With only four weeks to go before I tackle a three-day trail run – the total distance of which is slightly more than the Comrades Marathon – I can’t help but wonder if taking on my first major fitness challenge in my mid 40s is a little crazy…

In a month’s time, I leave for a rather demanding three-day trip – covering 92km in a trail run across three countries. As the countdown to Wild Run Mapungubwe starts, e-mails are popping into my inbox from Wildrunner, the trail organiser, reminding me to do my medical (no medical clearance from a doctor, no run), training tips (more on that later), updates on the route and massage bookings for a rub-down after each day (oh yes!).  As D-day looms, it seems a little more daunting than when I first rather flippantly decided to do it. I am after all going to be in the company of some very experienced trail runners.

But I have been reassured that there are also ‘adventure’ runners (I read that as novices) who have taken on the challenge. And I am able to pick my running group based on my average running speed, from Tsessebe (fast), Red Hartebeest (medium-fast) Kudu (medium), Wildebeest (medium-slow) and Impala (slow). At this stage I am aiming to bound along with the impala!

Wildrunner was started in 2007 by passionate adventure and trail runner Owen Middleton, whose intent was to ‘explore truly wild places on the run’. Now there are over 200 events in seven of SA’s provinces (including along the Eastern Cape’s Wild Coast and the Richtersveld Transfrontier Park in the Northern Cape), as well as in Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana.

This tour kicks off on 9th May from OR Tambo International Airport where a coach will transport the runners who are not making their own way to the start, up to Mapungubwe National Park. Hopefully it will be a quick session on that end with immigrations and customs, before we cross over the Limpopo River to set up camp in Zimbabwe, our base for four nights.

The adventure starts with a 30km trail run over Maramani community land and into the Sentinel Ranch in Zimbabwe, a key wildlife area in the Zimbabwean section of the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area which stretches across the confluence area of the Limpopo and Shashe Rivers in Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa.

Day two sees us head off to Botswana where we explore the Northern Tuli Game Reserve. This is Big Five territory with elephant dominating the area and common sighting of hyenas, lions and crocs. Fortunately, each group of runners is accompanied by experienced rangers and support guides – my aim is to stay very close to my guide!

On the last day, we will enter the Mapungubwe National Park in South Africa, with a climb to the top of the famed Mapungubwe Hill, a World & National Heritage Site.

The final evening will be a welcome respite with a sunset gin bar followed the next morning by a bushveld breakfast before heading across the Limpopo back to South Africa and recovery mode.

Considering the fact that I’m not a runner, it may seem insane, but it’s amazing how quickly the body adapts to a structured training regime. It probably helped that I started off with a reasonable level of fitness, but as sports scientist Brendan McBirnie from Fitness From Africa drilled into me from the start, a certain level of fitness may enable me to get through each day, but proper training will ensure I actually enjoy the run – and that, of course, is the point.

So, six weeks down the line, Brendan has coaxed me into a programme that involves a combination of running and gym work (interval training, heavier weights and core sessions, which are essential for running more technical sections), with my usual Pilates session and rest days built in. It’s pretty scientific the way they work it out but fortunately, I don’t have to think about that – my job is to simply do it! The runs are a mix of road and trail and vary from easy runs (comfortable pace and low stress – these are also recovery runs), to speed training (weekly track sessions at the local high school) to tempo runs (a hard, but comfortable pace that can be maintained for about an hour during race conditions). The most difficult parts for me are the back-to-back sessions – three days of longer runs over three consecutive days. The aim here is to prepare me for starting on less than fresh legs on days two and three (34km and 28km respectively) after 30km on day one.

Over the next few weeks, I aim to fit in a weekly sports massage to iron out some niggles that have arisen from all the running and focus on Wildrunner GM Tamaryn Middleton’s weekly tips:

  • If you’re prone to blisters, pay attention to where your feet are wearing and where your hot-spots are. If you are planning to run in brand-new shoes, we would suggest you don’t!
  • Run with your bag – if you aren’t used to running with a bag or hydration system, you might find new sore-spots crop up during the run that then bother you throughout. Also, running with your bag adds some weight to your training and your shoulders will be much more prepared.
  • Test your food – don’t try a new brand of energy drink or supplement on the day. Don’t use a product that someone has recommended without giving it a go during a training run or three and being sure that it doesn’t disagree with you.

Four weeks and counting…

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