Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Team www.AR.co.za in GoMulti Magazine

The new March/April issue of GoMulti Magazine is on the shelves and Team www.AR.co.za features in the Photo competition and MultiPeople sections. Thanks for your support GoMulti.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Team Triumph AR goes Urban

This morning I took part in the Kinetic Urban Challenge presented by Heidi and Stephan Muller and their team of helpers from the Sandton Biokinetic Centre. I raced in a girls team with Lauren Greeff and Debbie Smith; our team entry was sponsored by Triumph, which was one of the event sponsors (we got nicknamed - 'The underwear team').

When my alarm went off this morning at 05h30 I definitely didn't feel sunny - but by the time I got through to the Sandton Biokinetic Centre in Rivonia (Heidi & Stephan's gym and adventure store - and other stuff), the sun was up and the weather was looking great. Super vibe at the start - always good to see friends and catch up briefly on news.

After a quick briefing from Stephan (he is always helluva funny), we were off. The event had 4 sections; a run orienteering, run rally instruction, bike orienteering and bike rally instruction. You do have to alternate disciplines but can do either option in any order. We opted to do the run orienteering first, then bike O, then run rally and finally bike rally.

Each section had 'checkpoints'. They were different to the norm because instead of punching a passport at a flag, we had to answer questions like, "What colour is the gate at house number 15?" or "What is the name of the security company for the house with the green palisade fence?". If you're on the wrong road you won't get the answer correct.

Each of the sections took us between 30-45 minutes to complete - perfectly planned in terms of distance.

When we got to the finish we were treated to Heidi and Stephan's new creation... an inflatable obstacle course on the roof of their building. There are currently three large obstacles (Heidi is planning another two), which require you to clamber up, haul your butt up and slide over. Team work is definitely required because they're big obstacles - we couldn't even reach the top of them on tip-toes. A foot-up definitely helped (and being hauled up by your teamies already on top).

And then at the prize giving there was so much loot! Goodies from First Ascent, Buff, Asics, PeptoPro, USN, massage vouchers, bike service vouchers... Our girls team got fabulous gift packs from Nimue with sunblock and a very fancy body gel that stimulates lymphatic drainage and is specifically for after extreme exercise. Yeah baby. I also got another Buff for my collection (this time a pretty one; not a branded event Buff!) from the lucky draw. Debbie and Lobby also got lucky draw prizes (I can't remember what they got).

A really nice touch too is that the event sponsors all sponsored teams too, which is how we got so lucky with Triumph. It's a great match to our team too because we all wear Triumph's sports bras - and the same style - anyway.

The turnout at this event was quite low, which is surprising because it is right here in Joburg. Little traveling and nice and accessible; you get home before noon. Well, all the racers who missed this one - you definitely missed out. I can totally recommend coming to the next one in May.

I did Kinetic's first Urban event in about 2003 and I've done most (if not all) of the ones that followed. I'm really glad Heidi and Stephan are again presenting these fast and fun Joburg events. Wooohooo! Thank you - and well done on an excellent event.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

The Purple Beemer & The Baboon

As seen on the N3 South at noon. I've seen a number of vehicles with Curious George-type monkeys hanging off the boot (trunk) but this combination of the purple beemer and the baboon (check its face) got me laughing.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Ultrarunning and AR tunes

Well over a year ago I was talking to Michael, an AR / ultra friend, about those silly songs that get stuck in our minds and that we hum over and over and over, especially when running alone on ultras. Elvis' 'Teddy Bear' is one ofmy personal favourites. I learned most of the words after being stuck with "I don't want to be a tiger, tigers play too rough / I don't want to be a lion, lion's ain't the kind you love enough / I just wanna be, your teddy bear" for more than 15 hours at H.U.R.T. 100km in Hawaii a few years ago. Now at least I can do some verses in addition to the chorus...

We then got on to talking about song titles and their suitability to these long events. My personal favourite is Chris Rea's 'The road to hell' and The Beatles 'Help!'.

Michael put together a list of songs chosed from their titles, applicable to AR and ultra running.

Please add to this list and I'll look at putting together a fun compilation.

