Friday, 26 December 2008

Abu Dhabi wrap-up

We've been back for a week - thrown into the festive season. Mid-December is a great time to race because the slippery slope joy-ride continues to the end of the year.

Abu Dhabi was an incredible experience. The race is exceptionally well organised - no horses are spared; and the staged nature of the race gives is a vibe like no other. I remember speaking to adventure racing legend Ian Adamson after the Outdoor Quest 5-day staged AR in Borneo in late-2004 (he was course director). It was there that he said staged adventure races would be the way of the future.

Expedition races appeal to the adventure racing and multiday purists; staged races offer a "softer" alternative. The latter also offers more of an experience of a country and gives sponsors and media more opportunity for exposure and involvement. And when I say soft, it is a perceived softness because you have the nights (well, most of them anyway) to sleep, eat and recover. The back teams can take it easy without much time pressure, while the front teams have an all-out high-intensity sprint through each stage.

Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge probably won't be disappearing any time soon and I anticipate that participation numbers will continue to grow with each event.

Taking part in this race was an awesome experience for our team and I was fortunate to race with Lauren, Garth and Christiaan - they really were a dream team.

Reports that we posted during the race are on our team blog at teamwwwarcoza.blogspot.com

A collection of photos from the race are available on Flickr. The photos won't be online indefinitely, but they'll be there at least for the next few months. If you click through each of the images, you'll get the captions. If you put them on slideshow view you'll see the photos without the captions.

The event website is www.abudhabi-adventure.com - if you're keen on attending next year.

My thank go to Lotta - for inviting us; to Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority - for hosting us; and to Lauren, Garth and Christiaan for so eagerly jumping in to do this race and for making it an unforgettable experience filled with fun, laughter and racing.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Going to race in Abu Dhabi

After months of preparation for the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge, our departure date is almost here. We leave on Monday!

Around mid-year I was very kindly offered flights and entry for a South African team from race organisation. This is part of an initiative by Adbu Dhabi Tourism to encourage participants who have never competed in an adventure race overseas to attend an international event. I ran an application process through www.ar.co.za and after much deliberation selected a team. Lauren Greeff, Christiaan Greyling and Garth Peinke will be my team mates for this exciting event. We're a good match and I have little doubt that this will be an awesome experience for us all.

Since late-September we've been paddling and planning gear, flights, clothing and logistics. We all got together for the first, and only, time at the annual rogaine events in Belfast over the first weekend in November. The rest of the time we're in daily phone and email contact. Goodness, the weeks have flown!

We do indeed have a team blog at teamwwwarcoza.blogspot.com. I'm very lucky to have a fabulous C902 Sony Ericsson handset through work - this the same handset as used by Bond, James Bond in the new Quantum of Solace movie. And, if I can get all the roaming things activated and working, I'll be updating photos and content from the race, directly from my handset. Aren't these things fun!

Many of our friends ask whether we're excited about the race yet. For me personally, the past few weeks have been hectic with house break-in, starting new job, finishing my last Runner's World gear column, battling bronchitis and dealing with race stuff. I have been so fortunate to have a lot of administrative and organisational help from Lauren; I just wouldn't have been able to handle this without her. So, I'm not that excited yet because it doesn't just feel real. And I'm so looking forward to getting on the plane - this is the moment when everything that can be done is done. I think the butterflies will kick in when we're all together on Monday afternoon and we're packing our race crates.

We've also been so kindly assisted by many people, who - with their excellent service and experience advice - have helped us to get our stuff together. Simon from Ram Mountaineering; Christo's gang at Adventure Inc (drybags), John from Eiger Equipment; Morne and his team at First Ascent; Russell, our paddling coach; and Cheryl and Steve who have been our essential 4th's for paddle sessions.

And of course there are not enough words of thanks for the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge organisation and the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, who have given us the opportunity to participate in this exciting event in Abu Dhabi.

Knowing the event organisation, I'm sure the online coverage should be very good. Check the event website for options like reports and tracking. I'm not sure what will be online. www.sleepmonsters.com and www.checkpointzero.com will be running coverage too. And, of course, there's our team blog - teamwwwarcoza.blogspot.com. I've updated it with the course information already.

Thank you for your wishes and thoughts. We're going out there to have a good race, which I'm sure we'll get.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

A day at the races; I love horsepower!

What's the bet that you've never been to watch horseracing? At our Adventure Club evening this past week I asked the assembled group of people - about 40 of them in their mid-20's to upper 40's - whether they'd been to the races. Guess what? Not one put up their hand. Well, I have now been to the races; and I loved it.

The company that I'm now working for, Penquin International, is involved in the hospitality aspect of the Steinhoff Summer Cup, a horseracing event that has taken place annually for one-hundred-and-twenty-one years! It began in the 1880's on a farm named Turffontein, when Joburg was a dusty mining settlement. Penquin's objective is to turn Summer Cup, which had no formal social/hospitality elements, into Joburg's own "Durban July" over the next few years.

I arrived just before the first race, choosing to stand in front of the main grandstand right near the finish. What excitement! People were still arriving, so it was not yet very packed; yet a roar could be heard from the spectators willing their horse to be first across the line. The vibe was divine.

I was waiting for three Adventure Racing Club people to pass on tickets. I met with Gideon, Glen and Mish; and we headed for the totes. With some assistance from a chap in the queue, I got it right to select the "Place" option, as opposed to Trifecta, Pick 6 and a handful of others, which I didn't understand. Although my horse looked good on paper, it was last (or second last). That was ten bucks gone. Time to bet again.

We had tickets for the Fashion TV marquee, which was closer to the start of the straight, a distance from the finish. Inside were betting stations and tvs. We would bet, sit for a drink, watch the weird outfits walking past and then go outside to see the horses thundering down the straight.

Wow! The grass at Turffontien is lush, thick and emerald. And from a distance (a full straight can be as much as 1200m! Coming around the corner they get almost a kilometer of straight-line distance) you see the brown horses and their colourful jockeys. They race past at an unbelievable speed. I thought Formula One cars were impressive; but seeing those horses... it must be an incredible rush to be moving that fast on a horse.

I made most of my bets based on the riders, especially for the International Jockey Challenge races (4 of the 10 races on the day). Bad move. I lost all my bets, except one race where my horse placed 3rd. I had bet R10; and I won R32. I left just after Race 6 and then followed the last 2 races online at home.

After reading the beginner's guide to horseracing, "how to bet" and the racecard for the day on Tab's website - with general information on the horse - I picked my favourites. If I'd bet on them I would have won because they placed 2nd and 4th (if there are 16 or more horses in a race they pay up to 4th place).

As a comment on hospitality... when we were walking out, a race came through. By then we were standing in front of the grandstand, facing the finish. What an amazing roar from the crowd, which had now packed all the seats. It was just so exciting, even though none of us had any bets in this race.

Inside the Fashion TV marquee the atmosphere was sophisticated but lacked passion and excitement. I saw a girl from the office and asked whether she'd placed a bet yet. She hadn't - and there were only 4 races to go. Actually, most of the people were not even watching the televisions.

My advice: iIf you go to the race, get seats in the grandstand with all and sundry; this is where the spirit of the races resides. You also get good views of the straight and the place where they show off the horses before they race so you can see how they're looking. The marquees are great for the post-racing parties - only (unless you're just at the races to hang with the fashionable).

I thoroughly enjoyed my first day at the races and I'll definitely go back to shout and cheer with everyone else. And perhaps with a little more experience I'll stop backing horses with nice names ridden by cute riders - a technique that really didn't work for me...

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Adidas Response Trail 15: back to its origins

I bought my first pair of Adidas Response Trail shoes in late 2000; I think is was Response TR6 - the navy model with metal eyelets. My team mate Pieter du Plessis wore them too. I then worked my way through every new Adidas Response TR model over the next seven years; sometimes slaughtering 3 pairs a year!

Adidas Response TR8 was once of my favourites; it was the model just before Adidas brought in their sewn-in tongue, which was a nightmare on feet swollen after days of running or adventure racing. The TR9 had the sewn-in tongue; and again in the TR10, but not as tight due to an alteration in the stitching position. In the TR10 (or 11) they started messing with the last, changing the shoe's fit. And I think it was around TR12 or TR13 that they lost me. Too many changes from the shape that I'd loved for years.

I used to fire off emails to Adidas, especially when the TR9 first came in. Hahaha.

For the past year-and-a half I've been wearing in the Adidas Adistar Trail and Adidas Supernova Trail models.

