Wednesday 29 April 2020

Is post-lockdown going to be your second chance?

Opportunities abound and too often we don't use or appreciate what we have until it is taken away from us.

Around the world, people are in lockdown and they are restricted from going outside to exercise. For the runners, walkers, cyclists, paddlers, gym-goers, dancers and others who participate in individual and team sports regularly, they have made do with exercising at home by doing online classes, body-weight exercises, indoor equipment and running circles around their homes.

As restrictions begin to lift, there is an all-encompassing worry that thousands of people will now 'suddenly' become runners and walkers and cyclists and thus exploit the lifting of restrictions.

IMHO - Good. For. Them!

In the years when I created and organised the FEAT adventure speaker annual events, I was always quite intrigued by emails from people (looking to speak or for sponsorship) that told of great losses and how this changed their life and that now they were going to run across continents, climb mountains, swim oceans... Before the loss, they were neither runners, mountaineers or swimmers.

As someone who has done sport and exercise daily or almost daily for the whole of my conscious life, I can come up with many reasons why people don't do any activities but I just don't get it.

Too much work. Too little time. Get home too late, leave for work too early. Stress. They are overweight so exercise is an effort, difficult and uncomfortable. They have never found a sport or activity that they love and that fuels their self-motivation. Young children and no partner or an unsupportive partner so leaving children alone to go run is not an option. And dozens of others. I've been intermittently caught by a bunch of these over the years and they severely curtailed my motivation and activities.

But then, the person survives a terrible accident that leaves them wheelchair-bound and having to learn to walk again. Or, they are clear of cancer after rounds of chemo. Or they recover after a heart attack or kick a drug habit.

Then something happens. The outdoors, adventures and expeditions beckon and they go on to live a second life where being fit and healthy and active and outdoors is so much a part of their existence.

It seems silly that we need a wake-up, shake-up to tell us how important our health is and how rewarding (mentally and physically) being active can be.

While I don't get it, I also figure that it is better late than never for someone to discover a new passion and to live a life so much richer for these new experiences.

Is this global coronavirus catastrophe and severe lockdown going to be a wake-up, shake-up for some? A figurative bash on the head that shouts, "GET OUTSIDE NOW!".

I hope that the expected surge of new runners, walkers and cyclists is not just a 'New Year's Resolution' fitness spike but that it really is a second chance for them. The chance to incorporate outdoor activity, learning new disciplines, discovering lovely places to be active, and embarking on expeditions into this second chance at life, and to share this with their children, partners, families and friends.

Sunday 26 April 2020

Lockdown loops may adjust circuit race perspectives

During lockdown, people are walking or running loops around their apartments and gardens to keep fit. Some of these loops can be as short as 25m, often in the 100m range and could be up to 230m. Even so, these are small loops to run around and around and around.

It got me thinking about running circuit races, where you run the course loop as many times as you can in the time available - usually 12hrs, 24hrs and up to 6-day events!

I've run two 12-hour events and I thoroughly enjoyed the experiences of these. I also did a trail circuit race in the Parys area unofficially in 2010 (I didn't stay over so I'd popped in to run for a few hours and then headed back to JHB).

In April 2006 I did a 12hr circuit race in Randburg on a 1km route. This one was run from 19h00 to 7am - through the night. It was superb! I clocked 98km and was the first lady and 3rd overall.

Dawn2Dusk in August 2015 was run in the day and it was swelteringly hot but a great experience nonetheless. For this one you had to reach at least 80km within the 12 hours available. I clocked 80km in about 10hrs and then retired to the shade and to shoot the breeze with friends. I was an idiot though because I was first or second lady at that stage and running well so I should have stayed out there walking and running to log more distance and an official placing. As I hadn't run more than 12-15km in months before this, I figured that 81km was just fine for me that day.

Runners (and non-runners!) will generally laugh when you tell them about circuit races with their response usually being, "And why would you do that???".

It really is fun!

I would reckon that right about now there are thousands of people that would see a 1km loop as a blessing. haha

You can argue that lockdown loops are run by necessity, because there is not another option. Circuit races are entered by choice, even though you have other options of running A to B or long-distance route.

