Monday 28 March 2016

Trail run entry fee dissection

In setting new entry fees for the three courses at Forest Run, I took a look around to see what is out there. What diversity!

This led to a bit of a dissection of events in terms of distance, entry fees and my costings.

What events?
I ignored all the short city events with 5km to 12km courses, mainly looking at those with distances of 20km and up. I also ignored all of the staged events held over two or more days. There are a number of other one-day events in the distance categories of interest still to look up (tick-tock); I'll add them to my spreadsheet at some time.

Looking at 30 events...

Rand per kilometre
There's a lot of variety here. From R6.50 per kilometre to R92 per kilometre, it is all available. From a range of events we found a R24/km average across all distances from 10 to 160 kilometres.

How is this for interesting? We split up the distances from 10-22km, 25-36km, 40-53km and 65-160km and looked at entry fee averages.

10-22km: R23/km
25-38km: R18/km
40-53km: R30/km
65-160km: R25/km

Your best value is on courses in the 25-38km range.

Here are the rates for Forest Run's courses:
16km: R399 = R25/km
30km: R499 = R15/km
46km: R599 =  R13/km

I hope you notice that I'm enticing you to run the 46km?

Runner ratio
If an event offers a variety of course distances, the shortest distance will see the most participants. That's a given. There may be 12,000 people (or more) who run Comrades Marathon... but you'd be lucky to have 50 people running a 60km trail event. It is far more risky financially to host an ultra because the numbers of participants are so much lower. This probably explains the abundance of events in the 5-12km range and scarcity in the ultra-distance range.

I'm interested to see what my runner ratio for Forest Run will be. With only a 30km and 60km courses previously, I saw around a 75% : 25% split of 30km : 60km runners.

My assumption is that the moment a shorter option is on offer, numbers drain from the longest distance.

With 16km, 30km and 46km routes, I'm guessing at 50%, 30%, 20%. It will be interesting to see how close or how far off I am.

At Forest Run this year, my heart is in the 46km course, but I realistically know that the smallest percentage of participants will get to appreciate it.

What do you get for your money?
It is hard to compare apples with apples in the entry fee stakes because it is really difficult to find from event websites just what is included.

I'm not sure whether organisers adjust fees according to the location of the event, considering the costs that entrants have to cover just to get there - flights, car travel, accommodation and meals.

This is somewhat irrelevant because the foundation event expenses have to be covered by entry fees (unless the event has sponsors) regardless of anything else. If organisers have a cushion to play with (like as a result of high participating numbers), entry fees can be lowered to compensate for higher costs for entrants getting to the event. I don't know whether this actually happens.

Land access
Land access is a big one. Properties that the events go through may be private farms, private game reserves or national parks. The fees that organisers pay for access varies from nothing to quite a lot. Aside from fees involved, the organiser has probably spent days negotiating access, obtaining confirmations and planning routes to accommodate any restrictions.

Route planning
Some areas are easy, especially if there is only one hiking trail that can be followed. But when there are many paths and roads and animal tracks, that's when things get challenging.

If there is more than one course distance in the area, organisers need to make sure that runners are not going to get confused and that the routes have a logical flow. This can take many weeks of scouting and a lot of time.

Number of entrants
There's a whole range in event limit numbers from 100 to 1000. Oddly, it isn't always the small-number events that are the most expensive. Events with higher participant numbers are likely to have more bells and whistles - because it is expected by participants and also because the higher numbers mean more overall money from entry fees for the organisers to put into the extras.

I can't quite figure out from many of the events what their waterpoint setup is like. I usually aim to have waterpoints every 10 kilometres. For shorter courses that are 15-20km in length, you probably don't need any water tables as runners have hydration packs. Water is definitely needed for longer distances. The season in which an event is held also determines how much refreshment organisers need to put out, which contributes to costs, equipment required and manpower.

Feed stations add costs too. They're appreciated by runners on ultra-distance courses.

Whether there is one participant or 500, emergency medics must be on standby. The same goes with marshals who need to be fed, watered and accommodated. I see a photographer as an essential too; and at Forest Run our photos are free for you to download and enjoy - we don't make you pay for them (and we also give them free to media). Taking out public liability is another essential. And portable toilet hire, depending on the venue and number of runners.

If you've only got 25 runners, then it means that these runners share these costs for essentials. If you've got 250 participants, then each entrant contributes significantly less per person for the basics.

