Tuesday 16 December 2014

O Sprint Cup at PBG

On Sunday morning we had the last orienteering event of the year - the annual Sprint Cup at the Pretoria Botanical Gardens. I haven't been here for years and after the recent rains the Gardens are looking amazing.

Sprint Cup works on a different format. Participants first run a preliminary round and their finish times and positions determine where they start for the final round. The fastest runner after the prelim starts first and the other runners then set off at the time interval that they finished the first round. Say the second placed runner in the prelim finished 23seconds behind the winner, they will start the final 23secs after the first runner - and so on.

Why this format is so much fun is that if you catch the runner ahead of you, you gain an overall position. And, of course, there are runners behind trying to catch you!

I was fourth after the first round and there was too much of a gap (just over three minutes) between me and the third-placed runner to realistically look at third place... so I aimed to keep ahead of the next runner behind me - I had about a 1min20 lead on her. This time difference can be gobbled up quickly if you make a mistake; or even if you lose a few seconds per control.

I managed to hold on to my position - although Kirsten did gain a little ground on me - to finish in 4th overall.

Orienteering events pick up again in January.

Running into the finish. Photo by Val.

Thursday 11 December 2014

Summer Series #2

Our second Summer Series event was good fun and it was good to see a number of children and a bunch of first timers.

For the first time I got to run in a Summer Series event; shadowing young Connor. And it was such fun! His navigation was very good and he got us swiftly through the middle (20 control) course. I was very pleased that he chose a great route that had us collecting our last controls up in the top South-West corner (bridge) so our climb back up to the start/finish was more gradual than running up from the Environmental Centre. Phew!

Being out there, I had the chance to take photos of other participants too.  Photos are on our AR Club Facebook page.

The event format was again the same (ScatterO), but this time with 30 controls (instead of 25). Most participants got the required number for their courses.

Garry did the planning for the event and we had a bunch of helping hands on the night. Grant, Garry and I put out controls; Zig and Denise managed registration. Robyn, Garry and I collected controls. Thank you everyone.

 Please join our Summer Series email notification list so that we can let you know directly when the next events are scheduled.

We (me and Garry) be back with three Summer Series events in Jan/Feb. I hope to see you then.

Thursday 4 December 2014

AR Club Summer Series #1

Tonight we had the first of two AR Club Summer Series events at Delta Park. We ran this fun event on the ScatterO format and gave all participants one hour to complete their courses.

Garry did the planning and he was pretty sneaky. I took a lookie at the map over the weekend and told him which controls I'd leave if I was running the long course, which requires runners to locate 22 of the 25 total controls. He adjusted some control placements to 'force' runners into areas. Cunning, very cunning.

We had a number of complete newcomers and it was great to see a good number of children out with their parents (and on their own - in the case of Garry's boys). FYI - we give children still at school (and younger) free entry!

Delta Park is looking great. Green, lush and with grasses still nice and low, the terrain makes for superb running. This event is held in daylight (18h00 to 19h00).

We're doing one more Summer Series event next Wednesday, 10 December 2014 and will only pick up with these again in mid- / late-January.

Special thanks to Liz - she handled registration today. Garry did all the planning and printing. I put out controls (including one, #35, in not quite the right place - that's what happens when yuo phone me to ask if you can come / for directions when I'm putting out the flags!). Our thanks too to Sarah and Michael and Piers for collecting controls. And also another pair (I don't know your names), who arrived late (stuck in traffic) and kindly got roped into control collecting.

Wednesday 3 December 2014

Metrogaine review

Although people post online and email really lovely comments about their experiences at Metrogaine, it is not often that I receive a full-on write up. Feige contacted me a few weeks before Metrogaine. Her background is primarily road running and she regularly participates in events and writes about them (much like I do). I was delighted to give her an entry to give this event a try - something quite different to what she is used to.

Feige has written one of the nicest reports I've seen. She has beautifully described how the event works and she has conveyed her experience clearly. I'm also charmed to see how she picks up on the little elements of Metrogaine, like the yummy cupcakes that are homebaked by my orienteering friends, Denise and Christie. With the wind howling and rain descending, Feige missed out on the tea-light candles lining the finish chute - they wouldn't stay lit. I'm sure she would have appreciated these too.

When I first started Metrogaine I used to bake and ice the cupcakes myself. After making over 200 for an event (with my visiting friend Ray from CT coerced into mixing and icing too), I changed to the custom message fortune cookies to manage the numbers. It became challenging to order the correct amount with people entering so late... And then I outsourced the cupcakes to Denise and Christie. They make great cupcakes and they're here to stay.

Metrogaine is designed to be fun and low-key and friendly and convenient and efficient week-night, nav-running fun. And from Feige's report it looks like I'm hitting the nail on its head. Thank you Feige.

You can read her report on her blog - "Living the treaty life".

Training log slacker

I first started keeping a training log at least 20 years ago when I received an A5 training log booklet at a road race. Once I'd completed all the pages I replicated the format and printed my own, which covered a number of years. And then somewhere along the way I lost the plot and stopped logging for a period - it may have been as long as two years. I then got onto an Excel spreadsheet format and I've used it ever since; except for the past few months.

I'm not quite sure why I lost the plot but it seems to have happened after my "38 Days of Running" this year, which was quite disjointed - interrupted by a bad bash to my knee (I whacked it on a rock) and then Expedition Africa.

I find keeping a log to be beneficial to my training, especially to highlight any gaps and also in the tallying of my weekly mileage. Sure, without the log I can reflect on my week but memory is fallible and half the time by Friday can't remember what happened on Monday. So the log does help me to keep track of what I've been up to, where, how long, how fast (or slow!) and with whom.

December is always a good training month for me. Work is quiet, holiday fever is in the air, my neighbourhood is green and pretty and weather is fantastic. And with the Sabie 80km coming up at the end of January, it will be good to keep an eye on distance, cross-training activities and overall consistency.

There are loads of ways to track your training, specially with online systems and mobile apps. I like my spreadsheet that I've set up to add distance and duration. It's simple, but it works.

Tuesday 2 December 2014

December Challenge

I miss my regular yoga practices.

A few years ago I got into yoga and attended Ashtanga classes two or three times a week - must have been for more than a year. The studio closed for a long period (moved venues too) and by-the-by I got into circus school... then yoga re-opened and later circus closed... And then circus re-opened and I decided to avoid the commute and not go back... And so I went to some pole classes instead earlier this year until I was away frequently. And all the time I missed yoga. I went to two or three random classes and enjoyed the focus of it again. So I gave myself a challenge in May; to do sun salutations every day with the odd addition of standing postures.

It took about a week for it to kick in and kick in it did. I didn't do the whole of May as Expedition Africa got in the way. But the difference that just over three weeks of yoga push ups and upward dogs and downward dogs made to my flexibility, jump backs and jump forwards and balance and hamstrings and calves... !

I've missed this.

I like the open space and peace of the yoga studio - and practicing with other people in a guided class. I don't have much inclination for self-practice but as my favourite studio has again closed and there is no Ashtanga in my neighbourhood, it is time for some self-discipline (at least a little!). Sun salutations I can commit to. A full practice regularly on my own? Maybe in time.

