Sunday 20 May 2018

First running of Not Forest Run

With my time overloaded and consumed with work, I made the call earlier in the year not to hold my Forest Run event. Presenting a race is not just the on-the-day commitment, but also the months of coordinating land permissions, volunteers, entry admin and a full week pre-race to cut, trim and mark the trails. I just could not do it this year and so cancelling the event was a relief. I came up with another plan instead...

Not Forest Run.

We have dirt roads all around Parys. You can mountain bike and run for kilometres - and it is all good scenery. I decided to replace Forest Run with a route that I had been wanting to do; something that would not need any organisation nor permissions and that I could also do. Not Forest Run, which we ran yesterday, is a loop route that starts and finishes at the Parys airfield. We ran on the open gravel of the Vaal Eden road, running past farms and venues and with views of the Vaal River and Vredefort Dome.

My morning started as Run Director at our local parkrun. I left early to get to the airfield so my friend and fellow RD Karen collected the equipment and processed the results. The morning was milder than I expected although the cooling wind picked up.

At the airfield I was surprised to see so many people. I was only expecting about six or seven but as Not Forest Run did not require any RSVP, I didn't know who to expect.

It is always a treat to have friends coming through. Allison and Tracey came through from JHB and Pretoria respectively, Amelia from JHB and Hazel also from JHB. Locals Bertrand and Michelle joined us. Ferdi, a local parkrunner, came along too. Then there were about five runners from Potch, recruited by Marilette. And another two or three, including Rachel and Angie, from JHB (recruited, I think, by Hazel). And a few that I recognised, but can't quite place, probably from JHB/PTA. Ruben and Celliers joined us on their bikes.

The idea with Not Forest Run is that you just have to rock up. This one started at 09h30. You run at your own pace. You are responsible for your own water and munchies. If you need to be rescued, you need to phone your own driver to come fetch you. Non running friends / partners were welcome to join on their bicycles.

I didn't mark the route but Celliers did ride ahead at the only real junction on the route where we need to turn left. He made a big arrow on the ground using some mielie meal.

Off we went, under a blue sky dotted with puffy clouds. We took the route anti-clockwise, straight into a headwind.

I hooked up with Hazel from the start - she met us on the road (which is why she isn't in the start photo). She had been dropped near the N1 highway and ran on the back roads to meet us (the thought it would be about 10km and ended up with a 20km 'warm-up'. We haven't seen each other for a while and, needless to say, we both have a capacity for conversation. If there had been any donkeys around they would have been legless by the end of our run.

The route begins with a long climb at a gentle gradient. This makes for harder work in the beginning and then a number of kilometres of flat and down thereafter. I really enjoy the section after the left-hand turn as the road winds a bit more.

Ruben on his bike.
I haven't run 27km straight for too long but the kilometres literally flew past. We did some walkies on uphills and gobbled up the flats and downs.

Selfie with Hazel.

Another guy was the only other runner near us and we enjoyed playing tag as he would catch us on the ups and we'd catch him on the flats and downs.

Hazel striding out.

Wildebeest just hanging.

Hazel strikes a pose
Ruben and Celliers caught up to us a few kilometres from the end. Both very chipper - they enjoyed their outing and were good at keeping an eye on the runners.

Ruben and Celliers.
Back at the airfield we enjoyed chats, hellos and goodbyes as runners came in and headed off back home or to enjoy the festivities of Parys. Before we left, Celliers went out in his bakkie to check on the last two runners. They were only 3km from the finish and both had supporters waiting for them at the finish.

This was a really superb Not Forest Run and one that we agreed could be enjoyed more regularly. I suggested seasonal (spring, summer, autumn and winter) runnings of the route to appreciate the changes in the scenery and to commit to myself to get out there a few times a year. Good idea.

Thank you to all the runners who came through to enjoy this run with me and to Celliers and Ruben for being my crew.

