Friday, 30 May 2008

Running faster than you drive

This week I attended a 2-day conference in Bryanston. This meant commuting on the N3, which I usually try to avoid during peak times. I purposely left home VERY early to miss the major congestion; but even at 06h30 the stretch from Gilloolies to Marlboro is bumper-to-bumper. From Marlboro to Rivonia the flow is swift and I had little congestion from Rivonia (heading South and then West) to The Campus.

On Wednesday the conference finished at 16h30. I had to be in Edenvale by 18h00. From the moment I reached Rivonia (from 12th) it was s.l.o.w. As for the highway... it took me an hour to get from Rivonia on-ramp to the Modderfontein off-ramp. This is a distance of only 12 kilometres!

Thursday morning I got on the highway, heading North, 5-minutes earlier. It didn't make much difference and I again crawled until Marlboro. With the conference finishing at 16h00 I was hoping to beat the rush, choosing [optimistically] to take the highway again instead of stop-start driving through the suburbs.

It took 25-minutes to get from Rivonia onramp to where the N1 merges with the N3 South and a total time of almost 90 minutes to reach home (I ended up getting off at Modderfontein and traveling through Edenvale and Bedfordview).

My sanity could not do this everyday, as most of the commuters on this highway do.

Petrol currently costs R9.33/litre and is likely to go up by 40-odd cents again next week (diesel is over R10/litre). My car's fuel consumption is between 8l - 9.5l/100km (R88/100km) with stop-start highway driving; compared to 5.3 - 6.8l/100km (R52/100km) of open road driving (highway/suburbs).

Aside from the financial considerations, I had some thoughts.

  1. People live too far from work (I've had this one many times)
  2. Children go to schools far from home
  3. People complain they don't have enough time to exercise
  4. I can run faster than my car drives on the highway


If you live in the South and work in the North you have a long (distance and time) commute daily. I have an office meeting every Thursday morning. It is 20km from home to the office and takes me 40 to 50-minutes (if I leave home at 06h30). I drive through the suburbs and I only have to do this once a week; I would not tolerate this daily.

If I lived <10km>Solution: work from home, find a job closer to home or find a home closer to work.


One of the programmes mentioned during the conference is a "walking bus" initiated in the US by KIA (yes, the car people). Parents take turns to walk a "bus" of children to school to increase daily activity and decrease unnecessary driving to reduce carbon emissions. When I was in primary and high school the children all lived in the area of the school. I recall legislation when I was in primary school that you had to live within a defined zone to attend the school.

A walking bus is not feasible here - children commute large distances to go to school.

Solution: Put your child in a school closer to home or move closer to your child's school

Comment: It isn't always feasible or convenient to live close to work or school - especially with two adults under the same roof working in different areas.


No wonder people do not have enough time to exercise! Two to four hours spent in your car daily is a waste of time; time for exercise, partners, children, animals, friends, family, cooking... You need to sleep 7-8 hours a daily; you need to be at work for 8 to 9 hours daily. That leaves 7 hours. If three of these are taken up with driving... it means you have only four hours a day to get ready for work, shower, brush your teeth, eat breakfast, read the newspaper, cook dinner, eat dinner spend time with your family, watch telly, shower, brush your teeth, trim your toenails and go to sleep. No wonder there is no time for exercise! You don't even have time to live.


While crawling along the highway at the N1/N3 South intersection yesterday, I had a great idea for a campaign to promote running (less commuting and more living). Imagine a bunch of runners running in the shoulder of the fast lane on the highway, in peak hour traffic, wearing a t-shirt that says the following on the back: "I run faster than you drive. Change your lifestyle." Great campaign for Runner's World magazine too...

I count myself VERY FORTUNATE that I do not have to commute for hours daily. What this does mean is that I should be putting in more training time...

Monday, 26 May 2008

Taking a [brief] holiday from events

There are fabulous events each and every weekend, especially in and around Joburg. If it isn't an AR sprint, orienteering event or trail run, it's something else. This past weekend I resisted all temptation and spent an indulgent weekend at home. The only place I went was out to lunch.

