Thursday, 31 May 2007

Another Race in Wet Conditions?

I've been following the AR World Championships (ARWC) since Saturday's prologue. While the area seems to be absolutely beautiful, the race was plagued by wind, rain and cold. There's nothing like hypothermia to put a damper on any party. Today, Day 5, the clouds lifted and as I type Nike are approaching Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Great Britain, on the final trek to the finish.

Note: Quotes taken from race reports on Race reporting by Rob Howard, Robyn Ferrar and Gary Vallance (and race HQ - person unknown). Thank you for your reporting SleepMonsters.

This race started with a prologue event on the Saturday. Fastest teams took around 5h30 and slowest teams only reached the finish after 10-hours of staggering around the mountains of Rhum, an island just off the Scottish coast.

It was on this prologue that a number of teams - many in the upper echelon - received time penalties for missing mandatory gear (2hr time penalty), breaking the 100m rule (2hr time penalty) and "a number of teams were reported not to have run all the way to the Papadil Lodge ruin as instructed but to have taken a short cut uphill beforehand". Big Brother, in the form of the GPS tracking units carried by each team, confirmed this last rule infringement; one broken/mis-interpreted by many teams. They were slapped with a 2hr penalty too.

The competitors then spent the night "camped out on the boggy grass in front of the castle".

On the sea
History has shown - very clearly - that when a race starts with a long, long paddle stage there are going to be some issues (you'd think they would learn?).
Although the sea initially wasn't very rough, it was sufficiently choppy to capsize a few teams. A couple others were blown Southward. As the day progressed, conditions deteriorated and our own McCain Adventure Addicts,a team of strong, competent paddlers described the stage as "very tough – choppy and just unpleasant". So began Day 1.

There is something that puzzles me... I cannot think of an expedition length adventure race held in recent years in which conditions on the sea/ocean, as the race has progressed, have improved? I definitely would not expect conditions on the sea, in any UK location, to stay rosy all day.

Portage and micronav
Team got off the water, portaged their boats and put-in on Loch Morar, "the deepest body of inland water in Europe, and fabled home to the Loch Ness Monster's sister, Morag". Instead of a calm 12km paddle on this loch, which lies between two steep mountains, teams faced "a tactical battle, as the wind whistled down from the slopes and across the water, altering direction and strength with every kilometre gained; teams were constantly fighting to hold their course".

Nonetheless, the weary teams made the take-out and portaged again to reach CP4, a micronavigation stage with two course loops. They would do this on foot. The whole deal with the two loops is that teams arriving together were put on different loops so that they could not follow each other. I wonder why they didn't plan a Figure 8/Butterfly course layout?

Image showing tracking lines for Nike (brown-red) and Balance Vector (cream). Race route :blue = paddle, purple = micronav.

It was here that our team seems to have missed a checkpoint, gaining an additional 3hr penalty (on top of the 2hr one they received in the prologue). Even more demoralising is that they were also classified to the short course. I don't think that they knew about this until some time later and I have no idea why they missed the CP? Nonetheless, they were classified as short course and yet until they withdrew from the race 3-days later, they had followed the entire race route. I don't understand why they were given a 3hr penalty AND classified as short course. Surely the 3hr penalty would have been sufficient? At this stage they were in about 16-18th place.

More water, then bikes
Finishing the micronav teams were back on the water to paddle 8km across Loch Nevis - directly into the wind. For teams futher back, conditions did improve. With nightfall, the wind died down and the loch became still. First team, Wilsa Helly Hansen, reached T1 (paddle/trek transition) at Invernie just after 21h00. Our guys got in just after 01h00. This is where the first cut-off of the race was enforced.

Race instructions stated that teams had to leave this transition by 03h00 on Monday morning. "With the difficult wind conditions on the paddle, a hard micro-nav stage and time penalties [those received during the prologue] being served at CP4 it was a race to make it in time." Many didn't. As a result, by Monday morning a good percentage of the field were on the short course.

Due to not making the cut-off, teams were sent on a more direct route to T2 - skipping the dog-leg. As you can see from the tracking lines, McCain - although listed as short course on the leaderboard - were actually still on the full course route...

During Monday conditions were "fantastic" with blue skies above. The "bitterly cold, northerly wind" took the brunt of the teams' complaints.

About short courses

I have a few thoughts about the short-coursing of 50% of the field within less than 24-hours of the race start...

