Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Legs eleven: over a decade of adventure racing

This month, July, marks my 11 years in this sport of adventure racing. It was in this month that my first team started the 250km Old Mutual Hi-Tec event in the Kamberg area of the Drakensberg, an event organised by Zirk Botha. Adventure racing was in its infancy in South Africa - a little over six-months old.

We were all novices to everything multidiscipline – me, Lester Cary, Quintin Walker and Riaad Isaacs (yes, of Big Brother Series I fame), with Tracey and Roger as our support crew. Our backpacks were huge, stuffed with regular sleeping bags (hollow fibre car ‘n camp style), borrowed Dri-mac jackets, hand-held torches... Our most advanced equipment being Camelbak water reservoirs, an item as new to the country as to us and those brightly coloured ‘parachute fabric’ tops. I rode a Giant Iguana mountain bike – a hardtail with no front suspension – borrowed from Linden Cycles.

68 hours and five minutes after the start, we completed the race – the last team to finish. It was, for me, a liberating, exhilarating, humbling and life-changing experience. And I wanted more, more, more. I couldn’t think of anything else but adventure racing.

My first team at the finish after 68 hours of non-stop racing (with very little sleep!). Quintin, Lester, me and Riaad. I'm wearing a Wits Underwater Club beanie and a Dri-Mac type jacket. Yes, that's a compass around my neck (I started navigating with my first race). The guys are wearing those 'parachute fabric' running tops. Yes, those are Polly Shorts that Riaad is wearing!

At this stage I was 18-months into my Masters studies – bored, frustrated, disillusioned; I also had a part-time lecturer post, which I loved. I was playing Provincial A team underwater hockey, with trials coming up year-end for the SA team. Almost every road race I ran – from 10km to half marathon - was a personal best. Sport had been a pivot in my life, around which everything else rotated, for years already. So, I did what came naturally; I leapt into planning for our next race, a 500km in the Cederberg.

I put my money from lecturing into buying thermal clothing, a headlamp and other bits; and a bicycle (I still have the same bike!). My mom couldn’t understand my focus. It was only six months later, when she seconded for me at a race that she understood. My life rolled from one race to the next. I deregistered from university (AR was a catalyst, not the sole reason).

Although I'm not very sentimental - passing on more than I keep, I do have a scrapbook with oddities like this; my first race passport. This scrapbook also has some articles on adventure racing, as it was emerging in SA, and my very first writings for Adventure Zone and OutThere magazines. I still remember the shark and, especially, the train punch. This was on a freezing cold (truly sub-zero) paddle. My hands were so frozen that I couldn't press the scrapbooking punch. So I put it in my mouth and bit down to punch the card!

Now, eleven years and many races later, I still love this sport as much as I did the night we joined hands, singing “Ole, ole, ole...” as we walked towards the finish of the Kamberg 250km, welcomed across the line by Zirk, his assistants and the tv crew.

Through adventure racing my career changed from science and medicine to media and journalism; I learned that writing is in me - a part of me; I landed work on a tv crew tracking teams on foot; I’ve travelled to major international events in obscure places to write about races and teams; adventure racing introduced me to white water rafting, Camel Trophy, staged foot races, mountain running and orienteering. And, the people. Yes, the people.

My life has been enriched by meeting so many adventurous, brave and courageous people. I’ve raced with them, against them and I’ve watched them from the sidelines, blinking away tears in sympathy for their pain and disappointments and also their successes and triumphs.

www.AR.co.za has obviously been a major part of my adventure racing involvements. Websites were not new to me; I had been coding sites for six years by the time I created www.AR.co.za in April 2001. I’d set up various online structures (international) for underwater hockey. Adventure Racing Club was an obvious progression as I’d been administering sports and teams and clubs since primary school and through my high school and varsity years.

Last year, in preparation for a ’10 years in AR’ piece, which I didn’t write at the time, I asked Zirk to write something for me on his recollection of the early years of adventure racing in South Africa. This is what he replied.

Early in 1998 I read an article about adventure racing in an international triathlon magazine. Since 1996 I had been professionally involved in triathlon event management and represented a few athletes. I also coached at UCT and raced myself, but I was starting to be bored by the monotony of it. When I read the article I knew that this was a sport that would do well in South Africa, and besides, I was hooked!