Actually, I did this two weekends before too... the weekend after Swazi Xtreme there was a trail run on the Saturday and a distance orienteering event at one of my favourite venues. I passed on both of these, needing the weekend to catch up from my week away. And after so much driving during Swazi I just couldn't stand to be back in the car. Attending these events would have meant driving 1hr or more - each way - for activities 1-2hrs in duration.

The weekend before this one just past I drove to Mnweni Marathon in the Drakensberg. A 4h40 drive each way. That topped up my vehicle saturation levels again.

This weekend I passed on the Montrail-Capestorm trail run (Saturday) AND the MTB O at Groenkloof (Sunday). Aside from these events being some distance from where I live, I needed the time and R&R at home. In addition to my day job, I also freelance so my weekend was put to good use to meet deadlines. I also had lunch with family, something I don't often get to do; and I headed out for a lovely run.

I'm going to continue this trend of skipping events for a few weeks. I do enjoy taking part but to drive for an hour, participate for 1-2hrs, wait before, wait after, chat for a bit and then drive home again means that I get back after noon; that's a good chunk of the day gone. I get home harrassed because of deadlines hanging over my head. Far easier to exchange an event with a 90-minute run to keep my stress levels lower.

If you, like me, are feeling the effects of a fast-paced year that has been a non-stop merry-go-round, I can highly recommend taking ONE weekend all for yourself. Email friends, visit family and paint your toenails. You'll feel way more refreshed for having spent the time at home.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

The "simplicity" of rural living

In early April, newspaper columnist David Bullard was fired: he’d penned inappropriate and derogatory content for his weekly Sunday column (Sunday Times, 7 May 2008). It was a fantastical, speculative piece where he wondered what South Africa would be like had “the white man” never landed here, bringing with him European culture and influences.

I rarely read Bullard's column so I'm not a fan nor hater. When the storm erupted in the teacup of our freelancer’s association email group, I went online to read it. I’d visited Swaziland two weeks earlier and was inspired to post a response to the group (parts of which are below).

Elements of this theme cropped up when I was again in Swaziland for Swazi Xtreme. While watching children herding cattle and carrying heavy containers of water one of the guys with us made sympathetic sounds around how tough these children have it, why are aid organisations not putting taps all over the place, the absence of electricity and other “Westernised” comments.
The day before the race start I walked with Bafana, one of Darron’s Swazi Trails guides, up to CP8, a homestead above “Boulder Avenue”. Four young children (sub-2 to 6 years of age) were playing outside the home with no adult in sight. Bafana relayed that they were looked after by their “Gogo” (grandmother) who was out and her return time was undetermined. The parents may have been working in one of the towns, returning on weekends or at month-end (I did see adults around the next day).

Seeing these little children I thought, “Would you leave a three year old child, with three similar aged friends, playing outside – without adult supervision - for the whole day? Of course not.

From the time they can walk rural children have responsibilities. They feed chickens, round up goats and watch over cattle. And yes, they walk to the river, fill up large containers, and haul the water back to the home. Their role is vital and their tasks contribute significantly to the fitness of the family. This is a hard life where your survival is dependant on your efforts (ok, so they have stores but much is self-sufficient; if you're not working in town where would you get money from to buy goods from the stores?). Every family member has tasks, no matter how young or old.

“Western” children have few (or no) responsibilities. They grow up with every need catered for. They must attend school, work hard, get a job and repeat the cycle.

All too often our perception of the living conditions of people from other cultures is clouded by what we are used to. We feel “sorry” for Muslim women covered head-to-toe and those without tapped water, electricity and broadband internet access. We seem unable to accept that their lives are different to ours, not inferior.

Rural inhabitants have every right to feel sorry for us.

You, like me, are certainly slave to email, telephone, job and car repayments. I don’t see this as anything to envy?

Would I like to live in a hut in the middle of nowhere? Certainly, but I’d be unsatisfied tending my cattle and growing mielies. I've been brought up as a Western lass; formally educated and completely Westernised (and modernised).