The first Adistar version was divine; I wore it for just over a year, including the 5-day Himalayan ultra, all orienteering events, Mnweni, most of the Estonia rogaine, race scouting and organising for Swazi... and others I've forgotten about. A feature I really liked was the Formotion plate in the heel; it works really well on steep downhill sections to cushion the impact - it saved my calves and heels in India. Their life was spent after Estonia and they were retired.

I got a pair of the new Adistar Trail shoes (renamed Adidas Adistar Revolt) a few months ago. Although the fit was the same - nice and snug, especially around the mid-foot - something was different, aside from the heel structure. In this version they changed the Formotion plate to be laterally positioned, instead of horizontally at the rear of the shoe. Mmm... didn't have the same effect. And I still can't pin-point what it is about the fit that is so different and not quite right. I've had some rubbing on the outside of my big toes, and I'm not sure why. I didn't experience this with the previous version - in fact, the first version could have been made from a mould of my foot it was so perfect.

As for the Adidas Supernova Trail; fit was good but the laces bothered me - too rounded and rope like. I changed them, and this drastically improved the shoe's comfort. They're a little less snug and narrow than the Adistar Trail, with a dash more width and cushioning. A good and comfortable shoe.

Following my recent house break-in, where they stole all my road and trail shoes (lots of them!) I had to head for the shops to get new shoes, especially with the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge coming up in three weeks. I settled on the Adidas Response Trail 15; I took them to the Uge 65km yesterday - I hadn't worn them before the race, except for wearing them at home to get a feel for the fit.

I'm delighted to announce that this TR15 model is a return to the Adidas Response's origins - and improved, in a good way.

The heel includes the Formotion plate that I so liked in the first Adistar Trail model. The fit of the Response Trail 15 is wider than the Adistar and Supernova, especially in the forefoot and toe box, and you can immediately feel that the sole is softer. Although this means that you don't necessarily have the longevity and durability of the Adistar sole (especially if the shoe is wet for days on end), it does make for a very cushioned ride, especially on hard terrain.

Overall, 8hrs of racing yesterday and not a hot spot or blister; and no more rubbing on the outside of my big toes. I'm relieved and feeling confident with my footwear going into Abu Dhabi.
Adidas Response Trail 15's are currently in-store. You'll find them at Adidas Concept Stores and other off-road shoe retailers. They sell for R899.00.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Hangin' up my RW Gear Editor hat

In June 2007 I took on the role of Gear Editor for Runner's World SA magazine; my first column was published in the August 2007 issue. Eighteen columns and months and a new day-job (started 2 weeks ago) later, I'm hanging up my Gear Editor hat; I no longer have the necessary time to assemble the monthly 3-16 page product features.

Writing product reviews is great fun but it requires a lot of admin; emails to suppliers; gathering appropriate products for the gear theme; whittling down the number of items according to the page count available; trying everything on or pushing its buttons, sniffing the scent, feeling the fabrics; and then writing an eloquent but informative comment on the item within a strict word count. Then I drop the products off with the photographer, submit my column, fetch the products, contact each supplier to send their courier and then it starts all over again.

For reference; it usually takes an hour (or more) to write one shoe review! That excludes the tame taken to open boxes, sort the shoes and select a few in line with my available page count.

In August I wrote 53 shoe reviews for Runner's World (Spring Shoe Guide, Sept08; Trail Shoe guide, Nov 2008) and Men's Health Buyer's Guide (Dec08) and I've just handed in the Summer Shoe guide (16 shoes, Jan09).

Despite the admin, the role has many pleasures. I've been able to see and try products months before they hit the shelves (that is a kick in itself); I've enjoyed good relations with many of my product suppliers - although I've met very few in person; and I still delight in seeing the final printed product after the layout whizzes (Fran initially and now Mark) at Runner's World have transformed plain text into a decorative multi-page spread. And even more pleasing is when strangers have approached me at events to chat about a product I've reviewed. It's really rewarding to discover that people actually read the columns - and find them useful!

And no, I don't get to keep all the products. Occasionally I do get cool stuff, but for the most part it all goes back. There is a limit to how much stuff one can use. People coming through to AR Club have occasionally been lucky recipients of freebies.

Mike Finch, Editor of Runner's World, gave me absolute freedom in choosing themes and compiling the content. I only needed to toss ideas his way for confirmation on space and timings. And the only time Mike stresses is when we get to mid-month and he hasn't seen my column. Luckily this happened infrequently (and mid-month is early anyway - so there was plenty time left over). Hahaha.

I love writing for Runner's World and I will continue to contribute odd articles here and there; I'm just unable to commit to the hours required for assembling the gear sections. The magazine has really gone from strength to strength in layout and content, especially over the past 2.5 years. Get a copy if you haven't seen it recently. It has great content to inspire beginner, serious and lapsed runners.

Saying farewell to this column is saddening; it feels like I'm saying goodbye to an old friend who has been with me constantly. But, it is a semi-farewell because I know I won't be away from the mgazine for too long, certainly on an occasional freelance basis.

Mike - thank you for giving me the opportunity to turn this section into my own. It's been an exciting and rewarding ride.

It's just stuff

My home was burgled while we were having fun in the sun at the rogaine at the beginning of this month. Their shopping list evidently included electronics, jewellery and clothing. I'm most heartsore about the theft of my beloved Canon 400D camera (they took my whole camera bag!), my external harddrive with about 15 years of photos, old university projects, various versions of www.ar.co.za (they didn't take the USB nor power cables!) and all of my road and trail shoes.

These fiends got over the electric fencing around the perimeter of the property, broke into the house and my cottage, setting off the armed response alerts. The armed security dudes came, shone their torches and said that the perimeter was intact. They did this twice in response to the separate alerts. Of interest, the house and cottage alarms are only triggered when a) the doors are opened or b) when movement is detected by the motion sensors. So, the thieves would have to be INSIDE, not OUTSIDE, for the alarms to go off.

The security guards were instructed to get on to the property, but they said, "We can't get in because of the fencing". Well, the thieves got in easily enough, sheltered by the noise and distraction of the storm. They knew it was likely that the thieves were on the property, sitting in our homes and going through every drawer, cupboard and box. Why didn't the security guys call the cops and hide around the corner, waiting for the bad guys to emerge (which they did with my neighbour's car loaded full of our things)? And, considering that the security company (Baron) was the only one that knew no-one would be on the property that weekend... Yes, one plus one does equal two.

Aside from the financial repercussions of replacing the stolen goods and the psychological violation, I keep reminding myself that it is just stuff that was taken. Material possessions. And, to echo a familiar South Africanism, "at least I wasn't there". Unfortunately not one finger print was found anywhere; they wore gloves.

In considering this "stuff", I was reminded by an article I read online some months ago on Time Magazine's website, "How to live with just 100 things". I'm a bit of a minimalist myself, keeping things mainly for their practical function and passing on items I no longer use. I can be quite ruthless, even with sentimental items. But I already exceed this 100 quota in books alone (or do "books" count as one category of things?)! And if you have sporting involvements, like adventure racing, then your toy count (drybags, backpacks, trekking poles, biking gear etc) takes up the 100 count on its own.

Moving is a great opportunity to cleanse. When I moved into my new place in August, I gave away a lot of stuff I no longer used or needed. I have a big, naked, open-plan kitchen and lounge area. My mom has visions of this empty space being filled by a table. My dad thought a kind of divider would be nice to take up the open volume. Not a chance, I like the emptiness and it is going to stay this way.

There's actually a "100 Thing Challenge, a grass-roots movement in which otherwise seemingly normal folks are pledging to whittle down their possessions to a mere 100 items".

Decluttering; that's what this is all about. Things can also keep you stuck in the past; you may never again fit into those size 32 pants you bought 10 years ago - but if you do make it back into a size 32, buy a new pair as a reward. And no, you won't maybe need those glass bottles one day when you finally get around to making your own preserves. Recycle the glass now and collect more bottles when you need them.

Decluttering is cleansing and calming. To help you get started read this piece on Ask the experts: 5 steps to clutter-free living.

And lastly, a note to my burglars, who have my cell phone number (a dude phoned from Beira, Mocambique this past Tuesday to say he'd "found" my storage - the line dropped and he hasn't called back) and goodness knows what other information... I have worked damn hard to get many of the things you took; they were important to me. And some of the things were not mine! It took me three years to get that camera and in stealing my harddrive you've taken much of my history! Perhaps money grows on trees for you, but it doesn't for me nor the other people you take things from. I do firmly believe what goes around, comes around. And your time will come; whether through illness or "bad luck" what you have done to others will be done to you. Yes, this is a curse and you will get a hiding one way or another for your bad deeds.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Cadence training; audio-enhanced running

I became interested in cadence training last year, while I was writing a gear section for Runner's World SA on MP3 units for runners (November 2007 issue). I spent hours (days actually) surfing websites related to cadence training, learning about the benefits of running to properly paced music.

