Friday, 29 March 2013

Namib Desert Challenge: Stage 5

It’s done! The 5th and final stage of the 5th annual Namib Desert Challenge.

On paper it is a comparatively short 28 kilometres but the reality is that you can’t just blitz it or think that you’ll nail it in three hours and be done. No. No.

This morning we set off in two waves from the base of Dune 45, where we finished yesterday. It was the slower 10 runners first and then the faster 11 runners 30-minutes later.

The first 15km of the stage are actually quite cruel. It must be about 13-14km across a flat, stony plain that runs at the base of big dunes. The tricky part here is not the terrain underfoot. Because it is some of the most pleasant of the race; firm but not hard and littered with little stones that don’t prod your soles. The tricky part is the perspective. We run heading for a point in the distance but with the huge dunes and the open expanse you just can’t tell how far away anything it. You just run and run and run and never seem to get anywhere. It plays with your mind.

From the start I was running with Dave and Dave. Joe shot off like a horse bolting for home. We caught him going into the first pan. He was hammered. We invited him to join us. He shook his head. We convinced him and he started to jog again with us.

Looking back from where we'd come - this was just the first pan before the first dune ascent. We came from FAR, FAR away to the right.

Joe, Botswana Dave, English Dave and me.
The route then gets more interesting with a dune climb. After the long, straight flat your legs feel it and your heart rate climbs – quickly. We took photos quickly before heading down into the pan and through into Hidden Vlei and the first waterpoint.

Waterpoint 1 in the Hidden Vlei. Dave made a great 'model' during the stages when we were together.
Ice-cold rehydration solution and iced tea saw us off again, following a jeep track etched into the hard-baked mud pan. English Dave and I inched ahead of Botswana Dave and Joe; we grew the gap to the finish.

Approaching Big Daddy. We aimed for that low saddle (not really that low - see next pic) and then up the spine to the top, top, top there in the distance.
From the pan we were into some sand and another crunchy pan before starting the ascent up Big Daddy – one helluva big dune. The first part – getting on to the ridge – is really the trickiest because it becomes a case of one-step-up-slide-two-back near the top of the lee slope. Dave and I stood there for a moment to catch our breath again, while watching Joe and Dave approach.

From the low saddle while we caught our breath. Joe and Dave below - approaching.

And then up, following the ridge. Fortunately many runners had been up before us and it is far easier to step in the grooves made by those ahead than to blaze your own trail. We passed Laura and Ivan, the Americans from Colorado and continued up and up and up. It really is a spectacular dune.

Up, up, up. That isn't the summit. This is still the first part of the spine.
We ripped the downhill, sliding through the sand. It could be a good 300-400m from top to bottom, dropping us into Dead Vlei. 

The descent. That white patch is the sun-baked crunchy, mud surface (dried, cracked mud like elephant skin) of Dead Vlei.
There’s nothing in the main part of the pan. Dead. Towards the open end there are dead trees. Everything dead. Except us! As there was excess water, the happy helpers poured it over our heads and in the breeze we were invigorated.

It’s really nice that it is only about 2.5km from the end of the pan to the finish. OK, so there’s some thick soft sand to deal with before the warm welcome from Terry, Nel and the other runners.

It has been a really good five days of running. For us everything had felt very smooth in terms of the running of the event and how well we’ve been looked after. I know that behind the scenes things can be crazy dealing with crises but in chatting to Nel he said how smooth it has been on their side too; marking the trails, the daily bus transport, the wonderful dinner spread and the small team of volunteers who make it all happen.

I also really want to commend the staff from Sossusvlei Lodge who have setup and manned many of the water stations. In next to no time they learned all our names and warmly welcomed us into each aid station. They handed us cup after cup of Leopard Piss and iced tea and assisted in pouring water into our backpacks. The kept slices of fruit on hand and trays of cookies at the ready. And always a word of encouragement or a smile as we headed out again.

My room for tonight at Sossusvlei Lodge. Lovely!
A bed! Gonna sleep well tonight ;)
With a small field of runners we’ve been a happily family of running comrades. A really good people and I’ve had friendly running companions in the form of Tony, Joe, English Dave and Botswana Dave at various points on the stages.

As I type this I’m sitting in a circle with the other runners, under the shade of the Camel Thorn tree at the Sossusvlei Lodge, enjoying refreshments. I think there’s award and such at 18h30 and then afterwards a dinner. We’re looking forward to a late night of chatting and chilling with new friends. We’ll climb aboard the bus at 7am in the morning to head back to Windhoek.

It has indeed been a wonderful treat for me to return to this race. I ran in the inaugural event in February 2009 and now I’ve run their 5th event. Both events are united by good organisation and wonderful warmth and hospitality. If you’re looking for an away race that is very sufficiently challenging but that doesn’t require you to lug kilograms on your back each day, then I can highly recommend that you put this one on your bucket list. It is not easy out here but it is very doable and the whole experience is one that you will treasure. Terry and Nel and your team – thank you and well done. An event to be most proud of.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Namib Desert Challenge: Stage 4

That’s the big one done. 55 long kilometres in the bag today.

