After being refused entry to Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve (read about that here) I needed a backup plan for my run. After a week in the Winelands region of South Africa I was booked to stay that night in Cape Town as I would fly to Johannesburg the following day. Therefore I immediately started to plan a run up its famous flat-topped mountain.
In the late afternoon I parked my car at Cecilia Forest, which provided me access to gravel roads that wound there way up to the top of the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens. I would use different routes for my ascent and descent, and I tried to remember my preferred direction from previous runs. I climbed up Nursery Ravine, and reached the “top” realising how much lower I still was than the peak. As I started on a circuit around the top some low cloud started to move in, and I decided that it would be wise not to waste any time.
As I headed towards one of the best viewpoints on my route I removed my phone from my pack for a photo as the cloud had cleared for the moment. Then when I was a scant few metres from stopping for a photo I was enveloped in cloud once more. I climbed up to the high point at Maclear’s Beacon, before making my way to the top of Skeleton Gorge for my descent. The descent was slippery at the top, but definitely preferable in my opinion to the loose rock at the top of Nursery Ravine.
After three days of running in Jonkershoek Nature Reserve I planned out a couple of runs in the adjoining Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve. Setting out from the town of Stellenbosch for my first run it would take me almost as long to drive to the reserve as it would have taken me to run there from Jonkershoek.
After driving the long circuitous route to the reserve entrance I arrived early, heading through open gates before they were manned for the day. When discussing my planned run in the reserve the previous week with one of my running mates he had suggested that I carry some warm gear with me, as it was in the same place that he had almost become hypothermic when a cold change had swept through on a run there. As I set out it was particularly grey and overcast, and his warning was clear in my mind, but I was well prepared for bad weather.
My route would take me from the main parking area at Nuweberg along a contour to the overnight Boesmanskloof Hut, before climbing up a valley to my high point for the route, with a downhill finish. The overcast weather was a pleasant change after some warm days, and the run to the hut was quite easy. It was a nice climb to the high point of the route, but just after passing it I heard what at first sounded like a dog’s bark. Looking around I sighted a baboon standing on top of a rock surrounded by its troop. I was unsure whether the sound was aimed at me as a way of warning me from their territory but I thought it best to continue running, and the “barks” continued until I was well away from their resting spot. After a couple of shorter climbs I reached a road that wound downhill back to my car.
After travelling to the Winelands of South Africa to celebrate the wedding of some great friends, I decided to stay in the area for another week to indulge in some wonderful running and delicious food.
Staying in the town of Stellenbosch for a few days it was only a short drive up through a valley to reach the entrance gate to Jonkershoek Nature Reserve, so I went out there three mornings in a row to check out some of the trails it offered. The valley ends with a steep ravine, hemming in the lowest part of the reserve on three sides.
For day one I climbed straight to the end of the valley, past three waterfalls before the steep climb to the top. From the top I could gaze back in the direction of Stellenbosch, or forward into the adjoining Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve that I would run later in the week. I had considered a point-to-point traverse between the reserves but skipped it due to the added complexity in transport. From the top I followed the contour above the valley towards the west, gaining a view of the ocean below and the Cape of Good Hope to the south-west, before descending back into the valley. It was a beautiful run, but tough in parts due to overgrown trails often featuring sharp plants that continually scratched my legs.
Day two started with a climb directly from the trailhead, following a much easier route than the previous day, so I was able to slowly run the entire climb. Upon reaching the contour trail above the valley floor I started by heading in the opposite direction to my eventual destination. I ran until I reached a ravine featuring a waterfall, plenty of shade and some comfortable rocks, where I sat down to enjoy a relaxing snack. Then I retraced my steps, climbed to reach a viewpoint into another valley to the east, and then climbed even more to the highest point I would reach in the reserve. Then I made my way to the top of the route I had followed up the previous day, and descended the loose and rocky ravine as the day continued to heat up.
Since returning to Australia last May I have conducted almost all of my training as solo runs. That has included weeks where every training run has lasted at least 2 hours. It provided plenty of time in my own headspace but had become challenging to stay motivated at times. Having run with a great training group for a couple of years while living in South Africa I have missed the camaraderie (and peer group pressure) that training partners can provide.
Therefore I have started looking for some people to run with in earnest. Last weekend I went out for my first run with the Dandenong Trail Runners, a group of runners who organise regular informal runs in the hilly Dandenong Ranges National Park. Since I generally run in the park at least once a week, and sometimes as often as three times a week, it seemed like a great fit.
A week after my race at Two Bays I joined the group for a “flattish” 20ish km run. A group of 19 people met up in the carpark at the Basin Theatre, and we all set out together. The group would separate on the climbs and then regroup at junctions along the course. A number of people were locals to the area, but there were also others like me who had travelled quite a distance (over 30 km in my case) to be there. At the highest point on the route we stopped for a group photo, which apparently involves a jump that I still need to master. I am easily spotted thanks to the very bright green shirt I was wearing.
I spent a few days staying with a friend in Brisbane who has the envious position of living in a suburb that is surrounded on three sides by forest. Toohey Forest Conservation Park is comprised of eastern and western sections separated by a major road. Continuing through the eastern section of the park it is possible to cross under a highway to reach the Mount Gravatt campus of Griffith University, and then to climb to the top of the peak for views out over the city of Brisbane.
During my time in Brisbane I managed a number of runs in the area, covering many of the trails on offer, which vary from bitumen paths to gravel trails to beautiful single track. The trails wander around a couple of ridges, descend into gullies, and climb to the outlook at Mount Gravatt.
