Monday, 27 January 2014

A 21km on road (Johnson Crane)

So, yesterday (Sunday) morning I ran my first road 21km distance certainly since the 30km road race that I did in Buenos Aires back in July last year. Aside from waking up at 04h20, it was a thoroughly enjoyable outing.

I got through to the Johnson Crane road race a little after 5am and already there were traffic queues all over the place. I got a decent parking and mom and I headed through to the field with our AR Club gazebo. On the field there were club gazebos everywhere and crazy long queues for race number pick-up, on-the-day entries and the porta-loos. We entered last weekend and got our race numbers at the same time - that saved us a lot of hassle on race morning. I was in for the 21; mom was in to do the 5km walk.

On the field Wiehan and Lizelle (friends and fellow club members) found us and we headed off to the jam-packed-crazy-with-people start out on the road. There literally were thousands and thousands of runners out there for the 21km and 42km courses. Mom said that there was an equally loaded start for her 5km walk (the 10km run may have started at the same time). There hasn't been an entry limit to this event - but there should be.

It took us two minutes to walk under the start banner and the first kilometre certainly wasn't done any faster than eight or nine minutes. Wiehan left us not long after the start; Lizelle and I stuck together for the whole race.

We raced the last Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge together in Dec 2010 and we haven't seen much of each other for ages. She now has a one-year-old son.

We had a most superb run and much of it was spent chatting to each other and chatting to other people. I had my Forest Run 'advert' pinned to my back (a tag with name of event, distance, date, venue, website etc). Lots of people asked about the event - the terrain, distance, water points... Loads of discussion happening. We also spoke to some people about adventure racing and orienteering. Phew... almost more talking happening than running!

The kilometres clicked past and next thing we were at the finish - our cool medals in hand. I'm not one for medals... but I do like this design.

One of the ladies that we chatted to said that at her club they can all donate their medals from the year to a group collection, which goes to a children's unit at a hospital. The medals are 'awarded' to the children as needed.

I usually trash all but a few medals but I really liked this idea so I'll hang on to any that I get until year-end and then hand 'em over.

The early mornings kill me and inevitably I need a nap by early afternoon... But I'm enjoying the road vibe and hooking up with buddies on the road.

I've got orienteering this Sunday, the first of the new Urban Series events. Next road race is the 21km at the Pick 'n Pay event on 9 Feb.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Lots of runners at first AR Club Summer Series

What a great night last night! A superb turnout with over 80 runners at the first AR Club Summer Series event at Delta Park. These are navigation-based events where entrants have an hour to find as many controls as possible in the time. It is indeed wonderful to see people running all over the place, map in hand.

We've got another three of these events over the next few Wednesday evenings. There will be slight variations to each event.

Read about last night's event on the AR Club website and check out Fred's photos on the AR Club Facebook page.

Please remember to pre-register online so that we know how many maps to print - it really helps us a great deal. We don't print many extra maps (such a waste of money - and paper!).

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

What is 'expensive'?

I think it is expensive to pay R90 for a 21km road race at an event where there are 6,500 runners. While this often includes a t-shirt, I'm not there for the tee. I'm there to run. Race tees rarely a) fit, b) have a nice design or c) have a flattering cut (too long, too thick, no shaping). And it's around R130 to run a road marathon these days.

I also think it is expensive to pay R2,500 for a 40-odd kilometre trail run. But then the race has only got around 500 participants and it has tons of bells-and-whistles, if you like that kind of thing.

How about R4,250 for IronMan... a looped route... on tar?

And then there's the R23,000 per person for a staged mountain bike race...

As I've been promoting Forest Run to the road running community I've had a few people say, "That's expensive".

At R480pp, Forest Run is comparatively inexpensive - even compared to road running events with their thousands of runners.

At Forest Run runners receive a few goodies, like tea/coffee and muffing before the start, plus a sewn bag and a sustainable item at the finish (no medals, trophies or ugly tees on my watch).

There are only 150 runners (maximum!) so you really can run in peace and quiet, feeling like the forest is all yours.

It's a marked route... I spend three full days putting out route markers.

My marshals are treated like royalty because they're so crucial to the event - they're accommodated and (over)-fed for the weekend.

I have a medical crew on standby for the day.

And then there are all the other special bits that runners discover out on the course, which I don't advertise - because I love secrets and enjoy presenting the runners with lovely surprises. Lots of specialness at Forest Run.

Expensive is relative.

