Thursday 30 August 2012

Wonderfully woolly merino products

The first time I encountered merino products within the sport context must have been in 2004 when I was at Outdoor Quest in Borneo, writing for My American photographer buddies had merino tops, as I recall, for their lightweight warmth, comfort and un-smelliness.

This winter I had the pleasure - real pleasure - of wearing a lovely women's long-sleeved Icebreaker top (the model of the garment is 'Icebreaker Body Fit 200 Womens Chakra Zip'. Great news is that locally Adventure Inc are the agents for Icebreaker products so you'll find them in stores around the country.

I had to wait a bit before I could wear the top because merino is warm - very toasty - so I needed temperatures to drop. But once the cold hit in early June I was wearing it daily, although not for running because it really wasn't cold enough in Jo'burg for more than a light long-sleeve top.

Without hesitation I packed it in for Ireland - I was planning to wear it for the 24hr Rogaine Ireland. Great decision because I wore it almost every day as we were travelling around.

I'm not great at wearing layers so the thinner, lighter and warmer I can get away with, the better. Ireland is cold - by our standards - even in their summer and I was glad to have the opportunity to wear it a lot in the week-and-a-half before the rogaine. I also wore it on a few runs so I was fairly happy with the garment. The women's top has a tailored cut and it fits me well. I also enjoy the higher collar to keep my neck warm and to sit between my backpack's shoulder strap and the side of my neck.

We started the race in the rain and although we were wearing waterproof jackets both Sean and I were soaked. I can't quite figure out how but probably from sweat because we were working pretty hard in the beginning and it was raining. I guess too that when you pull back your hood and it is drizzling/raining that water gets in around the neck and probably also from your hair?

From the first control we were up on the mountains in howling wind and driving rain. Hiding from the wind behind a large peat cut-out, Sean and I stopped to put on shells over our baselayers and under our jackets before we continued to the top of the mountain where we expected to be hit by the wind. Sean's hands were already non-functional and mine were not much better.Good decision to stop then because we were pounded up top. With this set up of wet Icebreaker plus wind shell plus waterproof jacket plus wet windproof mittens I was warm up top. My legs were the freezing-est they've ever been as we didn't have anywhere to hide to put our rain pants on until a few hours later.

It was only at 2am that we were down again and in a valley where we stopped to put on dry baselayers. Until then I'd been wearing my wet Icebreaker, which had little opportunity to dry, for 12 hours. And I'd been warm.

One of the bonuses of merino is that the garments are not meant to smell, even after much use. You know how it is when you put on an active top. Fresh from the wash it smells great but once it warms up it smells terrible. Well, merino isn't meant to do this. My top has only really had a month and a half of lots of use so I'll see next season how it fares. Smells just fine still.

My top has had many washes too and it is none the worse for wear. I just toss it in the washing machine - cold wash. Fortunately it's not at all like a woolly jumper that can't be machine washed.

Overall, I really like this top. The fabric is soft, it is lightweight and the fit is good. It worked for me in the wet in seriously cold and nasty conditions. And I wore it daily on my travels, in the dry, to keep me warm without the need for thick layers - usually just with a bodywarmer on top.

The only 'downside' - that really is an 'upside' - is that this is a warm garment that is perfect for activities in the cold. For general Jo'burg weather (I usually run in the late afternoon), I won't get to wear it much because it is too warm. But for cold-weather mountain races and for cold and rainy conditions, I won't go out without it.

Merino Buff

I loooovvveee my Buffs. I've got lots of them. Many more than when I wrote this post on my Buffs in April 2008. I'm very sentimental about my Buffs, which all have their own story.

Adventure Inc are also the local agents for Buff and this winter they brought in the Wool Buff, which is 100% merino (I call it Merino Buff; its real name is Wool Buff). I only got it after Ireland but wore it constantly through the cold fronts that hit. My home-office is freezing so I'd be sitting here in my Icebreaker with a bodywarmer, blankie and cat on my lap, tea on my desk and Merino Buff around my neck. Perfect temperature balance.

The fabric is soft around the neck (not scratchy at all; a bit more 'smooth' than the Icebreaker) and as the Merino Buff is longer than the normal Buff you get better neck coverage. It's better in the cold and more efficient when it is windy.

The only thing with this Buff is that it is warm - very warm. Then again, it is meant to be. It would have been so fabulous in Ireland - racing and touristing.

I took it with me to the Ngoje 45km, which I ran in early-August. Sadly my Merino Buff is AWOL. It's my first Buff ever that has gone walkies. It didn't come back in my bag, it wasn't found it Fred's car and I haven't received a reply yet from the place where we stayed (I sent them another note today to check their lost property box because I'd really like it back). But if I don't get it back I'll definitely buy another next winter. It's now on my 'winter essentials' list.

My friend Ray has had a Merino Buff for about three years. We were chatting about our Buffs and raving about them. He says that it is true that they don't smell even with lots of wear. He claims that he has never washed his and that it doesn't smell. Mmmm... It's a good thing he didn't have it with him because I would probably have given it a sniff to check!

