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This Sunday I got out of bed at 5am, climbed into my car and drove to Somerset West. It was bitterly cold before I left and all the way I felt the temperature drop even further; I drove over the N2 and saw the frost on the grass and the mist it made, like smoke, like some frozen-over kind of hell, and I looked at the dash and it was one degree and I couldn’t feel my hands on the wheel.
The Lourensford Harvest Market Trail Race is a lovely run through the forests behind the Helderberg. There are a few vineyards to begin with, a lot of shaky log bridges over big gushing rivers, and a long loop of narrow, overgrown pathways around an enormous dam. The website says 13km but it’s closer to 14, and it’s as scenic as anything could be, with views of the mountain all the way up and on the way down, a bit of the sea.
During the week Chris at RaceFit suggested I treat this race as a trial run for the Winter Trail Series: to break in my new trail shoes, and to pack a hydration pack with everything, water, space blanket, headlamp, as though I was heading straight up Kilimanjaro. By the time I parked my car I felt prepared for anything, the mountain, the mud, the lack of water points, the dark, but when I opened the door I realised I was going to need a lot more help than you could fit into a backpack.
Sometimes people surprise you. The first time I met Leigh was on my first day at Men’s Health. I arrived in the office way too early, either overeager or just plain nervous, and he was there before anyone. He was in the middle of his internship, about as junior as it’s possible to be, but he shook my hand and said welcome and showed me around, when he could just as easily have carried on checking his emails. We stayed in touch after he left and we’d arranged in the week to run together, but I parked my car and opened the door and it was so cold I couldn’t feel my legs, and I honestly did not expect him to make it.
Yesterday was Sunday, but Leigh got out of bed at 5am, got into his car and drove out to Somerset West. When I met him at the registration desk he was wearing, I think, three jackets, maybe more, and his hands were going blue and his legs were shaking with cold. He’s not doing a Staff Challenge and there’s no reason why he had to be there but he had a massive smile on his face and he was full of his usual jokes, and he ran up the mountain with me, in the cold, up the mountain and over rocks and through the rivers and all the way home.
And all the way we talked a lot of shit. About work, writing, and other things that drive guys like us nuts. We said we’d stop to catch our breath, take a few pictures of the view and drink from the streams but we didn’t, we just kept running, at a seriously good pace, and it felt like were burning through the bush. By the time we got back it didn’t feel like we’d covered 14km, or even 10, and the sun had come out and breakfast was on its way and everything looked a lot better.
Sometimes I’ll read a study that says training with a buddy will help when you’re feeling tired, or demotivated, or just plain lazy like you’re never going to get out of bed. The trick is finding one who’ll drive for miles in one-degree weather, then run up a muddy mountain, just for fun. And I didn’t think for a second when I met Leigh on my first day at MH that I’d end up do this much running, or ever in my life head straight up the Helderberg, or that it would be cool if he came along. Sometimes people surprise you. And sometimes they help you surprise yourself.
Quantum Adventures organises trail running and mountain biking races across the Western Cape, from easygoing 5km routes in the Oorlogskloof to two-day stage races in the Grootvadersbosch Nature Conservancy. To find out more visit www.quantumadventures.co.za
Race Fit is an endurance-sports performance focused gym in Claremont, Cape Town. Chris Lippstreu, with a master’s in Sports Science, aims to to improve performance through strength training with the use of kettle bells, Olympic lifting and High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). Find out more at www.race-fit.co.za