For 30-odd years my existence has been geared towards obtaining a good education and gathering skills and proficiencies so that I can get a job that is stimulating and rewarding. A good job also means I’d be able to travel, have a house and car and take part in adventure races and ultra runs. Should a natural (or man-made) catastrophe strike, a journo with advanced web skills (and laywers, accountants and all the others) will fade into obscurity; rural inhabitants with the ability to grow food, grind corn, bake bread without buying ingredients from Woolies and build weatherproof huts will be in high demand.

I envy the children of Bullard's column who listen to "their grandparents telling stories around a fire" and how lucky these people are to "live in single-storey huts arranged to catch most of the day's sunshine". I grew up with 4 grandparents in 4 different countries; and how many people live in pokey apartments that they don't spend much time in because they're at work? Have you ever had the satisfaction of eating vegetables you’ve grown?

Bullard also says, "Nobody has any more animals than his family needs and nobody grows more crops than he requires to feed his family and swap for other crops."

We live lives of excess. Just look how we shop and shop and shop. Is there not a limit to how much stuff you can have?

I went to India last year and got an understanding of what a population of 1.2-billion people means. And despite all the aid agencies, welfare programmes, feeding schemes and conservation efforts there is little hope for the World's population or this planet. The growing population demands more resources and infrastructure and no amount of making fleece jackets from plastic bags is going to reverse the destruction. We're just buying time.

Education is another thing; we want everyone to be educated. Cellphones and different lifestyles are lures; people want “more” than the simplicity of tending cattle so they flock to the city to find jobs and money, living under inhumane conditions in informal settlements instead of gazing across acres of open land, their land, from the doorway of their hut. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be educated or have access to modern resources, I am saddened by the effects on rural communities, families and cultures.

The reading of Bullard's column can be done with glasses tinted in various shades. With one shade you can look at living in a hut, growing your own crops, not having "the wheel" (do they need it?), listening to your grandparent's tales and the absence of cars as derogatory. That is when you compare this existence to a Western lifestyle and what your life entails ("Could you “survive” without a cellphone?").

I prefer the shade that wistfully looks at a culture different to our own; that appreciates the hardships and challenges of such a "simple" existance; and is sad to see it disappearing and tainted by the "sinful ways of the West". But that is what happens when two cultures live alongside each other; one influences and absorbs the other.

I certainly wonder what an uncolonised Africa would be like; and perhaps it would not be very different to what we still see in the rural areas? The same applies to the indigenous people in the Amazon, American Indians, the Mauri, Aboriginies and countless other cultural groups dominated by invaders (including many European populations).

I don't believe that colonisation has done much good but it is the way of the World.

Lisa (third generation African; naturalised South African)

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Challenge your abilities

I finished reading Tim Jarvis' book, The Unforgiving Minute, last night. Most enjoyable. The book is about his three unsupported polar expeditions. On one of these he, with fellow adventurer Peter Treseder, achieved the record for the fastest unsupported journey to the South Pole. He later did that doccie for NatGeo or Discovery where he followed in Mawson's footsteps using similar equipment and clothing (not described in this book). Tim's website is

A few paragraphs in the last pages of the book echo many adventure racing sentiments. At the finish of Swazi on Sunday I was chatting to a pair who had successfully completed the PRO event; their first distance race. The woman said something about doing something easier next time. I (naturally) replied that they'd completed the toughest race around and with experience from this race their next and next and next would be even easier. I added that if they had never entered the PRO event she would not now know just what she is capable of - and they both looked pretty fresh after 54hrs of tough non-stop racing.

I like what Tim Jarvis has to say about giving things a try.

"... growing up, we find out about ourselves and the world around us by trying things and learning through our expriences. Somewhere along the line, though, the resonsibilities that represent adulthood seem to suppress this 'give it a go' spirit, replacing it with an increased reliance on second-hand sources, and the opinions of others.
That spirit often lies dormant for years, until one day we wake up and look back with regret and no real answer as to why we didn't find time to realise at least one or two dreams. In many cases it's because we're too often told that things are not possible for us, or not as simple as they appear to be. In some cases this is true, but it's dangerous to lump everything together in the same basket. If you do you'll find yourself not trying anything new or challenging at all."