A number of calibre teams were caught by the 03h00 Monday cut-off at T1. This meant that half of the field were out of the official stakes, although they remained ranked on the short course. This must have been very disappointing, especially for those with greater prowess on bike and foot than in kayaks. They could have climbed a few places over the next trekking and successive mountain biking stages.

The flip-side is that by T1 (13-hrs into the race for the first team) there were some 5-hours between the leaders and upper-middle field teams. This gap grows progressively - almost exponentially - as the race progresses, so having cut-offs and shorter routes does help to concertina the field. This means that marshals can be pulled from their position timeously, and moved to later sections of the race.

But... when you're in a 5-day event, you just don't expect to be diverted only 18-hours into the race.

The solution? Keep those early stages shorter and more diverse. This would cater to different strengths (paddle, trekking, foot, navigation) early on so that by the time cut-offs kick in - say 48-hrs into the race - teams would have had a decent period of time to prove themselves. Then put in some longer stages with options to leap-frog slower teams around the course.

From what I can see, the only "short course" route options were on that initial trekking stage (image above) and the trekking stage (image adjacent) from T7 to T8, where Balance Vector (cream tracking line) - in 6th place - and all those behind them were short-coursed for missing the Thursday 13h00 cut-off. I wouldn't count the canyoneering section (on the trekking stage after the swim across Loch Ness from T3 to T4) as a short course option. Teams bypassed this section when it was closed because of elevated water levels due to the rains.

A final point on this cut-off issue... by Wednesday afternoon, 3.5-days into the race, the front teams were 12-hours behind the expected race schedule. I would think that the cut-offs, like the one at T7 that caught Balance Vector, would have been amended to accommodate this and that the overall course would be shortened to bring the finish time for the first team back onto schedule. But that's just what I think...

Back to the race
So, from the first trek they start a long, long mountain bike ride on the "longest dead-end road in Britain" from T2 to T3 at Loch Ness. Within this mtb section there was a cut-off and "two extra disciplines"; a short jump beside Plodda Falls and a tyrolean traverse across Badger Falls.

Although race reports mention a "20-foot leap into a deep pool", it seems it was actually a 2-meter jump into the pool. McCain's Jeanette Walder, not known for loving canyoneering jumps even commented to race director Phil humphries when they reached T3, "Phil, this is great but next time you must make the jump bigger”.

It's probably a good thing that the jump wasn't bigger... Aberdeen Asset Management's Helen Jackson landed on a submerged rock, injuring her left buttock. She battled through the next three days, only withdrawing on Thursday at T6.

Back to T3... on Loch Ness. First teams were in at around 04h30 Tuesday, having spent a cold night on their bikes (that's to say little of their 2m jump into icy water - at night). It's at this time too that the rain began...

Next up was a 1km swim around a headland; 2 swimming, 2 in kayaks. In the tropics this would be welcome but in Scotland this meant a swim in 7°C water! A race report read, "There was little chance to warm up on the paddle either and no real shelter at T4 where they picked up Nordic Walking poles and set off along the tarmac road towards the canyoning stage."

10km into the trek the leading teams would begin the canyoneering section, led by guides. Again, cold water; "Teams were forced to catch their breaths in the coldest water temperatures in the race so far". I would have pleased to be one of the later teams who were able to by-pass this section when it was closed for safety reasons due to the rising water level. Teams missing this section received a 70-minute penalty (the average time taken by those who completed the section).

As the rain continued throughout Tuesday and Tuesday night, teams trekked and mountain biked. Nothing too notable on Tueday except for a widening gap between the front and the back and an increasing number of cases of hypothermia... expected in conditions of cold and unrelenting rain.

Race stats by Tuesday evening were as follows: 20 teams on the full course, 24 on the short course, 3 racing unranked (all UK teams) and 2 withdrawn.

Day 4 of the race, day 2 of the rain

Lots of rain-affected casualties; "The rain has had many casualties to answer for during day 4. With little to no shelter at transitions, teams are arriving to wet boxes sitting out in the rain."

Teams (not the leaders) were diverted on a long "short course" because of dangerous conditions in the Monadhliath Mountains between T4 and T5. Instead of trekking 40-kilometers through the mountains the teams walked about 70-kilometers on road. That's a big distance 4-5 days into the race, especially on road and in the cold and rain. Brrr...

