Sunday, 30 September 2007

Golden Reef 100-miler

100-mile (160km) road races are not for everyone; they're not quite my thing either. But, a team 100-miler is a completely different race and I was eager to give it a try. And so it happened that we entered an Adventure Racing Club team for the Golden Reef 100-miler.
Tim, Thato, Tony & Lisa before the start
Our AR Club team included me, Tim Deane, Tony Abbott and recent club member, Thato Williams. Thato joined our team three days before the race (a taxi collision led to Ian Adams' withdrawal from the team).

We left Joburg on Friday afternoon to travel to the start at the Hartebeespoort Boat Club, in Kosmos (not near the dam wall, which is what I assumed... doh!). It started to rain just before the start but stopped as the gun went; thank goodness!

I took on the first 15km stage, the only part of the race where we would not be allowed to assist or swop runners. This section took us over the bridge and past Pecanwood on to quieter roads. I had the race bib, a reflective belt, headlamp, glow-sticks on my shoes (provided by the race) and a reflective Buff wrapped around my hand. I was determined to be seen by motorists; and there were a lot of them on this stretch.

Before the race the guys had played a round of a hand-game, similar to ching-chong-cha, to see who would run after me. Tim drew the short straw. He would be followed by Thato and then Tony. After a really good 15km section I passed our race bib over to Tim.

The front teams had clocked 4min/km over the first 15km; we were about 5 runners from the leading 100-miler solo and eager to close the gap - our egos could not handle being beaten by someone running the entire distance on their own (it took another 35km or so to overtake the Chappies guy).

We started off swopping runners every 5-7km, depending on the terrain and suitable pull-over points. We all agreed that seeing Tony's double-cab with hazards flicking was indeed a welcome sight.

On my third rotation I was feeling the hills so the guys gave me an extended rest; afterall I had run the first 15km section. That 1h30 in the back of the bakkie was fabulous and by the time I got back onto the road at the start of the loop past the Lion Park I was energised. This must have been about 2am by this stage.

Before I set out, while we were waiting for Tony - who had to deal with a canine encounter en route - we saw the lead team; we were starting the loop, they were completing it. They confirmed that they were running at 4min/km pace and alternating runners every 2km. Impressive pace and certainly faster than our running ability. They were hoping to beat the race record, which I think they did (probably in just over 10hrs).

The Lion Park loop was my most spooky section of the run. As I ran past the Lion Park the lions started rumbling; not quite roaring, more like a half-roar or grumble. The lions closest to me started and got those futher down the road going. It was like running past a yard with dozens of dogs. I couldn't see the lions but was hoping that the fence was strong enough to keep in any curious felines...

I ran steadily up gentle hills and through mist with no sight nor sound of any vehicles or runners; it really is a wonderful section. After about 5.5km I saw the bakkie; the guys were taking a quick cat-nap. I tapped on the window shouting, "Meet me in a kay". Tim took over, then Tony and then Thato. The night-time conditions were good and even though chilly while sitting around, it was perfect running weather.

By the time I took over again, about 1h30 after my last run, the sky was light and we were all feeling more awake. This was a tough section with two big climbs and I had definitely slowed a lot - from a 5:15min/km pace to 6min/km - even walking a few short sections. I handed over to Tony and suggested that we meet him in 2km to see how he was doing, exchanging runners if necessary. Tony shot off and when starting the car we discovered that the battery was flat - the result of having flickers on all night.

Fortunately some team cars came over the rise a few minutes later. We were helped by two of the Mittal runners; they hooked up jumper cables and we were off again. Tony later told us that there is a switch in the engine so that when one battery is dead you can flick the switch and the car will start from the other... we didn't dare turn off the car for the rest of the race.

We picked Tony up at 2km and swopped runners. This was now 30km to go and we continued alternating every 2km. From 20km to go, as we hit the hills going into Roodepoort we swopped every 1km and in town, up the steep ascents we would swop every 500m.