I find the yoga to be really beneficial for my running, especially to keep  my hamstrings and calves in good condition. And it feels good to be all stretched out. Ideally it works best to do the practice straight after a run; but sometimes I end up doing this late at night before bed, which seems to suit me too.

I'm looking forward to feeling the yoga settle into my muscles over the next few days. With the 80km ultra in Sabie at the end of January, regular stretching to go with increased mileage will prove beneficial long term.

parkrunning in Parys

The past two weekends I've done the parkrun in Parys, which brings my total to 6 (1 x Delta an age ago, 2 x Woodlands, 1 x Modderfontein).

I'm not a big parkrunner mostly because I avoid running in the morning wherever possible. BUT... as I've been in Parys and the parkrun, which is only four events down, starts a three-minute run away, I just can't resist. It is a nice opportunity to mingle with local runners and a few people that I've gotten to know here and there.

The route follows the Vaal River and it is really pretty. The only oddity is a loop, to make up some distance. Loops, like at Woodlands, can be useful for those starting out. They can skip the loop and not get results for a while as they build up to doing 5km (run/walk).

Image of a section of the route from the Parys parkrun FB page.
I run the parkrun like a time trial and goodness knows I need to do some faster-pace runs... And that's where parkrun has a great slot for regular runners - as a Saturday morning time trial.

My kick out of parkrun is in receiving my results later in the day. My first time there I was 3rd lady and 2nd in my age category... This past Saturday I was 4th lady but 1st in my age group (and I improved my time my around 15 seconds). It felt like a tough run, probably because of the Gilloolies hill session I did on Thursday evening and the faster-than-conversational run I did around town on Friday evening.

Tracy Rankin spoke at FEAT about parkrun, which really has taken South Africa by storm. There's is much more to it than being a free, timed, 5km run. There are the people involved (volunteers and participants) and the places and parks all around SA - and the World.

To take part, register on the parkrun website (free), download and print your barcode and take it to every parkrun you do. They all start at 08h00 at 44 locations (and always more being added) around SA.

Thursday 27 November 2014

Running around in the dark - with purpose

Metrogaine Jo'burg played out really well last night and we got super lucky with the weather.

My one friend, who lives in the event area, emailed this morning to say:
"The hard rain did eventually arrive – between 23h30 and 04h00 we had 35mm of rain – our biggest this summer and this morning at 07h00 the river was still uncrossable at the Bryanston bridge; the drift would have been under water."
I'm a bit communication'd out, but you'll find my write-up in this Metrogaine newsletter - it talks about a few of the gremlins on the course (like about the people who changed the gate to their property over the weekend!).  The most up-to-date results are linked to from the Metrogaine page on www.AR.co.za.

In the Metrogaine Bryanston album on the Metrogaine FB page there are some photos and also maps with the routes run by a number of the pairs.

The next Metrogaine events will only be in April and June 2015.

Between now and then...

There's AR Club's Summer Series this next Wednesday and the next... and there will be a few more in Jan/Feb next year.

And I'm really looking forward to the annual, novelty xmas O event on Sun, 7 December. Gonna be good.

There's definitely no shortage of fun and games.

Tuesday 25 November 2014

Metrogaine, novelty O, nav coaching and cultivating young orienteers

Tomorrow night is the last Metrogaine event for the year. This is by far the most difficult course planning that I've undertaken. The area is challenging with the road closures (restricts the flow of the course and makes sections unusable) and using a Scatter-ScoreO format (as opposed to the rogaining format Metrogaine is based on).

This meant a smaller area and a lot of juggling of control placements to get specified minimum distances on the courses. It's fun to have my course planning powers completely and utterly stretched and exercised. Tomorrow night the proof, of course, will be in the eating of the pudding that is Metrogaine when the participants set out to spend 90-minutes on my map.

On Sun 7 December I'm looking forward to the annual Xmas orienteering event. It's always a novelty-style event and this year it is at that paintball place off the N1. Entry fee is a gift (labelled men, women, child) to the value of R40. You hand it in at registration and during prize giving you receive one. It's good fun.

I'm also excited about doing some navigation coaching on the 6th with bunch of sporty, adventure racing women (and I think one guy). I always enjoy coaching sessions and I think this group will be a hoot.

I'm in the process of setting up a new Orienteering Schools League (OSL) for schools in eastern Jo'burg. On Monday I'm coaching a teacher's workshop. I did one in October (in our northern OSL area) and the teachers were superb and enthusiastic. The response for the workshop hasn't been great - but the timing is not ideal for everyone with year-end, exams and marking. Three geography teachers are confirmed and I look forward to exploring opportunities to align orienteering with map-related syllabus components - for practical map reading experience that will make maps 'real' and fun.

Two weekends ago I had the pleasure of putting two children through one of my orienteering cone grid games -  a six-year old boy and a nine-year old girl. I've never done cone grids with a child as young as 6. He nailed map orientation within a few minutes of being shown what to do and he got addicted, trying grid course after grid course. This weekend I'll try them on a 4x5 grid... and maybe a 7x7 grid too. Yes, they're totally being cultivated.

(Download the grid cards and instructions for Counting Coloured Cones and give it a try too.)

Maps, maps, maps... there's navigation opportunities everywhere!

The adventure racing team and the dog that followed them

If you haven't yet heard about Team Peak Performance (Sweden) and the stray dog, Arthur, that followed them for the final two stages of the AR World Champs, which has just been held in Ecuador, then you must have had your head under a rock.

The story is big news because the dog adopted the team during the race and they have subsequently adopted him. Arthur flew with the team back to Sweden after the race. This canine adventure racer now has a forever home.

It's an absolutely charming story and the sport of adventure racing has never before received so much media attention from around the World - the story even made online news in South Africa. It's all over Facebook too.

If you haven't heard about this yet, then pull up an online newspaper and take a read. Here's a piece on the Daily Mail. Very, very sweet.

Get your mojo on

Last week I went to a workshop presented by my friend, Telana Simpson. She's a communication and personal coach and a place on her 'Boost Your Mojo: Increasing your personal power' workshop was her FEAT Trade with me. It has taken a year for me to be free on the same night as the workshop!

I like to think that my mojo runs pretty well most of the time; but it can wane and so I was totally open to a receiving a boost.

From Telana's website:

Mojo means self confidence, or self assuredness.  It’s the basis for having a belief in your own self, especially in dealing with approaching someone, or when having to confront someone.
Another view of mojo is that it’s a good luck charm that bolsters confidence, and even talks to a magical power, or talent. It’s also known to be about our ability to bounce back from a tough time or negative attitude.
There were a few things from this workshop that stood out for me - also from my interactions with the other women participating in the workshop.

Without giving too much away, the first was the relationship between being responsible TO as opposed to being responsible FOR a person.

When I look at something like my Forest Run, which comes up in March 2015, or even tomorrow night's Metrogaine.

My role is to planning the routes, adequately briefing the participants, ensuring there is water, safety, medical and other relevant components.

For this I am responsible TO the participants. But, if a runner does not adhere to my instructions to carry a hydration bladder at Forest Run and to fill up with water at the aid stations and they don't drink enough and become dehydrated... I am not responsible FOR this runner's behaviour and what they do with what I tell them, although as a result of my responsibilities I'll have medical etc. in place.

It's very much "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink". I'm very cognisant of this, especially as an event organiser - although it applies all around.

