By Amanoola Khayrattee -December 6, 2018
Getting the feel of the countryside has never been better than probing into the heart of it, on foot. Trail running is but one medium to reach out places where nature offers a breath of freshness and an escape from the mundane concerns of daily life. Nothing can beat the natural picturesque scenery that unfolds as you progress in wilderness.
If you love the fun of it, connecting with nature, running and jogging along the countryside, in woods or hills, book yourself for a trail running. If you are in Rodrigues or you are planning a visit, the Rod Trail Association (RTA) will be more than pleased to accommodate you in its monthly trails
A new trend in the quest of communion with nature mixing leisure, sports and adventure with exploring places, trail running is very popular the world over. Rodrigues is no exception. Described as “Hill in the Sea” by Prem Saddul in his Mauritius: A Geomorphological Analysis, this islands of volcanic origin situated 650 km east of mainland Mauritius, offers a wonderful ground for trail running activity.
The last trail of the year – the “Trouloulou Trail” – of the RTA rallied some 100 participants on Sunday December 2, 2018. I was one of them. I have always been intrigued about the organization of trails and their particular appellation here.
“Trails in Rodrigues are named after indigenous birds and animals”, says Michael Allet, a prominent member of the RTA. “Trouloulou originates from a local crab name. Likewise there’s ‘Golden Bat’, ‘Fauvette’, ‘Cardinal Jaune’, ‘Tortue’ and ‘Gecko’ trails, among others, held each month. The aim is to bring together people around an activity that links sporting, exploring, and adventure; but also to foster an environment-friendly conscious society”.
The International Trail-Running Association (ITRA) based in Switzerland recognizes trail running as “a pedestrian race in natural environment with minimal possible paved or asphalt road. The amount of roads should not exceed 20% of the distance”.
It is a sport where participants run different distances in a nature environment. It is known to promote overall health and well being.
Trail running has its own specific topographic hurdles and challenges. But the benefits outweigh the inherent difficulties. These transcend from physical and mental to emotional and spiritual areas in life. An escape in the woods provides a pleasant nature experience, which a run on the road doesn’t.
Some studies suggest a good correlation between nature and the well being of people. The more you are exposed to nature the lesser your risk of obesity, depression, cancer, anxiety, and heart disease.
The effects of getting in the forest atmosphere, often called “forest bathing”, have been demonstrated by Japanese scientists to have significant beneficial effects in people’s resting heart rate, blood pressure and stress hormone levels. A nature walk was found to yield better results than one in an urban environment.
The Trouloulou trail comprised the Kids trail (2.5 km), the Short trail (12 km), and the Long trail (20 km). I participated in the short one. Unlike the previous one held on November 4, the Gecko international trail, which grouped more than a thousand participants, and where I ran on a shorter distance (7 km) on practically flat terrain, this one posed extra challenges; faring through uneven paths amid shrubs, rocks, awkward hanging trees, woods and hilly, creeky, bumpy and lumpy surfaces. A tough one indeed.
Going up and down hill, crossing canals, springs and valleys along villages hitherto unfamiliar to me, under the scorching sun, was an experience I’d remember for long. Vangar, Moriko, Camp Baptiste, Mt Persil, Pointe Sel, Charpentier, Pointe Source and a couple of others are places which otherwise I’d never have reached.
There were moments my legs would hardly move. They felt weighted, stiff and tired. Cramps around my hips started holding me back. At times I’d lose balance, nearly stumbling down after a sudden flash of blackout.
I have been running for unusually longer hours and on unusual paths. This is where I figured out the pertinence of the advice the briefing officer gave us prior to the start of the race. “Drink as much water as you can”, he had insisted. “It’s going to be tough and you’ll in no time get dehydrated with the sun already signaling blaze”.
I had a strange feeling; a mixed one – to give up, or go ahead. And this feeling haunted me on no less than three occasions. Sweating abundantly in the torrid heat, I was soaked to the skin. And I was running out of water. With a little less than 25 ml for the remaining half or so of the track, I had to ration my drinking slots until I reached a shop. The next official refueling point was quite some kilometers away. The other participants were out of sight. Many were far ahead, quite a few far behind.
And I had to make sure I was heading in the right direction as markings in some places appeared blurred with fatigue. Many a times I had to pull back from a wrong path after a number of steps before getting on track again.
But giving up meant I lost the challenge – not the challenge of winning a prize at all cost, but the challenge of completing the track in the best possible conditions,. Performance was my goal, not result.
So I decided to pause for a couple of minutes; to recuperate and rekindle the stamina in me. I leant against a tree and took a few deep puffs of fresh air, not without admiring the commanding view from the cliff top. The topography of Rodrigues offers amazing views of the scenery all around.
I could see all those whom I had overtaken earlier passing by me, one after the other. I realized I was losing ground.
Bill Jordan, American former professional basket ball player once said: “I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying”.
This philosophy, added with faith in my abilities, boosted my somewhat shattered confidence. I rose up determined. I picked up my pace, slowly but with enhanced spirit. I scrambled up the steep hillside over rocks and riddled tree roots. I was now a lone trailer, staggering but staying focused as I progressed. I had walked for more two hours now; and the destination was not yet at hand. I’m used to a shorter track on asphalt road conditions for an overall duration of 90 minutes at most.
The sun was literally on my head when I reached the lively coastal village of Grand Bay after the long march through the awkward terrain. My arms had darkened and the back of my neck in between my shoulder blades were burning. But the hurdles were not yet over although I was only some 500 metres to the finish.
No wonder, I was strained when the checkpoint officer directed me to the hillside track, the last bit but also the tougher one for being steeper. The height was imposing. My legs were suddenly glued to the ground and my heart started pounding. I had no choice if I were to stick to my mission. With another set of courage I clawed my way to the top. Fifteen minutes later I was on the last 100 metres of flat course to the end.
My extra effort was not in vain though. Not only did I succeed in accomplishing my goal, but also in finishing on the top three table. I crossed the finish line at 12.15 p.m. a little more than three and a half hours from start time, third in my category – masters. It was my first attempt on such a track; I had every reason to be overwhelmed and relieved, after an enjoyable but all the more hectic activity in view of the numerous stumbling blocks.
Auberge du Lagon, a coastal lodge at Jean Tac near Grand Bay, was the focal point of the trail logistics. The excellent organization and the spirit of sportsmanship and conviviality that prevailed throughout were remarkable.
From this trail adventure, although solo for the major part of it, I forged bonds with fellow trailers sharing a common mindset – that of friendship, solidarity, discipline and fair play. I learnt that you need to have the appropriate protective clothing and gears, and adequate refueling stuff to prevent implication of sunburn and dehydration.
The next trail, Trail Cents Pieds, is scheduled for February 3, 2019.
Note: This article was written for This Week News Mauritius on December 6, 2018