We were absolutely pumping from 30km. Seeing the Mittal and Roodepoort runners so close behind us at 35km had really given us a fright and we certainly did not want to be overtaken. Thoughout the race the runners in the car would whoop and cheer as we overtook the current runner; this escalated as we got closer to the finish. We had a fantastic vibe going, our transitions were fast and we pulled out 15-minutes on the other teams over the last 30km.

In hindsight we should have started the 2km intervals sooner, especially during the coldest and darkest hours between 2am-5am. We'll try this next year.

We reached the finish at the Golden Reef Road Runners Club (near Westgate) around 09h30 on Saturday morning, after 14h34 of running. This put us in 8th place overall and we were the first mixed team. Yippeee!

The race docs checked each of us out, we slurped a delicious cup of home-made soup and headed for home - showers and beds.

My overall assessment:

  • We all thoroughly enjoyed this race; the format, the vibe and the route
  • 100-miler relays are excellent club participation events
  • Running through the night is one of my favourite things (even though you're really sleepy the next day)
  • It would be really great to see other 100-milers allowing relay team entries
  • This race is for everyone; you run about 40km per person in bite-sized chunks

I can 100% recommend that you diarise this race (or any other 100-mile relay).

Tim, Tony and Thato - cheers!

I have put photos from our race on Flickr. Check them out.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Where is your bib, helmet and emergency info wristband?

On Friday evening I set off for a road run. I had my day-glo yellow reflective bib on and my wristband, which contains my emergency information (name, emergency contacts, medical aid etc). No more than 300m from my house I stopped at traffic lights; a young chap was next to me on his bicycle. He wasn't wearing a helmet so I told him off, adding that a helmet could save his life. On Saturday morning I got a call from Ian Adams' dad to say that Ian had been hit by a taxi while out training on his bike. His helmet saved his life.

This blog has been pending for weeks; I've had it on my list ever since I wrote the column on reflective gear for Runner's World magazine (August 2007 issue). Ian was actually my assistant gear tester; we headed to a dark, quiet suburb street to take turns parading in front of my car's headlamps and scoring the efficacy of various reflective items. It was a revelation for both of us to realise just how invisible runners are to motorists. Our top reflective must-have items include a reflective bib and an ankle band (or wristband, although ankle is best) of 3M Conspicuity tape (that yellow reflective tape used on trailers, trucks and taxis).

Searching the web I discovered a wealth of research on this particular topic (pedestrian visibility). Did you know that a motorist will notice a pedestrian in the dark at 50m and in a reflective bib at 96m. A car travelling at 60km/hr will cover this distance in 6-seconds. That is not enough time for the driver to register your presence, make a decision and do something about it. Scary.

The young cyclist I "accosted" on Friday night was the second one this week that I gave safety advice to. Why, why, why do people get on bicycles without helmets? It is like people driving without seatbelts or under the influence. You are asking for trouble.

About my emergency info wristband... a few years ago a runner was knocked over a couple of blocks from home (I drove past after the incident; helpers were already on-scene). The young lass looked unconscious. And it made me think; if I was knocked over how would they identify me? This was reaffirmed in January last year when after mountain biking at Groenkloof I stopped in at a local store to get a cold drink. A lady came up to my friend and I to ask whether we rode with identification. Her friend, a cyclist, had been knocked over - and killed - a few weeks before. His wife was away and it was only when he was missing from work that a search began. His body had been unclaimed for days because he rode with no form of identification.

Back to Ian...
He was riding along Allandale road, coming up the hill towards the Engen. It seems like there were two slower cars ahead of the taxi and being impatient, the taxi driver pulled into the emergency lane where Ian was riding. Ian thinks that the driver was looking behind for vehicles when he drove straight into the back of Ian's bike. Ian got plastered to the windscreen, which his body shattered, and the taxi kept going for a few seconds before the driver hit his brakes. The passengers were screaming; Ian describes the situation as "pandemonium".