My stay in Brisbane certainly reinforced an idea that I would love to live somewhere with easy access to trails right from the door of my house.
For my fourth and final week in Iten I would start to drop my mileage in preparation for my race at the Paris Marathon, but would include three quality sessions. I had included three consecutive days of double sessions the previous week but returned to running single sessions.
After an easy Monday run I headed to the track on Tuesday. I would run 15 x 1000 metres at marathon pace with a 200 metre recovery. I managed to get into a good rhythm, and after checking my split at the 400 metre mark of each interval managed to run confidently at the required pace. The intervals started to feel more strained towards the end but for the final 1000 metres I still managed to increase the pace to complete the interval 14 seconds faster than marathon pace. It was another great confidence-boosting run.
I had planned to run on Wednesday morning but was feeling quite stiff. Therefore I decided to shift my run to the afternoon, but getting caught up on some travel planning I only headed out late in the evening with limited light remaining. However I knew that the decision to delay the run was the correct one from the first step. My legs felt great and I enjoyed a wonderful 18 km, running through the failing light and arriving back after the sun had dropped below the horizon.
My last track session took take place on Thursday morning with a 16 x 400 metre workout. I had planned four sets of four laps, increasing the pace with each set, but my pacing was a disaster from the first lap. In a case of total mental failure I ran the first lap too fast while thinking that it had been too slow. It was only halfway through the second lap that I realised I was running the wrong pace. Consciously slowing down for the third lap I slowed too much. From there I ran almost every lap either too fast or too slow, finding myself unable to hit my intended pacing. But it was still a tough workout, and therefore a valuable one.
Iten is a place where you shouldn’t boast. Do all of your friends tell you how amazingly fast you are? Do you compete at regional or even national level? Well, unless you possess an Olympic or World Championship medal, or have seen WR (World Record) beside one of your race times, then you are possibly a below-standard runner in Iten.
Turn up at the old dirt track on a Tuesday and you are almost guaranteed to see a runner who has won a big-city marathon (think London, Boston, New York or Berlin), an Olympic or World Championship medallist, or a world-record holder. I remember watching Asbel Kiprop, holder of one Olympic and two World Championship gold medals in the 1500 metres, lead a group through a track session on my first week in Iten.
The Thursday fartlek session is often lead by Wilson Kipsang, current world record holder for the marathon. But these celebrities do not run alone. They fly along the roads or track in Iten surrounded by runners who may also be known, may not yet be known, or may never be known. There are many fast Kenyans training in Iten.
My normal training week involves six days of running and a day of rest. After two weeks in Iten I had run for fourteen straight days. With a life focussed around training, but with an important focus on eating and recovery I didn’t feel the need for my usual weekly day off. But I decided to start my third week with my only rest day for the four weeks I would spend in Iten.
On Tuesday I headed down to the track to run a pyramid session, running intervals of 400, 600, 800, 1000 and 1200 metres, before working back down the pyramid to 400 metres. The recovery periods between each interval was just over half the length of the preceding interval. I had set target times that would be challenging, and they turned out to be slightly too challenging, but I enjoyed a good session where I managed to get close on all of the splits.
Most Kenyan runners head out 2-3 times a day to run. After using double sessions in the first half of 2012 when starting to seriously build my mileage I had returned to longer single run sessions after a few months due to the time taken to fit in two runs around a working day. But with no work to get in the way I included three double sessions in a row. The plan was to run an easy shake-out run each afternoon after a hard morning session.
I started my second week in Iten with a planned 18 km run at marathon pace. I did not think that I would be able to maintain my Paris Marathon race pace on the hilly terrain of high-altitude Iten so I used a running calculator to convert my planned pace to its equivalent at 2300 metres above sea level. I set out slightly ahead of pace for the early predominantly downhill section of my route, but struggled to hold the pace as I climbed back to my starting point. My final pace ended up 5 seconds per kilometre slower than my altitude-adjusted marathon race pace, and I was struggling to understand how my training was proceeding against my target.
After a couple of easy runs on Tuesday I headed into a nearby forest on Wednesday. Setting out with another runner from the training centre we ran 7 km down the road to the forestry plantation that is a combination of pine and eucalyptus trees. It was pleasant running along trails between the trees, considerably slower than road paces but with considerably more hills.
On Thursday I headed to the old dirt track for a workout, after a session the previous week where I had not made my target times for a single interval. Thankfully this session, involving 2 x 1000 m, 1 x 2000m and 5 x 400 m, was much more successful, finishing each interval at my target pace.
The food at the High Altitude Training Centre (HATC) doesn’t feature ugali at every meal, but it is featured at every dinner. The meals are based around a one-week cycle, so starting in your second week you become more and more familiar with the food you will eat on any given day. Below provides an idea of the food provided at each meal.
Bread (prepared and baked in-house) with spread options of butter, jam, and peanut butter
A rotation between french toast, crepes, flapjacks and a Kenyan type of fried bread
Hot water for instant coffee, hot chocoloate or tea
Hot water for instant coffee, hot chocolate or tea
Bread with spread options of butter, jam, and peanut butter
Fried bread (if left over from that day’s breakfast)
Rolls (prepared and baked in-house)
Rice, noodles or pasta
Rotating sauces/stews (predominantly vegetarian)
Salad featuring a varying combination of cabbage, carrot, cucumber, tomato, onion, pineapple, raisins