Of course, circuit races are about mental fortitude but they're also far more of a 'party' that standard events and those that go through the night are quite special. You've got spectators, music, cheers and a great vibe from the company of other participants. This is really what circuit races are about.

For the sake of the circuit races out there (there are not many), I hope that after lockdown more runners will give these events a try.

With their lockdown-adjusted perspective, a one-kilometre, two-kilometre or three-kilometre loop will not seem such a ghastly thing anymore.

Saturday 25 April 2020

Stone in the pond

Back in my previous life when I was in the medical research academic arena, I wavered between loving science and considering that I really should rather be in medicine - more people orientated. At one such junction, I remember very clearly a boyfriend saying to me that when you're a doctor, you help people one at a time. He said that in research you have the ability to change the lives of millions.

As things happened, 20 years ago I left that life and ended up in writing and media because of my passion for adventure racing and trail running.

As I've often thought about apocalypses, I have been under no illusion that most of the work that I've done in these two decades - writing about events, writing articles, doing public relations writing for companies, running and editing websites, creating events - has been a 'frilly' occupation. When an asteroid hits the planet (or a virus spreads throughout humanity!), those websites and articles and words don't matter. My sewing, crochet, cooking and gardening skills are more valuable. People with skills like mechanics, plumbers, electricians, builders, medical... they are really critical.

One thing I am really good at is building communities and bringing people together.

The first website I ever built back in 1995 was one called, "Underwater Hockey Tourist", a website that listed underwater hockey clubs, venues, training days and times, and contacts around the world. I'd been playing for a year by then and much of the world's interaction was through an email group list. I saw so many emails by people writing that they're travelling to XYZ and did anyone know if UWH was played there... The idea behind the site was to provide a directory so that a travelling underwater hockey player could hook up with a team to enjoy their company and a game. One big friendly and welcoming family. I passed this website on in about 2002 and it still exists - although in a very different format to the HTML coded one (every page was hand coded) that I built all those years ago when the web was young.

In 2001 I built the adventure racing website, which I ran and edited for 15 years (the site has another owner now), and then a year later created AR Club. By the late 2000s, I'd created AR Gaiters. I ran dozens of navigation clinics over 15 years. In 2010 I created FEAT, an annual adventure speakers event, and Forest Run. And then there were the Metrogaine events, annual Winter Spruit run, Summer Series events... When I moved to Parys in December 2015, I was immediately involved as an Event Director of our Parys parkrun. In 2017 I launched YOLO and in 2018 we launched Vagabond Kayaks.

All of these, with the exception of YOLO, which has a bit of a community element, are all sport and activity related. Great for health and wellness and fitness, but hardly useful in an apocalypse.

Despite my 'realistic cynicism', I am aware of difference that, an article that I've written or a workshop that I hosted may have had on the lives of individuals. Indeed, there are dozens of people that attended the annual FEAT events for whom a speaker's talk touched and changed their lives, which lead to a cascade of events.

I received a "How are you doing?" whatsapp from a dear friend yesterday. We've been good friends over many years although we haven't had much interaction in recent years, especially with me living in Parys. His life changed direction a number of years and much of his work focus is as a running / trail / fitness coach. He is good at it and it so very much suits him. His message was so special and it brought tears to my eyes - of warmth and appreciation.

He wrote:

"You've been on my mind.
"I think you've been in my thoughts especially now because I'm putting my trail skills course online and I have been remembering how valuable was to me when I first started racing.
"I turned up to race with three guys I'd never met before. I had all the right gear, I knew all the language. I was this fountain of AR knowledge and it's because in the two weeks leading up to the race I had read everything you'd written.
"You just never know the impact you have by putting stuff into the world. It's the stone in the pond; ripples go out.
"I have 50 clients who I have managed to keep fit and motivated to train to a greater or lesser degree during this time [lockdown]. I get glowing feedback from some on having helped them to get through this. They all have stronger immune systems right now. I probably wouldn't be doing what I'm doing if your writing hadn't helped my start on this path.
"You have touched a lot of people with your words and your example. Thank you."

It is the frilly things that bring joy to our everyday existence - to go for a run, music we listen to, movies we enjoy and a kayak that we paddle. These give us a lot of reasons to wake up in the morning and contribute to making us who we are.
They're not the same as caring for the sick or building a water purification plant but they actually are just as important. A life lived is one filled with interests and activities.

