Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Race report: Rhodes Run - 6 July 2013

It feels highly appropriate that my first race report on this blog is on the race that got me interested in running in the first place. Back in about 2002 I read an article in Men's Health on this race involving running in blizzards, wading through icey water and drinking OBS at the water stations. Back then trail running hadn't grown to the level it is at now and so, compared to road races, it sounded extreme (extremely extreme) and was something I immediately added to my bucket list. It stayed on that list however until earlier this year when, whilst training for my first 2 Oceans Ultra, I felt confident and added my name to the waiting list. I entered the first Wild Card draw and started dreaming about doing this extraordinary race. A painful Peninsula Marathon in February gave my confidence a massive knock and I was quite happy to see that I did not win the Wild Card as I thought, if I hit a wall after 30km on a flat road, 'how am I going to do 52km on trail, at altitude, at around freezing point temperatures?'

A = Rhodes Village
The Rhodes Trail Run (www.rhodesrun.za.net) hails itself as "South Africa's iconic Trail Race" and started in 1989 when a group of crazy Eastern Capians (the best type of Capian) decided to run from the tiny village of Rhodes up to the Lesotho Border road involving portions of single-track, trekking and jeep track running. Again, this was before trail running was "cool" so this was basically just a group of guys going for a run through the wilderness...in the winter...at one of the highest points in the province. The race continued to grow year after year as every July a group of about 300 runners gather from all over to battle the elements in this Ultra Marathon. Usually run on either the first or second weekend in July, the race takes place in the peak of winter with past events involving some snow at the higher parts of the race and frozen river crossings and in some years the extreme weather has resulted in route alterations due to parts of the route being inaccessible. The standard route is approximately 52km with a climb of about 1,350m and starts at an altitude of 1,800m and a high point of 2,680m (the air is thin up there).

So considering all this I was happy enough sitting on the waiting list for a few years as the race seemed a bit hectic for a new runner. Then on 30 April I got a call from Darrell Raubenheimer saying one of the Wild Card winners had pulled out and the re-draw meant I had an entry option. I hadn't done any training since 2 Oceans so my immediate response was "sheez Darrell I don't know if I will be ready for it" to which Darrell replied "well tomorrow is a public holiday, you've got all day to train." I decided to go for it and after spending a solid few weekends exploring the trails of Table Mountain (my attempt at altitude training) I arrived on the starting line fully kitted in my winter gear and carrying about a ton of food (this was going to be my longest run ever so I was extremely worried about getting hungry). My goal was to finish within the 9 hour cut-off.

The first 14km are along a pretty standard gravel road through the rural and farm areas around Rhodes. There are a few uphills on this section and I made a concerted effort to take it slow and walk whenever the gradient put strain on my legs in order to save my strength for whatever may come later. I felt like I was taking it easy and so was quite surprised to hear one of the people at the Mavis Bank Farm check point remark to one of my co-runners that he was doing quite well. I figured if he is doing well, and I am running next to him, I must also be doing well (logic). The highlight of this part of the run was chatting to one of the guys who showed up to the start (where the temperature was about 4deg) wearing a pair of T-Savs. He told me not to worry though as he was wearing 4 layers up top.

Next there is about a 6km section of single track with a steady incline. I was expecting to pass some of the other runners here as I noticed from chatting along the way that a lot of the runners were roadies and I had been doing most of my training on trail. I found the single track a lot different to that found in Cape Town however as the long grass brings in a new dimension of not being able to see where to place your foot and my natural sloppy style of trail stumbling as opposed to running meant quite a few toe kicks and trips. I made it out on the other side however feeling good and ready to tackle Mavis Bank.

Starting to climb
Mavis Bank is the main talking point among competitors and it involves a pretty relentless, near vertical climb where you move up about 500m in altitude over about 1.5km. My strategy going in was to count my steps and take planned breaks in order to split it up into bite size chunks. I started in 200 step portions with about a 1 min rest in between and it really helped. By the end I was only doing 100 sets but arrived at the top with a smile as I checked my watch for the first time and saw I had got to this point in 3h15 which meant I was 1h15 ahead of the cut-off and feeling strong.

