Friday, 21 December 2007

Holiday feeva and good cheer


As of now, I'm officially on leave for the next week-and-a-half. Hip-hip-hoorah! This has been an unbelievably speedy year (as we say each year) and it's about time the pace got slower. My mission for the next 10-days is to run, read, watch DVDs and catch up with friends; and join Darron on a Swazi Xtreme 2008 scouting adventure.

I've found the past 6-months especially exhausting... I took on the position of Gear Editor for Runner's World magazine in June with my first gear section making the August 2007 issue. It's a part-time position, on top of my day job, so weekends and nights get bogged down checking out fabulous goodies. The two weeks leading up to deadline are chaotic and stressful. But, receiving a fresh copy of the magazine and seeing what I've written in print and full-colour... nothing beats it!

Within the first two months in this role I got roped into writing the running section for the annual Men's Health Buyer's Guide and I've just (today) finished a Buyer's Guide for the Feb08 Runner's World issue.

Since July I have been in contact with every and any company that has anything to do with running products. They have been so supportive and enthusiastic; sending products for testing and photographing on tight deadlines. There is no way I could even contemplate putting together these columns without their "drop-everything-and-send-goodies-right-now" attitudes. I've also got a great photographer, Ben, who manages to make underpants look fabulous. Thank you.

I've been doing a regular one-pager for GoMulti this year - on any aspect of adventure racing. Deon gives me the freedom to write on anything that catches my attention. GoMulti has always been a fantastic supporter of adventure racing - and that's why they're our "journal" for AR Club next year; an annual subscription is part of our club membership.

What else has happened? (I always get contemplative at this time of year)...
I started taking part in AR sprint races again - for the first time since 2002. For years I've been taking photos, marshalling and helping out. This was the year for action! I had the good fortune to race with Tim, Ian, Lobby and Gerrit.

The Joburg SPUR sprint in April was bigger and more successful than last year. I'm the Joburg event organiser but I have the most fantastic support from Ugene Nel and the SPUR people with the actual event logistics (catering, branding, music, kiddies stuff and such). It's a great team. Our 2008 event will be on 2 March.

I helped Darron at Swazi X this year, ran Mnweni Marathon in the 'Berg(great race - 38km in 7h50!), Salomon Nite Run (with Tim) and Xtreme O in Cape Town, Gauteng & SA Orienteering Champs, the mountain stage of Wartrail (in a girls team with Lobby and Daleen), Rhodes Ultra, Golden Reef 100-miler (as a 4-person AR Club team; wonderful fun) and recently, the 5-day 100-mile Himalayan Stage Race in India. There have also been Sunday morning orienteering events during the year and too few road races.

My theory is that it's all the events that turn your year crazy? More weekend mornings spent lazing in bed may help to slow the year down? Then again, taking part in events, meeting and mingling with friends, is brilliant, active fun.

Now, truth be told, I am t.i.r.e.d. I have been craving some time at home doing stuff and staying off my computer as much as possible. Over the next week I'm creating a website for a friend, painting my room (need a colour change), taking tons of photos of my cat and meeting friends for runs. And I've got the customary family lunches and dinners. All in all, this is a good setup.

On the 28th I'm heading to Swaziland to hook up with Darron and Anita. Darron and I will be playing on the Swazi Xtreme 2008 route. A few months ago we discussed a number of fabulous ideas for the event next year, none of which include scary jumps or cable-tie ladders. You can be assured that SX08 will offer a whole lot of adventure wrapped up with cunning strategy and new elements. Yes novices, you can do it and finish successfully and happily - trust me.

As for my action and adventure plans for 2008... I'm still thinking about this. My one definite is taking part in the World 24hr Rogaine Champs in Estonia in September 2008. I'll be running in a women's pair with my friend Heather Graz. I've got a lot of training to do to be able to keep up with her!

As you all wrap up work for the year and head off on holiday, I wish you rest and relaxation, a period of calm, time spent with friends and family and safe travels. And a dash of training on the side to ward off those festive gains.

Looking ahead... I do wish that you achieve your goals and desires over the coming year.

Ho-ho-ho,

Lisa

Monday, 10 December 2007

Eating your cake

Time is a limiting factor to the number of things that you can do. There is a point when taking on something new means compromising, or giving up, something else.

If you'd like to study part-time, on top of your day job, those all-day weekend braais with family and friends have to be reduced or eliminated. If you sign up for ceramic classes on Wednesday evenings, your usual 2-hour training session will be compromised.

I'm often juggling a number of projects and commitments at one time and I've often wondered just how much I can take on without letting something slide.

For some time my training has not been as consistent or lengthy as it used to be. Sure, I get out, but I'm just not putting in as much preparation and cross-training as I want to.

This reflects the one area of our lives, "me time", that is so easy to neglect in favour of other more demanding commitments that need a lot of effort to develop and maintain.

I recently gave up one commitment and with it gained the realisation of how much space I made in my life by compromising on other activities.

This past Saturday morning I went to my first yoga class in almost 2-years. I have needed - and wanted - the stretching, focus and tranquility of the discipline but I just have not been able to commit to it.

I also have not been to step aerobics classes for almost the same period. Prior to this lapse I had attended the most of the weekly advanced classes for 12-years.

These two things sound small but they are linked to others that are important to me.

The lesson in all of this is that we all have a limit to what we can commit to. Taking on new hobbies or activities requires the drastic reduction or deletion of an existing commitment. And usually the things eliminated are personally important and beneficial. They usually make way for tasks that revolve around other people; and your gran probably doesn't even realise what you have to shuffle to take her shopping every Saturday.

It is good to again enjoy these activities - and others - that are good for both my body, mind and spirit.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

New AR photographic book

Talented adventure photographer Peder Sundstrom has published a book of photographs from his experiences at adventure races around the World.

The book "Endless - A Portrait of Aventure Racing" is "a collection of photographs gathered from a decade of documenting the international races. The book consist of 160 pages, printed on environmental friendly paper".

The photographs are emotive, beautiful and they convey the spirit of adventure racing and its participants.

"As a special addition to the book, a number of the premier international journalists and athletes have participated with stories and thoughts from personal experiences of their adventure racing careers."

Contributing writers:

Niclas Sjögren, Karen Lundgren, John Jacoby, Nathan Fa'ave, Lisa Jhung, Pascal Bahuaud, Paul Romero, Mats Andersson, Robyn Benincasa, Richard Usher, Emma Rocca, Travis Macy, Mikael Lindnord, Rob Hovard, Fredrik Ölmqvist, Geoff Hunt, Ian Adamson, Martin Dreyer, Shirin Rådby Djavidi, Lisa de Speville, Björn Rydvall

This is a coffee table book of exceptional, aspirational photographs. Between the pages you'll spot our own Martin Dreyer, Sakkie Meyer and Garth Pienke (side-on pic). There are also a few photos from the Richtersveld Bull of Africa 2005.

The book can be ordered from the book website at http://www.endless-thebook.com/ (link on top left for English).

Peder's photographic talent and extensive experience is well in advance of his age. This book is a wonderful reflection of Peder's achievements.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Givin' out gear

I have been having such good fun at work (Let's Play) the past 3-weeks. Just before I returned from India a container load of secondhand sports equipment, from the Gear Up Our Kids campaign run in April in association with Mr Price, was dropped off at our offices. I volunteered to deal with the gear - sorting, counting and distributing.

It took four days - with assistance from some Wits students - to work through the boxes of tennis and squash racquets, cricket pads, rugby balls, shin pads and tons of other discarded equipment. Most of the gear is good for a lot more use; we threw out anything that was really trashed.

The atrium in our Supersport office looked like a tornado had swept through...

We have no shortage of avenues to donate the equipment as there are just so many sports programmes, communities and schools who have absolutely nothing.

What I find really astounding is that schools insist that the children have their own gear, which many parents just cannot afford and so the child is then unable to participate. Take cricket for example: I looked online to check out prices and my jaw dropped. When you add up a mid-range bat, pads and gloves you're looking at R4,000. For a parent only earning R8,000pm (or less) this is out of range.

I've also had emails about children who cannot play rugby because the school, in a low income area - insists that they have rugby jerseys and boots. These children are under the age of 15. Why does the school not introduce touch rugby instead of full contact?

When I was in primary school I played netball. The school had bibs and skirts, which we would use for games and then return afterwards. I keep questioning why schools do not have a range of cricket pads, bats, gloves and helmets for the children to use during practises and games. Judging from the amount of excellent quality equipment we received, many children (and adults) do not stick with sports (and they grow out of the equipment too).

Nonetheless, the equipment that was donated to Let's Play is going out to places where it will be treasured. In general, we give equipment to programmes where it can be shared, not to individuals.