Other essentials are per runner expenses - even little things like race numbers.

Bells and whistles
These are things like tee shirts, medals, trophies, mementos, prize money, transport to the start, finish-line DJ/music, pre-start tea/coffee, post-run meal and showers. Some events have electronic timing and tracking devices. And then there could be videos (tv or online) made of the event, which means a videography team with people on foot and camera drones... This is usually in place where there are prominent sponsors.

Some of these end up as overall event expenses that in costings can be divided per person across the expected participant numbers, or allocated as a per person expense.

Runners generally expect bells and whistle items and for organiser there are things that are 'nice' to do that add value for participants. But they do shoot up expenses - and thus entry fees.

Prize money
Prize money is another bells and whistle item that definitely has a place. It is there to attract and reward the very competitive runners. It encourages a top field with depth.

Consider this... when you spread prize money across 1st, 2nd and 3rd place for men and women plus age categories, it substantially adds to the event's expenses, unless prize money specifically is contributed by a sponsor. Take the recent Two Oceans Trail Run for example. The prize money for the 22km winner (men and women) is R4,000. It doesn't sound like a vast amount when the entry fee is R610 (incl timing chip) and there's an entrant limit of 1000 runners across the two course distances. But adding up the prize money that is handed out for both courses, that's R30,000 straight cash that they give out. Only 20 of the 1000 participants receive the dosh.

The Otter offers R7,000 prize money for winning man and women (only on the RUN course). But they had that whopper of a R100,000 incentive for a sub-4 time, which Swiss runner Marc Lauenstein achieved last year.

Things that money can't buy
My best event experiences come from all the things that money can't buy - the special touches and thoughtful considerations.

Taking on risk
It is risky to present any event. I started Forest Run four years ago because there was next to nothing available in the 60km distance arena. I was actually aiming for 80km (50-miler) but the area didn't allow for it. I included the 30km course distance, just because. And of course this was the most popular course and made Forest Run only just feasible to present.

I love ultras but they definitely present the highest risk for organisers because participant numbers fall off a cliff once you go over 40 or 50km. Ultras are often partnered with shorter course offerings to take up the slack.

But there are many, many, many events with a variety of course distances and so events compete for numbers of participants. Considering just the essential expenses, there's a participant number below which events are in the red. This is really not a nice place to be. Break even is a better situation to be in. Profitable is even better.

When you announce a race, you just don't know how many people are going to come to your party. If one knew in advance that there would be exactly 200 runners, then entry fees could be scaled for this. But you don't. And so you have to be prepared to get too few entrants. And to take a knock. Scary!

Why I participate in events?

I go to events to run on routes that someone else has planned, on land that I wouldn't otherwise be able to access, in a place that I probably would never have considered to visited.

That said, entry fees are a deal breaker. Either I can or I can't afford to enter regardless of what the event offers.

There's also the perceived value from the event and consideration of location (terrain, travel duration), expected weather, distance of route and numbers of entrants. Plus the added costs of travel, accommodation and meals, which may actually be less for an 'expensive' event and higher for one with a lower entry fee.

I've heard very little in the way of bad reports about any trail event. Every one on the trail calendar has something good to offer.

With so much variety in events, you really can weigh up your options against multiple variables now more than ever before.

Forest Run entries are open

A few months. Almost a dozen welcoming landowners, who are passionate about their area. Many, many hours. Over 165km on foot.

I moved to Parys in December; moving my Forest Run with me was such a good decision. Exploring the hills of the Vredefort Dome and planning the routes has been a treat.

Now that my land permissions have been finalised, I can finally let the cat out of the bag!
AdventureLisa's Forest Run will be held on

Saturday, 21 May 2016

It will start and finish from the Old Imperial Inn in Venterskroon, a historic gold mining 'town' that is only 30 minutes from Parys.
There are three distances:
16km, 30km and 46km
How much?
Entry fees are R399, R499 and R599 for the 16km, 30km and 46km distances respectively.

The terrain? 
VERY different to that of the 'old' Forest Run at Lakenvlei. Out here it is much more rugged and hilly with interesting valleys and ridges. I think I've arrived at a pleasing mix of easy-running sections with gotta-concentrate stretches and downright-technical bits. It will not be easy out there but it will be very rewarding and satisfying.

