Tuesday 12 December 2006

Up where the sky is clear

I had the great fortune of running the Salomon Skyrun at the beginning of December with two AR Club friends, Tony and Ivan. This race is, without doubt, one of the most challenging off-road running events in South Africa.

Adrian Saffy took over the organisation of this event, from Skyrun's creator John-Michael Tawse, in 2005 and this year the race received record entries with 67 runners. The route starts in Lady Grey and runs over the mountains along the SA/Lesotho border, down into Balloch, back up and through to Ben McDhui and finishes at the Tiffendell Ski Resort. The race can be run over 2-days or non-stop.

We opted for non-stop, which is not necessarily the best idea for first timers. Although I'd been there in '99, I hadn't gone past Balloch, and neither had Ivan, who took part last year. And, as fate would have it, this is where we lost some 5-hours; unable to find a mountain pass in the dark.

Nonetheless, the weather was perfect, the temperature warm - with a slight cooling breeze - and there was water in the mountains, thanks to recent rains. The scenery up on the ridge is spectacular as the mountain sides drop away either side into South Africa and Lesotho.

Photo by Stephan Repke, the "German Skyrunner".
Stephan is a photographer and runner and has been visiting SA.
This is a small section of the Skyrun route.

What really makes this race challenging is that, although there are a number of trails, the terrain is rough going. Your feet and ankles get worked left, right, up, down, forward, back and all possible positions inbetween. I haven't had blisters for a long, long time (touch wood) but I succumbed to a couple during the race. Aaarrggghhh... I hate blisters!

We reached Tiffendell after fighting the morning gale (the wind was blowing so strong from Breslins to Tiffendell that I was using my trekking pole to keep me upright and we could barely hear each other even when shouting!) some 29-hours after we'd started at 09h00 on Sunday morning.

Would I recommend this race to you? Of course... BUT, I would recommend that you run/hike with someone who knows the route or do the race in 2-days, sleeping over at Balloch. The section through to Balloch (about 56km) is a very decent race in itself, without the Day 2 section. This is very do-able as a first timer to go straight through if your navigation is reliable (and next year the route showing the mountain pass will be correct). If you'd like to race this route to win? Oooohhh... I'd put my money on it to say that a first timer will never win this race unless they traverse the entire route prior to the race.

Andrew Porter (2nd in 2005) worked hard this year to take victory from Bruce Arnett, who has won the race since its inception in 1998. Both of these guys are exceptional runners. Andrew set a new course record of 15h03. Wow!

Salomon Skyrun is an incredible event. It is tough, challenging, scenic and inspiring. In Adrian's capable hands it is well organised. The comraderie of the marshals (farmers/land owners) and participants is magical and it is a race I'd go back to (now that I've had a week to think about it *grin*).

(click on pic to see bigger image)

Friday 24 November 2006

How did you get into AR?

One of the most common questions I get asked is, "How can I get into adventure racing?". It's a question too that has directed much of www.AR.co.za's content. This week I attended a celebration of Runner's World SA's 150th issue. Did you know that this was how I got into AR?

Runner's World SA was the first international edition of the magazine and it was launched in May/June 1993. South Africa set the trend 14-years ago and the publication is now available in most countries and in 11 languages.

I became a regular reader in early 1999 after receiving a copy in my goodie bag from the Bedfordview 21km (now the Dischem 21km, held early January every year), my very first half-marathon.

About 3-months later I got a call from my underwater hockey friend (I was playing Provincially at that stage) asking, "Have you got the new issue yet? Go get it. There's something in it that's just up your alley." I shot off to the shops and snapped up a copy. It was the May 1999 issue and the "something" was a double-page on the new Old Mutual Hi-Tec Adventure Racing Series.

Too soon to assemble a 4-person team to enter the first 180km race in early July '99, I targeted the 250km race at the end of July '99. Hooked, we lurched to the 500km at the end of September '99...

Where www.AR.co.za is now an introduction, guide and reference to adventure racing for so many, Runner's World was my introduction.

And, I would never have guessed 8-years ago that I would become a regular contributor to what is my favourite magazine. I'm proud and honoured to be part of their family.

Runner's World SA, congratulations on this milestone. Thank you for your support of adventure racing and a toast to many, many more years of issues and kilometers.

This 150th issue is exceptional. It's a whopping 144-page publication with loads of great content. Go get it.

Friday 17 November 2006

Put your foot down

I've been training consistently (5-6 times a week) for about 15-years now. I also always train in the evening but the main problem with training in the evenings is d.i.s.r.u.p.t.i.o.n.

Talks, dinners, functions, socials... these things always happen at night. If I've got to be somewhere at 19h00 I probably have to leave around 18h00. This crunches into training time and I find that I keep compromising on my training frequency and duration to do x, y and z. Training in the morning? I'm an owl, not a lark, and I realised more than 10-years ago not to even attempt the morning training thing. It is just never going to happen for me.

Over the past 5-months (new job, many social functions, juggling AR.co.za....) I've allowed too many disruptions. On Tuesday I finally said, "Enough!".

We diarise business meetings, birthday parties and races and we should treat our training schedule in the same way. I used to do this but somewhere along the way I lost my rigidity and became more... flexible. I'm returning to my old ways.

My fitness, health and sanity is my top priority and it is something that it important to me in terms of pure enjoyment and pleasure and as a mechanism that allows me to compete in anything that catches my attention regardless of distance or duration.

Pumpkins, join me and climb aboard this bus for a trip to Focusland. Focus on you. Focus on your exercise, activity and nutrition. Focus on things you want to do and focus on those things you want to achieve. Your company (or the one you work for) is not going to collapse on the ground in a crumble of rubble. In fact, I can guarantee that your dedication to you will make you more efficient, productive and happy. And that's really what it is all about eh?

Monday 30 October 2006

Rogaine: How to get up a waterfall

What an awesome event this weekend! Of the 4 Rogaine events held annually this was certainly the best in terms of strategy and difficulty.

