Wednesday 31 October 2012

A treat of a Halloween Run

A small but suitably silly bunch of people joined me for an early evening Halloween Run through the Johannesburg Botanical Gardens. Our outfits were well received by other park users who called out, "Trick or treat" as we passed.

We wrapped up the run by running through the 'garden' part of the Gardens to enjoy the abundance of roses in full bloom. It is well worth a visit before they're all gone. Absolutely magnificent. There are single-colour beds and some with an assortment of colours. Very pretty and fragrant.

And that's October bye-bye.

Running Retreat

Date: 18-20 January 2013 To be rescheduled for mid-April 2013
Venue: Lakenvlei Forest Lodge, Belfast, Mpumulanga
Rate: R1,600.00 per person
Arrival: from 14h00 on Friday, 18 January 2013
Departure: 12h30 on Sunday, 20 January 2013

This is an active and social weekend away for people who love forests, trails and running. Although this weekend is about getting in lots of running (and walking), there is also plenty time in between runs for other activities and relaxation. Although I've used the word 'retreat' to describe this running getaway, we won't be burning candles and standing in a circle holding hands while we chant 'om'.

The group runs are social and they’re run at a conversational pace. Sure, conversational is relative, but you can be assured that these runs are not about flying through the forests at 4:00 pace. This area is for enjoying, not racing. If you’re an average 6:00 - 7:00 runner, you’ll be A-ok. We’re running on forestry roads and trails and the environment is way more relaxed and the pace is slower than any road run. Plus we'll stop to let people catch up or to take photos of great scenery. No rush. For whippets, the routes are tagged so if you'd like to run faster you're welcome to do so.

The rate of R1,600.00 per person includes:
  • Accommodation on Friday and Saturday night
  • All meals: Friday dinner, three meals and snacks on Saturday and breakfast and tea-time snacks on Sunday
  • Guided runs and marked routes
  • Additional, informative sessions to improve your running
The number of participants is limited to 14.

Whether your motivation to come on this Running Retreat is to kick start your running again, boost your motivation for the year ahead or to log mileage, you’ll benefit mentally and physically from this weekend of exercise, fresh air, forest terrain, good food and friendly company.

Friday Saturday Sunday
07h30 Run - 13km# Run - 12km#
09h00 Breakfast and showers Breakfast and showers
10h00 Yoga for runners
12h30 Lunch Check-out
14h00 Arrivals
15h15 Running form and technique (with drills)
17h00 Run - 8km
17h30 Run - 7km^
19h00 Dinner Dinner
20h00 Gear to try Talking shoes & foot care
Games / read / chill Games / read / chill

^ No stress if you don't make it through to Lakenvlei by 17h30. No need to rush in the traffic.
# Fruit and snacks will be available before morning runs
* Check-out time on Sunday is 12h30.

Additional sessions
  • Gear to try - I've got gear that you can try over the weekend like hydration packs.
  • Yoga for runners - My running friends always have tight calves and tight hammies and most find stretching to be the last thing they want to do. I'll teach you a short, flowing yoga sequence - from Ashtanga yoga - that is much exercise as it is stretching. Easy to do and easy to remember, flowing from one move to the next is - I find - far easier than having to think what stretch to do next. I'm not a yoga teacher but I'll show you the moves that I've learned that work for me.
  • Running form and technique (with drills) - we go to tennis coaches, golf coaches and paddle coaches but we just lace up our shoes and go running. We'll chat a bit about good running form, uphill and downhill technique and I'll show you a couple of drills that aim to make us more efficient runners.
  • Talking shoes and foot care - the buzz out there is 'barefoot'-style shoes and minimalist shoes for road and trail. We'll chat about  'barefoot', minimalist and cushioned shoes, injuries, buying shoes and preferences. I'm also often asked about foot care, especially where blisters are concerned. I'll cover prevention, what to look out for and how to cope with blisters that have formed.
Nothing is compulsory at this Running Retreat. If you want to sleep late, you can; if you're tired from the morning run and want to skip and evening run to sit and watch birds, you can. You can choose which sessions to attend and you can bring along your mountain bike to go riding.

Other activities
The Lodge offers fly- and lure-fishing as well as horse rides (R150.00 for a one-hour, guided, outback trail).
The area is also superb for bird watching and mountain biking.