By Wednesday night the rate of attrition had accelerated. When I woke on Thursday morning there were 19 teams on the full course, 16 teams on the short course, 3 racing unranked and 11 withdrawn. By Thursday night, following the 13h00 cut-off at T7 the status was as follows: 5 teams on the full course, 26 on the short course, 8 racing unranked and 10 withdrawn (yes, I know the unranked and withdrawn numbers don't add up when you compare morning to night - seems the status of some teams has changed to unranked). We didn't have any additional withdrawals today because the weather had apparently been "glorious".

This was a good thing for Nike and the others upfront, as they had to paddle and portage between Lochs on the way from T6 to T7; the Outrageous Portage Stage.

The race at the front

Wilsa Helly Hansen has raced a fantastic race. Nike is in the leadbut Wilsa is certainly in for a proud 2nd place. I can only say that it really is a pity that the 13h00 Thursday cut-off eliminated so many teams because now only 5 teams remain on the full-course.

As I type, Nike has left T9, the last transition for the final 15km hike to the finish at Fort William. they'll have to ascend Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Great Britain, on the way to the finishline. As always, Nike is exceptional.

My hat is off

I take my hat off to every team that just entered this race. I'd consider a 2-day event in the UK but never a 5-day race. The chance that your party gets rained on is just too high; and I'm not crazy about cold and rain. Good wet weather gear is crucial out there.

It does indeed sound like this whole area is very beautiful and scenic; a lovely vacation location. I'll definitely add to my list of "places to visit" but it will stay off my "places to race" list; horses for courses.

Well done teams. A brave effort out there, no matter how far you got.

Monday, 28 May 2007

Playing in the rain in Cape Town

On the weekend of the 19 May I headed down to Cape Town. Although my primary objective was to teach a navigation course on the Saturday, my trip was well timed (thank you Michael) to allow me to take part in the Salomon Night Run on the Saturday night and Extreme O on Sunday morning.

The nav course, held in the Tokai forests, went well. It was a delight to meet the 19 Capetonians. Being in Joburg, it is easy to lose touch with people in the other Provinces, many of whom I only know from emails. When I landed on Friday night the wind was howling (as it always does) and by Saturday morning the rain had started. It would not let up the whole weekend.

After the nav course, Tim joined me and Michael to drive through to Montagu, the base for the Salomon Night Run and Scott Night Bike events ( Heather would have been with us but she'd come down with flu. Heather and Michael are off to China in a few weeks to run the Sunrise to Sunset 100 so her decision not to run was a wise one.

Rain, rain rain... like I haven't seen for ages. We went through the Hugenot Tunnel and the river running parallel with the road was pumping. You could have probably sent a 6-man raft down the rapids! There were white waterfalls plummeting down the mountains into the river - and these are not normally water courses; they only flow with run-off when it rains. Quite incredible.

Well, the rain only let up when we reached Robertson, which was illuminated by one of the boldest and brightest rainbows I ever seen. Montagu itself was dry, but with rain threatening nearby.

The Salomon Night Run, which Tim and I entered, and the Scott Night Bike follow a rally-style instruction format. You receive a race book with instructions in the form of arrows and distances; this is what guides you around the 12km (or shorter 7km) course. I had done one of these events in Joburg last year, with Heather (entries are pairs). It is wonderfully good run. Tim let me take control of the road book, while he led the way.

We ran on dirt roads and trails, between fruit trees and grape vines; it was a wonderful night and a super run. A new addition to the event, back at the event base at the Montagu Spa, was a real-time tracking system. The pairs were set off at intervals and on the tracking the spectators could watch pairs gaining on the one ahead (or losing time). They had a few teething problems with the system because of cell reception; the laptop at the base, running on a cell internet connection, kept losing signal (the Spa is in a valley walled in by cliffs). This system would be a gem at adventure races (I'm sure it would work online?).
Unfortunately we couldn't stick around to enjoy the bonfire and festive vibe at the finish as we had to drive back to Cape Town to catch a few hours of sleep before leaving for Grabouw and our next event, Extreme O.

When we woke up on Sunday morning it was still raining. Brrrr...

In the pre-event information we'd been told that the Extreme O event would have 4 maps; two of approx. 11km and two of approx 4km. There would be a Trail O, Sprint O, Hill O and Long O. My thinking was that we'd get the maps in a jumbled up order such that I could be doing the Sprint O first, Michael may be on the Trail O first and Tim would be on the Long O first. It turned out that we were given the maps in a specific order.