At previous events it was possible for all controls to be collected within the time period. But this year... it was impossible to run (and bike) this entire area to locate all controls. So, decisions really were about going North or South and how far you would be prepared to go to efficiently collect as many points as possible in the event time period (8hr for foot and 6hrs for bike). And, the best thing is that we barely saw any other pairs the whole time because the route options were not clear and defined. It was wide open. So, only when you got to the end could you find out where people had gone and how you'd done.

The Kaapse Hoop area is mountainous and the terrain - inside and outside of the forests - is tough. Aside from a couple of older, smooth forests, the rest was damn difficult going and much of the time you were either ascending or descending.On Saturday Tania and I had a fabulous and challenging route. If you're still wondering how we got up the waterfall... path to the valley floor, rock fall that Tania cunningly spotted and a body-width crack in the cliff that I fortunately found... phew!

Must say... we made a bloops in the beginning (at least we didn't run 180° in the wrong direction like we did last year) and got trapped by fences and vegetation but then warmed up, then took a dodgey route into the ravine and thought we'd lost loads of time. But we hadn't done too badly. A highlight of the morning was seeing a caracal catch a little buck (maybe a duiker? Couldn't see it clearly 'cos the caracal had wrapped itself - and its jaws - around the little thing). First time I've see a caracal up close in the wild. We walked far more than last year and so it was only when we got to the finish that we realised that we'd done ok in terms of route. Those that went North did a lot of running.

On Sunday it was the mountain bike Rogaine (3hr and 6hr options), which I did with Tim. I'm a lazy mountain biker so the mountains we'd covered the day were additionally daunting; it's one thing going up on your own, it's another pushing your bike up too.We did well for the first 3rs and then tried to take a ride indicated on the map up the side of the mountain from #2 to #1 - big points controls. We were ok for a while and then the trail fizzled and we were in bush. We hunted around, couldn't find access so we backtracked. We probably lost about 30-mins. We nabbed the next two controls and from #7 decided to head to the road end in the valley and bike-carry up the valley side (southern) to the road. We actually did pretty well until confronted by a cliff wall. Soooooo close to the road (probably about 50m) but we just couldn't get through. We tracked downwards again, sliced by vines and fallen branches. This was a strategic move that didn't pay off. That was a whack of time lost and we ended up flying back - on the main road - in the pelting rain, to finish late. I think we lost something like 175 points!

If this move had paid off... oh well... all part of the strategy eh?

Pieter, George, Joan, Botha family and all the other helpers and assistants who hung and collected the 80 controls that were spread around this massive area... thank you for putting this wonderful event on. Rogaines (and other orienteering events) are that much more intensive because of the mapping that has to happen. Pieter put in weeks of work in creating this map.

Tania and Tim, you're wonderful teammates and I thoroughly enjoyed our adventures.

Adventure racers... diarise the Rogaine for next year. It is the best way to really work on your navigation and is an exceptionally challenging orienteering discipline.

Pieter, consider my entry already in for next year. x

Friday 27 October 2006

Rogaine racing

I am so excited because this weekend it is the annual Capestorm Rogaine. Rogaining is an orienteering discipline that has you roaming the hills and valleys in search of orienteering controls. But that's not all... The controls are assigned a points value according to their location and difficulty. A control located furtherest from the event base will be weighted more heavily than one easy to find and close to home. The objective of the game is to return to base within the prescribed time period. If you're late? You lose a chunk of points for every minute that you're late.

This year there are two foot Rogaine categories for Saturday. Pairs (you always compete as a pair) can enter either the 2.5hr or 8hr events. For the mountain bike rogaine on the Sunday there are 3hr and 6hr events.

How it works is that you're given a map at the start. The location of all the controls for the event are printed on the map - little red circles. You then have to plan a route that will efficiently take you to as many controls as possible so that you're not zig-zagging all over the place like a headless chicken. Towards the end you'll probably find yourself bolting for home before the cut-off 'cos you really don't want to lose the points you've worked so hard to collect.

When you're out there the time really disappears as you're so focused on finding the controls. But, 8hrs is still a long time. The best thing about Rogaining, especially for novices, is that you can stay out as long or as short as you want to. When you're tired, you return to base, even if it is after only 6hrs. Participation is key.

Interestingly, an 8hr event would be considered "short" abroad where major Rogaines are generally 12hr or 24hrs in duration (the shorter time periods are not uncommon). Unsurprisingly, adventure racers tend to do pretty well. Infact, Michael Tobin and Mike Kloser, of Team Nike fame, won the Rogaine World Championships in 2003 when the event was held in the US.

I'll be running with my orienteering friend Tania. We ran together for the first time last year and had a wonderful experience. In regular orienteering we're "rivals", looking to win events and score max points towards the annual orienteering log. This was the first time that we'd orienteerer together and it was brilliant.

What was really neat is that we sometimes see slightly different routes from one point to the next, which we discuss while running (we each run with a map). Sometimes we may pick my route, other times we'll pick hers and sometimes we combine sections to create the most effective attack. The thing here is that there's no right or wrong when it comes to route choice; some routes are just better than one and together we discover routes we wouldn't have seen on our own. It's really invigorating.

Aside from wanting to keep our paws on our ladies trophy, we're aiming to a decent overall ranking. Competition is stiff and this event is won from speed and cunning.

On Sunday there's a mountain bike orienteering event. I'm doing the 6hr one with Tim. It's going to be great fun as I missed the mtb events last year and the year before. Woooo hoooo!

Now, as I type, I'm sooooo excited about the events this weekend. I've just spoken to Tania and she's just as thrilled. Rogaining my ultimate event because it combines my two favourite disciplines (running and navigation) with my two favourite elements (distance and time) and a dash of excellent companionship.

In advance... Pieter Mulder, thank you for putting on this event again. It's my 4th out of 4 and you can definitely count me in next year for my 5th ;)

Tania and Tim, I'm really looking forward to playing with you in the forests this weekend.

I'm outta here...

Monday 16 October 2006

Is it a sport or a skill?

I've never liked golf. And, my dislike doesn't really have anything to do with the game as much as the extensive television coverage. Have you ever tried running for 60-minutes on a treadmill with only golf to watch?