The following is an extract from my column "Plugged in":

"Music can have a profound effect on runners and their running performance. Motivating tunes offer a welcome distraction from fatigue, and provide a point of focus for dull indoor sessions. Chariots of Fire is played to inspire and stimulate runners at the start of Comrades; Brahms’ Lullaby would calm your nerves. But more important than melody is the beat, and how closely it matches your running cadence.

If you’ve spent any time in a gym, you’ve probably experienced a running 'sweet spot' – a period of other-worldly enlightenment – where your cadence (steps-perminute or SPM) is perfectly matched to the beat of the music floating across from a nearby spinning class. Buoyed by the rhythm, you feel as if you could run forever. This, dear runners, is what happens when the beat of the music matches your footfall rate. And when it doesn’t? You’ll feel out of sync, but possibly be unsure why, especially if your favourite tune is letting you down.

Get a beat boost

Two factors that directly affect your speed are stride length and rate. Stride length is related to leg muscle strength and can be improved through hill and resistance training. Stride rate refers to the number of times your feet touch the ground in one minute (see MATCH YOUR MUSIC, below). It takes focussed effort to increase your stride rate, and a few weeks to adapt aerobically to this higher turnover. Although some wrist units, like the Polar RS800, measure cadence, you can keep it simple by using music as a pacing tool; run in time to the beat and achieve higher cadence sessions within training runs."

What's my cadence?

"Running cadence is the measure of how many foot-strikes either the right or left foot makes in one minute. Steps-per-minute (SPM) is the count for every foot strike (left and right).

After a warm-up on a normal training run, count the number of times your right or left foot strikes the ground in one minute. Do this four times to find an average, as uphills will slow your cadence, while downhills will increase it. If your cadence is 80, then your SPM will be 160 (i.e. double). Consequently, music with beats-per-minute (BPM) closest to 160 would best match your stride rate. Tunes at 80bpm are also suitable; you'd just have two foot falls per beat.

Cadence of 80–85 is average, while 85–95 is good. Elite athletes run at a cadence of 95 or more."


While watching the major marathons it is fun to count the cadence of the top runners. It is usually in the low to mid 90's, increasing into the low 100's in the final kilometres. Of interest, I counted Bekele's 10 000m World Record track run at around 116 cadence on the last few laps!



How do you measure the beat of music?
Search online for "beat counter" and you'll find many options. Some websites have an online Java coded beat counter. Play your music and press any keyboard key in time with the beat. The beat is displayed on the screen. I prefer this little downloadable application (ARBPM). Download, extract from the zip file. Play your tune, open the application and then press any keyboard key on the beat. It only takes a few seconds to get the average beat.

There are also many software packages available that are able to scan music files and automatically measure the beat. I like the manual option.

Choosing an MP3 player
I prefer a unit with a small screen. Before I upload from my computer to the unit, I rename all my music files with the beat first and then the song name and [not always] artist - 88bpm Fat Bottomed Girls Queen.mp3. And because the number comes first, the songs are listed in beat order. You have to make this name change within the file properties, not just by renaming the file. Right-click on the song, select 'Properties'. Change the song 'Title' under the 'Summary' tab.

I start off at my [current] natural cadence (86bpm) and then increasing with each song. I'm fairly comfortable up to about 92bpm. I find it difficult to keep the cadence at 98bpm. But it is fun trying! Cadence training is great on a treadmill because you can keep the speed constant and increase cadence; an interesting exercise, especially as your cadence increases. Then I just increase the treadmill speed too.

You'll probably need to get a new pair of earphones; the ones that usually come with MP3 players will slide out of your ears once you start sweating. Look for sport-specific earphones; I like the ones with the hook that goes around your ear, like a hearing aid.

Choosing music
You'll be disappointed to hear that many of your favourite tunes are just not at the right beat. In fact, it is really hard to find music at the right beat. Those fast rock 'n roll tunes - too slow, most are around 140bpm. That goes for a lot of pop music (dance music included), which will be between 120 - 165 bpm).

I've scanned dozens and dozens of CDs borrowed from friends. You're lucky if you get one song off a CD! For the most part I like music I can sing along to (in my head; not aloud!) as opposed to doof-doof-doof tracks.

www.jogtunes.com has lists of beat-counted songs. Their lists have really grow since last year.

Remember you can run with each step on the beat or with the same foot landing on the beat.

For your reference, my beat-counted tracks thus far include the following (a rather odd assortment; but the beat works). My favourite high-speed running tracks are Help! (Beatles) and Feel (Robbie Williams).

Please scan through your music and let me know if you find any good ones in the upper 80's and low- to mid 90s.
  • 86 bpm Johnny Clegg - The Crossing
  • 87 bpm Joe Cocker - You can leave your hat on
  • 87 bpm Rock Around The Clock
  • 87 bpm Yellow - Coldplay
  • 88 bpm Live - Run To The Water
  • 88 bpm Queen - Fat Bottomed Girls
  • 90 bpm Elvis - Heartbreak Hotel
  • 90 bpm I love Rock 'n Roll - Britney
  • 90 bpm Live - I Alone
  • 92 bpm George Michael - Freedom
  • 92 bpm Everly Brothers - Wake Up Little Suzie
  • 95 bpm Beatles - Help!
  • 95 bpm Elvis - Blue Suede Shoes
  • 95 bpm Long Tall Sally - Little Richard
  • 95 bpm Sheryl Crow - If It Makes You Happy
  • 96 bpm George Michael - Faith
  • 96 bpm Michelle Branch - All You Wanted
  • 96 bpm Missy Higgins - 100 Round The Bends
  • 96 bpm Overprotected - Britney
  • 96 bpm This Ole House - Shakin' Stevens
  • 96 bpm Torn - Natalie Imbruglia
  • 97 bpm Hard Headed Woman - Elvis
  • 97 bpm Lynard Skynard - Sweet Home Alabama
  • 97 bpm You can't hurry love - Diana Ross
  • 98 bpm Feel - Robbie Williams
  • 98 bpm Snow - Informer
  • 101 bpm Mother's Little Helper - Rolling Stones
  • 101 bpm REM - It's The End Of The World

Happy running.

Wake Up! My three minute alarm strategy

I've never been good at waking up in the morning; and as a night-owl it doesn't help that I seldom go to sleep before midnight. I'm also able to sleep for eight hours (or nine, or ten), get up, make a cup of tea, go back to bed, fall alseep within five minutes and wake up two hours later. Yes, enviable talent ;)

This why I usually set multiple alarms; and thus the evolution of my most recent strategy.

A second, back-up alarm set five minutes after the first gives me enough time to fall into another deep sleep, so waking up to the second alarm is as much a shock to my system as the first.

A three minute interval works much more effectively; it's enough time to enjoy a dash more slumber but not enough to be comatose again.

If you have to be up especially early for work or a race, set alarms (two or three of them) at three minute intervals. You may notice a significant difference in terms of the ease of waking up.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

SA teams go global

In late-September Jeremy Green and Philippe van der Leeuw went to Canada for the pairs adventure race, Coast Raid. They placed 3rd and initiated the start of a global onslaught; we have more South African teams travelling abroad in this last quarter of 2008 than ever before!

McCain Adventure Addicts (Tweet, Tatum, Andre and Hanno) have just completed the Adventure Racing World Championships hosted by EcoMotion in Brazil. They placed a proud 8th, putting their feet firmly in the Top 10 in a major international event.

Team Kinetic/USN (Heidi, Stephan, Donovan and Rodwell) leave next week for the 4th edition of Australia's XPD Expedition Adventue Race. This is a 800km race through the Australian High Country and it will "see teams taking in some of Australia's highest mountains; white water paddling on turbulent rivers fed by melting winter snow; navigating through alpine forests of snowgum and tall sub-alpine mountain gums and visiting historic gold rush towns". They're racing as Team Bull of Africa. The race takes place from the 17-28 November 2008.

Next to go will be Team uge.Cyanosis. They're heading for XPD Portugal. They went last year; Nicholas went but didn't race as he was injured. This is a rogaine-style adventure race and Nicholas has been itching to go - the nagivation and strategic elements are right up his alley. He'll be racing with Clinton, Debbie and Ryan. The race runs from 20 November - 4 December 2008.

And then Team www.AR.co.za (Lisa, Lauren, Garth and Christiaan) head for the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge in the Emirates. This is a semi-staged event; a format quite different to the others. Most stages are single discipline and they range from sprint to ultra distance. The most daunting stages are the paddling (40km + 85km over 1.5 days) and desert trekking (110km, time limited to 30hrs) sections. The race runs over 6-days from 12-18 December 2008.