The next 8km were probably the toughest for me. It is run a long the Lesotho Boarder Road which is closer to Jeep Track than gravel road and I really felt the effects of the high altitude here. Never having run at this height before, the result was interesting to me. I was expecting to just be more out of breath however it really sapped me of any strength. I was moving along at a very slow pace but, although I wasn't struggling to breathe, I knew I could not go any faster. My perception of what constituted an incline in the road changed drastically and I walked every slight uphill. I was very happy to see the (what I though was half way) check point and thiswas the point when I was wandering if this was all a stupid idea and whether I would make it to the end. A major motivation was to see my mate El Hoborino who had driven me all the way down from JHB for the race as he was helping out at this check point, it showed me how much a bit of support can do for your mental state. He also told me that I had planned the race completely wrong and I was already 3km past halfway and the thought of only 23km left gave me a major boost.

Follow the flags to glory
The next 9km was a completely off road section through long grass (no trail). This was really tough to get going as the footing was uneven. Most people were walking and so I walked for really long patches to recover and prepare myself for what I thought would be a rapid single trail decent. Apparently this patch is much easier when it is snowing as stepping on the snow makes the footing easier however this year was the hottest ever and so we were not fortunate enough to have white path. After a while I started getting momentum and started bounding through the veld whilst enjoying the incredible views of Southern Drakensberg. I ran into a friend of a friend from Varsity days (let's call him The Goat) so enjoyed a good catch-up session which took us to the second to last check point. The Goat stopped for some Prairie Oysters and I was feeling strong and psyched to see that the remainder of the race was back on gravel road and not single track as I initially thought (I spent almost every day of the last 2 months researching this race so don't know how I misunderstood the route).

From there it was a fast, knee-jarring, toe-pinching downhill section of about 6km and then a flat section of about 8km. Just before the last check point The Goat caught up to me again and we cruised the last section walking and running in patches. The finish line was a welcome site and we were once again showered with awesome goodie bags and a complimentary koeksuster (is this Paleo?). I was happy to finish in 7h17 well ahead of my goal whilst taking it relatively easy. Now that I know what to expect I will definitely go for a faster time next year (because there is no chance in hell I am missing this race next year).

A welcome sight

The Rhodes Run is an exceptionally well organised race. It is a race that is about the enjoyment and camaraderie involved in taking part in a mass event rather than about times, records and prizes (although records did tumble and the sponsors spoilt us with all sorts of goodies). It is an event where you feel country hospitality in every aspect of it and you are made to believe you are guests as opposed to customers. A lot of this can be attributed to the race organisers Evie and Darrell Raubenheimer whose pure enthusiasm and positive vibes make the whole weekend enjoyable for everyone involved.

Race summary

As a benchmark I usually look to get inside the top 33% of the field and for interest sake look at where I placed amongst the other categories. My goal in the future is to consistently place in the top 25%.

Distance:    52km
Time:          7:18:25 (3h02 behind winner)
Position:      86/271 (31.7%) - I needed to be 15 min faster to be top 25%
Open men:   25th

Where I would have placed in:
Open Ladies: 20th
Vet and Masters Men: 43rd
Vet and Masters Ladies: 10th

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Training log - 15.07 - 21.07

The week started slowly but finished with an abundance of good activities over the weekend inclusive of beer, burpees and battling over a mountain.

Monday - Rest - work induced

I had to work late so came home and did a quiet 50 double unders and 50 pushups.

Tuesday - Run - interval training

In my quest to get fitter, stronger and faster I am experimenting with some interval training. This is quite new to me and I definitely felt the activation of some muscles I have not felt in a long time. I am trying out parts of a program based on the CrossFit Endurance methods which focus on short sessions at high-intensity.

8 x 200m sprint and 200m jog back starting every 2 minutes

0m climb

Wednesday - Run

A good run around the burbs of Century City. I ran my normal loop but for the first time actually measured and timed myself. I worked out it can serve as a good 12km time trial to use to track progress as it is quite flat and quiet. I was quite happy to average under 5min/km but need to get it down a bit more so have set my goal at getting this route down to 55 min.

0m climb

Thursday - Rest

An important timeout before a busy weekend.