I'm a bit of a merino convert after trying these merino items. On the garment side you also get short-sleeve tops and leggings. I'm very happy with the long-sleeve baselayer and two would be better than one for racing. I wouldn't necessarily jump at the leggings because if they're as warm as the top, which I would expect, my legs would cook. With waterproof pants over they'd roast. But that's with my normal temperature environment in mind. For a wet 'n icy mountain race the top and leggings would certainly be a well-matched pair.

I've also gotten into merino yarn blends for crochet. There was such variety in Ireland that I found it so difficult to choose. I settled on a ball of this bamboo-wool blend. Should have bought more...

Bamboo is another natural yarn I absolutely love - sooo silky. There's a cotton-bamboo blend that I like but the bamboo-merino is much lighter and warmer. Here at home I recently made a friend some handwarmers from a cotton-merino blend, which came out really well. And then I made my dad a scarf and another friend a beanie from a heavenly cotton-merino blend.

The common fabulousness is definitely the merino. I've joined the flock.

Book review: Why we run

The next running book I read in my recent spree was this one below. It was one of two books recommended to me by an old school friend. Thank you Jason.

Why we run: A story of obssession by Robin Harvie
This book is a bit of a mixed bag as there are a few themes that are explored and that run through the book. I'll list them as follows:

  • Flashbacks to a run in Denmark in 2002 when he went out for a run, got lost, had no food and water with him and it was baking hot... This is where he spent time as a child (some childhood/family flashbacks too)
  • 'Name dropping' 
  • Various histories of running
  • The author's preparations to run the Spartathalon
  • Very, very good comments / thoughts from the author that were worth highlighting
Mmmm... I'm a bit straightline when it comes to reading and writing. If there are going to be flashbacks I like them to be separate chapters and to have at least the year at the start of the chapter so I know what I'm dealing with. These got a bit too much for me because they'd just pop in regularly as I was getting into the current training issues. Very disruptive.

'Name dropping'
This isn't the best term for this but throughout the book there are a lot of references to various people and quotes. A lot of this ties in with references to the history of running . Overall it felt like a speech with quotes from famous people in every second sentence purely because of the volume of them. I was primarily interested in the author's training and experiences - the rest was like extras on a DVD; except they dominated the main movie.

Histories of running
Percentage wise there's probably more on the history of running and Olympics and other events and people than the author's personal story. And most of it is really, really interesting and you'll learn a lot from reading it. It must be about a month since I read the book and I can barely remember a thing. But that's also me where I read, enjoy and then forget (I'm the same with movies!).

Because there was so much of it - not separated into chapters - I felt like this flooded the author's story. In fact, this stuff could be worth a book on its won.

I'd heard of Spartathlon before reading this book but had never given it much thought other than thinking, "Cool race". It's a 152-mile (243-kilometre) run, non-stop, from Athens to Sparta and you've got to run it in 36 hours for an official finish. That's 6.8km/hr.

Yiannis Kouros still holds the record, which he set in 1990 of 20h29. That's averaging almost 12km/hr. Scott Jurek's fastest time was 22h20 in 2008.

I must just state upfront that having been in AR and ultra running for over a decade - and mingling with many people who run long stuff well - I'm a little jaded in that I don't think that running through the night and being awake and on your feet and such big distances are 'crazy' or 'impossible'. They just are. Distances are there to be covered. And they are doable. But yes, the better prepared you are the more you'll enjoy the challenge and the better you'll feel and do.

(A book or two after this one I read Scott Jurek's new book, Eat and Run (I'll get to a review of it too). He has won it three times.)

This is kinda the foundation behind this book. The author decides to run Spartathlon and so we follow his encounters and preparations throughout the book until the last chapter where he runs Spartathlon.

First, the one thing that stood out for me is just how much Harvie put in. Really quite incredible. Lots of hours, lots of mileage. Just before the race he ran a 3:12 marathon so he is a very decent runner.

I seem to have gotten the idea - probably from the history accounts and mention of mountains - that this was a rugged, off-road event. It isn't. It's a road run, which I picked up from Scott Jurek's book. It is hot out there though. Very hot (hottest part of the day during the race peaked at 42C).

Throughout the book when referring to the race he makes statements here and there like, "Deep within me I knew I had no earthly business thinking I could take on the 152 miles...". To me, you've stopped before you've even started. A 3:12 marathon! And, he had to do a 100-kilometre race in 10.5 hours to qualify. Come on - you're more than able!

So, at night, after halfway, the author is already questioning whether he can go on. That's just over 120km into the race and considering that he's run 100-kilometres before (in under 10.5 hours!) I found this very surprising. By 17hrs and 85 miles (136km) into the race he was in a bad, bad way and throwing up. He says he'd been drinking too much water ("out of inexperience"), even in the cooler temperatures - and I presume he probably wasn't balancing this with eating? Anyway, that was his race finished.

Author's comments/thoughts
I read this on my Kindle and thank goodness for the facility that allows you to highlight bits that you like and save them to look at again. I don't think I've ever wanted to highlight as many passages / thoughts as I did with this book. There were so many comments that I could relate to and that stood out as I was reading. I must have highlighted many more than a dozen of his comments and other quotes/thoughts from people that he references.

Harvie questions a lot throughout the book about why we run, what we get out of it, why we do ultra distance races and such so many of the comments are in this light.