The experiences these teams gain abroad will boost the level of competition here at home. It's fabulous!

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

My new recycling guy

Although I believe that there is little hope for the preservation of our planet - unless we get rid of A LOT of people - I do think we each have to do our bit towards "Saving the Earth".

And it starts at home with recycling paper, plastics, glass and metals.

Problem #1: How to separate your waste - try fold-up crates, bins or bags.

Problem #2: What to do with the stuff you've separated.

Years ago took my collections to a local depot. Then they removed the depot. Then I took just paper and glass to the nearby old age home's depot. I'd also leave relevant items for the people rummaging through the trash on garbage-collection day. I'm now in a new spot and I've needed a new plan.

* In Cape Town? There's a list of recycling depots on Cape Gateway. For the rest of the country, try Google > Recycling Depot. My local Pick 'n Pay has collection bins instore for batteries and lightbulbs. Check yours for similar initiatives.

On garbage day, Friday, there are some men who sift through the trash in the bins that have been put out for municipal collection. Two weeks ago I spoke to the one guy, Gerald, to ask him what he was collecting. He said paper and plastic bottles. Last week I handed these to him and asked whether he'd take other plastics. He said yes, and that he also collected metals and old wires. I've now got a box that all of these items go into during the week - rinsed so they're clean and not skanky. I'll leave this out for Gerald every Friday. I haven't had any glass waste yet.

It is really so easy to put materials that can be recycled into a separate box. These collectors can then walk past with their trolleys, picking up the materials from a box placed next to your municipal bins instead of sifting through your smelly and dirty rotting food leftovers.

My next mission is to meet my neighbours living on the same road one-by-one and to ask them to do the same.

This simple task on your part a) conveniently recycles your waste and b) makes the collectors' day just that little bit easier.

My recycling guy is friendly and hard-working; I'm glad I took the time to meet him.

Can I convince you to meet your recycling guy during this next week to ask what he's collecting? Try it.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Land Rover G4 National Selections

Over the years I've noticed a correlation between the duration, vibe and intensity of experience to the severity of "post-event blues". I was recently involved with Land Rover G4 National Selections on the media side and even though I was not a participant, my post-event blues is testament to the energy and exhilaration of this exceptional event.

Land Rover G4 Challenge, as I explain to initiates, is a revamped, hyped-up version of the old Camel Trophy. It includes more multidiscipline physical elements, in addition to the obligatory 4x4 driving skills. I like to think of the driving element as a means to get the competitors from one spectacular location to another; with physical challenges happening at each location.

The first Land Rover G4 Challenge was held in 2003, and Chester Foster represented South Africa. In 2006, Martin Dreyer - adventure racer and "Duke of Dusi" - took on the other 18 competing countries to bring the G4 trophy (a Land Rover!) home to South Africa.

This next 2009 edition of Land Rover G4 Challenge has a twist: not one, but two people will be chosen from each represented country. And, the paired teams will be mixed gender. Yes, this is the first time that women will compete against each other, and not the men, for a place in their country's team.

South Africa was one of only two other nations (the other being Russia) to host a selection process that included Regional and National selections. Regional candidates were selected from entry forms submitted through the Land Rover G4 Challenge website. All in all, 120 men and women took part in three rotations. From these, 20 were selected (10 men and 10 women) to go through to National Selections, which was held just over a week ago in Lesotho.

The Selections were planned and managed by MagneticSouth, a South African events company headed by the Collins brothers, Mark and John, and their partners - in work and marriage - Belen Sanchez and Christine Collins. This quartet are ex-Camel Trophy competitors and support crew; they're also accomplished adventure racers and they've worked on previous G4 events in planning and/or support. And then you look at the rest of their team... Goose, Chris, Pieter, Devlin, Mark D. and others - a crew with extensive multisport, adventure racing, Camel Trophy and G4 experience.

The National Selection format included multiple activities each day. Designed to test speed, navigation (map and GPS), physical discipline prowess, 4x4 driving and rope skills, as well as problem solving, communication and interpersonal skills, these activities served to rank the competitors by a points system, according to their performance in the activities.
Points alone are not the definitive criterion; but they do help to give a fair assessment of competitor ability and to determine which candidates are eligible for serious consideration.


Other factors that then come into play are personality elements, which include how the candidate is able to work with their teammates. Land Rover G4 Challenge in 2009 is a three-week, high-pressure adventure; the final pair selected has to work and interact - in peace and harmony - with each other for the duration of the event. This is selection process is challenging (for the selectors too) and the choice of the four candidates to go through to Land Rover G4 International Selections at Eastnor Castle - home of Land Rover Experience - in England in early-2009 was not made lightly.

Our four 2009 Land Rover G4 Challenge candidates are: Richard Kolbe, Craig Carter-Brown, Jeannie Bomford and Hanlie Booyens. Only two of these (one man and one woman) will progress to the the three-week Mongolian challenge in 2009.

To comment on the activity and competition aspects of the National selections. Most of the activities were short at 30-minutes to 1-hour in duration; but of high intensity. As I was overseas during Regional selections, I was unable to compete for a slot at Nationals (media involvement was a pleasing alternative); but after watching Nationals I'm fairly certain that I'm just not fast enough, especially in the purely phyical disciplines and mini-multisport challenges. Every one of the twenty contenders are exceptional athletes and are credit to the standard of multisport participation in South Africa.

But, even so, my entry will definitely be in for the 2010 selection process. Whether you make it only to Regionals or a step ahead to Nationals, the experience of Land Rover G4 Challenge is something to be treasured. Slick organisation, creative activities, personal challenges, comraderie and a buoyant atmosphere make for an event that will keep you relating stories of your adventures for many weeks.

I've had the fortune of attending adventure races and ultra runs all over the World; including Land Rover G4 International Selections in the UK in early 2006. But this National Selection event stands out as the most impressive - credit to the vision and commitment of Land Rover South Africa and MagneticSouth's superb event planning. Friends, do not hesitate to submit your entries in 2010.

For now, the "final four" go into their preparations for International Selections; and it is hard to choose favourites because they're all so strong, skilled and competent; and they're really nice people too. And the rest of us come off this awesome G4-high, return to our normal lives and prepare to cheer our candidates through the last phase of Selections and on to Mongolia. Hip-hip-hoorah!

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Good karma

Considering that I've had two conversations in the past week with two completely different, non-esoteric men, about "good karma", I figure this topic is worthy of a posting.

According to Wikipedia:
Karma (Sanskrit: kárma (help·info), kárman- "act, action, performance"[1]; Pali: kamma) is the concept of "action" or "deed" in Indian religions understood as that which causes the entire cycle of cause and effect (i.e., the cycle called saṃsāra) originating in ancient India and treated in Hindu, Jain, Sikh and Buddhist philosophies.

The philosophical explanation of karma can differ slightly between traditions, but the general concept is basically the same. Through the law of karma, the effects of all deeds actively create past, present, and future experiences, thus making one responsible for one's own life, and the pain and joy it brings to him/her and others. The results or 'fruits' of actions are called karma-phala. In religions that incorporate reincarnation, karma extends through one's present life and all past and future lives as well.

Basically, what one does in the past affects one's future: performing good deeds will result in good effects and performing bad deeds will result in bad effects.

The sun is back; and the days are getting longer and warmer. There's also this electric energy rushing through my arteries; not Eskom energy - good karma energy.

This is the month for good change; for good people; for good deeds.

I've got the buzz - and I'm passing it on to you. Be good; think good; feel good. Pass it on.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Contra- what?

We all know about hetero-, homo-, tri-, bi-, retro- and metrosexual. Now there's a new word: contrasexual.

I recently visited a girl friend, who is in the process of divorce. One afternoon she says, "I'd never thought I'd be a divorcee".

I've been reading historical books, set in the 1800's; an age where women were married off in their mid-teens. It was seen as a fate almost worse than death not to be married in your twenties, never mind your thirties, which is where I find myself. So, laughing, I replied "Well, I'm a spinster, so you're in good company".

Spinster is such a nasty word; far more negative than the male equivalent of bachelor. Bachelorette is playful; contrasexual is representative.

Thank goodness for the constant evolution and expansion of the English language.

* Image from Oct08 Fairlady magazine.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Want and need; just ask

Working for a publically marketed social responsibility initiative, my days are filled with requests from schools and organisations for us to "get involved" with them. I inevitably reply to say, "Tell me what you want and I'll be able to let you know if and how we're able to assist".

"Get involved" is so intangible. On my side I know what my company can and can't do. We don't run events for them and we don't provide funding or sponsorships; but we do hand out balls and I also frequently have my hands on second-hand sports equipment, which I'm eager to pass on. To date I have been able to fulfill all of the requests I've received for balls - and there have been a lot of them.