You can buy a cheap tee for R30 that doesn't quite fit right and where the fabric isn't that great and you trash it at the end of the season. Or you can buy a R180 tee that has quality fabric, a great design, good fit and will last you a few years.

That's the difference between Forest Run and any 'ol road race. The experience is remembered long after the race is done.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

First road race in... ages

This morning I ran the Bobbies 11km -  a nice 'n local road race not far from home. They moved the event from the Oriental Plaza area in town to Modderfontein, which made it a quick 10-minute drive to the race venue. Even though I arrived just after 5am, there was already a queue of cars to contend with and then a very, very, very, VERY disorganised and chaotic registration.

As a result the race started 30 minutes late and I'd hazard a guess that runners still were not able to register in time. There was one table with a few helpers, no signs (no instructions either and everyone was clueless), in a small area (inside), three different courses to enter for and thousands of runners was a recipe for long queues and not a lot of early morning happiness.

Nonetheless, in the queue, I chatted to people I knew and made a new friend - a lass new to running but also into pole dance.

The route itself was pleasant - with a nasty uphill through to the finish - and I ran with Gavin, a chap I met in person for the first time this morning - he's running Forest Run. I also saw a number of fellow Adventure Racing Club mates on the road as well as other people that I know - and that's always super cool.

I had a very easy and chatty and casual run. Just right.

I haven't run road races very often for a few years and while I don't intend to make it a habit, I do enjoy the social vibe and the positive energy of running. Goodness, in the 90s I ran races most weekends! Although I do love trail, road is nice and chatty as you can run next to people. Loads of chirping and commenting happens too.

I've been hanging at the recent road races - Dischem last weekend and Menlyn yesterday - to hand out Forest Run flyers. I haven't really considered the road-running community much but in fact, if you're looking for people not too scared of distance and ultras, then these are indeed the people to target, especially those hitting the marathons. I have a number of entrants who are doing Forest Run as training for Comrades. The timing is good, the course has the distance, it is scenic and off-road is more gentle on the body than tar.

These events are a good way to spread the word - I'll do flyers again at Johnson Crane next weekend. I'm running the 21 and would like to catch the marathoners afterwards.

Handing out flyers is a funny thing. A good number of people take flyers; I tend to too because then when I get home I look through them to see what is on. Some people brush off the people handing out flyers. Others say they have entered already - without even looking to see what the flyer is for (Pinocchios! I know they haven't yet entered Forest Run - they don't even know what it is) and others walk through with eyes cast down, pretending you don't exist. What do you do?

What I have really enjoyed are the one-on-one interactions with runners; meetin' and greetin'. I've met many really nice and friendly people over the past week. On the whole, that's runners - it's a wonderful community of people.

Friday, 17 January 2014

I feel good, do-do do-do do-do do (and Gilloolies hill invite)

Despite a bit of a coughy-nosey thing last week, I've had really good and comfortable runs this week. I'm almost back to feeling as good as I felt in July last year on my return from Argentina, where I ran plenty.

August to end-October were really bad running months for me. Sure, I still ran three times a week, but I was losing ground more than gaining any of it - too little sleep and too much stress didn't help at all. I've been clawing my way back since.

A big part of my recent feel-good gains is certainly related to my weekly hill sessions up and down Gilloolies, which I've been doing since late-November. Stands to reason. I felt so great in Argentina because I ran/walked hills almost daily and for long sessions.

Gilloolies is a wicked hill that overlooks the Gilloolies Interchange. The view from the top is extraordinary and on clear days you can see far North, far South, towards the airport in the East and over to Northcliff in the West.

A trail runs up and along the middle of the ridge. On the way up it is technical trail with rocks and loose stones. And it is steep. Very, very steep. I'd love to say that I 'run Gilloolies' but truth be told, I'm not running. I can't. Too steep. More like hard and fast trekking.

I've got a rock at the bottom that is my start and a rock at the top that marks my finish. The fastest that I've done an ascent is 6:30. It's not easy! I'm up to four repeats. Oh my lungs!

Going down is pretty tricky - even trickier than going up.

There's actually a double hump to the ridge; I usually just use the first (and worst) hump.

At the moment I'm there on Sunday afternoons. 16h30.

If you wanna join me this Sunday... ? (Edenvale bunch?)

Meeting point is in Morninghill. Parking on Fouchee Terrace. Bring water.