Here's just one of the many that I related to. He's been taking about Scott Jurek in this section.
"The transformation [we undergo in becoming ultra distance runners] is in the act of running itself, which turns running from a mode of transport - in its most limited form, of getting across the finish line - to a mode of being."
And another:
"...what we seek in running is the enrichment that comes with every hard mile covered. We run to bring depth to our everyday lives, not the other way around."
And another:
"All runners feel a sense of pride when they return to the map plotting a recently covered route, their fingers travelling along roads, over fields and following paths that only those on foot can take. 'I did that. On my own.' No matter that the distance covered or the time on the road, the pleasure of empowerment that comes with the accomplishment of a challenge is always profound and rewarding."
And another:
"Although mountains are beautiful and Arctic landscapes dramatic, there really is no need for them. Just close the front door behind you and be off in any direction, since all you need is your two feet and the open road. The beauty of motion, the ecstasy of freedom from a hurried, over-sophisticated world, requiring little financial cost and limited innate skill: this is the privilege of the running experience."

Overall impression
A lot of information in this book and most of it is very interesting and informative. I read fast but I made slow work of this book, even though I did find the content interesting. I also found the 'format' of the book frustrating because I thought the content should have been better organised. But that's probably my writer side showing itself.

That the author only made 85 miles was a bit of a damp squib; then again, not everyone finishes every race and that is a lesson in itself. But after all that training and preparation he did and how well he can run I just can't figure out how he could have blown the race. Probably too fast from the start.

Despite my frustrations I would definitely recommend this book as an interesting and informative read.

Wednesday 29 August 2012

On domestication

So, at lunch on Sunday I'm chatting to a woman (mother of five and grandmother to seven). We're talking about a variety of things including knitting (her) and crochet (me) and the lovely lunch (part of it prepared by me).

She asks whether I'm married and then, on hearing my answer of "No", she exclaims, "But you're so domesticated I would think that you'd be married!".

I responded that my life's purpose was not to look after, cook for or clean up after anyone and nor to produce child after child. Well, that closed the conversation and quietened the table.

We've come so far... not.

And on this topic it is helluva obtuse to ask someone, "Why aren't you married?".

You may just get, "Why are you so stupid?" in response.

Saturday 25 August 2012

Running books: Natural Running by Danny Abshire

I've recently read a number of running-related books. You'll probably enjoy a few of them too. I'll put my reviews in separate blog posts - better for searching later.

Here's the first...

Natural running: the simple path to stronger, healthier running by Danny Abshire with Brian Meltzer
This book was the prescribed 'textbook' to read before the Newton running workshop that I attended in early June. Danny Abshire is the guy who started Newton, the company that adventure racer Ian Adamson works for as the Director of Research and Education. Zola Pieterse (formerly Zola Budd) and her husband are the South African agents (and she's a Newton athlete).

There were lots of interesting pieces in the book but a bit too much repetition for my liking. I guess it is also that I'm a supporter of a 'natural running' style anyway so this book was a bit like preaching to the converted - again and again and again.

From a coaching perspective, I enjoyed the sections on running form. I've thought about this a lot over the past few years and I enjoy watching runners when I'm out on the road, looking at how they run.

I see this too in walking and it drives me absolutely beserk. My fingers tingle and I so want to tap them between the shoulders chanting, "Are you proud? Be proud!". There's much bad form and posture around, even in a shopping centre as people move badly, in general.

As part of the coaching aspect I also liked the section on common running injuries and how they arise.

When people take up tennis or golf or paddling, they'll seek out a coach to teach them good form and technique. Running? People lace up and head out and with their necks craned forward their feet literally pound the pavements. Doof-doof-doof, slap-slap-slap.

My athletics coach at school, Mr Long, was a good one on running form. I was a 100m and 200m sprinter back then - barefoot, not even spikes, for training and racing. From head position to arms and shoulders and body (thank you Mr Long). Efficiency. Good form goes a long way to happier running.

I do have a pair of Newton trail shoes and I've enjoyed them to a certain extent. They are not minimalist shoes (like racing flats) and they are not 'barefoot'-type shoes like Vibrams. They're not trying to be these either. They feel like the regular cushioned shoe that you're used to but they're zero lift (the heel does not sit higher than the forefoot - sole is 'flat') and they have Newton's forefoot thing, which encourages a forefoot strike. So, you'll feel your calves working more. Newton recommends a conservative adaptation strategy to get used to them.

Now, I'm a forefoot striker anyway. I can change between Newtons, my regular running shoes, minimalist 'racing flats' and barefoot-style shoes without discomfort (I haven't worked the Vibrams much - just here and there; I fancy them for forest running, not highveld trails). I've been running in the racing flats the most and I'm really enjoying them. "About time," coach Norrie Williamson would say. He recommended that I run in racing flats about... mmm... eight years ago.

What I do find is that with the Newtons I'm probably trying to get my heel down more than in any other shoes to kinda 'counter' the forefoot plate thing. It just doesn't feel right. It would probably feel more right to someone who is not already a forefoot striker?

Back to the book... There are some 'story' sections in the book, like how Danny came to arrive at developing Newtons (from a ski-boot fitting background) but the rest is a bit more textbooky. As such it is a bit more of a reference text that I'm sure I'll refer to should I need to.

While I whizzed over much of the repetition, repetition, repetition, my take home message from the book was more about the importance of good running form and how to achieve it - and to assist others in achieving good form, which is an area of beginner-runner coaching I'd like to move into.

