I’m awakened by the ear piercing shrill yet hysterically comical cacophony of a rooster crowing, jackal howling, baboon barking and a lion roaring to greet the new dawn. This recorded medley of animal calls is followed by a vibey rendition playing over the outdoor sound system of James Brown’s “I feel good”. The time is 6am on a still dark winter’s morning in Winterton, KZN at the base of the twin peaks of the Spioenkop mountain in South Africa. Outside, from the surrounding tents, more sounds can be heard joining in the morning symphony – the sound of hundreds of women talking, giggling (loudly) and laughing – as only women at a slumber party know how to do….
I search for my headlamp, my only source of light in my dark tent and cringe at the cold, damp air outside the warmth of my sleeping bag. But I need to “man up”, get up and get ready – today is the first day out of 2 of the Oxpecker Trail Run that I’ve been “lets-call-it-training” for. Yawning, stretching and with a groan, I get up and don my running gear. The last item I put on, but the most important element and piece of equipment I will need to carry me through the next 2 days and 35km of mountain trails are my brightly coloured, comfortably snug fitting On Cloudventure Peak Trail shoes.
With breakfast out of the way I make my way to the start along with the 700 or so other participants, 69.69% of which are women. I’m starting in Batch B. I look down the farm road, 3km of wide dirt road – enough to warm up the legs, settle into a comfortable running pace and breathing rhythm before the gradual ascent starts along a single track to the 9km mark, which will be the summit of the climb – the first of the twin peaks of Spioenkop.
The starter sets us off and the group settles in after the normal jostling for position. By the time we are on the single track and climbing the mountain the steady sound of footfalls, rhythmic breathing and the occasional humorous comment is all I can hear mixing in with the sound of the “food for the soul” sounds of the African Bush.
The track relentlessly winds upwards with loose stones and gravel, protruding tree roots and rocks forcing the runners to concentrate on where to place their next step. I misjudge a step and my right foot gets caught in a tree root, my left leg continues with the momentum of my stride and I land on uneven ground in a fully extended lunge, expecting my foot to lose traction and slide forward I expect to find myself on the ground. But my left shoe grips the ground with the tenacity of a Pitbull and with a reflexive movement my right leg follows through and I manage to avoid a fall.
Hang on! WOW!!
How did I avoid that fall? Some luck, yes. A strong core, definitely. But all that is naught without a trail shoe that lacks grip and traction when you need it most and the follow up springboard effect of the CloudTec bubbles to propel you forward.
But this is a race and there is no time to pause and contemplate what just happened. I continue upward along the winding, single track towards the summit. With every additional step I was approaching the 8km mark and the start of the short but very steep ascent to the peak… as we rounded a corner to the left, it was upon us, from a steady run the train of runners began to change pace to a slow jog and very quickly a power walk. Some maintained that power walk whilst others slowed even more. The ascent is short, but steep requiring steady footing on gravel, chest high boulders and sandy ground. It’s easy to slip, slide and fall on this terrain and no-one would judge you if you did. I tread carefully but I surprise myself at my fairly quick pace due to the traction afforded to me by my ON Cloudventure Peaks.
After reaching the summit, I paused a brief moment to catch my breath and take in the breathtaking 360 panoramic views around me – after all – there’s no point in participating in an event and not taking a moment to savour and appreciate the magnificence of creation all round.
The 12km descent to the finish line began as I stepped off the edge of that peak onto the first sandy step that had been carved into the mountain to create some sort of footing for hikers and trail runners. If I ever needed grip to avoid slipping it was now – but I also needed more impact control to cushion my landing with every knee buckling step down. The patented CloudTec technology of the ON clouds gave me amazing grip and cushioned support with every step I took down the mountain. My feet felt alive, aware of every angle, change in terrain and ground surface without disturbing my circulation – no pain in the arches of my feet, no pain in the knees or ankles and no hotspots under my feet.
I finished my first day, strong, at a pace I ordinarily run 5km around the neighbourhood with nothing more but slightly tired muscles and a feeling of exhilaration.
Sunday – day 2 of the Oxpecker Trail Run dawned with the same rude awakening as the first. Really! Even the grumpiest of morning people (me) cannot avoid a good humoured giggle as I woke up to the Oxpecker’s version of the calls of the bushveld.
Facing 15km of mainly single mountain bike track and with tired legs from the day before, a 3km downhill start to really fire up the quads and glutes, we had our work cut out for us. Before long we were on the descending mountain bike track consisting of uneven, rocky tracks with sharp drop-offs and could not afford to lose concentration or footing for a moment. My ankles and knees were working hard and stability was of the utmost importance – the ON Cloudventure Peaks came through with flying colours. If ever I have been aware of the dynamic vertical and horizontal support of the ON clouds it was on this portion of the trail that I felt it and loved it. Having joined a bus along the track I comfortably, although admittedly, a little tired by that time, I made my way to the finish – all the while sharing and enjoying some lighthearted banter with my fellow runners.
I crossed the finish line with our steady paced “bus driver” in the lead, achieving a Personal Best on both days in both distances and feeling strong. Having come to the end of a memorable 2 days, I enjoyed a drink with my best friend who shared the experience with me in her choice of ON Cloudsurfers (not a trail shoe but performed equally well). We were joined by some of our new friends that we had made on route and over the past 2 days. Having “run on clouds” for 35km, light footed, injury free and without a single blister in sight we had good reason to celebrate, enjoy the moment and make plans for our next trail run where we hope to meet up with old friends and make new ones along the way. After all, isn’t that what trail running is all about?
Article By: Ioanna Zografos