Saturday 27 April 2019

River is up - let's paddle

Back in February, I paddled a section of the Vaal with my friend Karen. It is a mostly flatwater, 25km section with a number of lovely ungraded rapids aka 'ripples' along the way. The river has been low but after the good rains in Gauteng the past two weeks, the river was up - time to paddle.

What a superb Friday afternoon we had! We got on to the water just before 3pm and got off 3.5 hours later just as darkness descended. The current doesn't exactly push your down the river - the volume is not enough for that - but high water does mean that the rocks in the ripples are covered by water. We did not scrape or get stuck on rocks, which we did last time.

This is very much the type of paddling that I enjoy; long distance, lots of variety with many channels, sweet and friendly ripple-rapids, lovely scenery, many bends in the river, and a few hours out on the water in the company of my friend.

The water is already on its way down. We have our fingers crossed that we'll see these decent levels for another few days. Wednesday is a public holiday and a bunch of paddlers are planning on hitting the river in the morning.

Karen. Taking photos of each other. The reflections were so perfect.
Me. Paddling.

Not quite a rapid - these ripples are such fun.

Oh yes! Blissful fun.
That's a very teeny island with a big tree on it.
Karen coming through a long section of ripples.
The last two kilometres to the finish. The sun is gone. The wind is gone. Very peaceful.

If I was a DSD athlete...

As we wait for the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to make a decision in the case of Caster Semenya vs the IAAF (International Association of Athletic Federations), there is chatter in the press.

Paula Radcliff got slammed for saying that she doesn't agree that hyperandrogenic (HA) and those athletes with Differences of Sexual Development (DSD) should compete in the female category.

Why HA/DSD issues didn't come up decades prior to Semenya's 2009 medal-winning participation puzzles me. Dozens of athletes from years gone by can be pointed-out as being HA/DSD, even without hormone testing.

While I think this issue has not been dealt with correctly, like Radcliff, I do not think that hyperandrogenic / DSD athletes should be competing in the women's category. Not at all. Not even with lowered testosterone (T) levels.

 Let's say I'm an athlete and since puberty I've been taking T. This hormone has allowed me to develop physically bigger and stronger than I ever would have without it. T has given me big strong muscles and I'm at the top of my game - fast and strong.

CAS's concession to T lowering means that if I keep doping as I have been, I can't compete in women's events; but if I only take half of what I was taking, I can compete in women's events. Even if I stopped doping completely, I've had the advantage of developing my body for 15 years (based on Semenya's age) with a hormone that I wouldn't have had naturally, which has given me an advantage over other female athletes even without the ongoing boost from having a higher-than-physiologically-normal-female T level. That is cool for me, but bad for them.

Sport selects for DSD athletes, just as basketball selects for height, because they are faster and stronger, which is why there are so many DSD athletes in women's sport - far exceeding population occurrence - and not just in the track and field disciplines.

This Let's Run article by Amby Burfoot (22 April 2019) is well presented and it a must-read that clarifies what is going on.

It brings me back to a Q&A piece from 2016 by Ross Tucker with Joanna Harper, a hyperandrogenic ex-athlete herself. It is long, but informative and educational read.

Whether Caster, the poster child of hyperandrogenic issues, and other DSD athletes should compete against non-DSD women should not be an emotional issue. This is something that can be decided by science.

Just because I feel that DSD athletes have been run through the mill and that this issue has not been dealt with correctly, does not mean that I can ignore science and evidence to say, "Ag shame, just let her run because she trains so hard, she wins medals for South Africa and she has been treated so unfairly". No. This is something that has a detrimental effect on women's sport.

According to the Lets Run article, "The occurrence of all DSDs lumped together is between 1 in 15,000 (0.0067%) and 1 in 20,000 (0.005%)". But when you look at the start line for the 800m Olympics / World Champs, there is very likely a 35-75% participation of DSD athletes.

Testosterone is the hormone that is key to this issue of differences of sexual development.

