According to some folks (me included), my home town of Durban, South Africa, has the best climate in the world. We really only have two seasons: half the year is hot with some rain; the other half is hot, with less rain. This makes Durbanites notoriously feeble in cold climates, but able to endure soaring temperatures without complaint. So it’s fair to say that I presumed I was ready for the conditions of my first race back home in South Africa, the Big Hill Run, that took place on 18 December 2016. Having spent the better part of a year in London, I was very ready to leave my base layers and ear warmers behind, and gleefully packed a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, excited to run without shivering for the first twenty minutes once again! This was a half marathon race, with an out-and-back course that took participants through Kwa-Zulu/Natal’s sugar cane country, and some short, sharp ascents. It’s a fairly new race in the KZN calendar, and it is also the last big race in KZN before the new year. At this time of year, South Africa’s ultra-running community are usually trying to pack in one last training race before the festive season – thinking about the 88km Comrades Marathon they’ll be running in June next year – so the entrants were primarily runners looking for miles on their legs rather than quick times. This suited me as I was primarily using this race as a test of my running style: I have been using a pair of minimalist road shoes over the last two months (Inov8 Road-X-Lite 155), trying to improve my running technique and target pesky ITB injuries. I had got up to running about 10km comfortably, and I felt ready to test them over a longer distance.
The course started from Sugar Rush Park, a mountain bike park near the coastal town of Balitto, at 6am. This might sound early to UK readers, but in summertime in South Africa, it is easily 26 degrees with 80% humidity by this time – I was wishing it was a 5am start as I saw the clear skies that were promising temperatures of over 30 degrees. I started out road running before moving onto trail races, and I have always loved the comradery of the road race community, so it wasn’t long before a group of us were chatting on the road, and I found a running buddy. 5kms in and the sun had arrived, making the tar road course, with little shade, a very sweaty affair. Luckily there were plenty of water points, with massive ice blocks in tin baths to keep water sachets refreshingly chilled. It being an out-and-back route, we soon saw the ten km winners sprinting back towards us, followed by the top 21km men and women: some immensely speedy runners which put me and my running shuffle to shame.
As the kilometres ticked by, I was reminded that I had spent 11 months running faaaar away from the equator: I was suffering from the heat that was now at 30 degrees, and I had not brought any nutrition with me. Luckily, my running buddy had come prepared and he shared his powerbar, but soon I was grabbing water sachets at every opportunity, pouring water on my wrists and knees to try and cool down. Some runners were stopping to stick their heads into the ice baths, and runners were weaving a strange-looking course over the road, trying to take advantage of every bit of shade offered. The last 3 kilometres were really tough: typically, my biggest concern – whether my calves and achilles would hold up on a 21km tar road with minimalist shoes – was the least of my concerns! The road surface was shimmering and every step was another reminder that I had blithely disregarded applying suncream – who needs suncream at 6am?! It was quite a slow finish with a not-so-respectable time, but my main goal of road-testing my legs and shoes was a success. I was really stoked to manage a 21km in minimalist shoes, especially as an experiment with Vivo Barefoot earlier in the year resulted in a nasty achilles issue.
I am a huge fan of barefoot running lore, although I have struggled to implement it myself. I don’t have the patience to build up to using a barefoot shoe, so I have found the Inov8 Road-X-Lite 155 minimalist option much, much easier. I have never worn such a comfortable shoe, and I had zero aches and pains after the race. If you have a shuffling, path-of-least-resistance running style (like me), I really recommend giving minimalist shoes a go.
Happy Christmas everyone!