As runners and adventure racers, we all go through a pair or two of shoes a year. Most are still useable - maybe not for a 200km adventure race, but certainly for playing. Ugene Nel will have a box at his Quantum Adventures events in the Cape for your old running shoes. We will do the same at AR Club in Joburg. Keep this in mind before you throw out your old run and trail shoes. We'll take them. Please tie the shoelaces together before putting your shoes in the boxes.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Fiennes validates Scott

A few weeks ago I read my best Antarctic expedition book yet; and I have a fabulous collection of Arctic and Antarctic expedition books.

Ranulph Fiennes has written a gem. "Race to the Pole" details Captain Robert Scott's polar experiences and, of course, his tragic 1911 race to the pole (which was not the Amundsen-Scott 'pole at all costs' race it has been made out to be).

Scott's reputation was trashed by William Huntford in his "Scott and Amundsen" book where he made Scott out to be a moron who didn't know what he was doing (use of horses, the depot saga, the skiing issue) and that his death was due to poor planning.

On the contrary, Scott was thorough in his preparations and planning. His return trip from the pole was doomed by unpredictably disastrous weather conditions that brought extreme cold rarely encountered in the region.

Fiennes has man-hauled across the continent and as such is the only Scott biographer to have been there, done that and got the frostbite. Fiennes understands polar exploration and his insights and experiences blow life into this century-old story of bravery and adventure.

This book is well-written, fluent and gripping, as we'd expect from Fiennes. If you have an interest in the Antarctic and polar expeditions, this book is an essential read.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Sightseeing; Agra and Delhi

We spent most of the Friday (2 November) travelling back to Delhi. First the flight from Bagdogra to Delhi and then an hour taxi trip from the airport (trip takes less than 15-minutes in no traffic) to our hotel The Ashok. This is a lovely 5-star hotel (the only one) in New Delhi, surrounded by embassies (thank you India Tourism).

I was now with another 4 journalists, Britta, Mane, Klaus and Duncan, (hosted by India Tourism) and we would be going the next morning on a sightseeing trip to Agra (nearby city) to see the Taj Mahal. We would leave the hotel at 07h00 and had been told that the trip would take 4-hours.

Correction friends... in this overpopulated place with more traffic than I have EVER seen in my life it takes 6-hours. The secret to travelling in these places is to travel between 23h00 and 05h30... An alternative is to take the train, which leaves Delhi at 06h00. The trip takes 2.5hrs. BUT, it only leaves Agra at 21h00. The runners were booked on this option and like us, they were exhausted when they finally got back to the hotel.

We slept a lot of the way but when awake there was lots to look at; crowds of people, overloaded bicycles, overloaded tuk-tuks, camels pulling massive loads and crazy drivers.

The Taj itself is suitably impressive, especially when you consider the years (22 of them) of construction and the manpower required to build this massive mausoleum. Taj is a symbol of love, built in memory of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan's favourite wife (she died giving birth to their 14th child). What is interesting to know is that this wife was one of 4; in addition he also had some 750 concubines... Construction started in 1631.

This favourite wife is buried in the centre of the Taj. Two others wife are buried in other mausoleum's withing the Taj complex. Our guide said the 4th is buried elsewhere.

We only got there around 13h00 and were swamped by other tourists. It is best to be at the gates at the crack of dawn. Yes, the sky is as hazy as it looks in the picture. I asked our guide whether they ever see the sun. He said this was fog and that it is worse towards December. I'm betting on it being mostly pollution.

We were then taken to a place to see how the semi-precious stone is inlaid into the white marble (a la Taj). When we were taken into the show-room we were told, "No pressure to buy". These people don't know what no pressure is. While I can admire the handiwork, a big marble inlaid tabletop for US$6,000 is not my thing.

Our guide then took us to another place with carpets, pashminas and more inlaid marble. Surrounded by more "No pressure" salesmen we all turned around and walked out, keen to start travelling back to Delhi. The trip back took about 5-hours and we were bombed.

On Sunday morning we were booked for a sightseeing trip in Delhi.

Our first stop was the massive Jama Masjid, the principle mosque in Old Delhi (we were not allowed to take photos without payment). The mosque was commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (same dude as the Taj Mahal). Construction was completed in 1656.

Next we went to the Delhi Fort (aka Red Fort - completed in 1648). Again we see the name of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. The fort was the palace for his new capital (old one was in Agra). This is an impressive red sandstone walled construction that encloses the palaces. There used to be a hundred-odd palaces within the walls. Although they were looted in the 1700's, four-fifths were destroyed by the British in 1857. They built ugly baracks within the walls, which still stand.

This photo shows one of Shah Khan's palaces. As it stands it is a plain, white marble structure with some inlaid floral designs. Go back 350-years and you would have seen ceilings covered in gold leaf, gem stones and mirrors. Interior fountains were fed by perfumed water channels (which also cooled the palaces in summer) and the water would have reflected off the ceiling.

Carpets would have hung over the big arches, replaced by the finest muslin fabrics in summer. Picture colourful carpets and cushions inside... Then add a few hundred beautiful concubines and you've got quite an establishment.

Next stop was Humayun's Tomb, a complex of buildings of Mughal architecture in New Delhi. Humayun was a Mogul Emperor (before Sher Khan) and his tomb was built on orders of his widow. Construction was started in 1562. There are also other tombs within this complex.

We stopped briefly at the Ghandi memorial, where an eternal flame burns.

Next we went to another World Heritage Site, the Qutb Complex. This complex contains numerous monuments and buildings. The most famous is the Qutub Minar, a 72.5m tall brick tower, "the tallest brick minaret in the world, and an important example of Indo-Islamic Architecture".

A mosque, built in the late 1100's is also within this complex. The mosque was built on the site of a Jain temple, which was destroyed; only the iron pillar was left and the new mosque was built around it. This makes for quite interesting reading (click on the Qutb Complex link).

The pillar is a metallurgical curiosity as it has withstood corrosion for the last 1600 years. "The pillar is made of 98% wrought iron of pure quality. It has been confirmed that the temperatures required to form such kind of pillars cannot be achieved by combustion of coal. The pillar is a testament to the high level of skill achieved by ancient Indian iron smiths in the extraction and processing of iron. The pillar's unusually good corrosion resistance appears is due to a high phosphorus content, which promotes the formation of a solid protective passivation layer of iron oxides and phosphates, rather than the non-protective, cracked rust layer that develops on most ironwork."

These World Heritage Sites (Delhi Fort, Humayun's Tomb and Qutb Complex) cover substantial land areas in Delhi and they are truly located in the heart of the city. It was also very encouraging to see a lot of maintenance and restoration happening at each site.

As for Delhi... the city is crazy. There are almost 18-million inhabitants, some 8 million cars and it is a busy, dirty place. Litter, spitting, ablutions... I don't even know where you'd start to clean the place up. While it is certainly interesting, I don't think I'd like to spend any amount of time there; the quieter mountains are a far more pleasing place to me.

All in all, India is a fabulous place and I've only been to a fraction of this large country. The run is a gentle initiation to India and the mountain areas and my brief city tours were good introductions to the Indian cities. My trip to India was a wonderful experience and I'd definitely go back.

Finally, my thanks and appreciation to Mr C.S. Pandey (www himalayan.com), Mr Shaw from our India Tourism office in Joburg and Mr. Sidharat Bodwal from India Tourism in Delhi. Your warmth and hospitality enriched my experience of your country.

Lisa, with journo friends, pictured in the ruins of the Jain temple in the Qutb Complex.

I have posted photos on Flickr,with descriptions.

Running in India - Stage 5

Stage 5 - Palmajua to Maneybhanjang
Date: Thursday, 1 November 2007
Distance: 27.2km
My run time: 03:19*
Accumulative Ascent: 700m
Accumulative Descent: 672m
* First man, Emlyn Christie (UK), 2:12; First woman, Elin Wright (Norway), 02:44

This last stage would be, like Stage 4, a no-brainer. Tar road, up first and then down to the finish. We started with a steep ascent (great for a warmup) - we gained 600m over about 7km. After reaching the small settlement and full aid station at the top it would be downhill all the way to the finish.
This is a very lush, forested area and the land to the side of the road drops away steeply; so steep that you can't even sneak into the bushes on the roadside!

The only notable element from this stage was the little brown mole I saw running across the road; cute little critter.

Little children lined the road at the finish in Maneybhanjang, waving little Indian flags and runners already in cheered those finishing. A festive atmosphere and a good finish to this 5-day race.


A view of Maneybhanjang - about 1km before the finish


Again food was in abundance (rice, dhal, naan and a stew/curry), which we ate while waiting for our buses to depart for Mirik.

