When trail running meets adventure racing

Clinton Mackintosh, adventure racing, trekking, trail running, Team Cyanosis, tips

Clinton during the 50km Beast Trail Run in June 2017, Cape Town.

When trekking became trail running

When I first started adventure racing, there was not much running involved in the trekking legs I did. Things quickly changed as the competition for podium spots intensified.

Trekking legs suddenly became running legs. Imagine blazing adventure racing trails with a backpack! And I’m not talking about a trail running vest, I’m talking about a backpack loaded with compulsory team and individual gear weighing anything between 6-12kg.

In a recent conversation about trail running and trekking, I got the impression that many people believe that adventure racing doesn’t really require much running. If that were the case, these races would take so much longer for the top teams to complete, and to be honest, I’d be a happy camper if all teams followed this rule!

The fact of the matter is that the teams wanting to win most certainly will not be trekking these legs. They’ll run as much as possible with fully-laden packs, pushing the limits and chasing teams to close the gap!

Clinton Mackintosh trekking through the night at 2017 Expedición Guaraní. Team Cyanosis won this event!

A first-hand account

In June 2017 I ran the Beast Trail Run in Cape Town. I went in to the race underestimating the magnitude of the task that I was about to tackle – 55km with 3000m of ascent.  This sort of distance I would have done thousands of times in AR, so I knew I was ready for it. No big deal right? Wrong.

Boy, was I hugely mistaken. The race started off well. I was running at a steady pace that I knew I could maintain for hours, not to mention how light I felt running with my sleek trail vest instead of a huge backpack!

My mind-set changed from the usual, “This is a long race Mac, and you still have days to go so pace yourself”  to “I’ll be home in just a few hours! Give it full gas and hope for the best.”

The race took me almost eight hours, and I really didn’t think I ran too badly! I managed to run a fast final 6km, and immediately huddled up in the car to lick my wounds.

Clinton Mackintosh, adventure racing, trekking, trail running, Team Cyanosis, tips

Adventure racing Team Cyanosis during the first 11km trekking of Raid Gallaecia 2017. Photo: Ann-Marie Dunhill

The crux of the matter

Why did this 55km trail race take so much more out of me than an adventure race leg with the same distance? The reality is the pace. 

The sustainable and slower pace in adventure racing is something I overlooked. With no marked route or trails to follow, you’re really running over terrain that may only be conducive to slower-pace jogging or shuffling.  Trail running, however, follows a marked route on terrain that mostly allows you to push harder and run faster.

That’s why I suffered so badly – I ran faster and it was fantastic!  I was able to run more freely without worrying about route choices, and could simply switch off and follow the bunting.

Here’s my point: Trail running is a necessary skill for adventure racing.

There are race directors that know this all too well, and they’re moving from the traditional trekking legs to something that requires more running for the competitive guys.

Adventure racers need to be able to run faster, for longer and with heavy packs.

Trail running is here to stay in our sport. With AR World Champs only five weeks away (8-16 August 2017), Team Cyanosis are spending a lot of time blazing trails to increase our speed! We know the endurance is there, but the speed we can gain from trail events is hugely beneficial.

Clinton Mac is the captain of one of South Africa’s leading AR teams, Team Cyanosis. They will be the only team representing our country at the 2017 AR World Championship.

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