Thursday 26 September 2019

Heritage Day paddle with friends

What an awesome way to spend Heritage Day (Tuesday, 24 September 2019) - paddling with friends. We paddled the Day 1 section of our new monthly Vaal River Overnight route and it was a treat.
(FYI - We still have places open for our trips - one weekend a month in October, November and December).

With thanks to my friend Chris for planting the seed to get on the water - I'm so glad that he suggested it. Unfortunately Chris had a small op the day before to reattach a thumb tendon (a fall down Balloch Wall a week earlier!) so he and Sanet didn't get to paddle their Mazowe, but they did come to hang out - waiting for us at the take out.

Off we go. Four Vagabond Mazowe doubles. Photo by Chris.
What was really cool is that I paddled a double with my mom. She has done a bit of paddling but not much for a while. She really enjoys it and was keen to come for her longest paddle to date - 15-odd kilometres. We were treated to excellent Goliath Heron sightings, we saw one fish eagle (briefly) and also a giant kingfisher. Comrants, daters, ducks and geese were out in their numbers, enjoying this lovely day on the river as much as we were.

Orange circle shows the location of a Goliath heron. We saw quite a few. This guy just watched us pass.
Celliers paddled with his daughter Kyla, I paddled with my mom, my dear friend Allison paddled with her partner Alan and Fred, who I have not seen for too long, paddled with his partner Debbie. This was a really good day on the water.

Celliers and Kyla
Alan and Allison
Fred and Debbie
That's my mom paddling into this small rapid - I took the photo.
This is my mom again on a flatwater section. So pretty.
I received the sweetest message from Alan. He has been down the commercial section of the river - from town downstream - many times. He wrote, "I've paddled many times (mostly inflatables) but Tues was the most enjoyable paddle experience ever". That's really nice.

I took a bunch of photos along the way. A highlight for me was finally stopping to picnic on 'One Tree Island'. Karen and I named it this some time back because... it is a small island with one big gum tree. It exceeded my expectations. Great picnic spot. I always fly past it, chasing time.

Picnic on One Tree Island
What a great spot!
A really good few hours spent on the river. I look forward to tripping it again soon - with more water.

Approaching the take out. Photo by Chris.

The Hill - first running

There is a hill just outside of town that I've been running regularly this year - at least every two weeks. Sometimes I just go out there with Rusty to trot along other trails but usually I head up, up, up.

This hill is a bugger. I can't run the whole thing (yet) without walking.

From the first day that I came here, a plan began to form: to do a hill challenge event. My idea was that is would work much like the 'Crazy Kay' that I used to organise for AR Club in the early to mid-2000s on a one-kilometre stretch of road.

The participants were provided with the distance from start to hilltop (2.3km) and the gradient (150m elevation gain with a max 23% slope), and they were then asked to write down the time that they thought it would take to get to the top. Participants were allowed to run with watches but were asked not to look at the time until they pressed the stop button at the top.

There is a cement strip from 1.5km, which makes the surface easier - but the gradient is not! The route itself is not linear - it winds as it climbs.
There would be two winners: the person with the fastest overall time and the person closest to their predicted time.

A chance conversation with friends on Saturday morning led to the first running of 'THE HILL' on Sunday afternoon. What a blast!

Runners, walkers and dogs (Rusty and I were not in the photo because we took it. Celliers was already on the way up.)
Mandatory selfie - I'm at the back.

Andrew logged the fastest overall time at 15:24 and I was closest to my predicted time (11 seconds faster at 17:23).

Celliers, Ruben and Kyla came through to enjoy a walk up.
 We'll definitely have another running - maybe one each season? It is good fun and a good benchmark of one's fitness!

Sunday 15 September 2019

parkrun milestone - 100th Volunteer Occasion

Thank you very much for your support at Parys parkrun, event 258 on 2019-09-14. 
You've now volunteered at this event on 100 separate occasions.

Yesterday, I reached an unofficial (official milestone is 25) parkrun milestone: 100th Volunteer Occasion. Of these, 68 have been as Run Director at our Parys parkrun. I've been the Event Director, initially together with my friend Karen, since I moved to town in December 2015. I have lived in Parys for 192 Saturdays.

Instead of being full of joy about this milestone, I'm resentful. Not about being a volunteer, contributing to my community, and of the pleasure I have from interacting with our local parkrunners and visitors. These give me joy. Instead, I am actually pretty irritated because in October last year I was on 82 parkruns. Just shy of a year later, I'm only on 93 parkruns. 

So why, you ask, have I only run 11 parkruns in a year (and only 5 logged parkruns this year!)

