Monday 26 November 2012

Play (and move) like a child

At the moment I am so super in love with circus school. Over the past two weeks I've noticed a major improvement, especially when I do moves now that I haven't done/tried in months. On Friday, from hanging (no pushing off the ground), I lifted my toes level with my eyes - straight legs. Twice. I haven't been able to do this without assistance. It's things like this that are SUCH a rush. It's like nailing a PB in running.

I've always been drawn to watching acrobatic acts and gymnastics (my favourite Olympic discipline to watch on telly) but I had never gotten into this stuff until I started pole dancing almost 4.5 years ago. It is so much about gymnastic and acrobatic movements and these are the ones that I do really well, especially the balances.

I've always thought that the way a body should be able to move is like that of a dancer or acrobat. Sure, it takes tons of training and conditioning to be able to put your foot around your neck but there's also a 'non-professional' level of movement that should be attainable. If you can't bend forward to trim your own toenails... that's a problem.

For four months I've been going to 'circus classes' (aerial) and the difference in my strength is absolutely astounding! But most of all I just absolutely love playing there. I also really enjoy the activities where we stand on each other and 'toss' each other. Last week we did a bit more 'tumbling' type of activities. I think of these as more 'clown' movements. I did a really neat handstand, rolling out of it, and also a dive roll. With the latter you run at a mat, jump with both feet - diving for the mat - and then roll (somersault-like). It is just the most amazing feeling to be able to do these things.

Last week there was a new girl and we were doing back arches. She commented, "I haven't done this since school!". There are so many movements that all of us haven't done since school. On the playgrounds we would always be doing hand-stands-up, skipping rope games, head stands, leap frog games... our flexibility and agility at primary school was all-round fabulous.

And then somewhere in high school we stop playing - this kind of play. And from there it's just a downward slide. For me, pole, circus and acroyoga are totally about playing and training my body to do movements that it could do... 30 years ago! I'm very fortunate that over the years my general activities have maintained fairly good flexibility, strength and fitness but I'm always improving.

On Saturday I finally made it to my friend Michelle's 'Flight Club' (page on FB). I've known Michelle for years through mountain biking and common friends (climbing people) and also from pole dance - she is also an instructor. Over the past year she has gotten very much into aerial silks and lyra (metal hoop) and she has set up a regular, social aerial sessions. I did an outdoor session with her shortly after I started circus. This weekend I felt the marked improvement in being able to hold myself up for longer and movements that would have been difficult months ago are very much doable now. These aerial games all look so easy and graceful and elegant; they're mostly not easy!

Here are some pics that Michelle took on Sat. This was my second time doing 'fancy' moves on lyra and most of these were for the first time (like half moon, pike, mermaid, stag).

Lyra: Back arch from top bar

Lyra: balance move

Lyra: forward arch

Lyra: This is called half moon and is my favourite move of the moment. It's like you're suspended from the moon. Very cool.
Lyra: This is a blurry picture of half moon but you get the idea - better angle to show the move. This is what I mean about being 'suspended' from the 'moon'.

Lyra: Mermaid

Lyra: Pike from the top bar. My pikes are getting really good 'cos we drill them a lot at circus classes.

Lyra: This one is called 'stag'

Lyra: (Wo)man in the moon

Silks: Butterfly. I haven't done many fancy moves with silks; at circus class we focus on conditioning with a lot of climbing and grabbing exercises. Michelle talked me through this one and a couple of other really neat moves.
This is a video that was made during class a few weeks ago. It's to promote the fun and games we get up to with aerial disciplines. I'm not very visible in the video but you can see me climbing the silks at about 1:35 and then the back of me during a partner stretch at around 1:53. I'm on the right-hand side (middle level) of the people pyramid.

Friday 23 November 2012

AdventureLisa's Forest Run

It's happening! After much planning and tripping and scouting and planning and mapping a measuring AdventureLisa's Forest Run is on for Saturday, 9 March 2013!

If you've followed my posts from my scouting outings (I love forests; Another forest day and Scouting. DONE) you'll know just how lovely this area is.