The first one was the 11km Trail O, which was more of a trail run than an orienteering run because we had to follow a fixed route, punching 4 controls en route. This Lebanon forest is lovely and I settled into the kilometers to enjoy the surroundings and catch up on news from Alvin Ward, an ex-Joburger now living in the Cape. The rain came and went with a number of good dousings.

Next map was the Sprint O, a 4km route with many controls spread throughout the forest. Most of this area has excellent runnable terrain with little of that nasty stuff (ground littered with branches when they trim the trees), which we frequently encounter in the Belfast forests.

Next up was the Hill O, another 4km route. The Hill O was exactly that - we headed straight up the highest hill in the area. On my way up the hill the rain again came down hard, but this time it was icy and I was getting chilled to the bone. When I got back to the transition I decided to retire to the warmth and protection of the car. Michael was there too. Tim stayed out to tackle the last 11km Long O route (he finished 4th overall).

All in all Extreme O is a good concept although not as extreme as when Paul Mitchell was the sadistic organiser. I'd probably like to see more orienteering elements, more controls and shuffled map orders. The event was well organised and the few entrants were committed souls to be out there in the rain. Really nice to meet some of the Cape orienteerers.

All in all a good weekend playing in Cape Town.

Monday, 14 May 2007

Marvelous Mnweni

This weekend I had the absolute pleasure of taking part in the Water for Africa Mnweni Marathon. It is organised by ultra trail runner Bruce Arnett, well known for his domination of Skyrun over a period of 8-odd years. Bruce launched his Mnweni Marathon in 2001 and changed the initial point-to-point route the following year into its current circular format.

Dagga donkey at the bottom of Mnweni Pass
The race starts from the Mnweni Cultural Centre, a community run project. It's a super venue with clean, spacious hot showers (gas), toilets and a communal kitchen (gas cooking). Although there are rondavels, camping is also allowed (R35pppn) on the lawns within the safe, enclosed area of the Cultural Centre.

Click on small images to see bigger images

The race had a bumper turnout of around 60-runners, double the entrants from last year. We were a mixed bag of road runners, ultra runners, social tail runners and a very substantial dose of adventure racers.

We set off at 06h00 on Saturday morning; it was just light enough not to need headlamps. The first few 3km were on dirt road and then we headed up on a trail past settlements and then back down to the river, following the Mnweni River upstream.
On the way we passed a pack of dagga donkeys carrying sacks stuffed full of dope. It was only just before we headed up the steep Mnweni Pass that we saw the Basotho men, with more bags and more donkeys. As I learned post-race from other runners; it costs R10 for a full bag at the top of the pass (Lesotho is at the top) and R50 at the bottom. These guys and their donkeys transport the goods.

I'd had a nice easy run/walk from the start and continued my leisurely pace up the Pass. I have three strategies when it comes to steep ascents; take small steps (big steps = excessive effort; its all about levers - physics in action), maintain a consistent pace and keep heart rate in check. This way I'm not fried by the time I get to the top and can use my legs and energy on the down. But my stratgey was in stark contrast to race leaders Ian Adams and Andrew Porter. They were neck-and-neck at the bottom when Ian shot ahead, demonstrating his uphill strength to beat Andrew to the top.

On top of Mnweni Pass
On the pass I caught up with Gustav and Toine, road runners from Pretoria. We found a great spot to take photos before heading up and over onto the flat plateau in Lesotho; the source of the Orange River. This photo shows how high we climbed - right from the bottom of the valley; we filled up with water from the river below. That's the Mnweni pinnacle in the background; towering above a steep valley on the other side of the Mnweni river (the Mnweni Pass is on the river's eastern bank).

The top was flat and grassy with a slow, slimey river marking the Orange River source. We headed due East and down the impressive Rockeries Pass. It's a steep descent on a rocky, slippery trail. As always, I had my Black Diamond Contour trekking pole. Trekking poles really help on descents to aid stability.

A few kilometers down the pass began to flatten slightly and the footing became more secure; time to run, like a horse bolting for home. Gustav had warned me that another lady, Jenny, was just behind us; although I had planned to run the last section anyway, the threat of competition helped to ignite the fire under my seat.

Man... the trail on this lower section was fabulous! We flew on the stable surface reaching the dirt road swiftly for the final few kilometers to the finish. What a wonderful section to the finish (slight downhill all the way).

