Sunday 23 February 2014

Forest Run - grass cutting and tractor riding

I had an excellent two days out at Lakenvlei on Wednesday and Thursday last week for one part of the big preparations for this coming weekend's Forest Run (Sat, 1 March). It's a forested ultra with 35km and 62km routes.

Komatiland Forests, owners of the plantation, have been absolutely awesome this year and they have slashe the grass on many of the tracks that I use for the race. Between my scouting visits in November and the event in March, the grass grows from ankle height to eyeball height - it's really crazy in places. And because the grass gets so long you can't see your feet - nor the track below. Now it is all beautiful and race-ready.

Together with Amos, driving the tractor, we slashed more than half of the route on Thursday; he completed the rest on Friday.

I've got Orienteering Schools League tomorrow (Monday) and then I'm off early on Tuesday morning to begin tagging the route. It's a lengthy - but enjoyable - manual process that takes a few days. I hope to be done with the tagging on Thursday morning so that I can focus on droppers and sign boards the same day and then have Friday for prepping the waterpoints. My helpful team (catering, medics, photographers, marshals, sweepers) come through on Friday evening and we'll be ready to roll on Saturday morning.

Some pics from my grass cutting adventure...

Before... looking ahead in the direction of running (the faint tracks you can see in the grass - that's where we drove through in a bakkie that morning). After... turning around to look back. Amazing!

Although I mostly walked ahead of the tractor, I did get in a few rides on sections that we were not cutting. Tractors are super cool.

Sunday 16 February 2014

Spanish MOOC - done!

Last night (strictly speaking 1am would be 'this morning') I completed the Spanish MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) that I've been doing for the past few weeks. Although the course was spaced over four weeks, we had an additional week (just less) to complete all the content - I got a bit behind in the last week and a bit so this was really needed.

The teaching methodology applied was quite different to what I've experienced before, which is why I wanted to do it.

Our teacher, Scott Rapp (American), uses mostly music videos - Shakira, Enrique, other Spanish artists and - my favourite - children's songs - to improve listening skills, reading and word recognition. Activities based around the video include clicking on the correct word when it is said/sung (while reading the lyrics with words missing) and variations on the gap-fill type of activities (text, no video) plus some verb conjugation and practice of pronoun (including reflexive, possessive as well as direct and indirect object) use. These can be challenging to use in practice even if you know them in theory.

Even though this was a beginner course and I've had some Spanish experience, I still most definitely benefited from the repetition of words (improved familiarity and recall), learning new words (expanding vocab), putting into practice grammatical things that I know in theory but have not applied much and also the discipline of working on my lessons almost every day. I also enjoyed the Google Hangout sessions, where you talk to other people on the course and use your Spanish on them - and they on you.

I dropped Scott a note last night thanking him for the course and directing him to some super music videos he may like to use - from my favourite group "No te van gustar". He responded promptly. I've also been curious as to how a person with absolutely no experience would fare as their learning curve would have been far steeper than mine. He says that total beginners score above 93% on the questions presented - so they're recognising and selecting the correct options.

This course has been free and there are other levels that can be done for a really minimal fee (I think about $29). I'm not up for it at the moment as I've got the other MOOC course starting next month; but I may consider it for later. There's never enough opportunity for practice and this course keeps me working away to expanding my vocabulary, spoken abilities and experience.

If you have any interest in learning Spanish, it's well worth a try. The course is called Spanish Basics I and it is on

This is my favourite of the music videos... It's about a snake from a hot place and people think he's crazy because he likes to eat bananas with hot water. One day he goes to a cold place. When he smiles you can see his teeth. He wants to get a hairstyle so he goes to a hair salon but he doesn't have a hair on his head so a hairstyle is not possible. Then then he goes to a shoe shop to buy shoes... but he doesn't have any feet so he ends up not buying anything. Totally silly, but very sweet.

Thursday 13 February 2014

Hammie on a wheel

There is indeed no rest with so many things on the go!

AR Club Summer Series
Last night we wrapped up the AR Club Summer Series, which I presented with my friend Garry. Even simple events are time consuming! The series went really well and last night we had the highest turnout with around 120 participants plus a good number of children taking part with their folks. A bunch of people assisted at events with registration, photographs, putting out controls and collecting controls... It's all here on our club website.