This workshop tied together a couple of things that I've been thinking about / moving towards over the last couple of years. Too often these things take a while to arrive at and sometimes longer to implement.

I enjoy workshops and especially the interactions with other attendees. It was nice that we had a small group and good, open discussions where we could link and share experiences.

Wednesday 19 November 2014

The price of admission

I attended a really great workshop tonight, which I'll tell you about in a day or two when I get a chance to type. While there, I had a flash to remember to share a video with you. I'm not sure why I didn't think of it until now... anyhoo...

Little over two months ago I came across this post on the Brain Pickings website. It features a video of journo / author / media guy / LGBT activist Dan Savage speaking about "The Price of Admission".

In short, it's about compromise or deal-breakers in relationships; and it totally applies whether the relationship is with a partner, family member, friend or colleague/client/customer.

I like how he speaks (I've watched a bunch of videos subsequently). I appreciate this message.

Time and time again this theme of 'price of admission' has cropped up in the weeks since I watched this video and I've shared it with friends as they've gone through situations where 'the price of admission' applies.

This video has a way of tweaking the mind and thought process just that little bit. Sometimes you know stuff but it helps to be reminded and re-enlightened.

Monday 17 November 2014

Running under jacarandas

Spring and Summer are seasons where Johannesburg really delivers. If it isn't the fruit tree blossoms and jasmine, then it's the jacarandas, bougainvillea and mulberries that make my heart soar out on the road.

On Thursday morning I headed into Kensington and realised that I didn't have much longer to enjoy running on the purple carpet made by jacaranda flowers on the tar. As my weekly run with Rob was scheduled for that evening, I sent him a message reading, "Got a great route in mind for our run this evening. Think purple...".

He replied, "Jacarandas?"

"Maybe..." (with a smiley) was my answer. OK, so 'purple' in the clue was a dead giveaway...

Fresh from the rain, it was a super run. Kensington is a suburb that stands out for its jacaranda display. We ran along Highland Road and up to the Scottish War Memorial, which is up near Jeppe Boys. It's a super view from here down Bez Valley and across Kensington. The sky was crystal clear too - we could see for miles in every direction.

I'm glad we made it before the jacaranda flowers finished.

Panoramic from the Scottish War Memorial
Looking towards JHB city
Pretty pretty

Rob taking the hills of Kensington in style

Rob on the next climb

Enjoying this urban forest

Lovely old jacaranda trees on Highland Road

Thursday 13 November 2014

The power of persuasion

The Guardian have a quiz on their website designed to guide you as to "What job would make you the happiest?". I'm a sucker for online quizzes and so I gave it a go.

It's no surprise that I scored 20/20 for "Hands on" jobs and almost full points for organsing and creative-y work preferences.

One of the questions reads:

I get a buzz out of...

Persuading somebody to accept an idea or an argument:
  • No interest 
  • Mild interest 
  • Some interest 
  • Definite preference 
  • Strong preference
I was thinking about this quiz today as I spent the morning visiting schools in the Kensington-Bedfordview-Edenvale area - we're setting up a new Orienteering Schools League in this area for next year. I've already reached out to schools where I have contacts for teachers; today's visits were for those where I don't know anyone (and I still have more to do next week).

I had a warm reception from most schools, especially when I got to speak to the relevant sports coordinator. 

The challenge was getting past the receptionist...

At one school, the receptionist was actually quite friendly and presentable but she was also determined to get across that they have absolutely no need of orienteering - or any additional sports, for that matter. They have a well-paid and highly-qualified sports coaches for each of their sports...

I told her that we (the Orienteering Federation) were letting schools in the area know about a teacher workshop coming up, the league for next year and that orienteering, as a sport, actually existed. It's a good fit with athletics and cross-country (and geography!). I told her all we wanted was for her to pass the note on to the relevant sports coordinator. She conceded and I'm certain that had I not extracted the sports guy's name and email address from her that she would have just dumped the note in the bin as soon as I was out of the door.

I'm not always good at persuading people to do things - it depends what I persuading them to do - and generally I don't like having to be convincing. My interactions today with teachers and sports heads and receptionists got me thinking about the quiz because persuasive is exactly what I needed to be. 

In answering this quiz yesterday, my answer to this question had been "No interest". I just hope that my few minutes with them and the concise information that I put together will speak for this sport that I so enjoy.

As the adminstrator for AR Club, I get a lot of notices about cycle races and run races. Also dozens of requests from charity organisations asking for cyclists (for Argus and 94.7) to ride in their colours and raise funds. If I passed all of these on to my club members, they'd be totally irritated - so I only pass on those that are most relevant to my members. I'm the filter. And this can be where information hits a dead end. But, there just too much of it.

I can totally see why the receptionist expressed a lack of interest and intention to pass my note about this small and obscure sport - that she definitely doesn't know a thing about - on to a relevant teacher. Their school offers dozens of sports, for which they employ coaches, and their timetable is chock-a-block full... But it also means that a low-admin, low-equipment, cerebral, individual sport will never see the light of day there. Fortunately I did get the guy's email and I've reached out - primarily because the school property will be fabulous to map for school or club urban events.

I'm very excited about this new League, which will run on a totally different format to the existing League and standard events. I just hope I can be sufficiently persuading to get some new schools involved.

Sunday 9 November 2014

Crochet is... maths, brick laying, climbing

Yesterday afternoon Staci and I had our first crochet workshop. We often hear friends (and friends of friends and other people we encounter) saying, "I wish I could crochet". And so we planned an afternoon session to guide people through the basics.

We had three lovely women in attendance. The one is in her 50s and she has never crocheted in her life. The other, an accomplished mountaineer, is in her 40s and she last picked up a hook when she was a child. And the third is the same age as me; she has dabbled here and there.

Crochet, for me, is mostly maths. Geometry. Everything you construct is about repeated motifs (like fractals). Tall stitches, short stitches, increasing and decreasing to make shapes.

It is also like building a wall - whether the item your creating is constructed linearly in rows or as circles and spirals. Each row is like a layer of bricks and you just build one on top of the next.

And yesterday I realised too that climbing/ropes elements come into it as well with how you hold the yarn. This - holding the yarn in your non-hook hand - is actually the most challenging part of crochet because this is where the tension comes in. Abseil devices slow you down through friction. The more friction, the harder it is for the rope to flow through the device. The tighter or more a rope is 'woven' through the device, the more friction - like an ATC vs a Petzl Stop vs a figure-8.

Over the hand, around the pinky finger, between some others... and you've got a lot (certainly too much) of tension. Relax your grip, make one less 'weave' and the balance is better. Once you find how to hold the yarn (everyone is different and will settle into their own style) and how to get your tension even, crochet becomes a whole lot easier.

What I enjoy about teaching people to crochet (and navigate) is seeing their satisfaction in doing/creating something on their own.

In addition to making a good rectangle from a variety of stitches, the mountaineer put in her first zip - ever. She completed her zip-purse on Saturday night and whatsapped me a photo. A very good job she did.

The complete beginner really battled with holding the yarn and making chains. Chains are the foundation on which the 'bricks' are laid. She was frustrated initially and thought that she'd never get this at all. As she said, this is the first totally unfamiliar and new thing she has tried for many, many years. She left yesterday afternoon with a few rows of beautiful, even, single crochet stitches - and a big smile. Staci will work with her to complete her project. She brought along a magazine with a pattern for a really lovely top. Staci and I look forward to seeing her make it in the months to come.

