Sunday, 30 May 2010

Multisport estate?

Today's Kinetic Adventure was held at the relatively new Jackal Creek Golf Estate on the northern side of Beyers Naude, in Jo'burg. The Estate is big and the event was superb; just as we've come to expect from Heidi and Stephan and their Kinetic crew.

The whole event took place within the Estate - yes, it's that big. I don't know what our total distance was but it took my all-girls team (first placed women's team and high placed overall) about 1h50 to complete the course. We did two biking legs, one run leg and two short (very short, like very short - but fun) paddle legs around wee dams on the golf course.

Now, I'm fairly certain that many of the residents do not play golf. They chose this living environment because it is secure, open and spacious, the grounds are well managed and you look out on to green grass and streams and little dams and trees and general vegetative prettiness. And there's the lovely clubhouse, facilities and other centralised benefits.

Following from a thought I had a good few years ago... I'm not sure why there are no 'Nature Estates' - like a golf estate but without the golf course. Trees, bush, walking trails, little bokkies, pretty and expansive gardens. I'd like to live on one of these housing estates. Throw in some running and mountain biking trails, walking paths, bird hides and a small dam on which to paddle... Yes, a multisport estate. Great for sporty people and nice for those who enjoy watching birds and appreciating a natural and green environment on their doorstep.

All the loveliness without the environmental nastiness of a water-table-sucking golf estate. Like there are not enough golf courses around!

Aside from these musings... we, Team Triumph AR, had a super race today. I raced with Lauren and Lizelle again and we whipped through the course, especially enjoying the downhills on the golf cart paths. This was our second win, of two, in this year's Kinetic Adventure Series. Our thanks go out to Triumph who generously sponsor our race entries.

Team Triumph AR: Lisa, Lizelle and Lauren.

Next Kinetic Adventure is 25 July - brrrr... the dead of winter!

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

A tale of three trail shoes

Although I've been an Adidas girl (road and trail; middle-range shoes primarily- they just suit my feet) for the past decade, I do occasionally try out other brands. Over the last 18-months I haven't been wearing Adidas' trail shoes as I've been experimenting by running in off-road offerings from Asics, Hi-Tec and Salomon.

As Gear Editor for Runner's World SA magazine I got to slip my foot into almost every new model by every brand available in SA. Good thing too that the demo size sent was usually my size. My size is usually just outside women's sizing curve so I've run in mens shoes (road and trail) 98% of the time in the past 17 years. Putting my foot into all these shoes made me curious and keen to broaden my horizons by trying some different brands and shoe models - trail.

Asics Gel Trabuco 10 & 12
I've always found the Asics foot-in-feel to fit well. My first Asics was the Asics Gel Trabuco 10, mens. I thoroughly enjoyed this pair and they did good distance with good comfort. They're slightly more firm than Adidas (particularly the Adidas Response TR model) so the sole has that bit more longevity before feeling flat.

I like that there are no bumps and other such mouldings in the shoe, especially under my arch. Toe box is a decent width, which is important because squished toes mean blistered and triangle-shaped little piggies. Also good toe protection on the front of the shoe.

Towards the end of last year I needed to replace these shoes so I went for the Asics Gel Trabuco 12, women's model. I did try on both mens and womens in-store and this time around the womens had a more snug fit. It seemed like there are a bit too much air around my arch (I like the upper from the base of my arch, inside mid-foot, to fit well) and also in the toe box area in the mens model. The women's shoe had a better fit overall.

Although I've done quite a few events and training runs in this shoe, I just haven't settled into it as well as the previous version, despite the good foot-in-feel. I've been picking up blisters on my little toes, left foot mainly and initially left heel was biting. Overall I'm just not feeling confident in this shoe, especially over longer distances. That said, the sole is a good one in terms of having enough firmness to handle rocks and things that prod into your sole; and enough cushioning to make running on hard-packed dirt roads and even tar quite comfortable.

This certainly isn't a negative on the shoe, brand or model but more a comment on how shoes do differ from one year to the next - whether upper fabrics or more major updates - and they can also differ between left and right AND, of course, male and female version differ.

Remember, ultimately shoe comfort comes down to YOUR FOOT and how well a shoe is suited to your foot shape. And this is unrelated to brand, model, price or colour (especially colour!).

