Making molehills out of mountains

Summer is that time of year when we all start thinking about ditching the winter flab, getting fit and preparing to look good in a bathing suit on the beach in December. Being your average woman, I’m not immune to this syndrome, and over the years have tried everything from boot camp to pilates in an effort to achieve the elusive bikini body.

My problem is that I have the attention span of a flea and a solid streak of stubborn, so I get bored with gym based exercise routines and people telling me what to do all the time. So this year, I decided to take up the far more energetic and much less structured sport of trail running as my summer get fit campaign.

Having lost a bet last year in which my forfeit was to complete a trail run, which I duly did even though I smoked at the time and had a hangover from hell, I thought this would be a breeze. I signed up for the complete Gauteng Summer Trail Series in August and promptly forgot all about it.

The first race was set for 16 October, and sometime around the middle of September I remembered I had entered and thought I should probably do some training. I dragged my unfit self around the racetrack at Kyalami a few times and felt like a hero, jogged my way around the block a couple of times a week, and even managed to stop smoking somewhere in the process. But none of this could prepare me for the trail that awaited me at Mountain Sanctuary Park.

I made the rookie error of looking at the trail profile before the race, which utterly terrified me, but those little red lines on the screen did no justice to the truly epic nature of the course. The short course, for which I had entered, was 6.9km of technical hell, definitely not a beginner’s course and a mighty challenge for someone of my less than inspiring fitness levels. More than 2km of steep climbing through a boulder field with nearly 200m of vertical height gain later, I was exhausted, sweaty, aching all over and thoroughly exhilarated. I may not have turned the mountain into a molehill, but I made it and I couldn’t wait for the next race.

Stumble, crawl, get back up and try again?

My exhilaration lasted approximately 6 hours, until I sat down and the lactic acid took over, and every muscle in my body seized up. Monday morning saw me roll out of bed because I couldn’t stand upright until the shower had pummelled me for a good half hour, and my will to do any exercise whatsoever deserted me for a full week after I conquered my mountain.

Considering the second race was exactly a week after the first, this probably was my first mistake. My second mistake was forgetting to charge my iPod, and the third was leaving my hat in the car at Pelindaba, the venue for race number two. So I set off sans music, without a hat, but feeling good nonetheless. The first 4km went smoothly enough, I jogged, walked and stumbled my way through in just over half an hour. And then I fell. Luckily not too hard, or with anyone around to see me, but I managed to bash my hip on a rock in the process, which turns running (or even moving) into some kind of terrible torture.

The last two kilometres hurt, and they were all uphill which wasn’t much fun. I think the course designer had a sick sense of humour, placing the steepest hill I’ve ever seen right at the end of the race. At one point I seriously contemplated crawling, I was so tired, but the thought of scraping my knees on all of those rocks kept me on my feet.

By the time I finished the race, I was once again exhausted, sweaty, aching all over (with bruises and scrapes to show it this time) and thoroughly exhilarated. I think they must drug the drinks they give you at the finish, because despite loathing at least every third minute of the second run, I’m actually excited for the next race again. Either that or exercise really is addictive. Next stop, race three at Ilhanti Lodge on 30 October…

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