P.S. Brian Meltzer is an adventure racer and journalist. He guided Danny through writing the book.

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Sharing FEAT (and Urban Circus)

I've kinda had an inkling that word of FEAT is beginning to spread because I recently met a chap and he said, "Ah, you're the one behind FEAT". More than him linking me to FEAT I was charmed that he knew what it was. I didn't have to say, "Well, FEAT is this incredible evening of quick talks by South African adventurers across a range of adventure disciplines..."

And today I had a meeting with a chap who didn't know about FEAT until recently when he met someone in Cape Town who asked him if he knew about FEAT (he didn't then). And then a short period later another person mentioned it and then last week after two encounters where FEAT came up in a day he made contact with me. We've got great synergy for FEAT stuff along the way.

Being in my own bubble, I think about FEAT a lot. Not just in the months before the event but all the time. I've got so many 'plugins' that I want to add - but each in its own good time. So it is nice to hear this kind of feedback from within the industry and to know that people are talking about it.

Tickets opened just over three weeks ago and I think we're just over half of the tickets gone with five weeks to go. And there's one more week left of the early-bird rate (it ends Monday, 27 Aug - from Tues tickets go to R180 although group bookings stay at R150).

I really appreciate people letting their friends know about it and also the sharing that had been happening on Facebook. Thank you.

I looooovvveee Banff Mountain Film Festival and I go every year. A few years ago I hadn't heard yet when it was on and it was starting the next week. I booked my ticket and sent out a note to the AR group and to friends. My one friend replied to say that he'd already booked weeks ago. Ja dude, thanks for telling me. (I've asked for dates and details for this year's Banff - I'll let you know when I know).

And it is a bit like this with FEAT. Too many people say to me after the event, "I wish I'd known about it!". I can only do so much with media. The rest is very much a 'sharing is caring' thing. If you've got a friend who would enjoy FEAT, please tell them about it. Interestingly, the people who FEAT often makes the biggest impression on are the un-sporty partners who come along.

You can right-click and save the above image of the FEAT poster and email it to your friends. Don't wait for them to decide what-what before you book your tickets. You'll all be in the same room. Go ahead with your booking or you'll miss out - and I wouldn't want that.

To share something with you that I enjoy...

I've been going to circus school for a month now. We're mostly doing conditioning work on the various disciplines (chinese pole, trapeze, straps, silks, lyra and rope). After classes during my first two weeks I'd be really stiff the next morning. Now I'm not so stiff after classes but worked over - my body is adapting. Not easy, a good challenge and helluva fun.

Last night I did the craziest thing ever. I stood on a small trampoline with my back to the pole. Then, you look up to see the pole going upwards. Then, you jump and as you grab the pole you 'wedge' it into your shoulder and tuck your legs in (for the pole people, like a shoulder mount). So, your body is kinda horizontal to the ground and you're holding on to the pole and looking upwards. Hard to describe. Anyway, it is helluva scary jumping off that trampoline (we didn't give it a big bounce - that would be way too scary!) and I'm glad that Marco, our instructor, had his hand under my back to guide, reassure and catch me.

Anyway, my teachers and a bunch of other guests are presenting an 'Urban Circus' evening on Fri and Sat the 14 and 15 Sept. I'm going on the Saturday night (15th) to watch. There will be a whole bunch of aerial acts and it should make superb watching. Tickets are only R100 for adults and R80 for U16 (and old folks). It will be a great evening of something different and a wonderful display of strength, balance, agility and flexibility.

I hope to see you there.

Red lights mean 'share', not 'stop'

Here's a question for you - one from my mom.

What does the red traffic light mean?

Now, I'm sure you're going to say a well-drilled "Stop" but I'd like you to look at it a little differently.

It actually means, "It's time to give someone else a turn".

When two children want to play with the same toy, a good solution is to set a stop watch and to give each child 10 minutes with the toy. Fair and square.

In the same light, we share roads and we share intersections.

Red lights are not the bad guys out to get you and to prevent you from getting to your destination. Instead they give people travelling across the intersection the opportunity to do so.

Cars that fly through on late-orange and red or block a slow-moving intersection because they keep creeping forward on orange and red are like children who snatch toys from another child. They're all "me-me-me, gimme-gimme-gimme, mine-mine-mine".  Self-obsessed.

I really enjoy my mom's perspective of traffic lights (and stop streets and traffic circles).

This simple 'red light' traffic control rule is not there to impede your progress but to aid it. Just as the red for you allows you the opportunity to let someone else have a turn, so red for them allows them the opportunity to let you take your turn.

It's not as much about stopping as sharing. My turn, your turn.

Wishing you enlightened commuting this week...

Friday 17 August 2012

Trail Runner's Guide

The new Trail Runner's Guide that Jacques Marais compiled has been out for a few weeks. I was delighted to be included in writing up some Gauteng trails for the book. Two (Braamfontein and Suikerbosrand) are featured routes complete with full description and map and two (Klipriviersberg and Walter Sisulu) are in the quick listings (full description and map not included).

It's a useful reference that is neatly presented and it will come in really handy if you're looking for races or just a trail to run when visiting another Province.