The idea of this retreat is to run and enjoy running - not to clock two months of mileage in a weekend. The routes planned are scenic and they take in the lakes, wetlands and forests of the area. The terrain is a mix of forest dirt road, forest jeep track and grassy forest tracks. Run distances for the weekend total 40 kilometres with the shortest route at 7km and longest at 13km.

Lakenvlei's luxury, self-catering log cabins are comfortable and spacious. All have an open-hearth fireplace in the living area and comfortable couches. They're fully equipped with kitchen essentials (fridge, microwave, stove, kettle, tea & coffee etc), a big dining table and towels are most definitely provided.

The 8-sleeper cabins have one double-bed room with bathroom en suite plus another double-bed / twin room, a second bathroom (shower and bath) and a loft with four single beds. The 4-sleeper cabins have one double-bed room plus a loft with two single beds and a bathroom (shower and bath).

The combination of cabins booked will depend on the final number of participants and who will be sharing or not.

Transport to Lakenvlei is self-drive. Lisa will gladly assist in hooking up people to share transport.

DIRECTIONS: Lakenvlei is about 230km from Johannesburg and 200km from Pretoria. Take the N4 East, past Witbank (eMalahleni) and Middelburg. Turn left at the Belfast turnoff. In the town of Belfast, turn right onto the Dullstroom road (R540; there's a Total Garage on your top right). It takes two to 2.5 hours to reach Belfast from Jo'burg. There is one toll gate near Middelburg and the rate for a car (as of October 2012) is R43.

The entrance to Lakenvlei Forest Lodge is exactly 10km from Belfast, on the left-hand side of the road (sign-posted). The winding road from the turn-off to the Lodge is paved and it is very scenic and restful. It takes 10-15 minutes to travel the 6.5-kilometre distance to the actual Lodge. Please keep to the 40km/hr speed limit as there are critters around.

All meals are provided and they're healthy and home-cooked. There will be lots of fruit, veggies and delicious dishes with snacks and fruit available at all times. We'll also gladly accommodate specific preferences like vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free. Be sure to notify us of any allergies - nuts, shellfish etc.

  • Running stuff: trail shoes*, socks, shorts, tops, cap, shades, sunblock, light splash-resistant shell (it could rain but you won't freeze if you're running and you get wet)
  • Hydration: hip-belt with bottles or small backpack with reservoir – sufficient for one-litre of water
  • Other stuff: casual after-run clothing, headlamp, snacks of your choice (fruit, muffins and rusks will always be available but you may want your own munchies and treats)
  • Remember to pack warm clothing too as it gets chilly at night, even in summer
  • Books and magazines and chill-out stuff
  • There is a bar in the Main Lodge for sundowners
  • There is cellphone signal but it can be quite low. Internet signal is sketchy and is more often just 2G. 
* Road-running shoes, minimalist and barefoot shoes are suitable too as the paths in this area are very feet friendly. It is quite likely that you'll get wet feet on the runs.

  • The rate is R1,600.00. 
  • A deposit of R800.00 confirms your booking. 
  • The balance is due on Friday, 11 January 2013, one-week before the Running Retreat. 
  • Cancellations can only be accepted up until seven-days prior to the weekend. A 25% cancellation fee will apply. Later cancellations will incur a 50% cancellation fee.
  • Bank details will be provided on confirmation of available space.
Please complete this REGISTRATION FORM and return it to Lisa at
Other activities on offer at Lakenvlei include walking, fly fishing, horse riding and bird watching. The mountain biking trails are fabulous too - you're welcome to bring your bikes.

About Lisa de Speville

This Running Retreat is a fun initiative by adventure racer and trail runner Lisa de Speville. Lisa has been running distances over 10 kilometres for 20 years. She runs road races, trail runs, mountain ultras, multi-day staged ultras, circuit races, social runabouts... Lisa has run ultras in India, Brazil, Costa Rica, Estonia, Ireland, Namibia and the US of A (Hawaii, Pennsylvania, Virginia) and all over South Africa.