I was out there again for two days last week to run through the route and to log an on-the-ground altitude profile.

As with any profiles, the peaks look big (notice the 25m intervals) but in reality the course really is like the bottom profile. Rolling. No big humps or bumps.

My two days last week were actually quite tough days. On Thursday I left Jo'burg at 06h30 and by 10h30 I was out there. I had only slept for a few hours so I was pooped to begin with and it took me longer than I care to admit to get to 35km... and then I had to walk the 2km back to my car. It was a very run-walk day but just lovely to be out there anyway.

The next day was a much better one - after a good night of sleep - and I did way more running but also a good dose of walking and looking around and enjoying, experiencing the route as the participants will.

I'm on the hunt for volunteers to assist with water stations, feed station and various other bits - like sweeping. I'm aiming for three sweeps to do sections of the course - not one person to do the whole thing. You'll be at the back of the field and I can totally assure you that you'll have a most wonderful day. I'll contribute to your travel costs (shared transport) as well as providing accommodation and meals for the weekend. Drop me a note if you're keen.

There are two entry options: 62km all in one chunk or a pair relay option where the first runner does 35km and their teammate does the next 27km. Online entries opened this evening (thank you Paul) and I hope that we'll fill all 100 places.

Heel cups and tongues

I've been running in a variety of trail shoes over the past couple of months and one of them has been the Salomon XR Mission, which is classified as a 'door-to-trail' shoe. You can read my review in Trail magazine (the 4th issue, which may be Dec/Jan). Wearing this shoe got me really thinking about heel cups and tongues (of shoes, not people or dogs or cats or chickens).

Here's the thing... on MY FOOT the heel cup of the Salomon XR Mission feels high - as does the tongue. When I go steep downhill I feel the back of the heel cup going into my Achilles and when I flex my foot up the tongue goes into my shin-foot bend.

So, I undertook a photographic assessment to see just what the difference was between five different shoes that I've been running. My friend Allison stopped over for a quick hello and she got roped into being photographer and she was also tasked with drawing on my foot to mark the 'height' of the tongue and the back of the heel cup.

The shoes I've got here are:
Asics Gel Fuji Racer (Purple) - men's
Salomon XR Mission (Red) - women's
Inov8 Road-X 255 (Yellow) - Road (men's)
Adidas Response TR19 (Blue) men's
Newton Terra Momentum (Green) men's

Heel cup (click on pic to get a bigger view)

The pic on the end - it shows the markings of the highest (Salomon) and lowest (Inov-8) - but really there's not much difference in how high up the heel all of these shoes come.

Tongue (and ankle shaping)

As before, in practise there really is no major difference between the height of the tongues across these shoes.

The last pic shows the position of the tongue and also the shape of the heel cup. On the end, Allison drew in lines for the Salomon (red) and the Asics (purple).They actually cross over each other with the Salomon highest (only slightly) at the back of the heel and the tongue.

What I've realised is that it isn't so much where the heel cup or the tongue comes to but how padded these areas are that makes it feel so drastically different. The Salomon is far more padded at the back of the heel cup, to either side of foot, just forward of the ankle, and the tongue. An extra millimetre or two on top of your foot, under the laces, makes a big difference to what you feel and perceive. The top of the Salomon tongue is also pretty padded so, to me, it feels like it pokes into my shin-foot bend. It's not higher, just puffier.
It's hard to see in the pic but in real life you notice the shapes of the heel cup and the padding in this area.

Close up of the Inov-8 and the Salomon.
The shape of the heel cup differs between brands and models. Also, women's shoes have a narrower heel. I've been running in men's shoes since before we had women's trail shoes in SA and that's probably why I find the heel of the Salomon just a little narrow for me. The fit is snug so the shoe doesn't slide on toe-off but it is a little narrow - for me. With wear it is opening up more.

When it comes to shoes there's no right answer because it all comes down to what your preference is and what shape your feet are. I've written various articles on what to look for when you buy trail shoes (On buying trail shoes; Choose your weapon) but this is the first time that I've really taken a look at this area of padding in the shoe.