After approaching Mark le Roux at Old Mutual World of Endurance, who immediately agreed to give TV coverage, I prepared proposals for various brands regarding the launch event scheduled for December 1998. Jeremy Thompson at Distell agreed to pay for a full-page advert in OutThere magazine, under the banner of Bernini.

I started scouting for a route and settled on the Western Cape, which was close to my home in Cape Town, once I realised how much time goes into putting an Adventure Racing route together. With Cara Lee taking care of the office and attending to the triathlons we were committed to present, I could focus on getting a route together.

Thanks to the ad in OutThere magazine we managed to get 13 confirmed team entries and as December got closer I managed to get hold of Pat Devine, the marketing manager at Hi-Tec, who agreed to be a product sponsor for this event.

The final route was about 215km and it started at Kleinmond. The competitors had to do a hike, followed by a mountainbike, then a hike and kloofing through the Hottentots Holland mountains to bring them to the end of the first day. The paddle that followed on the Theewaterskloofdam wasn’t for the faint hearted – temperatures soared to the high 30’s, with no respite on the mountain biking leg that followed. The final leg, a hike from Greyton to MacGregor, passed through Boesmanskloof with the promise of an ice-cold Bernini at the finish line.

As the last team crossed the finish line, an unseasonable storm came bucketing down causing severe floods in the Western Cape.

The footage captured by the World of Endurance Team was spectacular and the resultant two series event broadcasts were exactly what was needed to launch this exciting sport in South Africa.

Early in January 1999 I met with Pat Devine and he agreed on behalf of Hi-Tec to be a naming sponsor for a series of adventure races to be staged across South Africa. Mark le Roux of Old Mutual World of Endurance agreed to continue the coverage for co-naming rights and supported the idea to present events starting with a 180km, followed by a 250km and culminating in a 500km final, a series structured to help all newbies cut their teeth on shorter events before having to tackle a 500km adventure race.

The first event in 1999 was a 180km race staged in the Sabie area. With a host of top triathletes and teams, and the event sponsored by Hi-Tec and Old Mutual, the sport was the talk of the town. OutThere magazine was ready to do a five-page special. The teams took off in the early hours of the morning. What ensued was a spectacular learning curve for both event managers and competitors! Teams failed to comply with minimum food requirements; they got lost and ran out of food and water. Their support crews were frantic with worry. A member of one of the support crews came close to physically assaulting me. The incident was fortunately without casualty. We parted as friends and he successfully entered and completed the next 250km event at Glengarry in the Natal Midlands in July 1999.

The 1999 season concluded with the 500km series final staged in the Western Cape Cederberg. 23 teams entered. After a briefing at Elandsbaai on the West Coast teams did coasteering and then they mountain biked through Clan William into the heart of the Cederberg. It was down to the wire as Pieter du Plessis and his Iridium Africa Team raced Brandon Collier, Sandra Eardley and Philip Swanepoel’s team for line honours. In the end Brandon, Philip and Sandra pulled it off and were crowned the first Old Mutual/Hi-Tec South African AR Champions.

After the success of the sport in 1999 Hi-Tec encouraged the creation of a series of short-course races to make the sport accessible to the man on the street. This saw the start of an Urban Adventure Series in 2000. Three events were staged but for some reason this series was not as popular as anticipated. The long course 180, 250 and 500 km events kicked of with the 180km race around Empangeni in KwaZulu Natal.

Cara’s family pitched in to host the event, which started and finished on the family farm. This race will forever be remembered as the greatest mud bath in the history of South African AR! Teams battled though the Zululand countryside mud bath as support crews battled to the next checkpoint. Dominique Le Roux, then the editor of OutThere magazine saw her mountain bike fly unassisted down the abseil mountain; she observed from a distance.

After a 250km race around the Knysna area, the 2000 series came culminated with a 500km series final staged in the Tzaneen area. For the first time competitors and race crew had to deal with the challenge of coming face to face with Africa’s dangerous wildlife. An unfortunate team of marshals had established their ‘base camp’ on the favourite feeding spot of the local hippo cow on the bank of the Tzaneen Dam. They were just getting ready to put their chops on their braai when the hippo came storming out of the water, stomping out the fire. The marshals wisely abandoned their post and slept in the boat trailer until they could be rescued!