'Frilly' has its place. I've saved this message in this post so that every time I despair and ask myself yet again "What am I doing with my life!", I can be reminded that frilly has a place in the world, even in an apocalypse.

Stone in the pond indeed.

A new product: AR Face Gaiter (face mask)

On Wednesday, I received an urgent request from a dear friend for a batch of face masks for her 50 staff at a company involved with medical testing.

I quickly checked with my mom, who makes all of our AR Gaiters, to see whether she had enough cotton fabric on hand. She uses lovely cotton prints to make little pouches for the gaiters. She did and so we got cracking on Wednesday afternoon.

Making face masks is a perfect re-purposing of our AR Gaiters production line. Face masks are very much 'gaiters for the face': they protect your face, are made from fabric and they require the same skills (sewing and attention to detail) to make. We've now got a new product in the AR Gaiters line - AR Face Gaiter.

We found a bunch of recommended patterns online, selected one and made a prototype to check fit, sizing etc. We then made some modifications for a better fit as well as the addition of a third layer and a more comfortable and adjustable tie. Our version also has a 'pocket' that can accommodate those regular hospital masks for yet another layer.

I was tasked with cutting out the pieces from the various fabrics -  a labour-intensive task. My mom began with the pinning and stitching.

There are easier masks to make, which are fine for popping into the shops. These masks are for people who will wear them most of the day at work. With the two masks that I've been using, I find that my glasses fog up and the one, which is a good shape, has slightly too-tight elastic squishes my nose and is too close to my mouth so I can't talk properly. The experience of wearing these helped to improve the one that we were to make.

We put in a good 6 hours on Wednesday afternoon and into the night and then a solid 12 hours on Thursday. As we were using materials on hand, we didn't have enough cord for the ties. I turned tee shirting into tee-yarn, which I think I prefer to the cord because of the stretch it offers. But cord is definitely much easier and faster to cut to size!

We recruited help from a local friend on Friday morning and the three of us got the production line working beautifully, from assembly to sewing, ironing and threading. Once my tasks were done, I got promoted to sewing.

By 2pm on Friday, the masks were boxed and ready for delivery to a branch of the company in Potch, kindly taken by a friend who had to go through to fetch meds.

The box has already been delivered to my friend in Jo'burg by their driver and the masks are already being handed out to the people working today's shift.

I made contact with our local fabric shop in town and will be able to get fabric and other supplies from them on Tuesday morning. There is a great need all over as the wearing of face masks in public is now compulsory, which makes sense.

We'll also do a less labour-intensive version of face masks - the pleated design. I've had one that my mom made for me a few weeks ago. We'll make a few improvements to her original design first. This style is much faster and easier to make so it will be cheaper. This makes it great as an item to buy and gift to other people, especially if the mask does not have to be worn all day for work.

Liz, the AR Gaiters elf

This is my mom, Liz aka The AR Gaiters elf.

Liz wearing a pair of AR Hiking Gaiters over her hiking boots.
I started making my own mini gaiters back in 2003 and here and there I would make a pair for friends.

After the AR Mini Gaiters came the AR Desert Gaiters (a few different versions tested at events in the Liwa Desert of Abu Dhabi and the sands of Namibia). My mom jumped in to help me sew for teams. I then needed to replace my orienteering gaiters and I had design improvements to make on those I had bought overseas... Thus the AR Adventure Gaiters. By the early 2010s, Liz was doing all of the sewing and she later took over handling orders and enquiries.

I just help with media stuff - my mom really is everything behind AR Gaiters, including the AR Hiking Gaiter, which she created because she often wears hiking boots and she had requests from friends.

With coronavirus lockdown, events may be cancelled or postponed for months to come but your opportunities to get outside and to go walking, running and hiking are still there (once activity restrictions are lifted).

Let the bright fabrics of our AR Gaiters not only lift your mood, but protect your socks from seeds, and do their work in preventing grit and trail debris from getting into your shoes. Once you've worn a pair of AR Gaiters you'll wonder why it took you so long to adopt something so fundamental to improve your outdoors experience.

Love your feet like I love my mom.