It doesn't make much of a difference when you're standing on a flat floor, but it can make a big difference on steep downhills (poking into your Achilles) and uphills (poking into your shin-foot bend). When shopping, really point and flex your foot to get a feel for how the heel cup and tongue on the shoe moves.

Experiential gifts

I've eschewed xmas for some years. While I love presents, I don't specifically need anything and I'd rather that friends and family members didn't spend their money to buy me something that I neither need nor want. I'll probably like and appreciate the gift but it really is unnecessary. A gift out-of-the-blue is way more cool than one bought during the festive season because that's just how things have been done.

The other night I was chatting to some friends - they work in retail. I was asking about business and whether they're seeing xmas-shopping traffic coming through. Although there's some, they're not yet completely in the season. They work at really cool outdoor stores so they get a lot of people coming in who ask, "My [partner/friend/sibling] has got everything - what can I get for them?!".

If you're in this situation then really, really don't get them anything because they really don't need it. Wrap your mind instead around an 'experiential gift'.

Earlier this year I did a photography course and I bumped into an old customer from back in the day when I waitressed as a student. He and his wife give each other courses as xmas gifts every second year (the photography course was his gift; she was going on a chocolate decorating course). My friends Lauren and Pam are also into experiential gifts.

It's more about doing and learning stuff rather than having stuff.

Experiential gifts extend across a range of things. Here are some ideas...

  • Courses (probably over a few weeks or months) - language, photographic, creative writing, plant identification
  • Workshops (usually one day/night or a weekend) - cooking, scrapbooking, beginner climbing/kayaking, gardening
  • Classes/lessons - pay for a month of classes. Your gift recipient has an opportunity to try something they've been wanting to do and because you've given it to them they'll probably make the time - and a month is long enough to see whether they like; art, dance (perhaps go with them - like if it is something like ballroom dancing), yoga, ceramics...
  • Events - submit and pay for their entry for an event you know they'd like to do - run, cycle, AR... the list here is near endless!
  • Adventures - tons of stuff here like rafting, caving, hot air ballooning, climbing
  • Other - massages, facials, manicure-pedicure (these are good for guys too!)
Some of these things can be pricey so rope in family members and make it one great pressie rather than many so-so items.

I was telling my friends about my Running Retreat, scheduled for weekend of 19 & 20 January 2013. I decided to put it in January because it is a great kick-start to the year. It's an opportunity to cast away festive slothfulness and to get your mind in the right place for being fit and active for the year ahead. It rocks in the mega-motivation department.

This running retreat is exactly that - a running-focused get-away with plenty of time for reading and chilling and bird-watching. It's a no-pressure, social weekend of running where you can choose which of the four runs to do (Fri evening, Sat morning and evening and Sun morning) and also the informative sessions (yoga for runners, foot care, form and technique). Full catering sorted too. And there are things like horse riding and floating in a boat on the dam as additional activities.

Goodness, how often do you go away - not for an event, but something more social and casual and 'therapeutic' - to spend a weekend where you get to run on lovely routes that have been planned for you and all you have to do is lace up your shoes? Now this is a super wonderful experiential treat for you or the runner in your life.

Monday 12 November 2012

Green 'n growing

My veggie garden is rocking - a combination of this cooler weather and my anti-bird system, I think.

I set up my veggie garden in mid-September and there have been many 'opportunities for learning' since.

Within two weeks of planting the first seedlings were looking promising. I'd made my own little seed 'sachets' to protect the seed and little germinating seedling and it seemed to work but had its pitfalls. Some of the weaker germinators seemed to battle to get their roots through if the sachet hadn't sufficiently dissolved. I wasn't very impressed with my 'back-up' seed trays where not much germinated except the sunflowers and spinach (actually, it's Swiss Chard). The idea behind the tray was that I could replace anything that didn't grow in the garden with seedlings from the tray. So, I planted more seeds in the tray and in the garden.

Then, things were looking good by early/mid-October and then I had a bird attack. They ate the lovely fresh little leaves off the baby spinach plants and really messed up my cherry tomato plants. So, I built and anti-bird system with a plastic mesh cover and CDs.

