Monday 22 October 2007

Himalayan 100-Mile Stage Race

On Wednesday I take to the skies to fly from Joburg to India for the Himalayan 100-Mile Stage Race. This is a 5-day running race held in the northernmost region of the West Bengal Province, not far from Darjeeling (or Darjiling). I am very, very fortunate to be hosted by India Tourism and the event organisation.

This whole Himalayan thing took off a few months ago when I received an invitation to the race from race director Mr C.S. Pandey via Runner's World magazine. Some emails later and I was in contact with Mr Shaw from India Tourism here in Joburg. He liased with their office in Delhi and a few weeks later arrangements had been made. I'll take part in the event and then spend two tourist days to visit interesting sites in Agra and Delhi. Yippeeee!

The Himalayan 5-day race is in its 17th year and according to friends who have done the race, C.S. Pandey's organisation is exceptional. The event incorporates the Everest Challenge Marathon (Day 3 of the 5-day event); some runners just come through for the marathon.

The race stages are as follows:

Fly from Joburg to Dubai to Delhi (Wednesday/Thursday). Spend Thursday night in Delhi.
Fly from Delhi to Bagdogra (Friday). Transfer to Mirik (West of Darjeeling). Sightseeing in Darjeeling (Saturday). We spend Friday and Saturday night in Mirik

Sunday, 28 October, Day 1 (38.4km)
Start from Manebhanyjang (2011m) to Sandakphu (3601m). Cobblestone surface - road built in 1948; border India/Nepal.

Monday, 29 October, Day 2 (32km)
Within Sandakphu National Park (I've also found it called Singalila National Park ). Most of the race takes place within the park on hiking trails. The best thing about this day is running with views of 4 of the 5 highest peaks (Lhotse, Everest, Makalu and Kanchenjunga - the 5th peak, which we don't see, is K2, which is in Pakistan). We get up early to see sunrise and it is likely to be quite chilly for the 06h30 start. Route is out-and-back from Sandakphu (3601m) to Molle (3552m); 16km each way.

Tuesday, 30 October, Day 3 (42.2km, Everest Challenge Marathon)
We retrace route from Sandakphu to Molle (16km) and then on to Phulet (3470m) and through to the finish in Rimbik (1935m). There is a steep downhill section from Phulet where the steep, rutted trail drops 1220m.

Wednesday, 31 October, Day 4 (20.8km)
This stage seems to be a road run (rough road but still tar). We also have a later start at 09h00 (short stage). The route drops from Rimbik to 1500m and then climbs up to Palmajua (2000m). We return by bus to Rimbik for the night.

Thursday, 1 November, Day 5 (27.2km)
We return to Palmajua by bus for the start of the final stage. It also seems to be on tar. We first climb uphill to 2600m and then start a gradual downhill to the finish at Manebhanjang (2011m).

I arrive back in Delhi on Friday, 2 November and have two sightseeing days to visit Agra and venues in Delhi. I'm home on Monday, 5 Nov.

That's it. 160km.

There are four other South Africans who will be taking part; one is Christo Snyman (Adventure Inc. formerly Team Jabberwok). My Chilean friend, Mane Jimenez, will be reporting for SleepMonsters.

Race Preparation

As usual, my preparation has not been excessive. What I have done differently is that I've spent more time on the road in the past three months. I generally don't run more than 12-15km a session and probably only run 30-45km/week.

In September I did a couple of short and fast races: an AR sprint, O relays, SA O Champs and the Golden Reef 100-miler as a relay team. At the 100-miler I ran the first 15km and felt better than I had for a long time.

And then the Hennops sprint came along in early Oct. I've taken a long time to recover from the water-borne infection and my tummy still isn't 100% right. I didn't run for a week following the infection. At the O sprint a week later I was dragging my feet a bit but feeling considerably better. I ran only once during last week when I started to feel a bit more stable.
I've just returned from an 8km road run and I'm feeling good, running a comfortable 5:30 to 6:00 pace. This is a bit slower than a month ago... still, it's a pace I can comfortably maintain on good terrain.

So... I'm going into this race not quite as strong as I'd like to be but am improving daily and I have no injuries or niggles, which is always good.

My thanks to Runner's World, India Tourism (Mr Shaw) and C.S. Pandey for inviting me to take part in this race and to visit a majestic part of the World.

Useful links

Wednesday 17 October 2007

Spend time, not money

A few weeks ago (barely the beginning of October) a lady phoned into 702 radio to say that she'd been to a shop in a mall and that she'd see Christmas decorations up. Last week another phoned in to say that he'd seen Christmas decorations up in stores. And on Saturday night I had dinner with some friends and lo-and-behold, the one had a tray of fruit mince pies, in their Christmas themed packaging. We are not even into November!