Back at Mirik we got showered and cleaned up before the prize giving ceremony and dinner. We all received trophies (with our names on!) and also certificates for having completed Day 3's Everest Challenge Marathon. A nice ending the the event.

With breakfast from 07h00, we could sleep in. The buses would depart for Badgodra around 09h30. Zzzzz time again.






The entire race profile. Lots of ascents and descents!


Photos from my trip are posted on Flickr. I have included a description with each image.

Running in India - Stage 4

Stage 4 - Rimbik to Palmajua

Date: Wednesday, 31 October 2007
Distance: 21km
My run time: 02:17 *
Accumulative ascent: 522m
Accumulative descent: 446m
* First man, Emlyn Christie (UK), 1:33; First woman, Elin Wright (Norway), 01:55


Stage 4 started in the most fantastic weather. Being at around 2,000m it was considerably warmer than up in the mountains and the morning was sunny and clear. Today's stage was like a bowl - steep down, flat across the bottom and then steep up again.

Most of the field sped off from the start. Again I took the first few kays a little more gently to give my quads time to warm up. The road bombed down from the start, the snaking road dotted by runners. Then it levelled out and I thoroughly enjoyed this lengthy section of pure running. I set a good pace to make up time before the ascent, which I would inevitably walk (as I'd done with all the other steep ascents).

The flattish section was fabulous and all around we were watched by villa residents. Seems like the area is quite a cement making / rock crushing area. Like the rivers around Bagdogra (were we flew into from Delhi), the rivers have been pillaged for stones and piles of rounded river stones and crushed stones line the already narrow streets. We ran past a rock crushing machine and also many old women hammering rocks by hand.

As you may know, we've had a cement shortage in Joburg (maybe whole of SA?) due to lots of new construction, Gautrain etc. We import from India and as I ran past these piles of river stones and old women squatting over their stones I could only think that our demand for cement (and also that of other countries) is what has propogated this environmental destruction. Sure, it is employment for the locals and cement has to come from somewhere... but I'd rather the stones were in the rivers. Same kind of thing as dopey-eyed cattle and a succulent steak; everything has to come from somewhere.

Most of the people were friendly, especially if I greeted then first with "Namaste". One fellow shouted to me, "What country?".

"South Africa," I replied, making a cricket batting motion. This was met by cheers and laughter from the man and his many friends.

Although South Africa is well-known in India for cricket, we were certainly fresh in their minds after hosting the new Pro 20 World Cup shortly before the race. India won. This was the first time that I've ever watched cricket (I even went to the opening match) and I've become a 20-overs fan; I'm especially a fan of the Indian team and their captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

Crossing the river, we began the steep,winding ascent to Palmajua. There were a few houses on the road sides but for the most part the road is bordered by forest - some natural, some pine plantations. We ascended over 500m in about 7km.

I think that Palmajua is more of a district than a town as there was not much settlement. Our buses were waiting to take us back to Rimbik for the night (no accommodation at Palmajua).

Being a short stage day, I walked down and up Rimbik's road (there is only one), peeking at the stores and checking out the people. Strolling slowly it took me about 10-minutes to cover the place.

We were in for much excitement that night, for Pandey's Cultural Evening. He had requested that runners from each represented country prepare a song or dance. I'd been warned about this pre-race and had thought that a sokkie / langarm demo with Christo would go down well. Unfortunately Christo, although Afrikaans, doesn't dance. I had brought a piece of Karoo / W. Cape guitar music with me (from David Kramer's Karoo Kitaar Blues CD), which we did play for the audience.

In total we had 5 South African runners (me, Christo, David, Daksha and Julia). I was the only Joburger - the others hail from Cape Town. And I'm sad to say that amongst us we have very little tradition. Usual South Africn things like gumboot dancing, shosholoza and toyi-toyi are not whitie culture. Sokkie, Sarie Marais and such songs are not my culture either as an English South African lass. We were quite alarmed that we couldn't think of anything traditional to us.

We ended up telling the audience about the diversity of South African culture and languages. We told them about braais and our hot, sunny Christmas holidays spent at the poolside. And also of our rugby and cricket prowess. After our presentation I did have a really good idea (too late unfortunately). I should have introduced the audience to wonderful South Africanisms like takkie, ja, lekker, eish, vrot, just-now, now-now and koppie. Unfortunately I missed the boat on this one.

As for the other countries... there were some songs, bullfighting (Spanish), sumo wrestling (Japanese) and other festive displays. The people from Rimbik played traditional instruments and sang. Even Pandey's crew sang a popular Hindu song and Pandey sang a traditional love song. The country to certainly win hands-down would be the Austrians and their English rendition of a song; "An Austrian went a yodelling in the mountains so high". It is the same kind of thing as "There was an old lady who swallowed a fly" only each addition has an action and sound effects.

This cultural evening was really good fun and was a lovely inclusion in the event.

After dinner we headed off to bed. In the morning we would be transported by bus to Palmajua (where we finished today's stage) for the start of the final stage so we would have to wake up early.

Running in India - Stage 3

Stage 3 - Sandakphu to Rimbik
Date: Tuesday, 30 October 2007
Distance: 42km (more like 48km)
My run time: 07:42 *
Accumulative ascent: 1,104m
Accumulative descent: 2,727m
* First man, Miguel Gomes (Spain), 4:31; First woman, Elin Wright (Norway), 05:40

Day dawned on our sleepy Sandakphu settlement and while my tummy had made it through the night intact, my room-mate's hadn't. Britta (UK, from Fell Runner magazine) had been up three times during the night and as our in-house Asian loo was dysfunctional, she'd had to sneak outside. Liz (Runner's World UK) and Catherine (journo) came through to our room to see how I was doing and to confess that their constitutions were in a similar situation. Apparently the toilet door in the bigger dorms opened-and-closed the whole night.

Although I wasn't feeling up to it, I managed to get down 1.5 bowls of oats and a banana. After two loo stops I was as ready for the start as I would ever be; a bit drained but certainly lighter on my feet.

Cloud cover was high and so only little of Kanchenjunga was showing; the bonus of spending two days on the section from Sandakphu to Molle gave us an extra chance to see the mountain. Fortunately yesterday had been crystal clear so our mountain-spotting requirements had been fulfilled already. It was also a bit colder so again I was wearing tights and a light-weight long sleeved top - perfect if you keep moving.

I was definitely a bit skittish on the first downhill - my thighs were a bit stiff from the previous day and they needed gentle warming up. I made a pit stop just before the first full aid station at 8km and that would be it for me - I had rapidly recovered (I still think my "Hennops Belly" from the AR sprint in early October had conveyed resistance as many runners were unwell for days). But although my tummy was now settled, I battled bouts of nausea. Still, I kept eating... slowly. It took me an hour to make my way through a 70g fruity energy bar!




Road to Phalut

I took the first section easy, reaching Molle only 8-minutes slower than the previous day. The section from Molle to Phalut (fah-loot) was again an out-and-back; never my favourite kind of course because you know what is waiting for you on the return route. I met up with Christo Snyman (fellow South African) just before Phalut. Britta (my roomie) was close behind. We joined each other on the last uphill on the return to Molle and split again on the descent.

After checking in at the Molle aid station we started the dreaded descent. The first part was not terribly steep and on a good dirt road surface. We then got onto those "steps" made when logs are placed across the trail to bank it up. But the path had eroded inbetween the logs so there was a bit of a dip. We then got onto more eroded trails and ruts - absolutely divine stuff! I moved ahead of Britta when she stopped at an aid station to get some water down; this was where the really fun section began.

This scary downhill section was actually my most favourite part of the whole race; this was the only part of the 5-day route that was actually on trails. The surrounding jungle was incrediblly dense and lush (up on the mountains the vegetation is mostly grass with scattered trees; more trees lower down). The uneven trail had me bounding between and on top of ruts, checking for the red painted route marker arrows and pink ribbons along the way. I started to catch runners.

A quick comment about competitive spirit... I am marginally competitive. I'm not going to break my neck to get ahead of someone and if I don't win I'm not going to slash my wrists. Once the first few kilometers are underway and runners have settled into their places I do not like to be overtaken. My strength is in overtaking people, especially as course distance and difficulty increases. I took great pride in gobbling up runners ahead of me on this section to Rimbik.

Lower down we ran through a village, on the paths between houses. Absolutely delightful to see the children and adults, houses and chickens along the route. In hindsight my pace slackened here because I was so busy greeting people with "Namaste" and gawking at the sights. When I reached the aid station at the bottom, before the river crossing, I was shocked to see the old Japanese man right behind me. I'd overtaken him kilometers earlier on the really technical section.