Then, I set up another tray - currently mostly the leafy stuff is up - not yet big enough to be transplanted. Also, my heritage seeds arrived from Living Seeds. I planted two seeds from each of the six varieties of tomatoes (most are cherry tomato varieties with two medium sized tomato varieties) and two peas. The peas came up first and I transplanted them yesterday - they've got another part of the garden, not the veggie bed. I think there are five tomato seedlings that have come up. I'll only move these when they're bigger. The interesting thing is that two were up within say 10 days and like more than 20 days after planting suddenly others have come up, even of the same variety!

And this is a strange thing with the second tray. There are some seedlings coming up now and I planted them like 30 days ago! They should have been up two weeks ago already. Maybe waiting for the right conditions?

This is quite exciting... I transplanted this cherry tomato plant yesterday from another bed. Last season I bought a high-yield cherry tomato pot plant from a nursery. It is one of those designed to go on your kitchen windowsill. I planted it in the garden and it didn't like that. I left the cherry tomatoes that were on it to rot so the seeds would go into the ground. Some little plants came up but then died in winter. This guy came up of his own accord and it has a little flower already.
My system worked and my plants are doing well. Some of the tomato plants really, really battled to recover but are now doing much better. I've transplanted two from the tray to replace the ones that just didn't make it. I think there were two spinach plants that I transplanted and three sunflowers.

This poor little tomato plant (foreground) really got nailed by the bird. It has one leaf now (it was nothing more than a little stick after the attack) and I hope it will make it. Determined little fellow.
Very sturdy sunflower plant. That's a cherry tomato to his right and another sunflower plant in the background.
The damaged spinach plants have new leaves and the butter lettuce is flourishing. Not much happening with the red lettuce (none germinated in the garden and only one in the tray, which I'll transplant when it is stronger and bigger) nor the crisp lettuce (haven't seen one germinating).

Lovely lookin' lettuce

If you put one seed in front of the stick and one behind it you should get two plants eh? How come I have four? Maybe earlier planted seeds germinating in the current cooler weather?
Green! Green! I can see green! My mom bought me some eggplant seedling this weekend. I've put them at the front of the bed where other stuff (catnip and red lettuce) hasn't come up.
Heritage pea variety - freshly transplanted from my tray. They're getting their climbing tendrils already. I planted two seeds and two came up - one a bit before the other. I hope they handle the travel to their new home - complete with trellis.
Just over a week ago I set up more 'trays'. I'm using toilet roll holders and egg boxes. The thing is that I think I should get one plant from one seed - at least a 90% seedling success rate. And it hasn't been so. My dad, who has pretty green fingers, says that you're meant to scatter the seeds, let them germinate and then thin the seedlings later (this is how seedling companies do it). What a waste! So my current system aims to look at seedling yield as I've put in two seeds per 'slot'.

The other thing is that I thought that I was being too harsh on my germinating seeds. The trays are outside and exposed to the elements. Sure, they're being kept moist but they're in the sun, which is probably too much for them. My new trays are undercover and in the shade and the results are showing. Just over a week in and I've got more little baby seedlings coming up than I had with my previous trays.

I gave up mountain bike orienteering to go to a permaculture talk last Sunday. It was a complete waste of time. The guy, Jamie Stephens, looks like a gardening version of Kingsley Holgate. It seems like he has done incredible things with permaculture gardens in KZN but his presentation was unstructured and a bit of scare tactic (earth running out of agricultural resources, population growth over our life time, agriculture in tropical areas can only be sustained by ground for three years). The first half was spent convincing us why we should grow our own sustainable veg gardens (surely if you pay to come to a talk that promises to teach you "how to create your own permaculture garden" you're already the converted?).

The second half was a little more interesting about the range of plants that should be included in a permaculture garden (about eight or nine categories) but I'm none the wiser as to what to do for my 5m x 1.5m bed... I knew more from Wikipedia before I went to the talk (I did write to the talk organiser about the presentation not delivering what had been promised in the talk promotional information but he hasn't replied a week later). Oh, but if I paid R1,400 and went to the workshop that was this past weekend I may have learned what the talk promised I would... I'll stick to reading the web.