  • We're on a road to nowhere - Talking Heads
  • The long and winding road - Beatles
  • Help! - Beatles
  • Do you know where you're going to? - Diana Ross
  • Go your own way - Fleetwood Mac
  • Going nowhere slow - Bloodhound Gang
  • Runner - Mannfred Mann
  • Under pressure - Queen
  • All I need is a miracle - Mike and the Mechanics
  • Run like hell - Pink Floyd
  • Bridge over troubled waters - Simon & Garfunkel
  • Road to hell - Chris Rea
  • These boots are made for walking - Nancy Sinatra
  • I will survive - Gloria Gaynor
  • Bicycle race - Queen
  • I'm going slightly mad - Queen
  • Running on empty - Jackson Browne
  • Raindrops keep falling on my head - BJ Thomas
  • I'm walking on sunshine - Katrina and The Waves (original), also Dolly Parton (1996) and others

Getting lost - the how and why

I've just finished reading 'Deep Survival: Who lives, who dies and why" by Laurence Gonzales (available from www.loot.co.za for R167). The book has a good foundation, even though it drags. It was taking me ages to plough through - the examples are excellent but the bits in between and the waffling are loooonng (this book could be condensed to half the wordcount). Just before I gave up, I reached the chapter about people getting lost - how and why.

A couple of paragraphs really caught my attention. This one is from the previous chapter, but leads into the next.

The environment we're used to is designed to sustain us. We live like fish in an aquarium. Food comes mysteriously down, oxygen bubbles up. We are the domestic pets of a human zoo we call civilisation. Then we go into nature, where we are the least among equals with all other creatures. There we are put to the test. Most of us sleep through the test. We get in and out and never know what might have been demanded. Such an experience can make us even more vulnerable, for we come away with the illusion of growing hard, salty and knowledgeable. Been there, done that.
Laurence is saying that until something goes wrong - like getting lost, falling off a mountain, getting caught in terrible weather - we just don't realise the dangers out there and we think we're adjusted to the outdoors.

Scientists used to believe that people had an inherent sense of direction. People like the aborigines and South Pacific islanders were often cited as examples because they seemed inexplicably good at navigating. Further research showed that these people didn't just inherently know how to get from A to B (often across vast distances with no significant visual cues), but that they had been trained from childhood to pick up subtle environmental cues (current patterns, subtle change in soil colour or texture), using them like landmarks. Even so, these people can and do get lost.

We create mental maps - a schematic of an area or route - positioning a mountain here, the river there and a clump of trees on the far side, based on what we observe from when we start out. These mental maps are images in our minds that place us within a physical environment. We do the same with our homes - that's why you can walk around in the dark at home; you know where everything is placed from your mental map. Blind people have excellent mental maps. But then something goes wrong; you stop paying attention perhaps and suddenly you look up and realise that your mental image (or the map in your hand) doesn't match the world you observe.
And to make matters worse, once you realise that you're not where you thought you were, you keep pressing forwards, driven by the goal (motivation) to get to a specific place - your destination - where you know safety, shelter, food and warmth await (emotion). Emotion with motivation is a lost person's undoing.

Psychologists who study the behaviour of people who get lost report that very few ever backtrack. (The eyes look forward into real or imagined worlds.)

In addition, stresses - cold, exhaustion, dehydration, hunger - turn "mild geographical confusion to a state of being genuinely lost".

Laurence quotes a friend who says, "Whenever you start looking at your map and saying something like, 'Well, that lake could have dried up,' or 'That boulder could have moved,' a red light should go off". In this situation you're trying to make reality conform to your expectations rather than seeing what's there. In orienteering this is called 'bending the map'. Big mistake.

Interestingly, lost children aged six and under have the highest rate of survival. Small children do not create the same kind of mental maps as adults. They don't understand traveling from one place to another, nor distance and time. They don't make assumptions about their environment and they don't have a mental map to bend. Instead they follow their instincts. If they're cold, they'll crawl into a protective hollow. If they're tired, they sleep. If they're thirsty, they'll find water. Adults, on the other hand, will keep going until they're exhausted, ignoring the need to eat and drink. Children between 7 and 12 have these same adult traits - plus panic.

The take home message - applicable to AR and orienteering - is that if you don't know where you are, backtrack. Going forward into the unknown really will not improve your situation. Return to your last point of certainty and try again.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Finding heaven in Hell

Michelle, Tracey and Lisa - girls on the roadHell Run last Saturday night was fabulous. The quiet and isolation of the Gamkaskloof, full moon up early and the sound of feet on dirt...

