Friday 29 January 2010

Pre-city ecology

There's a fascinating talk by Eric Sanderson on TED about the pre-city ecology of Manhattan. Sanderson and his team have recreated the ecology of hills, rivers, wildlife - accurate down to the block - from 400 years ago, when Times Square was a wetland and Hudson sailed into New York harbour for the first time.

In recent years I have developed a similar interest in my city, Jo'burg. It would have looked looked like Suikerbosrand and Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve do now - grasses, shrubs, wildlife... Personally, I'd prefer it the way it was 150 years ago - super for trail running and orienteering. Hahaha.

This image below is of the cave, in Kensington (about 1km from my home), where the Foster gang hid out - and subsequently shot themselves. Fascinating story, which can be read on Famous South African Crimes and This photo (from  was taken in 1914 and it shows police guarding the entrance to the cave - the gang are inside. I live on one of those open fields! If I can get into the area I'll try to take a photo from the same perspective sometime this weekend on a run (if it stops raining!). And by 1914 this land had already been substantially manipulated.

Wednesday 27 January 2010

Karel, the cat

This morning I pulled my friend from a storm water drain and carried his body home, to bury him in our garden. I last saw Karel late on Sunday night - he was sitting on top of my couch, lying so that I could rest my head against his body and easily within reach so I could stretch behind my head to stroke him. He went out, there was a storm and maybe he was hit by a car - or caught in the storm water drain... When I woke up on Monday morning he was not here.

Karel was not 'my' cat, but I loved this animal dearly. I live in a lovely garden cottage; I've been here for about 18 months. He was one of four feline 'children' to his parents Louise and Stefan. They live in the house; I call them 'my house people'.

He has been a constant companion -  a shower buddy (Maine Coons enjoy water), a DVD buddy, a work buddy and a home buddy. As I've been working from home since mid-June last year, he has spent more and more time with me; sleeping on my couch, floor or lap during the day and seeking attention and affection in the evenings. Thrown out at night, he'd howl outside my window in the early hours of morning wanting to be let in. and then there were the presents he'd bring... Karel was fed at the house, playing here at my cottage when not visiting his folks.

There is something special about being chosen by a cat for companionship without the presence of food; it confirms that it is you they want to be with - just 'cos. Almost 20 years ago a neighbour's young cat adopted me; Karel reminded me of Biz (I ended up adopting Biz; we had a special connection too).

Karel's folks moved out two and a half weeks ago; they're moving to a new home outside of Jo'burg; a nice and safe residential estate - a super environment for the four cats. As they can only move in this weekend, I suggested that the cats stay with me so that they were not moved and then moved again (folks currently staying with a friend until they can move). The cats all know me well and they know the cottage; Karel lives here most of the time anyway... So, I've had all the 'kids' living with me full-time for two weeks.

And, more so than before, I've contemplated whether to ask if I can adopt Karel - because I couldn't stand not to have this kitty in my life. And as the weeks to his relocation counted down, it weighed more and more on my mind.

On Sunday I was discussing this with my mom and ultimately my decision was not to say anything. My reasons? Karel has his 'siblings' in the other cats; he'll be in an environment where he can catch birds to his heart's content (more variety too!) and the residential estate would be safer where cars are concerned. Here we have a busy road and he was often crossing the roads. And his folks love him dearly too.

Carrying his body up the road shattered my heart; there was the familiar feel of his shape and weight, wrapped up in the towel and held in my arms like so many times before. But he was gone.

Today, I am sad and I can't stop crying; my natural and only response to this overwhelming ache. He was as much my little friend and companion as I was his and his place on my couch and in my life is now a gaping void.

Karel, my dear kitty, thank you for your love, affection and companionship. I miss you dearly. Those candles you like, the ones in the coloured glass jars... they flicker for you tonight.

My personal assistant - hogging my lap and caught by my laptop's webcam.