With every passing year I have increasingly felt that I no longer want Christmas nor birthday gifts. Sure, I love receiving presents as much as anyone else, but I have what I need in terms of tangible goods and I don't want any more. I love books too but I'm not making much of a dent on the pile next to my bed so I really don't need any for a while.

I also don't want my friends or family to walk the passages of the mall looking for something for me because gift-giving is the socially acceptable thing to do. They end up spending money that doesn't need to be spent.

The things I do want are way too pricey and specialist to expect even my closest relatives (new bike, fancy tent etc etc) to give me so these are items I'll work up to buying for myself.

I'll tell you what I want instead of gifts....

Friends and family, you can invite me to brunch, tea, lunch or dinner at your place - and I'll even bring a cake, salad or dessert. This has been a crazy year and I've done much less visiting than I would have liked to. Those hours you would have spent at the shops... I'd rather spend them with you. I also haven't organised a tea in many years... I'd like to invite you over when I plan one.

Tim, you aren't completely off the hook... Over the festive period, let's do two days away with our bikes and trail shoes. No roughing it... I want puffy duvets, 5 nozzle massage shower and scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast.

My parents... Dad, I'll keep my usual trade - I'll make tea or lunch in exchange for your handyman skills (handle on the bathroom cupboard etc). Mom... we can go 50/50 on a guillotine for my home office.

If any of you are deperate to spend money, you can do a transfer to They're a wildlife rehabilitation organisation, based in Fourways. They took Tammy, my tortoise, after Tortle, my old tortoise, crossed over. Tammy was rehabilitated and released in a protected area. They do wonderful work in rescuing "orphaned, abandoned, injured and displaced indigenous birds, mammals and reptiles".

Alternatively check out They promote environmental awareness to children and organise enviromental clean-up projects. Lots of litter picking-up, which is something I feel strongly about. They are looking at some great projects in many of the Joburg (and Pretoria) areas that we use i.e. Delta, Braamfontein Spruit, Moreletta Spruit etc and I hope to get more involved with them in the coming months.

Bottomline is that I do like gifts but if I haven't asked for a pink polka-dot dress and bubble bath I'd rather not receive this present. There are so many other things to do with your time and money.

To everyone reading this Blog... I'd like to encourage you to boycott the malls and rather spend time, not money, on people you care about this December.

Thursday 11 October 2007

Multiday adventure races are for everyone

If you've got the current GoMulti magazine issue you can read my most recent column in which I try to quell your fears about multiday race pace. And when Hano came through to AR Club on Tuesday night to talk about Bull of Africa he spoke about the many novice teams lined up at the start of XPD Austrialia and his first race, the Cederberg 500km held in 1999. My fingers started itching to type this blog.

Back in the "old days" of adventure racing's birth in South Africa, there were only 3 events a year. The Hi-Tec Adventure Racing Series offered only 180km, 250km and 500km races in 1999 and 2000. There were no sprints, no 65km events and no 100km events. There were no adventure racing clubs and had not yet been conceived. Yet we saw 16-25 four-person teams lined up at the start. Trim this figure by half (or more) and you'll get our current distance racing status.

I'll give you a few possible reasons for this.

Events rely too much on and few have their own websites with comprehensive event information published months in advance of the event.

Multiday adventure races need to be promoted to the wider sporting community through colourful handouts at road run races, trail runs, mountain biking events and paddling events. Expedition events capture the public's imagination. Using the birdshot principle where a large number of projecticles guarantees that - at close range - a pellet will hit a target, if you send out loads of flyers and promotions to an extensive number of people you're bound to get some takers. The general public (those who do not visit nor read GoMulti, Runner's World and other related magazine) just do not know that these events are happening.

The path of least resistance
I've realised that if you offer people an easier option it will be taken; whether less money, less hassle, less time, less distance or all of the above. Sprint races are cheap, accessible, undemanding and short.

The ladder effect
Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to start at the bottom and work your way to the top. In other words, you do not have to start with a sprint, progressing to a 16-hr event to a 2-day race and then to a multiday expedition race. Tighten your belt, take a swig from your hip flask and take the plunge. My first race was a 250km followed by a 500km a few months later. Hano's first race was a 500km. Many others had the same initiation. In adventure racing you can go from zero to hero.

