The Sometimes Complete Rookies Guide to Multi Stage Trail Running by Jan Ham

With just under two weeks to go to the start of the AfricanX Trailrun presented by ASICS, the butterflies must be starting to flutter around for many first timers to this event. Don’t despair, you’ve done the hard yards, and now it’s time to relax, taper and take in all that the AfricanX has to offer.

First things first, the AfricanX is a team race, so you need a partner. You are not Braun Strowman from the WWE that can win tag team championships at WrestleMania34 without a partner.

Partner sorted, then get to know them, even if it is over WhatsApp, Facebook stalking them (okay, this is a very bad idea and probably illegal) or a braai with a cold one. Or follow the advice of the experts. You should know your partner well, run and train together, know their running strengths and weaknesses, does your running styles (or in most cases lack thereof) complement each other?

Nutrition before, during and after any race is very important as it refuels the body’s energy stocks, helps with recovery, and it’s just plain nice having a cold beer afterwards with your feet up reminiscing about the day’s route and run with fellow runners. Maybe the cold beer thing isn’t that important or beneficial, but it’s still nice!

However, as soon as an event extends beyond 90 minutes, nutrition and hydration becomes even more important. Every runner has individual needs, likes, dislikes and tolerance levels for different types of fluid, energy gels and food when they are running, so you should find out what works best for you before race day.

One thing I have learned about multi-stage running is to eat little bits regularly during the course of the day, and if your partner has a bigger running pack, let him carry everything. It does wonders to replenish energy levels.

Hydration plays a very important part in multi-stage running. The only way to ensure that you will not become dehydrated is to stop it before it happens. When you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated. That is why it is important to properly hydrate before and during any event. During the trail run itself, focus on continuously sipping from your water bottle or hydration pack.

Other useful tips:

If running with a hydration pack, make sure you’ve tested it properly. An ill-fitting pack can cause so much discomfort and end your race before it even started. It must be light-weight with easily accessible pockets for items such as cell phone, gels, bars, windbreaker and first-aid essentials.

There are a couple of other accessories that could be quite useful like moisture-wicking and quick-drying running clothes. Not only are these way more comfortable, but they keep you drier for longer, and it also looks good (unless you squeeze your XXL frame into a size S tee). Running with your dad’s 1980’s Comrades finishers’ cotton t-shirt and poly shorts might not cut it over three days, although you might win Stage Two dress-up day! Be comfortable in what gear you are going to be running in. There truly is very little worse than getting the famous runners nipple rash running in a new shirt for the first time, although a good dose of Vaseline or some plaster could minimise the effect.

Sun-block and a running cap or buff is essential. I use Island Tribe, factor I don’t know how high. Mine is a very strong alcohol base gel, and if you get it to close to your eyes you are going to cry like a little girl, while fellow runners might think you were carbo-loading on beer the previous night from the smell. These days they come in great little spray-on cans (light enough to carry in your pack for re-application), just close your eyes before you spray, as it really hurts! But trust me, it works like a bomb.

Sunglasses are a must have.  Not only do they project your eyes against UV rays, but they also keep out bugs, sand and wind.

A GPS-based running watch helps with good timing and the comfort/discomfort of knowing where water points are and how far you still must go.

A trail beard! This tip is only for guys (unless it’s dress-up day) but has benefits for the ladies too. It looks good, scares off ‘would-be’ attackers, and gives you right of way on the single track and at the bar! Okay, maybe just at the bar, but that has to count for something!

Pack your gear the night before each stage, putting race numbers on, socks in shoes (as to not forget them), hydration pack sorted etc. I get a reoccurring dream around the Wednesday before a big event, where the starter’s gun goes off, and I’m still deciding which shoes to wear, or have forgotten my socks in the car.

Come April 26th you’ll be greeted by friendly staff during registration, see other nervous likeminded runners, all wondering whether or not they belong here, and pretty soon thereafter you’ll feel a part of the family, whether running your first or your 10th AfricanX.

If you were lucky enough to have joined in on one or more of the social training runs beforehand you’ll even see a few familiar faces to calm the nerves!

All that is really left to do at that stage is to take in the vibe, get a good night’s rest, and line up the next morning for Stage One.

Other than that, just remember to pack in your sense of humour, and take it one step at a time and be ready to “Let nature give you a run for your money!”

See you the weekend of 26 – 29 April 2018!

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