Thursday 21 January 2010

Why you should(n't) do circuit training

We had our second weekly circuit training session this evening and our numbers were up to six with the addition of Daniel, Alex and Tommy. Sarah planned the circuit and really challenged us by incorporating interesting transitions, like carioca and hops, and using the stairs. Phew! Super session!

After repeats of 4, 6, 8, 10 and another set of 10 we were t.i.r.e.d and drenched in sweat. Luckily the rain stayed away long enough to play nicely.

Identities obscured to save their families from embarrassment

Identity obscured so that his lovely wife can still show her face in public


Monday 18 January 2010

Road race litter

Water sachets littering the ground at road races is a pet-hate. I was reminded of this at the New Year's Eve 10km in Pretoria and again last night when I was reading the most recent issue of The Modern Athlete, a free running newzine. A runner wrote in and her comments echoed mine exactly.

When I do road races, I grab sachets at the water points, sipping as I run. I tuck empty sachets into my shorts and then either throw them away in bins at the next station or I just hang on to them until the end, where I can put them into trash bins.

I'm always amazed to see sachets tossed into road-side drains and flung into bushes - many littering the ground two kilometres or more along the route from the water point. And at 'road runs held on trails' - like Voortrekker Monument 21km and Harrismith Mountain Run... I've told people off - politely - for throwing their sachets on to the ground (I usually pick it up, run after them and hand it back - with a smile). I have visions of little impala with plastic sachets stuck in their throats!

Having marshalled at road races I have picked up hundreds and hundreds of sachets after the race and, like the letter writer, I just don't see why people can't throw the packets into bins, discard within zones before and after water points or hold on to them until the finish.

Dropping sachets on the road is littering, even if people are meant to be cleaning up behind the race. They shouldn't have to clean up after runners! And they certainly won't get everything, especially the packets tossed way off the road (that morons throw them in out of reach spots in the first place boggles my mind!).

Please think about this next time you do a road race and please do not throw your sachets on to the road - hold on to them or throw in bins at the next waterpoint.

Lastly, please pass this message on to your running friends too.

Running line art

I drew some of my running routes on Google Earth - makes for a colourful line art picture. The shortest is six kays (blue, a number of big hills - it is a hard route) and the longest is 12 kays (peach, the flattest option). I run variations on these routes, taking slightly different roads or running the routes anti-clockwise instead of clockwise and also combining routes.

The terrain North and South of 'Home' is very hilly - I'm in the valley so it is a climb up either way. If I stay in the valley, running East-West I get flatter elevation. I often mix the southern hills with the flatter valley when running East to the DVD store to fetch or drop off movies.

This pic made it on to a posting because I think it is pretty - colourful, angular.. a bit like a mathematical puzzle or electrical circuit or plumbing system or maze. No other reason.

Thursday 14 January 2010

Circuit training hub fun

Last year I did a couple of track training sessions with a Bedfordview group, at a school in a neighbouring suburb. It was fun - and good for my running - but difficult to get there in time. Last week I attended a Level 1 athletics coaching course and was reminded of circuit training. I've initiated a local 'circuit training hub' and we had our first session this evening.

Circuit training consists of a number of exercises 'stations' through which you rotate at intervals. It has cardiovascular, strength and endurance benefits, which are achieved through the types of excerises as well as variation in the duration of the activities and rest intervals.

Our circuit tonight was a humdinger in a star pattern, marked by orange cones on a nearby school field, which is close enough for me, Alex, Sarah and Mike to run to in less than 10 minutes. Daniel lives a bit further away, but close enough for the location to be conveniently accessible. This is our core hub of people who live in the 'hood. Tonight it was only me, Sarah and Mike as Daniel got stuck in traffic and Alex is down in PE for Half-Ironman.

Our circuit looked like the following...

Circuit #1 - designed by Lisa

As this is our first session, we started with four reps of each exercise at the stations for the first circuit. We increased it by two with each successive circuit progressing from 4 to 6 to 8 and ending with 10 reps on the final circuit. That made four circuits in total.