I'm a treadmill junkie and for years I've vaguely watched golf, tennis, cricket, soccer and rugby purely because they're screened at gym 24/7. These are 5 major sports and I've never been partial to any of them. My favourite month is July, when Tour de France dominates because I run like the wind, keeping pace with the cyclists. I also enjoy coverage of marathons (Olympic), track (everything from 100m - 10 000m), summer winter Olympics (variety and novelty viewing) and anything that has a bit of pace and is inspirational (I'd love to run 3:20 kilometers).

Tim plays golf and I always tease him about this game being a skill and not a sport. I appreciate the dexterity, agility and hours and hours of practise that it takes to make the little white ball go where you want it, but there's no heart rate acceleration due to physical effort (I'm talking extended time over 140bpm, not just stress/pressure/tension related increases).

A sport is defined as an activity requiring physical ability, physical fitness or physical skill which usually, but not always, involves competition between two or more people.

A skill is defined as an ability, usually learned and acquired through training, to perform actions.

So, it seems that there's a bit of skill in sport and no sport in skill... ?

Consider orienteering... it's definitely a sport of skill and it's this dimension that keeps me coming back for more. Over the years I've minimised the destruction my errors cause but there's still room for (a lot) of improvement. I have never had an absolutely perfect run; there's the 30-seconds wasted here and the less-desireable route-option there... In striving for that 'perfect run', I'll keep coming back till I'm well over-the-hill. The mental appeal will outlive my physical prowess.

Then, we get back to golf...
I went with Tim to a driving range about 2-weeks ago. I sat and watched the people and enjoyed the evening air. I tried my hand at the chipping green and felt like I was playing putt-putt; and it was pretty fun. But, I also wanted to whack the ball and see whether I could make it fly on the driving range. Defending my pride and ego, I decided to phone the place and arrange for a lesson so that the next time I went I'd at least know how to hold the club...

Well, I had my first lesson on Saturday... and troops, I hope it's not too late for me to make my fortune as a pro. That little white devil flew as straight as an arrow and a number of times missed the hole by no more than a meter or three. What a kick! And my new coach was thrilled. I booked another lesson for next week.

Would you believe... I went to the driving range on my own last night, whacked balls for an hour and came home quite pleased with myself.

Like orienteering, I can feel the need to achieve that "perfect" shot. I'll be back at the range later this week.

So, am I a covert? Nah... not completely. I'm happy with the driving range (for now) and I still don't like to watch golf on the telly when I'm on the treadmill. But, next time it's on I'll defintely be checking the players' posture, form and swing...

Monday 9 October 2006

Running training: 3-weeks done

I'm now about to start my 4th week on Norrie's "10km in 45-minutes" programme. You want to know how it is going?

Overall - pretty good. But, I will confess that I haven't stuck to the programme 100% and I haven't been 100% consistent. But... I've definitely upped my running over the past 3-weeks and I'm thoroughly enjoying the fartlek sessions.

This past week (week 3 of the programme) the speed intervals were just that bit harder than before. On Tuesday I had to do 4 x 400m in 1:40 with 2-minute rest between sprints and on Friday I did 3 x 800m in 3:30 with a 4-minute rest between sprints. The thing with fartlek is that you start with a warmup (I do 3km to warm up) then you do the speed session and then you cool down (I do a 3km cooldown). To cover the 400m distance and the 800m distance I run at 14.5km/hr on the treadmill. For the rest sessions, I slow the machine down to 10.5km/hr and get my breath back at this easy pace.

This programme is meant to be done on a track but I do confess to being a treadmill junkie. I like the controlled environment of the treadmill. When I set a speed, I have to stick to it (or risk being flung off the back!); on the road or track you can slack off.

The 800m intervals were good, hard work and I definitely relaxed into them more towards the end.

Yesterday (Sunday), I ran the Germiston 15km with my friend Heather Graz, who was up in Joburg from Cape Town. We had a lovely run, chatting the whole way, and finished in an easy 1h24. I was feeling terrible before the start - the result of two consecutive late nights and early mornings. For a change I wasn't pushing for a time and instead enjoyed running with my friend and catching up on news.

I'm definitely feeling faster and stronger - certainly a result of the speed workouts. My basic "easy" speed on the treadmill is up and I'm finding the max speed, 16km/hr, quite comfortable for sprint sessions.

This week the intensity goes up a notch. On Tuesday I'll run 5 x 400m in 1:40 with 2-min rest between sprints and then on Friday 3 x 100m in 4:20 with 5-min rest is on the cards. The other days are easier runs ranging from 5-8km.

As always, I'm cross training. Before my treadmill sessions I ride the spin bikes for 15-20mins. My run is followed by stairmaster (all-time favourite), circuit weights and an eliptical trainer session. Sometimes all three, other days only 2 of the 3 variations; depending on time.

There are 4-weeks left of this programme. If you're working on your running, let me know how it is going.

Monday 2 October 2006

How often do you race?

I get asked this question quite often and I presume it's due to http://www.ar.co.za/ and my AR writing for magz and such.

My answer? Not often. My racing history has been somewhat dishevelled. In '99, 2000 and 2001 there weren't that many races and most were distance. I did a good number in that time before starting to work on the Adventure Zone tv crew. Accordingly, 2002 was a very exciting year and I attended most adventure races but to work, not play. I also got overdosed on AR.

I got back into it in 2003 with a short race or two and my annual favourites, the 250km Swazi Xtreme and 8hr Rogaine. I also got back into road running with a few races (in the late 90's I used to do races most weekends) and ventured abroad to run Jungle Marathon 250km in Brazil.

I still raced intermittantly in 2004 (Swazi again) and then got into online race coverage, which is where my travels started. Away a lot from late-2004 and through to the end of 2005 there was no way I could commit to a team and when I was home I preferred to stay home. But, I did get to do 2 x 50-milers in 2004 (in the US) and the 250km Coastal Challenge ultra (Costa Rica) and Swazi and Surf2Rock in 2005. I also attended a number of short races where I took photos and helped with marshalling and such.