This guide is published by Map Studio. It is listed on the MapStudio website as retailing for R250. You can certainly buy it from any number of book stores too.

What do you on week nights?

I like night. For running, writing, designing, creating, coming up with ideas... I'm certainly not the extreme type of night owl, as defined by Wiki, but I see my fair share of 1am and 2am bedtimes. I've been trying to be 'good' but even lookie now, it's just after midnight already.

My week nights are busy-busy. I usually run in the evenings - any time from 16h30. Then, I'm out two nights a week for circus school, which I'm adapting to. The first two weeks were tough but now I wake up feeling worked over, not stiff. Progress. I'm not teaching pole dance classes at the moment, but these will probably start again in the next month or two. I get back from circus around 21h30. I sometimes have orienteering meetings or AR Club meetings or our small 'Crochet Club' get-togethers. Earlier this year I did a photographic course, so I was out for a night a week there; and then there were yoga classes (studio closed for a couple of months - still closed)... Occasionally there are other activities - family dinner, theatre, a gig, a launch... any number of options to keep me more than occupied.

And when I come home? Late dins, maybe some telly (only got SABC so options really limited to Monday and Tuesday nights - but I've borrowed some CSI and 'Criminal Minds' box sets from a neighbour), certainly some emails to reply to or website updates to make. I also enjoy writing my magazine articles at night - it's quiet, emails don't come through thick and fast at night and I feel more creative and less distracted after 9pm.

Sometimes I get a bee in my bonnet 'cos I'm frustrated at not getting around to things I want to do so I could be found in the kitchen trying a new recipe, working up a new bread dough for a slow, overnight rise (new hobby), experimenting with raw cookie mixes to go into the dehydrator overnight...

And when I feel like chilling and watching telly or DVDs I'm probably crocheting something at the same time. I'm really, really trying to finish a blankie I started over xmas and then left sitting for a few months. Some bright-spark (me!) thought it would be fun to make a blankie with four different square sizes, three different patterns to make the squares and five yarn colours... It looks fabulous but it really wasn't such a great idea. I'm about 65% done.

And then occasionally I have enough of all of the above and I watch something without doing anything else and with my cat on my lap. Total pleasure.

What do you get up to on week nights?

Ah, and every night I read before I go to sleep. Sometimes I only get through a page 'cos I can't keep my eyes open but I still read regardless. (I've been ploughing through running books recently, which I'll tell you about in another post). I don't often read during the day because it always ends up as a snooze too!

For now, it's bed time. Night-night.

Thursday 16 August 2012

Running with good will

Running around my local 'hood I always greet passerby, whether they're runners or pedestrians. It gives me a happy community vibe. Occasionally I give people directions, chase roaming dogs back into their yards and pick up litter.

On Tuesday I had a very 'good will' run.

At my first intersection, not 200 metres from home, a cyclist got knocked off his bicycle. I didn't see it happen but I rushed over to help the guy up. He was shaken but unhurt. The driver did stop -  a bit of a blustery fellow. I asked a nearby lady what happened and it seems the driver was in the wrong - he clipped the cyclist as they were both going around the corner - the double-cab guy just hadn't seen him.

Another 300 metres down the road a guy's car had stalled at a stop street. I roped in a passing pedestrian to assist and we pushed the car around the corner and to the side of the road to unblock the traffic. We didn't manage to get the car push started but at least the dude was now in a place where drivers wouldn't just be sitting in their cars hooting - and not helping.

Less than a kilometre later there's a lovely stretch and generally throughout the suburb on well-used roads we've got bins for trash. But yet there's always litter around to some degree. Drives me insane. Most days I'll pick up something and toss it in the bin, especially if the bin is nearby. I did a dash of this.

And then, another 500-metres later two dogs came hurtling around the corner. Enthusiastic escapees.

There's a house nearby where the guy always closes the gate leaving his poor dogs outside. I've rung his buzzer a half-dozen times over the past couple of months to tell him to open his gate to let the dogs back in and to get them off the street. Coincidentally one of his small dogs was waiting outside the gate but he said the other two big dogs were not his.

The dogs wouldn't follow me down the road - back in the direction from which they'd approached me - so I ran through to the local security guard in the area. He thought he knew which house they belonged to so he said he'd go check their gate and let the owners know. This house was one I'd run past and there was no open gate and no panicked people.

I just don't get this thing of closing the gate and leaving dogs outside. These people don't seem to check when you drive in and close the gate that your dogs are all inside? Last week I found two big dogs in their long driveway, next to the road, and the gate open. An old lady answered the buzzer and was relieved that I'd let her know. 

The rest of my run was incident free. But it got me thinking about 'good will' running. On foot - and not tearing around in a car - it is easy to help people: push-start a stalled car, round up dogs, pick up litter, give directions and assist old folks to cross roads. When you can help (people, animals, community, environment) because you're there at the right time and on foot, it feels good.

FEAT is coming - Thurs, 4 October

I get excited with every FEAT event coming up - this will be my 4th edition of this event and it is on Thursday, 4 October. I don't know all the speakers in person so it will be fabulous to meet them on the night. Their topics are great and there's a good bit of diversity. As always, there will be a few special bits on the night, which I'm sure you'll enjoy.