Credit to the driver, he didn't try to run, but stuck around to help Ian. Nearby construction workers also came to his rescue, bringing their site medical kit with them. The ambulance took about 25-minutes to arrive and Ian was shipped off to the hospital, which fortunately was less than 3-minutes drive from the accident site. He was also conscious the whole time and asked the helpers to call his parents, who met the ambulance at the hospital.

All in all he got off very lucky indeed. His injuries include:
  • Fractures to the L1 and L2 vertebrae; he will be in a back brace for 6-weeks. A harder fall or a fall in another position could have done serious damage to his spinal cord. He has full feeling, movement and mobility. UPDATE - A couple of opinions later, no need for a back brace. Injury not severe enough to demand restricted movement. That's good news. But, no running for 2-months. In the next week Ian can start with stationary cycling and then add a dash of swimming. Impact activities not allowed.
  • Gash in left calf; was surgically reconstructed on Saturday afternoon
  • Gash in back of head; has a couple of stitches. The back of his helmet has been decimated and without this vital piece of cycling equipment it is very likely that we would have lost another of our community.
  • Fracture to the top of his right pelvic bone; seems like a piece has been chipped off, docs will monitor the situation.
  • Road rash and miscellaneous cuts

This morning, a day after the accident, Ian was up and walking and he was discharged this afternoon. No running or cycling for him for a while.

Ian says that when he is back on his bike in two months there is nothing he would do differently. He was on the far left of the emergency lane. He had all of his visibility aids on. This accident, like many others, was driver error and not cyclist error. You can only make sure that you adhere to safety requirements; the rest is actually out of your control.

Friends, if you see a cyclist without a helmet and visibility aides and a runner without a bib, even during the day, please chastise them. And if you are not doing the above... consider this my lecture to you. And I advise you all to make your own emergency wristbands; they serve to speak for you when you can't.

Finally... Ian was our AR Club teammate for the Golden Reef 100-miler road race this Friday night, 28 September. We have entered a team of 4 and will run the 160km as a relay team, alternating runners ever few kilometers. Although we'd love another AR Club runner to join us, we are also open to outside applicants. If you would like to run about 40km, in bite-sized chunks, between 19h00 on Friday night and mid-morning on Saturday, please drop me a note. We're aiming at maintaining a decent 5-5:30min/km pace. Ian was our secret weapon (he runs faster than the rest of us) so we're looking for an enthusiastic replacement to join me, Tim and Tony A.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

AR Club's orienteering relay victory

It is with great pride that I write this blog; to boast of AR Club's orienteering success. And I cheer not only for our sweeping victory at the Gauteng Orienteering Club relay event today, but of our overall success in this sport since we became an orienteering club just over 3-years ago.

I've been involved in the sport of orienteering for some years; I attended my first orienteering event in preparation for my first adventure race. This must have been in March/April 1999. I went to Wits University and being involved with Wits Sports Council I'd met Nicholas Mulder some years earlier. At that stage he was chair of Wits Orienteering Club (WITSOC). I was sports officer for Wits Underwater Club and later chair of Sports Council. As the navigator in our team, I thought it would be useful for us all to go out to an event to get some orienteering experience.

I remember little of that first event suffice to say that it was a colour-coded event and I think we did one of the longer courses because we were out there for a VERY long time. Grassy area with lots of bluegum trees... The most useful part of the entire event was when Nicholas came to find us and took us through the last few controls; that was the single most instructional session I've ever had because Nicholas managed to snap the map, terrain and vegetation into perspective.

In the subsequent months I attended random events, usually orienteering in a paired team with my friend Tracey Sanders (ex-Team BUGS, now living in the UK). We kept this up for a few years, attending odd events and thoroughly enjoying each one. The last big run we did together was the first Rogaine at Suikerbosrand (Aug 2003; we won ladies and were 3rd overall). Was it an 8hr event? I can't remember. Tracey immigrated a week or two later and I started orienteering on my own, taking the competitive aspect more seriously.