And my old primary school friend got reacquainted with the basic stitches - learning some new variations too. Her zip-pouch is lovely. She has a pile of hexagons that she made for a blanket but attempts at joining them have been unsatisfactory. She'll bring them to our next crochet session and we'll find a solution so that she can finish her blankie.

Mobile phone snaps sent to me. The rectangles were the ones we worked on in the session by two of the women (and completed at home). These were made using a variety of stitches (sc, hdc, dc, htc and tc) just for practice. The heart was a second (she's now addicted) project made last night/this morning. hahahaha ;)

While meandering on the web recently, I found a pattern for a heart-shaped pouch with a zip - this is what gave me the idea for the project for this session. Making it two (or three?) weeks ago was the first time that I've made a project with a zip. I've now made five others (different shapes, but all with zips). Staci gave the heart a try too and now gets why I'm hooked on making zip-pouches. She has made three hearts - with pretty charms on the zip pull.

New crochet addiction! Zippered pouches. Some recent projects (for Martine, Staci, Kyla and Celliers).
We'll have another session again soon - probably the first weekend in December. I'll let you know when. Men welcome too.

Friday 7 November 2014

Hi-Tec Swerve sandals (review)

I got my first pair of Hi-Tec active sandals a few years ago - Waimea Falls is the name of the model. I don't wear them all the time although I recently lived in them when I went kayaking and camping on the Orange River. They were on my feet in and out of the water for a few days. I mostly use them for trips of this nature - not everyday use.

I've got the darker chocolate-y ones

I've been very happy with them. Until these arrived...

Meet the Hi-Tec Swerve women's sandals...

I've had them for three weeks and I don't think that a day has gone by that I haven't worn them. Driving, to the shops, walking around, with jeans and out to movies, to friends, with a sundress, with shorts...

Where Waimea Falls works for kayaking and bushy-outdoorsy walking with its behind-the-ankle fastening, the Swerve sandal is prettier with its charcoal/emerald colourway and sweet stitch details. It also comes in a chocolate/pink colourway. And as the Swerve doesn't have the ankle fastening, it is a comfortable and quick-to-slip-on sandal.

I wear a UK8 in these, which is equivalent to a real size 7 at Woolies. The buckle strap on top of the foot is adjustable - I'm wearing it as it came, which is perfect for me. The buckle connection is elasticated, which I like because then the strap 'stretches' across the top of the foot as you walk to improve the comfort without restraint. For me, the buckle adds to the pretty appeal of this sandal - there's something about Velcro that reduces prettiness, no matter how sweet a design.

It's a light sandal despite the thick, cushioned sole. This is no flip-flop. One sandal weighs 198g (for comparison, it's the exact same weight as the Waimea Falls sandal; the sole of the Swerve is just slightly more puffy).

I like that there are a number of criss-cross straps; it means that the sandals stay on securely and don't slop when you walk. The 't' between your toes is not intrusive because of the strap support.

As far as sporty-looking, walk-about, all-purpose sandals go, I give the Hi-Tec Swerve a BIG thumbs up. They've been on my feet daily for the better part of three weeks and I don't see them being anywhere else -at least until winter next year.

My thanks to Hi-Tec for sending me these sandals to enjoy and review.

Metrogaine planning

I enjoy the challenge of planning Metrogaine events - looking at control placement, points allocation...

In planning courses, I wonder how to really challenge my fastest and most experienced Metrogainers (they run 17-20km in 90-minutes) as well as providing options for newcomers and walkers.

There's an orienteering format that is taking Australia by storm. It's called ScatterO. Here there are a set number of controls out there - say 25 (this is what I'm using). 'Courses' specify how many controls participants MUST collect. There may or may not be a time limit and there may or may not be a points allocation to each control.

My Metrogaine will have both a time limit (90-minutes) plus a score allocation. It's a rogaining-scatter-score event style.

The fastest pair with the highest score wins.

What I like about this format is that I can create a number of different courses to cater for walkers and speedy and experienced running navigators. And every team has a decent amount of time to play.

The BIG challenge for me is in the control placements. As I'm specifying how many of the available controls the participants must get, I need to make sure that they're within an accessible distance.

For fun, I took the map from the last Metrogaine (June), which started from the Cliffview Primary school. I randomly removed controls to leave only 25. Then I tried two routes; one of them aiming for the shortest distance between controls. It came out at around 17 kilometres. Now that's way too far for a minimum distance! I'm aiming at around 12km for the shortest distance on the longest course.

Here are two courses that I drew. Note that the points allocation etc is as it was for the past Metrogaine. My points considerations will be different for this new format.

The Cliffview event was a good one in that there were many controls that the fastest competitors did not get (that's my goal in course planning). I always include a couple of carrots that I doubt the runners will get; they're in there to catch their attention.

What I learned from playing around with this map for a ScatterO format is that I need to close down my event area - not as large.

A good strategy for competitors is probably to first identify those controls that they are unlikely to be able to get... and then to reassess their options at halfway (45-mins).

I'm still in the process of drawing the map. Over the weekend I'll start planning control placements - and of course next week I need to check for road closures, which seriously affect what I can do in reality out there.

Without doubt this will be my most challenging Metrogaine course to plan.

Entries are open - on orienteeringonline (for registered orienteers) and EntryTickets (for everyone else).

All info for this Metrogaine event is on www.AR.co.za.

Wednesday 5 November 2014

I am entered

It has been way, way too long since I've done a race. No, not a race like the usual orienteering events that I participate in or the rogaining events... but like an ultra-distance run race-type event.

About a week ago the announcement was made about an ultra in the Sabie area for end-January next year. My legs started to twitch in anticipation. Sabie is mountain-y and forest-y and I soooo enjoy that part of the world. That this 80-kilometre route doubles up as the SA Trail Champs is of little interest to me because while I'm steady and consistent when it comes to ultras, I'm definitely not in the league of Landie and Su and Linda and Robyn and Katya and a handful of other really superb female runners who will be running for a place on the team for the World Trail Champs.

Me, I just want to run and run and run and run.

Back in about 1999 the Sabie 32 was one of my first trail races. I had a superb run there. Easy, comfortable and my first 32km distance run.

I was entered for an 80km in March this year. It was postponed to May following the massive flooding we experienced at that time of year. And then it was cancelled outright. I don't think I've run an ultra since... since the 50-odd kilometre stage at the Namib Desert Challenge last year. That's way too long ago.

I've just done my entry for the Ultra Trail Mount Moodie 80km and I'm tapping my feet with excitement. Although my motivation usually ticks over reasonably, there's nothing like the prospect of a tantalizing race to super charge my training.

Wednesday 29 October 2014

Videos of FEAT talks online

Last week I collected a DVD of videos of the talks from FEAT from my editor, Anel. I was tasked with watching the videos to check for gremlins for final edit. I loaded the DVD and sat down to watch. Little more than 90-minutes later I was done; and delighted - with both the technical aspects of the videos and from enjoyment of watching the talks.