(Visit AR Gaiters on Facebook xxx)

Sunday 19 April 2020

My lockdown message: walk your dogs

Deon TerBlanche is a local photographer, artist and journalist based in Parys. He is very involved in our community and has done a number of special projects that have been great for our town. I first met Deon when he created the Parys Arts Festival. He created the Yellowfish art installation that hangs under the bridge (a shout-out about water pollution following the death of thousands of fish in our river) as well as the 'dinosaur eggs' at Egweni. I loved his photographic portraits and write-ups on incredible women in our town during women's month one year. 

A few months ago Deon painted a substation next to the main road on the way into town with an #imstaying mural. It has become quite the selfie photo spot for locals and visitors. 

Deon most recently planned, organised and did the fundraising for the painting of a bland, 200m wall on Boom Street. 

Deon is now capturing lockdown stories to preserve images and experiences. His message reads:

"I'm an accredited photojournalist (essential service) documenting Parys History by taking home portraits to show how the people of Parys are coping with the #lockdown. I'm also asking the participants for a message of hope and encouragement that they want to share with fellow citizens and people all over the world.

All photos to be featured in a photo book that will be donated to the Parys Museum to become part of the forever history of Parys."

Rusty and I have been featured. These are my answers to Deon's questions along with the two photographs that Deon took. 

Meet: Lisa and Rusty

What is your message from Parys to the world?: 
During the lockdown, we have the experience of being confined to our homes - with or without gardens - for five weeks. This is what many pets experience their whole lives if their guardians are people that never take them out for walks or to run in a park. And, it is not just big dogs that need to get out. Small dogs also need the stimulation of exercise and seeing something other than walls and fences and the same square meters of their homes. Pets are loving lockdown because their people are home with them all day. Talking to them and doing activities together. A big difference to being left alone on an empty property from 7am to 6pm. The boredom! It is little wonder that dogs, especially smart working dogs, are surrendered to shelters and rescue organisations with behavioural issues. I hope that this period of lockdown has given some pet owners something to think about and that they will take the opportunity - this second chance - to do right by their pets and themselves.

How many people are part of your lockdown?: 
Two. I live in a cottage on a property with a house. My landlord is here too.
What is your biggest challenge during this time?: 
No real challenges are other than concerns over our business, 
workers and saving all of these.
What do you miss the most ?: 
Going running with my dog! I do yoga and exercises in my garden but I do miss being out every day with my dog. She isn't crazy about doing exercises in the garden that we are fortunate to have.

Have you learnt anything about yourself or your family during the lockdown?: 
Not really. I work from home, alone, anyway so this is no different. I'm in contact with friends and family around the world on WhatsApp and Facebook. What is nice is that now I have time to sit down to talk to them and not to be in a rush. I do see my mom during the lockdown. She is high risk being late 60s and with emphysema so I do her shopping. We speak on the phone and Whatsapp between grocery drops.
What do you enjoy most about the lockdown?: 
This is the best rest that I have had in longer than I can remember! My business, sport, club and organising activities have always very email intense. This is the first time in more than 20 years that I can do very little work (or none!) and that there are not emails piling up. I can barely cope on a normal day and even if I go away for a few days, which doesn't happen often, I get so stressed and frazzled by all the communication and tasks that lie waiting for me. It has been worse in recent years with not only email but also WhatsApp, Messenger, Facebook, Instagram. The whole world is quiet and I have had the time to rest, read, nap and take my time to focus on some work projects. There is absolutely no other time that I can remember, not since early high school perhaps, when I have been so at peace. I am 43.

Without who/what would you not have survived the lockdown?: 
I've enjoyed the isolation and not having to go here or there, do this or that. And work is quiet for me. It is probably having internet access that has been most critical. I use it for work, communication with friends and family, for news, DIY and information, and for entertainment - online courses, audiobooks and Netflix.
What would you do differently if this had to happen again?: 
I wouldn't do anything differently. Or, I'd consider staying at a friend's property just outside of town where I would have trails and space to run lots. With time in abundance, the lockdown has been a perfect opportunity to focus on training that I never have enough time for. And it would be nice to work on bird watching and identification out there - I'm very bad!

Any you want to add?: 
I went into lockdown absolutely exhausted. The last few years have really given me a beating. I was a zombie for almost the first two weeks of lockdown. I didn't do much other than reading, garden, nap and hang with my dog.