Again I repeat... YOU CAN DO ANYTHING YOU WANT TO and you'll be pleasantly surprised to discover just what you're capable of accomplishing. But the only way to discover this is to participate in activities that remove you from what you know and are used to; your mind and body will adapt to something new.

Tim also speaks about breaking these long journeys into manageable chunks. People always gasp when you say that an adventure race is over 250km in distance. But it really is 20km plus 15km plus 60km plus 25km... Psych yourself in, not out. How do you eat an elephant? In small pieces, mouthful by mouthful.

"I've learnt that with all the extreme physical discomfort and danger of these places, survival is as much mental as physical. ... The juxtaposition of the two means that it is important to break down journeys into small, manageable portions to be able to get through them. More than a fleeting contemplation of the whole task would leave you unable to muster the energy to keep going."

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

The three D's of adventure racing

The three D's - Distance, Duration and Disciplines - define multiday adventure races.

Distance: Front teams will eat up 280-320km in 2.5 days. Back teams will cover little over half this distance in the same amount of time.

Duration: To experience "pure" adventure racing you really need to be out there for longer than 48hrs. This gives you two full days and two full nights.

Disciplines: There is no rule book that says you have to have X, Y and Z in your race. Disciplines are included according to season, location, feasibility and safety.

With the advent of sprint events (1-4hrs) and their subsequent participation domination, distance events are few and far between. These short events have been successful because they're morning only events, are close to major centres and don't require much in the way of logistics, skills and financing. As for distance races: there have never really been more than 3-8 distance events on the adventure racing calendar in any year; but as our numbers are spread out between events (also trail runs, mtb and paddle events, off-road tris) the participation numbers get even fewer.

As we've discussed before, short events offer an "easy option"; many who would have tried something a little longer take the shorter alternative instead. And, the sad thing here is that they don't discover that they are indeed capable of doing of more than they think they are.

Participating in a multiday event costs more in time and money; leave from work, higher entry fees, travel expenses, food, equipment, accommodation, support crews... there are only so many events you can afford to do each year.

I clearly recall the "early days" when there were only 3 events on the entire AR calendar and all teams made a big effort to travel to each event; you can do this when you're only participating in multiday events three times a year. It was so much fun to see your AR buddies from other Provinces at these races. Now we stay closer to home.

Since the beginning of the year the only +100km events we've had were: Uge Events 150/220km in the Harrismith area, Fred's annual Nguni event (120km, 12-24hrs), Adrian's 100km Philipolis Jail Break and this past weekend's Swazi Xtreme (54hrs). (I haven't included Wartrail here as it isn't an "adventure race")

Of these 4 events only Uge and Swazi were over 36hrs in duration.

Looking ahead...
  • Fred's Singletrack Mania 200km in the Kokstad area, 13-16 June
  • Ugene's Salomon Quantum Adventures 100km at the Palmiet Festival, 19-20 July
  • Hano's Bull of Africa 550km is the big expedition event we've been waiting for: E. Cape, 9-16 August
  • Jan's Eden Challenge 150km is also an annual affair: Knysna, 16-19 October
  • Hardus has is XFIX AR 150km on the calendar for 18 - 19 October in the Rustenberg area. This is a new event and is unknown.
  • Les has rescheduled his Mondi Shanduka Newsprint Challenge event for 8-9 November. It's a 2-days staged event in the KZN Midlands. This event has been around for some time.

That's it.

Most of these events will attract local crowds, with few teams travelling from out or Province; with the exception of Bull. And, all of these events - again with the exception of Bull - will take less than 48hrs to complete (closer to 16-30hrs).

Do we need more 48-60hr events? No. Two a year plus Bull is perfect. Anymore and the numbers at each event will decline. But these events need to be able to pull the crowds and racers should want to travel out of Province especially to be there. They have to offer the competitors an attractive competitive package; exciting area, route and the certainty that the event will be well put together.

But... with so many other active distractions in other disciplines and shorter events, it will remain a rarity to have more than 150 competitors at a multiday adventure race. And, sadly, these are the undiluted adventure races; the ones that gave our sport its name.