Sunday 29 July 2007

57.5hrs on a stationary bike

Well, he did it. Ray Chaplin spent 57.5hrs on a stationary bike (Trek MTB, with rear slick, on an indoor trainer) at the Cyclelab gym from 05h15 on Friday morning to 14h45 on Sunday afternoon. He cycled something like 1,030km in this time, taking only a few quick breaks to shower and stretch. Sleep? Not a wink.

As mentioned in a previous posting (About a guy, his bike and our beautiful country), Ray is a chap with a dream. Most admirable is that he doesn't just wait for things to happen; he makes them happen and pursues his own initiatives. And this is why he decided to spend over two days on a bike.

Ray called this initiative "57.5hr Cyclethon for Housing", a fundraising ride to raise money to build an old lady a house (she looks after numerous grandchildren and others in her community); in association with Habitat for Humanity.

The long and the short is that he did it. More admirable is that he did this ride in Joburg and not his hometown, Cape Town (Ray rode from CT to Joburg a month ago and will be flying back to Cape Town at noon on Monday). It's always easier to do something like this from your normal base, where most of your friends and family are located; it helps to make those nights shorter. Fortunately Cyclelab is a great location and Ray had support from spinning classes and riders during the day, with other visitors stopping in at night. But, he certainly had long, dark hours to get through on his own and I commend him for his tenacity and commitment.

Ray, well done. This is an achievement to be proud of. And I say so with conviction 'cos you wouldn't catch me with my butt on a saddle for that long. I'm in awe.

UPDATE: A video has been posted on The Times website - I make a cameo appearance ;) -

Wednesday 25 July 2007

Tour de Farce... again?

farce, noun - foolish show; mockery; a ridiculous sham

News broke last night... ""The anti-doping control on Alexandre Vinokourov, which was carried out on July 21 after the time trial in Albi, has tested positive. According to the ethical code of the Astana Cycling Team, Alexandre Vinokourov has been suspended from the team with immediate effect. The rider has asked nevertheless for a B-sample analysis."

Not again!

I don't have Supersport at home, so I've been watching parts of the Tour stages at gym (on the treadmill with my earphones plugged in to listen to the commentary) and online (following text-updates on Le Tour website and Eurosport). Over the weekend I watched the Stage 13 individual time trial and Stage 14 mountain stage at friends' houses. I have been absolutely captivated. Every morning I scour websites for news and post-stage commentary.

On Saturday I was thrilled with Vino's fabulous time trial victory. I like the guy and to see him come up from 19th to 9th... after a week of limping through the stages after his early crashes... He rode himself back into the race with that one.

Sunday's ride was disappointing for Vino, while Rasmussen* and Contador were spectacular. Vino rode himself out of contention and essentially his Tour was over, in the competitive sense.

* A cloud also hangs over Tour leader Rasmussen's head as he didn't notify officials of his training locations; thus avoiding out-of-season doping tests. Had Tour organisers known of Rasmussen's "avoidance" prior to the start of the the Tour, he would not have been allowed to compete "because he is not a good role model for the others in the peloton". Riders have to notify officials of their location at all times so that testing can be carried out anytime, anywhere - in season and out.

Then Monday rolls around; another mammoth stage with BIG climbs. I was following online.

Vino blitzed the field in a performance that left us all feeling a little "Landis '06" de ja vu. And then...

News breaks on Tuesday evening that Vino has tested positive. It is important to note that the postive test (evidence that he received a transfusion) was for Saturday's TT stage, not for Monday's mountain stage. So, even though he had a "miraculous" recovery on Monday, the positive is for Saturday, not Monday.

When thinking about Le Tour there are a couple of things to consider...