We started on the road just inside the gate of the Sossus Nakluft Park, heading towards the Sesriem Canyon. This wasn’t in the long route four years ago so I was looking forward to seeing this popular tourist site. It was well worth running to – quite extraordinary especially when you consider that this canyon does indeed get flooded. Last year the course was diverted big time as the canyon was flooded and rivers on other sections were gushing. Nel, our camp manager and route marker, says that he has photos from last year, which I really want to see because it just seems so inconceivable that this dry, harsh landscape could ever be flooded.

Sesriem Canyon. That's Joe ahead of me (I could catch him today!). Lovely shade.
The first waterpoint came up really soon. We think about 7km instead of 9.5km. It was in the canyon and a whole bunch of us were all together. I decided to take out the inner soles from my shoes to make more space, which worked really well. I’ll tell you more about this a bit later.

We got on to some hard pack and just ran, ran, ran across a vast, open area. This was very much the theme from today with many vast, open stretches.

By about halfway through the section from WP1 to WP2 I found myself at the back of the field. Two wee stops and one little-piggy-needs-attention stop had me chasing runners ahead. It’s amazing how much time it can take to reel people in. They may be moving slower overall than me but not substantially slower so catching takes time. I caught up with Lucy and then Deon and then John before the waterpoint where I found the father-and-daughter pair of Mike and Jennifer as well as English Dave and Botswana Dave.

I loaded up on liquids before hitting the dreaded tar section. 14km of tar from WP2 to WP3. We actually stuck to the side of the road, which was far more pleasant. By this time I’d caught English Dave (the same Dave from yesterday) and we made good time with my run-walk game. We ended up sticking together for the rest of the stage.

WP3 was very much the entrance to the duned area. Sossusvlei is like a funnel – broad at the mouth with dunes on either side many kilometres apart. And they close in further down. We kept to the right on a track that was mostly firm underfoot. 

Me, on the track to WP4.

Long track to WP4, which was at the base of the dune you can see in the distance to the right (or maybe a dune past this one?)
Getting closer to WP4. The band of trees on the right... they line the riverbed of the main stream feeding into Sosussusvlei.
Thank goodness for the warm breeze that was far more cooling than no breeze would have been. We moved well through to WP4 – the last waterpoint of the stage (at about 44km).

Howz this? A mini red sand dune across the original track - the route to WP4. The path diverts to the left of the photo.
From here we definitely slumped. We ran a few little bits but overall just walked the last 10-odd kilometres to the finish, which was hard work. We still, fortunately, had the wind but we were going straight into it. Better than no wind but a push from the back would have been a treat. 

On our way to the finish, shortly after leaving WP4.
It must have taken us 90 minutes to reach the finish, at the base of Dune 45. We ascended the dune – a definite highlight – and enjoyed looking back at where we’d come from earlier in the day. Vast!

Me with English Dave on top of Dune 45. A stage well done!
WP 4 was at the furthermost dune on the end of the row on the left. Yes, far in the distance. We're helluva high up. That was just the last 10-11km! If you follow the footprints on the dune you'll see a black dot to the left (tree) and to the right there's just a fleck - that's a regular-sized bus!
Argi took the stage win. Marius was second, Stephan third, Paul in fourth and Asa in 5th. Christine was first lady again, with me in second (but probably a good half hour – or more – behind her).

We’ve only got a short, 28km stage tomorrow.

The shoe thing...

OK, so I’m wearing my regular trail shoes – my third pair of this exact same model and I've been wearing these shoes for more than a decade - through many, many versions. When I put them on about two weeks ago I thought they were a little tight – but brushed that off as the shoes being relatively new.

Here’s my theory... For almost a year I’ve been running in both minimalist road and trail shoes. For about the last two months I’ve had a sneaky suspicion that my feet are a half-size bigger; but I wasn’t sure, especially as I mostly wear my older trails shoes if I’m not wearing the lean-and-mean ones – and they’re on their last legs.

So, my piggies have been feeling a little squished. Not overly so but enough that my little piggies have made triangle toes – something I’ve avoided for a good few years. And now I have proof that shoes that are a little squishy cause triangle toes!

I was debating whether to take out the inner soles from the start, but it didn’t feel right. By waterpoint 1 it was a good move. My piggies like their space. The only thing... taking out the inner sole turned my shoes into a minimalist shoe feel. 45-odd kilometres in minimalist shoes over sandy and, often, rocky terrain... Yes, my feet are feeling quite tired this evening.

Overall there are some runners with not great feet but for the most part they’re still standing, still walking and mostly still running. We’re all doing pretty ok.

The other thing for this post...

