ravine and one thing I will do next time we do a longer course like this is take a little sustenance along. Just a few small sips of energy drink would have given me a much-needed boost.
I ran the last few kilometres with little regard for the mud and puddles. By that stage my feet were completely soaked and the back of my legs covered in mud splatters, so it really was no use trying to avoid them. Besides, it was all I could do to keep the forward momentum, making squelching noises with every step I took...
After all is said and done, I spent two hours and 17 minutes on the trail, so coming into the finish was like seeing an oasis in the middle of the desert (albeit a very wet and muddy desert) - the relief was overwhelming! For a first long trail, the Paul Cluver 16km was a baptism by fire, but one that I'm proud to say I finished.
Next up is the Tygerberg Nature Reserve 11.4km race and by the looks of things, it's no walk in the park, although I think it's safe to say I'm fairly prepared now - nothing can be worse than three kilometres of non-stop uphill, right?
Check out the rest of the races here.