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Race Review: The Bat Run

Trail Runners are already some of the more looney, wacky and crazy bunch of people out there, swopping the tar for the extremely satisfying challenge of the trail is something every runner should do at least once in their life! As if trail running wasn’t challenging enough the batty mates at.. well M.A.T.E.S (Mountain and Trail Enthusiasts) cooked up an event that took an already challenging route to a whole new level.

What is the route you ask? Well starting at Kloof Nek runners would run along Tafelberg Road to the base of Devils Peak, summit Devils Peak then return to Tafelberg Road, run along to the base of Platteklip Gorge, up Platteklip to the top of Table Mountain, then if that wasn’t enough along the top to Maclears Beacon (the highest point on Table Mountain) before heading back the same way to Tafelberg to the original starting position to only have to cross Kloof Nek and summit Lions Head before returning to the start which would then be the finish line of an epic 26km event with 2100m elevation. Right now you might be asking, so what? That sounds like a decent mountain run with some decent climbing, what’s the catch? Well I am glad you asked because unlike other events that start in the morning this event starts at night.. Yep you read right, runners start at 7pm with some finishing well after midnight. Hence it’s name, The Bat Run.

A not so clear picture of the thick mist

This year I found myself at the start line in what is best described as the most intense gale force wind I have ever stood up in let alone run in. As I am only in week 6 of a 6 month base training schedule using the MAF principles I was not looking to race, just get the time on the legs. The wind was traveling at a consistent speed of around 50km/h with gusts hitting close to 70km/h as it plummeted down the cliff face onto the saddle of Devils Peak. This was going to make it tough to keep the HR low. Add to that low lying clouds with thick mist and sharp stinging rain that seemed to pierce through any amount of layers you were wearing. Now I am not ashamed to admit that I am addicted to Adventure, I don’t like the mundane, it is not in my nature.. I need new horizons, new trails, crazy adventures that I know there is a very good chance I might not get out of this alive. When I hit the start line I knew full well that this would be one of those adventures.

After a race briefing we were let loose like a pack of hungry wolves searching for a meal, our prey? The 3 peaks looming above us spitting in all their fury and fierceness, almost to say, “Oh, you want to conquer us? Well we will see about that… mwhahaha (insert sinister laugh)”. We didn’t back down. The sun had only just gone down so we enjoyed about 30mins of twilight before the headlamps came on, by this time I was well into my first ascent of Peak 1 (DP). As I crested the saddle and made my last dig at the summit the wind hit me with such sheer force I was literally blown off my feet, if not for a branch sticking out of a bush I would surely have been blown into a situation I didn’t want to be in. I have honestly never been lifted clear off my feet by a gust of wind before so this was quite an experience. 80kg’s of body and running kit flung around like a rag doll. At the summit (Check Point 1) I learned I was way back in the field, 75th out of 125 starters as it turns out. I wasn’t worried, legs were feeling good and I didn’t chase down the people racing past me up the climb, I knew what was still to come. The decent was gnarley and fast, a little too fast, when I got back to Tafelberg road I regretted letting the brakes off a little too much so early on in the run. I was reminded of this up the Platteklip climb where some of the people I blazed past on the decent caught up to me, thankfully the bulk of Platteklip was sheltered from the wind, I was able to regroup and get my mind focused for what was to come.

2015-02-28 19.45.45-1

The top of Table Mountain was a full on blizzard, wind chill factor was below zero with pelting rain and the before mentioned wind (although thankfully it seemed to not be as severe as on the DP saddle). Trouble was the visibility was literally reduced to max 2m because of the thick mist which took my headlamp and turned the cloud I was running though into a sheet of bright white noise, I might as well have been running with a bed sheet around my face. The path to Maclears is tough to find (let alone follow) on a clear day because essentially it isn’t a path.. you are basically running over rocks that look identical with yellow foot prints painted every 3 or 4 meters showing you where to go, add the mist and the darkness and you feel like you are running on the moon. Thankfully the run to Maclears went well and I managed to stay on path. The trouble started after I turned at Maclears and after about 10m I had lost the path, quickly becoming disorientated I head right instead of left before coming up close and personal with a sheer cliff face. Thankfully some runners who were heading to Maclears were vaguely visible and after some scrambling I was able to get back on the path. I had a massive sense of relief because getting lost or taking a fall up there in that weather would have made it incredibly difficult for search parties to find me. I don’t remember ever being so happy to see the top of the platteklip climb before and I started to make my way down the mountain, it was slow going, because of the rain the rocks were incredibly wet and slippery. Sure footing was scarce but thankfully after a few tumbles I made it down to Tafelberg road.

