Long before the big holiday season in Mauritius, trail enthusiasts consult the events calendar for races planned over the new season. In order to keep fit and to better tackle the run, they do not indulge themselves in tempting fatty foods. This sport is becoming increasingly popular in Mauritius and among foreigners, who pre-book their spots well in advance. Races over short distances of 10 or 12 kilometers were previously called the ‘Cross-Country Running’.
What attracts runners to a Trail? First and foremost, the locations where these races are held. Nature reserves, forests, private areas, where no runner would dare to venture on their own, as the lands are so vast. Physical and mental fitness and determination are valuable assets. Visualizing the itinerary is exhilarating, especially the thought of seeing the race through in a short amount of time while one’s body does the talking. A certificate signed by a doctor as proof that one is fit enough to run is a prerequisite, even more so when it comes to longer distance running in which it is necessary to push oneself to the limits.
The Dodo Trail, the Ciel Ferney, the Royal Raid, and the Ultra Trail Raidlight Beachcomber, to name a few, see a registration of between 1000 and 3000 participants, and require rigorous scouting and months of preparation. Organizers have to ensure that beacons are accurately placed, check for top level security, and technical supervision on site at the starting and finishing lines as well as on route should be flawless. The runners can then cover miles in full confidence.
The participants need appropriate equipment: soft, light and airy shoes designed for this particular sport that requires different racing techniques from flatland running. The outer sole often has sharper, more flexible spikes that grip the tracks better on different kinds of land, whether dry or humid.
Shoelaces coming undone or getting a pebble in the shoe are not an option, as stopping in the middle of a Trail for an insignificant reason makes one waste time and we are on a clock here. Even socks are picked accordingly. They are waterproof and enhance protection of the feet from humidity and the cold. Water supply is a priority. Energetic products are highly recommended in long distance courses, as an energy surplus is needed on top of the standard supplies.
What can trail runners possibly feel? It is hard to tell, as everyone has their own certainties, convictions and apprehensions. But the most important thing is the spirit of solidarity and collective respect on tracks, the adrenaline rush on the starting line, best performers being positioned as close as possible to it. The atmosphere is indescribable.
Then begins the countdown in a good-natured ambiance and the stopwatch is activated. Everyone then rushes off at full gallop. No pushing or shoving! Among the leading pack, the most daring and the future champions give it their all. Those who follow come in with a slower rhythm, at their own pace. The goal is to finish the race. In rare cases, conversations begin on the Trail itself between complete strangers. Mutual support is the key word and looking where you set foot is vital, especially when the trail is narrow or full of obstacles.
The colors of landscapes change in Mauritius, depending on whether it is in winter or summer, but the fact remains that trail runners feel connected to nature where they go in as conquerors. They picture the trails in their minds while convincing themselves that they will make it. Finishing the itinerary is the most satisfying reward. The love or passion for this sport is contagious even though available spots are limited.
Ultimately, the warm welcome and nice food awaiting the runners are the reward. At the finishing line are those who came to encourage the runners and those who have already completed the race and who support the others. Despite the exhaustion, the joy is overwhelming. The body aches of the day or the next are synonymous with overcoming the challenge.
The Trail in Mauritius attracts people because of the diversity of the itineraries. Mother Nature generously spoils us so much with greenery and land to conquer, and does so merely with Trail paths.