My 40:30 run-walk strategy. It rocks! Dave was running with me from waterpoint 2 and certainly for a good 30km we used this a lot. Provided you start walking earlier than later then you’ve got the strength and energy to walk strongly and then kick it up a notch to run with good speed for 40 paces. The key really is in keeping the runs to the 40 paces. You’ll feel like you can do more – and you should feel that way – but the point is that you don’t want your heart rate to climb nor your legs to feel tired. The short 30 pace walk is about recovery so that you can pick up the pace again. AdventureLisa’s 40:30 run-walk strategy. You read it here first. Ba-ba-ba-boom. *grin*

Finally, I’ve been told by the runners not to tell you about the fabulous showers at the camp, which we look forward to after the stages to get rid of the grit and grim. Nor should I tell you about the three course meal spread brought to the campsite by the Sossusvlei Lodge staff for our dinners. They don’t want me to tell you or you’ll think they’re having this cushy holiday with a bit of running each morning. So, I won’t say another word... ;)

That’s it for tonight. It is about 20h15 as I type this line and I’m the only one around now. The other runners are in their tents or nearly in their tents. These days are tough and hot so by 20h30 our eyes can barely stay open. Having a good 9-10hrs to sleep and rest is a treat – and we need very minute.


Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Namib Desert Challenge: Stage 3

Third stage, done. We’re over halfway now, which is a nice thought.

Let’s see... The start of today’s stage was different to that of four years ago. I remember starting at the top of a valley... today we were on a jeep track heading into a valley. At first glace the track looked all cool with decent terrain underfoot most of the way. Except that it was slightly up; so slight that most of you wouldn’t term it up, but we feel it now. I probably ran for about 25 minutes before my first walk... yesterday it was an hour-odd, as was the day before.

I hooked up with Joe, my companion from the last stretch yesterday, and we did the run-walk thing together. With many bushes around we’d run from bush to bush. Joe got into the groove too, calling “Bush to bush” or “Bush to tree”. It’s quite fun and we make steady progress.

And then, up ahead, we saw our Greek Champion, Argi, running towards us! He said he’d run all the way to the buildings at the end of the road (and top of the valley) and hadn’t seen any signs. He’d turned around but on his way back to us he didn’t see the following trio of Marius, Stephan and Asa so he knew they must have turned off somewhere.

Within a few minutes a bunch of us had collected. Out came the phones to get hold of Terry. By this time we were moving forward again as none of us had noticed a track leading off. Terry said that about 500m before the buildings there was a sign pointing to a track on our right. Within a short distance we noticed some stones across the road. Argi had just left our group and was about 50m ahead. I looked to the side and found the pink direction arrow face down, the stick to which it was attached broken in half. We whistled for Argi and brought him back to us and the track we were to take.

I thought the stick looked a bit gnawed buy discounted it, thinking instead that maybe a car had driven over the sign, breaking the stick. Terry and Nel went to check it out and seems the consensus is that something like a h.y.a.e.n.a. gave the arrow a gnaw. Nel said he found another arrow ahead of the runners that was AWOL. Perhaps hyaenas like pink?

The track we turned on to I enjoyed, because it was gently downhill. And, Argi was running with us for a bit. I’d said to him last night that he should start three hours after us so that he can not only enjoy the heat of the day but also so that we can see him in action. He just laughed.

We hit waterpoint 1 after about 15km and I downed some Leopard Piss and iced tea. I’d been feeling hungry so I also munched some salted crackers from my backpack and a plum and two cookies from the waterpoint. Needless to say, I waddled off and had to walk for a bit to let all the liquid and munchies descent. I’d taken a bit too much onboard. Joe and Dave left the waterpoint just ahead and they were gaining ground quickly as I was walking and they were running. The other Dave (English one) was just ahead of them.

The one thing about knowing people are just ahead of you is that it becomes a game and focus to catch them. I started to feel human again after about 4km and so I started the chase.

I first caught English Dave. He’d been walking for a while and I overtook him. Behind me I think he hopped on to my run-walk game because he got to the waterpoint no more than a minute after. 

English Dave with stone arrow
We’d gained ground on Dave and Joe – they were leaving waterpoint 2 as we approached. This section had been on a fairly decent track – some sand but mostly rocky. Small rocks. You’ve got to watch every foot step but it is way nicer than thick, energy-sapping sand.

English Dave and I stuck together after waterpoint 2. He liked my run-walk game and he was good company.

The route gets interesting from waterpoint 2 as it winds first on a track and then across a riverbed (one big and a few smaller) and into some interesting rocky features. Here Dave and I caught Charles, who said that he’d run the first 25km and now was most definitely walking through to the finish. He’s dealing with some blisters, which were obviously giving him trouble. And then we caught Joe, just before the section where we head cross-country, as-the-crow-flies, to the third and final waterpoint, which we could see about 4.5km away in the distance.

Photo opportunity just before we caught Charles and Joe.
Most of the morning had been relatively mild. And by mild I’m talking about 32C. It’s mild compared to 42C, which we’ve been experiencing. Asking around the table this evening most reckon that they probably drank about 6 litres today vs 8 litres yesterday.

The three of us trekked over dry, grassy tussocks and rocky ground to the waterpoint just in time to see Dave (from yesterday) leaving. 

Grassy, rocky ground. More grassy and rocky in most sections except where I took this photo...
More Leopard’s Piss and iced tea and we were off, knowing we only had 6km to the finish.

Leaving WP3. Only 6km to go... (turned out to be about 4.5km). Yay!
Run, walk, run, walk, run, walk and we were there! We really did well over this last section. Great feeling. I forgot to stop my timer but I think we covered the 44km distance in about 6h30.