2001 introduced a new era in South African adventure racing; the Adventure Quest Africa became a qualifying event for the Adventure Racing World Championships, and the Hi-Tec Dirty Weekend Adventure Racing Series of sprint races was introduced.

Memories. Some are vivid; others are fuzzy – no doubt blurred by racing for 70 hours on four hours of sleep... Teammates – dozens of them over the years. Challenges – emotional and mental as much as physical. Mountains, deserts, coastlines, forests... we have a wonderful country, a small bite of this World.

Thanks seem inadequate compensation to people and places for the richness of my experiences. Yet ‘thank you’ is expressive simplicity comparable to this sport that is, at its core, human-powered forward progression.

Thank you.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Adventures under a Full Moon

Kinetic’s Full Moon race held this weekend (26-27 June 2010) was one of the friendliest adventure races that I’ve been too. And there were many small touches that made it special. I raced with Steven Erasmus, one of my new Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge candidates (the others were in their own teams) and Motlatsi Mutlanyane, who I met last year through AR Club. Steven has done AR events in KZN (he’s a newcomer to the highveld); Motlatsi has experience in the individual disciplines – he crossed over to AR events this year.

Steven & Motlatsi with a hill (location of CP7's trig beacon) in the background. Daylight almost gone.

These were the things that stood out for me:

Paddle leg – unscheduled swim

So we’re on the first paddle leg, headed for the finish and making good progress. I could count 15 or 16 boats ahead of us. For a while the boat had seemed unmanageable and I was battling to keep it straight (I was at the back, paddle steering). It also felt like the boat was leaning to the left. We were getting more water in the seats, which we thought was due to the waves from the speed boats. Within a short space of time we were really getting unstable and we couldn’t figure out what was wrong and why there had been this sudden change – afterall, these Fluid sit-on-tops are as stable as anything. And then a speedboat wave hit us and we flipped over!

Brrr... the water was freezing. We battled to flip the boat over – it was so heavy. We climbed on board again and tried to paddle – we could barely sit upright and within moments were back in the water. We flipped the boat upright again, waving and whistling for the nearby boat.

Lauren’s team passed nearby and we shouted our race number so that they could report our troubles to the race HQ. With a splash we were then back in the water and had realised that our craft, which was floating almost below the water surface now, was water-filled. With me lying across the back, Steven almost in my lap and only Motlatsi paddling – gently, we limped, shivering, to shore. Litres of water gushed from the kayak’s drainage hole. I’m not sure how the water got in because the hatches were all so well sealed they were a battle to open.

With the boat emptied we raced, ice cold, to the finish area. Heidi and Stephan immediately swopped out our kayak for another for the night-time paddle.

We lost loads of places with this swim but made up plenty on the next cycle leg. I’m not sure how as the navigation seemed straight forward; perhaps people got stuck on funny little roads between houses?

Night paddle

After a good 30-odd kilometre cycle, we reached the night paddle spot on the dam; and it was cold down there (Heidi told us on the other side that it was 1C at this spot!). We were really worried about being freezing on the water. I climbed into a black garbage bag, wearing it like a skirt so that I wouldn't get my bottom wet; and I used another like a vest, putting it under my PDF. On my legs I had waterproof pants over my thermal tights. On my hands? Just my regular half-finger cycle gloves with paddle mitts on the paddle shaft. With a Buff on my head and another around my neck I was ready to go. Motlatsi, like me, went for the waterproof pants. I can’t remember who did what with garbage bags. Steven left his cycle shoes with our bike stuff, knowing he’d get his run shoes from his crate on the other side. Yes, he got cold feet – very cold feet.

The water was superb – flat, calm, not too cold (especially as we were paddling hard) and beautiful under the full moon.

Back in the big tent with our crates we prepared for the orienteering run within the Estate. ARer Susan Sloane was there as a helper, bringing racers steaming cups of hot chocolate, tea and coffee (thank you Susan).

Orienteering run – disorientated!