This year I've had a bit of a focus on ultra running and am trying to get my run times down. I ran a 100-miler in Jan, a 12hr circuit race in April, did Swazi X end-April and Puffer at the end of August. I up for my 4th 8-hr Rogaine end-Oct and probably Skyrun in early Dec.

My racing preference is for long distance and multiday races and I'm not likely to take part in many sprints (they're hard work!). I also like to race less frequently so that when a race is coming up I get sooooo excited to be taking part. I don't want to become blase and feel that it's "just another race".

Finally, organising a team, support crew and all the other bits is admin. I do a lot of admin and organising daily and there are times when I'm just not into any more of it, even if it is for a race.

Still, I do think it is really neat to race often. It is fun, motivating and social: road running races do this for my running training.

So, while I remain actively involved in AR, you're not likely to see me at ARs every month but inbetween you'll see me on the road, at orienteering or on trails running an ultra.

Tuesday 26 September 2006

Ultrarunning Man

I've been a Dean Karnazes (www.ultramarathonman.com) fan for a while. His ultrarunning accomplishments are incredible. Nevermind his Badwater 2004 (www.badwater.com) and 10 x Western States 100 (www.ws100.com) victories, the guy just keeps running and running and running.

Dean's most recent challenge - currently underway - is the North Face Endurance 50 (www.endurance50.com). What is it you ask? It's 50 marathons in 50 US states in 50 consecutive days. That's a total of 2110km! He started on 16 September and so today, Tuesday 26 Sept is Day 10.

Some of the marathons are actual events. For others - especially during the week - he runs an established marathon route in that State. Dean will end with the New York Marathon in November.

From the Endurance 50 website, follow the link for the Timex website. His speed, HR, calorie expenditure and other such interesting stats are available for each marathon.

Also visit Chris Carmichael's website at www.trainright.com. Chris - Lance Armstrong's coach - is also Dean's coach and advisor (along with others).

On the event website it said something about Dean running 4:30 - 5:00 marathon times. Looking at his first 9 races he's running 3:50 - 4:30 times. Impressive.

Thursday 21 September 2006

10km in 45-minutes?

My PB on a 10km is 44-minutes... but that was a good 6-years ago when I was running short distances fast and the ultra distance bug hadn't bitten.
Since 2000 my times got slower and slower reaching an all-time low of 60-minutes for a 10km. *shock and horror*. In reality, an hour is respectable (6min/km pace) but when you've run faster, it's a shocker. Over the last 2-years I've taken my times down to a consistent 50-52-minute 10km and a few weeks ago I ran a 49-minute 10km (only just).

I'm now on a mission.

I've had Norrie's book on ultra distance running for a year already. At the back he has a "45-minute 10km" programme. It's a 7-week programme and I started it on Monday.

I often check out running programmes in books and mags looking for ideas and fun training alternatives but I never actually follow the programme. I'm going to give it a try. It ain't gonna be easy to chop 5-minutes off my current pace dropping it from a steady 5:00/km to 4:30/km average. Those 30-seconds per kilometer do make a difference. I'll let you know how it goes.

Thursday 31 August 2006

Puff, Puff, PUFFER

Well, well, well... it surely is a spectacular race but it is also a toughie... and more in the last 3hrs (Platteklip!) than in any other part.

I had a really fantastic run at Puffer (http://www.puffer.fishhoekac.com/) on Saturday in Cape Town. It's a 80km run from Cape Point to V&A. We started at 05h30 and had the most fantastic run along the Peninsula road, stars ablaze overhead. We unfortunately just missed seeing sunrise over False Bay but nonetheless the colours were beautiful. We were also blessed with amazing weather. When I'd flown in on Thursday afternoon the wind was pumping. It had calmed by Friday and was a cooling breeze on Saturday.

The first 24-odd kilometers followed road, through the Peninsula National Park and onto the Red Hill Road. From here we went off-road, returning to tar only to run through Sun Valley (near Noordhoek) and then again to the finish at the V&A via Greenpoint.

Memorable were the Checkpoint aid stations: friendly volunteers (one lady even rubbed sunblock on my sweaty face), lots of water and refreshments and lots of munchies. I didn't realise that these would all be here so I had my own food packed anyway but I did grab a baby potato here and there. The volunteers were really incredible and encouraging.

The route isn't marked so I just followed people on the route. Again, all very friendly and helpful. It actually turned into quite a social run ;)

Physically I had a relatively easy run. The three weeks before the run had been hectic with work, projects and all sorts so I hadn't put in the training I'd have liked to. Add to this a bit of a cold from mid-July... Nonetheless, I'd been running my best 10km and 21km times for 6-years and had some good orienteering runs pre-Puffer so I was fairly non-stressed. And, I was healthy and uninjured, which is always the best start.

I ran a lot of the race, swiftly walking the uphills and running the flats and downs. My worst section was definitely coming down Platteklip. I'm not a big fan of steep drops anyway and this one was particularly nasty. Big step downs - bigger than a normal steps - that just never seemed to end. If you ever go up or down Table Mountain, don't take Platteklip! The last section through to the finish from the Lower Cable Station along Signal Hill and down to the V&A was very pleasant.

Needless to say, that downhill was probably the single section responsible for my sore quads - always worse on Day 2. I went for a massage on Monday and am 100% stiffness-free today.

I finished this 80km route in 11h50 and placed 49th overall. I was 10th lady. 135 runners started. 38 did not finish. Am very happy with this result, especially as I had a really comfortable run.

Martin, Trevor and your PUFFER team, thank you for a really wonderful event.

Wednesday 23 August 2006

Creature of habit

I'm busy packing my running gear 'cos I'm off tomorrow for Puffer, an ultra in Cape Town. I've got all my favourite, favourites in my pack...

I haven't done a race for a while and so I'm really looking forward to Puffer. It's an 80km trail run from Cape Point to V&A where the first 23km is on road. I'm actually doing the baby race. The big daddy is Tuffer Puffer, a there-and-back route starting from V&A.

Anyway, I'm in for the little one and this will be my first time on da Mountain, depsite having been in CT many, many times.

The reason for this blog (there's always a reason) is that I'm busy packing my gear and got to thinking how pernickety I am about stuff.

