260km of running around Kilimanjaro with 11 000 meters of ascend in seven days – sounds like a big enough goal for the next season! Less than two weeks after finishing the triathlon season in Ironman Kalmar I found myself signed up for the Kilimanjaro Stage Run 2016 – better go buy myself a pair of trail running shoes and start training!
Since crossing the Ironman finish line a couple weeks back I´ve spent my recovery days intensively trying to figure out what´s next. After six seasons of triathlon training I found it difficult to find proper motivation to start it all over again for yet another year – just to get minutes off from my personal best or climb a bit up in the age grouper rankings.
However, I wasn´t quite ready to just fall back to “having fun with sports and enjoying myself” approach either. I needed something big enough to aim for. Something different.
I scanned through the interenet with “the longer event the better” approach and somehow the terms “trail running”, “skyrunning” and “stage run” started to sound inviting. I´m a keen traveler and photographer and I definitely like to run so mountain ultras or stage runs around the world would nicely tick all the boxes. Then it´s was just a matter of picking the right one to start with.
I figured I didn´t want to do my first multi-day stage run with a heavy backpack so that narrowed the options down to events where the camp is moved by organizers during the run. Add timing (during the summer holiday season) and location and I was down to only two options and they both happened to be in Africa: A race called Richtersveld Wild Run in South Africa and an event called Kilimanjaro Stage Run in Tanzania led by the world record holder on the fastest unassisted climb and descent to Kilimanjaro, Simon Mtuy.
Both events pick their participants through an application process scouting for people who have adequate experience of trail running and endurance sports to get through the event. After sending a couple emails back and forth I found out that I had a chance to get accepted with my Ironman background but I´d definitely need to focus the upcoming season on trail running and get my mileage up quite a bit.
What eventually pulled me to Kilimanjaro was the video below and the possibility to extend the trip from seven days of running to include a 12 day expedition to the Kilimanjaro Summit right after the run. I couched up the $500 pre-payment to secure my slot and was all set!
The first step towards my life as a trail runner was finding the right shoe for the job. I have a rather wide foot and most of the available trail running shoes got ruled out due to their snug fit. I focused on the models with extra wide toeboxes and after six pairs of trying finally found my favourites: Inov Terraclaw 220 and 250. The 220 is a light shoe perfect for short tempo runs while the 250 is a bit more sturdy and works well on the long or rocky runs.
Unfortunately, its really difficult to tell if the shoe´s good or not before you get some proper running with it so I can tell this research project wasn´t really the cheapest one.
Next step was getting myself to trails and increasing the mileage. I checked my map for the smallest trails and steepest ascends around, put on the brand new shoes and kicked off.
On the third kilometer of my 21km run I stepped in a knee-deep pond while crossing a swamp and got both shoes all wet inside out. Somewhere in the back of my head I heard the advise of an experienced trail runner from whom I had asked for guidance when looking for the right shoes – “The trail running shoes are supposed to get wet. It´s all good as long as the water gets out as fast as it gets in!” I kept running and forgot the wet feet in minutes as I was all concentrated on staying on the narrow path and soaking in the scenery around.
During the following weeks my run mileage will build up from the current 75km/week while strength training and biking will stay on the training plan as supporting workouts. On the last months of tri season I got more than my share of swimming so even though swimming would be a good way of cross-training as well I´m thinking of staying away from the pool for now.
First trail races on calendar are the Vaarojen Maraton trail marathon early October (race report) and a trail ultra in Dorset, U.K. in December (race report). Then I´m up for a long winter of running and I have a feeling I´m going to enjoy it!
See you on trails!