Michelle kindly fetched me and Tracey from the airport; and so began our drive through to Prince Albert. I haven't been into the Karoo for years so it was quite amazing to be a passenger watching the changes in vegetation and distribution of rocks. By the time we took the turning to Prince Albert, off the N1, the vegetation was sparse and the rocks abundant.

The town is quaint - my first time there. Brookielace trim on the buildings, many tidy restaurants, cafe's and B&B's lining the main road and a big ol' church in the middle. We registered at the school hostel and headed off for lunch at one of the tidy restaurants, lapping up the beautiful weather. (History of Prince Albert)

I managed to sneak in about an hour's nap before race briefing. We then clambered into car and set off Die Hel. The road leading into the Gamkaskloof comes off the Swartberg Pass, about 2km from Ou Tol (and 15km from Prince Albert). I was glad to be sitting in the front of the car, especially going around the bends...

And then we turned off, starting down into Die Hel, on the same road we would be on until well after midnight. Again I was relieved to be sitting in front... I do get awfully queasy on mountain passes. I arrived at the bottom of the kloof with a cracking headache, which Panado dulled by the time we started at 21h00. It took us around 90 minutes to cover the 36km into the kloof. And then we drove a further 12km into the valley (40-minute drive) to the starting line.

The first 12km are easy going with very slight rolling ups and downs and the full moon was already up within 30 minutes of starting.

The real challenge starts when you start to climb out of the valley. Steep swithbacks climbing up and up and up. A couple of false summits too; and then a lovely long down at a good gradient; and then up,up, up again; and then down again and then a more consistent climb again, leveling off for the last 10km. I ran/walked this section with my friend Tracey; and by the time we'd covered 40km we were very much looking forward to be done with the dirt road. Nonetheless, the terrain was of a good quality, the full moon made headlamps unnecessary and we were making steady progress.

At Ou Tol, with 50km completed, we were welcomed by the aroma of pancakes. There was quite a queue of 50k finishers, so I skipped on the pancake and headed out to start the final 30km sections within 10 minutes of arriving. Tracey was doing the 50km and reported back that the pancakes were delicious.
On the rugged jeep track and running alone I was in my element. I caught up to the two guys ahead of me and just before we started climbing, climbing, climbing. A big haul upwards. We met up again just before we reached the trail turn-off; my tummy wasn't in a good place and I can only presume that lunch didn't agree with me. It took us just under 2 hours to reach the hiking trail turn-off, 11km of so from Ou Tol!

The nice part of the hiking trail, just after turning off the jeep track. It got nasty on the descent.

Most of the next 9km were my worst of the whole race. After a lovely kilometre or two, we started descending - steeply. Very, very rocky trail with unstable footing and sharp downward gradient. My least favourite thing. I took it a bit slower than the guys, feeling the 200km in my legs from RAW Namibia two weeks earlier. It was a relief when the trail descended to the river, just below the Swartberg Pass road. As I got on to the road, I saw the guys disappearing around the bend. Ten kays to go.

The first part of this dirt road section is visually stimulating. A river runs on your right and the road runs with cliffs on either side. Thereafter it opens up... and the sun was warming the earth. I was feeling a bit lazy, walking in the shady sections. I saw no sight of the guys ahead.

Then, on to the tar road leading into Prince Albert. I couldn't remember what the section looked like as I hadn't paid attention on the drive out of town. I also didn't put more water into my hydration pack at the last river crossing - and I was clean out and parched. Michael, race organiser, found me on the road - must have been about 3.5km from the finish. He didn't have any water in the car, only Coke, which I don't drink. The only thing to do was run... so I did a bit of running and walking, pleased to see the sign marking the town's boundary. But then it was still a good way to go; and the irrigation canal running near the road had started looking very attractive even though I know not to drink from canals...

As I reached the houses I started looking for a tap. Saw one on the side of a B&B;and although the place looked quiet, the tap was just outside a window. Too risky. Further along I saw the perfect tap - on the front of the house facing the road; it even had a hosepipe attachment. I turned the top... nothing came out. With only a kay or so to the finish, I took it as a sign that I'd better just damn well run the rest, which I did.

Total time: 12h08. The silly part is that if I hadn't been such a lazy butt on the last 10km, where I was more than capable of running more than I did, I could have done a sub-12. If, if, if...