Essentially this is just a run. We have 3 gear drops and at the one just over mid-way we have to collect things like rain jacket, compass, map, gloves and hat for the rest of the way to the finish. That's it. No other compulsory stuff required. But, I like to be prepared at all times, especially as I don't know the route at all and I know that conditions in the mountains can change in an instant.

From the end of the tar I'll carry a lightweight First Ascent shell (I'll pick up my heavier one later). I'll have my small knife, whistle and compass with me the whole way. I've even got my small space blanket that has been with me on every AR and ultra run and staged ultra for years. I've also got a little first aid kit in which I've got extra contact lenses, a little mirror and baby powder for my feet (should I need it). Also a couple of Myprodol (should I need them) and surgical needles - which I hope not to have to use on blisters. I always carry an extra pair of socks and will have others at each gear drop. I don't often need to change socks, but maybe I will so then at least they're there. I always have contact solution and lipice in the front pocket of my Salomon Packvest. When I change from my Adidas road shoes to my Adidas Response trail shoes I'll put on the mini gaiters I've been making for some years. I loooovvveee gaiters to keep all that irritating trail debris out of my socks and shoes.

My water reservoir... it's my good old faithful Camelback bladder, which goes in my Packvest. It's now 7-years old and although I've got a newer one I won at a race a couple of years ago (hardly used it), I still go for my old one. Part sentimental and part because it's my favourite.

I'll also pick up my small Black Diamond headlamp at a later checkpoint. I'll probably be in by mid to late afternoon though. And, believe it or not, I've also got my GloToob packed.

The moral of this tale - and it applies to AR too - is that I could be carrying far, far less but that for my comfort and from habit, I like to have my stuff with me at all times. I've rarely had to use my first aid kit, I seldom need my extra pair of socks and I've never used a space blanket. But, having these things with me makes me feel safe, secure and prepared. The extra kilogram (if that) is worth it for the psychological benefits.

I always pack the same stuff. I always pack things in the same place. Most importantly, it works so I won't be changing my habits anytime soon.

P.S. My friends Ugene Nel and Michael Graz are running Tuffer Puffer. They start on Friday morning running through Friday night. I only start on Saturday morning. Good luck boys!

Friday 11 August 2006

What was he really on?

While my last blog had glowing comments about Landis, this one questions why he just doesn't own up?

The results from Sample B have confirmed that Landis was indeed shot up on synthetic testosterone during his miraculous ride to victory on Stage 17 of the Tour de France. He made all kinds of statements to the press about the unusual 11:1 ratio (physiological levels are 4:1) being due to a) the beer and whisky he drank post-Stage 16 and b) resulting from dehydration on Stage 16 and other such comments.

A cyclist friend at gym said to me on Tuesday night, "I wish he'd just own up to it and take responsibility for his actions". She's quite right.

Still, I have questions... physiologically, how can his blood tests from the previous stages show absolutely nothing and then sim-sala-bim he logs an 11:1 ratio? Testosterone has an anabolic effect - it enhances muscle development, strength and endurance. This makes me ask how a massive shot of testosterone the night or morning before he started Stage 17 could have had such a remarkable effect? Some say that testosterone wasn't actually the 'performance enhancer' but that it masked whatever gave ol' Landis the kick he needed to dominate the stage.

My final question is: how can he possibly be so stupid?

George's comments on the AR mailing list last week caused a flood of responses. He suggested that there be two racing categories: those on drugs and those not on drugs. Those doping should monitor what they're on and their stats and should submit it for the benefit of physiological research; legalised use of performance enhancers in the name of science. Not such a bad suggestion troops.

I too wear blinkers. I don't want to know that these guys are achieving excellence through artificial, not natural, means. We all just pretend that drugging is not happening but the reality is that it is and it is not about to stop. And, we're naive if we believe that the anti-doping urine and blood tests will 100% detect offenders. They haven't in the past and they don't now.

The one problem I have with this whole "legalise doping" concept is that a) athletes are going to die and b) we're saying to kids "Don't do drugs but if you get into pro cycling/running/swimming/rugby you can take whatever you want to".

The solution? I don't know. I do hope the testing becomes more stringent and more sensitive. If the stand continues to be to forbid doping, then the penalties given to offenders need to be severe. Landis' 2-year ban and TdF title removal is joke considering his offence as TdF winner! Athletes must realise that disregard for regulations will see them not only not just restricted from competition for a defined period but that they will be jobless, sponsorless and outcast.

There is no acceptable excuse or reasonable explanation.«

Thursday 20 July 2006

Floyd in France

I should update this blog more often but sometimes a little inspiration is needed... like Floyd Landis' Stage 17 Tour de France win today.
This year's Tour de France has ben action, action, action from start to finish. Yesterday (Wednesday), Floyd Landis, wearing the yellow jersey, completely and utterly blew. As has happened to other TdF greats - Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Lance Armstrong - Landis ran out of fuel, losing massive time chunks on the climb up to La Toussuire and ultimately, his yellow leader's jersey. The reason? Landis did not eat enough, his energy resources were depleted and he did well just to make the finish line.

Landis not only lost his position as Tour leader, he dropped out of the Top 10 to 11th place and with 3 stages left (Thurs, Fri & Sat) was over 8-minutes down in the overall standings. As commentators Phil and Paul said, there was no way that Tour favourite Landis would be able to recover from this. But, recover he did.

Today's stage was another massive Alpine monster with a B.I.G. out of category climb. As I only caught the last 20km of the stage today, I heard from the commentary that Landis had broken away from the main bunch at around 50km. When I got to the telly some 150km later Landis had blown away the rest of the field and was on his own over 5-minutes ahead of the chasing riders. Gaining a finishline time bonus too, Landis leapt from 11th to 3rd and is now only 30-seconds down. During tomorrow's relatively flat stage Landis will have to stay with his competition (helpfully make up more time on them) and I'm hoping that during Saturday's individual time trial stage he'll pull out all the stops.