Yesterday I spoke to a lovely lady, who had contacted me a few weeks ago. I'll be sending some balls through to her next week. She is now retired and putting her efforts into community projects, particularly rural schools in the area. During our conversation she brought up how difficult she finds it, being quite shy, to approach companies, organisations and people to ask for things. I gave her a couple of pointers and suggested she just jump in, making sure to address specific requests (what, how many, when). Companies do like to assist where they can (saying yes is a feel-good experience and it is harder to say no as most people have an inherent desire to please); and if you give them something definite to say yes or no to, you'll speed up the process and have a better success rate.

Another example of this "just ask" phenomenon is internet dating. A few years ago I spent a few weeks hanging out on an internet dating site. The experience was... eye opening. This is one forum where people literally ask for what they want; and there's certainly going to be someone out there into birding, stamp collecting and thigh-high boots. But if they don't ask for what they want, they won't find curvaceous ladies into gardening naked and archery.

We've been brought up in a tentative environment where asking outright often appears rude, opportunistic and greedy. Regress friends, to those childhood days before your social-self dominated. Back then you worked on mommy with plaintive demands of "I want..." and "I need...".

Within relationships you also have to ask for what you want and need. We get busy with work, sport, friends and family, distracted from our needs until it is too late. If necessary, you may have to ask for appreciation, respect, affection and time. If you don't get it, get out.

There's a great website I follow - www.ted.org (Technology, Entertainment and Design: Ideas worth sharing). The annual TED conference brings together the world's most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes). This site makes the best talks and performances from TED available (videos) to the public, for free, on the website.

I've just watched one of the newly posted talks (3-minutes) by Laura Trice (counsellor and life coach) on the importance of appreciation and thank you. In her talk she says, "Be honest about what you need". If you know what you need (5 balls, 4 cricket bats and 2 tennis racquets), others can help you get it.

Relating this thoughful posting to adventure racing... when you approach sponsors, tell them exactly what you want from them and what you can do for them - list in point form for simplicity. And don't be shy to approach companies. What's the worst that can happen? They say no? That's far from being a crisis because you didn't have them onboard in the first place. But if they say yes to a specific request, then you're one step ahead.

ESP is a 6th sense most of us do not possess: if you don't ask, you won't get.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

When I'm away, I wish the World was too

I've had an email address since 1994, when I was at University. Sure, my inbox was slow in the beginning, but it picked up rapidly with my sporting involvements, increasing social network and website developments. And where I craved the ping of an incoming email, I now cringe.

Don't get me wrong, I don't hate email. Far from it... I love email and the internet. Both are mediums around which I've built much of my work. Email runs my life. And it also dominates it.

Fourteen years after getting my first email account through the Wits Computer Centre, I'm still as obssessive about replying to each and every one. And I don't think I've had more than a week out of every year or so where I haven't accessed my emails - ja, I need counselling!

It isn't necessarily that I want to read emails while I'm away; I'm more motivated by not having a huge pile to wade through when I return home.

Take this recent trip for example... I have three email accounts; my regular ar.co.za account and two for work. While away I checked them every few days, deleting spam, newsletters and irrelevant postings. I also cast an eye down the list looking for fun chatter from friends, which I didn't necessarily respond to; I took advantage of my autoresponder, which stated that I was away and out of email contact. The upside to this was that I downloaded only a fraction of what I would have on my return.

This is the thing... when you're away and sunning yourself on a beach, the rest of the World is still at work. The World doesn't stop because you're on holiday - but I wish it would. That's the one nice thing about December - most people go on holiday and those that are still around slow down because so many people are away. I'm looking forward to the slow-email year-end season.

Email is a one of the finest inventions (in my opinion as an addict) but although we can turn off computers and phones when away they just keep coming in. And sooner or later they need attention, so there isn't really much escape is there?

Even if I became a raspberry farmer, email would still be important for dealing with suppliers and buyers... So, the issue is really not the presence or absence of email, just the volume.

Mmmmm...

Anyone know of farms for sale?

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Running the rogaine: race analysis

First things first; this join-the-dots, as-the-crow-flies map of our collected controls bears little reflection on the routes we took. Phew... we covered distance. The split summary says that we covered around 45km straight-line distance. We're guessing that this could be doubled with ease.

The race started at 12h00, which gave us little under 8-hours of daylight. This was actually why we decided to take some headlamps and to return to the hash house around midnight to pick up the next lot. I was carrying the new Petzl Ultra, which has a great beam but low battery life (around 3.5hrs using a combination of low, medium and high beams according to need). Heather had my Black Diamond. We also had a strong handheld bike light, which is great for spotting controls. Back at the hash house we had the all-powerful Silva orienteering headlamp with two batteries and another "normal" Princeton Tec LED headlamp. Our backpacks were already full with food (enough for over 12hrs), rain gear, heavy-duty emergency bags and such, so space was limited for packing in the bulky Silva and more food.

Back to our route... We made excellent progress during the day, ending up on the top westerly side of the course just over an hour before dark. This was pretty much on our predicted time (perhaps an hour later), so we were quite pleased. It's really hard to gauge pre-race just how long it will take to move over the terrain and/or how difficult the controls would be to find.

We had skirted the outer portion of the course, missing some central controls, which were in nastier terrain. This meant that we would be covering a bit more distance getting around. We're both runners so we weren't phased by this.

So, darkness falls just as we're approaching control 74. The control was located at the top of a marsh. We found the beaver dams spot-on, but stuck in thickets we looked around for the control and just couldn't spot it. Speaking to a photographer at a nearby waterpoint, it seems we were 10m from the control. They do have small reflective squares on each side, but we just didn't see it and didn't want to stick around hunting for it. We turned around, leaving it to head for the much needed water point and control 41.

We'd run out of water an hour earlier and had been very conservative with our consumption throughout the day as there were no nearby waterpoints on our route. I usually drink a lot but we hadn't had more than 2l to drink since the start; I had a cracking headache, which was relieved with a shot of Rehidrate, lots of fluid and two Panado.

I was a bit agitated at leaving the control, especially as I knew that we'd been so close to it. And, it was a 7 point control (heighest being 9, lowest being 2). Nonetheless, we couldn't waste too much time searching so getting out of there was a good idea.

Control 41 was a no-brainer, next to a tower that was visible from the waterpoint. In the few minutes that we'd stopped to refill our hydration packs, gulp down Rehidrates and grab munchies, we got very cold. Heather gets colder than me so in next to no time her teeth were chattering.

From 41, a footpath was indicated en route to our next target, control 60. We'd found these footpaths during the day to be a mix of clear or indistinct; so we took an easier, but longer road route around where we could run to warm up. Turns out that this footpath was actually quite clear, with hiking trail arrows on most parts.

Control 60 was a bad one for us because the paths had changed, with a clear jeep track not being represented on the map. After about 400m I smelled a rat, knowing we were a few hundred meters too South of the control. The hillocks are difficult to gauge at night - one blessing was the beautiful full moon, which was up most of the night. We turned around, hit another path and found competitor tracks.

On this... loads of participants were on the course and by nightfall all of the controls had highways leading up to the control. In some areas there were loads of tracks coming from different directions, others showed people searching around and some were single footpath "highways" - clear giveaways which were nice.

The competitor tracks in the area of 60 were all over the place. We were one hillock before the pond. When we didn't find the control as expected, I knew something was up. Two other guys came along and I asked them what they thought. They were worse off, scouring the landscape. I suggested we try one hillock over, which proved correct (Phew!). My Petzl died just then, so we followed them through the vegetation to the control.

Our plan was to head from 60 on the western perimeter of the map towards the southern controls. 51 was our next target, about 4.5km away. It must have been around 23h00 by the time we got near the path turn-off for 51 and I was very worried about our light situation. It would take us another good few hours to nail 51, 61, 50, 42 and 52 on the way back to the hash house, which was a long way off.

It was crunch time. We turned around, headed back to the road and started for the hash house, which we estimated to be about 10km away. That's a lot of distance to cover with no controls. Arrrrrggggghhhhh! Lesson learned that hard way (isn't it always!).

Took an age to get back - we'd met up with two foreign guys on the way. Back at camp we guzzled pasta and hot soup, climbing into sleeping bags around 04h15. We slept until 06h15, getting up just as the sky was lightening.

We chose an easy few controls that were close-ish to the event centre. With only 5-hours of race time left, there just were not enough hours to cover big distance. We swept through the controls and finished around 11am, an hour before the cut-off.

