Sunday, 24 June 2007

If you don't ask you won't get

In this posting the theme is the same (If you don't ask you won't get) but I have two different points to illustrate this theme. Number One may assist in your sponsor search (product/financial) and other aspects of your life. Number Two will improve your adventure racing.

Number One
As you may know, my day job is working as the Communications Editor for Let's Play, Supersport's kiddies social responsibility project. I answer all the emails sent to us by members of the public; most of them are from parents, schools and some children. What do they all have in common? They want, want, want: t-shirts, caps, balls, sports equipment, money... for teams, individuals, clubs...
We do have an FAQ on our website that says that we do not sponsor individuals, teams, events etc. There is just no way we would be able to. So, our reply is standard.

That said... we did run a campaign in April where we collected old equipment donated by the public to give to beneficiaries (schools etc) who are in desperate need of equipment. There's also the current campaign that is about raising soccerballs to donate to beneficiaries. In this case we're aiming to fulfill as many wishlists as possible.

The thing that drives me mad is that I receive emails about how Joe X wants to start a soccer, rugby and cricket in his community and he wants equipment. I reply asking him to send me a specific wish list i.e. 5 x soccer balls, 3 x rugby balls etc.
I also get emails from people hosting events saying that they'd like to partner with Let's Play because they also believe children should be active. Blah, blah, blah... what is this asking for? Nothing. So, I reply to ask, "What are you specifically looking for from us?"

If they said they wanted tv coverage or for us to promote their event on our website I could give a yes or no; but because they do not specify what they want, I'm unable to assist.

The moral of this one is to be specific about what you want; and you'll be more likely to get it. If you email a potential sponsor and say, "We're looking for sponsorship", you probably won't have much luck. Instead try: "The form of sponsorship we would like from you is to purchase 4 x thermal sweaters and 4 x cycle shorts from you at wholesale price". If it was me, I wouldn't refuse your request. Remember too... baby steps. Money is hard to come by so don't expect cash sponsorships, especially in the early days; I can bet that you wouldn't part with your money to pay for other people's weekend recreation without very, very good reason.

Number Two
At orienteering champs this weekend on of our established adventure racers spoke to me about this year's Swazi Xtreme, mentioning that a number of racers had spoken to him and that many were unhappy. Main issues were regarding safety and marshals.

Firstly, you are all quite correct. There should be more marshals out on course, like at the potholes/kloofing section and most definitely there should have been safety kayakers and marshals at the two rapids - or bunting tape leading you out of the river.

What I think you all forget is that you are the customers and Darron (and every other race director) is the service provider. You are paying hard earned cash to enter (about R1,000 per person this year?) and you have every right to say what you'd like at races.

And I'm not talking about complaining; there's a lot of that. I'm talking about constructive solutions.

Instead of "Navigation on the PRO event is too easy" try "Can you include some more technical navigation on the PRO event next year; even some orienteering elements?". Or, "We've been working on our paddling but would feel more comfortable with some more safety kayakers on the rivers".

This year I got involved with the event two days before the start, to be on hand to help Darron with on-the-ground elements. And while I didn't compete, I did make notes and drafts of ideas for next year's event. More marshals, safety kayakers and technical navigation elements (as used as examples above) are just three things that come from my personal list of things I'd like to see included next year.

There are all kinds of other things that could crop up on your lists; more mtb, less mtb, more trekking, less trekking, no jumps, flat water paddling, river K1 paddling, more swimming... Fundamentally we all have personal preferences and an event will suit some more than others.

As you know, Swazi is the one race that I do annually (I've been at all 7, helped at 2, raced 4 and helped this year). But, I've chatted to Darron and will be more involved next year on the planning and organisational side. I'll be involved partially with the route (athough this is Darron's baby) and more specifically with organisational elements, like marshals.

My main gripe here is that it is not for me to "represent" you. It is not for me to tell Darron - or any other organiser - what to do or not to do. It is not my event and I do not race most of them.