For my feet, the Gel Trabuco 10, mens was a much better shoe.

Hi-Tec V-Lite Trail Eruption
I had only briefly (a few runs here and there) tried the previous version of the Hi-Tec V-Lite Trail Eruption before it was stolen in the 'Great Theft of Nov 2008' but could say from the get-go that the next version was much, much better in fit, feel and comfort (and styling).

I've been wearing the attractive women's shoe with super comfort, especially on rocky terrain and short distances. The BEST feature about this shoe is its toe protector, which, in my books, ranks higher than any other. It's made from quite a hard plastic. You can kick anything and your toes will be protected. Nice.

The distinguishing characteristic of the Hi-Tec Trail Eruption is its firm sole. You'll feel immediately that it is not very flexible. This does ease up a bit after a few runs but it still remains a firmer sole than say Adidas or Asics. I've found it pretty good on rocky trails and I ran most of the short course orienteering season in them this year; and the firm sole was even fine on the short stretches of road.

This said, I'm still very hesitant to wear these shoes on a long race, because of the harder sole. This is good for longevity of the shoe and I'd definitely recommend to heavier runners. Personally, I prefer a softer shoe for longer distances; my ankles are strong and stable, my foot muscles are strong and conditioned and I like my foot to flex over uneven terrain. Just personal preference.

Salomon S-Lab2 XTWings
I've been trying Salomon on and off for many years; the first XA Pro, the ladies Comp model, then the XA Pro 3D and, briefly, Wings (before the theft of Nov 2008). While I've never had a specific complaint about the Salomons, they've never been an ideal fit. Bit too much space in the arch and a too roomy toe box is about the sum of it. I do find the sole of the XP Pro 3D to be quite hard and I've never been crazy about the Salomon lacing system. Some love it; I'm a bit indifferent and I lean more towards traditional laces.

I was delighted to receive a pair of the Salomon S-Labs in mid-August last year. The foot-in-feel is one of a slipper, not a trail shoe. The upper is heat moulded (no stitching) and very soft compared to a traditional trail shoe. Actually, more soft and less structured than even a road shoe.

I wore them mostly with jeans, 'scared' to take these softest-of-the-soft shoes on to trails. And then a did few short runs, just testing them. No problems.

I've been wearing them a lot for the last two months, taking them on runs at Groenkloof and Suikerbosrand. My main complaint about this shoe is the absence of any toe protection. Lose your focus for a moment and kick a rock with your toe and it hurts - bad. I've got two blackened toenails from this. On a forested trail (or a typical US trail), no problem. But up here on the highveld we have rocks, rocks, rocks.

Aside from this I've been enjoying the low profile sole (you feel closer to the ground - not as much lift) and the slipper-snug fit, which wraps around my foot. The sole is thinner than most and I almost see this comparatively to a regular trail shoe as a racing flat is to a regular cushioned road shoe.

And then I took the 'daring' decision to wear them at Mnweni Marathon in the 'Berg, two weekends ago. It was a bit of a psychological thing - like it would be to run a half marathon in a racing flat. I paid attention to my footing and had a super run. These shoes don't have much in the way of aggressive tread so they do slip on loose surfaces; you have to concentrate on foot placement. I was a bit concerned how they'd do going down Rockeries Pass - was fine. Yes, I did feel my foot shifting forward in the shoe, bumping my toes against the front of the shoe. But perhaps the softness of the upper, short toenails (as they should be for running) and the way I place my foot minimised the impact that could occur. I had no problems and few slides.

I finished the race unscathed, except for one sore toenail, which I whacked into a rock mid-way. The final 8km on smooth trail and dirt road was super. These shoes are a good ride on dirt road too.

A friend had told me some months ago how he enjoyed the shoe but wouldn't take it on a long race because it just doesn't offer much in the way of support and that the soft sole means the shoe is trashed quick-quick. I think what makes a big difference here is that I'm 20kg lighter than him. I wouldn't recommend this shoe to a heavy person who is harder on shoes.

Looking ahead...
My Hi-Tecs are due for retirement and I'm not wearing the Asics at the moment, favouring the Salomons. I'm keen to see what Adidas is doing and to see what they've done with the current version of my long-time companion, Adidas Response TR. I'm also keen to try Brooks; the fit is not dissimilar from Asics and Adidas.