The only bad thing about this event is that - would you believe - there were no showers at the event centre! Correction - there were two cold showers, which you wouldn't have gotten me under even with a substantial bribe. Seems the organiser's idea was that people would go into the sauna and then into the cold shower. Funny.

We had baby-wipe showers and settled in for an afternoon nap. Most of the competitors left during the afternoon and the camp area got very quiet; we were only booked on the event bus to Tallin the next morning.

We did lots of sleeping, left in the morning for Tallin and spent Monday afternoon walking around the old city, which dates back to the 1100s. It is a fabulous place to visit. Tuesday noon we flew to London and so ended our first 24hr Rogaining World Championships and visit to Estonia.

Lessons learned
  1. Consider more zig-zagging options and don't be too put off by swampy areas
  2. Avoiding blue, watery sections eliminated some controls that could have been useful
  3. Although we wanted to head back to the event centre, we shouldn't have done so. It really was difficult to access. I'd asked the race organiser post-race whether many people came back; he replied that very few - far less than anticipated - has returned. We should have just carried everything from start to finish. This was our initial gut reaction when we saw the map, but
  4. We thought we'd lost about 6hrs with traveling back to the hash house, eating, sleeping (2hrs) and transition time during which we collected only 3 points. Turns out, looking at the race splits, that we lost around 8 hours. That's 1/3 of the total race time! This shows in our points score.
  5. 24hr rogaining is really not as "long" as I expected. Yes, you're on your feet for a long time, but the hours do pass quickly because you're so focused (especially when you're making bloopses!)
  6. Heather and I each got one blister, about 3/4 the size of a 10c coin. Our feet were in perfect condition, even after all the miles - we were thrilled. We suffered no other injuries or niggles.
  7. It is worth checking out the start of trails where we've assumed they may not be great. The amount of foot traffic could make it more distinct, even at night, and the trail could turn out to be good quality. Not good to make assumptions without a little bit of investigations. If you get to the trailhead and it isn't great, then take an easier option.
  8. Trust your navigation! This is one that gets navigators at some time or other. When things go weird, you think you're the one making the mistake. Sometimes you are not. This happened to me twice - it is unsettling. We went back to last point of certainty to correct and got it sorted out. I'm 200% certain that the one control was on an adjacent spur, only about 20m away, but still wrong (I tracked the features from two sides to confirm); a clear road was not indicated on the map at all near another control. In both cases I knew where I was.

This is the first time that Heather and I have run together. She kept me on the straight and narrow, timing distances, spotting trails and junctions, calling features and even turning me around when I completely forgot from which direction we'd approached a control!

All in all this was an excellent event and I've come out of it with my mind buzzing and feet itching for another rogaine... soon. I like to think that next time my planning with be that much more cunning (less conservative), more smart and more efficient.

My thanks go firstly to Heather for so eagerly saying yes to join me at this event. It was great to run with you. Michael handled loads of admin for us, like arranging my visa in London, booking our accommodation in Tartu and Tallin and being supportive all the way through. Suunto's Steve recommended and supplied global compasses, to keep us in the right direction (these will go to Abu Dhabi too). This saved us the hassle of buying compasses here. John's Petzl Ultra is a neat toy - it brightens the dark forests. We wore pretty pink CapeStorm tops; but they hardly saw the light of day, being hidden under layers and shells. The Motion Tights were excellent protection against stinging nettles, which zapped us a few times but left no lasting stings - thank you Ian. And thanks too to all our friends for your words of support.

I'll post the race map with our route once I'm back in SA next week. For now, I'm off to visit Tracey, my first rogaine partner, for a few days in London. Cream tea and scones is on my priority list.

Running the rogaine: pre-race

We're back in London after a cold few days in Estonia; and an excellent rogaining experience.

The bus through to the event venue at the Karula National Park was quick (1h30) and uneventful, but gave us a look at the country side, which evolved from mostly flat farmlands to rolling hillocks and forests - very pretty. Although it was toasty inside the bus, it was freezing outside, with the temperature sitting around 8C.

The venue itself was festive, dotted with tents, cars and rogainers - lots of all three. Many of the local Estonian rogainers would only arrive in the morning. With no check-in until the next morning, we setup out tent, scoped the facilities (few that there were) and chatted to a few other participants.

We bought dins from a make-shift tent-kitchen; Heather has a potato and sausage thing (sausages of all kinds are popular in Estonia) while I had a tasty mashed potato and pearl barley mush with some or other sauce. Half-way through the meal I shot off to the International Rogaining Federation meeting, getting a bit of an insight into the global rogaining scene, which is really still quite restricted to a handful of countries, but with participation numbers growing in each.

We'd packed our race packs in Tartu, so the only thing left to do was to sleep for as long as possible. We were prepared for the unseasonable cold with inflatable camp mattresses, two lightweight down sleeping bags each and warm clothing. Perfectly snug.

At 09h00 we registered, receiving indemnity forms that warned of injury by stepping into ditches, hypothermia, stinging nettles and electric fence shocks - amongst others. We duly signed on the dotted line, returning our forms at 10h00 in exchange for 1:40000 maps, which seems to have a lot of blue colouring - the expected marshes. Every team had to hand in their proposed route before the start, so we got cracking on looking at the distribution of the 63 controls, points allocations and possible routes.

The area was clearly divided North and South, linked by options to the East and West of the lake. The hash house (event centre) lay on the lake's eastern bank, about midway along the coast. This would make it difficult to access.



Heather and I just before the start; cold obliterates all fashion sense.


We'd decided pre-race to head back to the hash house during the night to collect more food and also the Silva headlamp plus its two heavy batteries and another regular headlamp. We knew that accessing the hash house would be difficult to work in and that we'd be in for distance; but we hoped it would work out better than carrying everything from start to finish and would give us the opportunity to get hot food during the long, cold night. This would be our undoing and our major error of the race.

Our plan would be to head North, sweeping from East to West and skipping the controls located in terrain that looked decidedly marshy. We wanted to avoid the cold and wet as much as possible on Saturday to save splashing through swamps on Sunday morning when we'd only have a few hours to go. The other unknown was how fast we would be able to move over the terrain, which affect when and where we would be when we'd need to head back to the hash house, and also how difficult it may be to navigate in the forests, across marsh and between hillocks.

We knew we'd complete our Northern route and would just play the rest by ear. This would be something new for both of us, so we were prepared to just get out there and learn as we went along.

Down at the start the participants were grouped, ready to set off. We, like them, were bundled up against the cold with light shells, beanies and gloves. A horn blast signalled the start - and we all shot off in different directions.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Karula, here we come!

We've spent the afternoon strolling around Tartu, checking out the o0ld university buildings and some ruins. Pretty neat. Found the Mulders (Nicholas and Liz) by chance. Heather and I stopped at a cafe for a snack and hot choc, as it had been drizzling for a bit. We were just about done when Liz and Nic walked in.

In a town with a population of 100,000 and countless cafes, they picked the same one as us.

They came across on a ferry from Helsinki this morning. Nearly missed their ferry as it was on the Estonian side, delayed by high winds and bad weather. According to Nicholas, this cold weather we've got at the moment is unseasonable. It is currently 13C and a bit windy. Should be a good few degrees warmer.

I asked Liz whether she had a harness to tie Nic into. She laughed and said that she was hoping that having "Bull" in his legs would slow him down. And it seems she's right because she took him for a hill walk yesterday (or the day before) in Switzerland, where she is now living, and he wasn't full throttle up the hills. My money is on Liz - she really is remarkable and is always an inspiration. How many people can make a team with their mom for a competitive 24hr rogaining event?

Heather and I are catching the event bus shortly. Liz and Nic are driving through to the event in the morning.

There's an International Rogaining Federation (IRF) meeting tonight. South Africa isn't a full member; we have observer status. So I'll be attending this as the SA IRF representative. They have their eye on SA for a World Champs in the next six years or so. MMmmmmmmm... I think after the race I'll have a better idea for what we would need to host an event. Just think about it... take the maps for our annual 8hr event and times that by three. That's a lot of mapping.

We're outta here.

We're in Estonia - land of lakes

We're here. Heather and I flew into Tallin, the main city, yesterday (Thursday) morning. We are an hour ahead of SA in time.

We were up at 3am on Thursday morning to catch our flight from London to Tallin; it is a 2h30 flight. We flew over Estonia's two large islands (west of the continent) on our approach to Tallin. Uneven coastline with thin beaches on some of the bays. For the most part the land just appears to gently slope into the Baltic sea.

According to a tourist pamphlet, this North-western part of Estonia is still rising (post- ice age continental lift) at an average of 2-3mm per year. This territory was under water. So my assessment of the land just sloping into the sea was spot on; looks more like a lake shore than a coast.