Lisa regularly writes for magazines - she has a regular column in Go Multi magazine - about adventure racing and trail running and she's a contributor to the 'Trail Runner's Guide' by Jacques Marais. She's also an avid blogger -

Lisa is the owner and editor of South Africa's adventure racing website -, she organises the Metrogaine Jo'burg events and one of her most recent initiatives is FEAT (Fascinating Expedition & Adventure Talks), which she created. Lisa lives in Jo'burg.

This year's Banff Mountain Film Festival

Last night I went to watch the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour movie selection. A big thank you to Cape Union Mart for bringing these Banff movies out every year.

I'm in mixed minds about the movies. As usual, I didn't give the line up a glance as I book tickets regardless because I know that I'm going to love the content.

I think what stood out for me was the separation of the movies that were mostly POV (point of view) with indy music and those with a story. For sure, I loved the story ones better.

My favourites were 'Obe and Ashima' about the climbing coach and his 9-year-old student, 'C.A.R.C.A.' - a tongue-in-cheek about avalanche-rescue cats and 'Sketchy Andy' - a wonderful profile on a quirky fellow. I like these story movies because the action footage is excellent, the stories are entertaining, informative and captivating. I feel as if I'm getting to know the people and sharing their joys and emotions.

'Towers of the Ennedi', a climbing film was also good - I do love deserts and this was spectacular scenery. And nice with Alex Hunnold who I 'know' from the 'Half Dome' movie from Banff 2010 and he was in 'Swiss Machine' with Ueli Steck at Banff last year (plus I've read all kinds of stuff about him).

The paddling composition 'Frontier' was alright, but missing that something to pull it all together. I think 'Frontier' felt so cut-and-paste is because it was. A bit of footage from Mexico and a dash of footage from Iceland (Steve Fisher's 'Halo Effect' content where Shane Raw broke his arm)... Too much in the beginning of kayakers just going over waterfalls. I'd have liked a bit of freeze-frame of the waterfalls and some lines drawn over the falls to show optimal lines etc. and then you see the person going over. I did enjoy the sequence of the not-so-good lines because we usually just see the attempts that come out right.

The show opened with 'All.I.Can', a ski movie. Amazing camera work and angles and creativity but too many seriously close-ups for my liking. It started off with scenes of skiers going downhill and all over the place and then a superb sequence of a skier working this way through this town - all downhill. Over roads, across railings - that was superb. But I couldn't 'see' what was happening and I wanted to see where the skier was going and how he was moving, not just close-ups of his skis going past and snow flying.

'White Water Grand Prix' was a bit of a damp squib. It said '25 of the World's Best Kayakers', 'six events' or something like this. Some great shots of big water but I wanted to know what the events were (play boating, slalom, other?), where this took place, what the kayakers had to do to compete... I think they gave a men's and women's results list at the end but it didn't rock my boat. I didn't bond with any of the kayakers and it was just music and random kayaking shots from the events of random kayakers.

'From the inside out' was a downhill biking movie. Again, superb shots but perhaps because it is an edit of the full movie I didn't bond with the riders. More POV and dudes playing on their bikes. I was quite interested in the track that they built. I've seen a few of these types of movies and again I was asking how they build the tracks, work out the angles for the ramps and landings and such. But, it was more music and shot after shot.

'Concrete Dreams' was interesting with a guy skateboarding six bobsled tracks in Europe. More POV stuff. Instead of track after track and hand-cam footage I wanted to know about the tracks and not just the maximum speed the skateboarder got. How long is the track, what is the elevation change from top to bottom, how does his speed compare with that of a bobsled on the track and even a 'map' showing what the track looks like - the bends and straights.

The thing that did stand out for me was the camera work and footage. There's some awesome stuff happening with shooting and editing. Tons of creativity and amazing physical feats by the participants - across disciplines. If tickets were open now I'd be booking my tickets already for next year.

Did you draw? My tree.

So, there was that whole 'The Big Draw' campaign where people were encouraged to draw something - anything - in the month of October. While away scouting for my ultra two weeks ago I gave it a bash and attempted a tree. I don't know if it is such a smart object to try first off - they're not easy. There was lots of stuff happening in the background so I avoided this and aimed to get just the tree and its rough bark and pine needles in a sketchy-type style. I didn't have a pencil - just a pen and a lined notebook.