For me, the event itself is a distraction from the talks. There's the amazing vibe from the audience; I get to meet most of the speakers in person for the first time; and my mind is on the running of the event. On stage, I sit side-on to the speakers so I don't get a proper look at their faces and expressions. But when I watch the videos it is without distraction. I'm relaxed, completely focused on the talks and I get to look at the faces of the speakers. I delight in the talks so much more because the watching experience is partnered with personal experience of the night.

Without fail, I hear comments and charming messages in the videos that I totally missed on the night and I laugh at funny comments (again), even though I know they are coming.
In past years I’ve released the videos of talks one-by-one. But, as I had so much fun watching all of them in one go last week, I uploaded every one of the 10 talks plus the highlights/funnies video for everyone to enjoy online in one go too – highly recommended!
You'll find the videos from this FEAT (and all the others) on the FEAT website, or directly on the FEAT YouTube Channel (FEAT Talks).
I totally recommend kicking back for 90-mins or so to watch all of the talks in one go. It's like watching a movie - only better.

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Running with fur-friends

I aim to fetch the huskies for a run on Monday or Friday afternoons, when the domestic assistant is there. For weeks I've been either tied up on Mondays and Fridays or not in town so I haven't seen my fur-friends for too many weeks.

I rarely take them out on Wednesdays because the gardener is there and he takes them; but I've been so missing my furry friends that I asked their dad whether I could swing past today.

What a delight! Of course I took treats along and the husks were delighted to see me.

Husks and heat don't go too well so we took our run easy and I also rested them in the shade and gave them lots of water. When we got back to their home they jumped straight into their shells (those kiddie sandpit things, which are filled with water). The husks are funny creatures because they don't lie in their shells - they just stand and sometimes kick the water around. They also let me splash them.

I find running with the husks to be really calming and so focused on... running. They're good company and I miss them when I don't see them regularly.

Thursday 16 October 2014

Leisurely adventuring

I got back on Tuesday from a few days of leisurely adventuring. Leisurely-anything is a bit of a foreign concept to me so going off on an adventure designed to be relaxing... I loved it!

This was a camp-kayak-raft adventure on the Orange River, the stretch from Hopetown and about 45km downriver, including the magnificent Thunder Alley.

The drive from Jo'burg takes a good chunk of the day, especially if you stop regularly along the way. We spent the night in Hopetown at the most fabulous B&B, Die Stalle (very recommended) and got on the river around noon on Friday.

My friends were in a raft; I had the absolute treat of paddling the Fluid Do It Now, a sit-on-top whitewater boat.

I've paddled K1s, K2s, surfski, crocs, 6-person rafts and sea kayaks but never before a whitewater boat. It is incredibly stable and very responsive. It has no rudder, so you use paddle strokes to steer.

This stretch of river is mostly flat with a few rapids. Water was low and rapids were friendly. Going into the rapids, even pretty small ones, they can look quite large - but once you're in them the kayak just bounces through. It is helluva good fun and I'm hooked. I was totally chuffed on Monday when I made it neatly through the biggest rapid of the journey with ease. No swimming for me.

On Friday we paddled only for a few kilometres to a great overnight spot. We took our time to find a good spot that we could enjoy for two nights as we planned to spend Saturday lazing on the river bank. A farmer had also told us that a storm, blowing strong winds upriver, was due on Saturday. We found a great spot that was sufficiently sheltered by trees and with grass, beach-like sand and a nice river bank.

Although the wind blew upriver on Saturday, the weather was otherwise perfect - sunny and warm. Not good paddling conditions but perfect for sitting around watching the river and listening to fish eagles calling. Our day of camping was well timed.

We were back on the water on Sunday for a longer stretch to Hell's Gate, the entrance to Thunder Alley. Hell's Gate is more a nasty rapid than a waterfall and at low water it was particularly nasty.

With only two adults it wasn't an option to rope the laden raft through so we decided to portage the gear, camp overnight (it was late afternoon when we got here) and reassess the raft situation in the morning.

By morning the water had dropped further and even roping an empty raft was too risky so we decided to portage it to a safe put-in below Hell's Gate. Fortunately it wasn't a big distance to cover and although the whole portage and reloading of the raft took time, it was relatively smooth and easy.

Getting back on to the water in the kayak I had to negotiate a fast flowing current heading into a little rapid in a narrow channel. I was advised to just go with the flow (unlike in racing kayaks where you paddle into the rapid, with whitewater kayaks you let the water take you and you just control direction), keep my nose forward and to take care of the whirlpools. And obviously, if I swim, to keep my feet up.

Well, I cruised it like a pro (that's what it felt like anyway - probably looked messy!), missed the whirlpools and came out unscathed but with my heart rate most definitely elevated. How exciting!

Monday was a really long day but it was spectacular too. Thunder Alley is like a scaled-down version of the gorge below the Augrabies Falls. Rocky walls carved by water into the most incredible sculptures. Blue sky, swiftly flowing current, wind behind us (most of the time) and a few fish eagle spottings.

Although we'd intended to make it home by Monday night, we had a longer than expected day out there because of the morning portage so we only got off the water in the early evening. We spent the night again in Hopetown.

The bonus of travelling back on Tuesday is that we got to Kimberley by 08h30 - in time to see the Big Hole and have breakfast there.

The river is a wonderful playground for children with its sandy and muddy banks. Quite how they can handle being in cold water all day I can't quite fathom. We did a float-downriver 'swim' and my heart almost stopped with the cold... Yet I remember having a high tolerance too for the cold when I was a child. Quite incredible this is.

I don't have photos to show you of the river and scenery... yet. I left my camera in the car for the whole of the river trip. I'll get photos in a few days and will add in some of the river and surrounds (I had my camera back in hand for the Big Hole).

The river... b.e.a.u.t.i.f.u.l! And especially as it contrasts to the harsh Northern Cape terrain (rocks, scrub vegetation, sand and heat) away from the river. And no other people around. No mobiles or internet either. So, so, so peaceful and simple. Just perfect.

This camping-paddling way of leisurely adventuring has won me over. It has a bit of this and that together with a whole lot of adventure in the paddling and camping, with time in which to appreciate and enjoy where you are.

I made it back to Jo'burg in time for the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour premiere. The film selection this year is an interesting mix. There was only one short film that didn't really do it for me and one that I am convinced I've seen before. The rest had me enthralled.

Banff is not to be missed. Ever. I don't even check out the line-up, I just go. Always totally worth it.

You can get all the screening and booking dates from the Banff website (www.banff.co.za) - for most major centres it is 23-31 October.

Summer. Veggie Garden. It's happening.

I've been away from home for the better part of two weeks; first house- and animal-sitting for friends and then for a bit of adventuring. Coming home, the changes in my veggie garden are tremendous.

Unlike last season, I got off to a better start this season - with a focus on watering the plants regularly (and a good dose of water too). This is where I totally slacked this year.

I cleaned up my main bed in early September and put in compost from my own compost heap - my very yield. I only left in a few flowers and some mangy spinach plants from last season. And then I added purchased seedlings: cherry tomatoes from my neighbour as well as baby red cabbages, swiss chard (variety) and eggplant. And then I put in baby spinach and Asian leafy veg and nasturtium seeds.

On the herb garden side... The same neighbour who gave me the cherry tomato seedlings, gave me packets of seeds for chives, basil, thyme and fennel. I bought seeds for rhubarb and patty pans (in an empty slot in the herb garden as the main bed is full). And while I was away he bought some basil seedlings, which have gone in too. His wife loves the fresh basil for cooking; we should have quite a load this season. All of these seedlings and plants are coming on very nicely.