Orienteering School League
I'm well and truly immersed in our Orienteering Schools League. One of our events was rained out so we've only had a training event and one actual event over the past three weeks. After setting up, my task is to be out in the field, catching and assisting lost children. I aim to teach some basics to get them pointed in the right direction.

The biggest problem I notice every year (and this Monday in particular) is that the children don't even look at their maps. They run around with maps flapping in the wind as they hunt all over place, hoping to catch sight of a control flag... Or they look for other children and go where they've come from... There's something to be said for making your own decisions and your own mistakes.

The 'answers' are all there on the map - all depends whether you're looking or seeing (or neither!).

I also take photos while I'm out there. I haven't done much photography since the League last year so I'm settling into the groove and having good fun taking photos of these young orienteers.

Veggie garden 
I've been VERY neglectful of my garden, which hasn't been fabulous this season - certainly because I didn't water enough early on and because I've been so neglectful. Fortunately the garden has been forgiving and I've had some produce.

On Sunday I picked some eggplants, swiss chard, basil and cherry tomatoes and added some cheese and home-made tomato sauce to make an absolutely delicious melanzane dish. That was pretty satisfying.

I need to get into the garden to weed and pull out plants and to look ahead to autumn and winter planting. It's on the list to get around to.

I love crochet ;) And I've totally missed doing crochety things. I 'cracked' about two weeks ago and jumped into making a beanie. The signs were all there: I saw a pattern I liked and a few days later a friend gave me a lovely ball of yarn. Yes! I sign that my fingers needed to get to work again.

It took a bit of playing around to get the right dimension - it is meant to be 'slouchy' but there's no way it is possible with the pattern as it is. Still, I think it came out well. The pattern shows a pom-pom on top so I'll look for a nice fluffy one when I next go past the yarn store. If it works, it will stay, if it doesn't, then I'll leave it off.

My friend's daughter's school is again having their annual teddy bear collection for the Teddy Bear Clinic. Last year I made a beautiful bear and she got special mention but wasn't eligible to be crowned a 'winner' because I used a pattern I found online and not their pattern. As a competitive individual, this year I'll use the prescribed pattern with the aim creating a winning bear - one that is friendly and that has warmth and personality. Yes, indeed, crochet too can be a competitive discipline. I've got the yarn - just to start on the bear.

Forest Run
Forest Run is only two weeks away so things are getting busy-busy on this side. We've made some new decorations for the one waterpoint and I'm out there later next week to accompany forestry as they trim the grassy sections of the route. Last year, after good rains, the grasses were higher than my head! Although many sections on the route are fine, there are chunks that run next to the wetlands that get crazy grassy. And then I'll be back there the following week to mark the route. Where is the time going?!?!

Online courses
I'm just about finished my Spanish MOOC course. It wrapped up earlier this week but we get a few extra days to finish up. It's a good thing because I got behind in the last week or so and so I've still got to finish my lessons and final submissions by Saturday.

The English course is less intensive, a bit too easy and so it is ticking over nicely. I've had a wobble this week and have a bit to catch up on over the weekend. I've only got another week of this one.

I've signed up for a new course in March. It's called "Thinking 101x: The Science of Everyday Thinking" and it deals with reasoning and decision making. Should be really interesting.

Rain, rain, rain...
We sooooo need some rain. I finally bought a rain gauge this week - I've wanted one for years. Now I just need some rain to fill it.

PnP 21km
This past weekend I ran the Pick 'n Pay 21km and had another lovely, easy run. That's my third road race for the year. Best not make this a habit! Hahaha

I think. that. that's it from me.

Wednesday 5 February 2014

This and that...

I've been itching to write but a heavy schedule has seriously curtailed my blog writing. With AR Club's Summer Series totally rocking (#3 tonight), the Orienteering Schools League on the go, publicity happening for the Adventure Navigation Urban Series, client writing, navigation coaching, map updating, race running, Forest Run planning and doing two MOOCs (Spanish and English online courses)... let's just say that I've been spread thin.

And so I've been making lists of blogs that I want to write - things that keep coming up and that I've been thinking about often. Self-sabotage, retirement (waiting to die?), community involvement and volunteering, online courses (MOOCs), the satisfaction of doing things yourself...