Not going to win me any awards but definitely a lesson in sitting still for longer than 10 minutes and focusing on what I'm seeing and trying to interpret this into lines and squiggles.

This is what the tree looked like in reality.

I didn't know how to draw in the water...

So, did you have a shot at drawing something? If you didn't, today is still October...

Monday 29 October 2012

My 30th donation

Today marked my 30th blood donation. Whoop-whoop! I've been due to go through for about two months but with that nasty cough-cold in September and non-stop action in October I'd put it off. With this one done and 52 days until I can do another, I'll manage to get the next one in around xmas and New Year when blood is much needed.

I started donating blood when I turned 16. SANBS used to come to our school every few months. I continued this all through university; donating was made especially easy when I was post-grad and based at Wits Medical School. I'd just trot along to the donor unit in the hospital. As a precious O Negative donor they'd call me to donate specifically for baby operations.

And then I started adventure racing. Regularly being in malaria areas took me out of donating for years and it was only in June 2008 that I decided to renew my regular donor status (you've got to donate at least three times a year to be considered a regular donor).

I've made my home at the friendly Bruma SANBS donor centre and over the past four years I've gotten to know the nurses there. As a loyal donor at this centre I got a lovely gift today - a SANBS picnic blanket. It goes beautifully with the SANBS coolerbag I got about two years ago.

I've written a bunch of posts on blood donation (just type 'blood' in the search box on your top right), including this one from June this year (blood-donor month).

As always, I urge you to become a regular donor. Once-off is a token thought and all of your blood components are not used until you've done three donations and they're all clear and safe. And then you need to keep your status by doing at least three donations a year. Don't wait until you receive life-saving blood to become a donor (it's a bit like getting home insurance after a break-in... kinda). Remember that if you're in an accident it could take 30-60 units of blood to save your life.

If you're nervous or hesitant about going, give me a shout and I'll come and hold your hand.

'What' you are doesn't matter

I'm not crazy about labels especially where lifestyle choices are involved. My mom follows this one blog, "Happiness in this World" and she passed on this post titled, "Why I don't drink?" (I don't drink either). It ties in really well with a post I've been thinking about for some weeks on food preferences, especially as I have a couple of vegan friends and another who is seriously gluten intolerant.

The moment your lifestyle choices differ from that of others - could be 'the majority' - there will be issues. And when you give these choices a label like 'vegan' or 'vegetarian' or 'teetotaler' assumptions are automatically made like 'bunny hugger' or 'control freak'.

Maybe you just like veggies. Maybe you don't like the taste of alcohol. Maybe your decision not to eat pumpkin is based on how pumpkin makes you feel.

Maybe you like women; maybe you like guys and maybe you like your wife to tie you down and spank you.

Maybe you're fat and maybe you're thin.

Maybe you separate your trash for recycling and maybe you don't.

Maybe you exercise - a lot - and maybe you don't.

Does it really matter? Nope, it doesn't. Your lifestyle preferences do not change the fact that you're intelligent, kind, friendly and good company.

Thursday 25 October 2012

Hail kale!

I was introduced to kale, a spinach-like green leafy vegetable, a few months ago by a running friend. I ate tons of it and then I kinda forgot about it for a few weeks until a post from No Meat Athlete (NMA) dropped into my inbox. I shot off to get some kale from my local Food Lover's Market, which is one of the few places to stock kale regularly.

Kale is actually from the cabbage family, not spinach, although the leaves never form a head, like its cabbage cousins. And there are a bunch of varieties, some more curly than others (I scored two varieties yesterday).

According to Wiki:
Kale is very high in beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, lutein, zeaxanthin, and unreasonably rich in calcium. Kale, as with broccoli and other brassicas, contains sulforaphane (particularly when chopped or minced), a chemical with potent anti-cancer properties. Boiling decreases the level of sulforaphane; however, steaming, microwaving, or stir frying do not result in significant loss. Along with other brassica vegetables, kale is also a source of indole-3-carbinol, a chemical which boosts DNA repair in cells and appears to block the growth of cancer cells. Kale is also a good source of carotenoids.
My running friend is a juicing demon. He goes through bags and bags of carrots. Then, he takes the remaining pulp and tosses some of it into the food processor with some kale and a tomato, whizzes it and puts it on his sandwiches. To demonstrate he made me a sammie with a spread of avo and his kale mix. Very refreshing. I adopted this technique and added other ingredients like ginger and sunflower seeds.