I've had a couple of spinach harvests already and I've spread the haul around to the gardener for our complex and to my neighbour, as he has been the most invested in the garden. It's an open garden in our complex and neighbours are invited to enjoy the produce (within reason).

Another neighbour recently donated a cement bench to this part of the garden - she wanted to move it out of her garden. It looks great.

And often when I'm working out there other neighbours pull in to see what is happening. The garden has community advantages beyond what comes out of it.

My new creation is a vygie garden; next to my tree tomato plants (nearing two years old). I really like vygies and this piece of ground really cooks in the sun so they should do well. It's not much to look at yet but should improve with time.

I'm enjoying the satisfaction of the garden and growth again. Once it is happening, maintenance is pretty easy and not too time consuming. Afterall, all the plants need from me is a little attention and lots of water.

Sunday 5 October 2014

The magic of FEAT

We had the most wonderful FEAT evening on Thursday night. I didn't get much sleep before airport drops on Friday morning so I've been a bit of a zombie and was so totally communicationed out. But I'm back...

Let's see... this was the BIGGEST FEAT event thus far with around 900 people in the Linder Auditorium. It seats 1060 so we weren't full; I have no doubt that next year we will be.

There are always things to improve on - and I've got a list. With a new venue there will be teething problems but as Linder will be FEAT's home for a long while to come, I've got the opportunity to iron out the kinks. BTW - my dates for next year are already reserved. I've got 1 and 8 October as options... I'll probably go with 8 October.

If you'll indulge me... more than anything it is my team at FEAT that are so special. I really could not pull it off (or get through the night!) without them by my side.

I always get through to the venue really early to get things ready for the people who have stuff to setup. When I arrive my AV guy, Johan (from Showgroup) - and his assistant Piet - already had the projection screens up as well as the LED lights for the back wall lighting. They really made the stage look amazing. The venue is actually an orchestra venue so adding LED lighting against the rear wood-panelled wall added dimension. We put up two huge screens, elevated and angled them and projected from the balcony.

I was totally impressed with what the guys created for me. I've used Showgroup in the past (Alexandra Theatre - Oct 2011 and 2012) and I've always gone to them without looking elsewhere because I used to work alongside them back in the day when I was doing tv camera work at events. Always professional. And they more than lived up to expectations. Without hesitation I'll have them back next year.

Alistair, an AR friend, is my sound guy and he has been with me for every event. He even came down to Cape Town with me in Feb 2011. Al makes sure that everything runs smoothly - sound being very critical!

My dear adventurer friend Ray came up from Cape Town for FEAT, as he does every year. He comes up either the day before or in the morning and kindly allows himself to be dogsbody for things that need doing. Floor decals, banners, parking signs, photo wall assembly, rigging speakers with mics, helping me to pack everything up afterwards. Ray has spoken on the FEAT stage twice. Not having Ray at FEAT would be like missing a hand.

My mom... Her involvement with FEAT starts months before and the amount of stuff she allows me to get her to do is vast. But more than anything she gives me unwavering support, which really keeps the boat afloat and my sanity intact.

Also on my core team is Kyle, who has run the slides for the past three years. Kyle was a speaker at the first FEAT in Oct 2010. Staci (the same crochet Staci) can handle anything. This year she took on the sales of FEAT Buffs. Lauren is so totally an old hand at the Guest Ticket Table where she passes on the complimentary tickets assigned to the partners of speakers, sponsors and media. She also handles a host of other issues that I don't even get to hear about (but I'm very certain they're there), like from audience members who don't know their seat numbers, can't find their tickets...

Maggi and Marcel did the photography again for me this year (they also shot Forest Run earlier in the year). I pretty much just leave them to it and from when they got involved last year I've been impressed by their commitment and attention to detail. Maggi is a whiz with the photo wall.

Willem and Tiaan are my videography guys and they've shot all the events except the one in CT. Back in the day I worked with both guys. We travelled around the country shooting all kinds of events and activities for about two years. Like the rest of my team, I just leave these two to it and they make nice-nice.

Heidi is a newcomer - but a long-time friend - and this was her first FEAT. She worked magic to make me look presentable on stage ;)

I brought in my young orienteering friends this year to be door ushers. It was the first FEAT for all but one and they are such FEAT fans now. Ant, Brad, Caitlin, Jess, Sarah B, Sarah P, Tim and Dylan were bubbling with excitement and enthusiasm. I printed floor plans of the theatre and seating plans for their section and didn't worry about another thing. As orienteers, they do maps. They were accompanied by Zoe (Staci's charming daughter) and Tayla (my mom's friend's daughter) - who I didn't get to meet.

Libia and Gideon kept an eye on things in the foyer. They've assisted me at many events going back - from being on my marshalling team for the Spur adventure events to guiding cars into parking at last year's FEAT. They thoroughly enjoy the variety of the events and are always game for anything.

For me, having a team I can trust is non-negotiable. There are so many things happening on the night and when each person does what they have to do, then it really is easy. And it was.

The talks were as diverse and varied as always. It is impossible to pick a favourite because each speaker and topic is so different. This year there were 10 talks and 14 speakers in total (four of the talks were by pairs).

One talk that will be talked about for a long time to come is definitely that by the young Wits Yacht Club sailors, Patrick Chappel and Alistair Moodie. They did the Cape2Rio yacht race in Jan and we've been in contact for some time. They were in the audience at FEAT last year. The pair came on to stage wearing their foul weather gear, which is what they started the trip in - awful weather out of Cape Town. And they took off layers during their talk down to their Speedos. That will be a hard one to beat ;)

 Planning the speaker order is a bigger deal than you can imagine - to get the right mix and flow and variety. Many of the speakers I only meet on the night so while I know the topic, I don't know what they're going to be like. I'm never disappointed because speakers are always a great bunch of people. This year the order really worked well.

To Alistair, Clyde, Cobus, David, Guy, Jacques, Patrick, Ryno, Sean, Squash, Steve, Tracy, Vasti and Vaughan - thank you. You are FEAT.

I also have the most amazing sponsors. They all got so much more involved this year and really pulled out the stops to have an awesome presence in the foyer. Sure, FEAT needs their money to make the event happen, but more than this I need them. Their support and involvement. And they were so totally there this year. Thank you Black Diamond, Fluid Kayaks, Powertraveller and Trappers.

Also in the foyer I had a bunch of adventurers with their books - many of them past speakers. I've read most of them and can highly recommend getting your hands on their books. Feedback from them is that they did sell some copies and they were also delighted to autograph copies that the audience brought with them to have signed. And also just to chat to people. Lovely interactions. I look forward to growing this aspect of FEAT. It really is a big deal to write and publish a book and FEAT is the best place to celebrate and share this.

The photo wall this year had a kayaking theme and we had a Fluid sit-on-top plus paddles, helmets, PFDs as accessories with a waterfall (kayaker dropping down it) backdrop. I look forward to seeing the photos.

Maggi and Marcel are busy editing photos, which will go up on Facebook shortly. The video footage is in with my editor, Anel (she has edited all FEAT events). Talks will start to go up online in the next few weeks. I enjoy watching them because I often miss bits during the night.

