Trail Lab – you will not be let down
01 January 1970
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Welcome back to yet another edition of Old Mutual Live, thank you so much for joining us today, I’m Brad Brown. It’s time to chat some trail running and we head north to Johannesburg. You wouldn’t think it’s a hotbed of trail running, but it’s definitely growing in the Big Smoke. We’re joined by Jack Davis. Jack, welcome onto Old Mutual Live, thanks for joining us.
Jack Davis: Thanks for having me Brad, I’m looking forward to the chat.
BB: Jack, I’m quite interested, you’re born and bred in Jo’burg, you live in the city itself, you’re not on the outskirts, so to speak. But you’re big into trail running. Where did your love for trail start?
JD: Brad, I think my love for trail started from getting a bit tired of actually running on the road. Kind of went through the usual story of way too much road running and a couple of Comrades. Then got lured by the mountains and just getting onto something different and a little bit more solitude running on the trails. It kind of developed over a few years and just absolutely fell in love with it and through that managed to find a few little gems in and around Jo’burg that we can run here.
Jo’burg is not shy of trail running options
BB: And there are a few, more and more of them are being found as well, as more and more people get into the sport. People think Jo’burg, big city, nowhere to run, but there are actually lots of places you can run trail-wise in Jo’burg.
JD: 100%. If you’re in heart of Jo’burg, obviously the Spruit, which links Emmerentia Park, Delta Park, Albert’s farm, is the most fantastic network of trails, urban trails. From a mountain biking point of view, it’s actually very technical, it’s all single track.
I know a couple of really good mountain bikers who have come a cropper there on the Spruit, but that’s in the inner city. Then just a short drive out of Jo’burg you’ve got places like Kliprivier Nature Reserve which is just a phenomenal piece of land in the south. There’s Van Gaalen’s, which obviously there’s a lot of mountain biking and trail running happening out there on Magaliesburg, which offers you a range of trails and distances to please any runner.
A couple of other little gems in Pretoria. Groenkloof is very popular and a few other little odds and ends in the south. Ryno Griesel swears by the Red Barn and all the events he has there, which is also a fantastic venue. We’ve got options, that’s for sure and it’s just about thinking a little bit outside of the box and you’ll find your fix for sure.
BB: Without a doubt. You’ve also got a pretty interesting business and website called Trail Lab, tell us a bit about that all started?
The idea behind Trail Lab
JD: Well, Brad, it started a couple of years ago, purely out of what I saw as a bit of a gap in the market where the traditional runner and trail runner is being lured to race after race and event after event. For an up and coming or a new trail runner, it can be extremely intimidating to go, just to pitch up at a race and try and run it for the first time. Not knowing anything, not knowing anyone and it is intimidating.
The idea was born that we could create a product that we would be able to go to market with where trail runners could come into the environment. Where they can run on the most fantastic trails, they can be treated like gold, treated like pros and taught how to trail run. What to use, where to run, how to use gear, what nutrition to use, all those kind of things that no one really teaches you.
You kind of fall into running and fall into trail running. It’s almost a process of elimination and experimentation. We’re hoping to facilitate that process and make it easy for people to get to a level of trail running where they can enjoy it straight away. Rather than hacking through those first few years of being a novice runner and being intimidated for sure.
BB: It’s interesting that you say we fall into running and we fall into trail running, I think we’ve got a fairly large audience of road runners. We’ve got a fair whack of trail runners as well. But I’m finding many road runners are now trying to make the switch across to trail. One of the biggest things that they realise is that you need to almost be self-supportive on a trail run and that’s something that surprised me first up as well.
We almost take it for granted that on a normal road race you’ve got refreshment tables every 3km. Slightly different on trail and you say you need to learn to run trails. People think you can just pitch up, but there are nuances and there are things that you need to bear in mind. Running styles differ slightly in the two sports, what are some of the hints and tips you can give people wanting to make that transition from road to trail?