My companions- Joe (blue) and English Dave (orange).
Later I chatted to Marius who said, “As Argi so kindly missed the turn and ran extra distance, I won the stage”. He ran about 4hrs. It’s a nice one for him regardless as he has run so well each day, coming in second to fleet-footed Argi. “I was looking over my shoulder the whole time,” he says, “just wondering when Argi was going to catch me.”

Second was Asa, then Argi and then Stephan. Argi was obviously frustrated when we met up with him but he chased hard and is in good spirits.

A few thoughts on management and maintenance at this stage of the race, where we’ve covered about 135km in three of the five stages.

Staged racing is very much about taking care of yourself from day 1. If you don’t drink enough, eat enough or take care of your feet and body then you’ll feel it later on. Maybe not that day or the next but it will get you. Simple.
There are blistered feet around and injured toenails. I haven’t really been keeping an eye on people to see what they’re doing. I just hope that they’re doing something. A big mistake is waiting until the end of a stage to deal with blisters that develop before the first waterpoint. Management is within the run as much as at the end of the day’s stage.
I’ve got a couple of management habits, developed over many years.

During the stage I’ll deal with any blisters as best as possible. Yesterday my little piggy toe on the left started to feel a bit off. I haven’t had a blister under it for ages but it usually results when the little toe makes a triangle shape, which it had been doing. So, I drained the small blister and put a bandaid around it, aiming to prevent it getting worse. Also, when it is hot like this I like to powder my feet quickly at the waterpoints. Just baby powder. It acts as an anti-perspirant keeping the skin dry (reducing moisture) and it also acts as a lubricant – providing a smooth barrier for skin to slide easily over skin (preventing friction). I haven’t had to deal with much more than this.

Then, when I get back to camp I shower, being sure to scrub my feet clean – between the toes too, which is where fine sand loves to settle. Then I check out my feet, remove tape, massage them (stimulate circulation) and also massage my legs with arnica oil.

In checking out my feet this afternoon I noticed a slight blister under the big toenail on my left foot. I hadn’t even felt it but this is a nasty that has the potential to be incredibly painful on the long stage tomorrow. I drilled into the base of the toenail using a syringe needle, which is bevelled at the bottom. Before you grimace at the thought of the pain, know that it isn’t sore at all because the needle only goes through the nail (no nerves) and doesn’t touch the nailbed (nerves) because the nail is essentially floating on the fluid-filled blister. Relief is immediate as the fluid empties. There are two types of toenail blisters, this is one of them. I’ll save you from the details of the second – for now. I’ll add some tape in the morning to secure the toenail and limit movement.

While I’m massaging my legs I’m eating my noodles and drinking more electrolyte solution.

Then I spend the rest of the time sitting with my feet on a chair. Prive #1 would be to lie in my tent with my feet elevated but it is too hot.

Before I go to sleep I drain any blisters, massage again – feet and legs, have another glug of electrolyte solution, pop two myprodol and pull on compression socks. Then I sleep with my feet elevated.

Ah, the other thing is chaffing. I often chafe on my back, under my sports bra. On day 1 I taped the spot where it rubs under the closure. Yesterday I added another piece of tape under where the straps criss-cross. Today my backpack was rubbing my lower back. Not quite a chafe. I kept moving my pack so it wasn’t sitting in the same spot. Christine says she had the same today. Certainly a result of salty, gritty clothing and a wiggling dirty, sandy, sweaty backpack.

Tomorrow is the BIG day. 55km. I heard this evening that we’ve got a 15-20km section on the tar road (or just next to the tar road, which will be cooler) leading in to the finish. Arrrggghhh! That sounds long and hot!

Till then...

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Namib Desert Challenge: Stage 2

This second stage is probably the hardest of the five because it is so open and exposed from the beginning. Not to say that you are not pummelled by the sun and the elements on the other stages but what makes this one tough is the... the expanse. Big, long, open sections.

There’s a big queue of cars at the gate to the Sossusvlei Park in the morning; tourists waiting for the gates to open at 7am. We hopped on the bus at 07h15 and got through easily after the rush.

Today’s 42km section started from the base of the Elim dune -  a massive dune classified as ‘living’ for the grasses growing on it. The jeep track from the start took us on a slight uphill for kilometres – running through a grassy plain. This later start (around 07h45 vs 07h00 yesterday) meant that it already felt warm when we set off. No sign of yesterday’s slight nip.

After an up does indeed come a down – a lovely long stretch of good running. It feels great to get in as much distance as possible in the morning before the sun eats you alive but it was certainly still two hours to the first water point at around 15km. I took this photo about three kilometres before the waterpoint – I did say the area was open and exposed!

An open section to waterpoint 1.

At the waterpoint I loaded up on this nasty home-made electrolyte solution. Tony calls it ‘Leopard’s Piss’. It does go down well and we’re all doing well on it. Today I had to block my nose to drink down the whole cup... I chased it with a refreshing cup of iced tea. In fact, at every waterpoint now I’m enjoying the iced tea (and Leopard’s Piss – sometimes two cups!). Makes a nice change from water. I'm not sure what it in it other than salt and some sugar. There are definitely other ingredients.