We could collect the seven orienteering points in any order; we started from OP1. We ascended the hill on the road, en route to OP2, OP3 and OP4. Mmm... and this is where I made a big mistake. We got to the ‘traffic circle’ and the direction just didn’t make sense. Looked weird, like a new road had been added to our right. I just couldn’t reason it. We proceeded up the hill, took the road to our right. It didn’t fit what I thought it should. Luckily distances were relatively short. I was very confused. I passed the map on to Motlatsi and Steven, who had it figured out and they got us to OP3 and OP4.

As for OP2, our reasoning again flew out the window and without going into too much detail we were all not with the programme and so we lost a lot of time. After OP5 I got the map back and was now back with it. We nailed OP6 and OP7 quick-quick.

Needless to say, this little activity took us far, far longer than it should have. Irritating and purely my own stupidity and error. Grrrr...

Thenit was back across the dam to the fire on the other side. Steven’s feet really froze this time!

Long 50km cycle – how about drawing in the transition!

Although this cycle leg, at 50km, seems long, the terrain was really good. Excellent quality dirt roads with smooth strips that shone in the moonlight. I haven’t ridden at night for way too long and it was actually pretty neat, especially with the full moon the whole night. As I’d been so warm and snug in my black garbage bag vest during the paddle that I kept it on for the cycle too.

After the paddle I had put on dry socks as a treat. I then put my feet into large sandwich bags and then into my wet trail shoes, to prevent the chill from the wind. Worked like a bomb! On my hands I had my half-finger cycle gloves and Gore windstopper mittens. The latter are not warm and fluffy – they just help to keep out the wind. As an additional precaution, I slipped my fingers into a sandwich bag and then into the mittens. Gotta love it! This worked really well too. Just call me Ms Plastic.

Again I made a big bloops! I had only drawn in T5 and not T4, which was nearby. So leaving the last CP on the cycle, we turned left and headed into the Bonamanzi recreation place-thing where the map showed a road along the river that would link to T5. We asked the guy at the gate if other cyclists had come through. He said they had; and we saw tracks too. Well, what we discovered is that this road didn’t exist. On leaving the place we asked the guard if the people who had come in had also come out. He said yes. We asked why he didn’t say so the first time. “You didn’t ask,” he replied. True.

So, approaching T5, we encountered T4. Stephan pointed out my error – one Adrian had made too. So silly. And this is the thing that I like about AR and that has kept me in this sport for over a decade. It is a leveller. No matter what your proficiency or experience, there’s always the opportunity to make mistakes.

The final foot orienteering, abseil and short paddle were, fortunately, without incident.

Super teammies

My teammates, Steven and Motlatsi, were gems. And best of all, even with my two bloopses they didn’t once tell me that I was a moron and instead helped to figure out the problem. We would still be trapped in the Estate on the O section if it wasn’t for their sound reasoning!

Importantly, all CPs were in the correct location – a sign of good organisation and attention. Also, the CPs were all obvious – on roads, at junctions, on bridges. Nothing hidden. Afterall, this is not orienteering, it is adventure racing. In orienteering we like them to be hidden for the challenge (also O maps have sufficient detail, topographical maps don’t); in adventure racing the challenge is between A and B, not at B.

The terrain was also well chosen; not technical on foot or bike – just right for this event.

I’ve been out of practise with through the night multidiscipline racing (Abu Dhabi only has night trekking and I’m used to being on foot at night) and it was a delight. My growing fears pre-race about freezing to death were really unfounded. The key to success was really in keeping moving and plastic bags.

Team AR - Steven, Lisa & Motlatsi

Steven and Motlatsi, thank you for your enthusiasm and company.

Stephan, Heidi and your crew of helpers and sponsors – what a superb event! I’m already looking forward to the next in late August.

Stats: My i-gotU GPS logger ran for 17h31. Our total race time was 20h51. We logged 131km on the logger and with the last part of the cycle, short foot O and final short paddle I'd say we would have covered close to 145km. My Suunto T6 puts my calorie expenditure at 8075kcal!

Friday, 25 June 2010

Trip-trapping to Trappers

This morning a fortuitous incident occurred. I ordered a bunch of thermal stuff from First Ascent this week, for my Team www.AR.co.za squad and race teammates for Kinetic’s Full Moon race tomorrow. The courier arrived early this morning – on schedule – but three pairs (of five) of First Ascent’s Powerstretch Tights hadn’t made it into the box with the rest of the goodies.