Late last year, parkrun forbid volunteers from running before the official 8am parkrun start, doing their volunteer duty from 8am to 9am (or there abouts) and then being included on the parkrun results for their self-timed run.

We are a small parkrun with around 30-40 locals at each event; our numbers are often doubled by visitors. Our volunteers are the same-same people each week. They love running and they enjoy volunteering. We would meet at 7am, run the parkrun route - opening gates and picking up litter at the same time - and then do our volunteer duties.

With a small pool of people who volunteer, we don't have the luxury of non-core volunteer roles that allow for participation too. These roles include 'equipment storage', 'results processor', 'media' and the like. What a joke! We only have volunteers are needed for timekeeping, barcode scanning, tokens and turnaround marshal. Sometimes we have a tailwalker. We can get by, and we do, with three volunteers plus RD: two timekeepers, a turnaround marshal and the Run Director doing barcode scanning AND tokens. We all jump in with pre-event setup and packing up.

For some time we continued with volunteer runs even after I had phone calls from parkrun telling me that we couldn't do this. I told them straight that I didn't agree with their ruling and that it would have a serious effect on us. It did.

We were, of course, under the spotlight and our results were being checked. I received a not-so-friendly email telling me to delete the results of those volunteers who ran before parkrun. I couldn't do that to them.

We stopped the volunteer runs. Some of my regular volunteers need their Discovery points; so they rarely or no longer volunteer. Others have little other opportunity to run in the week and so they volunteer less often so that they get to participate on a Saturday morning.

Where before there would be five of us on route at 7am, on my run Director days this year I've been out there at 7am - on my own. Why should the volunteers get up earlier than necessary to run for no parkrun points when they can enjoy a warm afternoon run on a route of their choosing (if they run/walk at all on Saturdays). Even now, I don't always run the whole route - at 07h30 I just run to open the gates and then I return to the start to setup.

Our volunteers are awesome (the same-same people generally), but we've lost something.

Why did parkrun introduce this no pre-run ruling?

They said it was because of safety.
This is bull because if I am the turnaround marshal, I stand 1km from the start, on my own, on a public access road, with my mobile phone in my pocket. A sitting duck until the runners start coming through. Now, without other volunteers, I run on my own in the morning on a public access route with not many other people around. My safety is more compromised than on a volunteer run with other volunteers for company.

They said it was because their public liability only kicked in from 8am. This is rubbish too. Their public liability should cover from at least an hour before the start as people arrive early at the very busy parkruns to get parking and volunteers are also very early at some events to setup.

They said that parkrun in the UK never had volunteer runs and it all works quite fine there. Sure, and it works mostly quite fine here except that small parkruns are under pressure and there is a lower level of volunteerism here than in the UK. South Africa has a culture of volunteer runs in the running club environment where volunteers at club-hosted races run the weekend before their event. I enjoyed this privilege myself for many years as a volunteer marshal at a big 21km event organised by my first running club.

parkrun rides on the goodwill of volunteers who, without compensation, ensure that events happen every Saturday around the country. Rain or shine. We use our personal mobile phones with a downloaded app for timing and scanning (the original provided barcode scanners and timers are obsolete). We clean the routes, pick up litter, deal with any access/permissions. Not parkrun. Us.

No volunteers. No parkrun.

I used to get so worked up about people cheating at parkrun. I've heard all kinds of tales from other parkruns where people join the route halfway or they skip a loop... As this is hard to police, these people still get their parkrun times, Vitality points etc. This was brought up at an annual parkrun convention where the people from parkrun UK were in attendance (I wasn't - I received this feedback second-hand). They told the event directors not to stress about this; that it wasn't worth making their lives more challenging by implementing policing strategies. Vitality's perspective on this was apparently that parkrun gets people out and active, which achieves their aim of better health and fitness of their clients. Whether people run the full 5km or only 2km, that the cheater got out of bed, walked/drove to parkrun and did a few kilometres, is better than if the person stayed in bed and did nothing active.

I really appreciate these perspectives. They are correct. I've been far more chilled about this kind of thing ever since. I don't like it, but I don't see red.

What I don't get is that this is ok but volunteer participation is not? I still don't get why parkrun is preventing the people that they depend on to make this organisation possible from participating.

So, this explains why I have only done 11 parkruns in almost 12 months. For most of this past summer, I wasn't in town on Saturdays and when I was, I was Run Director and I ran early - but didn't log those runs to avoid getting nasty emails from parkrun.

There have been around 32 Saturdays this year so far. Since January, have been Run Director 13 times, I've run only 5 parkruns officially. I was out of town a lot for the first few months of the year. And the rest? I've had little motivation to run at parkrun.