The emphasis on our session was also not on doing everything as fast as possible. No. Each exercise must be executed properly - it doesn't matter how long it takes. There's no time limit on good form and correct execution.

We started in the centre with crossovers, a simple exercise where you stand and keeping your back straight, lift one leg up and bring the opposite elbow down and across to touch the knee. Returning to the centre after each exercise we repeated the crossovers.

We started together and split up to do different exercises first; I took the burpees, sprinting from the centre. Burpees are the mainstay of circuit and military training. They're nasty - but at the same time they're great for full body conditioning. We've decided that they will be included in every session - just 'cause.

To do a burpee:
  • stand with your arms at your sides
  • squat down, placing both hands in front of you on the ground
  • extend both legs backward (hop backward) to end in a press up position
  • return legs forward (hop forward), ending in a low-squat position with hands on the ground
  • finally, jump into the air to return to a standing position
  • repeat rythmically and continuously for the alloted time or count
As required, I sprinted back to the centre and did my crossovers before walking lunge to the next station, tuck jumps. Here you standing on the spot and then jump up with tucking both knees in towards your chest. There are two ways to do this: jump-land-jump-land or jump-jump-jump-jump. The latter needs considerable rhythm and control; both require effort.

Then, lunge back to the centre, crossovers and then skipping to the sit-up station. These sit-ups are about core control - not mad, rushed crunches. Knees bent and controlled core lifting of outstretched arms - wrist or forearm to knees. Then skippity-skip back to the centre for more crossovers.

Side walk is the wrong name; but it is that crab run thing where you 'bounce' side on, one leg leading. Anyway...

Compass jumps had us starting from a standing position, both feet together - in the centre of a compass. Kinda. You hop with both legs forward to the North position and then hop back to the centre, hop to the East and then back to the centre, hop backwards (South) and back to the centre and finally hop to the West and back to the centre. That's one rep. Compass jumps are repeated rhythmically and continuously without stopping for the necessary count. Funnily, our orientation on the field really had us jumping North, East, South, West. Side run back to the centre and more crossovers.

The last exercise is a jog to the plank station. Here you get down, elbows and forearms on the ground, toes under and supporting your weight. This is a yoga move where you support your weight on your toes and elbows, body held straight like a plank - bum in a straight line with your back and legs. It's common to see butts lifted in the air. Once your count is completed, you jump up and run around the whole circuit, returning to the centre.

Of interest, the first circuit (4 laps) took 3:30. The last circuit, with 10 reps per station, took 5:30. We were soaked and breathing hard after each circuit. Give it a try - it's super fun.

If you're in the area, you're welcome to join in. R10.00 per session. We meet on Thursdays at 17h45 at the Jeppe Girls fields, cnr Lancaster Rd and Roberts Avenue. Entrance on Lancaster. We start with a warm-up run, do the circuit and finish with a cool-down stretch. Bring your water bottle and a towel.

Wednesday 13 January 2010

Wild water and beeg waves

I'm learning to paddle a single kayak (K1) - I say learning because I can paddle it, but I'm not quite comfortable yet. Then again, when one has been paddling a big fat Accord double and a hefty seakayak, it is little wonder that I don't feel 'as' stable.

So last week I'm chatting to Nicholas Mulder asking how long it will take before I feel 'comfortable' in the K1. I seem to recall a time in the Accord double where I felt a bit twitchy and I'd wondered the same thing. In 2008, training for Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge, I had a defining moment during a session where I realised that I felt competely at home and comfortable on the water. I've been comfortable in the double ever since. In the single I was twitchy but have settled in a bit - not completely.

So, Nic replies that compared to the Accord you never feel as 'comfortable'. I asked whether those pro paddlers in those toothpick kayaks feel 'comfortable'. He didn't think so. Well, they look stable at least. I wanna feel 'comfortable' - afterall I'm in a Javelin, a beginner/intermediate (more beginner) kayak.