It’s winter on the highveld and Saturday night is going to be c.o.l.d. These tights are vitally important. I’m sorted because I’ve still got my five (or six) year old tights, but for the people who ordered them...

I phoned First Ascent to let them know; Carmen and Jean got to work, finding a solution immediately. Within 30-minutes they’d arranged for me to collect from Trappers in Fourways (Fourways Crossing). I was to speak to Richard.

When I got there Richard was at the front desk – face looked familiar. He’s the same Richard who used to be at Drifters. I gave him a huge hug – how lucky I was that he agreed to provide the stock; and we then proceeded to chat, catching up on stuff and news.

This is the first time I’ve been to Trappers and it is a lovely store. I didn’t realise that there were so many branches around Gauteng and SA (not in CT)! They’ve got a wide range of First Ascent clothing (including Powerstretch Tights!) and their range of backpacks is super, especially smaller volume (from 10-30l) for trail running and ARs of all distances. The store is well-presented, light, colourful and there’s lots of space and a wide range of products.

First Ascent, thank you for making a plan. Richard @ Trappers – wow! Thank you.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

First daisies

On Easter Friday I sowed three packets of flower seeds - 2 x Namaqualand Flower Mix and 1 x Namaqualand Daisies. My first pretty orange daisies have blossomed this week (northern end of the bed). The full bloom is expected in mid- to late-July; one month to go. Unfortunately some of the plants in the southern end of the bed got nailed by frost last week, during that most bitter cold front. I hope it didn't damage them too much.

Loads of leaves in the bed daily from oak trees on the other side of the road. I like to think the leaves provide a bit of protection from the frost.

Just got home and my daisies are open and BEAUTIFULLY SUNNY.
Enjoy these pics ;)

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Ultra O at Mohales South

Today's orienteering event took us across a piece of ground previously unused at Mohales Gate, near Maropeng. I haven't been out to this area for two or three years; and it is one of my favourites. Very runable on this southern section.

I've done my QuickRoute thing - after roughly dotting in what I think I ran on the map. Memory not great, evidently, because some parts are off. But seeing the track has reminded me of features I ran close to, which isn't indicated with my red dotted line.

I made two mistakes today.

CP7 - CP8 issue
Approaching CP7 I found the road to my left, which I thought should was higher - it came up too soon after reaching the lowest drainage point. I stopped (see red shading on GPS track). Nathan caught up to me here and so I asked him what he thought. He had the same idea. So, we headed uphill but it was actually towards CP8! Someone else was there and Nathan got that it was CP8 and not CP7. So we backtracked. Nasty and silly.

I'd been looking at another drainage feature, not indicated on the map. I also saw the rocks near CP7 but they didn't look distinct enough initially. The one thing that had me thinking, on the way to CP8, was that we were too close to the fence. Turns out that I was right. So, that lost time.

Ahhh... second last control after more than 2h30 out there... This is when mistakes happen. Like a horse bolting for home.
I headed for the gap between forests, thinking that I'd shoot through to the road and then run up it to the control. Mmmm... The forest wasn't actually forest. Very much rough open ground with tiny trees/bushes. So, I went straight through it. I thought I was angling a bit to the the NW but I was actually going quite straight. So I pop out on a path and can't find the control. I backtracked to a junction and was very confused. I backtracked a bit more and nailed the intersections, finding the tree with the control. The tree was actually not right next to the road but a bit off the road. Silly, silly me.

All other controls were spot on.

The colours on the GPS track, superimposed on my map, are cool. Green is fastest running speed; yellow medium; orange/light red is where I'm walking or punching the control. Yes, lots of running. On the long sections, like from CP18 to CP19, you can see 'morse code' colouring where I'm running a bit, walking a bit, running a bit, walking a bit...

At this Ultra colour-coded O event the brown course (longest) had the fewest number of participants - maybe 10. I think only six of us completed it successfully. Winning time on the blue was around 1h30. Winning on brown was 1h55 (Alex Pope). Eugene came in second at around 2h15. Stijn was 3rd at about 2h30 and I was 4th at 2h50. Good, long run. It was marked as 16km; that would pretty much be as the crow flies. This human ran 19.8km.