Sunday 13 May 2018

Zingela two-day trail run

My Valentine's gift this year from Celliers was an entry to the two-day Zingela Trail Run (he booked himself in for the mountain bike option). Weeks passed and last weekend we headed down to Zingela, a remote spot on the Tugela River, near the small town of Colenso.

Celliers knows this place from paddling the Tugela from upstream to Zingela. He says the stretch of river has high-grade rapids. He loves Zingela and has been wanting to take me there for some time - the race was a perfect excuse to go there.

We left on Friday late morning and made it to the Zingela camp just before dark. Dropping into the Tugela valley - on a dirt road fit only for 4x4 high-clearance vehicles - was a treat. The surrounding hills and vegetation changes kept me captivated and looking ahead for a glimpse of the river.

After checking in we went to find our accommodation named 'Badlands'. There are two 'units' at this spot. They have 1/3-height mud walls with thick curtains 1/2 the way around the elongated-rondavel shape that make up the rest of the 'wall' and a thatch roof. The 'wall' behind the bed seems to have been thatch with a section of mud wall on either side.

The best feature of our place was the donkey-fired outside shower. I totally love outside showers and this one ranks as one of my all-time favourites.

The stars! The Milkyway! Jupiter still so bright in the sky! Too spectacular!

I was just done showering when I shouted to Celliers that I really should have checked  the Heavens-Above website for timings of satellite sightings. Not a minute later, still gazing up at the stars, I saw two satellites cruising across the sky - one after the other - like stars sliding down the surface of a marble.

I also appreciated the biodegradable body wash and shampoo provided, which I enjoyed using.

Zingela does a lot well but one big thing is catering. They make the most amazing food. The race entry fee includes accommodation - a number of options from camping with your own tent to camping in their tent (bedding provided) to comfortable to luxury chalets, all meals and your race entry. We had such superb meals. Their salads, perfectly braai'd chicken and homebaked bread (an incredible wholewheat bread and a too-amazing steamed bread) stand out.

Most of the people at this event hail from KZN - many repeat participants - so we didn't know anyone.We sat at the Friday night dinner table with Theresa and Vernon, Vanessa and Andrew, Nina and Peter - making new friends that we enjoyed seeing and chatting to over the course of the weekend.

We didn't hang around too long on Friday night. Having to be up at 5am for the 6am start, Celliers and I needed an early night to be able to wake up in the morning.

The day dawned clear and magnificent with mist coming off the river. I was in for the 32km run so I started before Celliers' 45km bike ride. There were only about 14 of us on the start line for this longer distance run. I was pretty near the back at the start, taking it easy and warming up over the first few kilometres along the river. Chalk markings on the dirt road were dotted regularly to reassure us that we were on the right track. I ran on my own pretty much from the beginning.

I make two errors on this first day. Maybe two kilometres from the start I missed a turning. It must have been at this point - where a big-ass arrow was drawn on the ground! - that I was looking at the river. I was thinking about the braided channels and rocks and wondering whether to take a photos and deciding not too because of all the shadows... I maybe ran 300m too far and thought it was odd that I hadn't seen any more blobs of chalk so I turned around and retraced my steps, seeing the big-ass arrow on the ground. This early error made me even more cautious and I kept a close eye on markings.

Checking out the terrain on the way into the valley, I had been expecting gnarly, rocky, technical trails. Instead, the trails are all very, very runnable. They have clearly put in a lot of work over a number of years to create trails that are pleasant to run on.

I took a fall on a wide-open dirt road, grazing my left knee and getting raised 'eggies' on both knees. The sole of my right shoe is coming off a bit at the front and it must have hooked on something - there certainly were not any big rocks around to trip over!