In the post-race interview Landis said that yesterday had been a bad day for him and that today his goal was to make up for it. That he did. What really caught my attention was when Landis, replying to the interviewer's comment about not giving up, said something to the effect of, "My team has worked so hard over the last two weeks to get me here, there is no way I could give up". Although Landis won today's stage (his first ever TdF stage win), notching stage wins is not his objective. Landis wants to win the Tour. He wants the yellow jersey. This is his all-consuming ambition.

Know what? I think he's going to do it because from what I've seen, Landis wants this win more than anyone else out there. He's a strong rider, yesterday was a disaster and today he showed just what he is made of. This race is far from signed and sealed. Today my heart really went out to him so he gets my cheer and I hope to see him riding into Paris on Sunday in yellow. You've got to want it bad enough to get it. He does.

In AR we joke about just hanging in there and that if you're making mistakes, so are other teams, and that if you just keep going and stay in the race, you could do pretty well. Chris Carmichael addressed a similar theme today with his comments on Landis' amazing ride (and related to Oscar Pereiro's early massive time losses on stage 10). "The lesson to learn from these two riders is that regardless of the deficit you find yourself in, it’s imperative to go on the offensive and continue racing. The only man who truly loses is the man who completely gives up." Viva la Chris.

Monday 19 June 2006


Have you ever wondered where all of that Lotto money goes? Well, I can tell you where some of it went this weekend.
Every year the South African Orienteering Federation (SAOF) applies for funding for various programs, which include map making, the annual school league and coaching. This weekend (from Friday to Sunday) a bunch of orienteerers had the fortune of attending the first ever SAOF training camp out in the Belfast forests; a camp that was funded through a grant received from the Lotto Trust.

British team coaches Dave and Jenny Peel were brought out to South Africa specifically to coach us, taking us through many skill training sessions over the 3-days. We have a number of senior and junior orienteerers who will be attending the World Orienteering Champs in August (including our own adventure racers Nicholas Mulder and Jeremy Green) so this camp was well timed and will have greatly aided their preparation.

One of the fundamentals that Dave and Jenny reiterated was, "Do the basics well". Take ol' Tiger Woods. He doesn't go out every day to play 18-holes. He'll spend one day on the driving range. Another putting. Another getting out of sand bunkers. Another hitting from the rough...
He practises the basics regularly so that in a game these techniques are automated. Tiger knows the basics and he does them well. So too with navigation and, in fact, any other discipline. This is a fundamental well worth remembering.

My thanks to Dave & Jenny, the SAOF and the control hangers, food makers and organisers for an enriching weekend of orienteering training.«

Monday 12 June 2006

Distance ain't daunting

At our AR Club committee meeting last week were were shooting the breeze and discussing participation numbers in the various AR event distance categories. This topic came up when I reported that numbers on the mailing list were finally growing - after a 2-year slump - and that in May stats on AR.co.za logged an all-time high. In this month the site greeted thirteen-thousand visitors! This is reflected in the sprint events where most races attract 150 - 350 entrants.
Participation numbers in the short distance events are doing well, but in longer racers we infrequently see teams traveling distances to away-from-home races and thus entry numbers in events over 150km remain unsubstantial. Honestly, 10 or 14 teams is not a race.

Back in the "old days" there were only 3 events a year: a 180km, a 250km and a 500km. The situation was like this for 2-years before the introduction of the Dirty Weekend and Game Sprint series'. What I liked about there being only 3 events is that all existing teams made an effort to get to each event and we were so excited to see friends made at previous races again. We also had 3-4 months between events to sort out team-mates and organise financing.

And when it came to distance... nothing was too daunting. Yes, it was sometimes like looking a big scary monster in the face, 'cos there was no AR.co.za to tell you what to pack, how to choose team-mates and what to do in the transition; we had to figure this our for ourselves. But because these were the only races, we entered them, improvised and somehow got to the finish line. I stand to be corrected but I'm certain that finishing rates were higher than they are currently. Is this because those participating were better athletes? Not at all. I too was a palookah - a provincial underwater hockey player and regular road runner. I'd never paddled or mountain biked (I got my butt in the saddle on a bike borrowed from Linden Cycles a month before my first race, a 250km).

Although sprint and short distance races have made adventure racing more accessible, it has also diluted the purity of pur sport and - dare I say - has offered an easier alternative; psychologically and physically and with respect to time, money, resources and effort.

Also, I think that the shorter events "scare" racers off from distance events because they feel that if they battled through a 65km they'll crack on a 200km. Not so! Remember that the pace in a 200km is slower (for most) and if you're going to make the effort of recruiting a team, support crew and gathering gear, you may as well make a weekend of it.

AND... regular participation in short distance races has financial implications. Granted, it is pricey to enter a 2-3 day race but you don't do it every month, only 2-3 times a year. But, if you're blowing your disposable income regularly on frequent sprints, it takes away dosh that could be spent on one whopper.

Solution? I conceed that sprints and short course races do have their place. But, true growth and evolution in adventure racing lies in support of and participation in multiday races. There's little reason why South Africa should not become a respected nation, like our small Southern Hemisphere neighbour New Zealand, in the global arena. But, this will only happen when we have a more competitive environment here at home at our multiday races.«

Tuesday 2 May 2006

XTREME-ly proud

This weekend's Swazi Xtreme probably ranks as the event of which I am most proud...
Although I've known Evan (Price) for years, we've never raced together. As for Bruce and David... absolutely, utterly and completely disorganised novices who didn't seem to take me seriously when I'd explained about the sport of Adventure Racing and this event.

After the epic white water section (less than 12hrs into Day 1), Bruce chatted to his diary cam saying, "Now for the first time I'm starting to realise the magnitude of what we've gotten ourselves into" and it wasn't the only time over the weekend that Evan and I heard comments of "in over our heads". But, there was never a doubt in our minds that Bruce and David were in it for the whole journey.

Evan's navigation was spot-on, I handled 'admin' and with Bruce and David's determined attitudes (they did try to barter for more sleep time), we made an awesome team.

Evan and I had 'the boys' scrambling up precarious slopes, crawling under logs, rock hopping up rivers and mountain biking down treacherous terrain in the dark. I kept forgetting that Bruce is 50.