Come back Mr Sun

As we approach the Winter Solstice (20/21 June) I thought I'd check my GPS to see what it had to say about sunrise and sunset times. I always expect that after the winter solstice the sun will rise earlier and set later... but it doesn't quite happen like this.

This is the definition of the winter solstice from Wiki (I've edited out northern hemisphere references):

The Winter Solstice occurs exactly when the Earth's axial tilt is farthest away from the sun at its maximum of 23° 26'. Though the Winter Solstice lasts only an instant in time, the term is also colloquially used as Midwinter. This occurs on the shortest day and longest night, and the sun's daily maximum position in the sky is the lowest. The seasonal significance of the Winter Solstice is in the reversal of the gradual lengthening of nights and shortening of days. Depending on the shift of the calendar, the Winter Solstice occurs on June 20 or 21 in the Southern Hemisphere.

The times below are taken from my GPS and refer to sunrise and sunset where I live in Jo'burg.

On 21 June, the sun starts to set later. Finally, the clock reverses and the sun goes to bed one minute later, at 17h24 (sun rise at 06h54). I'm looking forward to it not being dark by 6pm...

But, it is only on 13 July that the sun starts to rise earlier - 06h54 vs latest time of 06h55. Sunset on 13 July is 17h31.

It's only in later August that things start to speed up and that every day the sun sets later and rises earlier.

Tick-tock-tick-tock... we're not even fully in winter; already I long for daylight to have more length. I wouldn't do very well living in Norway!

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Measuring paddle distance and speed

I thought of an ideal application for the i-gotU - measuring paddle distance and speed. Last year when Alex and I put in a lot of time on Germiston for Abu Dhabi, we just used time to gauge our improvement. Over about two months we took more than 10 minutes off our time for three big laps.

But with this little toy... I took it out with me this afternoon on Emmarentia and this was the result. I removed the beginning of the trip - from the car, to the dam and messing around; and to the car until I turned off the unit.

According to the stats, we covered 7.14km at an average speed of 8km/hr for 55min 54sec. Fastest speed was 12km/hr - must have been the sprint we did to the finish. We did six laps of Emmies.

It will be fun to compare this in a month's time.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Mr Frosty is here

This morning, at about 11h15, I got into my car to head off on a few errands. Not even a minute away from my gate I hear a deep "bing" tone - one that I know but have not heard for a year. I looked at the digital display on my dashboard. Mr Frosty!

Mr Frosty is my name for the snowflake symbol that appears when the car measures temperatures of 4°C or lower. His arrival is announced by a polite "bing". Yes, today, the middle of June, at 11h15 the temperature was 4°C.

I think this is the first time - in the four years that I've had my car - that Mr Frosty has appeared during the day. He usually only comes out at night, in winter.

This afternoon I was going to paddle with Adri at Emmies... thank goodness that she got tied up at work. At 16h00 Mr Frosty was only 2°C away from making another appearance! And the wind was whipping up waves. On Emmarentia. Ja.

I just hope it isn't this cold in a week and a bit or we'll freeze our butts off at Kinetic's Full Moon race!

Saturday, 12 June 2010

A blast from the past

In moving house, Nic found a bunch of magazines, which he passed on this week. AdventureZone magazine first came out in early 2001 and only lasted about two years. The mag was unrelated to the later Mazda-sponsored programme on Supersport. And, it was instrumental in shaping my varied career in media and adventure sporting disciplines.

This June/July 2001 issue carried a full page article on the inaugural Swazi Xtreme, which I wrote with Darron Raw. On the opposite page is an article by Ugene Nel on equipment basics and a comment on the Borneo Eco Challenge, which took place that year.

At this stage I'd been contributing adventure racing content to the old WorldofEndruance website. AdventureZone was my 'break' into print. I had also just made it in to OutThere Magazine before it was closed; and I'd been writing sections of articles in RIDE (AR perspective of mountain biking) to accompany Jacques Marais' articles. And, http://www.ar.co.za/ went online two months before this AZ issue - I was constantly writing content for the site. I began contributing regularly to AZ.