Salomon will certainly be updating the S-Labs; I just hope they don't change too much when it comes to fit because I'm really enjoying these and at the moment they're top of my favourites list. And, I also think the upper will fare very well against Abu Dhabi's desert sand - also easier to stitch my sand gaiters on to them.

But there's also something VERY exciting in the pipeline. Hi-Tec is bringing out a new shoe (Hi-Tec Infinity) in Feb next year. We (SA) will get it before Europe and US. Last week I put my foot into a demo shoe - my size too! - and it felt superb. They're going the route of the Salomon S-Lab; heat moulded, no stitching upper, slipper feel. Tread on the sole is a bit chunkier than the Salomon. *sigh* Long time to wait; I'm first in the queue to try them.

Bring back sleep overs

As a young teen on holiday with my mom in Zimbabwe, I can remember driving around with her and having various sites pointed out to me. Her school, old friend's house, homes of family members, favourite store - the usualy kind of places. At some point she indicated the house where a beloved aunt lived and how the family would go there for holidays and gatherings. She said that it was considered quite a drive so they would all pack their goodies to sleep over for the weekend, and then drive back home after all the festivities.

I know memories get wonky with time, but I do clearly recall that even back then we both laughed about it because the house was in Harare - just another suburb away from my gran's house, also in Harare. Perhaps a 30 minute drive? But back then it was a long way to travel. So they'd all sleep over and get to spend a good chunk of time with each other.

I've recently had visitors from other Provinces staying with me; and it has been an absolute pleasure to have them sleep over for a night. We go running, cook food together, talk all the legs off the donkey, maybe watch a dvd, come up with great ideas... And best of all, my visitor doesn't have to drive home late at night.

I had my turn too when I spent the night at the home of my dear friend. We've been friends since Grade 1 and were inseparable from Standard 1. We've lived in different Provinces since high school but have maintained our friendship through time and distance. She now lives in Centurion and with my Spur event at Groenkloof in late-April, I took the opportunity to stay over instead of driving back to Jo'burg. I snuck out in the very early morning and returned for tea after the race.

It was so much fun to catch up and spend time with her without leaving earlier to drive a distance home in the dead of night, which is what I would have done after a usual dinner get-together.

Races are also a lot like sleep overs too. In the days before (and after) the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge we all hang out in one room - usually the messiest one with the crates, sprawled on beds watching telly, talking junk, messing with gear and enjoying each other's company. Sharing a room with a teamie is like a sleep over too. Locally we all rush to get to a race and rush to get home, we don't usually have this luxury of sleep-over comraderie, which is common to racing abroad.

Where slumber parties are about nighties and midnight feasts, sleep overs are about spending more time with people whose company you treasure.

This gives a different perspective to 'bring and braai'. What? Bring my sleeping bag? Cool. 

Monday, 24 May 2010

The life-sapping conditions of modern city life

I'm currently reading, 'Great Exploration Hoaxes', by David Edwards. The book details 10 great expeditions, which contain untruths. Like Peary claiming to be the first to reach the North Pole, Dr Cook (the mountaineer, not the Captain) claiming to be the first to summit Mt McKinley, the first descent of the Colorado... Very interesting read.

In the Dr Cook chapter I spotted the following gem, which Edwards introduces as follows:

"Like many an outdoorsman of today, Cook romanticized the wilderness and in Return from the pole [published in 1952] placed it in dramatic opposition to "the life-sapping conditions of modern city life," in which

physical exercise is prohibited by the limits of space and the ease of mechanical locomotion; mental energy is strained to cope with the maddening pace of this material age. The stomach is abused by unnatural foods, the liver and kidney are hardened by poisonous drink, the lungs breathe a hothouse germ-cultivated air, the muscles wither from disease.
I'd love to read what he could have written about 2010...

Thursday, 20 May 2010

I hate being cold

I drive past beggars daily, experiencing a multitude of encounters at intersections. I walk out into my garden or stand near the gate and I'm accosted by opportunistic passersby. And then there are the car guards; even in pay-for-parking centres.