Race distance is around 38km with 3540m cumulative ascent and descent. I completed the course in 7h51, some THREE HOURS after race winner Andrew Porter (4h54 finish time). Andrew got ahead of Ian on the descent down Rockeries and smashed his previous course record (Ian in 2nd was also in under the previous course record). Gerard van Weele and Ryno Griesel were 3rd and 4th (Go Adventure Racers!). The winning lady, Tracy, a local from Bergville, finished in around 6h30; a very impressive run. Susan Sloane crossed the finish around 15-minutes before me.

I'll tell you what I liked about this race;

  • Simple logistics - pack your takkies and go run
  • Inexpensive entry fee (R50pp + R20pp to Mnweni Cultural Centre for access to the region)
  • Lovely start/finish venue (and you can leave your tent up)
  • Beautiful area; my first time in the Mnweni Valley
  • Challenging route
  • Most runners finished by dark; you get to spend a social afternoon post-run in your camping chair chatting to the other runners
  • Friendly, personal feel to the event
  • T-shirt that fits and a nice Mnweni Marathon medal (this is one I'll keep)

I definitely think the race should keep a limited entry of around 75 runners; as restricted by space at the start/finish. A limited field also keeps the route uncongested. Happy helpers are hard to come by but they would be needed with a bigger field. Injuries do happen and having race marshals in the field would be useful to help injured and exhausted competitors return to the start/finish. Although the entry fee is very favourable at R50pp, R100pp would still be fair.

Altitude at the start is 1280m. At the top of Mnweni Pass it is about 2900m. Altitude profile from my Suunto T6

All in all, a lovely weekend in the mountains with perfect weather. Good stuff Bruce.

Post script: This race was the final outing for my Camelbak reservoir. I've had it for EIGHT YEARS! It has a tiny leak at the bottom of the reservoir, which drenched my Salomon Raid Revo 15l and my shorts for the duration of the race. Considering this reservoir has travelled the World with me, has been on every adventure race, staged ultra, ultra trail run and almost every orienteering event and training run with me... not bad going. These reservoirs may be pricey at the outset but when they're used a few times a week over 8-years, it doesn't seem so expensive anymore.

Thursday, 3 May 2007

An xtreme weekend

This past weekend was the annual Swazi Xtreme adventure race. Now in its 7th year, we saw
Salomon coming on board as a title sponsor. Being on the sideline this year, on the
organising team, I’ve come away from this year’s Salomon Swazi Xtreme with thoughts on
teams, responsibilities, our AR community, support crews, cable-tie ladders and the
pleasures of racing in Swaziland.

I got a call this afternoon from a Cape Town-based racer asking, “Lisa, what happened at
Swazi this weekend? I’m getting all kinds of different stories.”

This is what I replied.

The race started in rain on Saturday morning, for the first time in the event’s history. And
it was cold, really cold. The teams progressed through this first day with the expected
teams out front. John Collins’ Landrover Gear/USN in the lead and gaining more time with
every leg. They were being chased by Mark Collins’ Voels McCain team, Nicolas Mulder’s
Cyanosis team, Deon Bruss’ Cyclelab KZN team, and Graham Bird’s McCain team. Adventure Inc.
Red Ants, Kinetic USN and Sterling Light were also prominently in the picture.

With nightfall came the thickest fog I have ever experienced. We were driving in fog so
thick we could barely see 3-meters in front of our vehicle. Teams were out in this on
mountain bikes, headed for the Malolotja Nature Reserve. From here they would head out on
foot for the dreaded pothole and hydro sections, which I remembered from the 2005 Swazi
Xtreme; the one that started from Bulembu. Only a few teams (three, I think) made it this
far in 2005. From the start it was inevitable that teams would go through this section in
the dark.

At around 23h00 Bennie (from Salomon) and I drove Darron through to the hydro station so
that he could put the checkpoint in the correct place. He went out alone and returned to us
some 4-hours later. Unable to undo the attachment, he’d left his 20-meter rope at the first
section, which teams were required to abseil down (all teams had their own 20-meter ropes, which they were required to use0. Darron had to make a cable-tie ladder to
get down the next section*. It couldn’t have been long after the checkpoint was put in place
that John Collins and his team arrived, passing through the whole section without
* This is not recommended. Even foot-loops made from two cable-ties break when weight is
applied, which Darron discovered; luckily without injury.