(Nonetheless it is a pretty good idea to enter one or two of the 2-day races in the early months of 2008, like Swazi Xtreme, to bond with your team, practise efficient transitions, refine your navigation and get motivated by the whole racing buzz)

Pace panic
Sprint participants seem to think that (to paraphrase Fred) "the helter-skelter pace of sprints has to be maintained for long races as well". No, no, no. Not even Haile Gebrselassie could maintain his World Record marathon pace (2:57 min/km pace) over a greater distance (the fastest 100km road running pace is 3:44 min/km, that's 100km in 6h13). Take these boys off-road, add a backpack, nagivation, team-mates, multiple disciplines, another 400km, 4-days and little sleep and I bet (with confidence) that their pace would drop substantially.

Strapped for cash
It does cost a fair penny to participate in an expedition race. There's the race entry fee (probably around R2,500 per person), transport, pre- and post-race accommodation (not always included in entry fees), race food, additional equipment/clothing and miscellaneous bits and bobs. It would be fair to say that you need to budget around R6,000-R7,000 per person to compete in a local expedition race, which is definitely cheaper than an event abroad.

But let's put this into perspective. I took part in an out-of-town ultra run a few months ago. The entry fee was an inexpensive R150. Include transport, meals and accommodation and it cost me R1,270 to run for 15-hours. I ran another out-of-town ultra in just under 7-hours (entry fee around R250) and that trip cost me R1,160.

At an expedition race you'll get the most bang for your buck if you take the full 8 race days to complete the course (around R750 per day). hahaha

Team-mates (an addition to my original blog)
Finding suitable teammates is no easy task and going into a 500km with incompatible personalities sets you up for a bumpy ride. Then again, a 500km races can bring out traits in your best beloved friend that you never knew existed so you may as well just go for it - recruit eager, like-minded people willing to give a 2-5 days race a go and deal with issues as they arise. There is certainly no better way to learn about what you want from a team.

Our National AR email group is probably the best "find-a-friend" resource available. People subscribe to the email group because they are interested in AR and in 95% of their subscription notes they say "hoping to hook up with like-minded people to take part in events". So, what are you waiting for?

Send an email to the group stating where you live, what races you're interested in doing and whether you're looking for 1 or 3 team-mates. Get the people from your neighbourhood who respond together for a cup of coffee at your local haunt and take it from there. You can't sit back expecting other people to find friends for you. Take action! They're out there, you've just got to coax them from their hobbit-holes.

Lack of belief in your abilities
Do you not believe that you can complete a 500km race? 500km is not overwhelming when you break it into bite-sized chunks; 35km plus 80km plus 40km etc. I've done one (and a half). Others have too. And you can also experience the adventure. Think about it... on an expedition race you've probably got 7 or 8 days to get to the finish. That really is a lot of time and if you just keep moving steadily you'll get there.

What's the worst that can happen? You may not complete the full course. This is no great tragedy; not lining up at the start is.

Rookies give it horns
At the 750km XPD Australia last month many rookie (novice) teams lined up at the start, (something like 50%, or more, of the field). Only 2 teams that started the race withdrew. Some teams kept going although they were unranked. As Hano explained, "They have a different mindset and novices are not scared to start and tackle a 750km event. South African teams seem more conservative and hesitant. Start thinking differently... be there for the journey."

The Bull of Africa is back in August 2008. This is the only SA-based expedition distance race next year so consider committing your disposable income and training to this objective now.

Monday 8 October 2007

River pollution: I'm sick, are you?

Wooohooo! The sprint race at Hennops on Saturday morning was fabulous; great route, fabulous mountain biking and great fun running in the wonderful highveld rain. Tubing on the Hennops river was also great fun but the repercussions were not. My stomach has been liquid since Sunday lunch-time and at about 05h00 this morning I was able to hold water down for the first time in over 12-hours.

That said, I knew that the Hennops was pumping bacteria before I started the race. This article came out on IOL (online news website) on Wednesday. The article refers to the polluted river and borehole water. A local got the CSIR to test his borehole water in January. These were the results: "his borehole water had a faecal coliform count of 930 particles per 100ml, while the river had a count of 30 100 particles per 100ml. Faecal coliforms are the most commonly used bacterial indicator of faecal pollution and are found in water contaminated by human or animal faecal waste.Faecal coliform counts in water of anything above 10 particles per 100ml is likely to cause infection in humans if consumed. Livestock can tolerate up to 200 particles per 100ml."

I was very conscious of keeping my mouth closed while on the river, but some bad bugs did manage to make their way into my gastro-intestinal tract. I have not been so sick for many, many years. As Joburgers we were well aware of the risks; the same applies when paddling on the Klip River. I was thinking that it was just me because Lauren (my teammate on Saturday) was fine, as was Tim and his teammate Andrew. Jose called me this morning and said that he'd been affected as well as three others he'd spoken to when he was man-down on Sunday afternoon.