All in all I had a superb run. Feet certainly tired by the finish. This race comes highly recommended especially as the three course options (38km,50km and 80km) cater for different preferences. The best part was definitely the opportunity to run at midnight under a full moon. Good for your soul. Running heaven.

About the Swartberg Pass
The pass was planned and constructed by engineer Thomas Bain (1830-1893). Construction started in 1880 and took 8-years to complete. It was built with convict labour. The Pass was officially opened 10 January 1988. This was his last engineering masterpiece. In the second half of the 1800s Bain built 24 (another resource says 17) major mountain roads and passes (names you'll easily recognise - Baviaanskloof, Prince Alfred, Stormsriver, Cogmans and other) in the second half of the 1800s. His father, Andrew Geddes Bain, built 8 during the first half of the same century.

The pass is 24 kilometres in length and it stretches from Oudtshoorn to Prince Albert. It is an untarred road that winds in steep switchbacks, to the summit at 1583 metres above sea level. Dry-stone retaining walls secure the roadway; some 2.4km in lenght and up to 13-metres in height. Bain got the number of side drains and culverts right too; for a centuary the road suffered little damage from rain. The Pass underwent specialist maintenance from late-2000, after a few years of particularly heavy downpours. The Pass was declared a National Monument in 1988, its centenary year.

As for Ou Tol, which is now a hiking overnight hut... (from a document on the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism website highlighting places of interest, and their history, along the pass).

The foundations of the original toll house can still be seen at this spot. A small village also existed at this locality during the construction of the pass with a shop, butchery and school. Today nothing remains of this village. On May 5, 1888 notice was given to impose a toll at the summit of the pass. John F Mackay was appointed as the first toll official with a salary of £45 per year. He was responsible for collecting the toll and maintaining the road. A toll fee four pennies per wheel and one penny per animal was charged.

About Die Hel (from PA Tourism website)

Gamkaskloof, also known as 'The Hell / Die Hel', is a fascinating valley near Prince Albert, where a small, proud community lived in isolation for more than 100 years. Access was on foot and horseback and harvests of dried fruit and wild honey were carried out by pack animals.
Legend has it that Gamkaskloof was discovered when trekboers lost their cattle and followed their spoor into the fertile valley. Petrus Swanepoel was the first to farm there and the valley supported the hard-working community until 1962 when a road was carved into the valley. A gradual exodus occured and the last farmer to leave was Piet Swanepoel in 1991.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Going to Hell

I always knew it would happen at some stage... yeah, I'm going to hell.

But not for bad deeds; no, no. I'm off to Die Hel this weekend to run the 80km Hell Run. The race is organised by Michael Graz, a dear friend. Michael took over the running of this event from our common friend Paul Mitchell, after Paul passed away in late-2004 (route was initiated by JP van Belle; Paul turned it into an annual event). As this is Michael's last year to organise the event - now that he is living in Wales - I figured there was no time like the present to head South.

Hell Run will continue to be held annually, taken over by Deon Moller. Deon has been involved with the event since its inception - in fact, his whole family is involved. His wife's pancakes at Ou Tol are legendary. So the event will be in very good hands.

In addition to seeing Michael and Heather, another dear friend is visiting from the UK. Tracey and I ran our first half-marathon together and she was on my support crew for my very first adventure race in April-ish 1999, a 250km in the Drakensberg. We regularly orienteered together, winning the ladies category at the very first South African Rogaine, held at Suikerbosrand - placing 3rd overall. Tracey immigrated to the UK weeks later.

This weekend is all about old times, dear friends (present and passed) and running, which is what unites our spirits.

Here are some useful things to check out. I've just seen that Google Earth has updated their imaging of this area. Wow! I've never been able to see it before (the res was low - old format until now). Go check it out - looks phenomenal!

Google Earth placemarks

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Pizza peeve

I got take-out pizza last Friday night when I got back from Namibia. I've been feeling like pizza for a few weeks and with no food in my home the timing was good. The pizza was good but the price nearly put me into cardiac arrest - R54.90 for a decent sized basic pizza with dashes of bacon and avo sprinkled on top (it didn't look like the pizza in this picture).

Although I like pizza, it isn't something I eat often. As a student at varsity I waitressed at an Italian restuarant so I carried, smelled and ate enough pizza in my 2 years there to last a lifetime. The last time I bought pizza would have been well over a year ago. And I'm sure it was only about R30?