So, I celebrate this milestone with mixed feelings. It is nice to have a measure of what I've put into my community and the return is in the friends that I have made and the pleasure of enjoying the successes and milestones of our parkrunners.

I totally subscribe to parkrun's values and I uphold them through my action of volunteering. Seems to me that volunteers to parkrun are like the cobbler's children who have no shoes.

We've got about 15 weekends left this year. I'll be RD for at least 4-5 of them. I'll be away for some others. I've got 7 parkruns to go until my 100th parkrun milestone. Will it happen this year?

Thursday 12 September 2019

Is paddling on your radar?

As a child, gymnastics was never on our radar. It wasn't a school sport, I only knew of one girl in my grade (and probably the whole primary school) who did gymnastics and I didn't ever join the dots and consider it to be a sport for me. My mom had no reference to gymnastic either so it was not a sport on her radar either. I did athletics, netball and swimming (and I tried my hand at tennis but it was never of much interest to me).

I would have been so good at gymnastics! I've always had an aptitude and affinity for anything with strength, balance and neat tricks, which is probably why I so loved pole dance and circus school as an adult - and I still love the challenge of yoga balances.

Unless children (and adults) have an opportunity to try an activity or for the sport to be placed front-and-centre on their radar, they're unlikely to know that it even exists.

Our town has a monthly market that attracts local and out-of-town visitors. It is near a spot on the river, which makes it well placed for a bit of 'market research' from us.

We gave this a try this past Saturday, taking along our children's Kwando kayaks and also the Tsomo kayak, our shortest adult kayak. The area is not big, but it is sufficient.

This plan worked a treat and we had lots of children coming to paddle as well as an grandpa with his young granddaughters, a super cool aunt who paddled with her niece and a number of first-timer adults. We generally have really good success with people at demos specifically because we have the right kind of kayaks with our Vagabond Kayaks - they are designed to be great to paddle.

There was one boy in particular that caught our attention. He absolutely loves paddling. It seems that his dad, who lives in KZN, paddles surfski. This boy spent hours on the water and really got the hang of catching eddies and paddling in the little bit of current. He is totally the right type of child to get into the sport. We did chat to his mom about bringing him to our paddling club for coaching with Celliers. They live in Vanderbijl - so we'll see if anything comes of this. I certainly hope it does because this boy has a natural ability and affinity for paddling.

We'll probably try this monthly - getting a better feel for interest and ages - with the aim of growing children's paddling and bringing about awareness to parents that the sport of paddling is accessible to them and their children.

Children take to paddling our Kwando kayaks like ducklings to water.

Intro to whitewater... Boys, Kwandos and surfing mini rapids. Note some crazy configurations with the boys on the pink and green Kwandos paddling 'backwards' - sitting in the tankwell! They do all kinds of fun stunts. These two, Erik and Ruben, are good young paddlers. The one on the blue, first timer. The one on the yellow has paddled quite a bit and this is his first time playing in a small rapid on a Kwando.

First woman and dog at SPCA night run

Earlier this year, a SPCA fundraising run was held in town and last night another was hosted at the Parys Golf Estate. This time I took Rusty along. They had a 5km route and a 10km option (double lapper) so I decided to run Rusts with me for the 5km, drop her with my mom along the route and then run the next 5km.

It turned out to be the most perfect evening - the temperature was just right.

Of course, Rusty was a monster before the start - at timetrial, parkrun and myrun too! She likes to bark and gets so excited - totally embarrassing! Fortunately, after the first 200m of running she is again a perfectly behaved girl.

She did very well on the 5km and seemed happy to see the finish because she didn't want to turnaround to head out again to catch my mom. It took a bit of convincing and then she trailed behind me (she is usually in front or to the side). For the next 500m, I almost dragged her and then she seemed to realise that she wasn't getting out of this and she picked up the pace again. Luckily for her, my mom was only another 200m away but when I handed her over, Rusts then wanted to watch me running of instead of walking to the finish with my mom. Mom says it took a while to get Rusty moving towards the finish. Funny girl. At the finish, my brown girly was waiting so patiently, looking out for me. My heart!

There weren't many of us on the 10km. I had a really strong second 5km but there was no way that I was going to be able to catch Elise. She led from the start and must have ended a good 500m ahead of me. There were no guys ahead so that would have been a one-two placing for us.

The turnout wasn't as good as in March, but there was a decent crowd -  and a good number of dogs (some we know from parkrun and myrun). There was a prize for the first man & dog and first woman & dog. Hendrik with his young spaniel were ahead of us; Rusts and I got the woman & dog prize. We received a lovely gift bag with goodies for Rusty (toy, ball, shampoo and munchies) and for me (chocolate). 