Friday - CrossFit

Quite a good session where I started to see some progress. I see CrossFit as an important way to build strength for trail running so it was great to make some headway. Started by practicing double unders where I have finally started to link them continuously. It is now just a matter of practicing the rhythm. Then on to max box jump which basically involves piling weight plates ontop of a box and jumping onto it from a standing still position. I maxed out at 122cm (about the height of the bottom of my sternum). I was able to get the height but I think I will be able to get higher if squat lower on the take-off to really engage my hips. This all comes with flexibility which is a common issue with runners. Then lastly was a good high intensity met con followed by a solid Mexican dinner accompanied by a Citizen Amber Ale which is a new micro-brew that is just incredible.

AFAP (As Fast As Possible) - Result 6m48

200m Sprint
3 rounds of
 - 15 Kettlebell Swings    (20kg Russian)
 - 6/6 Overhead Lunges   (20kg)
 - 10 Toes to bar    (Knees to almost elbows)
200m Sprint

Saturday - CrossFit

An excellent event hosted by CrossFit Tokai where athletes from various boxes attempted 67 minutes of burpees in order to raise funds to provide underprivileged school children with bursaries to attend school. My strategy was to take it slow and just see how many I get to and hopefully I would have some juice left in the tank to bust out some quick ones in the end. I started doing 10 at a time but for the last 20 minutes was only able shifts of 5 which saw me end on 335 burpees. Far below the leading men and women who managed to complete in excess of 600 (very proud of my coach/nutritionist/wife who finished second lady on 540). At about burpee number 200 I began to realise how much more efficient it is to really use your hips and core to initiate the motion rather than trying to muscle it with arms and legs which I feel is a skill that will really help the climbing and single track parts of the trail.

Burpees for bursaries - AMRAP (as many reps as possible) 67min

Result - 335

Sunday - Run

The first of the Cape Winter Trail Series was a 16km trail run through Paul Cluver Wine Estate (more detailed race report to follow). The race was fast and my strategy was to go out quickly and try and race it rather than just compete. The strategy changed somewhat on the uphills when I started to feel every one of the 335 burpees from the day before. A good event and I preformed okay despite being a bit fatigued.

715m climb

Week run total

Mileage - 31.3km
Metres gained - 715
Time - 2h58

Some pics from the Burpees for Bursaries event

 The clock starts

 Team TAGG CrossFit

CrossFitters from all over Cape Town busting it out for a good cause 

No 1 and 2 from the ladies

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Training log - 08.07 - 14.07

Quite a quiet week spent recovering from the Rhodes Run although my legs felt surprisingly strong the next day so I possibly could have done more. I am feeling inspired after Rhodes to get both stronger and faster so my training sessions are going to be a lot more focussed on building strength through CrossFit and more interval training.

Monday - Rest - waking up at 4am to fly back from JHB and then go to work was a lot more exhausting than the actual run I went there for.

Tuesday - CrossFit

6 x Cindy AFAP (As Fast As Possible) - Result 6m10

5 Pull-ups    (black band)
10 Pushups
15 Squats

Wednesday - Run - Lion's Head

A gentle run around the trails of Lion's Head. A nice warm-down after the weekend.

150m climb

Thursday - CrossFit

Chipper AFAP (As Fast As Possible) - Result 5m50

50 Kettlebell Swings    (16kg)
40 Box Jumps    (50cm)
30 Overhead Lunges    (10kg)
20 Handstand Pushups    (off 50cm box)
10 Ground to Overhead    (10kg)

Friday - Run - Newlands Forest

A good trip up to the contour path (still trying to find the best way to get up there without getting lost). I took it nice and slow stopping to take a few pics. Then my 3rd, and finally successful, attempt of trying to find the King's Blockhouse and then a solid fast route down to work on my downhill speed.

1,020 climb

Saturday - Rest - although the Sharks performance against the Kings got by heart rate up

Sunday - Rest

Week run total

Mileage - 18.5km
Metres gained - 1,170
Time - 2h03

Some pics along Newlands contour path and finding the elusive Kings Blockhouse

On the boardwalk

Attempt at a panoramic pic

This must be the guy who planted all the pine trees...

Found it

Needs a laser sight