It was through AdventureZone's editor, Nicola Simpson, that I heard about and got involved inthe 2001 Camel White Water event on the Zambezi River - what an incredible experience! I learned so much about reading rivers and eddies and fairy gliding... Big, big, big water!

And it was also through Nicola that I found out about the Augrabies Extreme Marathon (now known as the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon - KAEM). It all started with a bivvy bag product review request; a week later I was at the starting line to run my very first seven-day, 250km, self-sufficient stage race. This was the second year of the event. I walked most of it - socialising and messing around - until the ultra stage on days 5 and 6. My feet were so sore that after covering the first 10km in something like 2hrs I decided to start running. I couldn't face taking 14hrs to do the next 70km!

I left the guys I'd been walking with - one suffering terribly from ITB inflammation - really bad) and had what turned out to be a life-changing experience. I initially walked the ups and ran the flats and downs (my standard rule, even then) but because I was feeling so good I just continued running, hitting the 10km water tables like clockwork, every 1h10. Aside from very sore feet I was on a high. Stars out, dogs barking in the distance and an open road. I overtook many people early on and then had over 50km all to myself. When I reached the camp at about 5h30 I was buzzing and could hardly sleep. I'd never run so far in one chunk and I'd loved every minute. And that was the start of my ultra running.

AdventureZone, thank you for all of this.

Testing QuickRoute

Nicholas recommended QuickRoute, software designed by an orienteer to superimpose GPS tracks over orienteering maps (QuickRoute software features). I've just given it a try.

First, I scanned my map from the orienteering event at Laurentia Farm last week. Then, I exported my track from the wee i-gotU GPS tracking device software in .gpx format. And then I opened both files in QuickRoute (File >> New).

To overlay the route properly, I dragged points on the route, like the start and finish and some checkpoints so that the route matched correctly. Then I messed with the fun pace gradient shading thing - it colours the track in shades from green (fastest) through yellow and orange to red (slowest) according to my pace (minutes per kilometre). You can see how much slower my pace was in the rocky hills than on the runnable flat from the colours.

And then I exported the composite as a jpeg. Easy. This is the result. Nice toy. Thanks for the reference Nic.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

When children are pets

We tease people who regard - and treat - their pets like children; and we shamelessly do it too. But what about people who treat their children as pets? Many (too many) children are loved, clothed, fed, housed and educated; but that's it.

As one who has chosen to leave no descendants, I think about this often. I'm a proud member of Elizabeth Gilbert's 'Auntie Brigade', a woman who has no children of her own but gladly takes on the role of an aunt to the children of friends and family - delighted to help, support, indulge, teach and foster. Also read this article in the San Francisco Chronicle on Ms Gilbert's Auntie Brigade.

Many working parents are off to work early, dropping little one at school on their way. They're probably home from work after 5pm (or later!) and thus have only a few hours to spend with their child, time distracted with catching up on their day, making dinner, checking homework and completing the bath and bed routine. Many probably spend more time each day in their cars, commuting to and from work, than with their offspring...

And what do they do on weekends? Stay home, watch telly, go shopping or visit friends and family. Ja, real stimulating. And it is little wonder than the children of these parents are walking-talking pets.

This concept came to the fore for me this weekend when playing with two little girls (both 10yrs). The one - the friend - is the daughter of parents who were flight attendants - well travelled and interested in the world (they work in other industries now). As a result, she is informed and curious and interested in things beyond the garden gate and her general knowledge is very good. The other is the most wonderful little girl; but her general knowledge is shocking, although she is a >80% student at her school work. Her parents interact very little with her during the week and over weekends; they do no reading (lots of tv watching happens), no outdoor activities, no sports, no walks in the neighbourhood and very little going out on weekends. Her world is very, very small and unstimulated. Sure, this lovely girl is loved... but she is a pet. And I can bet that her lifestyle would not be any different with a stay-at-home parent because that's just the people her parents are...

On the other hand I know many amazing full-time working parents who spend their weekday evenings doing homework and extracurricular educating, surfing for interesting content on the internet,  reading, playing music, talking... And these same working parents spend their weekends doing activities with their children; swimming lessons, zoo visits, attending science expos, outdoor sports, camping in the garden... This is what being a parent is about.