Event info and how to enter
Please make sure that you read the general informationrouteentriesrules and FAQ pages before completing and emailing your entry form (available in Word and PDF formats) to me. EFT details are provided on the form.

Enjoy a sleep over
I'd like to entice you to stay over on Friday and Saturday night. I've provided a number of self-catering accommodation recommendations.

Within spitting distance (almost) of the start/finish is everything from camping to a youth hostel in a refurbished old silo and barn (reserved for Forest Run only) to really lovely chalet options for couples and groups. Rates are really, really good too - like R100 per night in the hostel or from R200 to R430 per person per night in a chalet.

Self-catering accommodation? No need to cook!
Plus, you can book for the braai at Old Imperial Inn on Saturday night and also for Sunday morning breakfast and lunch - so you don't even need to cook.

Photos for a sneak peek
Over the next few weeks, I'll aim to tantalise you with snippets about the area. You're not going to believe that what is out here is really out here. Photos from my scouting outings show some of the features of the area. You can enjoy viewing these in the albums on the Forest Run Facebook page.

A taste of my own medicine
Although I've traversed much of the area, I haven't yet done the full route in one shot. In the week of 4 April I'll be running the 46km route, which incorporates the 16km and 30km courses, to get a taste of my own medicine.

I look forward to sharing my new home area with you in May.

Sunday 27 March 2016

What are molluscs doing in wors?

On Thursday my mom and I went grocery shopping at President Hyper in Vanderbijl Park. It was my first time there. What a place! It really is a something-else grocery experience with a massive range of everything.

Mom was looking for wors to take to a braai and I marvelled at the range they had there. And then something caught my eye.

On the label, where they list ingredients, they also listed allergens and on many of the varieties 'molluscs' was first on the list. I should have taken a photo.

As Celliers is allergic to shellfish, we stayed well clear of these but still I was completely puzzled as to why molluscs would make an appearance in a product like wors.

The scary thing is that labels are not always read and the print was very small.

There is a very real chance that Celliers - and other with shellfish allergies - could rock up at a braai, eat a piece of wors and end up in hospital or, worse, dead.

When I hear 'molluscs', I think clams and snails and mussels and the shells that wash up on the beach.

What I forgot is that mollusca is a very large phylum that also includes the cephalopods - squid and octopus as well as the gastropods (slugs and snails) and the bivalves (mussels, oysters, clams).

Reading up on molluscan and crustacean shellfish allergies, I found an excellent website - 'Food Allergy Research and Research Programme'. They've got a lot of content on food allergies in general as well as specific allergies, like molluscan shellfish allergies. Apparently the main allergen in molluscs and crustaceans is tropomyosin, a protein found in the cytoskeleton of cells.

The catch is that those people that are allergic to crustaceans like shrimps and prawns are probably also allergic to molluscan shellfish because of the similarity of the tropomyosin protein across invertebrate species, even the non-dietary invertebrates like cockroaches and house dust mites.

People with gluten allergies know to avoid products like wors because of the additives to bulk up the content.

But molluscs in beef wors? What ever next?

Friday 25 March 2016

Logo update for Forest Run

Inspired by a photograph I took earlier this week, I’ve updated the Forest Run logo. The previous one depicted pine trees, which were a feature of the Lakenvlei plantation. Out here in the Vredefort Dome, we don’t have any pine trees. I have no idea what the two trees to the right of this photo are (possibly common hook thorn trees?) but I liked their shapes.

We've also got a new tagline - something that I happened to write when answering a FAQ question. Yes, Forest Run will most definitely remind you why you run.

Wednesday 23 March 2016

Got water! Must kayak and raft.

The Vaal River here in Parys is at its highest level that I've seen it in two summers. With gates open at Barrage from late last week, we were topping over 200 cumec. And a long weekend ahead too.

While Celliers tripped the river solo on Saturday, I joined him on Sunday morning. As I haven't been in my Bazooka sit-in whitewater kayak since November, I played it safe on the fast-flowing water with the sit-on-top Do It Now whitewater kayak. It handles white water like a breeze and the bonus, for me, is that if I fall off I can just climb back on.

Our boats on my roof. Car shuttle already dropped; now just to take our kayaks down to the river. No other photos... my hands too busy paddling.
We put in from the historic old suspension bridge in town, which is a block away from home. While getting ready on the big bare rock, a huge branch broke off from the nearby weeping willow tree and went cruising down the rapid. Goodness!