From waterpoint 1 we headed across a flat, open grassy plain and then across a pan. A lot of nothingness. Hot already. The next waterpoint was only about 9km from the first so we hit it quickly. By this stage Joe and Dave. They’d been hunting me down for kilometres (I’d left the waterpoint a bit before them). They were running non-stop while I was doing my walk-run thing. I run faster than them but they catch me up when I’m walking.

An arrow pointing to WP2.
We hit the waterpoint together and loaded up on more fluids before heading out. I tried to pull out time on them on the dunes – very sandy track winding mostly up, up, up - and while I made a gap it was only a few minutes so we saw each other at the third and final waterpoint. 

View after leaving waterpoint 2, which is at the bottom of the hill and to the left.
This was a sneaky waterpoint because you see it from a distance away but it takes a good chunk of time – certainly 45mins – to get to it. Goodness!

I left only just before the guys and after two or three kays they caught me and passed. I kept them in my sights and found it fun to do the chasing instead of being the chased. It turned out well because the lads started lagging as the temperatures soared. I was feeling quite the same but was really ready to kick this stage in the butt. So I hauled them in and invited the guys to join in my ‘game’ so we could crack the stage together.

My game was to run for 40 paces and to walk for 30 paces. Although these numbers look odd to you, they have an orienteering background for me. In pacing distances I cover 100m in 40 paces and the same distance, walking, in 60 paces. So, each run-walk set is essentially 150m. That’s a nice was to tick off the distance.

It was great having Joe and Dave’s company and we really cooked those last few kilometres. What has been great is that over the last nine-kilometres or so there has been Terry or Nel driving around to keep an eye on us – with water on board. So we’ve been able to top up on liquids. And we did. With temperatures kicking at over 42C, we were packing away volumes of fluids today. I estimate that I drank about 6 litres of water from by reservoir and then three big cups (maybe 300ml each) at each water point. And then I topped up with more water from Nel and I also downed about 500ml from a bottle from Terry – about 1km from the finish. And then more at the finish.

We were greeted with a warm welcome at the finish and as we’d just missed the bus shuttle back to came, we took advantage of icy refreshments, cookies, orange slices and a comfortable mattress under a gnarled Camel Thorn tree.  Lovely just to lie there and shoot the breeze with my running companions.

With my companions from the last couple of kays. Joe on the chair and Dave to my right.
We’ve been back at camp for a while now – showered and fed and watered. All the runners are in.
There are been a few drop outs – mostly with flare-ups of recent/existing injuries. They’ve all made really good decisions not to continue and we’ve seen them out on the route assisting at water points of cheering us on from vehicles. A lovely vibe from the runners.

Dinner last night was superb. They bring it over from the Lodge. We’ll be in for another treat tonight and tomorrow and the next night... Totally spoilt with soups, salads, veggies, braai stuff and dessert. Yes, dessert too!

Ah... a correction from yesterday... Canadian Caroline is Canadian Christine! Not sure how/where I got it in my mind that her name was ‘Caroline’. I’m with the programme now.

At the front of the race is still Argi. He ran the stage in 3h28. Marius was second again - about 20-30 minutes behind. He says he had an easier run today as he knows Argi is so out of range that there really is no need to chase him so Marius can rather focus on his own run as Argi runs off into the distance. He’s really quite something. Third was Asa, who caught the German runner, Stephan. (Stephan was third yesterday, not Asa).

I don’t know any other positions, not even my own other than second lady. I don’t know how far off Christine I was yesterday nor today. She’s a solid, steady runner and most certainly faster than me at a run. Once she’s ahead of me I just can’t close down the distance and instead I have glimpses of her in the distance.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Namib Desert Challenge: Stage 1

Three letters. We knew it would be. H.O.T. Actually, the morning from the 07h00 start was perfect for running. Cool. From 09h00 it was quite warm. From 10h00 it turned quite very warm. From 11h00 it was getting seriously warm and from 12h00 is has be absolutely frikkin’ cookin’. At about 13h00 my wristwatch read 36C. Personally I think my body temperature was cooling the reading from reality. It’s always different to knowing that it is going to be hot to experiencing the heat. Yes, quite different.

This first stage started into the sunrise. Slight mist across the grassy plain. 

I was running with good company in the form of Caroline, a runner from Canada. We stayed together for about an hour until I made a pitstop – I couldn’t catch her after that although I could see her in the distance. She has a really smooth, easy and relaxed style.

From the plain we headed up and over one of the mountains here on a quad bike / 4x4 track. Luckily the shade was on our side but fast disappearing.

Something I’d forgotten about was the elegant water points. They’re set up by the Soussusvlei Lodge and manned by Lodge staff, who are so friendly and helpful. They help to fill your bladders, offer water and this crazy salty electrolyte solution and a very delicious iced tea. I’ve taken a shine to the latter solution. There are also orange and apple slides, cookies and bananas. I just keep to the ‘nanas.