From the Lets Run article:

There’s a large, definitive medical literature on normal testosterone levels. Women with XX chromosomes generally live in a range from 0.00 to 1.7 nmol/L, while men with XY chromosomes typically fall between 7.7 to 29.4 nmol/L. Don’t worry what an nmol is; just note that there is no testosterone overlap between typical women and men. In fact, the high end of the female range (1.7) sits 75 percent lower than the low end (7.7) of the male range. That’s a big gap.
At the 2011 and 2013 World Championships, the IAAF actually measured the testosterone levels of 1,332 women and 795 men. The women averaged 0.67 nmol/L and the men 15.6 nmol/L. Again, the proposed IAAF cutoff of 5.0 looks generous alongside 0.67. 
Over the years, hundreds of athletes have been banned from competition for taking performance-enhancing drugs - and many for anabolic steroids, of which testosterone is one. Steroid use is banned by most sporting bodies. Doping is a nasty business that has brought down many stellar athletes; they certainly felt the risk was worth it to be better than they already were. Considering athletics, names of female athletes that stood out for me were Marion Jones (convicted) and Florence Griffith Joyner (speculation, never proved).

If the CAS testosterone lowering regulation is passed, it means that DSD athletes with high T levels must take meds to lower their T levels. That said, can women with a natural testosterone level <1 5="" a="" get="" if="" level="" not="" now="" of="" p="" take="" testosterone="" them="" to="" why="">
All of this is about protecting women's sport. Women do not compete against men; they would lose. Women will lose against a field of DSD athletes too.

Semenya is the poster child for HA/DSD controversy. That's just how it is. How she has managed to put up with the controversy for so long... Tough! But then Pistorius went through this too in his bid to be considered for able-bodied competition, which should never have happened! I can't begin to understand why they are do driven to be in a category that they are not.

If I was her...

I would withdraw from competition. I would use my fame for awareness around hyperandrogenism and Differences of Sexual Development, including testing, diagnosis, types and health repercussions. The secrecy behind this and her has not helped the situation either. I would coach athletes and I would also establish a global league for DSD and transgender teens and adults. This would prove an interesting project!

But that's me.

Because of emotions and sensitivities, we're tip-toeing around a fraction of a percentage of athletes compared to 99.9% of women athletes without DSD. And this is how the CAS ruling should lean. But, we'll only know when it is announced.

Friday 26 April 2019

Too many choices for Freedom Day

The past few years I have done the Freedom Day parkruns on 27 April. These Freedom Runs for Freedom Day started five years ago, organised by some friends. At that stage there were only 9 parkruns in Jo'burg and they planned a route that did all of them in a day. This involves driving-running, driving-running throughout the day. I missed the first year as I was away, but I've run the last three years.

This year, as there are so many parkruns there is a Jo'burg East, Jo'burg West and Pretoria options for Gauteng. I am sure there are also runs in Cape Town. And we have four parkruns in this Vaal area, Parys is one of them.

Part of the appeal for me is not only to spend the day running, but to catch up with friends from Jo'burg who I mostly get to see once a year at this event. With people now split east and west... I've been indecisive. When there was only one version, I didn't have to make a decision.

I concocted a plan for doing a long run here in Parys; but as Event Director of our parkrun here, that we're newly on the new scanning system and we have the additional Freedom Run, it looks like I'll be at home providing support to our Run Director for the day.

I'm doing a long paddle this afternoon as the river is up after the recent rains, so it maybe isn't a bad thing that my long run is shifted from tomorrow.

Back in the day there were only three adventure races a year - 180km, 250km and 500km. It was like this for about three years. Everyone who participated in adventure racing, came to these events from all over the country. Then came mountain biking events, the start of growth in trail events, the introduction of sprint adventure races... and 10 years after adventure racing was introduced to South Africa there were fewer teams at a 500km than there were in the early days.

in addition to parkrun, we also have a myrun event here in Parys - on Sunday mornings. They recently introduced a 2.5km run in addition to the standard 5km. While this is superb for children and those walking or starting out, it does give those who would do 5km an easier alternative. This past Sunday, there were very few people on the 5km, with the majority opting for 2.5km.

Choice is nice and choice is good. But too much leads to inaction or a spread of fewer people at each event.

Rusty and I at myrun Parys

Tuesday 2 April 2019

Rusty's second adoptaversary

Rusty and I celebrated her second adoptaversary in the way we most enjoy - with a run.

This dog-child has been in my life for two years and what a wonderful influence she has been.

She is sweet, playful, bashful and gentle. She has the most beautiful eyes and a smile that melts my heart and brings a smile to my face. She can be mischievous - sometimes, but mostly she is chilled and calm - until I lace up my running shoes.

She is a wonderful companion and I treasure her company every day.