A minor graze at home with many other scars on my knee.
We'd be warned at the start about the uphill that would go on and on until about 14km. Although I was running on the trails and seeing regular markings, I certainly wasn't climbing, climbing, climbing. The route took me into a T-junction and there was a small marker board to the left reading '16km'. Nothing for the 32km route. I first went right and was scanning the ground for any footprints going that direction. They all looked to be going into the 16km direction. Logically I didn't think that they would have walkers, runners and bikers (bike tracks too) going bi-directional so I took the 16km direction and ended up back at camp.

The marshals for the river crossing were heading out so I caught a lift with them to get back on route. I would end up skipping a section though as they were not sure where I'd gone wrong (I should have gone right, running 'against' the flow). The guys dropped me off before their point, directing me on a non-course track up the side of the hill. There I rejoined the route but for fun, as I'd buggered up anyway, I ran back along the route, enjoying a steep climb that the mountain bikers would ride down (death defying!) the next day. I got to the top but then thinking that it may only be a mtb route and not a run route that that I'd missed something, I went back down. I scouted down at the bottom for any other possible tracks that I'd missed and finding none I got back on to the proper route and made my way to the river crossing.

There I paddled across and enjoyed a super 9km run - on the route - to the finish. I probably did more than 16km but definitely less than 32km. I'd maybe say 22-24km. Nonetheless, I had a most lovely time out there, I loved the trails and the scenery and had a good day.

I hung around at the finish to see if any bikers were coming in. I ducked off for a shower and returned to the finish to wait for Celliers. No sign of him. After a while I headed back to our chalet to read and nap. Not long later he arrived. Toast! He says it was the toughest 45km ride he has ever done, especially as his gears wouldn't go into the small ring. He was fried. I got him a big plate of lunch, which definitely restored his spirits.

A leisurely afternoon was followed by a gathering in the main area where the people from Wildlife Act told us about their vulture conservation project, which extends into this area. Fascinating - and sad. Vultures are seriously under threat. While I've known this, the numbers are even lower than I expected with only 1 to 5 breeding pairs of some species in KZN.

A delicious dinner followed and then it was off to bed.

For Day 2, I was in for 21km run. Celliers had considered the 12km walk but as he woke with a cracker of a headache, he made the good choice to instead eat breakfast, nap for an hour and then wake up feeling much better.

Again I had a lovely, leisurely run. Varied terrain, a pretty kloof, old elephant trails and interesting scenery.

Scramble up a 'waterfall'. Magnificent rock!

The Baboon Scramble took us from the top of the waterfall to a lovely contour path that used to be an old elephant track - back in the day when there were ellies in the area.

Celliers had seen the giraffe the day before and I hoped to see a few on the run. I got even better than this with a sighting of the herd near me.

I'd guess at 15-20 individuals. I like the sound of giraffe hooves as they lollop. I tried a selfie.

I look like a clown but the giraffe are cool. The lady I was running with was no more than a minute or so behind me. I was trying not to disturb the 'raffe so that she could see them too.
I ran with another lady for the last few kilometres - a vet from Creighton. Lovely run, perfect weather and a great start to the day.

Friendly Wildlife Act people manned the water table.
A last shower in the fabulous outside shower, bags packed and we were ready for the delicious lunch.

With goodbyes to the people we'd met, we were on the road for the five-hour trip back to Parys.

This Zingela event ticks all the boxes for me with small participation numbers, great location, lovely routes, phenomenal catering and a variety of accommodation options.

They run two events a year - in May and in September. Of course, Zingela offers river trips and safaris too as their usual course of business. Check out their Facebook page or their website.

If you like remote, small, personal, friendly and hospitable - with chilled running and great scenery thrown in - then you'll love this one too.

A fabulous Valentine's Day gift - thank you Celliers xxx

Saturday 12 May 2018

42 Days of Running

Yes, it is that time of year when my annual 'Days of Running' game takes place. If you're new to my blog then this is how it works...

Every year, in the weeks leading up to my birthday, I have to run for the consecutive number of days of the age that I'm turning. I started this a number of years ago when I turned 35 and I've continued the tradition. In June, I turn 42 - thus '42 Days of Running'.

