NavWorld Ambassadors Bennie Roux and Naomi Brand are without a doubt two of the finest ultra-distance trail runners here in SA. And last Saturday, 11 lucky runners got the opportunity to pick these two top athletes’ brains while joining them for a run at NavWorld’s Trail Running Bootcamp held in Pretoria.

We all know trail running isn’t for sissies. But doing well on race day requires more than just bucket-loads of mental stamina and a super-fit body – you also need to pick up the tricks of the trail and get shown some smart techniques from someone with more experience than you. And when it comes to ultra-distance trail running, who better to learn from than Munga winner Bennie Roux and Addo 100 miler champ Naomi Brand?

Saturday morning was distinctly chilly, not to mention still pitch dark, when everyone congregated at NavWorld’s Pretoria branch for the Trail Running Bootcamp’s rather early 6 am start. Not that anyone was complaining – for the 11 runners who’d signed up for the morning training session, this was their opportunity to finally shoot the breeze with their sporting heroes and find out what makes them tick. Even better, the order of the day was hands-on and informal – no stuffy classroom sessions here. Instead, all instruction was to be conducted where it should be; out on the trail.

While everyone got the chance to down plenty of hot coffee and hit the muffin cart, Roux and Brand formally set the agenda for the morning – which was to run. Then, with no further ado, the group headed out for a quick jog down the road to the Faerie Glen Nature Reserve (about 1 km away), where the training session was to take place in earnest.

The 128 ha reserve proved to be the ideal location. Its trail offers spectacular views over Pretoria East’s surrounding urban landscape as it takes one up to Rhenosterkop, by far the highest point in the area. But although getting to the top was a tough, steep winding climb – picking up tips on how to best gain elevation wasn’t the only thing participants were sweating it out for. Happily, they weren’t to be disappointed. Once at the top, they ran along the length of the long, spine-like ridge on an uneven dirt track with its fair share of technical challenges. They then headed down into the valley again through thick vegetation, this time having to watch out for loose rocks as they picked up speed. At the bottom, they crossed their final hurdle, the Moreleta Spruit, before heading back to their starting point – where they then went and did it all again.

Most conversations took place at the top of the ridge while everyone was taking a break – it was the only time anyone had enough breath to handle it! Topics discussed included basic trail etiquette, trail safety, training tips for stages races and ultra marathons, recovery tips when stage racing and running form. Or, more specifically, how to tackle a steep uphill/mountain trails, and how to run technical downhills faster. Roux elaborates: “When battling steep uphills, hard work beats talent every time. And when negotiating technical downhills, remember that running is just controlled falling – so lean forward a bit with your upper body to harness some of gravity’s free energy.”

With the trail run done and dusted, the group then jogged back to NavWorld where the conversations continued – this time over rehydration drinks, tea, coffee and some really nice biscuits. As an outsider (I was shooting pics, not running), I found this second “social” extremely valuable. By then, everyone had worked up a sweat together and the mood was really relaxed. It created an atmosphere where there was no such thing as a dumb question and everyone could have a good laugh. And it wasn’t just participants who got a lot out of the experience, Brand had a blast too, saying: “It was great to share our passion with the runners and pass on some of the tips we’ve picked up over the years. With trail running you always start out as a group of strangers, but by the time the run’s finished you end up as friends. In the future, I would love these training sessions to last a whole day rather than just a morning.” In many ways, the experience was more like swapping banter with your mates, rather than having a sterile “quality training session” with two sports stars. Very nice. – (c) 2017 NavWorld

Note: NavWorld’s Trail Running Bootcamp takes place on an irregular basis and limited spaces are available. So keep an eye out on our Facebook page for updates if you’re interested in signing up for the next event. For now, you can see all the photos from this event on Facebook, go ahead, tag yourself:

About The Author

Sean Woods

Originally a photographer for the Star newspaper in the bad old days, Sean Woods turned to writing after the first democratic elections in '94. The career shift paid serious dividends, culminating in him becoming associate editor for Popular Mechanics magazine with a number of technology writing awards under his belt. His interests include anything to do with boats, motorcycles and all those fancy tech gadgets that help the modern world go around.

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