It seems that Mark Collins’ team arrived only a short while later but instead of finding the
normal minimal water flow through this section they encountered a torrent. They found
Darron’s rope and thought it had been rigged for them to use. Mark abseiled down and within
half-a-meter was being pounded by the water flow. He was unable to ascend and so he motioned
for his team not to follow. Philip Swanepoel came down afterwards, joining Mark at the
bottom. After talking to Mark on Monday I understand that the team (and others who had
arrived by this time) hiked around this hydro section to the base and before leaving hung a
space blanket to warn other teams not to proceed (this had been mentioned by Darron in the
pre-race briefing as something to do on the river section should they encounter hippo.
Voel’s McCain team did the right thing to warn teams of the danger below). When they got to
the bottom, they found that Mark and Philip had not made their way through and so the team
realised that something was wrong.

And wrong it was. Apparently in the wee hours of morning some guy pushing buttons at the
hydroelectric station decided to divert the water from the dam, just upstream of this 2nd
pothole section, down this kloof. Normally the water goes through the hydroelectric plant or
conduit tunnels and to Darron’s knowledge, from prior conversations with the hydro
operators, water was never diverted down the kloof. This was not a normal situation. I saw
Craig Dutton’s striking photographs of this pounding waterfall, which thundered into the
pool below to make a white, turbulent base. The normal situation is a gentle “waterfall”
flowing into a calm, deep pool.

Darron was contacted and he got the hydrostation to divert the water from the kloof to the
conduit tunnels. It took something like 4.5-hours before the water subsided and Mark and
Philip, waiting for assistance, were able to pass though cold and uninjured.

Teams were halted and diverted through to their closest transition (T6 for most) and were
then instructed to be transported, by their support crew, to T7 on the shore of Maguga Dam.
While all of this was happening Landrover Gear USN had completed the paddle on Maguga Dam,
had passed through T7 and found themselves below the dam wall, putting their rafts into a
river that was bone-dry. The ordered dam release had not happened. It must have been by this
stage that the team was halted and they returned to T7.

I have a few points on this situation.

  1. Race organisers have control over many things but no control over
    1. the weather and;
    2. the unplanned and unanticipated actions of other people.

  2. When crisis strikes any race, the usual procedure is to:
    1. halt the race and;
    2. get all teams to one location where they can be accounted for and communicated to.

  3. Above this hydro section was a pothole section (deep potholes). I’ve never been through
    here so I speak from second-hand knowledge and not personal experience. The first pothole
    was a 12-meter drop from the top into a pool below. This is not something most people enjoy
    and so there was a walk-around option teams could take. They would incur a 30-minute penalty
    to bypass the whole pothole section. During the day I may have considered the jump but at
    night I would have definitely walked around. Remember too that as racers we trust race
    director’s when they declare an element “safe”. Yes, this was a safe jump and as this
    section was unaffected by the water flow it was in its “normal” state.

  4. There were 4 stages where Mark’s alarm bells rung.
    1. He wasn’t crazy about the first pothole jump in the dark, even though in Darron’s
      pre-race briefing he said that it was sufficiently deep. In the dark you can see obstacles,
      how far to jump out, the size of the pool or where to land.
    2. Mark didn’t think it was a good idea to abseil down the first part of the torrential
      hydro section and decided to abseil a short distance to check it out; he got trapped and
      pummelled by the water, unable to ascend again.
    3. There was an old, rickety ladder going down into the pothole (on the hydro section) and
      Mark assumed the rope Darron had left there was for them to use (not knowing that Darron had
      left it there because he couldn’t undo it alone – Darron had made no reference to rigged
      ropes on this section in the pre-race briefing or race instructions).
    4. Mark found that there were no hangers on the bolts on the next section and also found a
      rope rigged there, which had been left by John Collins. In Darron’s briefing he had warned
      teams against using any ropes, carabiners, slings or any other equipment they might find
      down there because they had no way of knowing what, who and when gear had been left by past

  5. Yes, I think there should have been a marshal at the start of the potholes and the
    hydro section. They would have been able to:
    1. assure racers that the first jump was safe (and that they were in fact at the first
      jump) and;
    2. recognise the altered, abnormal water level that arose, diverting teams from this

At the end of the day we all have to account for our own safety on course and we all have
the right to say, “You’ve got to be kidding, I’m not doing that”. This counts for rope
sections, kloofing jumps or paddle sections on a stormy sea or flooded river. From a course
planning aspect there should always be an alternative route. This is not about crazy
adventures. This is about safety, your skills and your experience. I’d suggest you read
"Competence and Responsibility", an article I wrote a few years ago following an
incident at an event in the E. Cape. You do not have to go into any section on blind-faith,
trusting only the words of any person. See for yourself and make your own decisions (as my
mom would say, if Joe jumped into a fire would you also jump into the fire?).