That's another thing... once I've passed someone I do not like them to catch up to me... especially not an old dude. Surprised to see him, I ran most of the gently ascending road into Rimbik (about 8km). I gained another 6 places here - much to my satisfaction - and my legs and lungs felt great. Distance certainly seems to suit me.

I was warmly welcomed at the finish by Pandey's crew and spectators from the village... this is something else... Pandey's staff were incredible the whole event and there were always many of them at the finish to welcome us at the end of each stage.

Rimbik is a small mountain town - kind of mouldy and dirty like most places we saw. Our accommodations at the Sherpa Lodge were clean and tidy (with hot showers!) and the food again was exceptional. Every day when we finished there was soup, rice, dhal and other Indian dishes waiting. Dinner on this first night in Rimbik was a tantalising feast. I really enjoy Indian food and I think the assortment of dishes is what really appeals as you can try small bits of many flavours.

I spent some time in the afternoon stretching and rubbing down with Arnica oil to loosen my muscles. My ankles were also feeling a little worked over. We would start Stage 4 with a steep downhill and I anticipated some stiffness. Liz was again my room-mate. As with previous days we were lights-out by nine-thirty in preparation for another early morning.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Running in India - Day 2

STAGE 2 - Sandakphu to Molley and back
Date: Monday, 29 October 2007
Distance: 32km (out-and-back route; 16km each way)
My run time: 04:29 *
Accumulative ascent: 1,052m
Accumulative descent: 1,052m
* First man, Duncan Larkin (US), 2:51; First woman, Elin Wright (Norway), 03:15

After a good 10hr sleep (early to sleep, early to rise), we were up just before dawn to catch sight of nearby Kanchenjunga (8,856m; World's 3rd highest mountain) and, of course, Everest, Lhotse and Makalu (the latter are some distance away, but clearly visible).


The rising sun's rays turn the summit of Kanchenjunga peachy.
Breakfast was available from 05h30 and the spread was inviting; oats, omlettes, toast and potatoes. This saw us ready for a 06h30 start. Mr Pandey had recommended that we start 1-hour earlier than initially stated (07h30) because colder weather and cloud cover were expected to envelop our high altitude route from 10h30 (the clouds did obscure our views by this time).

This Day 2 route is really the event's pay-load. On Day 1 Mr Pandey has warned us all about "breaking our knees" on the cobbled road but he should have been warning us on this second stage; it is challenging to run on an uneven surface while gawking at this majestic vista. On the way out we ran towards Kanchenjunga, keeping Everest and company on our right. At 3,600m these mountains towered above us and the surrounding landscape. We'd also seen them from the Delhi-Bagdogra plane, which flys at the same height as their altitude; so their magnitude was put into perspective.

As for the route itself... mostly down from Sandakphu with a steep climb up to the turn-around at Molley. The road surface was decent; some cobbled sections, some dirt road. Being an out-and-back route, I encountered the first runners returning as I was on the Molley ascent.

A little about the aid stations... this event well organised and facilitated. Up in the mountains Mr Pandey has an impressive abundance of aid stations; 12 on stage 1, 4 each way on Stage 2 (averages at one every 4km), 12 on stage 3, 5 on stage 4 and 10 on stage 5. Comparable to road running... We had to sign in at each aid station and all supplied bottled mineral water. Some were designated as full aid stations as they also provided bananas, boiled potatoes, biscuits and glucose powder. Many full aid stations also had temporary toilets (seated toilet over a hole in the ground and surrounded by white plastic sheeting to provide privacy).

On the way back from Molley I had to make use of the "facilities" as my tummy hadn't been feeling great; this was to be the start of a brief dose of "Delhi Belly". I'm adamant that my "Hennops Belly" a month earlier conveyed a certain level of resistance as I was not as unwell (severity and duration) as some other runners.

On the return route I ran into Mr Pandey, who was out on the course to greet the runners. "Nature is your assistant today," he said, refering to the spectacular view of Kanchenjunga and other mountains. It was just after 10h00 and cloud was rising up, almost level with the trail. "See, yesterday I said everything would be covered by 10h30. Now my job is done and you have seen the mountains."

It was a good thing too because the next day, running out on the same first section, we would see little of the surrounding mountains.

I'd taken it easy on this second stage, especially with the marathon stage the next day. When I reached the finish I washed up (a bucket of warm water was brought to our room), wrapped up in thermals and headed off for a bowl of tomato soup before visiting the Asian facilities next to our room - again. I then had a cosy afternoon nap.

My aim was to keep getting food down, to keep hydrated and to rest and recover as much as possible by morning. I didn't want to start the marathon with an upset stomach.

We had a race briefing at 18h30 where Mr Pandey outlined instructions for our bags; finish bags would be carried down to Rimbik by sherpas and our big bags would travel by Land Rover (old ones from back in the British days). We would only get the big bags much later in the evening.

A couple of runners quizzed Pandey about the actual distance of the marathon route.

"We have measured it by bicycle, by foot device... but you can be sure it is 2-3 further," he replied.

"Miles or kilometers?" a runner asked, to laughter from the audience.


They have tried on various occasions to measure the route, especially the steep downhill to Rimbik, by GPS. But with cloud cover, twisting trails and dense jungle lower down, they have never obtained an accurate reading. Although it is stated at 42km, I'd bank on the route being around 48km. Tomorrow would be a big day and I'd been warned about the steep descent (loss of 1200m over about 9km).

Running in India - Day 1

If I had to compress my 5-day experience of running in the Himalayan foothills into 15-words, this is what I'd write: exceptional organisation, massive ascents, steep descents, well marked routes, fabulous food, magnificent mountains and new friends.

I found myself on an Emirates flight to Delhi because of an invitation from race director Mr C.S. Pandey to Runner's World SA and the kind hospitality of India Tourism (www.incredibleindia.org), who organised my flights and accommodation in Delhi.
The race itself took place in the Darjeeling district (see my previous Blog), which meant a 3hr flight from Delhi to Bagdogra the morning after my arrival in Delhi. The Jet India plane was jam-packed with race participants; easy to identify from their trail shoes, sporty dress and backpacks.

From Bagdogra it was a frightfully scary 2.5hr (I think) bus ride to the mountaintop town of Mirik. I say scary because the roads are narrow, the mountain switchbacks are sharp and Indian drivers wait for no man, beast, bicycle nor oncoming vehicle. Sights of interest from the bus window included: cattle strolling the streets, large rounded river stones in piles on the roadside (they crush them to make cement, thus the river beds have been pillaged), run-down buildings, women in colourful dress and multiple people on bicycles and motorbikes.

I'm never good at bus rides, especially on twisting moutain roads, so I was suitably queasy by the time we reached the Mirik Lodge, a very decent and clean establishment. This bus trip confirmed my decision to skip the group trip to Darjeeling the following day (Saturday). I stayed in Mirik and went to visit the tea factory and buddhist temple instead; I indulged in an afternoon nap too.

STAGE 1
Date: Sunday, 28 October 2007
Distance: 38.6km
My run time: 06:27 *
Accumulative ascent: 2,498m
Accumulative descent: 937m
* First man, Duncan Larkin (US) - 04:21; First woman, Elin Wright (Norway) - 04:59

Already high up, this cobbled road leads to the entrance of the Singalilia National ParkThe race start was set from the town of Maneybhanjang (muh-nee-buh-jhan), which is well over an hour drive from Mirik (probably closer to 2hrs). We left Mirik at 06h00 and were running by 08h00. Two remarkable incidents from the start were: a) toilets and b) scarves from the town's children. Regarding the former... I was directed to some toilets near the start line (private, owned by locals)... um... nevermind Asian in design, they were only suitable for Number 1's and there were Number 2's on the floor! (I assume this gets washed down? Which town sucker gets this job?). I retreated hastily, deciding to wait for some bushes on the route. As for b)... sweet little girls from the town draped scarves around our necks in greeting and to wish us well.

My friend Michael Graz ran this race a few years ago and had warned me about the steep, long descent on Day 3, the marathon stage. What he didn't warn me about was the massive ascent on Day 1. Within 200m of the start we began climbing and climbing and climbing. The altitude profile clearly illustrates this. We climbed from 2000m to 3600m over the 38km stage. The cobbled road was challenging underfoot on the descents and the upward zig-zagging sections had my heart thumping in my chest. Yes, I walked the ups and took a few brief rests to get my heart rate under control, especially in the last few kilometers.

Graph of Stage 1 from Maneybhanjang to Sandakphu

It got colder as we ascended and cloud covered the higher sections. What I clearly remember was the sound of "rain" in the forest in the Singalila National Park. The cloud would condense on the tree leaves to rain on the ground; yet I was high and dry on the road.