  • In the top ranks competition is high; a lot of money, prestige, places on teams, career/salary. The riders are all good and any advantage (even just a little one) would put one rider just that little bit ahead of another.
  • Tour de France is tough; there is no doubt about that. 3-weeks of long distances, endless hours in the saddles and hill climbs so steep that we'd have a tough time walking up! Doping has been happening since 1903 (riders took substances to dull the pain); dulling senses is almost equivalent to performance enhancing - if you can't feel the pain you can keep pushing.
  • I think that there is little doubt that every rider takes something to assist recovery. The race puts such strain on your body that without fancy protein and carbo shakes, massages and other interventions a body just won't make it through. It's probably a fine line between therapeutic and doping... like a couple extra puffs from an asthma pump (think Alessandro Petacchi).
  • When you consider that "interventions" have been used since 1903, can we put "blame" on TdF for its length and difficulty; it is a race that actually tries to break the riders. He who survives, wins. Lance said in past years that the rider who can handle the most pain is the one who wins the Tour. Why must this be necessary? In past years we've had it in adventure racing too; the organisers try to break the teams. I don't think it is right. When questioned on this point, Tour race director Christian Prudhomme commented, "You do not cheat because it is too hard, you cheat because you want to be first. If there were sack races in the Olympics, with money and TV, people would cheat."

There are doping stories that surround Giro and others, but none to the extent of TdF. There was the whole Lance thing too - although he never proved positive. So why TdF? Big media, World's biggest, most gruelling cycle race; it's the Oscars of cycling.

What I question is why Vino did it? He knows the deal. They all know that they'll be tested. Techniques have improved and the chance that the won't get caught is now minimal.

I'd be interested to know just how much difference doping makes. Looking at Vino's performance on Saturday... 1'14" evidently... As for his performance on Monday? Nothing has yet come out about doping results from Monday. Shouldn't the performance benefits from Saturday's transfusion spill over to Sunday and Monday too? Then why did he blow on Sunday if that was so? One theory is that Vino was chilling out on Sunday to recover from Saturday so he'd have the power for Monday's intense mountain stage.

What I think is really sad is that now Kloden's race is compromised because of Vino; the entire Astana team has withdrawn. It's one thing for Vino to destroy his own race and career, but it is not fair for him to ruin Kloden's race too.

Chris Carmichael, Lance's coach and coach to many in the Discovery team, says, "Clean riders can and do win races. I've coached them, my coaches coach them, and countless other coaches and team directors have guided clean athletes to victories in the world's biggest sporting events. Doping scandals like this one hurt the credibility of the entire peloton, and it's the clean riders who bear the heaviest burden. They're struggling to win races against juiced competitors, fighting for fans' trust and respect, and hoping that someone else's poor decision doesn't end up costing them their jobs."

Another thing... the B sample has not yet been tested (well, the results are not yet out)... what happens if it is negative? The team has withdrawn, Vino and Kloden are out, and he may well be not guilty? Why don't they just wait until all the results are in?

It's a good thing that the authorities are clamping down - doping has really tarnished the image of this sport. As for the future? They guys will take chances - that won't go away. But, as long as money is on the table, they'll do it.

Unfortunately Vino's career is over. Consider Basso, Landis, Ulrich... they have been shunned and they're out.

As for Vino... he is a powerful talented cyclist, without additives. He certainly has the natural ability to win the Tour without assistance.

I think it is sad that this "carrot" is so tempting; to the detriment of the sport and the riders. Sponsors are pulling out, some German TV channels are no longer broadcasting Le Tour following Ulrich's positive last year and many other companies and organisations are distancing themselves from this event, whose tarnished image has repercussions on the sport of cycling.

The jury is still out because the results of the B-sample are not yet in. If it is negative, then the testing authorities deserve a whipping; they should wait for results from both samples before creating a storm. If it is positive; then the proof will be irrefutable. But, you know what? Either way, the damage is done and I remain disappointed.

UPDATE [Thursday, 07h45]: Rasmussen has been fired from Rabobank and he too, the race leader and pretty certain winnrer, is out of the Tour. The reason for firing Rasmussen? Avoidance of testing. News from Supersport...

"The Dane will not start Thursday's 17th stage after his team said the rider had lied about his training whereabouts in June. "He has violated the team's rules," a Rabobank spokesman said.
Fellow team members gathered late on Wednesday to decide whether to continue the Tour but the meeting broke up without any statement.

Rasmussen's dismissal is the latest and possibly biggest hammer-blow to the Tour's credibility following hard on the heels of positive dope tests on pre-race favourite Alexander Vinokourov and Italy's Cristian Moreni [this must be the rider who tested positive after Stage 11].

