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On Saturday, while I was running, I remembered two things. One a line from some or other TV series, that had long ago got stuck in my head. It was part of a conversation between two old mercenaries, and after the one guy says he’d been in Somalia or Venezuela, fighting some or other secret war for some or other shady army, the other guy says, Man, that was some bad bush.
The other was something Chris told me on Thursday, while I was slaving away on the rowing machine: that he wants my body to know what it’s like to suffer.
Table Mountain is a big place. Every weekend now I’m running 10km of trail, as per the schedule Chris from RaceFit has put me on. This means every weekend I have to first find 10km of trail, before I can run it. Fortunately, Table Mountain is a big and beautiful place, with forests, rivers, waterfalls and just plain jungle, and even more fortunately, there’s a local running group called Elemint that’s happy to help me explore all of it.
This past Saturday we went up what’s called the Newlands Contour: a single track that starts at Constantia Nek and winds along the side of the Cape’s most famous mountain until you’re pretty much right above the rugby stadium. It covers only a fraction of the range, but it’s varied as all hell: flat gravel, steep footpaths, big boulders and steps.
But I mean a lot of steps. Imagine all the staircases you’ve climbed in your life, ever, in one place, in one morning. I’ve been testing a TomTom Runner2 Cardio + Music watch for a few days, for a feature in the magazine, and last week I thought I’d hit my gradient limit, thought I never wanted to see another hill ever again, and this watch says I gained 196m of elevation. On Saturday I did ten times that.
Man, that was some bad bush. In the end I did 13km, and most of it was steps. You’d think what went up must have come down, eventually, but I got home hours later and had supper and went to bed and all I could see was steps: clay ones built into the mountain, stone ones arranged in a row, and steep ones made with wooden planks. I’ve never been in the army. But Newlands Contour was my Vietnam.
Coming down through Newlands Forest my legs were shaking, my calf cramped up and my left knee did that stabbing pain thing again, and I was worried about running down too quickly that my ankles would give out and I’d go grinding down the rest of the way on my chin; it hurt to climb into the car and the shower and I sent a message to Chris saying I wasn’t too sure I’d be able to run on Sunday at all, never mind at the 5:15/km he wanted me to.
Here’s the funny part. Sundays are for what you’d called recovery runs: 10km on the road, at a fairly quick pace, when your legs are a bit stiff and it’s freezing outside and you’d really just rather not. Chris says he wants my body to know what it’s like to suffer. After 13km of Newlands’ vicious mud trail I could honestly say I was familiar. But here’s the funny part: Sunday was easy.
I ran out of my house and up into Constantia, past Die Hel and the horse farms along Brommersvlei, past the vineyards at the Cellars Hohenhort and past a peacock on the wall of one of the mansions on Oak Avenue, up a horrible hill at the top of Alphen Hill, and all the way it felt like it was easy. I’ve never been a soldier, but after the jungle tried to kill me, adapting to civilian life was easier than I thought it would be: my legs were strong and could have gone for longer, my calf was good and I didn’t get stabbed in my knee even once.
Bad bush can be good for you. I mean, it wasn’t for either of those guys in that TV series, who both died, but it was for me. Running 13km up Newlands Forest was tough as all hell but anything after that is easier. 1,200m of elevation. All the steps in the world. Now I know what’s like to suffer.
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
Elemint offers group-based hiking and trail running courses, open-water swimming training and specialist exercise advice. Find out more about them at www.elemint.co.za