I can tell you that when I heard of these happenings on Sunday early-afternoon I froze,
images of Storms River flooding my mind. These racers, my friends, had been in serious
danger. Although this should not happen to anyone, I can only say that had competitors less
experienced, less skilled and less competent than Mark and Philip descended into that
turbulent flow, the situation could have been tragic.

So, the teams were sent to T7 and Darron spent the afternoon re-negotiating with the Maguga
Dam officials to implement the dam release they’d “guaranteed” for the day before.
Fortunately the release did happen and the race was re-started on Monday morning just before

Something I must mention; on Sunday night one-by-one the “main” teams said that they would
not be starting again on Monday morning and that they would be withdrawing from the race. A
friend commented to me, “Well, I guess that the race is over now.”

These competitive teams may well have been at the front of the race but they are by no means
the teams that make up the race. “No,” I replied. “These guys may be out but there are still
another ten or more teams who want to get up in the morning. This race is about them too.”

At dinner, up at the new Maguga Lodge, Landrover Gear USN said that they’d decided to line
up at the start in the morning. I returned to the transition below and walked around to each
team telling them of the morning’s procedure and urging them to get up for what would be a
good day; raft, hike and mtb to the finish.

Kinetic opted not to start. Graham Bird’s Mccain Adventure Addicts team started with 3 (Stu
Rawlinson had been battling a dose of flu), Mark Collins’ team would be reduced to a pair
(Philip and Hannlie) as Mark had to fly back to George that evening; he would do the rafting
section with another team. Cyanosis had left for Joburg earlier in the day as Arrie had a
flight to catch on Monday afternoon*. There was a lot of shuffling of members between
Enduro, Tri for Life, aQuelle and others. The only teams with their original members and
full complement included Landrover Gear USN, Adventure Inc. Red Ants, Cyclelab KZN, Sterling
Light, Samurai, Jeep Voetsak (pair) and His People (pair – short course).
* It would be my guess that teams are assuming that they will be finished so far
ahead of the field that it is ok to book flights the day before the prize giving (assuming
that the full 3-day period is for the slow teams and that it doesn’t count for them). What
happens if these teams are not at the front of the race or that the race is planned to take
all three days with slower teams being diverted on shortened courses throughout the race
(which is what happened). Mmmm…

When Darron and Shane tested the river a few weekends before the race it had been at
6-cumic. Water release had been planned at 7-cumic and when it happened the water release
was at 8-cumic. This made some sections better but seems to have turned the first rapid into
a dangerous one. Most teams made it through safely but Mark Collins and raft partner, a pair
from CACE, the pair from A2A and Piers & Philip (Jeep Voetsak) were washed out and trapped.
Again, they all (at different times) made it out uninjured but shaken. The CACE pair
returned to T7 (I recall there being another pair that returned to transition… the pair of
Alwyn and Adele from A2A?)

The only other remarkable incident was when Alec and Wayne from His People went down the
waterfall at OP7, which teams had been instructed to portage. They now have legend status in
the region.

On this… Darron expressly mentioned in the race briefing that team should scout rapids
before going down. When talking to a racer from a “top” team on Monday night, after the
race, he confessed that they just shoot the rapids. Even racers like Ian Adamson and Mike
Kloser bother to get out and scout… You should too. Nonetheless, I do think marshals at OP6,
OP7 and potentially dodgy rapids should have been in place.

Cyclelab KZN had a brilliant day on Monday, blitzing the rest of the field. Landrover Gear
USN was chasing but John Collins had come down ill, battling diarrhoea since morning. This
possibly resulted from drinking contaminated stream/river water during Saturday/Sunday;
something that happened more mildly to racers in other teams. With John incapacitated the
team finally called in, asking their support crew to fetch them.

The results
The race had essentially become a stage race with Day 1 ending when the race was stopped on
Sunday morning and Day 2 starting on Monday morning with the rafting.

So, how would you gauge the results? We went with the option of awarding prizes for Stage 1
and Stage 2 and overall. How would you assess overall? We took the combined teams from the
last manned checkpoint (CP22) on Stage 1 and added it to the finish time on stage 2 to get
an overall result. You can never please everyone all the time so this resulted in a few
debates when I had a discussion with racers, and support crew, on Monday night.