So when I got the Eat More Kale post from NMA last week it reminded me to get some kale. I also dropped a comment on this post about how I eat it as most of the "10 Delicious Ways to Eat More Kale" are cooked dishes and I prefer this sweet-tasting leaf uncooked. I've made my mix as a salad for guests and they've thoroughly enjoyed it too.

Today's lunch: kale, carrot, tomato, fresh ginger, sunflower seeds with a sprinkle of balsamic vinegar (white) and a pinch of salt and pepper
The NMA post directed me to an infographic, copied below. What is confusing is the per calorie claims. I went to Wiki to compare nutritional information for kale, beef, milk and spinach. Of interest, to get the same calorific intake from kale as 100g of beef I'd need to eat 0.9 kilograms of kale. That's a lot of greens! I haven't weighed how much kale I toss in my salad mix - possibly 100g or so.
  • Calories per 100g: Kale - 117 kJ (28 kcal); beef  1,047 kJ (250 kcal); milk 275kJ (66kcal); spinach  97 kJ (23 kcal).
  • Iron per 100g: beef 2.6mg and kale 0.9mg (spinach has 2.7mg per 100g)
  • Calcium per 100g: milk 120mg and kale 72mg (spinach has 99mg per 100g)
  • Vitamin C per 100g: kale 41mg and spinach 28mg

Raw or cooked, kale is a bonus find in the fresh produce section. It make take a bit of hunting to find a regular supply but it is well worth the effort.

Kitty recovering

There are three things where things go wrong that I don't handle very well and all start with 'C'. Computer, car and, most of all, my cat. Bracken's recent illness turned me completely inside out. I get so teary and stressed out and it is only when she's out of danger that I start to relax.

She is doing so MUCH better today!

Yesterday, Wednesday, she was dehydrated, probably feeling nauseous, hadn't eaten, wasn't doing wees. She looked pained, sore and uncomfortable during Tuesday and vomiting after the anti-inflammatory oral meds didn't do her any favours.

She had a drip yesterday morning to hydrate her and it kicked in perfectly. By yesterday afternoon she was looking much better and less sore. She did wees and started eating. While I was doing tasks for orienteering last night she was my little companion, as usual. She took herself out for a wee before going to sleep and she was up three times in the night to go out.

She came to give me cuddle around 7am this morning and was looking much perkier - able to get on to my bed easily.

 We've just come back from Larry where she had another drip and an antibiotic injection. I'll give her another in the morning and my mom will take her on Sat and Sunday mornings (I'm away for orienteering coaching assessments but my phone will be with me should I need to come home quick-quick). When we got back she had some crunchies and some fish.

Larry thinks for sure she's had a virus, probably similar to the one she had years ago. It can manifest in sore joints and muscles, which is what I picked up first on Sunday afternoon. When we went to him on Monday her mouth didn't have any redness but it was on Wednesday. Today her mouth is much better but there's some redness still in her gums. He says there is a bit of bacterial involvement, which is why she's having the antibiotic jabs. She can't tolerate any oral medications so jabs are the only way to go. She's been very good. As for the virus, she has to work it out her system.

Bracken has some attitude back today - she gave Larry a displeased rumble when he gave her a shot, which is fabulous, and she's up and down the stairs and in much better spirits.

I'm not totally relaxed yet but at least I'm not bursting into tears every time I look at her ;)

 Thank you for your emails and thoughts for my little kitty.

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Kitty unwell. Lisa distressed.

My kitty is the light in my life and she's unwell. When my kitty is unwell I go into total distress.

trying to sleep - face looking pained
She started looking a bit off on Sunday. Fortunately I was at home the whole day with her. By Sunday night she was looking very uncomfortable and puffy. She didn't want to go out to pee and wasn't eating her crunchies. She was drinking only a little.

We went to Uncle Larry (our fabulous vet) on Monday morning. He poked and prodded and determined that her insides were ok (she was letting him prod) but he found a sore spot on her back. Well, she is 17.5 years old and back pain is very much a feature of old age.

He gave her an anti-inflammatory shot and she was doing pretty well on Monday afternoon - walking around in the garden and definitely looking more perky. And munching crunchies.

