Monday, 25 February 2008

Terrific trail running

It is wonderful to see the sudden explosion on the trail running scene. The one-race-a-week-for-five-weeks Montrail Capestorm Summer Trail Series (8-10km) on the Cape Peninsula has been rocking; the Montrail-Capestorm Ultra Cup has united twenty-one established off-road events; this past weekend Hell Run saw 80-runners (more than double 2007's numbers) take on the 80km, 50km and 35km routes; and a Salomon 'Uge Trail Series kicks off in April with 5-12km events throughout the year.

I've had more phone calls from people asking about trail running in the two months of this year than in the previous two years; people are keen for a bit of off-road action. I hope the numbers continue to reflect this enthusiasm.

Some links for your reference:
  • - event calendar; listings for the Montrail Capestorm Summer Trail Series, the Salomon 'Uge Trail Series and many of the Montrail-Capestorm Ultra Cup events.
  • - for listings of the twenty-one events that form part of the series.
  • - winter and summer trail series in Joburg, Pretoria and Cape Town.

Just as you wouldn't go to war without bullets, don't go to a trail run - especially distance events - without proper footwear. Trail shoes offer your foot more underfoot protection; and the more durable and supportive upper will minimise injury and twists.

As Garth Flores remarked after this weekend's Hell Run, "Some road runners, who are topping the 1000 km Challenge, i.e. already done 6x 100-miler races since Comrades last year, wearing their normal road running shoes got plenty of blisters. You would expect their feet to be tough (and their feet are tough), but you need the right shoe for the job, so investing in a pair of decent off road shoes is well worth it!"

Road runners, if you've never tried a trail race, give it a go. It complements your road running and is far less abusive to your body.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Car accidents are no accident

I live in Bedford Gardens, about 2km from the N3 and the infamous Gilloolies intersection and the Van Buuren road off-ramp. If you live in Joburg you've heard of it; but not for the green leafy suburb that 20-years ago was still like a village, with horses on small-holdings. No, no. Bedfordview gets top spot on most radio traffic reports. This section of road is a death-trap.

In late-August a whole series of incidents happened along this stretch. Within a two week period there were MAJOR accidents where one - or more - people lost their lives. Trucks crossing lanes into oncoming traffic, cars crashing through barricades, multi car pile-ups... I took this photo 2-3 hours after one of the biggest incidents. I was out running. Surprisingly no-one was killed and the drivers of both cars involved, which I believe the truck flew over (and partically landed on one of the little sporty cars), walked out of it with no injuries. The highway was blocked for about 6-hours while they got truck tow-trucks in and dealt with the clean-up of the road.

This situation happens with sad regularity.

A few years ago when I was travelling a lot to adventure races around the World I became road-paranoid. On these trips I wouldn't have to drive and I saw no accidents. I'd return home, head out to a running race, orienteering or to the shops and I'd be greeted by contorted cars and bodies under sheets. I drove a skeedonky 1978 Toyota Corolla, with no amenities and I got scared.

I wasn't afraid of going out; I thought I wouldn't make it home alive, especially when I got onto the N3 South to come home.

This was one of my major motivations to get a "real" job with a stable salary. After the first month at Let's Play I replaced the Toyota with a vehicle made in this decade. When I spoke to the car salesman I had specific requirements: red or white car, airbags, roll bars, ABS and the third, centered rear light above the hatchback. Fortunately all cars made in this decade have retractable seatbelts so I didn't need to add this to my list.

On Thursday noon, on my way from the office, I passed Eastgate and headed towards Bedfordview to get sushi take-out. Passing the fire station I saw cars and spectators lined-up along the bridge. I drove across and pulled over, joining the ranks of gawking people. I couldn't have gotten there more than a few minutes after the accident. As the crash has happened right outside the fire station, the firemen were there. The ambulances arrived a few minutes later - on the N3 North - battling to get through the traffic (foolish motorists wouldn't open a gap for them to cross!) to the other side of the highway.

A car-carrying truck had lost control, veering from the slow lane of the N3 North, through the tension cable barricades on both sides of the centre island and into the oncoming traffic. This was clearly evident from its skid marks. The truck took out a bakkie (hit the drivers side) and a flat bed truck.

The driver of the bakkie was still inside the mangled vehicle and a lady was talking to him. The front was completely bashed in and there was barely chest width of space inside. airbags would not have made a difference. The driver was alive but there was no way on this earth that he could have been in condition other than critical.

The ambulances arrived, the firemen brought out the jaws of life, and the paramedics got working on the driver. They worked for a few minutes, while the firemen opened up the driver's door. His right arm hung limply. Within 10-minutes the medics moved away; they can only help the living.

