As some of you will know, I took up running earlier this year. I hadn’t run much before then, but when my girlfriend announced unceremoniously that she’d entered us both for the Knysna Forest Half Marathon, well, I was left with little choice.

I’m still very much a novice runner, and as with any new hobby / sport there is tons to learn. Unfortunately, with endurance sports like running, cycling and swimming, there is very little help or support for novices. The large retail chains do not go out of their way to assist you with advice – advice that could actually have a massive impact on your health and whether or not you choose to continue training and pursuing better times and achievements. I think many people quit endurance sports before they’ve had a chance to appreciate the benefits because of crappy advice.

I was very fortunate to discover SBR Sport – a small family-run multisport specialist shop in Sunninghill. Mike at SBR has already, in just a few meetings, given me invaluable advice and insight. Trust me – when you start running / cycling / swimming, EVERYONE will suddenly become an expert! Mike and his team are vastly experienced and refreshingly honest and will give you the best advice for you – not for their profit margin.

Anyways, back to Knysna. As a novice / amateur, I thought I’d share 6 tips I wished other runners had shared with me before I woke up at 4am to brave the forest. Although the Knysna Marathon Club and their sponsors do a fantastic job of organising this incredibly popular race, there will still many basic pieces of info I would have appreciated knowing. I think most of them will apply to you if you’re running the full or half marathons. Here goes:

  • Stay warm at the start

This is a bit of a no-brainer, but because the race is in the forest, in Knysna, in Winter, and the first taxis head up to the start at 4:30am, it’s bloody cold. Buy some cheap polar fleece jackets, and one of those thick “dog blankets” from Mr. Price, PEP or Pick ‘n Pay in the days leading up to the race, and wear them ALL at the start. We were lucky, it was relatively warm for us, but I think you could freeze up there. Wear us much as you want, you can strip it all off just before the gun goes and donate them all to a needy cause by depositing them in one of the vans next to the road. The Knysna Marathon Club pass on the old clothes and blankets to less fortunate residents of the area.

  • Practice your boskak

Endurance running leaves little room for dignified behaviour. People line up at the start up to an hour before the gun goes off. There are about 8000 well-hydrated runners sharing 30 or so toilets in the forest. If you are lined up ready for the start and need to pee (or worse), you can wait in a queue for 30 minutes like my girlfriend did, or you can hop off the side of the road, into the woods, and get intimate with the shrubbery. I got intimate with the shrubbery, with about 50 other people at the same time. It’s ok, everybody does it.

  • It’s a trail!

Who knew!? I would have thought that in all the conversations I had and articlesI read leading up to the race, that someone would have told be that this is a largely off road race? But alas, nay!

The Knysna Half (I can’t speak authoritatively on the 42.2 route) is at least 70% trail run. Wait, no, not quite a trail run. It’s off road, on a tightly packed track through the forest that could just as well pass as tarmac. It’s not tough or technical, there are very few loose rocks, gravel or obstacles to contend with, but it’s definitely not tarmac. Many seasoned runners with laugh at this, saying, “it’s a forest marathon, what did you expect, retard?”. Well, I expected tar in the forest.

  • Not a PB run

I was fed completely contradictory advice before the race. Some said, this is absolutely not a personal best route. Take it easy, enjoy the scenery and vibe, and soak it all up. Others said “there’s a massive downhill at the end, smash it!!”. I didn’t know who to listen to, so I ran as fast as I felt good to. I posted a relatively quick 1:46:44, but I paid for it afterwards. This is a run to enjoy, not to smash.

  • Walk the waterpoints

Linked to that last point, use the waterpoints as an opportunity to slow down, chill and rehydrate. Water was offered in paper cups, making it virtually impossible to drink on the run. For the record, it’s very easy to snort water on the run – I did that a couple of times. If the only way to drink water is to walk for 10 seconds, take them with glee.

  • Running down the hill

The 2013 route took us through the forest and then the spectacularly picturesque Simola golf estate, and then past Paradise on the water’s edge into Knysna Central. There is the temptation to blitz down the Simola hill, but resist the urge.

2013 Knysna Half route

I ran pretty quick down there hoping to shave some seconds off but I’ve done a knee as a result. Rather run at a brisk pace, and use the grassy pavements as cushioning for your princess feet. You’ll thank me afterwards.

All in all, a beautiful, well-organised event that is definitely worth the trip. As if you needed an excuse to see the Garden Route!