Racers... stand up for yourselves. This is not a new thing; this complacency has been around for years. If you were served a steak when you ordered a vegetarian meal at a restaurant I'm sure you'd complain. Actually while we were at Swazi a bunch of us went for a meal at that restaurant above the dam. I got a piece of chicken that had been cooked to death and it wasn't the dish I had ordered (some people at my table were surprised I'd asked for the manager - they would have just eaten it). I asked to speak to the manager. I addressed my concerns and she dealt with the issue immediately; and she had no idea that I'd been served the wrong meal. By bringing it to her attention she was able to follow up with the kitchen, to chastise the chefs and so ensure that the standard and quality of meals at her restaurant was up to standard; and more importantly that her customers would be happy and would return. That's really what it is all about.

Most (if not all?) organisers would gladly receive your constructive comments so they can improve their events and keep you coming back for more.

But if you say nothing and grumble only to your friends? You'll get a piece of tough chicken and an unenjoyable meal and you have no room to complain because you have failed to a) notify the manager and b) contribute to the improvement of the standard and quality of the meals served to you and everybody else in the future.

Friday, 22 June 2007

Comrades, walk across the line!

I went down to Comrades Marathon this past weekend; my very first time in attendance. I’ve watched the race on telly since I was a youngster and so it was a treat to actually be down there, on the route, cheering for friends. We all know that the last half-hour before the cut-off is always an emotional crowd-pleaser as runners crawl, fall, stumble and are carried across the line. Traditionally, this is when the “Comrades spirit” is revealed as runners forfeit their own races to assist those in worse physical condition.

While it makes for entertaining viewing, I’ve never believed in the carrying-across-the-line thing; a race is only completed when you pass below the finish banner under your own steam. And, standing on the grass in the inner circle as runners poured into the stadium in the final minutes, watching the tv footage projected onto the big screen above the stadium, this was enforced.

If you followed the race you would know that two runners died this year. Media releases say that only 7 deaths have occurred in the event’s octogenarian history; yes, I also thought there were many more.

Media releases said that Willem Malapi, a 48-year-old runner from Worcester, had entered the medical tent looking for help when he went into cardiac arrest. He was transferred to St Augustines Hospital where he passed away during the course of the night. But Willem, a 14 times Comrades finisher, is not the reason for this posting.

34-year-old Michael Gordon was the runner featured on the television footage. Four other runners carried him into the stadium, one at each limb. Michael was positioned face-down, his head hanging. Not 2km before this he had been running steadily, cheering on his fellow runners. Carsten Frischmuth, one of the runners who helped carry Michael into the stadium commented, "When we got to one kilometre to go he started wandering all over the road and then collapsed inside the stadium. We had to make a call on whether we should leave him and call the medics or go on. We decided to help carry him through and make the 11-hour cut off”.

Standing on the field I watched as they carried Michael onto the track with 300m to the finish. I immediately felt a kind of panic, tapping Tim and saying, “Look. Look. There’s something very wrong with that guy. His head is hanging. He’s unconscious. Why are there no medical people on the field?”

This was no ordinary carry-over-the-line Comrades finish… it was very, very evident that something was terribly wrong and I couldn’t take my eyes from the screen.

Running at 10km/h it takes you just over 30s to cover 100m. This caravan was moving much, much more slowly. The seconds were ticking and the minutes dragged – and still there were no medical personnel on the field…

With 200m to go the 4 runners were battling. There’s a distinct difference carrying a conscious person and an unconscious person – and clearly Michael was unconscious. Conscious people grip or bend their elbows. The runners were battling to hold onto limp limbs. And when they finally reached the finishing line, placing Michael on the ground, his face embedded in the grass and did not turn to the side.

I saw a medic try to lift Michael’s arm and it slipped from his grip. They then moved Michael on to a stretcher, trying to lift him from under his armpits. His shoulders gave no resistance and his arms slipped through the medic’s hold. This was very clearly a dire situation.