The contrast in weather was phenomenal, 30mins before I had been freezing in a full on blizzard but now back on Tafelberg as I made my way to Kloof Nek it felt like I was running in the middle of a hot summers day. Before long every top layer I had on was in the pack to prevent further dehydration (I thought it a good idea to tackle DP and Table Mountain with 500ml’s of water which had run out on top of Table Mountain), thankfully I could refill water and get some food at the aid station on Kloof Nek before tackling Lions Head. Lions Head was great, by now the wind was completely gone so I could really enjoy the climb and take in the sights of the city below. I let my competitiveness get the better of me on Lions Head and made a little push at the end to reel in one or two places, probably not the smartest move but fun nonetheless. My shoe of choice this time out was the New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail (which I reviewed here). Hands down one of my favourite shoes at the moment, sadly it was their last run as I have clocked some serious mileage in them the last few months before the upper separated from the sole. Taking into account the terrain I run on they held up really nicely in terms of durability. I will however wait for the 2nd version to come out which has an updated and stronger cross-stitched upper, shoes aren’t cheap so the longer they can last the better.

The New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail shoes

All in all it was a stunning event! Will I do it again next year? I sure will, although I will admit at one section on Platteklip while being smacked by the wind and rain I almost turned back, thinking my life is not worth trying to finish this thing but the Adventure was worth it and getting to that finish line was an amazing experience. Running at night on trails I know like the back of my hand added a whole new world to what I thought was a normal route I have run hundreds of times. Oh and I manged to finish 22nd while keeping my Heart Rate in my aerobic zone which was great sign that the MAF principles are working for me (more on that in a blog to follow), I am looking forward to when I can really get stuck in again and race my heart out.

Thank you Mike and all the amazing people from M.A.T.E.S, the volounteers, the sweepers, the Check Point controls on top of each peak (especially DP and Maclears who were freezing their ear lobes off for us), and to Tim for organising some rad cooler bags for us :)

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The Fresh Prince of Boston – New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail Shoe

New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail Shoe

Striking shoe – New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail Shoe

If you were a teenager in the 90’s you will at some point have had your favourite TV show set on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. A quirky comedy about a typical mischievous and rough around the edges teenager who get’s thrust into the high life when he moves in with his wealthy Aunt and Uncle who live in Bel Air. Just why it was such a big hit I believe is that in some ways we can all relate to Will Smith’s character. Even if we weren’t a teenager at the time it is highly likely that we secretly dreamt to be a youth again. You have to admit it, being a teenager is pretty exciting, fun and carefree. As a teenager you have very little responsibilities, you think you know everything, and life is a beach. It is fun not being grown up, to have an excuse for your wild behaviour. I mean when did we as adults become so serious about everything? Maybe it’s the bills to pay at the end of the month, or the car or house we want to buy so we work extra hard to get it. I don’t know about you but I constantly need to remind myself to slow down once in a while and actually have some fun, to not take life so seriously..

Enter The Fresh Prince of Boston. The quirky, mischievous and a little rough around the edges teenager of the running world. The Fresh Prince of Boston, also known as the New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail Shoe (this particular review is about the trail version hence the name of the site). When New Balance first brought out the Fresh Foams they had an air of mischief to them, in many ways they were nothing like New Balance had ever brought out before. Moving from it’s Rev-lite and minimus mid and outer soles New Balance was taking a gamble, in a sense rewriting it’s legacy in an over saturated industry. A bold move that is not unlike a teenager who is not afraid to challenge the status quo, not afraid to try something fresh, throw off the mundane and have some fun. I mean just look at the colour options you get with the shoe, if that doesn’t scream a wild carefree teenager like spirit then I don’t know what will.

Don’t get me wrong, just because I am comparing this shoe to a wild and fresh teenager doesn’t mean the shoe shouldn’t be taken seriously! In fact this shoe, while being wild and fresh, is very serious about it’s business and it’s business is performance.

New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail Shoe Review

Bearded Brother taking the New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail Shoe for a test drive.

Lets look at some of the specs:

The New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail Shoe Upper:

I have to admit I was a bit surprised to see that New Balance went with a singular stitch mesh design for the Fresh Foam Trail 980 Upper. It does breathe nicely which is great but it also hamper’s it’s strength and durability on the trail, I am happy to report though that the v2’s will come out with a cross stitched dual density mesh which will make it much stronger on the trail. Along with the padded heel bridge and the ‘Gusseted” tongue which very effectively keeps debris out of the shoe the Fresh Foam Trail’s hug your foot very nicely. Out on the trail I experienced very little niggles to my feet inside the shoe, the fact that the overlays are not sewed makes a massive difference and enables the shoe to comfortably be worn without socks.