So... if you haven't got your tickets yet, do so soonest. Early birds not only get first choice of seats, they also get cheaper tickets at R150 until 27 August. From 28 August price goes to R180. And this time I've got a group booking option for 10 or more tickets. Groups benefit from the R150 rate until tickets are all sold out.

Links that you need are:
FEAT website -
Full event info (speakers, times, venue, parking etc) -
Online ticket bookings (no tickets available on the night) -

I do hope that you'll be there ;)

I may not be a graphic designer but I can drive a mouse and I'm pretty chuffed with how the poster I created for this event turned out. I started on a design about two weeks ago and then yesterday morning I got all creative and used some elements from my initial concept to create this. There's something quite satisfying about spending hours on the computer to create something and then getting it printed and seeing it look all pretty-pretty. BTW - I drew all the characters by hand!

Tuesday 14 August 2012

Take a rescue-centre dog for a run

I saw this Runner's World post via Facebook (it does have its benefits). What a great initiative this is!

Dogs in a shelter need exercise + runners needing companions 
match made in running heaven

When I've run dogs for friends I've absolutely loved it. Sure, I'm more a cat person than a dog person but running with a dog is great company, especially once you get the dog to run nicely next to you. A doggy companion is great for safety too.

As much as I like this initiative I'm 'relieved' that it is in Cape Town. I'd definitely want to be involved with running a dog once a week but how to stop from getting attached to the dog and wanting to take it home? Or is this the idea?

If you like dogs, don't have one of your own and you like running, go for this. It's especially great it you like dogs but cannot have one of your own for any number of reasons. A fabulous way to score a running companion, spend time with a dog and keep to your running committments. You're more likely to skip a run and let yourself down than to let down a dog that is waiting for you.

We received the following email from Janette Jordaan, urging runners to take four-legged friends on runs with them:
Uitsig Animal Rescue Centre in Fisantekraal just outside of Durbanville. The rescue centre is a a pro-life organization that rescues all types of animals. We have a small group of dedicated walkers that exercise the dogs on Saturdays.
Unfortunately, with over 300 dogs, we don’t get close to giving them each a walk. I’m writing to tell you about the Huskies that are currently resident at Uitsig Animal Rescue. The Huskies are the dogs that are probably the worst suited to the environment of a rescue organization. I am contacting you to see if you may have any members that might be interested in combining some of their own training with that of exercising our Huskies. It certainly will be a good workout as our Huskies are always ready to go – or perhaps you can arrange group outings/community initiatives and this may be something suitable for you to consider. As a volunteer walker myself, I can affirm to the fact that time spent exercising the dogs at Uitsig is very good for both one’s soul and one’s soles.
It is extremely good exercise, the dogs are very good company and it is a good way to get rid of the frustrations of the week.
One of our newer volunteers via another running club is Sonja. She comes out regularly to run with the Huskies, has become passionate in her desire to help them and has also taken on the project of trying to market the Huskies in new ways in order to try and find them suitable homes as soon as possible. As a runner herself, Sonja feels the perfect owner of a Husky is someone that is active and enjoys running. The benefits for both runner and Husky are great: The runner gets a wonderful running companion (and security guard!) and the Husky gets all the exercise that it needs. Sonja would also like to encourage interested runners to join in with the exercising of the Huskies at Uitsig.
Contact her on and she will tell them about the volunteer running program and answer any questions that they may have.

Sunday 12 August 2012

If I found Aladdin's Lamp...

...or a bottle containing a genie, a wish I'd make is to experience running even just 10 kilometres as fast as the runners I watched during today's Olympic Marathon. The genie doesn't have to make it that I run like that all the time but I'd really like to know what it feels like and to be able to run 10km at a 3:00 pace.

Beautiful. Just so wonderful to watch these runners.

In fact, this also applies to the 5,000 metre and 10,000 metre track runners that I have so enjoyed watching on telly. Truly remarkable and inspiring.

Image of the Gold (centre), Silver (right) and Bronze (left) runners during today's Olympic Marathon. First time in yonks that Uganda has won Marathon gold.

I've got a fun running game that I've played with my club mates in years past - 'Crazy Kay'. I may just revive this in the spirit of these phenomenal runners with better genetic potential, ability and commitment to gut-busting training and racing than I could ever hope to have. And I have a new road stretch in mind for this. Will let you know when I do plan it again.

Tuesday 7 August 2012

Snow day

Snow is a thing of great excitement in Jo'burg. Today we had two decent snowfalls, covering the ground in white. It didn't last long though - snow all gone within 30 minutes each time. But great excitement nonetheless.

My daisies were not impressed.

Monday 6 August 2012

Ngoje 45km trail run, Eshowe

On Saturday I ran (well, ran and walked) the 45km Ngoje Trail Run, which is organised by Gavin Bazley and starts from a primary school in Eshowe.

Fred and I drove down together, meeting up with buddies Tony, Steven and Andrew at the race. Lo and behold I bumped into other old AR friends Kevern and Dave there too - always a treat. Kev and I raced together at Zirk's 250km in the Knysna area in mid-2000 and I first met Dave and Zirk's Cederberg 500 in late 1999! I've seen both guys in recent years so nice to see them again and to catch up.