The issues were the following:
Landrover Gear USN had blitzed the field on Sat/Sun, leading by a few hours. They had also
progressed far further than any other team before being stopped and diverted to T7. They
were in the front bunch on Stage 2 but had withdrawn due to illness. Now I have no doubt
that Landrover Gear USN is an experienced and accomplished team and they really raced a
superb race on Sat/Sun. BUT, they did not cross the line as a 4-person team on Monday
(actually, they didn’t cross the line in any case).

This too applied to Graham Bird’s McCain team. They were in 5th (if I recall correctly) at
CP22 (last manned CP) on Stage 1 but they started as a 3-person team on Monday morning.

As you all well know, the most difficult element of adventure racing is the team aspect.
Getting a team to the starting line is the first obstacle and getting a full team across the
line is another story entirely. This is also the element that differentiates adventure
racing from other multisport events. Thus, the team that crosses the line with all team
members intact is the winner.

There were all kinds of IFs. IF the race had been allowed to continue Landrover would have
been finished before John fell ill. IF the race had continued other teams would have still
been in the picture. IF Day 2 wasn’t counted then the results from Stage 1 would have
counted as overall. There was even a suggestion that we put it to the other teams to vote
for a winner! This was a preposterous suggestion. Am I more a friend to John or more a
friend to Mark or more a friend to Tweet? Would they be offended if I voted for another team
who truly deserved the win? We used times on a piece of paper as solid, irrefutable
evidence. What would you have done? There is no precedent for any event.

Friends, winning a race is actually far less important than getting everyone home safe and
sound. What are you going to tell your sponsors? Tell them what happened. Explain that the
race was stopped and then restarted. A restart is never easy as momentum is halted but most
of the competitors got up in the morning for another day of racing. If your sponsor does not
understand that AR is subjected to more variables than I have socks (and I have lots of
socks) then you haven’t done a very good job at explaining this sport to them.

So, Cyclelab KZN took line honours with Adventure Inc. Red Ants, Sterling Light and Samurai
taking 2nd, 3rd and 4th. Jeep Voetsak was the only pair to complete the entire PRO course.

As for the 3-day staged SPORT course. All went well. Most teams appreciated the staged
format and good sleep each night. Others would like the sport event to stay non-stop as in
previous years (Swazi Beverages team essentially turned it into a non-stop event). My
recommendation to these teams is to attend other events around the country of the 150-200km
distances and to enter the Swazi PRO event in 2008. I think the stage format is a nice
introductory version and it brings a more social element to the event.

There are no doubt different versions of the happenings to my account. Truth be told, I do
not know of every nitty-gritty details that happened as I wasn’t there when it all went down
and only caught up with various tales post-occurrence. But I have given much thought to the
things I heard and have contemplated what I would have done and why things happened they way
they did.

On to other topics…

Lessons learned
Teams should remember that things happen, despite the best controls a race organiser
implements. I’d like to see more marshals out on course; but this requires support from the
AR community – racers who are injured, racer who are less experienced and not yet ready for
Swazi Xtreme or racers who have decided to sit out the event, for whatever reason. We need
you to volunteer as marshals – not just at this race but also at other sprint and distance
events around the country. Our community is small and each one of you should be giving
something back to the events.

Support crews
I met a number of novice support crews this weekend. One thing they all have in common is to
do the best they can to take care of their teams. What did horrify me is that many were
inadequately prepared and briefed by their teams. Competitors, without the presence and
dedication of your support crews you would be unable to race. They move your equipment
around, prepare hot meals and sandwiches, drive long distances at night, over rough terrain
and they get little sleep. They deserve to be properly briefed by you about setting up a
transition, preparing meals, what equipment you need for the various disciplines… and you
all have absolutely no excuse. Every team should print out at copy of my series of support
crew articles. I wrote them a few years ago after I was on a support crew for a team at a
500km race (the articles have been updated subsequently with input from experienced support
crews). They can be found under the Articles section on - Support Crew articles

Swaziland is a wonderful country to race through. The people are friendly, the terrain is
diverse and the landscape is beautiful. Darron, Anita and their team of Swazi Trails staff
and kind volunteers put together another a solid race. For this I can take no credit as I
only stepped in to assist during the race. I do plan to be far more involved with next
year’s event.

Congratulations to all the competitors who took part in both the SPORT and PRO events. This
was a tough race and the coldest in the event’s history. No matter how far you got through
the courses you are all winners and I hope that you’ll use each mistake, success and
experience to improve your techniques and skills for races to come.«