On the plane we saw a dude with a compass clipped on to the front of his backpack's shoulder strap. At customs I asked whether he was here for the Rogaine. Affirmative. Turns out his name is Liam and he raced with the Aus/Kiwi team 4TC at Bull last month. There were a number of other Rogaine people on the flight.

From the airport we caught a bus to the nearby bus station and were on the Tallin-Tartu bus 15-minutes later. It is 190km between the two cities and the trip was pleasant. The straight road is bordered by forest, farmland and meadows. Little in the way of houses of structures or towns. Although towns are marked on the map, they must be a bit off the main road.

As for the land... flat as a pancake. The heighest point in Estonia is a small "mountain" at 318m above sealevel. It is also the heighest point in all the Baltic countries. There's very little to see in the way of vertical topography - just trees. Something like the FreeState, only flatter. I now understand how the greatest vertical difference between the heighest and lowest places in the race is only 80m.

As precipitation exceeds evaporations, lakes, marshes and mires dominate the landscape. We have no doubt that we'll have wet feet from start to finish.

We spent the late afternoon walking around Tartu, which is a university town. Our hotel, Hotel Pallas, is perfectly located. It's 300m from the bus station, right next to a rather plush mall and everything is within walking distance.

The pesky UK airport people confiscated my tent pegs so that was our first mission. We found a pack and then hit a grocery store for race munchies.

I love shopping in foreign places where I can't read food labels. We did pretty well, stocking up with snacks and ingredients to make wholesome roll fillings. We also found a few odd things to try, like the sweetie-looking 'bar' we found in the dairy refrigerator. It is a bit like a chocolate coated cream cheese something.

Yesterday evening we went walking. Sunset is only just before 8pm, so it is light till late (sunrise is around 06h30). We headed for St Peter's, an old church across the river where there are terracotta statues. Place was closed, we may try again today as we've got time to kill. Our walk was a long one so we only got back at 20h30. Dinner was Italian - risotto for me and pizza for Heather. After such a long day and all the travelling, we crashed big time last night.

We've just had breakfast and will go play in town today before we catch the event bus at 5pm for the event venue, which is about 100km from here.

As for the weather... very overcast and friggin' cold. Forecast is for clear skies over the weekend. Pre-race I'd read the event info which said temperatures are mild at this time of year at between 15-20 during the day. What I always forget is that 15 is a nippy Joburg winter's day. So for these people it is mild. For us it is winter. Hahahahaha. We walked around with fleeces and rain jackets yesterday afternoon. We've decided on beanies, Buff, gloves, fleeces and jackets for today.

The building are, of course, warm; so people wear normal clothes and t-shirts. Then they're commuting between buildings even they look cold.

Heather and I are camping at the event tonight and Sunday night (post-race). We've both got two sleeping bags and thermarest matresses and thermal clothing. We're hoping that it won't be too cold out there. The chilly conditions should be fine for running as we've got the right kind of gear for it. Rain is something we definitely do not want.

Time to go walkies. Have a good day folks.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Rogaining in South Africa

Pieter Mulder brought rogaining to South Africa in 2003, with an event in the Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve, South of Joburg. It was an 8hr event and the day was hot. I ran with my friend Tracey Sanders, as a women's pair; shortly after the event Tracey immigrated to the UK. This event got me hooked on rogaining.

The next year the event moved into the beautiful forests around Belfast, starting from Lakenvlei Lodge. It's a super orienteering venue that has been used for SA Orienteering Champs and training camps. I ran with Deon in a mixed pair and we reached the finish with seconds to spare after trying to get just one more control. I think this is the year that the Day 2 Mountain Bike Rogaine was introduced; this completes a super weekend of rogaining.

The following year (2005) we were again at Lakenvlei, and this time I teamed up with friend, and orienteering rival, Tania Wimberley, for the 8hr event. We both run with maps, combining our skills to select the best routes. We had a great run together to stake a claim on "our" women's trophy.

Kaapsehoop in 2006 was a fabulous venue and again Tania and I ran together. BIG ascents, some tricky terrain and decisions to be made. This is the first time that the front teams were not able to collect all of the controls and the main decision was whether to go North or South. Tania and I got in some bouldering - by mistake - when we missed a trail and chose to go into a kloof. We ran a lot of the distance, made some good decisions and reached the finish a few minutes before the cut-off; reclaiming "our" trophy in the process.

I did the 5hr MTB rogaine the following day with Tim Deane. We were on track for a clean sweep until I make a risky choice and we got cliffed out, stuck at the base. We lost time blundering over fallen trees, carrying out bikes, sped home in the pouring rain and lost hard-earned points with our late arrival.

I missed last year's rogaine, also at Kaapsehoop, as I was running in India; Tania went hiking in the Drakensberg. This 2007 event was extended to 12-hours, the longest rogaine here to date. Nicholas Mulder says he didn't feel much difference between 8hr and 12hr events (besides it just being longer); but they did cover more distance to log 78km (with 2300m elevation gain) in the 12 hours.

This year the rogaine is back, even though Pieter Mulder is now living in Switzerland. He will return to SA in October to complete the planning and running of the event, assisted by ROC (Rand Orienteering Club). The event is to be held over 1-2 November 2008.

We'll be back in the Belfast forests and this year the foot rogaine is "only" 6 hours, with a shorter 2.5hr option. The mountain bike rogaine on the Sunday is time-limited to 5 hours, with a 2.5hr shorter version. The event information and entry forms are now available - visit the event calendar on www.AR.co.za.

Tania and I want our trophy back after missing the event last year, so we'll probably be running together. Team www.AR.co.za's members will all be there for the foot and mtb rogaines, in preparation for Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge.

What you waiting for? Grab the event info and put in your entry. I look forward to seeing you there.

Rogaining World Champs, Estonia

The event terrain of the 8th Rogaining World Championships in Estonia includes the Karula National Park (start location at 57°42.75'N and 26°30.3'E), which is in the southern part of the country. The map covers an area 250km2 and the map is 1:40 000 scale.

Although the difference between the highest point and lowest point is only 80 metres, the area is not flat. There are no big mountains but the area is known for its rolling landscape of hillocks, moraines and eskers, which are glacial in origin. It seems to be like Valley of a Thousand Hills on a lower scale. There are many lakes, marshes and bogs, which immediately means that we can count on wet feet for much of the race. Some of the marshes and ditches are wide and difficult to cross or impassable.

Some of the areas are open grassland, nice for as-the-crow-flies routes; and other are forested. Forested terrain ranges from open and runnable to thick, impassable undergrowth. Accurate map reading and terrain interpretation will be very important, so that we don't get trapped.

Apparently there is a network of tracks and also rides within the forests, which make for faster travel.

Rolling hillocks, typical of the area

There is not much in the way of hazards with the exception of the normal things you can trip over (roots, logs, ditches). We can expect to be bothered by deer flies and stinging nettles will need to be avoided at all costs. They "grow in marshy forest and by some ditches". We've been advised to wear long leg protection.

The weather at this time of year is mild, with daytime temperatures of 12-20°C dropping to 5-15°C at night. Night frost is not unlikely and conditions could be clear and dry, low clouds with intermittant showers or rain with strong wind. We're obviously hoping for the former rather than the latter.

What kind of distance could we cover? At the rogaines here at home we've covered 45-55km in 8 hours. We could easily log +100km in the 24hr period.

We do run through the night; and I'm very, very lucky to have my hands on the new Petzl Ultra, which beams brighter than a Care Bear Stare. The maximum beam (highest of the three settings; distance of 120m) will be great for spotting the reflective strips on the controls at night. Duration on max is only about 1h30, so this beam will be saved for when we're in the vicinity of the control.

We get maps at 10h00 and the start is at 12h00. We will carry most of our food with us (there are 5 water stations out there) and there is the option to pass through the event centre (hash house) during the race to get a bigger meal. We'll probably stash food at the has house anyway, build it in as an option when we look at the maps and then make the call when we're out there, depending on where we are and how long it is taking us to move through our intended route plan, which we have to submit to the race organisers before the start.

Heather and I will not be the only South African entrants. Nicholas Mulder and Liz Mulder will compete as a mixed pair. Liz and Pieter have immigrated to Switzerland, so it will be super to see Liz again. I fly out on Saturday night. Nic departs on Monday night.

More news on the Rogaine, next week, from Estonia. WwwwwoooooHooooo!

Rogaine, the most cunning running

Rogaining, the sport of long distance cross-country navigation, is one of my favourite, favourite disciplines. It combines ultra distance running with time-limited, point-score orienteering to create a strategic sport. The 24hr World Rogaining Championships takes place in a week-and-a-half, over the weekend of 13/14 September. It will be my first bash at a 24hr rogaine.