The New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail Shoe Midsole:

As mentioned before New Balance has gone with a foam design on the midsole, this according to New Balance allows you to “Experience the science of soft — off road. With the same impossibly plush and natural underfoot feel as the road version, the Fresh Foam 980 Trail delivers a smooth yet stable ride.” The smooth yet stable ride comes from a ground clearance of 29.3mm at the heel and 22.7mm at the forefoot. This equates to an approximate 4mm heel to toe drop which for me is my most favourite feature of the shoe. New Balance have kept their philosophy from their more natural running inspired minimus shoes and kept the drop as minimal as possible while still offering a smooth and comfortable ride for the longer runs.

The New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail Shoe Outersole:

Any trail shoe worth it’s salt will always be graded according to grip and ride-ability. The fact that the Fresh Foam 980 Trails has a full ground contact out sole with multi-directional lugs which ensure fresh grip on even the most mischievous uphill and downhill tracks is a massive plus for this shoe. A “fast finish” angle to the outsole gives the shoe a great ‘roll-on’ effect as you run along the trail which I enjoyed quite a lot.

New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail Shoe

Good looking shoe – New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail Shoe

New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail Shoe Performance:

So how does it perform? It’s one thing to list a bunch of fresh sounding specs but out in the real world, on the trail, does it all come together like an inside out California roll or is it a fresh flop? First let me give you some context to my running, I am and always will be a ‘running with the fairies’ minimalist runner. For me less is always more when it comes to a running shoe so it is safe to say I was little skeptical of running in a ‘maximal’ shoe again. I was not disappointed. In fact I literally had to hide the Fresh Foams away after two weeks so I could go out in my minimus shoes again. Out on the trail they are incredibly comfortable, and at 8.9oz (230g) they are mischievously light! They handled the rocky, technical sections of the mountain really well and I felt very confident in their grip. They were, simply, a breathe of fresh air! The ride was soft yet surprisingly responsive and on the steep descents they were care free and agile. On hard pack and tar they were fantastic. The one thing to consider though is they do ride about a half size too small so if you are looking at them then try a size up as the toe box is a bit narrow.

New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail Shoe

Bearded Brother review – New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail Shoe in Action

I do still find my minimus shoes faster at higher speeds through the really technical stuff but for holding a consistent pace over the long haul the Fresh Foam 980 Trail Shoe is about as comfortable and responsive as you can ask for.

So I guess the question you need to ask yourself is how seriously are you taking yourself? Do you need a bit more fun in your life, a bit more foot loose and fancy free vibes? If so then you need to meet The Fresh Prince of Boston, the quirky mischievous and a little rough around the edges teenager of the running world.

New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail Shoe

Bearded Brother putting the New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail Shoe through its paces.

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#BestGiftEver: Fuel to Conquer South Africa’s 100km Ultra Trail

By: Christine Dailey
Posted at ow.ly/FDj82 on December 9, 2014

Rae Trew-Browne, a 29-year old South African native, was a fierce competitor on his high school cross country team growing up. After falling out of the running routine during post-graduate life, a friend asked Browne to compete in a sprint triathlon with him a few years ago. He struggled and was unable to finish the race. Now Browne is competing in 50km trail races in his hometown of South Africa and gearing up for his first 100km next year. “If I had finished that first triathlon I had attempted, I don’t think I would’ve been so motivated to start running again,” says Rae. “Because the race beat me I was so determined to come back and conquer it.”

Originally from Johanessburg, Browne moved to Cape Town three years ago and started trail running on their famous stunning mountain terrain. The high peaks and spectacular views gave him the running bug. Now he runs 12km both to and from work almost every day, does five-hour mountain runs/hikes on the weekends and has competed in numerous mountain races. “I experienced some painful setbacks in my personal life and being able to push myself, only to discover you can always go further was a great accomplishment,” says Rae. “Conquering physical mountains gave me the confidence to conquer the emotional mountains I was also facing at the time.”

#BestGiftEver: South Africa Trail Runner Conquers Ultra Races

As we approach 2015, Browne is gearing up for a 60km race on the Swellendam Hiking Trail – one of South Africa’s most sought-after trails, where he’ll aim to qualify for a 100km ultra trail race in Cape Town. “Competitors only have 15 hours to complete the 100km, so it will be a decent challenge,” says Rae. “Finishing in the cut-off would be a dream come true!”

#BestGiftEver: South Africa Trail Runner Conquers Ultra Races

We want to help Rae cross the finish line so we sent him a care package with some specific brand new running shoes and apparel including the Minimus Zero Trail, the Fresh Foam Trail and the glow in the dark Minimus 10v2 (Rae snapped these shots of him in action with his gifts right after they arrived). “Being able to compete in the mountains is an amazing gift,” says Rae. “Running can be tough at times but to be able to race in an ultra would be a huge gift for me.”

We can’t wait to see what mountains Rae conquers in 2015! At the very least, we hope the new gear inspires him in his endeavors and is the best gift ever this holiday season.

#BestGiftEver: South African Trail Runner Conquers Ultra Races

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