I've just checked online to see Debonairs' prices; they are cheaper than my local family-owned pizza joint but I still think R36.90 for a Margherita (flour, water, tomato and cheese!) is steep. That said, pizza is a restaurant's biggest profit margin.

By the time I go for pizza again it will probably cost R70.00. Grrrr...

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Green eggs and ham

Yesterday was the anniversary of Dr. Seuss' birthday. He was born on 2 March 1904 (died in 1991) and you, like me, certainly grew up on a healthy diet of The Cat in the Hat and many of Dr Seuss' other fabulous stories.

One of my favourite-favourite Dr Seuss books is still Green Eggs and Ham. The tale follows a character, Sam-I-Am, who tries to convince an unnamed character to try Green Eggs and Ham. Sam-I-Am tries everything to get this dude to try this dish. He suggests different locations (here, there, anywhere, in a house, in a box, in a car, in a tree, on a train, in the dark, in the rain, on a boat) and dining partners (fox, mouse, goat). This guy just won't try them.

Sam-I-Am keeps harrassing the guy and eventually, to get rid of Sam-I-Am, he tries them.

If you will let me be,
I will try them.
You will see.

And so he tries Green Eggs and Ham and discovers that he likes them and from this moment on will happily eat them anywhere and with anyone (or thing).

I do so like
green eggs and ham!
Thank you!
Thank you,

There's a moral to this; one that is applicable to adventure racing and other such events (and many other things in life too!).

All too often people say "I can't" without hesitation, without even considering the possibility of being able to do something.

Take this run I've just done in Namibia. Most people of general fitness could do it. Sure, you'll have long days out there but you could still walk/trek/hike to the end of each stage with a little jog here and there. With attention to your feet and overall body maintenance during the event you can make it to the end.

The problem is, like the unnamed character, people won't even try in the first place. And this 'mentality' extends to orienteering events, sprint, one day and multi-day adventure races and even other disciplines.

How do you know whether you like something (or are able to do it) it you don't even try?

I've always taken the approach of trying those Green Eggs and Ham. If I like them, then I know what they are and I have the option to go for them again. If I don't like Green Eggs and Ham, then I know what they're like because I've tried them and I won't eat them again.

It really is this simple when it comes to disciplines, events, distances and durations.

And what's the worst that can happen? You could decide you don't like Green Eggs and Ham? That isn't so bad is it?

If Sam-I-Am offers you Green Eggs and Ham, try them; and wash them down with a little belief in yourself too.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Some photos from RAW Namibia

Some photos from the last two days of the race, as we really started to penetrate Sossusvlei.

Day 4 - 50km stage
After passing through the 3rd and last water point on this stage we rounded a dune and landed in a dry river bed- cracked mud and all. We were heading West into the heart of Sossusvlei and towards Dune 45, where we would camp. From the waterpoint we had to exit the river and cross from the northern dunes to the southern dunes that line the valley. It's dry, hot and harsh terrain with loads of rocks underfoot that just radiate heat. As I started out of the river I saw these beautiful flowers. Loved the dead tree above the sand and the yellow and green below. I love my First Ascent hat. It's the best thing for these conditions. Got it for Abu Dhabi and now I wear it all the time.

Stage 4 finished on top of Dune 45. The previous photo with the flowers, near the last waterpoint for the stage, was taken in the vicinity of the far dune visible at the back of the photo, behind the cloud shadow. This was one of the hottest sections of the race. Crossing the valley I thought my radiator was going to pop. Lots of dead trees down there. Saw ostrich, gemsbok (oryx) and sprinkbok. I did a lot of negotiating with myself on this section; the deal was that if I ran to a certain dead tree I could reward myself with a bit of a walk... And the cycle would repeat over and over and over. My new mantra is "The more you run, the sooner you're done". Hahaha. Works well ;)

Beautiful evening light, looking at Dune 45, from our stage 4 overnight campsite. Absolutely stunning.

Stage 5 - 26km
Photo from the top of "Big Daddy". Superb dune to climb. This view looks across the end of the Sossusvlei valley. To my left is Dead Valley (not visible in this pic). The white parts are dry mud type terrain. Tourists, not runners, in the image. This was the shortest stage, but still took me 4h30 odd to run it. The finish was about 4km from here in the direction of the cluster of trees to the left of centre of the photo.