Rasmussen, 33, had already received two warnings from the UCI for failing to provide the sport's governing body with his personal schedule.

UCI president Pat McQuaid told Reuters by phone: "I wonder why they did not make the decision when they had all the information in June. However, it is a zero tolerance policy and I can only applaud it."

Rabobank director Theo de Rooy was quoted on Dutch TV as saying: "Several times he said where he was training and it proved to be wrong. The management of the team received that information several times and today we received new information."

UPDATE [16h10]: And... another one... "Just a day after the revelation that Alexandre Vinokourov had tested positive for blood doping, L'Equipe report that a senior French doping official has revealed to them that an unnamed rider tested positive for testosterone on stage 11.
The French sports newspaper added that the UCI, cycling's governing body, would announce the latest test result shortly."

UPDATE [11h30]: "Disgraced Kazakh rider Alexandre Vinokourov, thrown off the Tour de France for blood doping, has failed two drug tests during this year's race, according to a report in Wednesday's L'Equipe. The Astana team leader, one of the favourites to win the 2007 Tour, supplied a positive A sample to a test taken after his victory in Saturday's 13th stage, a time trial in Albi. And L'Equipe claim the 33-year-old was tested again after winning Monday's 15th stage in the Pyrenees and that too came back positive."

Thursday 19 July 2007

Rhodes Run and the grassy slope

This past Saturday was the annual Rhodes Run, held from the quaint hamlet of Rhodes in the valley below the slopes of Tiffendell. The event has been running for 19-years and with a limited field of 330 runners, entries (invitation and substitution system) are like hen's teeth.

Rhodes is a 52km run. The route primarily follows a very good quality dirt road (most of the route, between the two trail/off-road sections) and also includes a trail section on single track (a few kilometers), an ascent up Mavis Bank (no tracks; probably just over 1km) and a new off-road section from Tiffendell (no trails; couple of kilometers). With 38km done, you're back onto road for a steep descent (about 5km) and then the final flat-ish 9km into Rhodes. Interestingly, 98% of the field are bona fide road runners; I recognised very few faces.

I've got two specific comments on this event: a) organisation and b) Mavis Bank.

This race is one of the best organised events I have ever attended. Darrell and Evie Raubenheimer have been organising Rhodes Run for 15-years and this machine is well-oiled. Everything from entries to race information to registration to pre-race breifing (10-mins before the start) and the start were on time. Registration was fast and efficient (great goodie bag with a green Rhodes Run Buff) and the whole town was involved to provide catering for the weekend. At the finish, runners filtered down the finish tunnel, announced by Darrell to the spectators. All finishers received an orange/grey First Ascent Blade Runner top branded with Rhodes Trail Run down one sleeve.

There are water tables on the route (about 8 of them?) and there is a competition post-race for the best waterpoint, as voted for by the runners. Some tables were even offering Schnapps and OBS as an antidote to the cold! At the first few tables I was very surprised to hear people calling me by name, offering liquids and snacks. As I didn't know any of them, I couldn't figure out how they knew my name... what I'd forgotted was that my name was clearly written in marker on the top of my race number! This was a lovely personal touch afforded to all runners. Marshals, thank you for your attention.

Mavis Bank
All I heard about pre-race was Mavis Bank, Mavis Bank, Mavis Bank. At AR Club last week Tony Huglin, who would be travelling down for the run too, mentioned that Mavis was a bit like Balloch Wall. In conversations with other runners at registration I again heard about Mavis Bank and the kloof leading up to the ascent. It was recommended that I wear gloves, for scrambling upwards. I was looking forward to it.

Friends, road runners are delusional. The kloof is in fact a lovely single track trail winding up a valley, above the river. As for Mavis Bank, it is nothing more than a steep, grassy slope. It is a molehill in comparison to Balloch Wall (Skyrun) and Mnweni Pass (Mnweni Marathon). Footing is good and secure, there are few rocks and the gradient is even; you can take steady, measured steps. My hands did not touch the ground once. And at the top? A friendly water table and a graded dirt road.