I haven't doodled for weeks! I hadn't crocheted for weeks either. My veggie garden has been quite neglected this whole season. If I haven't been out and about, my nights have been spent on my computer updating maps, planning events, prepping for events, catching up (always seem to be catching up) on my online course work...

On Saturday afternoon I did the second part of a walking workshop with some of my mom's friends. The previous weekend we looked at posture, stride, using your arms when you walk, cadence, feet and shoes... This past weekend we revised and used trekking poles (one and two). After the session, my one friend (she's doing a clear-out at home) gave me a lovely ball of yarn. A few days before I'd saved a nice slouchy beanie pattern. Kismet!

That night I got to work on it. I did a bit more on Sunday and a dash on Monday night. Oooohhh... just the feeling of making and creating and doing something not on computer! Pure joy!

I've got a blanket sitting in limbo - there are month's to go on that project. This one is quick and fun to do ;)
I do like to be busy but this year has been a firecracker eh? Already February!

Hi-Tec Shadow Trail shoe (review)

I've had the Hi-Tec Shadow Trail shoes for a few months now - plenty of time to wear them on a variety of terrain. I've worn them on local runs, Gilloolies hill sessions, some of the Big 5 O events and I wear them every week to take the huskies running.

The last pair of Hi-Tecs that I had were the first-edition, funky green Hi-Tec V-Lite Infinity shoes and I've really had to think about which I prefer - Shadow or Infinity. The Infinity was one of those shoes that improved with age - I really settled more into them with time - and I think the Shadow will be similar. I had the Infinity for about two years, wearing them more and more and more. I enjoyed the lightness (looking back I see my shoes weighed 301g each), the snug fit and quick draining in the wet.

The Shadow weighs not much more at 313g. It's a rather sturdy-looking shoe, more broad than the Infinity and with more volume too. There is a good amount of toe wiggle room but, for me, just a little too much space around my mid-foot. I favour a snug, foot-hugging fit.

You'll see from this photo - the Shadow (black) vs the Asics Fuji Racer (purple/yellow) - which shows the mid-foot difference. The Fuji Racer (it weighs 268g - it is a minimalist trail shoe with little cushioning or support) is a very snug, streamlined fit for my foot. The laces on both shoes are tied - I slip my foot in and out just as is so the laces are adjusted like-like.

Note that I'm making comparisons here between the Shadow and the Fuji Racer. This is not an apple-to-apple comparison because Fuji Racer is on the minimalist side and Shadow is not. But, they're the two shoes that I'm running at the moment - depending on the situation and terrain and distance.

Back to the Shadow...

The lugs underneath are not very chunky - but I've had no issues with grip. Chunky is no longer a big thing - I haven't had a trail shoe for some time with really chunky lugs.

No drainage issues in the wet. Upper fabric is light and water gets out easily.

Laces are helluva long. I tie double knots and still have to tuck the laces in. I wear AR Mini Gaiters most of the time and this solves the problem of laces catching or flapping.

I'm not crazy about the Shadow over really rocky and unstable terrain (especially going up) - like the Gilloolies ridge - because the sole is not as flexible as that of the Fuji Racer, which has become one of my top favourite shoes of all time. This really is a reflection on how my preferences have changed to the more tactile and flexible shoes - and isn't a reflection on the Shadow. I like to 'wrap' my feet around rocks on the way up, feeling how stable or unstable the surface is. On Gilloolies I haven't tripped or slipped or twisted an ankle with the Shadow - I just like that less can be more. I do wear them sometimes - just for a change.

I favour the Shadow over the Fuji Racer for my husky outings. Running with the two huskies is very much like going on a very steep downhill - non-stop for an hour. I have to break against them a lot. The husks know only one speed - full-steam ahead! They have no concept of pacing. So to slow them down I have to break hard (and I have to break even harder if they see a c.a.t. or a d.u.c.k. or even another dog that they want to say hello to). When I first started running with the husks I used to be so stiff the next day - quads. Agony! Now I'm adapted and I don't get stiff. But I do need a supportive shoe. Downhill, even on Gilloolies, the Shadow is better. More toe protection too.

As with the Infinity, I'm in doubt as to whether I'd take the Shadow with me to a 100km race... but probably only because I've been racing in the Adidas Response Trail shoes for 14 years and so they're my gold standard for distance and multi-day races. Not for any other reason. I have no doubt that the Shadow would handle AND I'd choose it over the Fuji Racer especially if the terrain is hard underfoot and the conditions are hot (more room for swollen feet).