The chief advice when switching to trail
JD: I think there’s a couple of aspects Brad that you could touch on there. It’s aspects that we do touch on, on the camps. You’ll see on the website, we’re partnered with Landie and Christiaan Greyling. They come along to the camps and offer their expert advice on running and all things running around the camp.
It’s fantastic to have them there to impart their knowledge and they’re very passionate about giving out knowledge and helping people to grow. For them, this is also an opportunity to be able to do that where they don’t necessarily have an outlet to pass that knowledge on.
The camps are broken up into various sections where we talk about, obviously running and technical skills about running and in particular descending and ascending. Because on trails your climbs are a lot steeper than on the road.
We’ve all been talking Comrades for the last few months and Inchanga and Field’s Hill and all of those are all daunting challenges on Comrades. But you put on those trail shoes and head out into the mountains there’s a lot more gradient that you’ve got to cover. As well as technical ground underneath also plays a huge role.
We look at a lot of technical skills that the guys can learn. Then also we’ve got a whole lot of gear and nutrition that’s available for the runners that people can just experiment with on each of the runs. We’re not aligned to one specific brand per se, but we give everyone the opportunity to try different brands of nutrition on a run. Take a few goo’s, take a Hammer bar, take a Lama bar. Experiment with it, play with it.
Then the beauty of the running and the community is that everyone has an experience with one product or another. It actually just turns into a weekend of knowledge sharing amongst everyone including Landie and Christiaan and myself, but also the runners as well.
Someone says, ‘I’ve run on Lama bars for the last six months, they’re fantastic and try it here and there and what have you. So it’s a great opportunity to experiment with nutrition and then also with gear, which is important.
Trail running gear, as we all know, is hellishly pricey and with the rand doing what it does, it gets even more pricey. It’s difficult to go out there and purchase a pack, for example, at R2 500 where you don’t know whether it’s going to chafe you, you don’t know whether it’s going to fit you nicely and all of that. We’ve got a whole lot of gear that people can play around with.
Hiking poles, backpacks, handheld water bottles, all that kind of stuff, that people can just play around with, get to like, maybe not get to like. Decide on what they want to do going forward. Those are the kind of aspects that we cover and I think it’s a great starting point for any trail runner, a novice, or even fairly accomplished runner to come and experiment and play around and find out what works for them.
What the camps all boil down to
BB: You offer two types of camps. You’ve got the weekend and the endure. Tell us the difference between the two. You mentioned novice or guys and girls who know what they’re doing, is one more suited to the other? How does it work?
JD: I would say the weekend is more suited to, well, not more suited, but I would say it would cover all the bases with regards to novice and intermediate and advanced runners. On the weekend camp we try to do a Saturday morning run where everyone runs together, as a group. There we can identify, between myself and Christiaan and Landie, will identify the stronger and weaker runners. So that for the next run we can then maybe split up the group a little bit and push on and run in their own comfort zones.
On that first run we would do demos en route and all of those kind of things. We would then have an evening, a night run, learn all the skills around night running. We’ve got a fantastic headlamp partner who brings along all the latest products. Everyone can play around with different products and see what’s what.
Because that’s also something that all of us, you’re signing up for the Sky Run and you’ve got to run a few hours in the night and whoever goes and practices running trail running in the night? No one really, so it’s a great opportunity for that.
Then the Sunday we’ll do another run where we split it up into the skill levels. The guys can then go off and have a bit of a dart in the mountains. That’s the weekender camp that covers pretty much everyone.
The enduro camp would probably be more suited to the intermediate to, not advanced runners. But probably more proficient runner who is looking at doing something like a Sky Run or one of the longer ultra trail runs where we go away for 3-4 days. Just depending on the long weekend and how we structure it.
Getting a slightly longer run in and we’ll have one session where we focus on skills and technical skills. But the rest will be really just getting out into the mountains, getting some good training runs in. That covers pretty much all the bases, hopefully.