This race was certainly one of my best (although intense) adventure racing experiences. The boys, all three of them, are gems. We had wonderful laughs and a weekend of great racing.

We too are indebted to our dedicated support crew, who gave up their weekend to look after 4-strangers. Zoe, Charmaine, Denzil and Keanu... Thank you.

Bruce and David, I am so proud of what you achieved this weekend, of all the fears you overcame without hesitation and for putting your hearts into this race.

Evan... how do I say so much more than just thank you? This race was something else and I'm fortunate to have had you with me out there.

Wow... I'm gonna be buzzing from this one for weeks. Thank you team ;)«

Wednesday 26 April 2006

Oh My Goodness!

I leave shortly for Swazi Xtreme, my 6th year at the race and my 4th consecutive year racing. This time is going to be drastically different. I'm racing with AR friend Evan Price (Team Tension Structures, Cape Town) and 2 celebs: Comrades King Bruce Fordyce and Egoli's David Vlok.

Most novices would have been reading AR.co.za, trying to learn about the sport before their first sprint, nevermind that this is arguably Southern Africa's most difficult race. These two? Nothing. They haven't even read my emails properly with clothing and equipment instructions! They're going into this completely cold turkey. And, despite my briefing on "What is AR" (complete with slideshow) and warnings of "this will be unlike anything you've ever done before" and "This isn't a running race where you just pull on your takkies and go", I still don't think they get the picture.

Last week Thursday Bruce called to ask "What are Ziploc bags?". On Monday he called to say that his shoes from Nike had arrived but he wasn't sure they were the right ones. "They've got leather all over and they're waterproof", he said. As I only got to see them last night (Tuesday night; we're leaving today, Wednesday) I was relieved to see that they're regular trail shoes and are right for the job. Last night Bruce did ask, "We'll be on roads and trails anyway won't we?".

Yes, I did start laughing.

I collected Evan from the airport this morning and we're all set to go. I can tell you that this is going to be one helluva experience for me and an even bigger one for them. *evil laughter*

Sunday 23 April 2006

Gettin' Spurred On

Today I had the fortune of being the course director for the SPUR Adventure event held at Pelindaba today. Athough I've done time behind-the-scenes at many, many, many AR's in the past few years - as media, helper, photographer, journalist and such - this was my first time course planning and organising.
We had around 300 competitors in the SPUR Challenge with other entrants in the SPUR Hike and SPUR Trail (kids) events. My task was to plan routes for the events and to generally deal with course related aspects, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

My thanks first to all of the competitors: most of you were new faces and I'm only sad that because of the nature of the event and the volume of people that I was unable to meet you all. My thanks to you all too for coming up to say thank you after the race. Your appreciation is treasured.

To my Marshals: Wow! You guys were fantastic today - from directing competitors to assisting where needed and making sure that the course tags were removed, returning this beautiful environment to its natural state. To our SPUR crew: Conrad and Peter (and his many helpers) - thank you. This has been a wonderful experience and it is good to work with you. Max - you're the bomb. This is where Max's loud mouth and constant chatter (he talks more than me!) comes in really handy. Max is definitely the best event MC out there. Pelindaba/NECSA crew: Anton, Martie, Moses and Iyanda - this is a wonderful venue. Thank you for accommodating us and for your assistance over the past weeks. Jacques: Always brilliant to have you taking photos at events. I can't wait to see them! AND Ugene: an AR associate for years and now a dear friend. It has been an absolute pleasure working with you.

This SPUR Series is definitely going to be a wonderful annual fixture and with each event the Series will continue to evolve and improve. The event is a fundraising initiative by SPUR in aid of the African Children's Feeding Scheme, which they support. Next weekend the event moves to 'Maritzburg, where you'll be in Max's competent hands.

Now my focus moves to Swazi Xtreme, where I'm going to have my hands more than full... more on this tomorrow. For now... Over and Out.

Monday 10 April 2006

98km and I can still walk

Well, well, well... I logged my first 12-hr circuit race on Friday night. Yes, 12hrs of running around a 1km loop. This is what I learned...

  • The first 20km are easier than running a road race
  • Grass track, on which feet have been running for days and hours, is as hard as tar.
  • The most difficult kilometers are those that come after you've completed the minimum race distance (70km).
  • It really is not boring running around a 1km loop. You're entertained by the other runners and the spectators camped around the track (thanks to the young gents at the 500m mark for their cheers of "Go Tannie" - even at 3am!). It's also really neat passing through the counting tent every kilometer because with each run-through it's another kay completed and the time inbetween pass-throughs isn't long.
  • Friends and family are gems. It really was wonderful to see their encouraging faces everytime I ran past.

I'll tell you something... when I ran the 100km in Hawaii in Jan (off-road ultra, gnarly terrain) my knees and joints didn't feel a thing. By 30km here my knees had started to speak. This truely is the difference between on-road and off-road. Off-road your stride and cadence changes with nearly every step and the terrain is softer; more forgiving. But, because you have to watch each step, off-road is far more mentally demanding as you have to concentrate on each foot placement. On-road you run at a constant pace, on a hard (mostly even) surface and this takes its toll on the body. Needless to say I wasn't walking very well on Saturday (run finished at 07h00 on Sat morning) or on Sunday. I'm far more stable this morning.

Still, I was very happy with the run, which went smoothly with no problems and no blisters.

Result: 1st lady and 3rd overall.

My warmest thanks go to my mom, dad, Theresia and Neil, who spent the whole night sitting around the Randburg Sports Complex's track. Neil ran a good number of laps with me, getting up regularly from a warm sleeping bag to come out for a few kays. To Steve, from Suunto, for his visit 'til midnight (he should have been at a cycle race but was down with food poisoning) and for downloading my Suunto T6 at midnight. Pam and Lobby, thanks for your 2am visit. They woke up especially to come through and each ran a couple of laps with me. Michael & Heather, your sms' from Chile throughout the run warmed the cold night. Friends and family, thank you for messages, your support and encouragement on what was a long and chilly night out.

