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).

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