Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Fabulous Forest Run frenzy

As you've noticed, I've had barely a moment to pen a blog. My past few weeks have been a whirlwind with preparing for Forest Run, the World Orienteering Day activities, drawing maps, trail clearing for Forest Run, presenting Forest Run, wrapping up Forest Run... I've still got the boxes from each aid station scattered around the house because I haven't had a chance to get to them. But, I will. Before Saturday... Because I'm off to Chile on Saturday!

It has been very challenging but also immensely satisfying to get Forest Run off the ground in its new venue. In the two weeks leading up to the event, there were very few nights when I didn't go to bed after 2am, getting only four to five hours sleep. I'm still recovering.

Forest Run map
Part of my preparation for the event involved drawing a map of the area with the trails, which helps with my preparation. I've created the map as a base for a rogaining-orienteering map as well as sections for hiking trail maps. I've still got work to do on this but the foundation - a good one - has been built. I look forward to planning a 'mapping party' with my orienteering friends to add more detail to the map.

The 46km route map. Each route has its own map. Some of the route is on public hiking trails; other sections are on private land.
Trail cutting and clearing
Goodness! Did we have our work cut out! I was very fortunate to have Ricky, who works for my friend Karen, doing the brush cutting. We spent a full five days out there cutting sections of single track. While Ricky was cutting, Karen and I chopped overhanging vegetation, cut away shrubs encroaching on the paths and even rolled rocks out of the paths to improve the runnability of the terrain. We were joined on the one day by Warrin, who is really good at rock rolling.

I also spent another half day clearing a trail section with help from my mom. She got into vegetation cutting while I rolled rocks.

This clearing was definitely well worth the effort, not only for the event, but also to leave the hiking trails in a better condition than what we'd found them. They are not used much, but should be - and having clear trails will go a big way towards making the trails more user friendly.

Event Day
We had perfect weather: clear skies and temperatures that were perfect for running. 97 runners took part with only 14 on the longest 46km course and a mostly half-half spread of the rest on the 30km and 16km routes.

Aside from there being a few tweaks to make, everything ran very smoothly and I was fortunate to have a superb team of marshals out on the route -  a combination of friends from Jo'burg and new friends from Parys. All of them sporty and fit and experienced and capable. They kept things on track, even with the challenge of poor to no mobile signal on many parts of the route.

Feedback from the event has been very positive - from the friendly marshals to the challenging routes and terrain. This area is very special and Forest Run should be making it into people's calendars as a must-do event that is definitely not easy.

Friends Maggi and Marcel took photographs - they have so beautifully captured the area and the spirit of the event. The photos are in albums on the Forest Run Facebook page.

From the start I was warmly welcomed by our host venue, Venterskroon Inn. I can totally recommend that you head out there for a Sunday lunch. Even when I was concerned about low numbers of runners a few weeks before, Leon was totally positive. He and Pearie made sure that everything was just right and have made me feel at home from the day I first mentioned it to them.

I have also been very warmly welcomed by the landowners. Forest Run traverses a number of farms and every single one of them agreed, without hesitation, to literally give me the run of their land. As with the hiking trail, I aimed to leave my routes on their properties in better condition than I found them and look forward to further exploring the area and developing my map (for their use too).

Wrapping up
I've still got boxes lying around the house that I need to attend to. But I have answered dozens of email, compiled the overall results (still to add all split times), written and article and spent hours tagging photos on Facebook. hahahaha

Months ago I'd decided to make a per runner donation to a school in the event area and today I went to visit Mponeng Primary Farm School. It's a small, rural school on the Venterskroon road. I'd heard about Rene and the incredible work she has done with the school - today I saw it with my own eyes.

For me, it is important that Forest Run has social and community involvement. As I've spent a decade involved with aspects of school sport - from rural development and social responsibility programmes to city school sport and coaching. Thus, my decision to select a school to support.

Their principal, Rene, is energetic, dedicated and inspiring.

Me with Rene.

Their weekly menu. One lady prepares the meal daily to feed the almost 100 children at break time. As Rene says, "She creates magical meals out of almost nothing". This is the menu issued by the Department of Education. For most of the children, this is their only meal each day. Rene told of a little boy who one Monday morning passed out in class. The meal he had the Friday before at school was the last one he'd eaten. Sadly, that's the reality for many children.
Some of the little children walking from their classroom during break time to the kitchen to receive their daily, cooked meal.
The school's wonderful vision. As you know, I've never been into any god nor religion so my only edit to this would read, "Enable learners to become contented, honest and respectful persons in their community with the certainty that they are valuable to themselves and others."
They have five teachers and around 98 children from surrounding farms. They have also opened their doors to street children, who they are educating and teaching to read and write. Children range from 3 to 19. The school has a wonderful energy and warmth and it was a treat for me to visit their children and classrooms.

I look forward to building a relationship with the school in both my personal capacity and with Forest Run.

There is an overwhelming amount of need. From animal welfare organisations to those that care for children, disabled, elderly... Mponeng... it's a small school on my doorstep that is positively influencing the lives of these little children, who didn't ask to be born. So many of them come from bad homes with neglectful and abusive parents. Being at this school means that these children have a chance. To change their own lives.

I look at my instant family and two children that don't want for anything. They have lovely bedrooms and warm clothes and three meals a day. That all children should have this.

With Forest Run almost behind me, I'm starting to get excited about my next adventure... CHILE! (more in my next post).

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