* pink arrows indicating runners below

I'm blasé because, as an orienteerer, adventure racer and trail runner, I've been exposed to far worse over the years. But, if I was purely a road runner, Mavis would be something to write home about.

Overall, the terrain is easy and your race pace is dependant on your road running speed. Compare that I ran 6h56 over the 52km. At Mnweni Marathon I ran 7h51 over 38km.

What a good idea!
I learned such a neat trick. You know that thin, "panty" elastic (about 5mm wide)? You can buy it from supermarkets. The Rhodes race numbers are the square kind, with punch-holes in each corner, made from that waterproof, tear-proof paper; same as those at mtb and many road running events. Take a length of the elastic and thread one end through the top left hole. Secure it using a safety pin. Like a belt, wrap the elastic around your waist and secure the other end through the top right hole. You can shift the number to your side, infront or even behind you (for mtb). You can pull the number up to your chest, put it around your waist, move it out of the way to strip off layers of clothing, or step out of it. For road running, you don't have to double pin it over your license number. Makes such good sense. I believe this is actually a triathlon trick? Try it.

Darrell and Evie, great race. Thank you for the opportunity to run your wonderful race.

P.S. AR Club runner Ian Adams placed 3rd overall ;)

* Graph is altitude vs time. Red dots are kilometer markings (except for the first one marking the water table at the top of Mavis and the one before 38km marking the return to the road). On the road sections there were kilometer markers (I didn't mark the first couple of kms).

Wednesday 11 July 2007

Are sprint events killing "pure" AR races?

An announcement was made today (I started writing this blog a week ago) that both Durban Urban (120km) and BBC (400km and 170km) events have been cancelled. Having observed the decent turnouts at sprint (2-4hr) races, I question whether these events - initiated to draw people into the sport of adventure racing - are instead killing it?

The months of this year have flown past in a flurry of events; AR, multi-sport and single discipline i.e. road running, orienteering, mtb, canoe. This mass of events demand your attention, time and money. They are fun and they make for active weekends but they also devour your disposable income, energy and enthusiasm. So, come July/August, you're ready for a weekend on the couch reading a good book.

Sprint races greet good turnouts: Spur Joburg welcomed around 300 competitiors in the 30km event; Ugene's Quantum Adventures always see over 110 team entries; Mudman is immensely popular in KZN (Jeep Msinsi Series 2007 is about to start) and Uge Events in Joburg greet 60-80 teams at each event.

Multiday events? Numbers are down, down, down - at Swazi Xtreme too, which saw 60 team entries in the PRO and SPORT events last year and just over half this number this year.

I think back to the "old days" of AR in South Africa (1999 & 2000); it started out with 3 events a year - Zirk's Hi-Tec Adventure Racing Series. Teams from all over the country would be at each event; there was such spirit and comraderie and it was always so exciting to see your AR friends from other Provinces at each event. Team numbers? My memory is foggy but I recall numbers of between 20-30 four-person teams. I would get so excited; I'd finish one race an immediately begin saving, training and planning for the next event some 3-months later.

This tells us is that sprint racers are not crossing over to distance events. Sprint events are leisure activities. Distance adventure races are more serious sporting events; serious in terms of training, time, financing and physical effort. Fred made an astute observation: "The frantic helter skelter pace [of sprints] also gives new people the wrong impression. They are left thinking that the same pace has to be maintained for long races as well".

Fred is right. Sprint events are not adventure races and they have little in common with true non-stop multiday events.

Looking ahead there's the SingleTrack Mania 200km in late-September and Eden Challenge 200km in late-October (Mondi Shanduka Newsprint Challenge 120km is scheduled for mid-October). Prognosis? Looking at the current trend, none of these can expect to see floods of entries. And this does not bode well for our sport.

I started writing this blog on Wednesday last week, before going away for the weekend. Subsequently there have been a number of postings to the AR email group on this theme - and all make pertinent observations.

Multiday AR barriers also include disposable income, leave from work and family committments in addition to the plethora of alternative events that don't take as much time and money.