I'd been a member of Rand Orienteering Club (ROC) and by 2004 a good many more adventure racers were taking part regularly. We decided to affiliate AR Club to the South African Orienteering Federation. What this primarily meant was that our members could stay within AR Club and not have to join ROC or RACO to take part in Provincial, Club and National events, especially as a number were featuring in the top rankings.

For some reason I also recall a festive relay at St Stithians, but this was in late-2004 and I don't think we competed officially as AR Club; rather we were in teams for other clubs

We took part in our first serious club relay in Oct 2005 and scooped Mens and Ladies categories at Alberts Farm (winning ladies team photo; Sam, Michele & Lisa). Last year, in a lovely area South of Joburg, both teams lost their trophies... just. We were hoping for good runs this year.

Today's Gauteng Orienteering Clubs relay was hosted by the students of WITSOC on the Wits Campus, which most will tell you means that you'll be running either uphill or downhill.

The format of orienteering relays is as follows: Clubs submit 3-person teams. Each team member runs one of three course; short, medium and long. The long course is just under 4km, medium is about 3km and short is about 2.5km. The first runners from each team line up for a mass start. The catch here is that the teams run the courses in different orders and the course planners specifically order the teams such that the top teams will not start on the same courses. When the runner has completed their course, they hand-touch their team-mate, who then sets off. The team's final time is the accumulated time for the three runners. We sent three teams.

AR Club's 2007 Relay Teams
Men 1: Garry Morrison, Eugene Botha & Jeremy Green
Men 2: Tim Deane, Alex Kuhnast, Kobus van Zyl
Women: Lisa de Speville, Michele Botha, Cindy van Zyl
(Incase you're wondering where Nicholas' name is... he runs for ROC, as he has done since he was a wee tot)

(L-R) Kobus, Alex, Tim, Michele, Eugene, Garry, Jeremy. Cindy & Lisa in front.
The men took a clean sweep but the women's race was where all the action was. Cindy sprinted to the finish to wrap it up for our team only 9-seconds ahead of Tania (RACO)! Our second mens team placd 5th.

Aside from the team relay thing, our orienteerers are really doing well on the short and long course Provincial logs. Looking at the Top 10 of the 2006 short course log: Garry was 3rd, Jeremy placed 5th and Eugene placed 9th. Michele was 2nd lady and Lisa was 3rd.

On the colour-coded log Garry and Jeremy were 3rd and 4th. Michele was 2nd and Kirsty Green was 10th (Lisa didn't fulfill the race quota; I ended up way down).

Looking at the current 2007 situation (SA Champs are still to go; this coming weekend)... We potentially have 4 runners in the mens short course Top 10 (Garry, Jeremy, Eugene and Kobus) and 5 runners in the women's short course Top 10 (Lisa, Michele, Cindy, Sam and Kirsty). On the colour-coded log we potentially have the same 4 guys in the Top 10 and the same 5 girls, plus Carine, looking for Top 10 ladies slots. Very exciting! (results are based on best of 5 or 6 out of the available events in a year)

I am very, very proud of all our club orienteerers. The ones I've mentioned are just the top ranked orienteers; there are a whole lot more who take part regularly. Some have not been orienteering for very long but they're really improving their orienteering skills and enjoying the challenge of more difficult courses.

To wrap up... adventure racers, orienteering is the BEST way to practise your navigation. There are about 2 events a month (I'm talking about Gauteng; alternative is PENOC in Cape Town) and they range from short course (max 4km) to colour-coded (from 3 to >9km, depending on event and terrain). Children around the age of 7 or 8 cope very well on their own. The events are fun, family-friendly and they're all local.

Good websites to visit are: and Both sites host orienteering event calendars and information on the sport of orienteering. If you're in Cape Town, go to I do hope we'll see you at an event in the very near future.
Our AR Club website is We are hosting a short course event out at Derdepoort (North of PTA) on Sunday, 7 Oct and we have assisted students from the Health and Fitness Professionals Association with the organisation of a charity O event on Sunday 14 Oct. Both of these are excellent events for beginners and many AR Club orienteerers will be around to help you.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Our friend passes and will be dearly remembered

Two memorials were held this weekend to celebrate the life of our friend, Philip Swanepoel. Although I've posted your messages and "official" notices, I had not yet posted my own personal message in remembrance of a man who was loved and respected by so many for his kindness, sensitivity, warmth, friendship and zest for life, sports and the people around him.

