I'm not a natural blogger and I'm no techie. I'm an ultra trail runner by passion, and a journalist by profession - in that order of priority.
In this blog I use the one to talk about the other - my trail thoughts, musings and meanderings about running mountains and trails.
I call it rockhoppin', just because... well... that's what we trail runners love to do!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Trail Hero of the Month: June - Thabang Madiba

It's time for Rockhoppin' Trail's Trail Hero of the Month. No more appropriate a time for Thabang Madiba, this month crowned South African Trail Champion (long distance), for the second year running. He blitzed the 38km SA long distance champs course, the Outeniqua Traverse, beating his speedster buddy Lucky Miya by almost 3 mins, and securing his crown as champ for the second consecutive year.

I chatted across the miles with Thabang to find out what makes this champ tick.

Age:   30 years
Occupation:   Line Operator at Nissan SA main plant in Rosslyn, Pretoria

LD:  Where were you born, raised and schooled? 
TM:  I was born, raised and schooled in Ga-Rankuwa, north of Pretoria.

LD:   How many years have you been running? 
Thabang on his way to securing his 2nd title as SA trail champ
TM:   I started running in 1999 when I was in Std 6 (Grade 8). After winning my first bronze medal in the boys U17 1500m, I started taking my running seriously. I qualified for the South African cross country champs in 2001 and performed very well, placing 7th overall in the boys 4km. Cross country was always my favourite type of running - I was never a good road or track runner, and I think that’s why I enjoy trail running so much. 
In 2009 I did my first trail race, the New Balance Maxi Cross 15km in Groenkloof Nature Reserve. I won it with a 3 min gap, defeating one of SA’s best road runners. That afternoon I ran the 4km cross country race and came 3rd overall. That’s when I realised my potential. From then I started doing more trail races, with the Winter and Summer Trail Series in Gauteng.

LD:   How did your trail running progress from there? 
TM:   Winning my first trail series race really motivated me, and I started searching the Internet for other races to do. My first big trail race was in Cape Town, the Two Oceans Trail Run 2012, and I placed 3rd overall. I'm now a Salomon sponsored athlete and I love being part of the Salomon team. My love for trail running is growing every day. I enjoy being outdoors because I feel free and connected to nature.

LD:   What are your trail running hopes and dreams? 
TM:   My dream and wish is to run for Salomon International, win an international Skymarathon, and run as many mountains as possible, especially in Europe because most of the world class runners are in Europe and there are plenty of big mountains there. It also brings joy to my heart to think of racing against the world's best - I hope one day I will live my dream.

LD:  Who are your trail running heroes - local and international? 
TM:   Kilian Jornet, Marco De Gasperi, Ryan Sandes, Lucky Miya, and AJ Calitz.

LD:   What other races will you be running this year? 
TM:   The World Champs in Colorado, the Otter, and maybe the Oman 6-day desert race.

LD:   What's your motto in life?
TM:   Always live life to the full.

LD:   Who is your role model?
TM:   Kilian Jornet. He changed my views on trail running. After meeting him and the Salomon team (Ryan, Anna Frost and Greg Vollet) at the Salomon seminar in Groenkloof Nature Reserve in 2011,  I started to take trail running very seriously and dreaming big. I'd love to race against Kilian some day. Listening to him speak and watching him run really changed my life, and made me want to run up every mountain I see.

Photo credits to Hayley Hagen and to Peter Kirk Media.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Outeniqua Quest 2014

I'm a sucker for challenge and adventure. Throw me nouns like mountain, forest, desert, river, rock, glacier, cliff; lace them with adjectives like dramatic, testing, far, dark, remote, indigenous, and my ears prick up like a kid's when offered candy. Spice up the offering with words like inaugural, race, challenge, longest, toughest, and I'm that same kid now first in the candy queue.

So when I heard there was a new race on the calendar, and it promised over 100km of running through unspoilt natural forest, single track and single stage, I hit the key without hesitation.

The Outeniqua Quest delivered exactly what it promised. Following the 108km eight day Outeniqua Hiking Trail from Beervlei Hut in the mountains behind Wilderness on the Garden Route, the route runs up and down many mountains, over countless crystal clear streams and rivers, and makes its way past six checkpoints – each one a hiking hut – to the finish at Harkerville, just up the coast from Knysna.
Intrepid warriors amped at the start line

When traversing those 108km the runner, as I'm sure does the eight-day hiker, goes through varying stages of emotional turbulence. Ultras, more than any other distance running, plays with the psyche, shunting it from extreme elation to scary places of dark self-doubt, interspersed by long periods of most energetic, often monotonous periods in between. Ultras are a constant battle on many levels, not least of all physical.

Inevitably, a +100km race involves some degree of night running, more so if the course is particularly challenging in some way. With about 85% of the Outeniqua Quest on single track, and roughly 90% of that in forest, it's safe to say this race is pretty challenging underfoot. While the paths are far softer to run on than the rocker single tracks of the southern end of the Western Cape, those on the Outeniqua Quest are riddled, wracked and wrinkled with roots.

Roots... roots... ROOTS... they're evil and they're absolutely everywhere on this route - in the daytime they lie in wait for you, and during the night they leap up and snatch at your feet, tripping you at any opportunity. (I'm certain the elephants in that forest, shy as they are, would be a damn side more sociable if they too weren't afraid of those roots...)

This event is special. I've run remote, I've run bleak, harsh, volcanic, sub-tropical and tundra, but I've never run so far in uninterrupted indigenous forest. And running alone in dark forest made the experience all the more magical. There were sections of lush forest where I felt like I could've been on the set of Avatar for the magnificence of the towering trees, the cascading vines and the towering tree ferns – all it lacked was lithe-bodied naked blue people and floating rocks.

Navigating the route was far easier than expected – the trusty SAN Parks markers showing white bootprints were simple to follow, and were supplemented by s
mall reflective stickers that caught the light of our headlamps perfectly through the dark hours.

While not the harshest ultra in South Africa, the Outeniqua Quest takes no prisoners – the route chewed up and spat out its fair share of competitors, twisting ankles, hammering knees, and in several cases just taking psychological toll on tired minds and squashing them out the game. That's what good ultras are about – they're wolves in sheep's clothing, drawing the runner unassumingly into their clutches and wooing them with beautiful scenery and distracting views... and then BAM! slapping the poor soul a stinger when energy levels slip. It's at that point the real battle begins: the will of the tired runner to achieve the goal versus the vengeance of the trail never to be easily conquered.

If you're into ultras, this one's definitely one to add to your racing calendars, folks, it's a must.
Race winner Samuel Holtzkampf (13:00)
me with race organiser Sonya Otto