This time has been bonus time for being more productive with online courses and the like. I started one but haven't made much progress. If I'd not been so exhausted, I could have been way more productive. That said, I never get downtime so I'm taking it for what it is and for what I need and I'm loving every day. While the extension of two weeks is bad for business, it is good for me and will put me in a better space when we go back to work.

Tuesday 14 April 2020

How many daily dead will create a pile up of bodies?

For weeks already, Italy's structures for dealing with the dead have been under strain. Caskets have had to be stored in make-shift structures, halls, and churches as crematoriums and cemeteries have been unable to keep up with the increased volume in cremations and burials. In early March, satellite images of a cemetery in Iran showed the fresh excavation of burial trenches, presumably to cope with their growing number of dead.

I've kept a morbid eye on the daily death numbers recorded, wondering how many dead, above the normal daily average, does it take to create a crisis in terms of disposing of the bodies?

Let's take Italy. Italy's death rate is around 10 people per 1000 of the population (currently on 10.6/1000). Italy's population is currently at 60.48 million.

Based on this, if 1% of the population are going to die this year through natural causes, illness (excluding coronavirus) and accidents, that's 604,800 people. This is 1,657 people per day in a normal year. Most people will be buried and fewer will be cremated. The country's infrastructure can handle these numbers, and, presumably, have capacity for additional numbers on busy days.

2017 figures showed that only 24% of the dead in Italy were cremated (approx. 400/day countrywide). Italy's current cremation rate is not listed on Wiki's cremation rate page, but it is probably similar or less than that of Spain at 35-45% (cremation is on the rise).

With coronavirus, the crematorium in Bergamo, the hardest-hit city, is currently experiencing 50-60 cremation requests for every 100 dead - this explains the overload on capacity and why bodies are being transported to other towns for cremation.

Cremation is the preferred method for dealing with someone who has died from coronavirus as you can be sure that the 950°C furnace temperature will incinerate the body as well as every trace of the virus it contained.

Bergamo's crematorium is running 24 hours a day, seven days a week and they cremate 24 bodies a day, which is more than double their normal maximum.

I read online that the cremation process takes two to three hours per body and that only one body is incinerated in each oven at a time (because of the law and space inside the furnace - same in South Africa). Crematoria would have more than one oven - maybe three or four of them.

Looking at Italy's coronavirus numbers... Since 10 March 2020, Italy has not reported a daily death count below 100.  They have  had more than 600 coronavirus deaths a day for the past three weeks with many of these days logging over 750 deaths. This would be on top of the 1,600-odd usual daily deaths.

If 1,200 -1,400 of these are to be cremated and at least 1,200 to be buried each day (mostly in Northern Italy), infrastructure far greater than what currently exists is needed. There are 79 crematoria in Italy. They would all need to do at least 15 bodies a day to keep up - and the small-town ones would not even have this capacity. This explains the three-week waiting list (and limited cold storage!). With every day, the numbers of caskets in the queue just keeps building.

In the USA, the average cremation rate is around 53%. This varies widely from 20% to 76% depending on the State (New York is 40%). At approximately 2.8 million deaths/year (~7700/day), the US should have better capacity to absorb the >1500 daily coronavirus deaths than other countries because their infrastructure is geared for a higher number of cremations overall. Nonetheless, it is still up to 20% more bodies to deal with each day!

South Africa's population is 57.78 million and our death rate is 9.5/1000. That's 1500 people/day. In Cape Town, the cremation rate is 40%. This will vary around the country with varying preferences for cremation or burial. My search has revealed no other numbers for South Africa with the exception that we have 33 crematoriums that are already overburdened with some these facilities in frequent need of repair. Available land for burials is already limited.

Any day-after-day, significant increase in the numbers of daily dead will put any country's infrastructure under strain. I can see why grave trenches are the most feasible and timeous method of dealing with a pile-up of dead. But, in the case of coronavirus it is not the wisest method of disposal because of the uncertainty around how long the virus may linger. That's why cremation remains the recommended and safest method to ensure that all trace of the virus is incinerated along with the body.

Monday 13 April 2020

What if you forgot the last 10 years?

One book that I thoroughly enjoyed and that I finished listening to this morning is "What Alice Forgot" by Liane Moriarty.