With so many options around, it is ideal to have more than one pair - different shoes for different terrain. At the moment I've got the Hi-Tec Shadow, Asics Fuji Racer and an aging pair of Adidas Response Trail 18. All very different shoes and I use them according to terrain and distance. If I didn't have either one of these, there would be something 'missing'.

As with any shoe - there is no 'best'. Regardless of brand or model within the brand, you've got to try it on, walk around, wiggle your toes and choose the shoe that fits your foot the best and that suits the terrain you mostly run on (see this article I wrote some time back 'On buying trail shoes').

Sunday 2 February 2014

Fast running Urban O (and shadowing children)

This morning's orienteering event at Jeppe Boys marked the first of our new Urban Series events. They're designed to be accessible and fun and family-friendly. The terrain is runnable and, if your navigation if decent, you can have pretty zippy runs.

I had a mostly decent run. I do find it challenging to run and read the map when the buildings and corridors are small. Trying to keep one eye on the ground and one eye on the map as you're bouncing all over the place as you run... I keep feeling like I need to bring a magnifying glass along! Our map was quite scaled down as two maps were printed on one A4 page. It was a 'map-swap' format where we completed the first 18 controls on one map and the next 18 controls on the second map. The map would have been a dog's breakfast if all the controls were printed on a single map. But that did mean that a few times I had to pause just to check which corridor was which one.

And this started from the first control! Goodness!

No biggie... but on fast courses like this, if you lose 15 seconds you can lose a place (or two!).

The other error I made was totally silly.

I went from 29 to 20! Not sure why other than that I was looking at the zero of the '20', which caught my eye. As I approached the control I thought, "I'm sure I've been here before" and realising my error turned around 180 degrees to get 'my' control 30, whih was then behind me. Not far away, but again, you lose 20 seconds and you slip places.

After I finished my course I had the opportunity to shadow my friend's son. He's 8 and has been orienteering pretty much since he was a few weeks old. First in a backpack and then toddling around with his folks. I've shadowed a few orienteering children before and I do enjoy watching what they do.

To explain a bit... when children first come to orienteering they start off on 'string' courses. There isn't really a string (not here, at SA events) but the controls are placed such that if the child turns in the correct direction, they'll see the control. We use fluffy toys and boards with cartoon characters as control markers. Even two and three-year olds do these courses - with their parents, of course.

And so they do these for a few years and then probably by the time they're four or five they're doing the novice courses, assisted by their parents. Once they start to navigate on their own - around age 6 and a bit - then the parents don't have to step in as much. The children then start to insist that they are left alone to navigate on their own. And this is then when shadowing starts. Initially I think the parent would help where needed but for the most part the shadow is just there for safety and comfort.

Connor, and his brother Cameron (7), are very much at the stage where they still have shadows - but not for long. Connor clearly demonstrated to me that he is more than capable out there.

What really stood out for me is that Connor is really good at keeping his map orientated, using the features around him and remembering where he started from. Compasses are not necessary on these courses; features play a big role. He makes very good route choices but just lacks a little confidence - almost seeming a little uncertain that he really is doing the correct thing. Most of the time, he is; and when he isn't, he really is not far off. 

He's also able to problem solve. To get to the one control we cut across a grassy fenced-in area and needed to get out the other side. He knew exactly where he was but seemed 'trapped' by a jumble of old furniture. Interestingly, he didn't take the easy option on the other side of the little building, which we'd passed, but instead wanted to push through the jumble, which we did. He wasn't wrong at all - only the nicer side would have been faster and easier going and it led directly to the exit gate..

It really is fun to watch these young minds at work - and quite amazing too. Connor certainly navigates better than most novice adults! 

In another two years he'll be buzzing a lot more confidently all over the place.

There are still another eight events in the Urban Series (all the way through to early June) and I hope to do decently in the overall rankings (best 6 count). If you pre-enter and pre-pay you get discounts on your entries. 

And don't forget my AR Club Summer Series events on Wednesday evenings at Delta Park. Two more to go. Everyone welcome. Pre-enter and pre-pay (by noon on Tuesday) to get your entry for only R30!