That's Joe in front and I think that's Dave in the orange top and I'm not sure how the other guy is...
Not long after the first water point we hit a sandy river bed. We’d been told this wasn’t a desert gaiter stage today. It certainly was! We’re actually chatting about it now in the shade of the dining tent in camp. We must have been through a good 10km plus today of sand. We’re all going to wear sand gaiters every day from now on, even if they say it isn’t a sandy day. Maybe not as sandy as the desert stages, but still sandy. This is going to be a running joke and we’re setting up people every evening, during briefing, to ask Terry whether the next day is a ‘gaiter day’.

After plodding through a sandy section, Tony and Deon came past me. Both trip-trapping through the sandy - trotting like ponies. I'm a lazy bum when it comes to sand and I settle into a walk usually but I thought I'd up the pace and run the sections. GREAT decision! Although I know it is easier, often, than walking, it's usually that little extra effort required to run that I slack on. But, what you lose on the slide you gain on the roundabout and this is the case of running through sand. I did really well with it today (pretty chuffed) and so I'll aim to keep up the momentum tomorrow.

The second water station is where I discovered the iced tea. A great taste change.

And then a long slight uphill jeep track. Up, up, up. Tony and Deon left the water station before me so I had people to chase. 

Tony still ahead of me in the distance. Not for long though with my cunning run-walk strategy.
I caught Tony not far from the top and we both overtook Deon at the bottom of the mountain. At the top, Tony and I took photos before ambling down.

Tony - he's a climber, Seven Summitter, skied across Greenland last year... we have much to talk about this week.
This long open road to the finish I recalled from previous – and not with any fondness. I think it helped knowing what I was going into. I rocked it for the first couple of kays and really, really felt it on the last three kays, which were cooking. Tony and I had been with each other for a while and then he began to feel the heat so we parted ways. He recovered well and came in 10 or 15 minutes behind me at the finish. I think I ran just under 6hrs.

Today’s winner, Argi (Argyrios with a long Greek surname starting with a ‘P’), is a Greek chap living in England. Totally made for running. I think he had a third place at Atacama Crossing (seven-days, staged) and when he ran Marathon des Sables in 2006, his first staged ultra trail race – coming from a ski mountaineering background – he placed 35th. Nice pedigree. He ran a 3h20 stage. Elegant.

As I type this it is 17h50 and my wristwatch, in the shade (off my wrist) reads 36C.

We’re in for a cooker tomorrow. I remember it being quite a flat and open stage. Nowhere to hide...
Of interest... there will be another running of this event in September and thereafter the race will annually be in September instead of March. Conditions will be similar though – still hot. Hahahaha.

We’re got a good mix of runners with some South Africans, some runners from Botswana, an ex-SA who lives in Malawi, an English lass (Lucy was here last year too), the Canadian Caroline, the other English guy Charles and American couple from Colorado and a dad-and-daughter from Arkansas. Ages probably range from late 20s to late 50s. A really nice group of people. I think there are about 29 runners.

There were more runners last year and this too is reason for the race moving to Sept. Terry said they had so many enquiries and a bunch of other runners who paid the deposit but asked to move it to this year as the is Argus and Two Oceans and then Comrades coming up. September should prove to be a really good time for this event. It’s a good one.

Till tomorrow.

[QUICK UPDATE] - second today was Marius - from Cape Town. And third was Asa. He's the ex-SA living in Malawi. Turns out he's a year ahead of me in school and he went to Jeppe Boys, a school up the road from me (I have many friends who went to Jeppe - small world).

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Namib Desert Challenge: The night before...

This morning I met up with other race participants at the Thule Hotel in Windhoek. Lots of vibe and a nice, friendly group of people. From here we caught the bus to Soussusvlei. It's a long trip of about four hours but made pretty comfortable in an air-conditioned bus and on a really good quality, hard-packed, recently graded dirt road.

We spent a bit of time at the Lodge doing kit checks before heading off to the nearby campsite. It's not the campsite I've been to before - next to the Lodge - but another a short distance away. Seems really new as the shower setup is glorious.

View from the shower. The cold water is a bit warm, but lovely. The breeze blowing through dries better than a towel.
We all been assigned our own tents and we're nicely settled in.

This evening we came over to the Lodge for a pre-race briefing and we're also here for a delicious buffet dinner.

Race briefing went smoothly - no surprises. We're being really well looked after. Super to see race director Terence Southam (Terry) again and also Nel, who is the campsite manager and also a route marker. Nel was here four years ago - so he's another familiar face.

The runners. A friendly group. We're going to have a great week.
We sitting under a Camelthorn tree playing cards while we wait for dinner. Charles (from the UK - like the Prince) brought cards with him. He's teaching us a new game. I can see some good card challenges coming up... Good thing I realyl enjoy playing cards.

We've got a good 42km stage coming up tomorrow. Looks very much similar to the first stage route in 2009. I seem to recall some really fabulous terrain and views but a very long and hot 10km from a vista to the finish. I remember slogging before. Tomorrow I'm going to wax it ;)

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Namib Desert Challenge: Arrival in Namibia

Well, I'm in Namibia. Windhoek to be exact. It's a quick two-hour flight from Jo'burg and I arrived to lovely, warm weather. I had a window seat - my favourite for daytime flying - and I got to really oogle the land below as we had clear skies most of the way. I spotted an area that looks soooooo interesting with a bunch of dirt roads and possible trails. I think it is still within SA borders so when I get back I'm going to Google Earth fly to find it. May have potential as a run location...