So, I'm kinda learning as I go.

Saturday 10 November 2012

Husky running companions

Back in August I passed on a note about the Husky Shelter in Cape Town - they were looking for runners to help with running the dogs there. Well, I have me a pair of huskies in Jo'burg to run.

During a recent vet visit, when my kitty was ill (she is doing so-so-so much better!), I mentioned to the receptionist that I was thinking of running people's dogs for them - especially the breeds that really need to run. Almost every day I run past houses where bored dogs hang at the gate and I can bet that a very small fraction of them ever get taken for a walk. No matter how big the property, dogs have to be taken out. Indeed, you can live in a palace but you still get cabin fever and go out of your mind.

Not even a few hours later I get a call from Dino, who got my number from Shelly when he popped in to get food for his dogs. Not even two weeks earlier he'd adopted two huskies from the shelter. He has a friend who volunteers there and she assists with finding homes for dogs. He'd been keen to get one but she insisted on two. So, they were flown up to Jo'burg and it wasn't long before he felt overwhelmed. Huskies are high intensity dogs; probably much like border collies.

He takes them out running about three times a week and on Wednesdays the gardener takes them in the morning and afternoon. But they need more.

I met Dino and the dogs - Toscana and Angel - last weekend and we went out for a run. They're not very fit but OMG do they pull. I can now understand how a dozen of them are able to haul sleds across snowscapes for hundreds of kilometres. Dino has the proper running leads for them -  a harness for the runner with a y-shaped bungy lead going to harnesses on the dogs.

This pair is very well behaved. Angel is the girl and she's about a year old. She's the really energetic one. Toscana is about three and he is beautifully fluffy (she has had her fur trimmed shorter).

Dino says they were absolutely fried after our outing on Saturday - and I made them walk quite a bit because they were huffing and puffing. Yesterday evening I took them out for a run and walk and they were very good. I ran from home - takes me 15 mins - and off we went to the park. They run really nicely, especially once they start to get a little tired and pull less. We met a nice pointer and German Shepherd and their friendly folks. They're very good with other dogs.

I tried to take some pics (on my phone) of my running buddies - they're a little blury from movement but you get the picture. I've been reading up on running huskies on the web. Golden rule: never, ever let them off the lead. Their running instinct is so strong that they will just run away, no matter how well you've schooled them. If something is more interesting than you then you have no hope in hell of getting them back. They'll just run and run and run.

Toscana on the left and Angel on the right
We'll be running together once a week - Friday evenings.

Friday 9 November 2012

I write A LOT of stuff

I've been thinking about how much stuff I write and it is A LOT!

FEAT website: 56 news posts and 8 newsletters

Media releases for clients: 16 so far this year

Magazine articles: 12 to 15 a year 26 news items and 4 FAQ entries plus 20 race reports placed online (not written by me; often minor editing/checking)

Blog: 141 posts already this year (including this one)

Orienteering website: 22 news articles

Emails: I probably reply to and send 800 - 1000 emails a month!

And then there are the posts and newsy stuff on the AR Club website, writing up event information, four trail contributions to Trail Runner's Guide, a manual and lesson plans (and game designs) for two levels of school orienteering programmes (just finished level 2 and busy on a mapping course), Metrogaine newsletters... and probably a bunch of other stuff I've already forgotten about.

It's no wonder that I sometimes don't feel like stringing another sentence together!

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Amazon, I wrote it

Hahaha - got this 'thoughtful' email book suggestion from Amazon this afternoon, obviously based on my purchase history.

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Article: All routes lead to the finish

This is my new column in the current (Nov/Dec 2012) issue of Go Multi magazine. It looks at the issues, reasons and value behind short coursing.

And this is a valued and treasured Letter to the Editor, from adventure racing-ultra-rogaining-everything champ Ryno Griesel. Also in Nov/Dec issue. He's commenting on my column in the previous issue. Very cool ;) Comments like this from Ryno... very special indeed.