Would the medics have been able to help if they were on the field earlier? Maybe, maybe not. What I question is why they did not run out on to the field to assist, not whether they would have been able to prevent him dying. A release I read mentioned something about how they let the runners compose themselves and cross the line first before rushing to their assistance… blah, blah, blah. When someone is being carried belly down, head hanging, body limp and pale they are never going to be able to compose themselves nor cross the line on their own! These people must have seen hundreds of shattered runners; surely they could tell that this one was different?

As for the four runners… my heart goes out to them. They tried their best to carry this poor man into the stadium as fast as possible; yes they hoped to help him get across the finish line before the 11-hour cut-off but their good-natured Comrades spirit probably escalated into panic as they realised that this man needed urgent medical attention.

While my first question was about the actions of the medics, my second is about this whole carrying thing. For reference, I’ve never been in such a state where I could not stand on my own two feet to get across a finish line; and perhaps this is why I’m unable to understand this whole phenomenon.

Firstly… if I cannot get myself across a finish line then that finish line is not for me to cross at that time. I could not bear to be carried across the line though I would appreciate if they could notify the medics of my predicament*. Actually, even if I crawled across the line I would not be proud of my achievement. Crawling is not finishing. Whatever the reason: inadequate preparation, illness or just a bad day, if I want that finish I would have to come back another year to try again.
* In an AR this is a different situation, as you can’t trip-trap a few hundred meters to call on assistance. In our environment it is our obligation to assist any ill or injured racer to the best of our ability, carrying them if necessary to where they can be helped by professionals.

People who are carried across the line are in a sorry, sorry state. If you cannot stand on your two legs it is time to call it quits. I think this is like the whole Mt Everest thing where climbers turn back less than 100 vertical meters from the summit and vow to return another year; and they’re able to return because turning back saves their lives. This is why I have great admiration for someone like Alex Harris who came so close twice and nabbed the summit on this third attempt* (*I stand to be corrected on his number of attempts… but I think I’ve got it right).

Comrades, and other races, are just that – they’re races. Most come around again annually – like your birthday, Easter, Xmas and Valentines Day – and there are always plenty of others if you miss one. Yes, there’s the preparation, the travelling, the expense… but these are material elements and are irrelevant in the Big Picture. You only have one body and a race is just not worth blowing these on.

If your body fails, accept defeat gracefully. It happens. Instead learn from your experience, fine tune your preparation and be able to cross the finish line with pride another day.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

About a guy, his bike and our beautiful country

So there's this guy, Ray Chaplin. And he has a bike (and trailer). Notably, he has been cycling from Cape Town to Pretoria since early May. Today is Day 40 and tomorrow, on Day 41, he'll reach the end of this journey in Pretoria.

We met via email some years ago when he first affirmed his 3 Poles ( dream; to trek unsupported to the North Pole, South Pole and the summit of Mt Everest. He moves to Dubai for work two years ago, enters the Pole-2-Pole expedition (the organisation cancelled the event scheduled for late 2006), returns to Cape Town, initiates a "Make Table Mountain Safe" campaign, runs Two Oceans Half hauling a yellow shack on wheels in support of Habitat for Humanity, spends months training and man-hauling his yellow tyre "Tony" around da mountain and then decides to cycle from Cape Town to Pretoria to promote non-motorised transportion and bicycle touring in South Africa. I'm a fan.

As I type, Ray is on the road from Vanderbijl to Joburg on Day 40 of this "The Life Cycle" project ( He left Cape Town on Friday, 4 May with his yellow mountain bike and trailer, headed for the town of Wellington - his first stop on Route 62. Towards the end of his first week Ray had to ride through the "Big Cold and Rain of 2007". I was actually in Cape Town over this weekend of the 11-12 of May and was gobsmacked by the volume of water descending from the skies over the Western Cape. And that's to say nothing of the cold... and snow.