Faced with so much need we have to pick our causes, unable to help everyone. In my case my causes are closer to home - people I regularly encounter and whom I'm able to assist. But that means saying no to the other 99%.

Although my heart goes out to the old, disabled, abandoned... actually all of them on the roads, I'm getting colder. I make a point of acknowledging every person that comes to my window; I've done the Wits Rag thing so I have a part-experience of being out on the road and I think that ignoring someone is unacceptable. The only problem is that it opens you to harrassment.

I resent being in an environment that forces one to harden. But, it's part of life and I guess the key is to temper the cold with warmth to achieve an odd balance.

Drawing in pencil

Last week I attended a drawing class. I've been wanting to do so for years and finally a local studio showed up on a search, which I do every few months. My inclination is towards pencil only; I have no attraction to pastels and oils. I like the simplicity of a pencil sketch.

At varsity my scientific drawings were pretty good. My dissection of a skink skull (like a lizard) and drawings of the skull ended up in the Zoology museum. But I've rarely drawn anything else despite an inclination. The teacher took me through some basics and then suggested I draw my hand; a lesson standard. Although it's a bit off on proportion and lots more detail to be added, I'm quite chuffed with my first attempt. Probably took about 30 mins and a lot of focus!

I have not yet committed to the lessons although I like the place (nice 'n local) and the teacher. Lots to learn about light and lines. Mmmmm...

Eat your friends

This is a scan from a tee shirt - thanks to Alec for sending to me. I saw it some time ago (someone I know has one... can't remember who!) and it makes me laugh everytime I see it.

Quite fitting that I'm running three navigation courses in June!

Monday, 17 May 2010

Say "No!" to pricky socks

The following came out of a conversation I had with The Baron when I first put my AR Mini-Gaiters online. I'm about to remove this from the AR Mini-Gaiters page on, to simplify the section, but I didn't want to lose this funny gem.

"Say 'No!' to pricky socks," I cheer.

"I tried to say no to my prickly socks, but they gave me that look and I just had to let them carry on scampering around the laundry basket," the trail runner responds.

"It's not prickly, it's pricky," The Baron clarifies, suggesting that we start a "Say 'No!' to pricky socks" cult.

As the appointed cult leader I explain: "Definitely pricky. Prickly would refer to a cactus, pear and porcupine. But pricky... that's something entirely different. It describes that irritation that you feel in one spot, caused by a grass seed stuck in the weave of your sock (despite numerous machine washes). You find it and remove it with glee, only to later feel another prick somewhere else on your foot. 'pricky' it is. And sometimes you can't find it at all and it just goes on pricking."

The Baron agrees. "'No, No, No' I say to pricky socks!" he roars, sounding like a Dr Seuss character.

I have - over the years - perfected the way of saying "No!" to pricky socks; I wear self-designed and self-made mini-gaiters. They cover the top of my shoe and laces, preventing sticks, stones, grit, sand and pesky grass seeds from getting anywhere near the inside of my trail shoes and my socks. As a result, NO MORE PRICKY SOCKS. Best of all, my foot comfort is improved, chance of blisters is minimised and my socks last longer. Gone of those days of throwing pricky-infested socks in the bin.

Join our "Say 'No!' to pricky socks" cult by wearing AR Mini-gaiters.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Returning to Mnweni

This weekend I returned to the beautiful Mnweni valley for my third Mnweni Marathon (2007 and 2008... I missed it last year), mountain and trail runner Bruce Arnett’s race.

Mnweni, in the Northern Drakensberg, is a 4h30 drive from Jo’burg. The campsite is superb and the circular race route is challenging. It starts from the community-project campsite and heads into the Mnweni valley, up the Mnweni Pass, across the top of the ‘Berg – in Lesotho and the source of the Orange River, down the treacherous Rockeries Pass and onto pleasantly runnable trails (from just before CP7) and then the road (from CP8) back to the campsite.
I thoroughly enjoy ascending the Mnweni Pass, taking delight in catching as many people as possible. I was hoping to better my previous best - a 7h50 in 2007, but due to a less desirable route (I have an affinity for crawling through vegetation...) across the river I lost at least 30 minutes. Although I tried to play catch up, I still ended up with my slowest time to date at 08h22. Bugger. Nonetheless, so much better to be playing the mountains than staying in Jo’burg for the weekend.