Assembling a 4-person team is also an intensive exercise; but it is made much easier if a) you've been in the sport for a while and; b) you're involved in an adventure racing club (very few of you are). There is also the paired team category at most events. This is a dynamic format but is only recommended to those with some experience under their belts.

Navigation too stands out as a barrier; yet this is the element that makes this sport what it is andit can be practised at orienteering events. Multisport is just that; an event that incorporates multiple sporting disciplines whether on-road or off-road. Adventure racing, on the other hand, involves strategic navigation from one location to the next; over mountains, across lakes. Your time, your pace. Day and night. A sport of liberation, competence, and endurance with only your team-mates for physical and mental support. It's not a cushioned sport that suits everyone.

What's the solution? Participants - in general - do not filter into adventure racing from sprint events (sprints should actually be classified as multisport and not adventure racing events). Those wanting to "build-up" can use multisport events, colour-coded orienteering, Rogaine and single discipline endurance events to prepare for classic adventure races.

Our South African market cannot support more than two >200km events a year; and this includes reducing the number of middle distance events too. Ideally we want all potential teams (2's and 4's) to attend these two >200km events. Effort, publicity, resources and planning poured into these events will give our sport (and the teams) focus.

That said, it could be dull having the same two event organisers planning events year after year as each organiser (and there are a number of them) brings a different design to their races. I would like to propose that the calendar is substantially reduced in 2008 and that we only see 2 distance events on offer. 2009 is another year and of little concern for now.

Adventure racing, PURE adventure racing, will never be a high attendance sport; that's the nature of this monster. But, I would expect to see around 60 four-person teams at a 60-70hr non-stop adventure race; not the current trickle of 5-10. The problem is also not specifically that sprints draw the crowds from multiday events but that overall we have many, many events to chose from across the board and only so much time and money.

Wednesday 4 July 2007

Wartrail: a winter wonderland

Trevor Ball with a chunk of frozen snow
Leading up to Wartrail, which took place this past weekend in the Eastern Cape, I was quite apprehensive about "what to wear". Don't get me wrong, I'm no fashionista and this wasn't about whether my navy thermal would clash with my day-glo orange Buff. I'm talking cold and cold-weather clothing. Chilly conditions were expected and they were present; we set off in sub-zero conditions. I'm pleased to announce that my attire was suitable and got me through the 16hr trek from Lady Grey to Balloch warm and dry.

Wartrail is a district in the Eastern Cape, overseen by Senqu Tourism; "Wartrail nestles in the Witteberg range of the Southern Drakensberg. This uniquely beautiful area is fascinating in its history and culture. From Dinosaur fossils to the famous railway reverses, early settler cave-houses to the exceptional Bushman paintings that have drawn archaeologists from around the world". And it is this area, through which this 3-day race passes, that gives this event its name.

A mountain dog, owned by one of the local farmers manning the CP at Olympus
This Salomon Wartrail Tri Challenge is a 3-day, 3-discipline event consisting of 65km mountain running/trekking,155km mountain biking and 70km paddling (although this year the paddling was reduced to 30km because of the low water level of the Orange River). The race has usually taken place around March but was set for 30 June - 2 July this year to take advantage of the winter environment. The event was initiated many years back by Skyrun founder, John-Michael Tawse, who was in South Africa this year for the event to guide the tv crew around the course.

The event can be done as an individual; you do each discipline, each day - or as a team; one person does each stage. This is what I did. I teamed up with Lauren and Daleen to make up a ladies team; I was assigned to the mountain run and Lauren and Daleen would do the bike and paddle together on the successive days. It's a nice way to take part; they drove the vehicle to Balloch - end of the run - on Saturday and I drove the vehicle to the checkpoints and end-of-day venues on Sunday and Monday.

My trekking companion, Christo ViljoenThe mountain run route is the same as the Skyrun Day 1 route; from Lady Grey to Balloch across the mountain ridges. Lovely, lovely, lovely. But what made it so special this year was the snow. Yes, real, fluffy, white snow! Absolutely delightful.

The moral of this blog, is not as much about the race - which is truly fabulous and highly recommended (Adrian, good work on another well organised event) - as about apparel; just what should you wear and pack for a mountain race in sub-zero conditions with snow decorating the mountains.