On Saturday I got on to the water at Germiston Lake in the early afternoon. My first lap went well, but about five minutes into the second lap the wind picked up - fast. You know that pre-storm Joburg effect where the wind suddenly starts howling before the rain starts pelting down? Yeah, same thing.

By the time I got to the far end of the dam I was dealing with waves... with white caps... and they were hitting me side on. A few cunning zig-zag manoeuvers saved the day and just past 'golf course corner' I turned almost competely into the wind - just the way I like it.

Wooohooo! What an adrenalin rush. The kayak sliced through the water, bumping through troughs and up crests. The wind was howling, whipping up the water and blasting into me. I loved every minute, nary a wobble, nary a wiggle and, dare I say, I felt 'comfortable'. I made it off the water just before - like a minute before - the rain hit. I was pumped!

Tonight Alex and I took the double out. I'd been looking forward to getting into the double - we're very stable in it, even on rough water; it is heavier so it is harder work to paddle; and because I'm so comfortable in the double I have the confidence to really put my back into paddling so I get a great workout.

We got on to the water a bit before 6pm. Again on the second lap the wind picked up, blowing across the length of the dam from the east (like on Saturday) and whipping up the waves towards 'golf course corner'. Side on waves are no problem in this boat and I was delighted to turn us into the wind at the top buoy. We blasted through waves that broke over the hull and on to my lap. What a rush!

The water was relatively calm at the clubhouse end. We started our third lap on water that appeared calm. Fortunately it was pumping at the far end and we pulled out the horses to power it down the straight. Now, four hours after getting off the water, I can still feel the session in my arms and back. Wow! Great paddle Alex.

Germiston is the kind of lake where the water can be really flat but when the wind is blowing, it can get wild.

I dig big water on Germiston - adds a lot of adrenalin to what could have been a routine session on flat water.

Monday 4 January 2010

Adventurers on AR

I've recently been posting on this blog about South African adventurers and their expeditions. I have completed a revamp of and included in the revamp is a section specifically for postings on adventurers and their progress as the walk, run, fly, paddle, row, climb and do other amazing things locally and abroad.

The direct link is

Please visit this section for a regular dose of adventure.

Friday 1 January 2010

How to avoid pneumonia

In a posting, writer Kurt Vonnegut, offers 8 rules for writing short stories. The one caught my eye because it is applicable to so many things in our lives. And in lieu of bundles of NYRs (New Year's Resolutions), this may be something to be mindful of.

Kurt says, "Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia."

All too often the things we do are aimed at pleasing many. I see this 'one person' as being yourself.

So, this year, look at your activities with a focus on pleasing yourself whether from just getting out and doing things, learning new skills (for your own growth) or accomplishing goals.

David Grier runs North through Madagascar

Celebrity chef, adventurer and ultradistance runner, David Grier, is on terra firma in Madagascar after a two week-long paddle from Mocambique to the Madagascar.

* In the photo, David is the one on the left (photo from

David is known for running the 4000km length of the Great Wall of China in 98 days (in 2006), with Braam Malherbe. Then in late-2008, he and Braam ran South Africa's coastline from West to East in support of the Smile Foundation. It took them 100 days!

And now David is on his 'Madagascar Challenge', which he seems to have started at the beginning of December 2009 (the dates on his blog postings are not true dates - many posts are uploaded at intervals). The first stage of his journey started with a 500km sea kayak paddle across the Mocambique Channel from Mocambique to Madagascar, which took him eleven days. He had a support boat for this stage; he paddles for 7-8 hours each day, sleeping on board the boat and starting each day from his last waypoint.

David then travelled with his support crew, heading South to the tip of the island. This trip alone took them eight days. And now he is on foot, running the length of the island from South to North. He started this second stage around 20 December 2009 and in his first week covered 225km.

From what I recall, David plans to kite surf from Madagascar back to South Africa/Mocambique...

To follow David's expedition, here are a number of resources...
David's Blog - - postings are not updated real-time.
Miles for Smiles - - with tracking
Twitter - - he Tweets a few times each day