This is not an isolated incident; horrific road accidents happen each and every single day around our city and our country.

During the December holidays over 1000 people were killed; motorists and pedestrians. But this was "ok" because numbers were down from the same period last year. It is not ok. 702 radio spoke about the death toll frequently and I tried repeatedly to phone to say, "You're missing the point! That is only the number of dead people. If you're dead, you're dead and you'll be missed by your friends and family. What about those who are maimed for live, paralysed, unable to work and dependant on family?"

On Thursday afternoon I did get through to 702, on Jenny Crwys-Williams' show. On Thursdays she has a Q&A segment where people can ask questions, or provide answers, to any of life's mysteries. I had a question.

"Does anyone review the CCTV footage from the camera over the N3 - like the one next to the Landrover dealership right where the accident happened - to analyse why all these accidents are happening in this same area with regularity, what is the cause and what can be done about it?" I hope we'll get an answer this Thursday.

In December 2006 Tony and Ivan drove down with me to Skyrun. I set my car rules upfront. No driving above the speed limit and seat belts at all times - front and back. In a head-on collision we may still be toast but I believe that road laws have been put in place to keep us safe and that this is the least we can do. Tony and Ivan were in agreement as they also stick to these regulations in their own vehicles.

The bakkie driver... he was just on his way, as usual, when the truck came flying across from the opposite side of the highway to take him out. There was little he could do about this. I also take off my hat to the medics and firemen who did what they could for this man, and all the hundreds of other people they attend to daily. I would not like to see such agony and loss over and over and over.

Seeing these road accidents makes me afraid; I have a life to live, a difference to make and people I love. I fail to understand how seeing this same carnage cannot affect those who weave in and out of congested traffic, flicking their lights and riding up centimeters from the rear of cars ahead of them. Yes morons, it can happen to you too.

My final comment goes out to all of you reading this who think it is A-ok to drive at speeds in excess of 130km/h. It is not; even if you're on a long open road in the newest Volvo, BMW or like fancy-pants car (or any other motorised vehicle with 2 or 4 wheels). I don't care whether you have airbags and ABS.

And if you're driving at these speeds with a passenger... you are endangering your passenger's life.

As for passengers who get into cars with drivers who behave like this; he does not love nor care about you. You do not jeopardise the life of a person you love, nor find entertainment in making them scared. Let this be a light-bulb warning to passengers and something for these speedsters to think about.

Those who think it is fine to drive without a seatbelt; it is not ok either.

And, as for those of you who joke about driving home on auto-pilot after a party or having a few beers but think you are "still ok to drive". You are not ok. You're stupid.

Even if you adhere to traffic laws you may still be in an accident and you may still be injured or killed. But, idealistically, I like to hope that if all the traffic laws were followed - by everyone - the rate and severity of accidents would diminish.

But, this is not an ideal World so instead, reader, I wish for your safe passage where ever and when ever you travel.

Friday, 22 February 2008

Excellent sport science blog

I've just been introduced to a fantastic blog, The Science of Sport. If you're interested in the scientific elements of physiology, then you'll get a kick from the well written and researched posts by Jonathan Dugas and Ross Tucker.

They completed their Ph.D.'s in 2006 in the Exercise Science and Sports Medicine Research Unit at the University of Cape Town and their blog was born in April 2007. They write predominantly on running and cycling but also cover universal physiological elements.

You'll find their blog at:

P.S. Darrell, thanks for sending me the link. Now my mission is to read everything they've written in the past year!

Monday, 18 February 2008

Mike Horn: my dream date

It's no secret that I'm Mike Horn's biggest fan; his adventures are huge and challenging and he is an exceptional navigator. I'm busy reading his new book "Conquering the Impossible: My 12,000-Mile Journey Around the Arctic Circle" (available online from It's about Mike's ARKTOS expedition (2002-2004), which I fervently followed through his regular email updates.

Although the writing style of the book takes a bit to get used to (not as flowing and fluid as Ranulph Fiennes), Mike's tale is captivating. This is a must-read collectable.

Following from ARKTOS, which he completed in October 2004, Mike has done two other expeditions.

In January 2006 (Arctic winter) he set out with legendary Arctic explorer Borge Ousland to reach the North Pole during the Arctic winter; a time when the sun is nowhere to be seen for months. It took them 2-months (60-days) and logged the pair as the first men ever to arrive at the Pole unaided and in the Arctic winter.

In October 2007 Mike Horn and 3 climbers (Jean Troillet, Olivier Roduit and Fred Roux) set off on a "4 Men, 4 Summits" expedition where they planned to ascend 4 x 8'000-er Himalayan mountains* without supplementary oxygen.

