Monday 22 February 2010

A diamond of a race

iamond Dash, a 50km adventure race held in the Cullinan area this weekend, organised by Team Gijima, was fabulous. I entered the race as Team AR Strategy with three novices - John, Nadia and Motlatsi. We had a super race together despite only meeting at the race.

(L-R) Motlatsi, Nadia, Lisa, John

Pre-race, I was inspired to organise a bunch of novice teams, guided by more experienced racers. The idea behind this was to provide a supportive and encouraging environment for people completely new to this sport. It is quite one thing to be interested in adventure racing; and another to actually enter an event. Also, guided by a more experience person they'll be taught good racing habits (quick and smooth transitions, basic navigation, neat and tidy gear at transition) and the chance that they'll complete the race in good spirits is higher than if left to their own devices.

We had nine novice three-person team entries, each led by an experience racer (Mark, Grant, Ian, Cobus, Tommy, Tony, Ruan, Sean and me).

My teammates - Motlatsi, John and Nadia - jumped into the spirit of racing from the start. Even when Nadia had a wipeout on her bike early in the first stage, slicing the side of her eye and bruising her face, she hung in. She completed the first mtb stage with us and when we came back to transition she was seen to by the medics who cleaned her up and applied steri-strips. Luckily the wound was a clean slice so it will heal well. She decided to wait for us to do the run and then joined us again on the last cycle. This was a good decision as it probably did the wound and steri-strips a world of good to rest for a bit.
John, Lisa and Motlatsi on hiking/running section

Christiaan and his team did an excellent job putting this event together and clearly a lot of thought went into the preparation of maps and use of the area. It was also refreshing to see so many people new to the sport participating in this short course event.

It took our team 07h10 to complete the course and we got all but one of the optional checkpoints (we left out OP2 on the run leg). It was a good day out under a magnificent summer sun. Team Gijima and Team AR Strategy, thank you ;)

A big spider near the caving checkpoint

Wednesday 17 February 2010

Special evening with Robyn Benincasa and Team Project Athena

Adventure Racing legend Robyn Benincasa is passing through Jo'burg on her way, with her Project Athena team, to the Namib Desert Challenge. Last night we had a lovely dinner - attended by Project Athena and a bunch of local racers.

Robyn has been racing for 15 years now and it is little wonder that tv producer Mark Burnett chose to profile her in his Eco Challenge shows. She's an accomplished athlete who is strong, determined, articulate and presentable. She has raced at the highest level for much of this time - one of the greats of this sport.

Two-and-a-half years ago Robyn founded the Project Athena Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to helping women who've endured major medical setbacks achieve their athletic dreams. As she says, "Doctors cure the body; Project Athena cures the spirit". Sometimes people just need someone next to them to help them along the trail of life.

Project Athena came about after Robyn's first hip resurfacing operation where she was helped by friends. She is currently five months out of her second hip op - yes, she truly is bionic, metal hips and all!

The six other Project Athena women running with Robyn have all made it through (or are living with) major medical issues: breast cancers, uterine cancer, spinal degeneration, osteoarthritis...

There's a valuable message that these women tell through their actions. They are ambassadors, not only for women who have undergone similar major medical setbacks, but also for everyone of us - guys and girls - in everyday life. Their actions remind us to celebrate wellness by doing the things we love, sharing it with those around us and to keep doing these things... in sickness and in health.

Lisa (front right) pictured with...
(Back) Melissa, Grant (Grant is local), Kerrie
(Middle) Florence, Jonea, Masha, Robyn
(Front) Louise & Lisa

In discussion with Robyn, I'm setting up a South African 'branch' of Project Athena, something I've been interested in for some time. More on this to follow as we sort out how it will work here.

Robyn, Melissa and Louise, it was a delight to see you again. Jonea, Florence, Masha and Kerrie, I'm so pleased to have met you.Good luck in Namibia.

Thursday 11 February 2010

Feature writing fun

I don't often write big juicy multi-page features for magazines. Last night - or this morning at 01h30 to be more precise - I completed and sent off a whopper; the most word count that I've ever been allocated! When you're used to writing on 600-750 word counts, a 2200 word allowance is a comparative novel.

The topic of 'women and trail running' is broad, with multiple themes within this topic so I tackled the whole piece theme by theme. It's a bit like tackling a long race stage by stage. When you've got lots to say, even a roomy allocation can be like the strict discipline of writing short pieces - it really is about making each word count.

Early on, in writing this long article, I thought I'd come in under word count, but as the article grew - coloured by  wonderful contributions from people who sent comments - I neared my limit. I wrapped up on 2201 words, including short theme headings, which are not always included in the final printed version.

What I most enjoyed about writing this article was making contact with trail runners - new and experienced - and reading thoughts on trail running from both people I know and strangers, the latter responding to a general request I sent out.

While I do start out with a concept in mind for articles, I find that the responses I receive to questions around the topic really determine how the article develops. Opinions and comments tell of passions and things that are important to them - a number of people may have these in common, which highlights them. They also speak of things I may not have considered or those I take for granted after years of involvement in trail running.

The difficulty is in wanting to include everything but only having space, even with a big word count, for some. Nonetheless, this article was fun to write and with each paragraph my excitement grew. I hope the magazine likes it!

This posting is also a thank you to the women (and a guy) who responded to my request for contributions on the topic of women and trail running; and also to the many people who have responded to my requests for comments over the years. Your thoughts really help to shape what I write.

Sunday 7 February 2010

Hey, where'd those toenails go?

My dear mom bought me a voucher for a paraffin wax pedicure last week. Pedis are divine and such a treat. Guys, they're great for your feet - try it (nail polish is not compulsory!).

