Standard Bank Avis Xtrail 2016: Race Report

Knowing Windhoek in Winter, especially the Avis area in July, we packed exceptionally warm. By warm I mean I packed shoes and jackets for everyone this time, which is an extreme occurrence in this no-shoes-or-jackets family (read ‘boys’). I have raced in Windhoek in winter when temperatures in Avis read minus 4 degrees Celsius. It was bitterly cold, and my poor hubs had to entertain two toddlers for 2 hours on a frostbitten lawn while mama at least got to run up a little bit of body heat.

The second annual Avis Dam Xtrail, organised by OTB Sport, took place in Windhoek on Sunday 10 July. Although I love running early-early in the morning we were grateful for a slow start which allowed us some breakfast and temperatures to warm up to 11 degrees by times of the 8:30 am send-off.

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Starting line-up of the 15 km Avis Xtrail, 2016.

It seems trail running is (finally) hitting this beautiful country of ours like a wild fire, as these are popping up thick and fast everywhere (please, yes, hallelujah!) Nico and I are absolute trail lovers but most of our trailing has happened on our merry own with very little trail races available within easy access in the past. In 2015 we started our own trail run, Brandberg Rhino Run, driven by our love for running in Damaraland and a desire to share the experience with our trail runner friends. As luck would have it, the Standard Bank Khomas Xtrail had its inception race on that very same weekend in Namibia.

The Avis Xtrail comprised two categories, namely a 16 km trail run and an 8 km trail fun run/walk. The organisers were completely blown away by the 500 entries, which resulted in the biggest trail run in Namibia! A total of 190 participants lined up for the longer version, and I have to admit I was totally giddy with excitement. Standing at the starting line amongst the sea of geared trailie-comrades bearing rugged trail-gear and those familiar tenacious free-yet- nervous grins, I was in heaven!

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Nervous energy before the race, it is simply intoxicating!

At the gun we were off on a short section of gravel road that was about the only level section on the entire race, before we embarked on the real trail and a very steep climb. By the time we scaled the koppie I was completely pooped (we weren’t 2 km in yet), but the views of beautiful Windhoek from up there were stunning.

The first half of the race was really tough as it comprised a nett ascend and we had the wind in our faces. I only managed 6.5 km within the first hour of the race, but it was such an awesome experience, I honestly didn’t want it to be over. The route followed single tracks through shrublands and grassy fields; we had to duck and dive to miss swarthaak thorns and carefully step on slopes of loose gravel. It was tough and fun and easy and hard and everything BUT never boring.

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Absolute serenity and beautiful Windhoek Winter Wonderland.

As with the best trails where runners are expected to be self-sufficient, there was only one aid table roughly half-way. Yet this was no ordinary aid station, it was a bush-picnic! I have never seen runners so reluctant to leave an aid station during a race, calling out to their friends to go on ahead, promising to join them after they finished eating! There were bananas, Bar One’s, Jelly Babies, Coke and water, and the friendliest helpers this side of the equator. What a treat!

The route was just over 15 km all in all, but with a total of 500 m altitude gain and 500 m loss, which is quite significant for a short trail like this. The second part comprised a net downhill, and with the wind in our backs the going was much easier and faster than the first half. For me there is honestly nothing that comes close to the powerful feeling of pounding it out on a beautiful nature trail. The hurt, huffing and heaving it up on a steep slope, not knowing what lies beyond the summit, feelings of doubt setting in as the going gets tougher, and then the sweet release as the terrain levels out, endless vistas opening up and energy levels returning. Flying down the easy slopes on the other side, arms flailing and feet light, short little careful strides and new courage. You’ve got this, this is beautiful fun, you can do this! Just as intense as life itself. Trail running is an absolutely gorgeous and complete experience.

I came in at 2:04:55, 20th lady home (middle of the female field) and was welcomed by my beautiful support team waiting for me and cheering me on. What more can this mama ask from a perfect Sunday in beautiful Namibia.

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Sweet sweet finish with supporting loved ones waiting.

OTB Sport did a stellar job at getting this trail run off the ground, with smooth online entries and registration. The route was extremely well marked with bunting tape in all the right places, as the scope for getting lost in this bushy terrain was quite big. Even though I am a firm supporter of ‘collect moments, not things’, I am a very big sucker for a race medal, and that was amiss for finishers of this race. I didn’t, however, mind adding another 5 or so minutes to my race time to stop for pictures, so luckily mementos I have ample.

We will actively endeavour to support and even create more such trail events in Namibia, as this country renders itself perfectly to be one of the top trail destinations in the world. This was already proven this year with the Four Deserts Challenge that picked Namibia to host the Sahara event, which had to be cancelled in Egypt due to political uncertainty. We have one of the safest and arguably THE most beautiful, diverse country that one can run in. And I can’t wait to run the next trail