Monday, 19 March 2007

The Little Red Hen

This theme has actually been brewing for some time; and I was reminded of it this weekend at the UGE Events sprint in Krugersdorp when I saw the friendly and familiar faces at marshal points along the route...

As you well know, Adventure Racing is not a mass participation sport like road running, road cycling, mountain biking, soccer, rugby etc.

The "adventure racing" event with the most participants is certainly the Mudman series in KZN. The event includes a 750m swim or 4km paddle, a 5km trail run and a 20 km mountain bike ride. Team format is individuals or teams and entrants are members of the public, or school & corporate teams. There's also an U10 kids event. The event welcomed 800 entrants in February 2007.

Ugene Nel's Quantum Adventures had 155 teams (approx. 330ppl) this past weekend. The event included 20km mtb, 5km trail, water crossing & obstacles.

For both of these series the routes are tagged and navigation (even basic nav) is not included (they could be more classified as off-road multisport than AR as such...)

The UGE Events races are 30-45km in distance and also include mtb, trail running and ropes/obstacles/tubing. Basic navigation is included (road maps, orienteering maps etc). Max numbers here are around 200 entrants.

Once you start looking at 100km races... well, entries are in the region of 40-60ppl and as for 250km events (Swazi Xtreme being the biggest at approx. 160ppl) an average is in the region of 40ppl.

Although I have digressed, what I hoped to illustrate above is that AR is a small sport.

Most event organisers have day jobs. They organise events because they can and because they enjoy putting on events. But, each event needs man-power in the form of volunteer marshals to oversee transitions, certain checkpoints, start, finish, registration... there's a lot that happens on the ground to make an event possible. And, as you've probably noticed, it is the same faces you see at each race. Up country at UGE Events, organised by Eugene, Michele, Nicholas and Ryno, you'll see George and Joan van Jaarsveld (orienteerers who always volunteer their assistance at AR sprints), the Mulders (Nicholas and Michele's folks), the Bothas (Eugene's folks) and associated friends, team members and AR Club members.

Michael Graz has recently taken over chairmanship of WPASS in CT. The club's member numbers and support has dwindled to a trickle so Michael created a poll to ask the members what they wanted from the club. You know what came back? Events. Considering that Ugene puts on around one event a month I'd hope that each person that responded has been entering these... (if not, requests for more events are null and void if you're not doing the existing events).

Events need an organiser, they need volunteers to help and they need participants. The fable of the Little Red Hen comes to mind. Everyone is keen to eat the bread but no-one wants to grow the wheat and bake the bread.

Again, this isn't only about events, it's about our adventure racing clubs. These clubs have been created by people around the country to provide a central community within various areas. Speaking for AR Club, there are a core of people who organise events (we have to organise a paddling event and 2 orienteering events each year for our Provincial associations), club evenings, club activities and such. The other Provinces are no different in that a few people handle club affairs. We're just lucky in Joburg in that the club has been going for the longest (about 5-years) and that we have greater member numbers because of our multisport affiliations and that over the years we've built a loyal base. Clubs are a wonderful infrastructure for knowledge, comaraderie and activity, but they do need to be supported.

So, the moral of this blog is the following:
  • Regular volunteers, you are treasured and appreciated. Thank you.
  • Event organisers, thank you too for presenting events for us to enter. We appreciate that you spend your weekends scouting for races instead of lying under a tree in a hammock with your feet up after a tough week at work.
  • Join your nearest adventure racing club, attend their club evenings, make friends within the clubs and offer to organise a social club trail run or mtb ride.
  • Volunteer to marshal at an event; it is a great way to meet other racers and it may give someone who always marshals an opportunity to actually take part.
  • Instead of requesting that more events be organised, why don't you take the initiative and organise something for everyone else?

Sunday, 4 March 2007

Thoughts from the week

The past week seems to have been quite busy... musings about Xterra, children and running and the new 3-day, staged SPORT event at Swazi Xtreme 2007.