The river itself was just divine. We made it safely through the in-town section, which included a small weir and many channels and islands until we got into the river proper. The fast water and higher level sped us along the flat sections.

As for the rapids! Fabulous! Many super wave trains and a big water push down Big Daddy. Although I'm starting to learn the rapids and what is where, the river looked so different being so low on the water and also with all the usual rock features covered in water.

With Celliers briefing me on the lines, I made it beautifully through 'Theatre' and without landing in the two tricky holes at 'Look Sharp' and surfed through the big wave at Gatsien. What a rush!

Our paddle time was two hours and two minutes.

With the river still high on Monday morning, we were in for a family outing on the big oar raft, with Celliers at the helm. My mom came along and thoroughly enjoyed her second rafting outing at this higher level. We also took Inke's mom, who is visiting from Germany. This was her first time on a river.

Bertrand keeping us company.
Inke styling in her kayak.
The party raft with me in front and Celliers on oars with my mom, Liz, Kyla, Ruben and Inke's mom, Ingrid.
Here's me.
Starting young - Ruben on oars
Bertrand enjoying the river scenery.
On both days we saw loads of rafters in the two-man rafts on trips with local commercial operators (there are many). If you're looking for something different to do, I can definitely recommend a trip on the Vaal here for a spot of rafting. Or even head North and trip the Crocodile River near Hartees. I hear the water is up that side too.

The water we're getting is not much affected by the Vaal Dam, which doesn't have any gates open other than their normal release. We're getting water from Barrage, which is a reservoir rather than a dam or weir (kinda in between). It is affected by water coming in from the Vaal (from Vaal Dam), Suikerbos, Klip and Taaibosspuit rivers.

The river is still up but we're back at work. We're not sure how much longer we'll have this high level - I hope until after the holidays.

If you're interested in knowing where Jo'burg (and surrounds) water comes from, read this interesting piece on the Water Wise website "Where does our water come from?". It looks at early Johannesburg and growing water demands and building of dams in a neat article.

Wednesday 16 March 2016

Three cheers for our Telkom guy

Telkom did work in our area over the weekend and sent a message to say so. Our ADSL went down Friday night / Saturday morning. My mom's ADSL was back by Monday morning; ours wasn't. We reported the fault on Monday afternoon.

On Tuesday afternoon, we got a call to say a guy would be over. I raced home from my mom's place, where I'd been working, and waited. After about 15 minutes, no one had arrived so I phoned the number I had been given and I spoke to a guy who said he would check the box and then come over. I waited. 

About 45-minutes later I called again and spoke to a lady. I asked if the guy was coming and I told her that I was keen to head back to my mom's place to continue working with her internet. The lady took my number to pass onto the guy so that he could call me when he got to my home. It takes me two minutes to get from my mom to home. 

So there I am working away at mom's place and we hear a hooter toot outside; the Telkom guy. He tells us that he'll meet me at my place - and off he goes. I head off behind him.

Andries, our Telkom guy, installed my mom's line in December so I saw him once or twice there. I didn't know that he knew where I lived. I asked how he knew to find me at my mom's place. He replies, "I know everyone in this town". 

How's that! He'd remembered me and had connected me to my mom and our respective homes. 

Andries has to be the best Telkom guy around. He's friendly and efficient too. 

While here he called the guy working on the exchange box and apparently a bunch of lines were not moved from the old system to the new one over the weekend; ours being one of these. He said the guy would get to it today.

I called him this afternoon when our adsl was still not up and he said it would be up. He then phoned me a while later to turn everything on and to test. Yay! We're back online.

Thank you Andries. Small town living has its merits - and lovely surprises.

Thursday 10 March 2016

Mobile blood donation clinics

The South African National Blood Service has an amazing network of mobile clinics that cater to schools, universities, large offices and small towns. Also blood drives at shopping centres. I benefited from the convenience of this on Tuesday when I visited the Parys mobile clinic to make my donation.

For many years I've been donating regularly at the fixed donor clinic in Bruma. I always time my donations to be 'available' during the xmas-New Year period when blood is in high demand. As I moved to Parys in December, I went to the fixed clinic in Potchefstroom while in the town for other errands.

