Tuesday, 10 August 2010

The final Swazi Xtreme

This weekend's 10th and final Swazi Xtreme will take a couple of days to digest; and a while longer to get over the disappointments, frustrations and irritations.

I took part in the PRO event in a paired team with the accomplished ultra trail and mountain runner Bruce Arnett. Brad Neal, who was my support in 2003 and a teammate in 2004, took amazing care of us throughout the race. I haven't raced Swazi Xtreme since the 2006 Vlok & Fordyce race; in 2007 and 2008 I assisted on the logistics/organising side of the event (and I missed the event in 2009). I had been so looking forward to this year's race for many months.

Brad, Lisa and Bruce before the race start

Why am I disappoined, frustrated and irritated? Swazi Xtreme has generally always been around 250km in distance - anything from 220km to 280km. This year, short distance on the PRO course was in the region of 400km! The event was just too long. I didn't sign up for 'value': I signed up for 250km in 60-ish hours and a chance to chat to AR buddies around a fire. A 500km course, when it has been 250km for nine years, is not a pleasant surprise because it messes with planning and timings.

A 250km distance gives a good two-and-a-half days plus two nights of racing and the event, in recent years, has been structured to have teams finishing during the third day so that they can socialise, have dinner and then sleep a full night to drive home after breakfast and prize giving the following day. Indeed, even the event schedule says that teams would be in by 18h00.

"Teams are asked NOT to even consider driving home on Sunday night. We are concerned for your safety and we ask that you sleep on Sunday night, enjoying dinner, festivities at our comfortable finish venue; and only drive home on Monday after breakfast, when you and your support crew are properly rested."
And, I so wanted to sit around talking war stories with AR buddies since I've missed it recent years, getting back from the field - collecting CPs and dealing with logisitics - much later; its also a different feeling when you haven't been racing too.

After covering over 350km, as one of the few remaining official teams/pairs in the race, Bruce and I decided to skip the final 90km mtb leg to the finish at Simunye. We were in the final transition at the same time (around 16h00) as the placing teams, who finished around 09h00 the next morning. With no second to drive us home, we needed to sleep before hitting the road. At the second-last transition, when Anita handed over instructions telling of the hike and bike to come, my first comment was "But we'll only finish in the morning at prize giving; and we have to drive home still!". It was during the hike that we decided to withdraw at the transition. This is my second third DNF in 11 years across every event I've taken part in. Bitter taste.

Bruce got a puncture on the first bike leg; a pair of donkeys came to see what was happening

A few years ago I drove back from a race like a zombie. We were swopping drivers every 15 minutes because we couldn't stay awake; I swore back then never to do that again. The safety risk is just not worth it. And, seeing the teams coming in to the finish looking like hell and not even happy, Bruce and I were both relieved that we'd skipped on that leg.

But, as a result, we have a DNF result. And this is disappointing.

Aside from this, we generally enjoyed the event. Too much walking on dirt roads, which hammers the feet (even repetitive motion on a hard surface) and doesn't make for much in the way of strategic navigational decisions, which Bruce and I both enjoy. We're both ultra trail runners so trekking stages are the ones we look forward to. That said, I understand the logisitics of linking the race to transitions... but still. Mountain biking was ok; we really enjoyed the few sections were we were on trails and interesting terrain.

The CP was 'missing' so we took a photo. Here we found a pair, who'd been searching for 20-minutes, and Team Gijima. I don't hunt for CPs, so I took photos of them too at this sign board as proof of location. Turns out that the main road used to be slightly different and is now a smaller trail coming off the now main road, which can barely be seen at night. The main road, which we were on, terminates 300m above the old road. So, when we got to the T-junction, the CP was no where to be found (it was actually down the road).

Our favourite sections of the race were the two paddling legs. I've paddled on the irrigation canals before - the 2004 race. It is such fun and was even better in a K2. As for the river paddle; Bruce and I loved it. We had a smooth run through the rapids with great lines and tons of adrenalin. There was one rapid in particular that was my proudest achievement (I was driving) - a big thrill to negotiate it successfully. We also managed to miss most of the sandbanks, only hitting some towards the end where they were prolific. We waxed this leg an hour faster than most teams, to complete it in 2h30.

On the 20km road walk uphill from the river... the rain had just hit. This was actually a double rainbow.

This was the first time that Bruce and I were racing together. We got along well and raced well together. Bruce took control of the map, keeping me in the loop throughout. I consulted occasionally, throwing in my two cents occasionally. As a navigator, it is helluva difficult to keep my trap shut, but I think I did very well. It was only at one point on the third day - after messing around on stupid trails - that I said (strongly) something to the effect like, "I'm not playing around out here; we ARE going to go straight to the OPs and CPs." Bruce handled me well. As he took the map in hand, I commandeered the kayak; I like to drive and I'm damn good at it.

Hiking with Team Red Ants on Sunday morning; they were practically sleep walking after being awak the whole night. They left the bike-hike transition when we came in. We ate and slept for 2hrs. The spent these hours walking around searching for the road leading to the CP and up the mountain. We found them some three-odd hours after they'd left the transition...

It was great to be non-stop, multi-day adventure racing again and I do so love being in Swaziland. It was a treat to be warm, racing under the Swazi sun; coming home to this cold front was a major shock to my system!

Swaiz Xtreme has been a major part of my life for 10 years and in this time Darron and Anita have become dear and treasured friends; their children Kei and Paige are two of my favourite children and I love seeing them and spending time with them.

Maduba Farm left this out for us - water and buckets of orange slices; a lovely morning treat.

The conclusion of this tenth and final Swazi Xtreme is the end of an era in South African adventure racing; but I can totally understand Darron wanting a break from the year-after-year responsibility of presenting this event.

Children at the soccer field OP on the last hike. These children gave us some local fruits, which are not that nice. Taste is bland and they make your mouth dry.

Darron, Anita and all the special people who volunteer to marshal, put out checkpoints and who fulfill a wide variety of roles, thank you; for your time, encouragement and welcoming smiles.

Tim Deane (Team Red Ants) jumps into the pool above the waterfall

Brad - you are a gem, as always. Thank you for taking such good care of us. With you as our support, I knew that once the race started I didn't have to organise or worry about another thing ;)

Bruce, it was super to race with you and thank you for navigating us efficiently and successfully from one point to the next; very appreciated ;)


Jaco Strydom said...

Good blog. Thanks again for the lift.

Uncharted W said...

Disappointing - even after completing the entire course in what was the most grueling, painful 74 hours of my life, I was left with an empty disappointment crossing the finish line. A first place felt pretty much the same as a DNF. Maybe I need some more time to digest and work through it.

Brian G said...

Great blog and well said, it was way too long and drawn out. I was also looking forward to a lekker post-race party! Thanks for the cool pic of us hiking.

Unknown said...

I agree totally Lisa. This year was my 1st Swazi X & as such I did the SPORT race with Team Senseless Killer (3 novices). We signed up for a 150km race that was changd to a 180km race a couple weeks prior. The SPORT race ended upbeing about 280km's and although the 1st two days were gr8, the last 90km mtb (with "hike a bike")spoilt the entire experiance for our team.