Unfortunately I think that too many parents are like my little friend's parents and too few are like those special parents, who invest far more in their children.

In parallel, too many pet owners treat their animals like plants. The animal is provided with shelter, food and water and for the rest they're left alone at home all day during the week, getting attention and affection only at their owner's convenience. This is not the way to treat a pet. If you don't have time for an animal, don't get one. Ditto with a child.

My first potatoes

I harvested my first ever potatoes today. A few months ago I had potatoes 'growing' in my veggie basket. So, I dug them into the ground, plants flourished and then withered and today I harvested them with assistance from my gardner, Chris.

We found many little, little baby potatoes, a few 'normal' sized baby potatoes and a few normal sized ones. I cooked up most of the little ones, which Chris and I shared. They tasted like... potatoes - fresh potatoes.

Now still to wait for my peas, which are flowering, and baby carrots... ;)

This is our harvest.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Weekend of O

What a fun weekend this has been with MTB orienteering on Saturday and the longer distance colour-coded orienteering today.

I've also been messing with a little gadget called i-gotU. It's a GPS logger; it records your tracks only and does not display any coordinate information - it doesn't have a screen. It just logs where you're going, at what speed and altitude. A number of orienteerers have brought them back from overseas; they're soon to be available here. I took it to MTB O on Sat and foot O today. It downloads by USB to your computer - its own software - where your track is superimposed on Google Earth. More on this in another posting - there are a few functions I still want to try. I've only used it for track logging, with 100% success thus far.

About the Foot O today... I haven't done a colour-coded event since some time last year. Yeah, that's a long time. I missed the first event of the Series, which started end April. And then I skipped Gauteng Champs to go to Mnweni. Yes, as I stood in the starting block I had butterflies.

The event was out at Laurentia Farm - Tarlton area, off the N14. I've never been to Laurentia Farm although I've been on similar terrain in the area. I was 98% happy with my navigation today as despite some tricky controls, I walked on to all of them - no hunting. But, I did feel slow over the terrain, which is nasty underfoot with tons of rocks and long grass - not my favourite.

The one thing about orienteering is that even when happy with navigation, there are always tweaks and improvements to be made. These are mine from today's run (from i-gotU tracking)...

The big picture. S is start. E is end.
Distance 7.99km (interestingly, on O map, distance CP to CP as crow flies was 7.03km)

Control 1 to Control 2

Pink is the route I took; yellow would have been a better route, across this field. That said, it's harder work running across rough ground than running on the track, which I did. Yellow was another option but may not necessarily have scored me that much more time.

Control 2 to Control 3

X marks the location on Control 2. Route from the fence corner to Control 2 was pretty straight line. May have been faster to skirt along the fence... I was in long grass and blackjacks (lovely!). Anyway... the yellow line show a better route because I climbed through two fences on pink route at this point; faster to only have to climb through one fence... I wasn't reading the map carefully enough.

Around Control 11

I walked all the way around the tree at Control 11... silly. Eugene and Michael were off messing in the bushes way to the left. I knew they were wrong and I was right. On my O map I was within the circle. I got to the boulder cluster with tree and should have just looked to my right and I would have seen the control. I wasn't reading properly because I was distracted by the guys approaching. I said to them, "It must be right here" and as I came around the tree they saw it and I saw it. I should have hit the Control without walking around the tree.

Heading for the finish

I took the pink route from the top of the image to the bottom. I could have taken the tellow route. Only the road leading off my road (very nice, wide, open) and road on the side of the field was on the map - not the path through the field. I looked across and the field looked bushy so I decided to stick with the road. Cindy was with me and she decided to take the road along the bottom of the field. As she was running she noticed the path and took it, cutting the corner of the field. Better route, but you'd only know about the path if you'd chosen the road, which, without the path, would have probably been same-same.

So, these were the errors I could have improved on. For the rest, I'm pretty content.

Next O event is Mohales Gate on 20 June (near Maropeng). It's one of my favourite areas; sure, there will be long grass and rocks - this is the highveld! - but I like the place anyway and I haven't been there for at least two years. Info and event calendar at http://www.orienteering.co.za/