I'm staying at a B&B in Windhoek, Londiningi - I think the suburb is Eros. Pleasant place, nice room and friendly people. I also had a really good experience making my booking (B&B and airport transfer) through the quirky named Cardboard Box Travel Shop and a friendly lady named Anita. Very prompt and efficient.

This suburb seems to be the medical hub of the city with clinics and specialists and doctors' practices all over the place. I picked this spot based on its location and proximity to the hotel from where the bus leaves tomorrow at 11 - Thule Hotel. I'm a 14-minute walk away; I checked this afternoon when a took a walkies up there. In fact, I walked the suburb flat to stretch my legs and take a look around.

Of course I'd prepped a map with the location of my B&B and the location of the hotel, for tomorrow's departure. Where would a girl be without a map? Lost, I tell you.

I think I read my race instructions a bit funny. I kinda thought that we had to carry our stuff with us on the runs, with the exception of food for coming days and sleeping bags. As it turns out we only have to carry compulsory equipment - like whistle, space blanket, knife, compass etc - and the rest we can leave in our assigned tents. We had something like this last time; and it is nice (I'm getting soft!). So, I threw in an extra set of running clothes. Two sets is more than enough. And, I threw in more socks - can never have too many socks.

I probably could have loaded up with more food; more variety and heavier stuff. But, realistically I know how much I'll eat and what I like eating on the run so I think my bases are covered.

I've met three runners. When I got off the plane I spotted a fellow passenger and thought, "He's one of us". Turns out, he was. It was the running shoes (road shoes though) and sleeping bag in hand that gave him away. We were standing next to each other in the passport queue and I'd seen him checking out my shoes. He in fact asked me if I was running. The velcro stitched around my shoes for desert gaiters totally gave me away.His name is Deon and he's also from Jo'burg. Turns out we had the same cab booked to take us to our respective B&Bs.

Deon first heard about this race about 18 months ago and so it has been on his mind a long time. Its the first staged race that he's ever done (possibly first trail-type race?). He asked me if I had any advice for him. Three tips were first to mind.

One: Walk. Walk because you want to, not because you have to... In essence, walk early on and mix in walking and running. And when you walk, walk properly. Not Sunday stroll in the mall.

Two: Keep moving. Doesn't help to sit in any square of shade you can find and feel sorry for yourself. Walk, jog, run - just keep going.

Three: Take care of yourself from Day 1. If you skimp on drinking or food on one day it will bite you on the bottom the next day or the next.

Standing at the passport control counter the officer next door to mine asked the chap at the counter how long he was staying. "Seven days," he replied. I asked, "You running too?". He is. His name is Ivan and he's here with his wife Lauren. She's also running. I didn't chat to him but sounds like they're from the US.

I'm really looking forward to meeting other runners tomorrow.  I don't know who is running but there is sure to be a face or two that I recognise. I'm also looking forward to seeing the race organiser, Terry. He and his team did such a good job with this race in 2009 and I have every confidence that they'll be on form this year with an interesting route and friendly hospitality.

In the in-flight magazine on the plane (Kulula/BA flight) there was an interview with Johnny Clegg. I really liked this comment from Johnny.

A very good thing indeed.

Until tomorrow.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Metrogaine Jo'burg - Sandton (11 April 2013)

Metrogaine Jo'burg is all sorted thanks to a friendly and welcoming Sandton Sports Club in Parkmore. I spent most of yesterday scouting for control locations and checking out road closures. I've started to draw the map and will finish scouting and map drawing when I get back from Namibia at the end of the month.

Early bird entries (R90/pair) are valid until 31 March. From 1 April it is R110/pair. That's still only R55 per person. Good deal!

I hope to see you there.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Pretty Run Wraps

I’ve always thought that running skorts are too cute – but they’re often too short and I don’t like those inbuilt shorts or undies. My skilled and talented mom has come up with this fabulous ‘Run Wrap‘, which evolved from me wanting a sweet running skirt and her friends wanting something they can wrap over gym pants to cover their bottoms: perfect for going in and out of the gym and also for popping into the shops after an exercise session.

I wear my skirt over lycra shorts or 3/4 leggings and I just tuck it into the waist band. Easy.

The fabric is light and great for runs or walks. This fabric, which is 96% bamboo and 4% elastin (for stretch), drapes beautifully and makes a convenient and pretty cover-up.

These skirts are available in Dove Grey with feature stitching in pink or lime.

This skirt is most suitable for 34-36 size - I don't believe in one-size-fits-all - because it doesn't! We will be scaling the pattern for smaller and larger sizes.
Price: R285.00
Postage and packaging (once the postal strike is over!) is R30. I will hand-deliver to events that I'm attending.
If you'd like one, please contact Liz at

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Packing for Nam.

I'm off to Namibia on Saturday for the 5th Namib Desert Challenge, a 230-kilometre, five-day staged foot race.

I fly into Windhoek on Sat and I'm staying at a B&B near the hotel from where the race bus departs on Sunday. We drive to Soussusvlei -  a long, long drive - and we start running on Monday.

