It was Saturday, 21 July 2012 - the morning of my post-pregnancy racing comeback. I pulled into the parking area of the race venue bleary-eyed, but excited. Bleary-eyed, because Baby Girl is teething and kept us up for most of the night. Excited, because the day had finally arrived: My first race in over a year!
|Waiting for the race to start. [Photo by Pure Adventures.]|
It was the perfect day for running: Chilly, but not too cold; sunny and wind still. The turn-up was good: Not too many people to make things overcrowded; but also not just a handful of brave souls, leaving you all deserted out on the race course. The announcer started his pre-race briefing and, for the first time that day, I began to feel just a twinge of anxiety. "Today we'll be putting the "trail" back into trail running...". Uh-oh. "The largest section of today's route will not be run on roads or tracks of any kind...". Oh boy. I stated getting flashbacks of an X-Terra race that I ran back in 2006 with two of my best friends: No roads. No tracks. Just us, a gazillion loose rocks and even more Mexican Poppies. It hurt. Badly. But back to the race: The announcer started describing the route: "You turn left at the first gate, keep going until you reach the fence, turn left again, and then run up and over the koppie (hill)". Now you should know that the hill he was referring to was not just your average little bump in the road. In my sleep deprived state it looked more like a mini mountain. And we had to run up the one side and down the other side. Twice. Because the race consisted of two laps of a circular route, measuring approximately 4.2 km each. Ouch.
Before we had too much time to dwell on what had been said, the race started and we were off. The section leading to the koppie was slightly uphill, but nothing too serious. Guys were chatting and joking and the atmosphere was chirpy. But then we came to the koppie. It. Was. Brutal. We all fell into single file and marched up the slope like an army of ants. Here and there someone attempted to shuffle a few steps, but the gradient was just too steep and the rocks too loose and numerous to build up any kind of speed (perhaps only applicable to us mortals running in the middle and back of the pack?). I suffered. My lungs burned and my legs felt weak. How on earth was I going to get over this monster twice in one morning? But I put my head down and soldiered on.
|Snaking up the koppie in single file. [Photo by Pure Adventures.]|
On top of the koppie we all clambered through a fence and then the descent began. This part I loved. It was a "grab onto the branches or you'll slide down the koppie on your backside" kind of descent. And it was over all to quickly. The final section of the first lap was a nice even stretch measuring about a kilometer or so, which took us back to the starting point for a quick water break and then Round Two.
|Me, just before the summit. [Photo by Pure Adventures.]|
I must admit that, for a brief moment, I considered going back to my car and skipping the second loop. I was so, so tired. But then I saw the bag containing the finisher's medals at the turn-around point (I'm a sucker for race bling!) and decided that I just had to finish. So off I went.
Round Two was run in the opposite direction: This time we tackled the koppie from the "slide down the koppie on your backside" angle. Thank goodness I wasn't alone on this section, because that would have really been tough. I was surrounded by a group of equally determined souls: We huffed. We puffed. We breathed heavily and we stumbled. But conquer the koppie we just had to.
|A fellow runner tackling the hill from the "hold on or slide down the koppie on your butt" side. [Photo by Pure Adventures.]|
I finished the 8.4 km course in 01:10:15. Not breaking any speed records there, but more than okay, I think, for huffing over a koppie twice. On practically zero sleep.
In hindsight (aren't tough things always more fun in hindsight?!) it was a challenging, fun and very well-organised race. A race that taught me once again that we are capable of so much more than we think. The perfect lesson for a comeback run.
Oh, and yes, I did get my finisher's medal. Plus so much more!