As for my less desirable route... I’ve worked it up on Google Earth below. There’s a newer ‘high’ path near CP3, as an alternative to the traditional ‘lower’ route that leads to crossing the Mnweni River. I decided to stick with the lower path, which I’ve taken before, aiming to cross higher up than previously. When the path fizzled, I – with two companions – ended up crossing lower down. Not a great route because it saw us ploughing through some bushes and onto the overgrown trail. If I’d crossed higher up where I’d initially wanted to, we would have hit the more used path. That’s where we lost time. Those on the higher path had an initial climb and then a runnable rote to a good crossing place much further up the valley – it definitely seems to be the way to go.

I blitzed the Mnweni Pass, enjoying the hard work. On top I met up with four other runners and thick mist. Quite fun playing in the mist. My GPS was up to its tricks, flipping the ‘Go To’ direction. Fortunately we didn’t detour too much – my gut got a funny feeling – making only a small doughnut. I recalibrated its compass, reset the ‘Go To’ and followed its flipped pointer to the trail leading down Rockeries.

Rockeries Pass is my least favourite part of the route. I’m skittish on the treacherously loose rocky trail. Glad to be at the bottom, I had the most fantastic run from the section of trail just before the CP7 river crossing and onto the CP8 road and home. The thick cloud, light mist and slight drizzle made for the most superb running conditions.

Bruce Arnett won in an enviable 5h15.

While I’m not often a repeat-offender entrant at races, I do really enjoy Mnweni. It’s relatively close to Jo’burg, I love being in the ‘Berg – a place, despite best intentions, I get to visit infrequently - and the race makes for a good one-day run. I’d like that 7h30 so I’ll probably be back next year.

What I really like about Mnweni Marathon is its simplicity. Sure, bells and whistles can be nice, but I like that the race has low entry numbers (<80) and no frills. It's an out-and-out mountain run - just the way I like it.

Bruce, Laura, Stephen and all your helpers - thank you for another super weekend.

Runners in the soft, peachy light of pre-sunrise

Leaving the dirt road at CP2 and on to trail; the start of the up, up, up. Sun not quite peeping over the horizon.

Playing catch-up after losing time, I had such fun going up Mnweni Pass, catching the little people ahead. The mist came in shortly after this to swirl all around us, diminishing visibility.

Looking back to the place where I took the previous photo. Although there's quite a bit of climbing from Chi-Chi Camp to this spot, 'X' is, for me, the 'true' start of Mnweni Pass.

My customary photo at the top of the Pass, with the Mnweni pinnacles in the 'background' (see the pic on my 2007 blog post taken at exactly the same spot)

I like donkeys. Trying to get close to the donkey without making him run away.

At the bottom of Rockeries with my companions met up top - Igno, Tania, Greg and Benedictus.

Sunday morning, from the campsite.

What is it about ‘some’ campers?

I love camping and this weekend, at Mnweni Marathon – in the Drakensberg, I camped in the delightful comfort of my little tent and cushy down sleeping bag.

There are few things I like better than to settle into my tent to read for a bit before dropping off to a deep post-long-run sleep. In the morning, a sleep-in is a treat. And I’m not talking about sleeping to noon. Even by my standards that’s a waste of a day. It’s nice to sleep until the sounds of rural settlement and nature – bird calls, roosters crowing, cows mooing – gently rouse me from slumber. Then I open the flap of my tent to enjoy the fresh morning air and there I stay for another half-hour or so reading. True pleasure.

Unfortunately nearly every camping experience is tainted by fellow campers. This morning, I was woken just after six by the people camping next to me. They were chattering and packing up their tent and goodies. Another person came past and they had a full-volume conversation and, of course, they set off their car alarm.

What is it with campers and friggin’ car alarms? It’s like they’ve never operated their car’s remote control nor opened their car. Do they trigger their car alarm every morning at home too?

They left just after six-thirty, leaving peace and quiet in their wake. I dozed on and off, deep slumber disturbed intermittently by passers-by.