Yesterday she was very down and off again. I phoned Larry and he suggested an oral anti-inflam that I could give her. We're always very hesitant about oral meds for her because she generally doesn't tolerate them well. We learned this about five years ago when she went in for a mouth op (problems with teeth), reacted to the anaesthetic and antibiotics. We very nearly lost her.

I went to collect the anti-inflam and I gave her three drops. Within 20 mins she was vomiting. I phoned Larry and he suggested another anti-inflam shot on Thursday.

Well, my poor kitty is not faring very well. Her face looks sad and pained and her eyes are sunken. She isn't drinking much. Larry says that with a sore back they'll hold it in and try not to go because it hurts to get into a wee position. She hasn't eaten much since Monday afternoon. She's just curled up trying to sleep. I fear that there is more wrong than just a sore back.

I'm going to phone Larry in a few mins when the practice opens.

I go into total distress mode when my kitty is unwell, which has been so rarely in her life. At 17.5 years old I know we're on borrowed time - but I don't want to know. With our animals we feel so helpless especially when we're not sure what is wrong or how to help. I'd move the world for my little angel.

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Halloween Run, Wed 31 Oct

It's Halloween on Wednesday next week. How about joining me for a run?

This is the plan.

Date: Wednesday, 31 October 2012
Time: Meet at 17h30. Start running at 17h40.
Venue: Emmarentia
Start location: At the main entrance gate, near the Arboreum (parking off Olifants Rd, just over the dam wall).
Route: A meandering jaunt around the property.
Distance: Meandering jaunt measures a pleasant 6.8km (on Google Earth)

Here's the thing... please wear some kind of silly Halloween-themed accessory. Whether a whole outfit, just a mask or a silly hat.

Friends, relations, dogs and black cats welcome.

See you next week,


Monday 22 October 2012

Birds evidently like green, leafy veg!

My veggie garden got nailed by birds over the weekend. They evidently like nice, young, sweet baby spinach leaves with a little butter lettuce to clean their palates...

I've had a bit of a mission with my veggie garden. That really hot weekend - about three weeks ago? - hammered the little seedlings and some didn't make it, despite sufficient water. It was just too much for them.

My little paper seed packet things that I made seem to have worked quite well to protect the seeds from insect activity but I think some of the less sturdy plants - unlike the sunflowers, which are very robust seedlings - battled to break their roots through the packets. I did some patient work with the little tiny seedlings to help them but some didn't make it.

I also noticed some insect activity in the one area of the bed - none of those seeds germinated and I noticed what looked like nibble marks in the packets (underground). The seeds were gobbled - they didn't stand a chance. I put in more seeds.

It must have been around this time that I put in an irrigation system. I did this in my 'normal' garden at the beginning of the year and it works a treat. I had left over piping and nozzles and within an hour I had a system set up for the veg garden. I also put in some new seeds, to replace those that died or didn't even come up in the first place.

As for my 'top-up' trays... not as successful as I'd hoped. Again I think some little seedlings were battling to get their roots through. Others just didn't germinate. The sunflowers did very well and a few little spinach plants have come up. Anyway, I put in more seeds.

I seem to be far to naive in thinking that every seed planted should produce a seedling - or at least 90% of them should be viable. Well, they don't seem to be.

My tomato plants are finally doing ok and every marker now has a plant. They're still teeny-tiny but they're there.

On tomatoes... on Friday week before last (that's about 10 days ago now) my seeds from Living Seeds arrived. I ordered a bunch of heirloom (aka heritage) tomato seeds - different varieties, mostly cherry-type size. I put them into a pot. Part of this order was for heritage peas. These are the first ones to appear.

On to the bird issue... yesterday afternoon I went to get the veggies (I didn't get to check them on Saturday) and my poor little baby spinach plants, which were doing really well, had been stripped of their succulent little leaves! A neighbour said he'd seen birds around the bed and had shooed them off a number of times. They also went for some of the little baby butter lettuce leaves, had a nibble at the cornflower plants and only went for one of sunflower plants.

So, I check my gardening book and have just finished building my anti-bird defense system. I've used that plastic chicken-wire and a 'CD scarecrow'. The latter are old data CDs that twist and twirl in the wind and serve as a good deterrent.