An awesome day, a tough day and the finish was welcome. Hot soup and tasty food was waiting. It took me 06h27 to reach the high altitude settlement (few buildings only) of Sandakphu (sun-duh-poo).

From Wikipedia:
"Sandakfu or Sandakphu (3636 m) is the highest peak in the state of West Bengal, India. It is situated at the edge of the Singalila National Park and is the highest point of the Singalilia Ridge. Sandakphu has a small village on the peak with a number of hostels. It is accessible by 4x4 vehicles."

The Sandakphu settlement: The view of Kanchenjunga is obscured by clouds.
The temperature up here was cold enough to warrant the use
of my First Ascent Down Jacket.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Himalayan 100-Mile Stage Race

On Wednesday I take to the skies to fly from Joburg to India for the Himalayan 100-Mile Stage Race. This is a 5-day running race held in the northernmost region of the West Bengal Province, not far from Darjeeling (or Darjiling). I am very, very fortunate to be hosted by India Tourism and the event organisation.

This whole Himalayan thing took off a few months ago when I received an invitation to the race from race director Mr C.S. Pandey via Runner's World www.runnersworld.co.za magazine. Some emails later and I was in contact with Mr Shaw from India Tourism here in Joburg. He liased with their office in Delhi and a few weeks later arrangements had been made. I'll take part in the event and then spend two tourist days to visit interesting sites in Agra and Delhi. Yippeeee!

The Himalayan 5-day race is in its 17th year and according to friends who have done the race, C.S. Pandey's organisation is exceptional. The event incorporates the Everest Challenge Marathon (Day 3 of the 5-day event); some runners just come through for the marathon.

The race stages are as follows:

Pre-race
Fly from Joburg to Dubai to Delhi (Wednesday/Thursday). Spend Thursday night in Delhi.
Fly from Delhi to Bagdogra (Friday). Transfer to Mirik (West of Darjeeling). Sightseeing in Darjeeling (Saturday). We spend Friday and Saturday night in Mirik

Sunday, 28 October, Day 1 (38.4km)
Start from Manebhanyjang (2011m) to Sandakphu (3601m). Cobblestone surface - road built in 1948; border India/Nepal.

Monday, 29 October, Day 2 (32km)
Within Sandakphu National Park (I've also found it called Singalila National Park ). Most of the race takes place within the park on hiking trails. The best thing about this day is running with views of 4 of the 5 highest peaks (Lhotse, Everest, Makalu and Kanchenjunga - the 5th peak, which we don't see, is K2, which is in Pakistan). We get up early to see sunrise and it is likely to be quite chilly for the 06h30 start. Route is out-and-back from Sandakphu (3601m) to Molle (3552m); 16km each way.

Tuesday, 30 October, Day 3 (42.2km, Everest Challenge Marathon)
We retrace route from Sandakphu to Molle (16km) and then on to Phulet (3470m) and through to the finish in Rimbik (1935m). There is a steep downhill section from Phulet where the steep, rutted trail drops 1220m.

Wednesday, 31 October, Day 4 (20.8km)
This stage seems to be a road run (rough road but still tar). We also have a later start at 09h00 (short stage). The route drops from Rimbik to 1500m and then climbs up to Palmajua (2000m). We return by bus to Rimbik for the night.

Thursday, 1 November, Day 5 (27.2km)
We return to Palmajua by bus for the start of the final stage. It also seems to be on tar. We first climb uphill to 2600m and then start a gradual downhill to the finish at Manebhanjang (2011m).

I arrive back in Delhi on Friday, 2 November and have two sightseeing days to visit Agra and venues in Delhi. I'm home on Monday, 5 Nov.

That's it. 160km.

There are four other South Africans who will be taking part; one is Christo Snyman (Adventure Inc. formerly Team Jabberwok). My Chilean friend, Mane Jimenez, will be reporting for SleepMonsters.

Race Preparation

As usual, my preparation has not been excessive. What I have done differently is that I've spent more time on the road in the past three months. I generally don't run more than 12-15km a session and probably only run 30-45km/week.

In September I did a couple of short and fast races: an AR sprint, O relays, SA O Champs and the Golden Reef 100-miler as a relay team. At the 100-miler I ran the first 15km and felt better than I had for a long time.

And then the Hennops sprint came along in early Oct. I've taken a long time to recover from the water-borne infection and my tummy still isn't 100% right. I didn't run for a week following the infection. At the O sprint a week later I was dragging my feet a bit but feeling considerably better. I ran only once during last week when I started to feel a bit more stable.
I've just returned from an 8km road run and I'm feeling good, running a comfortable 5:30 to 6:00 pace. This is a bit slower than a month ago... still, it's a pace I can comfortably maintain on good terrain.

So... I'm going into this race not quite as strong as I'd like to be but am improving daily and I have no injuries or niggles, which is always good.

My thanks to Runner's World, India Tourism (Mr Shaw) and C.S. Pandey for inviting me to take part in this race and to visit a majestic part of the World.

Useful links

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Spend time, not money

A few weeks ago (barely the beginning of October) a lady phoned into 702 radio to say that she'd been to a shop in a mall and that she'd see Christmas decorations up. Last week another phoned in to say that he'd seen Christmas decorations up in stores. And on Saturday night I had dinner with some friends and lo-and-behold, the one had a tray of fruit mince pies, in their Christmas themed packaging. We are not even into November!

With every passing year I have increasingly felt that I no longer want Christmas nor birthday gifts. Sure, I love receiving presents as much as anyone else, but I have what I need in terms of tangible goods and I don't want any more. I love books too but I'm not making much of a dent on the pile next to my bed so I really don't need any for a while.

I also don't want my friends or family to walk the passages of the mall looking for something for me because gift-giving is the socially acceptable thing to do. They end up spending money that doesn't need to be spent.

The things I do want are way too pricey and specialist to expect even my closest relatives (new bike, fancy tent etc etc) to give me so these are items I'll work up to buying for myself.

I'll tell you what I want instead of gifts....

Friends and family, you can invite me to brunch, tea, lunch or dinner at your place - and I'll even bring a cake, salad or dessert. This has been a crazy year and I've done much less visiting than I would have liked to. Those hours you would have spent at the shops... I'd rather spend them with you. I also haven't organised a tea in many years... I'd like to invite you over when I plan one.

Tim, you aren't completely off the hook... Over the festive period, let's do two days away with our bikes and trail shoes. No roughing it... I want puffy duvets, 5 nozzle massage shower and scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast.

My parents... Dad, I'll keep my usual trade - I'll make tea or lunch in exchange for your handyman skills (handle on the bathroom cupboard etc). Mom... we can go 50/50 on a guillotine for my home office.

If any of you are deperate to spend money, you can do a transfer to www.freeme.org.za. They're a wildlife rehabilitation organisation, based in Fourways. They took Tammy, my tortoise, after Tortle, my old tortoise, crossed over. Tammy was rehabilitated and released in a protected area. They do wonderful work in rescuing "orphaned, abandoned, injured and displaced indigenous birds, mammals and reptiles".

Alternatively check out www.soapkidz.org. They promote environmental awareness to children and organise enviromental clean-up projects. Lots of litter picking-up, which is something I feel strongly about. They are looking at some great projects in many of the Joburg (and Pretoria) areas that we use i.e. Delta, Braamfontein Spruit, Moreletta Spruit etc and I hope to get more involved with them in the coming months.

Bottomline is that I do like gifts but if I haven't asked for a pink polka-dot dress and bubble bath I'd rather not receive this present. There are so many other things to do with your time and money.

To everyone reading this Blog... I'd like to encourage you to boycott the malls and rather spend time, not money, on people you care about this December.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Multiday adventure races are for everyone

If you've got the current GoMulti magazine issue you can read my most recent column in which I try to quell your fears about multiday race pace. And when Hano came through to AR Club on Tuesday night to talk about Bull of Africa he spoke about the many novice teams lined up at the start of XPD Austrialia and his first race, the Cederberg 500km held in 1999. My fingers started itching to type this blog.

Back in the "old days" of adventure racing's birth in South Africa, there were only 3 events a year. The Hi-Tec Adventure Racing Series offered only 180km, 250km and 500km races in 1999 and 2000. There were no sprints, no 65km events and no 100km events. There were no adventure racing clubs and www.ar.co.za had not yet been conceived. Yet we saw 16-25 four-person teams lined up at the start. Trim this figure by half (or more) and you'll get our current distance racing status.

I'll give you a few possible reasons for this.

Publicity
Events rely too much on www.ar.co.za and few have their own websites with comprehensive event information published months in advance of the event.