BB: If you want to find out more about those camps, traillab.co.za is the website to get to. Jack, as far as, you talk about beginner, intermediate and advanced. From a fitness level perspective, you obviously need some level of fitness coming into one of these weekends. What would the base be that you would say, you know what, you can’t be less than this if you want to participate?
A runner needs to have some fitness base
JD: I mean ideally Brad we would like a runner to be able to comfortably run 20km on the trail, not in any time in particular. But probably even between 15-20km on the trial. On each of the routes we do have bail out routes. So if someone is struggling, we can take them out a little bit quicker so they don’t have to run the full 15 or 20km. Ideally it would be nice to be able to have people who can run 15-20km, two days in a row, as a bare minimum.
We’re very happy to tailor make the experiences to the runners there as well. I think that’s something that we’re quite proud of, the experience we want to give everyone is extremely bespoke and very individualised to those people. If we’ve got a bunch of runners that are even less experienced, we’ll cater that and build it into the programme. That’s really what we’re trying to do is just make it very inclusive for everyone rather than being exclusive.
BB: Jack, do these happen around the country, where do they happen and how often do you host them?
Taking you to some stunning areas
JD: 100%, we look at doing probably between 4-5 weekender camps throughout the year, all around the country. Our next one is in July in the Grootvadersbosch down in the Cape area, near Swellendam. Then we’ll do another one up in Lesotho, ahead of the Lesotho Ultra, which happens up there in November.
Then we’ll probably do one in Sky Run territory which is in the New England Wartrail area, also probably closer to Sky Run time. Just keep an eye on the website and probably more-so the Facebook and Twitter page. So the info goes on there a little bit easier. 4-5 weekender camps in a year and then two enduro camps in a year as well and that’s us.
Spoilt for trail running choice in SA
BB: It sounds awesome and I’m flicking through the website as we speak as well, some amazing pictures. You do get to go to some beautiful parts of the country and I think that’s one of the joys of trail. We’re so blessed to live where we do. You live in Jo’burg, I’m down in Cape Town, but between those two cities there’s some incredible running and every K in between, we’re just so lucky, aren’t we?
JD: You’re spot on Brad and that is the beauty of trail is that we get to explore these areas. I think every trail runner will attest to that, that getting out there and doing these races and doing these events, you get to see parts of the country that you wouldn’t have ordinarily gone to. Which is great cause we’re very privileged and we’ve got the most amazing country that we’re blessed with. That has got the most incredible trails, so let’s get out there and use them.
There is more to running than Comrades
BB: You mentioned Comrades too and the South African running fraternity is very fixated on a race like Comrades. But gee, we’ve got some wonderful races on and off road in this country. As much as I love Comrades and it’s part of who I am and what I do, I just want to urge people to get out there and experience as many of our other races as well.
Just get out there and try something new, particularly trail. I’ve done some incredible runs, been lucky enough to do some incredible runs over the last few years from a trail perspective. Just falling in love with SA over and over again is just an incredible thing to do on the trails.
JD: You’re spot on. I agree with you with the fixation with Comrades and I am a Comrades runner myself. I absolutely love the event. But there is this mind-set within South African running that you’re not a runner unless you run Comrades, which for me is absolute rubbish.
Every runner is worth their salt, whether they’re a 5km runner or a Comrades runner or a trail runner. The amount of scope and the amount of events we’ve got in this country, we just need to get more people running. Which is what we want to do through Trail Lab. Get more people out there, enjoying the trails and enjoying running.
The more people that are running, it’s better for everyone. We’re very lucky in what we’re able to do in this country with regards to events and trail running. If you look at the calendar now compared to five years ago, it’s unbelievable the amount of events, every weekend you can do a trail run. Whether it be up in Gauteng or in CT or in KZN or wherever, your options are endless at the moment, which is fantastic. We’re going in the right direction.
BB: Too true, traillab.co.za is the website to get to, all the info is there. You can link through to the social media platforms as well and get all the info that you need. Jack, thank you so much for your time today, much appreciated, we look forward to catching up again soon.
JD: Great, thanks a lot Brad, appreciate it, take care.