I'm not sure whether the little plants will survive the avian attack but I certainly hope so. They've got good roots by now and there are some little stems above ground. They just need to grow some new leaves.


I'm going to a permaculture workshop on 4 Nov - to get a bit of an education about this veggie garden stuff. I haven't been totally successful yet but I'm learning as I go along.

Thursday 18 October 2012

Scouting. DONE.

This was my third and last day out scouting and it was a most beautiful day. I woke up sans alarm at 06h15 - what is wrong with me! I rectified this by listening to my audio book for a bit, dozing for a dash and getting up at a more appropriate time an hour later.

This was the view from my balcony - some time before 7am.
I was out and about and on foot for a couple of hours today to find more wonderful sites (and sights).

This is a wetland area and with the recent downpours the wetlands are... wet. In a few places you can see a little channel running through the grasses, like here. It was a bit flooded but you can still see the channel clearly. To my eye it didn't look quite wide enough for even a small tube... but I could see myself plonking down in the channel on a hot day!
A little further along in the same area... Jeep track. Wetland. Jeep track. Wetland. Splish-splosh!
Now this was interesting... I'm trotting through this section of really tall pines - seemingly taller than usual. I could hear a sound of... wood clashing, like sword fighting with wooden swords. It was pretty windy today and looking up I noticed the tops of the trees swaying and here and there they would connect with each other making the clashing sound. Quite lovely actually.
Yes, yes, yes! I found just what I'd been looking for. A lovely fragrantly-scented, pine needle-covered ride. This area has me jumping for joy - I'm sure you will too.
With three big 'puzzle pieces' from my scouting outings in hand, I spent the afternoon route planning. After a couple of permutations I think that I have designed a route that I'd love to run.

If one word can be used to describe the route - and the area - it would be LOVELY. Everything thing about it from the terrain to gradients to scenery is just... LOVELY.

It isn't a mountain race so there are no massive climbs or knee-jarring descents. It isn't a highveld race either so there are no rocks to trip you up. In fact, the terrain is totally un-technical and very much runnable. The grassy sections will work your feet and ankles but you're very unlikely to trip over anything.

And that's maybe where the catch is - if you could call it a catch. The course is so lovely and friendly and nice that there are very few free rides. You can't freewheel on any steep downhills, because there are not really any (a few short ones maybe, but nothing significant). Sure, there are descents but they're generally as gentle as the rest of the course. You'll mostly have to work for every kilometre. But while you're working you'll enjoy looking - all around you.

Being a total softie, I've looked for lots of shade but also a variety in the scenery so that is isn't just tree trunk after tree trunk.

I didn't get in the route distance that I was aiming for but the course is still very much an ultra. It's probably because the area is so lovely that it guided me to a more lovely distance?

I'm hoping to get an OK over the next week on the date I have in mind and then next month I'll be back here to give the route a run.

I am sooooooo excited I could... I could... Jump! Oh yes, I did that earlier.

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Another forest day

At 1h30 this morning I awoke to the sound of a storm in full fury. I've been known to sleep through most highveld thunderstorms so this one was a humdinger to wake me up. Geez - crazy driving rain, whooshing wind - it was quite something. I slept on and off but guess that it must have been raging for at least an hour.

With another day of scouting ahead I thought the day could be a gloomy one. Although it got off to a slow start, the morning developed into its most gloriousness yet. Spectacular! A little cool with lots of sun, blue skies and flowing streams.

Approaching one crossing I thought I could hear a jet up in the sky but as I got closer it turned out to be water rushing from one vlei through cement pipes under the track and out into the next. It made a decent mini wave train coming out.

I did my scouting on foot today. As much as my bike and I loved each other yesterday, riding over kilometres of grassy tussocks has left my bottom somewhat saddle shy. Yes, it serves me right for not riding very often and this was certainly amplified by the 'better-for-running-than-biking' terrain and a new saddle. It was good to be on foot because surface perspective is different - I'll probably do the last chunk tomorrow on foot too.

I saw some lovely, lovely spots today. A patch of bluegum trees within the pine forest was a lovely scented surprise.

Bluegums on the left and pine on the right.
I also saw many little buck that bounded away as they heard me coming past. And forest roads covered in pine needles - a true trail delight!