Multiday adventure races need to be promoted to the wider sporting community through colourful handouts at road run races, trail runs, mountain biking events and paddling events. Expedition events capture the public's imagination. Using the birdshot principle where a large number of projecticles guarantees that - at close range - a pellet will hit a target, if you send out loads of flyers and promotions to an extensive number of people you're bound to get some takers. The general public (those who do not visit www.ar.co.za nor read GoMulti, Runner's World and other related magazine) just do not know that these events are happening.

The path of least resistance
I've realised that if you offer people an easier option it will be taken; whether less money, less hassle, less time, less distance or all of the above. Sprint races are cheap, accessible, undemanding and short.

The ladder effect
Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to start at the bottom and work your way to the top. In other words, you do not have to start with a sprint, progressing to a 16-hr event to a 2-day race and then to a multiday expedition race. Tighten your belt, take a swig from your hip flask and take the plunge. My first race was a 250km followed by a 500km a few months later. Hano's first race was a 500km. Many others had the same initiation. In adventure racing you can go from zero to hero.

(Nonetheless it is a pretty good idea to enter one or two of the 2-day races in the early months of 2008, like Swazi Xtreme, to bond with your team, practise efficient transitions, refine your navigation and get motivated by the whole racing buzz)

Pace panic
Sprint participants seem to think that (to paraphrase Fred) "the helter-skelter pace of sprints has to be maintained for long races as well". No, no, no. Not even Haile Gebrselassie could maintain his World Record marathon pace (2:57 min/km pace) over a greater distance (the fastest 100km road running pace is 3:44 min/km, that's 100km in 6h13). Take these boys off-road, add a backpack, nagivation, team-mates, multiple disciplines, another 400km, 4-days and little sleep and I bet (with confidence) that their pace would drop substantially.

Strapped for cash
It does cost a fair penny to participate in an expedition race. There's the race entry fee (probably around R2,500 per person), transport, pre- and post-race accommodation (not always included in entry fees), race food, additional equipment/clothing and miscellaneous bits and bobs. It would be fair to say that you need to budget around R6,000-R7,000 per person to compete in a local expedition race, which is definitely cheaper than an event abroad.

But let's put this into perspective. I took part in an out-of-town ultra run a few months ago. The entry fee was an inexpensive R150. Include transport, meals and accommodation and it cost me R1,270 to run for 15-hours. I ran another out-of-town ultra in just under 7-hours (entry fee around R250) and that trip cost me R1,160.

At an expedition race you'll get the most bang for your buck if you take the full 8 race days to complete the course (around R750 per day). hahaha

Team-mates (an addition to my original blog)
Finding suitable teammates is no easy task and going into a 500km with incompatible personalities sets you up for a bumpy ride. Then again, a 500km races can bring out traits in your best beloved friend that you never knew existed so you may as well just go for it - recruit eager, like-minded people willing to give a 2-5 days race a go and deal with issues as they arise. There is certainly no better way to learn about what you want from a team.

Our National AR email group is probably the best "find-a-friend" resource available. People subscribe to the email group because they are interested in AR and in 95% of their subscription notes they say "hoping to hook up with like-minded people to take part in events". So, what are you waiting for?

Send an email to the group stating where you live, what races you're interested in doing and whether you're looking for 1 or 3 team-mates. Get the people from your neighbourhood who respond together for a cup of coffee at your local haunt and take it from there. You can't sit back expecting other people to find friends for you. Take action! They're out there, you've just got to coax them from their hobbit-holes.

Lack of belief in your abilities
Do you not believe that you can complete a 500km race? 500km is not overwhelming when you break it into bite-sized chunks; 35km plus 80km plus 40km etc. I've done one (and a half). Others have too. And you can also experience the adventure. Think about it... on an expedition race you've probably got 7 or 8 days to get to the finish. That really is a lot of time and if you just keep moving steadily you'll get there.

What's the worst that can happen? You may not complete the full course. This is no great tragedy; not lining up at the start is.

Rookies give it horns
At the 750km XPD Australia last month many rookie (novice) teams lined up at the start, (something like 50%, or more, of the field). Only 2 teams that started the race withdrew. Some teams kept going although they were unranked. As Hano explained, "They have a different mindset and novices are not scared to start and tackle a 750km event. South African teams seem more conservative and hesitant. Start thinking differently... be there for the journey."

The Bull of Africa is back in August 2008. This is the only SA-based expedition distance race next year so consider committing your disposable income and training to this objective now.

Monday, 8 October 2007

River pollution: I'm sick, are you?

Wooohooo! The sprint race at Hennops on Saturday morning was fabulous; great route, fabulous mountain biking and great fun running in the wonderful highveld rain. Tubing on the Hennops river was also great fun but the repercussions were not. My stomach has been liquid since Sunday lunch-time and at about 05h00 this morning I was able to hold water down for the first time in over 12-hours.

That said, I knew that the Hennops was pumping bacteria before I started the race. This article came out on IOL (online news website) on Wednesday. The article refers to the polluted river and borehole water. A local got the CSIR to test his borehole water in January. These were the results: "his borehole water had a faecal coliform count of 930 particles per 100ml, while the river had a count of 30 100 particles per 100ml. Faecal coliforms are the most commonly used bacterial indicator of faecal pollution and are found in water contaminated by human or animal faecal waste.Faecal coliform counts in water of anything above 10 particles per 100ml is likely to cause infection in humans if consumed. Livestock can tolerate up to 200 particles per 100ml."

I was very conscious of keeping my mouth closed while on the river, but some bad bugs did manage to make their way into my gastro-intestinal tract. I have not been so sick for many, many years. As Joburgers we were well aware of the risks; the same applies when paddling on the Klip River. I was thinking that it was just me because Lauren (my teammate on Saturday) was fine, as was Tim and his teammate Andrew. Jose called me this morning and said that he'd been affected as well as three others he'd spoken to when he was man-down on Sunday afternoon.

What is to be done? Joburg rivers are polluted; sewage, informal settlements... it all goes into the water. Knowing the state of the river I probably should have skipped the tubing section, running to the take-out? And perhaps the organisers should not have put us on the water?

Anyway, when all is said and done it was great fun on the river but you're not going to get me back on that water anytime soon.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Taking road shoes off-road

At the UGE Events sprint race at Hennops River (near Hartebeespoort) today I was very pleased to see many new faces. Another thing I noticed was the abundance of road running shoes.

If you’re going into your very first sprint event, road running shoes will get you through. But if you’d like to participate in sprints (and other off-road disciplines like trail running and orienteering) regularly, then you’d do well to invest in a pair of trail shoes.

Road shoes are more cushioned and they're built for road running; trail shoes are built for dirt. These are the basics…

  • The fabric is tougher and more resistant to abrasion
  • On the road your feet only go up and down, on trail they move in all directions. This why the trail shoe upper is stronger and firmer than that of a road shoe; it has to give your foot support so that you won’t turn over on your ankle and it holds you foot in place so that it isn’t sliding left and right
  • The front of the shoe (toe box) is stiffened and often “coated” with a rubber extension from the sole. This protects your toes from impact when you stumble over rocks and tree roots
  • The tread is more aggressive, to give better grip on uneven surfaces. The sole compounds have been developed to maximise traction on slippery surfaces.

The more important message of this blog is that trails and off-road, off-path activities will destroy your road running shoes (and your feet and ankles). You’ll have to buy another pair before you can say, “I love adventure racing”. Go shopping.

Always use shoes for the purpose for which they were designed. Use your road shoes on road and your trail shoes on trail for their longevity and your podiatric health.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Event calendars: AR and others

I had an interesting chat with an adventure racer this week. We were talking about the AR Event Calendar and that of related disciplines. He suggested that the AR calendar should evolve to include the other disciplines. I remained adamant that www.ar.co.za calendar would remain as it is - a comprehensive listing of adventure race and some multidiscipline events. This is why...

Adventure racing is a sport as well as a compilation of other disciplines, like orienteering, running, paddling, mountain biking etc. Each of these disciplines is represented by websites, like Spinman, SA Orienteering Federation (and excellent orienteering club websites) and paddling unions and running listings. www.AR.co.za has a Links subsection that connects you with these resources.

www.ar.co.za evolved because an adventure racing resource did not exist. Spinman developed in the same way. I maintain the AR calendar. Terry maintains the mountain biking calendar (and ditto for other discipline website administrators). As any of them will tell you, it takes a lot of effort to maintain event calendars. There are very few days in the year where I am not updating event details, modifying dates, deleting or adding events. I would cringe at handling even one more discipline. It is just too much admin.


Yes, the AR calendar also lists trail running events (a website has been setup by Trevor Ball for trail running but it is not yet representative of the events available) and other odds and ends like the annual orienteering Rogaine and multisport events (predominantly KZN). I refer all mountain biking event listing enquiries (and I get a good number of them) to Spinman. That's his turf, not mine. That wheel don't need to be reinvented.