The base theme of the story is around the main character Alice who falls during a step aerobics class, hits her head and forgets everything that has happened in the past 10 years. She comes round on the floor of the aerobics studio not recognising anyone and wondering what she is doing in a gym (her younger self didn't go to gym or exercise at all).
She goes back into her life not knowing her three children (she had them withing the forgotten years), not knowing why she is in the process of divorcing her husband, who her 10-years younger self still loves dearly, and nor why she and her sister are somewhat estranged. So many things that her older self does, her younger self does not.

If you forgot the last ten years, would your younger self recognise your older self? More importantly, would your younger self like the person that you have become, shaped by your experiences, activities and interests? Would your younger self like to be living the life that you currently have? 

Our lives can take such a different direction to what we may have envisaged, especially when you have the freedom to open the door to opportunities that arise. Not necessarily better or worse, just different.

A good story. I've read The Husband's Secret and I enjoyed the TV series of Big Little Lies. 

Reading in the time of lockdown

We are 18 days into a five-week lockdown (the initial three weeks was extended by another two weeks). I'm yet to be bored. Something that I am enjoying is reading.

I read mostly at night before bed (as usual) but also in the mornings for an hour or two. During the day I listen to audio books if I'm doing tasks with my hands that allow me to concentrate on the audio book at the same time.

I've completed three paper books (I started another two that I didn't continue to read) and three audio books (about 40hrs of listening). Also, at the beginning of lockdown I finished listening to an audio book that I'd been working through for weeks.

The branches of my mom's lemon tree are bowed under the weight of hundreds of lemons. 

I've been turning them into lemon marmalade and lemon cordial. Lemon chopping or squeezing takes time, which whizzed by while listening to an audio book. 

I have not had this abundance of time to enjoy immersing myself in stories and being able to just read and read and read. 

On the entertainment side, I enjoy an episode or three of something on Netflix at night, while crocheting (I completed the crochet part of a blankie for Rusty last night). Highlights have been the series on Bill Gates and a doccie on glaciers and glacial retreat.

We've still got 2.5 weeks of lockdown - more time to revel in reading and activities I don't usually get to enjoy in such abundance.

Wednesday 1 April 2020

Taking a loooonnnggg weekend

When lockdown started on Friday I figured that I would take a much-needed long weekend with Friday, Saturday and Sunday being completely work-free and guilt-free (because I can't do anything about this situation) days to do a lot of nothing.

I spent hours in the garden weeding and listening to an audio book. I napped. I read. I crocheted. I watched Netflix at night (currently watching the doccie series Pandemic and the Finnish detective series Bordertown). Rusty and I are doing some dog training too. She is as bright as a button.

I also kept an eye on the coronavirus status and read loads of news articles on the virus around the world. The latter is a complete time gobbler! And then there is Facebook, messaging friends on whatsapp and general catching up. Boom - the hours disappear!

And then Sunday merged into Monday... and then Monday into Tuesday and we're now on Wednesday afternoon and I haven't done much work at all.

I have so very much needed the rest.

I'd like to say I'm looking better for it but I still have dark rings under my eyes and I feel dead tired.

You know how it is when you're 60 hours into a race with little to no sleep and you're awake and focused and navigating and making decisions. And then you finish and sit down and you fall asleep on the spot. I've been in an endurance race for a few years and now that I've climbed off the treadmill, I'm literally just lying there on the floor, unable to move.

Early on, I had aspirations for lockdown with a list of things that I'd like to do with the expanse of time - like an online course or two - in addition to my work project. I have subsequently taken all pressure off myself and will just aim to complete my work project because once the wheels of life start turning, I won't have time  to do it.

After waking up, I have been spending an hour or two - or more! - reading, mostly coronavirus articles. Now that I'm giving this up in my new 'recovery phase', my general aim is to be out of bed by 9am. Then, to spend at least half of the day on image editing and the rest of the time with reading, napping, dog training, gardening and the like. I also do an hour of exercise whether a circuit session or yoga (or a bit of both).

This time is to be treasured and used. But not all of it has to be productive. In an athletic training programme, rest is part of training. For me, lockdown is an opportunity to rest, scale back my activities, reduce pressure, compartmentalise stresses and to just be.