To get into Morninghill, take the River Road boom-gate entrance. Drive straight and over the little bridge. 2nd right into Sugarbush Road and 1st left into Le Grande Terrace. At T-junction turn right onto Fouchee Terrace. Park on the grassy spot (you'll see what I mean - the people mow the lawn here). From here I take a trail around and to the bottom of the front of the right - facing the Gilloolies Interchange.

If you're keen, rock up a few mins before 16h30 so we can get going on time. 

Bring a spare set of lungs.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Getting an education - online

I'm totally excited about two online courses that signed up for this month. There's a Spanish one, which starts tomorrow; and an English editing course that starts on the 23rd. Both courses run over four weeks.

This online course thing has really ballooned. Many top universities offer a variety of courses; as do other institutes and colleges. There's an incredible variety. Some are certificate courses; others are not. There really is something for everyone. From learning about jazz and poetry to learning languages, computer programming, design skills, art history, child education... there's so much available. And free too!

This website - Open Culture - seems to collate courses available from all over the place. They've currently got listings for Jan and Feb 2014 courses. You'll find courses presented on the sites below on Open Culture too - the sites below just have better presentation.

Useful sites include:

  • Coursera - bunch of US and global education partners
  • EdX - this site lists courses available from Harvard, Berkley, MIT, Boston and a bunch of other universities - not all US.
  • Udacity - they offer project-based online courses - technology themed.
The instructor for my Spanish course, which I start tomorrow, seems really organised. We've got to sign up for weekly forums where we speak to each other. We've got written submissions to do and various other elements. They use a lot of music and video to teach - a very interactive and online environment. Gonna be fun.

Let me know if you sign up for anything :)

Letting go (of data)

My faithful old laptop has been getting slower and slower and some new programs it doesn't handle very well. So, in early December, I got a new laptop but moving over to it has been challenging. I started off with loading software - that took about three days on and off. Goodness - the programes I always use that need to be downloaded and installed like iTunes and Adobe Reader and Google Earth... and then my licensed software like Office and Adobe Photoshop and OCAD and a bunch of others... it really is quite a process.

Over the festive period, at a lunch, we were all talking about new computers and setting them up and the one guy had such a great suggestion: dump everything on to an external hard drive and then  copy them on to the new machine only as you need files. The same goes with emails - dump them into a folder and search for the relevant one only when you need it.

I'm fine with files but it's my email that is the big issue. Good gracious! I've got quite a setup. There are definitely well over 100 folders and subfolders for various projects. These contain thousands of filed and saved emails... And that's not counting my inbox, which is almost on 1,500 messages. I try to cleanse it regularly, deleting daily and moving important messages to respective folders (yes, I have filters working too), but still they build up. Sure, 99% of them I don't need - but I do need to hang on to that 1% (somewhere in there!) and certainly there's content in 15% of the total that I'll search for over the next month or two.

I did a bit of an email folder cleanse last night and I found some filed and categorised emails going back to 2003 (very few) and others from the intervening years... oh dear. I highlighted them, closed my eyes and pressed delete.

I'd like to start with a clean slate so I'm doing the external hard drive dump and I'll leave old emails on my old machine - retrieving content as and when I need it.

It just seems so silly not to be able to let go of data - just in case I may need something in the next year or three. I remember doing some email cleanses where I'd open a blank document and copy 'useful information' from emails into the document. Know what? I've never opened a single one of these files!

My new machine has Windows 8. Some screwy people working for Microsoft these days to have come up with this one! Unfortunately my HP laser printer is not supported for Windows 8. Like not at all. Like no driver - nothing. It's the most fabulous printer and is about 10 years old now. I've searched the forums for a solution and the general consensus is "Buy another printer". I'll just have to print through my old machine because this printer is such a gem and I'm not going to let go of it any time soon.

This is my first post from my new machine. I've resolved not to do anything on the old machine other than refer to old emails and print. For the rest, it's bye-bye lovely Dell and hello Toshiba (and ghastly Windows 8 that drives me insane!).

Monday, 6 January 2014

Wanna be an astronaut? (make good decisions)

During this past week I started reading astronaut Chris Hadfield's new book. He's the guy who, a couple of months ago, rocketed to fame when he did David Bowie's Space Oddity song in space (guitar and singing), before returning to Earth. I subsequently watched a bunch of his YouTube videos - shot in the International Space Station - on things like how to brush your teeth in space, how they sleep, tears in space... His YouTube channel is well worth checking out as well as that of the Canadian Space Agency, which is where you'll find Chris' educational videos from the ISS.