Our Parys SPCA went through a rough time about a year back and NSPCA stepped in to take charge. The new committee has made a huge effort to raise funds, upgrade the facilities and to improve governance.

Thank you to Lorette, all her helpers and Parys SPCA for a lovely run. xxx

Tuesday 10 September 2019

Crater Run 10km win

The Crater Cruise MTB event has been held in Parys for many a year (around 15 years, I think). The event added a trail run (4km, 8km and 10km routes), which I entered and enjoyed this past Sunday.

I was last out at Attie's (from Anatomic and RIDE magazine) farm - Koedoeslaagte - in April 2010 for a circuit race that he hosted. In the intervening years, Attie has put in a huge amount of work creating a trail network, especially for mountain biking, which is his main focus. They host schools MTB events, training camps and the annual Crater Cruise and now the Crater Run.

The 10km run route was a treat. The morning started chilly - 3.5°C when I arrived at 7am - but it warmed quickly for the 7.30am start. The route starts off following the smooth and wide mountain bike trails on the river side of the main road, climbing gently to the road crossing. The winding track is good fun. We then crossed the road for the hillside trails, which are steeper and more rocky. I remembered the climbing from the circuit race!

I worked the hill well, taking two short walks on the steepest section and playing 'rally car' on the winding descent. Crossing the road, we were back on the smooth trail and I was feeling great so I let my legs out, working hard to the end.

The lady who came second was ahead of me until the last kilometre or so. I actually thought that she was on the 8km route, which had merged with the 10km route, as I passed her easily. She must have gone out faster than me from the start (mornings hit me hard!), which is why it took me so long to catch her. I was in my groove and moving very well on the last section.
I don't get to participate in many events so this really was a treat; not only to take part but also to do well. Of course, in a field with more depth, I would have been spat out the back. Nonetheless, the morning was mine and I'm chuffed.

I can commend Attie and his team for a well-presented event with superb route markings. Everything was punctual from the start to the prize giving and I look forward to heading out there again to run - with Rusty.

Wednesday 4 September 2019

What would you do all day if you didn't have to work?

I often think about this and yesterday evening Karen and I were talking about it on our run-with-dogs.

Work and having to make a living gets in the way of spending time on other projects that I'd like to get around to.

Although Parys is a town with young (like me) people, there are also a lot of retired folk who spend their days at home. My parents are also of an age where their friends are retiring (although many of them are going strong and working over the age of 65).

What are they all going to do with their days?

Every town and city in South Africa has people-in-need; from babies and children in care facilities to the very elderly who sit in chairs doing nothing all day.

I've started a list of things that I would do if I didn't have to work every day:
  • Spend more time with Rusty doing things (not just having her lie next to my desk as I work)
  • Walk, run, paddle, bike more than the minimum I'm currently ticking over
  • Travel
  • Do online courses on different subjects for fun
  • Read books to old folk who are no longer able to read
  • Read stories to children - a morning/afternoon slot
  • Get involved with a literacy programme
  • Teach children and adults how to crochet and develop community projects
  • Wash and groom dogs and cats at the local SPCA
  • Get involved with or start a Funda Nenja branch in my town; a project that changes the lives of township children by teaching them dog care, training and ownership
  • Be a volunteer sports coach at any school that needs me
  • Create maps - lots of them!
(And I'd also spend time hiding in bushes to catch the people who continuously dump trash at a number of spots in our town. Catching them is essential to stopping them. I plan to be armed with a paintball gun, to make a citizen's arrest and to make them cleanup by filling bags and bags with litter. I fantasise about this!)

I've always been community orientated and I struggle to understand why people who have no work or people who no longer work can sit around doing not much when their precious skills and hands will be treasured by organisations desperately needing volunteer help. 

Volunteering is not eight-hours-a-day; it may be two-hours twice a week.

Sure, I understand that having nothing to do can make a person less likely to do anything - lack of motivation, depression all play a role here.

There are many things that one can do that will not cost you a cent. They cost time.

Not everyone is for washing dogs and reading stories. Someone who is good with child care can help to change nappies and feed orphaned babies; a person with accounting and bookkeeping skills can assist an organisation with their books; good photographs of animals in community papers helps to find homes for abandoned animals; a passionate cook may help prepare meals at a food shelter; a hairdresser (or regular person who is good with a set of clippers) can transform the homeless.

Needs are great. Hands are few.

If you are out of work and looking for work, doing anything is a feather in your cap and an entry on your CV.

Doing something for others is rewarding. It gives purpose. It keeps you busy. It creates friendships.

If you had every day to fill, what would you do with your time?