* Gasherbrum II (8068m), Gasherbrum I (8035m), Broad Peak (8048m) and K2 (8611m)

They spent two months in Pakistan and summitted both Gasherbrum peaks but were turned back from completing the expedition by heavy snow, high winds and the approach of winter.

Mike's next adventure starts this year: the circumnavigation of the World. The expedition is titled "Mike Horn's Global Expedition" or "Pangea" (on another part of his website).

This will be done without any motor-powered transport, over the North Pole and South Pole, crossing the seven continents, passing numerous islands and sailing across several oceans.
The expedition will be divided into seven stages. Each stage will represent one of the seven continents (Africa, Europe, North America, South America, Australasia, Asia and Antarctica). Transport/disciplines include sailing, walking, canoeing, kayaking, kite surfing, walking under water, skiing and any animal locomotion i.e. horses, camels etc. where available and necessary. The expedition is tied into global environmental awareness elements.

Mike's website is The site is currently quite scrappy but is seems to be scheduled for revamp to support coverage of his new expedition. You can sign up on the site for Mike's newsletter.

Dream Date
If Vin Diesel isn't available to read me a story, I'd bag a date with Mike Horn to hear his stories of the Arctic winter, the open Alaskan expanse and what it is like to walk on water (the Arctic ocean). I'd definitely ask him to teach me how to build an igloo. In return I'd love to take him on an AR; and I'd even relenquish my hold on the maps 'cos this guy has travelled in the Polar night (twice) and he didn't get lost...

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Craving cupcakes

I've always enjoyed baking - cakes and breads being my speciality. I've even successfully made batches of cookies, although they are more work. I used to bake cakes every weekend for my mother's ceramics group or occasional tea-time treats for neighbours.

When I haven't baked for many months I get this overwhelming need to bake for people. It's no fun baking for myself.
So, I decided to do the cupcake thing; I really like doing cupcakes because icing each one individually is fun - albeit time consuming - and each cupcake recipient gets their own personalise mini-cake.
This was the first batch I made (photo opposite). A few days later I made another 18 to take into work for my once-a-week Thursday meeting there, which fell on Valentines Day. They were chocolate cupcakes with chocolate icing and pink hearts.

Two days later I made another 2 batches of some 48 cupcakes to take to the Valentines Nite Race for our Adventure Racing Club runners. These were vanilla cupcakes with either pink, white or pale purple icing with hearts and stars piped in various icing shades. It was such good fun they looked fabulous (I forgot to take a photo!) and they were devoured.

My craving to create cupcakes has been satiated; for a while anyway.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Support crew, we need you

I chatted to a chap yesterday, whose team withdrew at the last minute from the UGE 150/220 when their support crew person's dad had an emergency medical situation that prevented them from assisting the team. After weeks of preparation and excited anticipation, he described the experience of withdrawing at the 11th hour as "quasi-traumatic. It's still a taboo topic". The fact is, without support crew, adventure racers cannot race.

There were a lot of emails going out pre-race with teams looking for support crew or even just requesting drivers to move their vehicles from one transition to another. Teams were prepared to support themselves just to be there. My mom asked, "Don't they have parents and friends who will help?"

And this is exactly it... Racers, you'll nod in agreement when I say that it is incredibly difficult to find eager, reliable support crew. How many of you have been left in the lurch when a "friend" calls two days before you're due to depart to say that they have a sore throat? Partners and spouses sometimes volunteer and you'll spot the odd parent in the transition area. But for the most part, nailing down a friend or family member is like going out frog catching with baby oil on your hands.

If AR was like athletics, your supporters could gather in the stands. If it was cricket, they'd watch from the lawns and if it was cycling, they'd wait at the finish. In these sports supporters are appreciated; but in AR supporters are NEEDED and APPRECIATED.

Whether you sell it to your friends and relations as a weekend away or an opportunity to explore incredible regions of our country, what it really boils down to is an opportunity for your friends, partners and parents to show their support of your participation AND their support of you.

You can show your appreciation by making the supporting experience pleasant:
  • cover all their expenses and include nice munchies in the food crates
  • make sure you have proper seconding equipment: tables, gas stoves, flasks, good lighting, cooler boxes, water containers, washing up stuff
  • provide a decent support vehicle - make sure you have a spare tyre, jack, tow-rope, jumper leads - and bike/boat transportation system
  • leave the transition areas tidy when you leave; re-pack your race crates, follow their instructions, eat all your food and don't leave smelly socks lying around. No need to be a piggy - they're not there to clean up after you
  • say thank you and never grouch
  • offer to mow their lawn, clean their pool or babysit children for a month after the race

I don't have a solution to the support crew shortage but I do question why there are so many "friends" out there who won't give their adventure racing friends their support?