And then, my favourite-favourite, a large patch of small YELLOW FLOWERS hovering over their emerald-green grassy bed. Fire is indeed wondrous in that it burns stuff, turns it black and then a delicious green emerges from the ashes in spring. The grassy areas that didn't burn in winter are still a dry brown.

All in all today was a wonderful sight and scent experience.

Perfectly still and lovely.
After a chunk of time under the forest canopy I emerged out in the open. Big, wide, blue-skied open.

Tuesday 16 October 2012

I love forests

Some people are beach people. Sun, sand, surf and salty water. I'm a forest, river, lake and mountains person.

I spent a chunk of the day playing in forests, riding on trails and tracks of all kinds. I thought you'd enjoy some photos of my favourite areas from today.

I think this was my favourite scene of the day. And the scent too - magnificent.
Every time I've been to this area my jaw has dropped at the green of the trees dead centre. They're a fresh, vibrant green, in contrast to the darker and more somber green of the pine trees. Absolutely glorious.

My turn to be shadowed

I recently had the opportunity to shadow two young orienteers and the experience was a good one. This weekend the tables were turned at the British Orienteering Federation Level 2 Coaching Course that I attended. First, I shadowed my good friend Tania and then she shadowed me!

We've been regular rogaining partners so we've navigated together. It's a bit different when you're being watched. She didn't really put me off but when you make a mistake... well it's embarrassing, especially when you do something stupid.

Tania's run was a fast one and she ran swiftly with good lines. She messed up one control that we were very close to. I saw the tag but then she kept running, looking at a further rocky patch. There's always the temptation to want to help, especially when you know the answer... but the kick we get from orienteering isn't just in finding the controls, but in problem solving when it isn't where we expect it to be.

It's interesting to see how someone else problem solves. Over time I've become even more analytical and so I stop and try to figure out what I did wrong (overshot, too soon, wrong feature, mis-read vegetation etc). I'm usually in close proximity to the control - it's just to nail it down.

My approach is probably a bit slower than Tania's - she'll check surrounding features (her line had been perfect; she just hadn't seen it and had then overshot) and chances are probably good that she'll locate the control. In this case, if the control marker had been an O flag instead of white tape she'd have spotted it first time as we ran past.

On my run I messed up the first control. A silly mis-judgement of distance (I should have been pacing!) and mis-read of the vegetation. I was in a clearing but needed to be under trees. The control was about 20m behind me. Doh!

I then messed up another when I took a squiffy line into it. And then I was a bit foxed by the vegetation. Something that is sooooo important to remember is that while O maps are accurate, the way that vegetation is shown is a representation, not 100% true. And, vegetation grows from one map update to the next. I was in about the right distance but too much to the right. I ran back to my last point of certainty, took a better bearing and then hit the control - feeling totally silly all the time because Tania had certainly spotted the control earlier.

Something that Tania noticed is how much detail I see and remember - I'd never thought about it. It is important to see detail when you're say within 50 metres of your control. I have a game that I like to play where after events I draw in my route on my map and then later I'll compare to a GPS track (I often run with a logger) to see how well I remembered. I'm fairly spot-on. I don't necessarily always look for small features but if I spot them along my route then I note in my mind how close I was to it, to my left or right etc. for later.  

The jury (me) is out on whether this saves or loses me time. On the one hand I always know exactly where I am and my last point of certainty is never far away. It is relatively quick for me to correct an error. But, putting the hammer down and running in the right direction is probably faster than ticking features off my mental checklist as I go.

I've become a big fan of shadowing - for big people - and it would be very instructional to be shadowed regularly. It is very much self-coaching too as you analyse your routes and errors even before your shadow does.

All in all it was an excellent weekend and we learned a load about coaching techniques from our BOF coaches, Hilary and John Palmer. We've got an assessment in two weeks and a ton of homework to do in preparation.
Our second practical session - this one in the forests. Hilary gives us instructions for the warm-up game.

Our third practical coaching session (we took turns coaching each other). 
All of us -  a bunch of orienteers from Jo'burg and Cape Town - all keen to coach others and to coach them well.

Our coaches - the very experienced John and Hilary Palmer from British Orienteering Federation.