I can't specifically remember when I first met Philip; it was probably in passing at the Old Mutual Hi-Tec 250km in the Drakensberg (end July 1999) and the Old Mutual Hi-Tec 500km held in the Cederberg (end September 1999). With both of these races I was right at the back and Philip was right at the front so I most certainly did not get to speak to him during the actual race.

Over the next few years I got to know Philip better and enjoyed seeing him at all kinds of events. Here and there we'd get a few minutes to talk, our conversations always cut short by the hustle and bustle of the activities. I cheered his move from Middleburg to Pretoria, a change that would take him from a job he no longer found rewarding and allow him easier access to races and training friends. We discussed his decision to get involved with the Adventure Zone store in Pretoria; a job that was definitely closer to his heart but which was not really his "calling".

When Philip mentioned his departure for Iraq, I wished him well, asking for his safe return when he'd achieved what he needed to. We tossed about the analogy of choosing a path that doesn't lead directly from your current location to your desired destination; but that if you keep sight of your objective the path will turn to lead to where you want to go. This is something we both understood; Philip was always supportive and encouraging as I moved through tv camera work to international event coverage and freelance writing, following a very meandering route.

It was a delight when, earlier this year, Philip came through to the canoe race AR Club hosted on the Klip river in January; I didn't know that he was in South Africa. Philip hadn't been paddling for a while so instead of racing he volunteered to be a marshal, spending the morning at Dog's Bridge to guide paddlers around this tricky obstacle. It was wonderful to hear from him that he would be coming home soon.

A few months ago Jan Heenop dropped me an email suggesting that if Philip was in South Africa, would I consider doing Eden Challenge as a pair with Philip. Truth be told, I'd never even considered racing with Philip before; an awesome athlete, Philip was far faster and stronger than I could ever hope to be. I think I responded to Jan saying that it sounds great; if Philip is here and not racing with a competitive team looking for a win.

Before McCain Adventure Addicts left for Scotland, 19 May '07, I'd asked each team member for a few thoughts on the race so that I could put together a media release. I spoke to Philip a day or so before their departure and said that I needed a few lines from him, which he could put in point-form and I'd put into sentences. Know what? He wrote a full-page letter to me; humble and also expressing his joy about racing overseas with the team and seeing his "AR hero Nathan Fa’avae, who is back from 'retirement' ".

Having only recently returned to racing Philip was also a bit apprehensive; "In a way I am kind of worried seeing that I have not raced this distance for over 2.5 years. And in that 2.5 years I have only done 2 adventure races. At least I believe that I have the experience and although my fitness is not what it could be I am definitely fit enough."

It was when I got to the end of Philip's letter that I thought about Eden Challenge and made a mental note to chat to him when he returned from Scotland.

Philip had signed off with, "All the best for your adventures Lisa. We must do some exciting adventure thing together some day."

The team returned in early June and days passed. On 26 June I received an invitation to compete in a 5-day ultra run in India in late-October; an opportunity to run and write and to visit a country I've never been to. I emailed Jan to say that if this is trip is confirmed then I will be out of the country during Eden. June ended and the days of July galloped past.

Philip's chopper went down on Saturday, 28 July 2007.

I never spoke to him.

Philip, dear friend, although we didn't train together, race together or even go out for a cup of coffee, you were special to me. During all of these years I so enjoyed seeing you at events, appreciated our conversations and admired your athleticism, courage and kindness. You will be well remembered by all who knew you, whether intimately or in passing, because of the impression you made on all of our lives.

Your untimely passing is also a reminder of how mortal we are; each day could be our last.

Friend, keep running, keep riding. In another place, at another time, I do hope we'll do some exciting adventure thing together some day.