Well, I'm so glad that I did the Xterra Lite. It was cooking in the Magaliesberg, especially since we only started at 09h45. The Swim went well (I wore my cycle shorts - worked well and meant that there would be no need to change from a swimsuit). My say that I actually felt a little nervous waiting for the start and was quite hyped up until about half-way through the stretch. I didn't get kicked, I didn't get drowned and the whole experience was actually quite pleasant.
The mountain biking started with some technical single track, which - as can be expected - caused a bottleneck. Thereafter it was excellent and the Xterra crew can be commended for finding such excellent single track sections.
The run wasn't anything to write home about but it was pleasant and made good use of what was available in the area. By 12-noon it was baking under the full power of the sun and I could only feel sorry for the Xterra course people who had to do the 6km route twice.

It was fun waiting near the finish to watch people coming across the line; a big AR contingent was there so there were many friends around. My surprise of the day was being awarded 3rd woman in the Xterra Lite and receiving a Duesouth R100 gif voucher (I was surprised 'cos I thought I was further back and the entry form had said no prizes for Xterra Lite).
Organisation was good and there were lots of marshalls out in the field. All in all I recommend that you give at least an Xterra Lite course a try. It was a good experience and I'd definitely enter one again.

Road running
This morning a small field of runners took on the Germiston 10/21km races. I say the field was small because it seems that the rest of Gauteng went to run the Vaal Marathon, a nice, fast and flat qualifier for Two Oceans and Comrades.

As many of you know, I work for Let's Play, which is Supersport's social responsibility section; it's all about getting children off their butts and to regularly participate in any form of activity. As such, I get to hear a lot about rugby clinics, cricket coaching etc. These are a) all male orientated sports and b) all equipment, facility and coaching intensive. Running (and walking) is for everyone (girls and boys) and you don't even need shoes. I've had these thoughts for months (actually, since I started working there 9-odd months ago).

I've decided that in my dream world I'd like to see all primary schools implement a compulsory route that children have to do every day. They can walk and talk with their friends or run the course and challenge their friends. Different distances for different ages. All they have to do it complete the circuit and then get down to their school work; mornings would probably be best. Maybe they can do it at any time of day and they can only leave the school premises if they have a post-curcuit stamp on their hands (like night club stamps). For some it could be quiet time to think thoughts and appreciate seasonal changes in the trees. Others may try to better their previous times. Others will enjoy the time spent with friends.

A proactive teacher could have different route activities for each day. One day it could be running then walking between lamp-posts / driveways. Another could be 5 jumping jacks at each gate where there is a barking dog. Some days could be compulsory walk days (I'd never advocate compulsory run days 'cos some just hate running and I'd rather hope they'd discover the pleasure when they're older).

So, if you're a teacher and you're reading this... give it a go. At least for your class. And let me know how it goes.

As you're aware, race information for Swazi Xtreme 2007 is now available. The most drastic change from previous years is the modification of the non-stop 120km SPORT event to a 180km staged, 3-day SPORT event.

Those a little hesitant to do the 250km were perhaps looking forward to the non-stop short course and may be a little disappointed? Well, you've got two wide open options... if you've did the 120km last year, use this opportunity to move up a step to the non-stop 250km PRO event. But if you're still new to the sport or not quite up for the longer event, enter the SPORT event and don't be put off by it being staged over 3-days. This is actually a gem for those who really battle with the lack of sleep experienced at non-stop events. But this doesn't mean that the SPORT event will be easy...

In October 2004 I attended the Mild Seven Outdoor Quest in Borneo, a course designed and managed by Ian Adamson with John Howard, both AR legends, as technical director. Outdoor Quest was a 5-day staged AR where the teams would race for about 6-hours a day. This was one of the most physically challenging events I've ever witnessed. Why? a) Humidity and heat were extreme and b) every day the pace was fast, fast, fast. And, always remember with staged racing (incl. running and biking events) that in the morning, when you wake up after a good sleep, you may be a bit stiff from the day before but you'll still have to get out there again.

Another really good feature of the new format SPORT event is that the teams will use the same transitions as the PRO event so there will be good spectator appeal and a good vibe.

All in all I think this is a good change and I do hope that more novice teams will be persuaded to enter and that others will accept the push to take on the non-stop event.