So I'm chatting to an AR buddy on Skype on Friday morning, telling him that I've just been for this really lovely pampering treatment.

He asks: "How many toenails do you have? Whole ones that is?"

I reply and bounce it back to him.

"I've got 7 at the mo," he responds.

What an AR conversation!

Toenails can be lost for various reasons - usually trauma like slamming your toes into rocks, repeatedly ramming them against the front of your shoe on steep downhills (toenails often too long in this example) and blistering under the bed (also due to too long nails). And it does take quite a long time to regrow nails completely - certainly a couple of month for the smaller toes and up to eight months for big toes.

I go through phases where I don't lose toenails for ages. And then wham-bam I'll lose one or two.

I've put up a fun poll on that asks, "How many complete toenails do you currently have?". And if you're feeling adventurous, try to guess my reply to my AR friend about how many whole toenails I have. Hahaha.

Thursday 4 February 2010

Excuse me, Mr Brazilian Coffee Shop

Yeah, we've all encountered something similar to the example I'm about to present below. It makes me think of Michael Douglas in Falling Down, when he freaks out (ok, so he was having a b.a.d. day) because "he is outraged when the burger he receives looks nothing like the thick, juicy one shown on the menu board". I didn't freak out, but I did have scence from the movie flashing in my mind. I thought I'd have a bit of fun with their poster.

I took these photos in late-December at the Brazilian Cafe at the Heidelberg West petrol station (Total, I think) off the N3 next to the Suikerbosrand exit (R550).

Mr Brazilian,

My chicken-mayo toasted sandwich was decent but it didn't look like the one in your picture. While the filling was pretty close, what about the frilly greens served to sit-down only?
Your poster says to me, "Hey Lisa, with this order you get a delicious chicken-mayo toasted sandwich and it comes with a fresh side salad, if you sit down and eat here." I did. With my two friends. One also ordered chicken-mayo. Not a green leaf, juicy cucumber slice nor red tomato in sight.
I didn't have the inclination to question the inattentive staff about this; afterall, the picture is self explanatory. I thought it would be more fun to send you photos. I have taken the opportunity to rectify your promotional poster so that it accurately depicts the offering.
[Yes, I have copied my photos to Brazilian Coffee Shops' franchise admin]

Update: The franchise administrator responded within hours to offer a refund. Very prompt, very efficient and polite. Very nice. He will also follow up with the franchise to bring this to their attention. Well done Brazilian Coffee Shop!

Tuesday 2 February 2010

Restricted membership is good value

On Friday I picked up a handout at the lights. It was a promotional offer from my local Planet Fitness gym. You’re meant to scratch off the silver stuff to reveal whether you’ve won a 12-, 6- or 3-month Restricted Membership to the gym. I scratched and, as expected, I won the 12-month option. After reading the fine print and phoning a membership consultant, the full story behind the offer was revealed.

‘Winners’ deciding to take up the offer pay a once-off fee of R299 (plus R100 for an access card) and you get 12 months of access to the gym and its facilities. No monthly payments. R399 is the only sum that changes hands in this one-year period. It is an offer that is only available to people who have never been members of the gym.

The ‘restricted membership’ part? That has to do with the times you can train at the gym – off-peak periods. That is between 10h30 and 15h30 during the day and after 20h30 at night (this gym is 24hrs Monday to Thursday); and after 14h00 on weekends.

I met with Winnie, my new membership consultant, this morning to take a look around. Many of my buddies from the Bedfordview Virgin Active have moved over to this Planet Fitness and when I’ve bumped into them they have mentioned how nice it is. Spacious, newly built, running track, good location... And it is nice. Very nice - one of the MegaClubs.

Winnie asked me which offer I’d won. I replied, “12 months, but doesn’t everyone win this”. She started laughing. Apparently not every card is a winner and some people win the lower options. Ja, ja. I’m still to be convinced; I’ve won in the past too. I told her I thought it was just a good marketing mechanism to get people into the gym to sign up. She thinks I'm weird. And it does work. She said many people come in with the voucher but that they ‘upgrade’ to a full contract.

Winnie took me for a walk around and I found what I was looking for: spin bikes outside of the studio.

I cancelled my Virgin membership in July last year; I’d been a member at that same gym for 16 years (it was a Health & Racquet before Virgin came to town). Before this, from when I was 16, I’d been at an independent gym. Yes, gyms have played a major role in my training for almost 20 years; group classes (yoga, step aerobics, spinning) treadmill, other cardio equipment, circuit, weights, swimming... the whole works.

I cancelled my Virgin membership because I hadn’t been using it much, spending more time out on the road, running the hills of Kensington. Also, since moving a few kilometres further away from the gym, it was taking me over 20-minutes to drive there. I felt those 40 to 50 minutes could be better put to running instead of driving. And then there’s the expense... Not on a loyalty programme, gym membership costs upwards of R350 per month, which is fine if you’re using it four to six times a week but which I cannot justify if I make it to the gym only once a week.

My current training includes running, paddling and dance classes (twice a week). Biking is sorely lacking – as it always is. And for this reason alone my ears picked up when I saw the flyer: spin bikes are better than no bikes. I’m prepared to pay R400 for this year to have access to the gym at odd times purely to ride. The gym is about 4km from home and being freelance I’m able to make adjustments twice a week to run to the gym to train within the restricted hours. I do most of my proper thinking work (writing articles, proposals, creative design etc) at night anyway, so unless I have meetings this isn’t a problem.

All in all, this is a good deal and I hope to bump into some of my old gym buddies over the weekends. I'm really looking forward to play there tomorrow.