Since my Rusty dog came into my life, just over a year ago, I've been very consistent with my running. Come hell-or-high-water, I take my dog out. She has definitely given me purpose as I'm more likely not to do things for my self (things for other people taking priority, mistakenly) but I will do everything for my dog.

In past years, my running has always been there but there have been periods where I would only be getting out 2-3 times a week. This Days of Running was very good for me because it brought me back to earth and was a reminder of how it is always possible to get out for 30 minutes, no matter how crazy your day.

This year, I don't expect my game to have as much of an impact as in past years but it does give me great satisfaction nonetheless.

42 Days of Running kicked off on Tuesday (8 May) and it actually started with a walk, not a run. I was away this past weekend (more in my next post) and I returned to an ill mom. I whisked her off to the doctor on Monday morning. As suspected, pneumonia. She was doing better on Tuesday so in the evening we took our dogs down to the river for a walk.

With Karen and Skally at parkrun this morning
I hadn't decided on any rules for this year's game - like minimum distance or duration. May seems to have snuck up from behind to give me a fright. How can we possibly almost be in the middle of the year? WTF!!!

What I started doing before the last few weekends was to load in a longer run of 10-12 km once a week, which I have not done for way, way too long. Most of my runs are 4-7km. I did two weeks with these longer runs and really enjoyed them - I feel like I only start getting into the groove after 10km.

Maybe for this year's game I'll make 2 x weekly 10km+ runs 'compulsory'. Yeah, that's a good rule for this year. I need it.

Waiting for parkrun to start. Rusty gets way, way excited when all the runners rush off; I prefer to start with her off to the side. 
So, the game is on.

If you like this concept but you're not a runner, you can make this your own by making it 'Days of [your preferred activity]'. This could be walking, paddling, dancing, biking, swimming, yoga or a general 'Days of Activity'.

Coming into the finish. Unfortunately the sweet old chap taking photos didn't get Rusty in the picture.

Friday 4 May 2018

9 Freedom Runs for Freedom Day

For the third year in a row (my post from 2016 and my post from 2017) I had the pleasure of again participating in the 9 Freedom Runs for Freedom Day. These are 9 parkruns in Jo'burg that are held on Freedom Day (27 April). The event is coordinated by my friends Francis Rogan and Staci Katsivalis. There is no entry fee and the various parkrun Event Directors voluntarily host us visitors as we move from one parkrun to the next throughout the day.

This concept was started four years ago (I missed the first running of this event as I was away at the time) when there were only 9 parkruns in Gauteng. Now we have so many that we can enjoy a different mix of runs each year. This year three of these events were held on Freedom Day in Jo'burg area, Pretoria and Cape Town.

I did self-drive this year as I needed to shoot back to Parys directly afterwards; but I did enjoy getting to run with and catch up with friends. I'd like to use 'too much chatting' as an excuse for what felt like slower times... Certainly parkruns 4 to 7 were a reflection on the warm day and hilly courses!

Let's see where we ran:

#1 - Boksburg parkrun: 28:47 (28:16 last year)
We ran here last year and it was definitely much warmer this year for the 6am start. Located at the Boksburg stadium, this really is an enjoyable course. I ran with Chrissie and enjoyed catching up with her.

#2 - Rondebult: 29:51

What a treat to run this one (and the next two) with my dear friend Sarah. We used to see each other often and being in Parys (2.5 years now!) I don't often have the pleasure of her company. Apparently Rondebult's course used to go around the large vegetable field. This was an out-and-back. It's a flat course and to be honest we spent so much time chatting I didn't pay too much attention to much else. For me the value in this course would be to watch the vegetables grow bigger each week. Sarah has done this one before and said that cabbages get planted here and other veg.