Ray's route took him along the coast and through to P.E. before heading inland and upwards towards Bloemfontein; and from Bloem to Joburg and Pretoria. I read Ray's daily dispatches in batches every few days and catch him on Skype at night occasionally. What an incredible journey!
By the time he reaches Pretoria tomorrow, Ray will have spent 41-days on the road, with few rest days to break the daily riding. He has been on his ownsome-lonesome, sleeping in guest houses, on the roadside, in gardens, ultra city grass patches, a road construction site office enclosure and in homes, welcomed by friendly strangers.

There's also the food thing; loads and loads of food is needed to keep Ray fueled and despite supplements, protein shakes, oats, a daily loaf of bread, bars of chocolate, salami, chicken, fruit, veg and a host of other edibles, his 6-foot-plus frame has lost kilograms.

I am certainly not brave enough to just take off on my bike riding around the country... alone... it also isn't something I've actually thought about doing. South Africans travel abroad to bike around Spain or southern France but little do we consider our own backyard.

We are certainly in agreement that we live in a beautiful country; mountains, valleys, the plateau, the Karoo, forested and tropical coastal regions - our ecological options are diverse. We - outdoor, active, adventurers - just don't utilise our resources as much as we could. I know that I don't.

Ray's objectives have been to promote non-motorised transport (in partnership with the Bicycling Empowerment Network - and local bicycle touring. As for the latter, Ray has opened my eyes to the possibilities of planning a loosely structured cycling (or running?) holiday.

Ray, well done. This journey is an inspirational achievement to be proud of in terms of your promotional and personal objectives.

Note: Ray will be talking about this trip at CapeStorm in Bryanston (Carvenience Centre) on Tuesday, 19 June at 18h30 for 19h00.
"From figuring out what to pack to how to transport it all, route selectionto the all-important diet, crocodile cage diving to surfing with theself-inflating mattress, I'll be sharing my experiences with you... and showing you how to undertake a non-motorised trip across our beautiful country [and of course how not to!]."

Sunday, 3 June 2007

Lisa's Eggie Muffins

I gave this recipe a very successful try some weeks ago. This past Saturday morning we had our club's pre-Comrades social run, with breakfast afterwards. We put on a fantastic spread with yoghurt, fruit salad, cereals, toast and pancakes. I decided to make my Eggie Muffins because they're quick and easy and they offer a yummy, healthy egg option, without the need for a big fry-up or a bowl of cold scrambled eggs. Well, these Eggie Muffins went down like a treat (2-and-a-half dozen of them... and there were less than 20 people present).

I thought you may like to give them a try.

Lisa's Eggie Muffins
Eggs (large or extra large in size)
Sliced sandwich ham
Grated mozzarella cheese
Sea salt, black pepper to season

(see my note below on quantities)


Preheat oven to 180°C. Lightly grease (Spray-and-Cook works well) required number of moulds of muffin tray. Line each mould with a slice of ham. Then break an egg into the hollow. Sprinkle with grated cheese and a dash of sea salt and black pepper.

Bake for 15-20 minutes until egg is just set (yolk must not be runny) and starting to shrink away from the sides of the tin. Leave to cool for a few minutes, then run your knife around each mould to loosen the Eggie Muffin before removing.

Eat and enjoy.

Regarding quantities: two Eggie Muffins per person is sufficient although you can expect your guests to happily devour another. If you’re making 6 Eggie Muffins, you’ll need 6 eggs and 6 slices of ham.

After your first attempy, consider these yummy variations:

  • Line the muffin holes with bacon instead of ham
  • Drizzle a teaspoon of cream over each Eggie Muffin before baking
  • Sprinkle Peppadews or sun-dried tomatoes on top of each Eggie Muffin before baking
  • Use cheddar, gouda, feta or parmesan cheese instead of mozzarella
  • Scatter fresh herbs like parsley, basil or thyme over each Eggie Muffin before baking.

I cannot take full credit for this fabulously simple delight. I adapted the recipe from one in Jill Dupleix's book, “Totally Simple Food” -