What is to be done? Joburg rivers are polluted; sewage, informal settlements... it all goes into the water. Knowing the state of the river I probably should have skipped the tubing section, running to the take-out? And perhaps the organisers should not have put us on the water?

Anyway, when all is said and done it was great fun on the river but you're not going to get me back on that water anytime soon.

Saturday 6 October 2007

Taking road shoes off-road

At the UGE Events sprint race at Hennops River (near Hartebeespoort) today I was very pleased to see many new faces. Another thing I noticed was the abundance of road running shoes.

If you’re going into your very first sprint event, road running shoes will get you through. But if you’d like to participate in sprints (and other off-road disciplines like trail running and orienteering) regularly, then you’d do well to invest in a pair of trail shoes.

Road shoes are more cushioned and they're built for road running; trail shoes are built for dirt. These are the basics…

  • The fabric is tougher and more resistant to abrasion
  • On the road your feet only go up and down, on trail they move in all directions. This why the trail shoe upper is stronger and firmer than that of a road shoe; it has to give your foot support so that you won’t turn over on your ankle and it holds you foot in place so that it isn’t sliding left and right
  • The front of the shoe (toe box) is stiffened and often “coated” with a rubber extension from the sole. This protects your toes from impact when you stumble over rocks and tree roots
  • The tread is more aggressive, to give better grip on uneven surfaces. The sole compounds have been developed to maximise traction on slippery surfaces.

The more important message of this blog is that trails and off-road, off-path activities will destroy your road running shoes (and your feet and ankles). You’ll have to buy another pair before you can say, “I love adventure racing”. Go shopping.

Always use shoes for the purpose for which they were designed. Use your road shoes on road and your trail shoes on trail for their longevity and your podiatric health.

Thursday 4 October 2007

Event calendars: AR and others

I had an interesting chat with an adventure racer this week. We were talking about the AR Event Calendar and that of related disciplines. He suggested that the AR calendar should evolve to include the other disciplines. I remained adamant that calendar would remain as it is - a comprehensive listing of adventure race and some multidiscipline events. This is why...

Adventure racing is a sport as well as a compilation of other disciplines, like orienteering, running, paddling, mountain biking etc. Each of these disciplines is represented by websites, like Spinman, SA Orienteering Federation (and excellent orienteering club websites) and paddling unions and running listings. has a Links subsection that connects you with these resources. evolved because an adventure racing resource did not exist. Spinman developed in the same way. I maintain the AR calendar. Terry maintains the mountain biking calendar (and ditto for other discipline website administrators). As any of them will tell you, it takes a lot of effort to maintain event calendars. There are very few days in the year where I am not updating event details, modifying dates, deleting or adding events. I would cringe at handling even one more discipline. It is just too much admin.

Yes, the AR calendar also lists trail running events (a website has been setup by Trevor Ball for trail running but it is not yet representative of the events available) and other odds and ends like the annual orienteering Rogaine and multisport events (predominantly KZN). I refer all mountain biking event listing enquiries (and I get a good number of them) to Spinman. That's his turf, not mine. That wheel don't need to be reinvented.

There are websites (two come to mind - there may be a few more) that have tried to consolidate event calendars. They skim content from discipline websites and are inevitably out of date with many listings. As I mentioned, maintaining calendars is a lot of work. I'd be interested to know how many of you rely on these event calendars to plan your activities?

I regularly participate in road running, trail running, ultradistance and orienteering events, in addition to participating in or helping with adventure racing events. I'm not that interested in mountain biking events and I don't take part in canoe races.

I diarise orienteering, ultra and AR events, keeping an eye on the road running calendar that lives next to my computer. I don't need anyone to consolidate anything for me because I know what I'm looking for.

Although does not list every off road event in South Africa, it does provide you with links to the resources that cover disiplines of interest. All you have to do is go to the Links section and ... click-click ...

That's a silver platter if ever I saw one.

Tuesday 2 October 2007

Haile Gebrselassie sets new marathon record

Ethiopian distance runner Haile Gebrselassie won the Berlin Marathon on Sunday (30 September 2007) in 2:04:26 to set a new World Record. He took 29-seconds off Paul Tergat's record on the same course in 2003. This is an incredible 2:57 min/km pace!

According to the athlete profile Haile is 1.65cm tall, weighs 56kg and was born on the 18 April 1973.

This means that he is the same height as me, is exactly 3-years and 2-months older than me and 6kg lighter than me.

Genetic and gender physical superiority aside, could I extrapolate these results to indicate that if I lose 6kg that I would have the potential to set a marathon World Record in 2010?