There are websites (two come to mind - there may be a few more) that have tried to consolidate event calendars. They skim content from discipline websites and are inevitably out of date with many listings. As I mentioned, maintaining calendars is a lot of work. I'd be interested to know how many of you rely on these event calendars to plan your activities?

I regularly participate in road running, trail running, ultradistance and orienteering events, in addition to participating in or helping with adventure racing events. I'm not that interested in mountain biking events and I don't take part in canoe races.

I diarise orienteering, ultra and AR events, keeping an eye on the road running calendar that lives next to my computer. I don't need anyone to consolidate anything for me because I know what I'm looking for.

Although www.ar.co.za does not list every off road event in South Africa, it does provide you with links to the resources that cover disiplines of interest. All you have to do is go to the Links section and ... click-click ...

That's a silver platter if ever I saw one.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Haile Gebrselassie sets new marathon record

Ethiopian distance runner Haile Gebrselassie won the Berlin Marathon on Sunday (30 September 2007) in 2:04:26 to set a new World Record. He took 29-seconds off Paul Tergat's record on the same course in 2003. This is an incredible 2:57 min/km pace!

According to the http://www.iaaf.org/ athlete profile Haile is 1.65cm tall, weighs 56kg and was born on the 18 April 1973.

This means that he is the same height as me, is exactly 3-years and 2-months older than me and 6kg lighter than me.

Genetic and gender physical superiority aside, could I extrapolate these results to indicate that if I lose 6kg that I would have the potential to set a marathon World Record in 2010?

Sunday, 30 September 2007

Golden Reef 100-miler

100-mile (160km) road races are not for everyone; they're not quite my thing either. But, a team 100-miler is a completely different race and I was eager to give it a try. And so it happened that we entered an Adventure Racing Club team for the Golden Reef 100-miler.
Tim, Thato, Tony & Lisa before the start
Our AR Club team included me, Tim Deane, Tony Abbott and recent club member, Thato Williams. Thato joined our team three days before the race (a taxi collision led to Ian Adams' withdrawal from the team).

We left Joburg on Friday afternoon to travel to the start at the Hartebeespoort Boat Club, in Kosmos (not near the dam wall, which is what I assumed... doh!). It started to rain just before the start but stopped as the gun went; thank goodness!

I took on the first 15km stage, the only part of the race where we would not be allowed to assist or swop runners. This section took us over the bridge and past Pecanwood on to quieter roads. I had the race bib, a reflective belt, headlamp, glow-sticks on my shoes (provided by the race) and a reflective Buff wrapped around my hand. I was determined to be seen by motorists; and there were a lot of them on this stretch.

Before the race the guys had played a round of a hand-game, similar to ching-chong-cha, to see who would run after me. Tim drew the short straw. He would be followed by Thato and then Tony. After a really good 15km section I passed our race bib over to Tim.

The front teams had clocked 4min/km over the first 15km; we were about 5 runners from the leading 100-miler solo and eager to close the gap - our egos could not handle being beaten by someone running the entire distance on their own (it took another 35km or so to overtake the Chappies guy).

We started off swopping runners every 5-7km, depending on the terrain and suitable pull-over points. We all agreed that seeing Tony's double-cab with hazards flicking was indeed a welcome sight.

On my third rotation I was feeling the hills so the guys gave me an extended rest; afterall I had run the first 15km section. That 1h30 in the back of the bakkie was fabulous and by the time I got back onto the road at the start of the loop past the Lion Park I was energised. This must have been about 2am by this stage.

Before I set out, while we were waiting for Tony - who had to deal with a canine encounter en route - we saw the lead team; we were starting the loop, they were completing it. They confirmed that they were running at 4min/km pace and alternating runners every 2km. Impressive pace and certainly faster than our running ability. They were hoping to beat the race record, which I think they did (probably in just over 10hrs).

The Lion Park loop was my most spooky section of the run. As I ran past the Lion Park the lions started rumbling; not quite roaring, more like a half-roar or grumble. The lions closest to me started and got those futher down the road going. It was like running past a yard with dozens of dogs. I couldn't see the lions but was hoping that the fence was strong enough to keep in any curious felines...

I ran steadily up gentle hills and through mist with no sight nor sound of any vehicles or runners; it really is a wonderful section. After about 5.5km I saw the bakkie; the guys were taking a quick cat-nap. I tapped on the window shouting, "Meet me in a kay". Tim took over, then Tony and then Thato. The night-time conditions were good and even though chilly while sitting around, it was perfect running weather.

By the time I took over again, about 1h30 after my last run, the sky was light and we were all feeling more awake. This was a tough section with two big climbs and I had definitely slowed a lot - from a 5:15min/km pace to 6min/km - even walking a few short sections. I handed over to Tony and suggested that we meet him in 2km to see how he was doing, exchanging runners if necessary. Tony shot off and when starting the car we discovered that the battery was flat - the result of having flickers on all night.

Fortunately some team cars came over the rise a few minutes later. We were helped by two of the Mittal runners; they hooked up jumper cables and we were off again. Tony later told us that there is a switch in the engine so that when one battery is dead you can flick the switch and the car will start from the other... we didn't dare turn off the car for the rest of the race.

We picked Tony up at 2km and swopped runners. This was now 30km to go and we continued alternating every 2km. From 20km to go, as we hit the hills going into Roodepoort we swopped every 1km and in town, up the steep ascents we would swop every 500m.

We were absolutely pumping from 30km. Seeing the Mittal and Roodepoort runners so close behind us at 35km had really given us a fright and we certainly did not want to be overtaken. Thoughout the race the runners in the car would whoop and cheer as we overtook the current runner; this escalated as we got closer to the finish. We had a fantastic vibe going, our transitions were fast and we pulled out 15-minutes on the other teams over the last 30km.

In hindsight we should have started the 2km intervals sooner, especially during the coldest and darkest hours between 2am-5am. We'll try this next year.

We reached the finish at the Golden Reef Road Runners Club (near Westgate) around 09h30 on Saturday morning, after 14h34 of running. This put us in 8th place overall and we were the first mixed team. Yippeee!


The race docs checked each of us out, we slurped a delicious cup of home-made soup and headed for home - showers and beds.

My overall assessment:

  • We all thoroughly enjoyed this race; the format, the vibe and the route
  • 100-miler relays are excellent club participation events
  • Running through the night is one of my favourite things (even though you're really sleepy the next day)
  • It would be really great to see other 100-milers allowing relay team entries
  • This race is for everyone; you run about 40km per person in bite-sized chunks

I can 100% recommend that you diarise this race (or any other 100-mile relay).

Tim, Tony and Thato - cheers!

I have put photos from our race on Flickr. Check them out.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Where is your bib, helmet and emergency info wristband?

On Friday evening I set off for a road run. I had my day-glo yellow reflective bib on and my wristband, which contains my emergency information (name, emergency contacts, medical aid etc). No more than 300m from my house I stopped at traffic lights; a young chap was next to me on his bicycle. He wasn't wearing a helmet so I told him off, adding that a helmet could save his life. On Saturday morning I got a call from Ian Adams' dad to say that Ian had been hit by a taxi while out training on his bike. His helmet saved his life.

This blog has been pending for weeks; I've had it on my list ever since I wrote the column on reflective gear for Runner's World magazine (August 2007 issue). Ian was actually my assistant gear tester; we headed to a dark, quiet suburb street to take turns parading in front of my car's headlamps and scoring the efficacy of various reflective items. It was a revelation for both of us to realise just how invisible runners are to motorists. Our top reflective must-have items include a reflective bib and an ankle band (or wristband, although ankle is best) of 3M Conspicuity tape (that yellow reflective tape used on trailers, trucks and taxis).

Searching the web I discovered a wealth of research on this particular topic (pedestrian visibility). Did you know that a motorist will notice a pedestrian in the dark at 50m and in a reflective bib at 96m. A car travelling at 60km/hr will cover this distance in 6-seconds. That is not enough time for the driver to register your presence, make a decision and do something about it. Scary.

The young cyclist I "accosted" on Friday night was the second one this week that I gave safety advice to. Why, why, why do people get on bicycles without helmets? It is like people driving without seatbelts or under the influence. You are asking for trouble.

About my emergency info wristband... a few years ago a runner was knocked over a couple of blocks from home (I drove past after the incident; helpers were already on-scene). The young lass looked unconscious. And it made me think; if I was knocked over how would they identify me? This was reaffirmed in January last year when after mountain biking at Groenkloof I stopped in at a local store to get a cold drink. A lady came up to my friend and I to ask whether we rode with identification. Her friend, a cyclist, had been knocked over - and killed - a few weeks before. His wife was away and it was only when he was missing from work that a search began. His body had been unclaimed for days because he rode with no form of identification.