Daily distances
Monday: 42km
Tuesday: 46km
Wednesday: 44km
Thursday: 56km
Friday: 28km

What I most remember from then I ran the inaugural edition of this race in 2009 was the incredible variety in terrain. Rocky hills, open plains and, of course, the desert dunes. I really loved seeing gemsbok out there. There's a nice description of the terrain of each stage on the race website.

As always I haven't done any specific training for this run. I just jump in and do it. My training through Dec, Jan and into mid-Feb was solid and I've been running steady and well with nice mileage weeks. In the week of tagging the routes for Forest Run (two weeks ago) I spent about 26 hours on my feet over three days - and about 80km. That was good for my feet. This week I'm just ticking over with 6-8km local runs.

With races like this I find the first day to be the hardest and I usually enjoy the longest day the most.

I've been short on sleep for a couple of weeks and on the go non-stop so this week I'm taking care to chill out and to sleep good, full nights. Luckily I have a low-intensity week on the work front, which helps.

We sleep in tents provided by race organisation and they will also hang on to our sleeping rolls and sleeping bags - fortunately we don't have to carry these with us.

We do have to carry any and all clothing with us throughout the race. I've decided to go with 3/4 tights, a short-sleeved top and armies for my race attire - topped off by my wide-brimmed hat. The more skin that can be covered up, the better. Plus, of course, sunblock and shades. My mom has made me quite a funky pair of desert gaiters, which will easily deal with the sand.

For post-run I've packed a pair of shorts (light weight) and a tee for sitting around in. I'll sleep in these too. I've also got a long-sleeved thermal as it can get chilly in the wee hours of morning - especially when your body's thermostat goes a bit wonky after a long day of running and high temperatures.

I love having fresh socks each day but this time I'll only pack in three pairs... I'll wash used socks each day. Same goes with undies and only two crop tops.

There's the usual stuff to pack like space blanket, knife, whistle, headlamp, compass etc. In addition I'll take a trekking pole. While two are nice I've usually got something in a hand - map / route instructions / food.

I've got my small race camera packed too. That's probably it for gadgets...

And then there's the question of two-litre water reservoirs...

My old faithful Camelbak bladder, which I've had for about eight years, has a little hole. I'm going to try to patch it and will test it over the next few days. What concerns me is that the Camelbak bladder is old nowThis bladder weighs only 127g. The newer Nalgene bladder, from an Osprey backpack, clocks in at 328g - that's 200g more just for a water container!

My mom has my three-litre reservoir stashed somewhere. I'll weigh it when I get my hands of it. This one will definitely be lighter than the Nalgene-Osprey so it could be worth taking it but then only filling to the volume that I need...

I haven't decided on which backpack to use but I'm sure it will be my faithful Salomon backpack, which has been everywhere with me since 2006 (and I had exactly the same model in a different colour previously - ordered from the US in 2002). My other old 'n faithful 15l-expandable Salomon pack is probably going to be too small. I'll test once all my goodies are together.

We're being spoilt this year as dinner is provided. So we only have to pack in breakfast, during-the-run munchies and lunch. We only have to carry each day's food; not everything for the five days. This really lightens our loads. I haven't been strict on the weight of my foods; I'm on around 760g/day.

I've gone with an add-water cereal (with protein powder) for breakfast and two-minute noodles for lunch (one packet is too little, two is too much so I've got 1.5 packets/lunch). Snacks include my usual salty favourites like cornnuts, salticrax crackers and nuts with dried fruit (mango and home-dried banana) and a scattering of sweeties. I always pack sweeties but I rarely eat them; so there are just a few for each day.

I do like gels so there are some of these packed too. Howz this... I go shopping yesterday and I usually go for the Vooma gels. I like the taste of the peach one and they're usually around R11 each. I'm not into gels that are chocolate, strawberry, mocha and other such flavours. Anyway, there was not one of my Vooma usuals to be found; only what looks like their new extra boosted one (more fancy and expensive too) in the revolting flavours of chocolate something and mocha something. *retch*

To my surprise I found the PVM Octane gels, which I used to love but could never get my hands on. At R18.95 they're pricey, especially considering that the imported gels are the same price! I treated myself to two of the citrus (green) flavoured ones.

I then moved over to the Gu offering. Same-same there; also at R18.95/gel. Then, to my delight, I found the Gu Chomps, which I first tasted at the TransRockies Run in Colorado in August 2009. I wouldn't have bought them before because they're also pricey but at R35 for a sachet, which contains two servings of Chomps, it works out a little cheaper than gels. The texture of this gummy sweet is good and the flavours are not too sweet.

It is expected to be hot. Hotter than it was in 2009 when we were blessed with unseasonably mild conditions. It's 32C at Soussousvlei as I type this and expected to hit 36C on Friday and then cooling down into the high 20s during next week.

At the moment sunrise is only just after 7am and sunset just after 7pm. We'll have full moon on Wed, 27th. That's going to be amazing.

I will be writing from the race daily and posting pics. I'm sure I'll get some fabulous photos. Can't help but get great photos in this part of the world.