On Friday I spent a lot of time on the phone calling my team and speakers. I also spoke to my catering guys - they made up all the platters for the speakers and guests pre-show and also ran the bar.

"Your audience is fabulous," they told me. "Such nice people. We hope you'll be back again because we'll do anything you need, any time."

Yes, that's the FEAT audience.

I feel like a proud parent whose child is complimented by strangers for being good and well behaved and polite and well brought up. Even the audience does me proud.

So that was FEAT Jo'burg 2014.

My next adventure? Sleeping!

P.S. This post marks my 1000th blog entry. Goodness!

Saturday 27 September 2014

Recycling roundabout

A few years ago when I ran the Himalayan Stage Race in India, I had the fortune to visit Dehli and Agra (and revel in the congested 7hr / 250km drive between the two cities). There I realised what 1.3 Billion people means and also decided that as far as waste and consumption goes, there's little hope for us humans and our trash and the poor planet. There's just sooooo much of it!

Even so, I find pleasure in recycling and that itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny bit of hope that recycling my plastic, glass, metal and paper waste helps even a little.

At my previous home, I would put my recyclables aside for a friendly recycling collector, Gerald. I figured it was far more pleasant to find out what he wanted and to put it aside for him rather than for Gerard to have to scratch through trash for these items, which he then takes to a recycling centre to earn a little income. We had a good thing going. And then I moved (and Gerard moved on a short while later too - stable employment in the Northern suburbs at what I think is a furniture manufacturer; I hope he is still there - a really decent guy).

For quite some time there was a recycling centre at a local mall and I'd stop past every week or so to drop off recyclables. And then they disappeared it.

My local hardware store has bins outside - one each for the four recyclable groups; so totally insufficient for plastics. I phoned the people who manage the bins; their number was printed on the panels on the roofed frame housing the bins. It wasn't a very satisfying conversation. I've used it for a few weeks.

About two weeks ago I saw that the panels had been removed and the setup looks like it too is going to disappear.

So, I got online. In this day and age where the environment and recycling is so in, I can barely believe that in my area there are no recycling centres. My closest is a Pikitup Garden Refuse Site in Sandringham. Many of the Pikitup sites have recycling bins too. It's not convenient, but currently my only option. I was very impressed with the cleanliness and neatness of the site and the friendly guys who assisted me.

Pick 'n Pay has bins for batteries and light bulbs. But you've got to ask / hunt for it because it certainly isn't placed in easy view...

Yesterday I went to Makro. As I grabbed a trolley, I noticed that there were signs cable-tied to many of the trolleys promoting a Samsung electronics recycling facility - "Eat. Sleep. Recycle" were the words on the sign.

I asked two Makro guys where this was (I assumed it would be in Makro) and what electronics could be taken there - only Samsung, or any? They didn't know a thing about it (even though there were trolleys left-right-and-centre promoting this) so they took me to the Samsung guy in the electronics department. He didn't know, said he hadn't been told about it and suggested that I phone Samsung. It's enough to make me see red, green and blue.

"No," I told him, with a smile, "the signs on the trolleys are in this store to promote this service. You work here and you work for Samsung so you're going to phone them and find out and I'll come back shortly so you can tell me."

It was one of those days for me.

I went back a bit later and he took me to a container outside the doors where you can toss in any electronic products - and not just Samsung.

"See," I said, "now when other people ask, you know the answer."

I've just found this media release about Samsung's partnership with Makro (and DESCO - the recycler) on this e-waste recycling initiative and here's a list of drop-off points for South Africa.

Today I took an old happy-snappy digital camera (after about five years it had done one too many races and it had stopped working completely and Sony said it would cost more to fix than to buy a new one) and a printer (it has printing issues but can still scan) to the container. A car guard saw me and he wanted the goods. I told him of the issues and he still wanted them.

I figure that is recycling too.

My guess is that a lot more people would recycle if facilities were convenient, accessible and well managed. It really is easy to rinse containers and toss them in a tub to drop off once-a-week or two. It greatly reduces the amount of trash that goes into landfill. Like massively. And your eyes will pop at the volume of plastic in our lives -this is evident only when you separate your trash.

I don't know whether recycling everything I can is enough to save the planet... but it makes me feel better.

Little O mistakes

Ja, with FEAT on this coming Thursday, I'm a bit behind the times. Nonetheless, here's a bit of my O magic from this past Sunday.

My club, Adventure Racing Club, hosted the bush O event at the Hennops Trail venue North of Jo'burg. It's a great area with a good mix of terrain and distinct features. I wasn't involved with the planning, just with the on-the-day helping so I was through at the venue really early to set up start, finish and registration, with assistance from other club members not involved with the planning.

I only started running just before 11 - it was already plenty warm out.

I found the terrain to be pretty decent. A lot of the open ground was pretty runnable and some was very runnable with few rocks. There were also some steep climbs (many close contours) and I was a total lazy butt, walking them.

Overall my navigation was exemplary. But I did have two wee wobbles.

Here they are:

Control 4 to 5

Fairly straight forward and a short distance of maybe 150-200m between the controls. My initial line was A-ok, but just short of the actual control location. There were also a few other cliffs around, that were not boulders (I've drawn them in red). I came down and when I saw the cliffs I totally expected to see the control. Curious... nothing.

I actually thought I'd overshot so I backtracked thinking I'd missed the right cliff. I then stayed on the correct level, walked past my previous point on top of the cliff and within a metre or three saw the control. Doh!

Control 11-12

I know, I know... what was I thinking! Clearly a no brainer too...

Here's what happened. Follow with me.
Leaving Control 11 - no problem. Easy. My options were to go to the left or the right of the ridge. Note the cliffs marked - thick black lines (no, not the path), the boulder cluster (sold black dot) and knolls (brown dots) and boulders all over (quite big ones in reality). It was a clear feature. I decided to some up from below - nice, pleasant terrain.

I must have come up very near the control but I was not yet looking for it. If you draw a straight line along the ridge, it looks like the control is just to the right of it, at the end, eh? Well, it wasn't. Thinking I had the wrong boulders, I dropped down a bit, saw the fence and headed up.

I figured that since I'd messed up from the bottom, I'd correct my alignment from the top. Truth be told, there wasn't really anywhere here to hide the control that I shouldn't have seen it. But, you never know.
So, I tracked along the right-hand side of the ridge (coming from the direction of 11) and ended up in the same place.

There was another guy with me here - he'd come from on top - where I'd initially approached from below.

Then I started thinking... if the control is clearly not at the end of the ridge, to the right, where could it be? Look at the contours... And the contours show the control at the end of the spur - a cliff and boulder cluster marked. So I went to the end of the spur... and found the control. Clear as daylight.

There were a few controls from here to the finish - all in close proximity.

I drank all my water out there, had a good glug when I came in and headed out again to collect controls - penance for wasting time on two very easy controls. hahahaha.

Wednesday 17 September 2014

A Fair experience

On Saturday Staci and I did our first crochet stall at a fair and it was a pretty good experience. The Vaaloewer River and Country Market is a new, annual fair in the village of Vaaloewer, just upstream of Parys.

The market didn't have a lot of traffic but nonetheless we had a some sales. Not a lot, but some. Our friend had the stall next to us and she didn't have that many sales either.