In last week's Paryz Gazette, our knock-and-drop community newspaper, I saw a note about a mobile clinic on 8 March. I went along.

They have an excellent set up in the hall of a local church (we have no shortage of these in this town!) and according to the SANBS guy that I spoke to, Parys is very well supported. They have clinics on the second Tuesday of every month to cater to two groups of donors (you can donate every 52 days). At each clinic they usually receive just over 100 donations.

For comparison, my old centre in Jo'burg receives between 280-350 per month. Open six days a week and open till late on week nights.

I took Ruben along with me (Kyla was at gymnastics).

On the way to drop Kyla at gymnastics I told her that while she was there, Ruben and I would go along to the donor clinic. I explained to both children that you have to be over 16 and weigh more than 50kg to donate blood.

Kyla remarked that she would then make sure that she didn't weigh more than 50kg when she is older (she's 10 now) so that she doesn't have to donate. I explained that it isn't a compulsory thing to give blood and that people choose to do so.

Then, it being in my nature, I gave her something to think about.

Her mom was in a bad car accident may years ago. It resulted in a hospital stay and extensive back surgery. I don't know whether she received a transfusion but considering the seriousness of the accident, it may have been likely. I explained to her that her mom may have received blood and that if it were not for the people who voluntarily donate blood, that her mom may not have survived. Blood cannot be manufactured (yet) and so the only way to have blood available is for people to donate it.

The same holds true for the many people who receive blood following bad car accidents every day. It can take 40 to 60 units to save the life of a trauma patient. For perspective, that's more than I've donated since I was 16 (I'm on #41 now).

When we went to fetch Kyla after gymnastics, Ruben told her all about seeing the blood in bags, the shaking machine, how they put the needle in and then took it out and the people we saw. It's a friendly, non-intimidating environment and he enjoyed the experience of being there. Kyla wants to come along next time. I hope that by the time she's 16, she'll have a different perspective on blood donations.

Of course, donating blood is not for everyone.

Many people are excluded because of their medical conditions - low blood pressure, low iron, diabetes, previous hepatitis illnesses, certain medications, heart conditions... This is for the donor's own health; not that SANBS doesn't need their blood.

And then some people just can't do it. There are many who faint at the sight of a needle or blood. And that's ok too. It just is.

All those people in good health, with no illnesses, conditions nor phobias... We need you. We need your blood. And not once-off on Mandela Day... Regularly. That's three (minimum) to six (maximum) times a year. This gives you a 'regular blood donor' status.

REMEMBER: SANBS only uses blood from regular donors. If you just donate once a year as a well-intentioned, feel-good activity, you blood will sit on ice for up to a year, waiting for you to donate again so that they can test it and confirm that your blood is safe to donate. If you don't come back, they throw it away because you have no safe track record. What a waste of their resources and your blood!

If you were on the receiving end, you'd expect to receive safe blood; and that's why they have these stringent criteria.

If you're in good health and are prepared to commit to donating at least three times a year (that's only every four months), then pop along to a SANBS fixed clinic or a mobile clinic (find them on the website).

You're needed.

Monday 7 March 2016

Visitors, are you ready to paddle?

I'm developing a habit. A nice one. Of 'making' my visitors paddle.

My aunt came to stay two weeks ago for a few days. We (me and my mom) got her onto the water. The first time in her life to paddle. My mom took her out on a double sit-on-top and they did really well. And, more importantly, my aunt enjoyed it.

My aunt in the front, my mom at the back.
My dad arrived today and he'll be here for two nights. He was easily coerced into coming paddling. He took my mom's boat, a single sit-on-top, while I paddled my V7. We got onto the water quite late so it was very quiet and still with a low sun quickly sinking.

My dad is a really good birder and he has eagle eyes. This evening I saw more birds - and more types of birds - than I've seen in the past three months. I now know the name of the golden-necked, swimming and diving water birds, darters. And we were also fortunate to see a large grey heron (I saw one last week too).

Paddle selfie
 Here's the thing...

If you come to visit us here in Parys, remember to pack your shorts and tees because you can be sure that I have a paddle outing lined up for you.

Orienteering friends, you'll be delighted to know that I've started mapping our regular paddling section of the river for a Canoe-O. I took my draft map out this evening to see how it matches up - I'm chuffed! It is looking great. I've got some decisions to make about how to deal with some vegetation issues but for the rest it is lookin' good.