We had a 4h30 start. I wore the following:
  • Salomon Trail Runner shoes; newish... had only taken them to Gauteng Orienteering Champs. If, like me, you've never settled into Salomon XA Pro 3Ds, then consider trying this model. I've been wearing Adidas TR Response shoes for years; the fit has always been good for my foot shape. The Salomon Trail Runner fit is similar; nice and snug.
  • Falke Adventure Socks; I'm addicted to them and they're no longer on the market *sob*
  • Lycra ankle gaiters; I make them myself - I loath trail debris (grass, seeds, stones, sticks etc) getting into my shoes. I do not go off-road without them. Worked well in the snow as it prevented snow getting in around my ankles and protected my ankles from getting cut by the icy edge of the crunchy snow sections (many runners has mysterious cuts; ice was the culprit).
  • First Ascent Powerstretch Tights: these tights are the absolute best for cold conditions, but it needs to be cold or you'll bake. The only other time I'd worn them without overheating was in Patagonia, Southern Chile - it's cold and the wind howls, even in summer. Here I wore them the whole day and didn't freeze or cook. Perfect.
  • First Ascent Quik-Wic long sleeve thermal; have had it for years; good, snug fit & nice and warm. Great base layer.
  • Capestorm Puffadder: light-weight fleece. Great mid-layer (won it at the Capestorm Rogaine last year)
  • Capestorm wind shell; I think it is an old version of their helium shell. It is very light, packs up tight and works to keep the wind out (I also won it a few years ago; has served me well).
  • Accessories: 2 x Buff (one around neck, other around wrist to be used when needed), 1 x ear warmer (that kind of headband with the broader section that covers your ears) and 1 x pair running gloves (my hands get really hot so I didn't want anything too thick)
I had the following packed into my Salomon 30l backpack (I decided to go with the bigger backpack, instead of my 15l Raid Revo, because I needed more space for "emergency" stuff):
  • Small first aid kit & space blanket
  • whistle, glo-toob, knife
  • First Acent AR-X sleeping bag
  • First Ascent Firestorm 100 fleece
  • GoLite Clarity Jacket and pants (wind and waterproof)
  • Shorts (incase it got warm during the day)
  • Food - lots of munchies
  • 2l water reservoir
I'd decided to pack my extra fleece and sleeping bag plus waterproof gear just incase the weather up in the mountains turned bad; a cold front was expected to arrive late Sat/early Sun.
Difficulty is always what to wear when you start; you quickly warm-up as an exercising body produces a lot of heat. My Buff came off early, on the ascent to the tower. My Puffadder came off a little later. I kept my thermal base layer + light shell on the whole day. Just before nightfall the wind picked up and it got way cold out there. I then put my Puffadder back on, replaced the light shell with my GoLite jacket, added both Buffs (one around my neck, the other protecting my face from the wind) and the ear warmer and gloves.
It is interesting to note that a number of competitiors started off in shorts... and I even saw race winner Martin Dreyer (he won all 3 stages) in short sleeves at the start, and certainly for the duration of the race...
I'm the one in the middle with a down jacket... Lauren (left) and Daleen (right) about to start the paddle. When I drove off the car said it was -5°CAll in all I was very happy with my clothing choices as I wasn't too warm and I didn't get cold; layering does work. For the rest of the weekend, while the girls were biking and paddling, I stayed bonded to my First Ascent Extreme Glacier down jacket. You haven't lived until you've worn a down jacket... I was converted by a photographer friend at an overseas race; conditions turned bad and he offered me his jacket; I bought one when I got home - it's a must-have for cold conditions.
I'm off to Rhodes on the 14th July for the Rhodes Ultra. Also mountains, also snow. I'll be doing more running here (I trekked through Wartrail) so I think the thermal and light shell should be adequate to start, if conditions are decent.

I'm no longer as daunted by cold conditions; low temperatures are manageable when you're suitably attired. Hope this gives you a little guidance should you consider a winter mountain event.

My foot in the thick, soft snow The start of the paddle on the low Orange River; I'm holding thumbs that the girls won't get cold on the water