On the way down Fred and I did a bit of touristy stuff. We stopped at the 'Spirit of Emakhosini' monument. It's a striking memorial with seven large metal horns (each from a different animal) surrounding a huge metal beer pot. Each of the horns represents one of the seven Zulu kings burried in the valley (Valley of the Kings) that is viewed from this look-out hill on which the memorial stands. Great view!

Fred knows this area really well - he held an adventure race in this area years ago. Very brown and dry now in winter but still quite stunning.

Standing next to one of the huge horns at the monument.
It's not so much that I'm short but rather that Fred is a tall dude!
We headed through to Eshowe to find the school where we would need to later go for race briefing and, early the next morning, for the start.

We stopped to visit Eshowe's Dlinza Forest - another location that Fred used in his race. Oh wow! There's an aerial boardwalk that winds beneath the forest canopy where we were dwarfed by tall trees. A viewing deck ascends 20 metres up to take you to the height of the canopy - absolutely striking (Fred had used this platform for an abseil in his race). The trees are magnificent! Then we walked one of the forest trails, reading tree labels (I'm really, really bad with trees - and birds!). We settles on the massive Wild Plum and Ironplum trees as our forest favourites.

While on the trail we heard some rustling and saw two blue duiker. They were totally unconcerned about us. We sat still and they kept coming closer, nibbling as they moved. This forests is very definitely worth a visit if you're in the area.

We went to a nice, short race briefing in the area where Gavin showed the types of route markers from orange tags and chalk arrows to spray-painted orange dots. All bases covered. There we hooked up with Tony, Steven and Andrew and chatted to other friends like Bruce Arnett, who would aim to better his previous race time.

I was planning to visit my friend Paula on Sunday and on the phone that evening discovered that her partner, Daryl, would be running the 22km course in the morning; I'd keep an eye out for him.

So, bright and early we were at the school for the start. Some time to mingle and lovely surprises to see Kev and Dave. I found Daryl and got a pre-start photo.

Me, Fred and Daryl. And that's Dave with #125 - I hadn't yet seen him. And that's his son Josh, next to him, who is 17 and is developing into a good multi-discipline athlete and very keen on AR.
Dave in downhill flight
Just before the start I spotted Dave and so we got chatting. You think I can talk... Dave is worse and the two of us together is fabulous craziness. We've run Mnweni together - twice. Great to catch up on Dave's news. Two weeks ago a car drove over him! He's unbelievably accident prone - how he's made it to the ripe old age of approaching 50 is anyone's bet. He was knocked off his bike and went under the car's rear wheel! It drove over his shoulder and knee and he says he could see the wheel nuts as it went over him! Luckily he's fine and x-rays were clear although his knee isn't quite right yet - but it still works good enough for running.

Running with us was Dave's friend Eugene. Dave split off from us at the 10km mark to do the 22km course; Eugene and I continued on the 45km course and ended up running the whole way together.

The course starts off on roads between sugar-cane fields - some dirt, most grassy. There are a few steep ups and downs and then the routes split.

The first steep down (and up the other side). Probably around 7km - run by both courses.
The 45km course takes a lovely trail along a river and it is very pretty. I was into having a nice, easy run so I trip-trapped along the trail enjoying the route. The trail crosses a few streams and is shaded for much of the distance.

Eugene running ahead on the pretty, shaded trail.
It must be from about 20km to 24km that the trail gets quite tricky. You've got to keep an eye open for the markers (the route is VERY well marked) and to watch your footing. It is deceivingly harder going than expected. There are some great sights, especially the rocks.

Eugene at a river crossing before we started climbing up on the tricky trail. There's a waterfall in the background, in the sunlight - can't see it in the pic.

Then another fun section - The Crack. Steep, steep down. I almost made it all the way down on my feet. The photographer positioned there had been about to tell me that I was the only one he'd seen make it down without sliding when I landed on my bottom as I turned around as I took out my camera to snap a photo of Eugene. Hahahaha.

At the top of The Crack. It drops down behind me.
Eugene at the bottom of The Crack. That's a photographer in the background.
The trail winds up and out of the valley on to open ground again and it leads on to a long road that just climbs and climbs and climbs. This is the BIG hill of the race.

Eugene and I were slogging uphill when I spotted a chap lounging on the roadside - from a distance it looked like my buddy Fred. He'd been instructed (by me!) not to run with me but to run and enjoy and give the course a good go. I haven't been feeling so great so I knew I would be in for an easier run. He'd been feeling fabulous and had been running so well and then the hill bit him - badly. He'd been chilling and eating snacks for about 10 mins when we got to him. He wasn't looking so great but made a good decision to rest for a while and then continue slowly and steadily. Eugene and I left him after a while finally topping out to enjoy a bit of running and a not-up gradient. This must have been around 25km.

At 30km-ish we made the water point which came at just the right time because I'd finished my water at the top of the hill, about 1.5km earlier. I'd been conservative with my water so I was really looking forward to a long drink and filling up again. Two friendly ladies were manning this station. We refilled and headed off again.

The last 15km of the route are way easier than the 15km before and we made good time, really enjoying the slight downhill runs on shaded, grassy tracks. At the river crossings we splashed water on our faces and wet our caps - totally refreshing. We ran alongside new forests, orange orchards and cane fields with a lot of variety underfoot. All good.

The last few kilometres climb up at a decent gradient (not too steep) towards the school. These dirt roads between cane fields are exposed to the heat of day, which would be unbearable in summer but was nicely warm for the race.