#3 - Victoria Lake: 29:24 (28:28 in 2016)
We did this one last year and I quite enjoy this two-lap course at Victoria Lake in Germiston. I like the section of sidewalk along the dam. Pretty flat too. Lots of chatting.

#4 - Bezuidenhout Valley: 32:08
A run in my old 'hood. Bez Park is near my old high school and I remember this park from when I was a child. I certainly think that parkrun has breathed a bit of new life into it. This is a good thing because it really is a lovely green area.
The route is pretty decent and it includes some hills. I did take a few little walkies. Sarah and I were joined by Claudio, who I saw later at another parkrun again. This was Sarah's last one (she only planned to run three) as she is running a 32km road race this weekend. bye-bye to Sarah and I was off to...

#5 - Albert's Farm: 31:19 (30:26 in 2017; 31:26 in 2016)
Albert's Farm is one of the more challenging JHB parkruns and as a result is has smaller numbers than some others. I've always enjoyed this park from orienteering and it has featured in the last three Freedom Day runs. This one I ran on my own, which is a good thing because this hilly course is not a good one for chatting. Looking at my past times here, not too shabby this year.

#6 - Golden Harvest: 33:25 (31:58 in 2017; 33:49 in 2016)
 A bit of a route change on this course after a bridge got swept away recently following heavy rains. From what I recall, I'd probably bet on this new version being a bit harder (and longer?) than the previous course... Or maybe that was just me. I was really feeling the heat of the day and definitely lingered a bit longer walking on some of the hills! After hills at Bez Valley and then Albert's Farm and then Golden Harvest, I was dragging my feet a bit. I ran in the beginning with Dave and the rest on my own. I needed all the breath I had for running. I always love Golden Harvest - it is a super venue - and for me this is one of my favourite parkrun courses.

#7 - Lanseria: 32:30
My first time on this two-lap course; and I really enjoyed it. It has a good mix of up and down and a farmy feel. I ran this one with Dave and my legs actually felt pretty decent. This location is north of Lanseria airport so it is a long way out; but a nice one to go to if you're in the north.

with Dave Funnell
#8 - Ernest Ullman: 30:56
I ran here on a Saturday a few weeks ago when I stayed over with friends; this is their home parkrun. On that day, with fresh legs, I ran a 26 min parkrun; this was definitely not on the cards for my 8th consecutive parkrun this day!  I took it easy, enjoyed a little walk up the slight hill at the end of the lap and ticked over on the course. Driving my legs had felt a bit stiff but once running I actually felt good. This flat course was a nice reward after the hilly courses.

#9 - Atholl: 33:45
This is a bit of a weird route but one that makes the best use of a small park and the space available to host and make another parkrun available. I ran not quite the first kilometre with parkrun SA founder and Comrades legend Bruce Fordyce. If you're new-ish to my blog you probably won't know that Bruce and I were adventure racing teammates back in 2006 when Bruce and David Vlok were doing a tv series. Together with a Cape AR guy, Evan Price, we all did the 250km Swazi Xtreme adventure race together. What an experience! And what an opportunity to get to know Bruce. He was 50 at the time and doing his first multiday, non-stop adventure race. What great memories! We had a bit of a chat and then I put my head down to get this last parkrun in the bag.

Selfie at Boksburg; with Sarah at Rondebult
I didn't have too much time to hang around afterwards so I said goodbyes to friends and headed back home to Parys, dropping another runner in Soweto on the way.

Thank you to all of the parkruns that hosted us and the volunteers that were out there. They really make this day a special one. And to Francis and Staci - thank you on coordinating another super event. xxx

When I woke up on Saturday morning I was surprised that my legs weren't in the least bit stiff. I really haven't done much distance so I was expecting a bit of punishment afterwards. I spent Saturday in the car on the road to KZN. Fortunately my legs didn't seize up in the car either.

For sure, if I'm in town again on 27 April 2019, you'll find me again at 9 Freedom Runs for Freedom Day.

Running, different locations and friends; a great combination.