Of the people who did come past... they were generally really sweet and delighted to have a wide range of headband colours and flowers to choose from. A few stood out: like the one lady we noticed some time later walking around the market wearing her navy headband with its white daisy and she looked amazing. Another lady bought a flower to pin on to her hat; another bought a mint green headband and pink rose-like flowers and she put it on immediately.

Another lady bought a large flower as a brooch for herself and she wanted another in autumn colours for her daughter, who lives overseas. So we whipped one up there and then for her - she chose the colours and came to fetch it some time later. She was delighted.

We received a number of compliments too on our work, especially from women who crochet too. That's always nice.

For the rest, we so enjoyed parking off on our camp chairs, chatting to each other, other people and friends who stopped past.

That night both Staci and I enjoyed watching dvds at our own homes with nothing in our hands - for the first time in two months!

I'd do this again but definitely not with any regularity. It's a huge amount of fun but time-consuming work.

We've still got stock so we're looking at other fair options and may also have an open day for friends and relations as we'd put them off getting flowers and headbands until after the market.

What is meningitis?

Adventure racer Rika Viljoen is currently in hospital with bacterial meningitis and like the rest of the the AR community, I've been reading up on this illness. This piece that I've written should answer your questions around how Rika got bacterial mengitis.

You've probably heard of meningitis and know that it has something to do with an infection and the brain and that it generally is not a good thing to have. You're right. And that's essentially what it is - an infection of the brain.

The most common symptom is a headache and a stiff neck; those affected can't tip their head forward to touch their chin to their chest.

Fever (increased body temperature caused when the body sends out the artillery to deal with the invaders), confusion or altered consciousness, vomiting, and an inability to tolerate light or loud noises are also symptoms.

There are two common agents that cause infection - viruses and bacteria. And it isn't any one specific virus or bug (bug is lingo for bacteria); a variety of each are responsible. Parasites, funguses and non-infectious agents (like cancer, cysts and certain drugs) can also be responsible.

On the virus front, enteroviruses (responsible for a range of diseases including polio, chronic fatigue syndrome and non-specific illnesses where fever, headache, sore tummy, sore throat and muscle pain are symptoms), herpes simplex 2 (genital herpes), the chicken pox and shingles virus, mumps virus, HIV and a virus carried by rats that literally goes straight to the head of the infected person.

In adults, the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis (also known as meningococcus) and Streptococcus pneumoniae (also known as pneumococcus) together cause 80% of bacterial meningitis cases.

Meningococcus live in the nose and throat of 5-15% of adults as part of the normal flora, causing no trouble.
Pneumococcus also just hangs around and you can have it and not be ill. It's the fellow responsible for causing pneumonia and when you're susceptible (lowered immunity, elderly, children) then it takes advantage of the situation to cause a range of illness from a snotty nose to a sinus infection, middle-ear infection, pink eye to pneumonia.

It's important to diagnose what has caused the meningeal infection because treatment needs to be specific for the organism. First treatment line is antibiotics (for meningitis caused by bacteria) and antiviral medications (for meningitis caused by viruses).

We're invaded by a multitude of viruses and bugs all the time and just because you have flu or a sinus infection it doesn't mean that you'll develop meningitis.

There are three membranes that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord. These are called the meninges.

So looking at the three layers there's a soft, form-fitting base layer (against the brain - capillaries penetrate this layer), a light-weight, loose-fitting waterproof shell and a storm-weather, thick and durable waterproof jacket (below the skull). Fluid (Cerebrospinal Fluid - CFS) flows in the space (subarachnoid space) between the loose-fitting shell and the base layer.

And then there's this wonderful mechanism called the blood-brain barrier (BBB). More than 100 years ago it was found that if a blue dye was injected into the bloodstream of an animal, if showed up in tissues of the whole body except the brain and spinal cord.

Infectious agents have to get through the meninges or BBB into the CFS to cause meningitis, which is an infection specifically of the loose-fitting shell (arachnoid mater) and the form-fitting base layer (pia mater) of these layers as well as the actual brain tissue, which become inflammed.

With is being not-so-easy for bacteria to get into the meninges and CFS, how do they do so?

They gain access either through the bloodstream or by direct contact with the CSF and meninges via the nasal cavity or skin. Invasion of the bloodstream is most common. You need to have head trauma (injury / skull fracture) or an infection of the throat or sinuses that has made contact with the subarachnoid space.

On Friday, while at work (she's a school teacher), the first sign for Rika that something was wrong was that she had a really bad headache and her vision was affected to the extent that she couldn't see properly. She was taken straight to casualty by a colleague. The hospital sent her home having diagnosed a sinus infection. On Friday night she was in pain and not doing well. Richard took her back to the hospital.

I think meningitis was confirmed on Saturday (lumbar puncture is performed to extract CSF) and treatment initiated.

And this is the key element here: sinuses are one way for bacteria to get into the CFS.

Sinuses are air-filled spaces around the nasal cavity. There are four of them. Many major blood vessels, supplying blood to the brain, lie next to the sinuses - and that's how infection is transferred.

You could have a sinus infection every season and never get meningitis. It's really a combination of factors (severe infection in just the wrong place) that results in the conditions that lead to meningitis.

Treatment is specifically geared towards fighting the infection (intravenous antibiotics) and probably also corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and swelling of the meninges and resulting pressure on the brain. Sedation is common practice.

Bacterial meningitis is a very serious illness and Rika has a battle on her hands. Being young, fit and healthy is a big positive in her arsenal in her fight against this infection.

Friday 12 September 2014

Flower Power

OK, so I got a little excited last night about the crochet stall tomorrow... I took some photos of my flowers and headbands. I figured that I'd take photos to have a record. I'll take photos of Staci's colourful creations tomorrow morning.

Here are some of them...

Thursday 11 September 2014

Crochet crazy - my first fair

About two months ago I had my arm twisted into taking a stall at the Vaaloewer River and Country Market. It's an annual market/fair in the town of Vaaloewer, which is a little town on the Vaal River, a little upstream of Parys. Not wanting to go it alone, I roped in my friend Staci to partner me on this project. She's also a crochet whiz.

As it is Spring and we love flowers, we decided to go with making headbands and flowers; the flowers can attach to the headbands or be worn independently as brooches. We've gone with 100% cotton yarn (feels great and nice and cool) and have a load of colours.

We've been methodically working through balls and balls - turning yarn into things.

The fair is this Saturday! It's one thing to make stuff for friends and family and babies... and another to make products for sale. A little daunting.

Our brand is Loops & Stitches.

We're especially proud of our wooden buttons. I did the designs (inspired by buttons I saw online) and Staci's colleague laser-cut them for us.

It's hard to price crafts because if you set a fee at an hourly rate that one commands for other work the products are too pricey for people to buy. There are loads of suggestions online like cost of materials multiplied by a factor, like by three. We've taken these into consideration but mostly we're winging it because it's our first time and by interacting with people at the fair we can gauge their response to our products and will be better informed for next year. The challenge too has been how much stuff to make. Big learning experience on Saturday for us.

Here are some early photos I took for the market's FB page about a month ago. I'll take more on Saturday to show you our creations. Since we took these photos we've created headbands in a variety of stitch patterns and piles of flowers. Staci and I have each made a string of crocheted bunting and Staci has also made really sweet and colourful characters -  a bird and an owl.