At the finish we came in during prize giving, having completed the run in about 6h45. Bruce beat Hylton by a minute and took 17 minutes off his previous time to set a new record of 4h09. I bet he didn't get as many nice photos as I did *grin* Erica (not sure of surname) won ladies. I think her time was around 5h20-ish. She passed Steven a few kilometres before the end and he said she was chirpy and fresh as she breezed past him. Fred came in a while after us. He took it easy and made the finish looking better than when we'd seen him.

This was my first time running Ngoje, a race that has been around for four years now. There are 10km, 22km and 45km courses. There were about 70 runners on the 45km, which was really nice because there are no bottlenecks and you don't see many runners out there once you've settled in. I think there were about 100 runners on the 22km and a bit more on the 10km.

I especially like that this is a small, friendly, rustic race with a good vibe. The course has variety and everything in balance. Bit of easy, bit of difficult. Bit of up, bit of down. Bit of single track, bit of jeep track, bit of dirt road. Importantly, the route is well marked and it is evident that Gavin and his team have put a lot of time into clearing the trails and putting out markers. They're looking at turning this race route into a hiking trail, which will help to keep it open - less vegetation trimming come race time - and a lovely route to enjoy at a leisurely pace with an overnight stop or two.

And, it is just as lovely devoured in a single day. A good weekend in Eshowe and a most enjoyable event.

Thursday 2 August 2012

O goodness - it's been a while

On Sunday morning I ran in my first orienteering event in a while. My club, Adventure Racing Club, were the event organisers and I was tasked with setting up registration and the finish area and then being a start official. When we (poor mom was roped into help with registration) arrived at Hennops at 07h00 my car read the temperature as -2C! By the time I got to run at 10h30 it was short-sleeve weather.

After the run when we were packing up Cobus says to me, "How did you find orienteering?". Looking puzzled he adds, "It's been a while". Indeed. I can't really remember which O event was my last one. Anyhoo...

I ran the Brown course  the longest and most technical course. The terrain out at Hennops is typical highveld with rocks and grass and rough areas with scattered trees. Some of the property has burned recently, which was really nice because I could run without tripping over rocks -  a problem when rocks are hidden by long, dry grasses. I was surprised to see that there were so few people on the Brown course, especially as this was our annual 'Long O' event. Only about six of us and me as the only girl. I was the last starter of the day.

This course had a good mix of the things I like: long and short legs mixed together, direction changes, controls not visible on approach (you've got to be on top of them to see them), a bonus control or two that were visible on approach and some runnable terrain.

Control #1 boo-boo
I set off from the start and messed up my first control! The control description said the control flag would be placed at the base of a cliff. I looked at my map, took a bearing and looked toward a big rock feature where the control was located. It looked too big for what was represented on the map. I thought that it couldn't possibly be correct. I deviated towards the cliffs marked on the map and thought that one of the nearby rocky features was more of an option for the control location. Keep in mind that I could see the big rocky feature the whole time but had, for some or other reason, totally dismissed it for being too big a feature. I got myself back to the rocky ground and then decided to give the big feature a try, walking straight on to the control. Doh! That was a silly seven-odd minutes. Should have taken me less than three. Anyhooo...

From #11 to #12
Zig zagging from #11 and into the valley was a 4x4 track that wasn't on the map. I took it for a bit (easier than running over grass and rocks) and then cut across the dry river and up the other side where the 4x4 track continued on to the spur.

As I'd followed the road for a bit I thought that I'd popped out on to the spur too much to the North but in fact I was actually just below the control. I followed the track and turned North off it before realising that there were powerlines ahead (not on the map) and that I was maybe too far down the spur. I turned around and saw the control.

That was really it for navigation bloopses. I was pretty chuffed having been out of it for a few months and even longer if I look back on when my last colour-coded run was... I took the course easy, running where I could, but paying attention to the map and the features - getting my eye back in to it.

ANOTHER ONE? From #3 to #5?
I wrote the first part of this blog and then drew my track in on the map and guess what I found? I seem to think that I went straight from #3 to #5, missing #4. I have absolutely no recollection of Control #4. I'm sure I just didn't see it on the map (the way I had my map folded?) and instead went directly to #5!

There should be an alert on the results when my EMIT card is checked in - I've just sent a note to the organisers to check because I really don't remember Control #4, and I'm usually good at post-O route recall. (I left my map on the table at the event so Garry emailed me the jpeg today so I could draw in my track - and I remember everything else except #4!). Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear! This is a first. I've done loads of stupid things over the years but I've never completely skipped a control. (Tania, on reading this, will have a flash back to Control 9 or 10 at Harrismith a few years back!)

UPDATE: Stijn submitted a comment below to say that the map I received from Garry was the pre-final version and that #4 was removed from the final course. Phew! So, indeed, I run correctly.

I'm missing out on the rogaine this weekend (probably a good thing considering the above!) as I'm running the Njoge 45km trail run in the Eshowe area.

Next O is at Mohale's North (GREAT AREA!) on Sun, 19 August.

UPDATE: O event is at Pelindaba now, not Mohale's. Still a great area. Wear leg protection. Grasses and dry bushes are scratchy around this time of year. Event Sheet is >>> here.