Back to Ian...
He was riding along Allandale road, coming up the hill towards the Engen. It seems like there were two slower cars ahead of the taxi and being impatient, the taxi driver pulled into the emergency lane where Ian was riding. Ian thinks that the driver was looking behind for vehicles when he drove straight into the back of Ian's bike. Ian got plastered to the windscreen, which his body shattered, and the taxi kept going for a few seconds before the driver hit his brakes. The passengers were screaming; Ian describes the situation as "pandemonium".

Credit to the driver, he didn't try to run, but stuck around to help Ian. Nearby construction workers also came to his rescue, bringing their site medical kit with them. The ambulance took about 25-minutes to arrive and Ian was shipped off to the hospital, which fortunately was less than 3-minutes drive from the accident site. He was also conscious the whole time and asked the helpers to call his parents, who met the ambulance at the hospital.

All in all he got off very lucky indeed. His injuries include:
  • Fractures to the L1 and L2 vertebrae; he will be in a back brace for 6-weeks. A harder fall or a fall in another position could have done serious damage to his spinal cord. He has full feeling, movement and mobility. UPDATE - A couple of opinions later, no need for a back brace. Injury not severe enough to demand restricted movement. That's good news. But, no running for 2-months. In the next week Ian can start with stationary cycling and then add a dash of swimming. Impact activities not allowed.
  • Gash in left calf; was surgically reconstructed on Saturday afternoon
  • Gash in back of head; has a couple of stitches. The back of his helmet has been decimated and without this vital piece of cycling equipment it is very likely that we would have lost another of our community.
  • Fracture to the top of his right pelvic bone; seems like a piece has been chipped off, docs will monitor the situation.
  • Road rash and miscellaneous cuts

This morning, a day after the accident, Ian was up and walking and he was discharged this afternoon. No running or cycling for him for a while.

Ian says that when he is back on his bike in two months there is nothing he would do differently. He was on the far left of the emergency lane. He had all of his visibility aids on. This accident, like many others, was driver error and not cyclist error. You can only make sure that you adhere to safety requirements; the rest is actually out of your control.

Friends, if you see a cyclist without a helmet and visibility aides and a runner without a bib, even during the day, please chastise them. And if you are not doing the above... consider this my lecture to you. And I advise you all to make your own emergency wristbands; they serve to speak for you when you can't.

Finally... Ian was our AR Club teammate for the Golden Reef 100-miler road race this Friday night, 28 September. We have entered a team of 4 and will run the 160km as a relay team, alternating runners ever few kilometers. Although we'd love another AR Club runner to join us, we are also open to outside applicants. If you would like to run about 40km, in bite-sized chunks, between 19h00 on Friday night and mid-morning on Saturday, please drop me a note. We're aiming at maintaining a decent 5-5:30min/km pace. Ian was our secret weapon (he runs faster than the rest of us) so we're looking for an enthusiastic replacement to join me, Tim and Tony A.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

AR Club's orienteering relay victory

It is with great pride that I write this blog; to boast of AR Club's orienteering success. And I cheer not only for our sweeping victory at the Gauteng Orienteering Club relay event today, but of our overall success in this sport since we became an orienteering club just over 3-years ago.

I've been involved in the sport of orienteering for some years; I attended my first orienteering event in preparation for my first adventure race. This must have been in March/April 1999. I went to Wits University and being involved with Wits Sports Council I'd met Nicholas Mulder some years earlier. At that stage he was chair of Wits Orienteering Club (WITSOC). I was sports officer for Wits Underwater Club and later chair of Sports Council. As the navigator in our team, I thought it would be useful for us all to go out to an event to get some orienteering experience.

I remember little of that first event suffice to say that it was a colour-coded event and I think we did one of the longer courses because we were out there for a VERY long time. Grassy area with lots of bluegum trees... The most useful part of the entire event was when Nicholas came to find us and took us through the last few controls; that was the single most instructional session I've ever had because Nicholas managed to snap the map, terrain and vegetation into perspective.

In the subsequent months I attended random events, usually orienteering in a paired team with my friend Tracey Sanders (ex-Team BUGS, now living in the UK). We kept this up for a few years, attending odd events and thoroughly enjoying each one. The last big run we did together was the first Rogaine at Suikerbosrand (Aug 2003; we won ladies and were 3rd overall). Was it an 8hr event? I can't remember. Tracey immigrated a week or two later and I started orienteering on my own, taking the competitive aspect more seriously.

I'd been a member of Rand Orienteering Club (ROC) and by 2004 a good many more adventure racers were taking part regularly. We decided to affiliate AR Club to the South African Orienteering Federation. What this primarily meant was that our members could stay within AR Club and not have to join ROC or RACO to take part in Provincial, Club and National events, especially as a number were featuring in the top rankings.

For some reason I also recall a festive relay at St Stithians, but this was in late-2004 and I don't think we competed officially as AR Club; rather we were in teams for other clubs

We took part in our first serious club relay in Oct 2005 and scooped Mens and Ladies categories at Alberts Farm (winning ladies team photo; Sam, Michele & Lisa). Last year, in a lovely area South of Joburg, both teams lost their trophies... just. We were hoping for good runs this year.

Today's Gauteng Orienteering Clubs relay was hosted by the students of WITSOC on the Wits Campus, which most will tell you means that you'll be running either uphill or downhill.

The format of orienteering relays is as follows: Clubs submit 3-person teams. Each team member runs one of three course; short, medium and long. The long course is just under 4km, medium is about 3km and short is about 2.5km. The first runners from each team line up for a mass start. The catch here is that the teams run the courses in different orders and the course planners specifically order the teams such that the top teams will not start on the same courses. When the runner has completed their course, they hand-touch their team-mate, who then sets off. The team's final time is the accumulated time for the three runners. We sent three teams.

AR Club's 2007 Relay Teams
Men 1: Garry Morrison, Eugene Botha & Jeremy Green
Men 2: Tim Deane, Alex Kuhnast, Kobus van Zyl
Women: Lisa de Speville, Michele Botha, Cindy van Zyl
(Incase you're wondering where Nicholas' name is... he runs for ROC, as he has done since he was a wee tot)

(L-R) Kobus, Alex, Tim, Michele, Eugene, Garry, Jeremy. Cindy & Lisa in front.
The men took a clean sweep but the women's race was where all the action was. Cindy sprinted to the finish to wrap it up for our team only 9-seconds ahead of Tania (RACO)! Our second mens team placd 5th.

Aside from the team relay thing, our orienteerers are really doing well on the short and long course Provincial logs. Looking at the Top 10 of the 2006 short course log: Garry was 3rd, Jeremy placed 5th and Eugene placed 9th. Michele was 2nd lady and Lisa was 3rd.

On the colour-coded log Garry and Jeremy were 3rd and 4th. Michele was 2nd and Kirsty Green was 10th (Lisa didn't fulfill the race quota; I ended up way down).

Looking at the current 2007 situation (SA Champs are still to go; this coming weekend)... We potentially have 4 runners in the mens short course Top 10 (Garry, Jeremy, Eugene and Kobus) and 5 runners in the women's short course Top 10 (Lisa, Michele, Cindy, Sam and Kirsty). On the colour-coded log we potentially have the same 4 guys in the Top 10 and the same 5 girls, plus Carine, looking for Top 10 ladies slots. Very exciting! (results are based on best of 5 or 6 out of the available events in a year)

I am very, very proud of all our club orienteerers. The ones I've mentioned are just the top ranked orienteers; there are a whole lot more who take part regularly. Some have not been orienteering for very long but they're really improving their orienteering skills and enjoying the challenge of more difficult courses.

To wrap up... adventure racers, orienteering is the BEST way to practise your navigation. There are about 2 events a month (I'm talking about Gauteng; alternative is PENOC in Cape Town) and they range from short course (max 4km) to colour-coded (from 3 to >9km, depending on event and terrain). Children around the age of 7 or 8 cope very well on their own. The events are fun, family-friendly and they're all local.

Good websites to visit are: http://www.roc.org.za/ and http://www.racorienteers.co.za/. Both sites host orienteering event calendars and information on the sport of orienteering. If you're in Cape Town, go to http://www.penoc.org.za/. I do hope we'll see you at an event in the very near future.
Our AR Club website is www.ar.co.za/arclub. We are hosting a short course event out at Derdepoort (North of PTA) on Sunday, 7 Oct and we have assisted students from the Health and Fitness Professionals Association with the organisation of a charity O event on Sunday 14 Oct. Both of these are excellent events for beginners and many AR Club orienteerers will be around to help you.