Unlike orienteering, rogaining is a team sport where the format is usually pairs. I'm running with friend Heather Graz, who has exceptional road and off-road ultradistance running credentials (from 800m track for Western Province to 100-milers locally and abroad) longer than this blog posting; in addition to a health dose of expedition adventure races, including the freezing cold Quest in 2002 and Patagonia Expedition Race in 2005.

My saving grace is that I have more orienteering and rogaine experience, so I'll be holding on to the map with a vice-like grip so that Heather doesn't run away from me. Truthfully, we should be well matched in terms of temperament, competitiveness and experience; and a mutual love for ultra distance cross-country foot races.

Heather has lived in Cape Town the last few years and more recently is over in the UK. We'll hook up in London on Sunday, flying to Estonia later in the week.

Aside from the use of orienteering-like maps, rogaining differs from orienteering in that it is vastly more strategic.

In normal orienteering you have to locate controls in number order, one-two-three-four, as fast as possible, chosing optimal routes. In rogaining you're presented with a map covered in controls and you have a limited period of time to locate as many as possible. In this case we'll have 24 hours, starting from noon on the Saturday and finishing by noon on the Sunday.

Furthermore, your objective is not necessarily to visit as many controls as possible; to spice things up a bit the controls are assigned points values reflecting their distance from other checkpoints (and the event centre) and the technical difficulty (terrain, navigation) of visiting them. So, the objective is actually to get as many points as possible within the defined time period. It is impossible to visit all of the controls so routes have to be planned to most efficiently gather points without wasting time zig-zagging between controls.

I first heard about World Rogaining Champs in 2004, when adventure racers Michael Tobin and Mike Kloser (Team Nike) dominated. This event was hosted in the US. Two years later (Rogaining Champs are held every second year) the event was held in Australia and some ex-South African AR-ers living now in Oz took part. I decided then and there that I'd be going to the next one, no matter where it would be held.

Estonia is the host for this, the 8th World Rogaining Championships.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Rest is training

Bull of Africa -a 6-day race for most teams - ended on 16 August. We're only two weeks post-race; why do you think you already need to start hammering the road again?

Comrades runners are advised to take 6-weeks rest (stretching, slow recovery runs, short distance) post-Comrades - and this is just a 89km, 11-hour road run. Marathon runners are advised to take 4-weeks off post-race; the rule being 1-day of rest for every mile raced.

Sure, the intensity is lower in a multiday adventure race than a high-intensity marathon, but if you consider that you've been through 6-days on rugged off-road terrain across multiple disciplines, where you've been on the go for 24-hour days with nutrition deficits and sleep deprivation.

An AR friend emailed me this morning: "Do you reckon its OK to get back into some training this week? I tried last week.....very unsuccessfully. Went for a run and it ended up a shuffle with my feet hardly lifting 2cm off the road. I struggled."

Friends, I have three words for you: REST IS TRAINING. Rest gives you a chance to recover, physically and psychologically, from the strain of the effort.

In his book "Everyone's guide to distance running" coach Norrie Williamson says, "The better the recovery, the better will be the quality on the other side. In many ways, recovery is the most important part of your training schedule and your training is only as good as your recovery."

This applies as much to rest days within your training week and larger chunks post-race. That's the whole deal with being a professional athlete... being a full-time athlete isn't about spending so many more hours training, it's about spending loads more hours sleeping and resting.

A few years ago, only a few days after a 250km, I decided to get into the gym for a treadmill run and workout. I got on the tread, powered up the machine and after a warmup walk I started running. Two minutes later I turned it off and went home. Although I felt fine walking around and doing normal every day functions, my body was still tired. I did no training for another two weeks and then worked on getting back up to speed. Now I look forward to the indulgent week I take off completely after any distance event. And then I start slow with walking and non-impact, low intensity activities.

Consider too that it isn't just the race in your legs. You've spent weeks and months in training for this race. Training and racing stresses your body. Rest allows healing and recovery so that you can come back stronger. Avoid rest and you'll suffer exhaustion, illness and injuries.

My general rule with a long race like Bull is to take 2-weeks post-race where you do absolutely nothing. A yoga or stretch class would go down well during this time. THEN, start by walking around the 'hood or spending 20-minutes on a spin bike (active rest). Other low intensity activities count too. Just let your body ease into it.

And check your resting heart rate and HR recovery rates. Just like whe you have flu, if your body is t.i.r.e.d your HR will be 10 or more beats above what it usually is. Go home and watch more DVDs for a few days.

A few days after starting to walk, add in a bit of run/walking. Up the stakes daily until you're comfortable running 4km at a nice, slow pace. And just keep advancing in little chunks over a few weeks until you're back into your normal routine.

Don't be lured into getting back into training early because of other events on the horizon. Remember that you're not losing anything by resting; you're gaining strength and healing your body, which will make you better able to handle future and continued training and racing.

Short changing rest time in favour of training sessions could worsen your performance, not improve it.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Blog update problems

I'm having problems updating from my computer (as of last week). Something to do with scripting... Can't create new posts nor save posts. I'm trying to get it fixed (this update typed on the computers at gym).

I'm away from 6-22 September at the 24hr World Rogaine Champs, running with my friend Heather Graz. Will try to do updates from the event, which takes place over the weekend of 13/14 September.

Till then, happy training and racing.

Lisa

Friday, 22 August 2008

Want, need and happiness

Marketing guru Seth Godin posted an insightful Blog this week; most of his postings are good - this one spoke to me.

Titled "Destroying Happiness" the short posting questions why, when "most people have a better standard of living today than Louis XIV did in his day", are so many people unhappy?

Seth's response is thought-provoking: "What you have doesn't make you unhappy. What you want does".

Marketing has a role here because new versions of GPSs, bicycles, headlamps, trail shoes, outdoor wrist watches, clothing and other gear are presented as better, lighter, brighter, smarter, warmer, cooler must-haves.

This obviously not only applies to sporting equipment, but also to applicances, homes, furniture, supplements and food (this new rice is lighter, fluffier and tastier than the previous version); any commodity that can be purchased.

I'd even extend this principle to other avenues like where you live, the job you do and sporting results.

Change is good, new is great and wanting more and better is part of progress and advancement. But not every run has to be a high intensity speed session; enjoyment can come as much from a long slow run (something you have and need) as setting a personal best time (something you want).

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

What does God have to do with an adventure industry conference?

A few weeks ago an email was forwarded to me about an adventure industry conference happening in the Drakensberg.

A paragraph in the conference invitation (general bulk invitation, not addressed to me personally) pushed my irritable button.
"I certainly look forward to see you at [venue]. May God in His Great and Awesomeness grant us the grace to again meet in such a way and that he will grant further favour on our new President the Venerable [John Doe] from [blah, blah, blah]."
I'm all for religious freedom and I'm quite happy for people to believe what they want; higher powers, fairies, Santa, Easter Bunny... But what has God have to do with an adventure industry conference? Surely people of different beliefs (and non-beliefs) will be attending? Is this a Christian, religious pow-wow or a conference about the adventure industry, one that is inclusive and accepting of all people?

People also sign their business emails with religious quotations and "God Bless". What does God, or Muhammad or the Flying Spaghetti Monster have to do with your work affairs (unless of course your business is a religious organisation).

What if the person to whom you're addressing your emails believes in a God different to yours? Or no God at all? Would you be offended if they signed their emails, "Wishing you a pleasant God-free day" or tagged "God doesn't exist" to their signature.

Part of religious freedom is about not blanketing others in your beliefs. Beliefs are personal and not everyone shares the same ones as you.

Stick to the topic and utter praise and songs of worship to your own God, in your own time and in your own place.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Would you buy a submarine?

I rarely read newspapers, especially the paper and ink kind. In browsing today's Sunday Times (I like to look at the pictures) I spotted a hooter.

One of the main stories is about the three German submarines bought by South Africa in 2006. They've got serious defects and one is currently in a dry dock at Simon's Town. This aside, it was a comment in the article that gave me giggles.
The Sunday Times proclaims that they have established that "The SA Navy only has enough crew to man two of the three submarines" and "As quickly as the navy trains submariners, they're poached by the private sector for higher salaries".

Now I know people do pilots licenses and that they buy small fixed wing aircraft or choppers. I also know that ex-military guys get employed in Afghanistan and Iraq on security detail for muchos dineros. But, I have been oblivious to the existance of a submarine private sector.

Do billionaires travel the World by sub?
Are private submarine owners, with their submariner crews, contracted by militaries to help them blow up other countries?

I think the trained submariners are too scared to tour the ocean's depths in these metal coffins. They've probably left the SA Navy to pursue other careers, like teaching children how to swim.