The next one... not for a while. The experience was a good one but I don't think I'll be doing these races regularly. I'd like to do one a year, just for kicks, and no, the 24hr category is not an option... for now.

Thursday 6 April 2006

Round-and-round the mulberry bush

Would you believe it? When I got back from Patagonia at the end of Feb I got my paws on the 2006 road running booklet to look for some runs to do. Lo-and-behold an event caught my eye... the Toyota 12-hour Circuit Race in Randburg (the date in the CGA book is wrong).

In road running, circuit races are event where you run around and around and around a set course for a finite period of time. This event actually has a 6-day category (these crazy buggers started running this past Sunday and are out there running as I type this), a 24-hr category and a 12-hour category. As I've never done one of these, I figured the 12-hour would be a good place to begin. We start at 19h00 this Friday night and finish at 07h00 on Saturday morning.

Must say, when I first checked this event out I was all pumped to try the 24-hr, afterall I ran reasonably comfortably (if you discount the downhills) for 22h30 in Hawaii on gnarly trails. I figured a 1km loop on even terrain should be a piece-of-cake eh? Then I got to thinking that to log an official finish in the 12-hour event we have to run 70km minimum. That's quite a bit and unlike running on trails, my pace will be even, it will be faster and my body is likely to take more pounding. So I toned down my enthusiasm a bit ;)

I've got no idea what running on a 1km loop for 12-hours is going to be like so I'll let y'all know post-run. Have I done any specific training? Nah. I'm going in cold turkey. First time for everything...

Our AR Club gazebo (navy blue with white branding) will be up so if you're doing nothing in the very wee hours of Saturday morning, stop by for a cuppa and a muffin with my mom, Liz. She's my ever-present support (thank you mom).

Tuesday 28 March 2006

'Tis the season for change

I seem to pass through major life transitions - dramatic changes - every few years. My newest progression will be to formal employment - Eeeekkkk! Yes, it is true.

I've spent almost 6-years trying to find my calling. Leaving the basement world of cell biology, it was only through chance (and opportunity) that I landed in web design and site maintenance (a hobby I picked up at varsity), print layout design (by pure fluke), tv production as a cameraman & script writer, journalism and event media. It took 18-months to get into international online event coverage and another 18-months to log coverage of 9 foreign events (including the Big 3 - Primal Quest, Raid World Champs and AR World Champs) and passport stamps from 12-odd countries.

The glamorous side of online event coverage includes exotic travel, meeting and mingling with the who's who of the AR elite and absolute writing freedom. The reality is 3hrs sleep a night for the duration of the event, no training, bad nutrition and the typing up of reports at 3am. I sleep the entire flight home and it usually takes me 3 to 5-days after getting home to function normally. But, I absolutely love it!

I've reached the stage where I have media places at the BIG 3 for this year but now I'm giving this all up. Not from lack of interest or passion. My motivations are a) financial and b) desire for an opportunity to learn something new and to expand my experiences. With regards to the former... in this case, doing what you love doesn't pay. With regards to the latter... I need something that will utilise my skills, boundless energy and unending stream of ideas.

So, that's what I'm up to... Will my new career path affect AR.co.za? Nope, my baby will continue to grow and develop as it has over the past 5-years; with a number of new additions released during this year. And, perhaps I'll have more opportunities to race, instead of watching you all from the sidelines.

Sunday 5 March 2006

Starting Young

Being comfortable outdoors is not second nature to everyone. I was a fortunate little pumpkin. My folks took me camping and fishing and I spent many happy childhood holidays on a family friend's farm up in Zimbabwe leaping from the top of haystacks and rounding up cattle on horseback. Nothing could have been better.

Many kids in my 'hood are absolute city slickers. They're barricaded behind walls, instead of being able to race down grassy slopes on cardboard boxes after school (until sunset); for obvious security reasons. It is saddening indeed. Still, there's hope.

You're adventure types and certainly your kiddies will benefit from your experiences and exposure to the outdoors. 'Tis good.

Sunday 22 January 2006

It didn't HURT too bad

I've just returned from an eventful trip to the island of Oahu, Hawaii for the H.U.R.T. 100, an ultra run. The flights were long and the race was excellent.

Although I didn't notch a 100-mile finish, I did score a 100km finish, my longest continuous run to date. More about this in my H.U.R.T. 100 race report.

The best things about going into the unknown (terrain and race distance) are the lessons learned. Unless you do something different, you don't get to identify your weaknesses or learn how to better your performance.

Overall this race was an amazing experience and I've returned home with treasured memories and fueled motivation.

Thursday 5 January 2006

Up, up and away

It's New Year and there are going to be a lot of cool things happening for me and for you. This puppy is gonna be a good one.

I'm off to a good start after a quiet December. I'm heading out tomorrow (until the 23rd Jan) to run my first 100-miler next weekend. It's in Hawaii.

Am I ready? Geeezzzz... I dunno. I'm feeling good, running well and don't have any injuries. So, can't complain. But, I've never done this kind of race so I've really got little to no idea of what I'm going into. This one is all for experience and getting to the finish line within the 36-hour official cut-off. How will I do in terms of placing? Obviously I'd like a decent finish (limbs intact) but you can't count your chickens before they hatch. I've got to cover every step of the 100-miles first.

Why am I doing this damn race? A friend in the US recommended it. It's true what they say eh? There's a sucker born every minute *giggle*

So, the race is called the (H.U.R.T. 100-miler). At last count I saw there were about 78 runners (20 of them are women). Only 3 people younger than me. I'm a baby in this game. No woman has ever run under 30-hrs. Winning time is around 27-hours. It's gonna be a long, long night out there.

Getting to and running this race wouldn't have been possible without a) Bob (my friend in the US), who recommended this race in the first place - he will also be running; b) my coach,Norrie; c) my friends, the MadScientists, Michael and Heather Graz (they'll be racing in the Patagonia Expedition Race in Feb); d) my friends from Salomon, First Ascent, Adidas, Suunto, Black Diamond and WileyX for their constant support and encouragement and; e) my mom, who is always behind me no matter what I choose to do.

OK... till later in Jan, keep training, keep racing and be safe out there.