So often trail runners steer clear of entering ultras, often due to a combination of a fear of the unknown and self-doubt. The Merrell Whale of Trail is certainly made up of a variation of types of terrain; the first half winds through fynbos covered mountains before descending to the enchanting Noetsie Bay and finally turns west and homewards along the rocky shores of the Indian Ocean, with a mix of sandy beach and coastal trails. None of it requires years of experience to get through, is ever going to stop you in your tracks, or is so terribly challenging that it’ll break your spirits though.
This makes it the perfect race to enter if you’re looking to challenge yourself. Four Whale of Trail finishers share their thoughts on what it takes to get through the 53km, and why anybody – with the right amount of training and will power – will get to the finish. Here’s how to tell if you have what it takes to enter the 2017 Whale of Trail.
You’re okay on different types of terrain
Get yourself off your regular trail and find some soft beach-type sand to practice on. Get a feel for how your body adapts to running and moving on softer sand, and if you can cope, then you’re on the right track. Similarly, find other trails that mimic the ever-changing terrain of the Whale of Trail and start getting comfortable on them. ““I think it’s different from other trail runs, as you climb mountains, run technical trails and cover lots of beach – all in one race. So to do well (or finish) the Whale of Trail, you should be okay on different terrain,” says Jacques Mouton.
You can keep going all day
Rheinhardt Schulze believes that while training hard for the event is critical, having the endurance to keep going throughout the day will equally get you to the finish line. Condition your mind and body by doing a few longer runs before the day to ensure you get used to spending more than 10 hours on your feet at a time. “On the one hand I would say train hard, especially for the beach running, but on the other hand there is enough time in the day (10-11 hours) for the social runner with an average running schedule to prepare and finish, it really just depends on your goals.” Similarly, Jacoline Haasbroek highlights the importance of longer runs in training. “Don’t rely on a few 21km or 10km runs and think you have lung capacity – endurance is important.”
You’re happy to up your training
This race is perfect for you if you’re ready to up your game and your training routine to start including things like hill training and mountain climbing. You need to be ready to take the next step and commit to doing the training – or you’re not going to have a great experience. “There are a lot of up and downs and the beach run of course a huge challenge when you’re already tired. I’d recommend incorporating some hill training into your preparation to ensure you’re ready,” suggests Jacoline Haasbroek.
Understand mind over matter
“Prepare your brain for the day,” says Andy Davis and he couldn’t be more spot on. Regardless of your fitness levels, at some point your mind is going to be forced to take over. If you’re not prepared, your mind will fail you. It’s not difficult to get ready though, assures Jacoline Haasbroek. “It’s comes down to mind over body. Just visualise it. Think about crossing the finish line, the hearty welcome, the well-deserved drink and hearing everybody’s stories on their suffering. Think about the enjoyment of receiving the medal, digging into your supper and sharing special moments with special people.”
It’s not all muscle and brawn and the Whale of Trail is perfectly suitable as a first-time ultra. Not only is the diverse trail relatively forgiving, but the beautiful scenery and the fact you share the day with Cape Vultures, Southern Right whales and friendly faces in one of the most beautiful reserves in the Western Cape work to distract you from your aching muscles and sore feet. Enter now to ensure you get that medal!