At some stage other campers (fellow runners too) turned on their tunes in their car, transmitting intrusive sound waves across the campsite. To their credit, they didn’t pump up the volume, but it was intrusive nonetheless. What, dudes, makes you think that the rest of us want to listen to your terrible music instead of the sounds of nature in this magnificent Drakensberg setting? I can listen to music at home; here I want to listen to the mountains. Music of any kind is sound pollution to those who have not chosen its intrusion. That’s why we have personal mp3 players. Next time, dude, plug it in your friggin’ ears.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

You're gonna love this...

I am super excited because a project I've had cooking in my mind for a year is seeing the light of day. I started to put it together on Sunday night and in three days it has begun to take shape. Not a shape-shifting form, but a solid presence.

I can't let the cat out of the bag yet - I hope to do so in 3-4 weeks ;) You're gonna love this.

For now, I just want to put my appreciation out there to the people I've been speaking to - some I know, others I have never met. All have jumped in to get involved and to give their support.

This project has superb karma and it is a concept that grew from one of the reasons that saw me leaving full-time employment, with its stable income, in June last year for this somewhat rollercoaster freelance life. If I wasn't free range I wouldn't be able to do this.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

The can'ts who can

Despite being exhausted from this week's workshop - I can barely lift my arms - I had a great class tonight. In  particular, I did handstands - yes, this childhood basic - a move I have tended to avoid because so many of my students battle and grumble. But, without a decent handstand and the development of shoulder and arm stability and strength, there are a dozen other things that I can't do with them.

Before we'd even begun my ears were ringing with the sound of "can't, can't, can't" said around the room.

So, we started with the basics, hands on the floors, one foot on the ground and easy bouncing to lift the other leg in the air. Then, we progressed to pushing up a little harder so that the lifted foot would tap the wall. Some students who could barely lift off the floor and hadn't done a handstand since pre-school got this right. Others kept going to get their feet against the wall. Mission accomplished! Go girls!

I'm putting this sign up next week. There's no such thing as "can't" in my class. I'll only accept, "I am unable to get it yet... but I will 'cos I'll keep trying".

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Sugary no-no

Too much sugar is bad for you. Only thing is that sugar is nice and sweet and enjoyable and addictive. The more sugar you have, the more you want - just like its saltier cousin.

And if you're drinking 'diet' or 'zero' beverages? I've never been a big fan - but then this is coming from somone who doesn't drink colddrinks anyway. It almost seems that artifical sweetners are 'logically' worse than corn syrup mixes. This aside, I think the major problems of these 'diet' drinks is that the feed the sweet-tooth desires, which probably makes you more likely to reach for other sweet products.
How is this for a 'visualisation' around the theme of 'drinking yourself fat'.

This Public Service Announcement from the New York City Health department was partnered by a poster campaign that encourages people to reduce (or eliminate) sugary drinks. The posters received a lot of attention and generated some controversy as well. Some people found the posters, which depict realistic human body fat flowing out of bottles into glasses filled with ice cubes, too gross and too disturbing to hang in public.

Info above from PresentationZen

Monday, 3 May 2010

can't or won't?

I teach a dance class on Wednesday nights and this week I'm attending an instructor's workshop on more advanced moves and associated teaching techniques. There's a girl on the course who was with me when I did the initial instructor course 18-months ago. Almost every sentence that comes out of her mouth contains the words "but", "if" and "can't".

She's not alone either - I hear this every Wednesday too. My standard response? "Can't or won't?"

Needless to say, I've been immensely irritated today because this lass, who is perfectly competent, is either fishing for attention and constant reassurance or she is so in the habit of thinking herself down before attempting anything that she doesn't know any different. She has learned to doubt instead of do.


As I've recommended with disciplines, distances, events and such, just friggin' try!

Stop with those excuses.

But what? But nothing.

If what? If nothing.

Can't what? It's not can't dude. In my class there's no such thing as can't. You're here because you want me to teach you. Just as you won't lose weight by walking through the doors of a gym, so you won't ever get swan, scorpion or invert barbie moves if you don't friggin' try.

And just because you don't get it first time, doesn't mean you'll never get it. You didn't ride a bicycle the first time you tried; and I bet you stalled your dad's car your first time you sat in the driver's seat. But you can do these things now eh?

And if you don't want to try? The joy of free will; you can do what ever you want to - or don't want to. Please just don't use that word "can't".

*cartoon by