I'd bought Chris' book - 'An astronaut's guide to life on Earth' - a few weeks ago but I only started reading it last week. In the first few pages of the book a few paragraphs caught my eye and I wanted to read them to my Polokwane students. I got to do this on Saturday morning, before the start of our final event. As it turned out, my timing was more than perfect. I'll explain.

In this section Chris talks about being a nine-year old boy and walking to a neighbour's house with his family to watch the moon landing. It was while watching Neil Armstrong that he knew that he wanted to be an astronaut. Walking back to their home, Chris looked up at the moon - 'no longer a distant, unknowable orb'. He knew what he wanted to do with his life. And then he writes:

Roaring around in a rocket, exploring space, pushing the boundaries of knowledge and human capability - I knew,with absolute certainty, that I wanted to be an astronaut.
I also knew,as did every kid in Canada, that it was impossible. Astronauts were American. NASA only accepted applications from U.S. citizens, and Canada didn't even have a space agency. But... just the day before it had been impossible to walk on the Moon. Neil Armstrong hadn't let that stop him. Maybe someday it would be possible for me to go too, and if that day ever came, I wanted to be ready.
I was old enough to understand that getting ready wasn't simply a matter of playing "space mission" with my brothers in our bunk beds, underneath a big National Geographic poster of the Moon. But there was no program I could enroll in, no manual I could read, no one even to ask. There was only one option, I decided. I had to imagine what an astronaut might do if he were 9 years old, then do exactly the same thing. I could get started immediately. Would an astronaut eat his vegetables or have potato chips instead? Sleep in late or get up early to read a book?
I didn't announce to my parents or brothers and sisters that I wanted to be an astronaut. That would've elicited approximately the same reaction as announcing that I wanted to be a movie star.But from that night forward, my dream provided direction to my life. I recognized that even as a 9-year-old that I had a lot of choices and my decisions mattered. What I did each day would determine the kind of person I'd become.

Chris then went on to become a pilot and then a jet fighter pilot and a test pilot and then an astronaut. I'm only 25% into the book - it's really interesting. Still lots of goodies to come.

For a week I'd watched my group eating vast quantities of food washed down with Coke. When we'd stop at the shops they'd buy large packets of potato chips. This is hardly unusual and it is what they've been taught and probably everyone around them - friends and family - do the same. I doubt that they are in contact with anyone who is either vegetarian or has an interest in nutrition. And certainly no one is going to tell them that too much sugar is bad for you long term and that you don't need to eat >3000 calories a day.

Even something as 'simple' as nutrition is about making good choices and decisions.

On Saturday morning I read this passage to my group. What they experienced during this week at the event can be brushed off and put in a box, or it can be a motivator for decisions in their lives - to travel, to be active... to broaden their horizons. And then off we went.

A teaching point from this passage came up during the after-prize-giving lucky draw. The first of my students to be called chose a small bottle of Amarula Cream from the range of items available. For those who don't know, Amarula is an alcoholic liqueur.

To me, the most desirable items there were First Ascent hipbelts - double and single bottle options. Other items were edible - wine, chips, choccies. Considering that none of my charges have hydration packs or hip belts or anything even close to this, I'd assumed that they'd go for these. They're R200 retail. I actually thought that they were even more because certainly in other brands you can end up paying up to R500 for a hipbelt. Crazy! And products like these are just not around in the environment from which these students come.

And then another of my students was called - and he too went for the Amarula. I could have kept quiet but instead I decided to say something to them. I told them that Amarula will last for a few tots that can be shared but that the hipbelt can be used for many years - for orienteering, for walking, for running... any time. I told them that they could swap the Amarula for a hipbelt but that they'd better do it now. And I asked, "Do you want to be astronauts?".

Both young men got up and made the swap. A few orienteers leaned over, tapping my guys on the shoulder to say, "I'm really glad you decided to change for the hipbelts".

Another was called - he chose the hipbelt. And then I was called. I chose a hipbelt too and gave it to one of my students.

I had a sit down a bit later with my oldest student - the one with the most experience - and I explained why the hipbelt was a better choice. I also remarked on what I'd observed during the week - eating tons of food, buying crisps... Is money better spent on these things or saved so that they can come through to Jo'burg to participate in events... We (the Orienteering Federation) cannot always pay for everything.

Two children were not able to make it. Mary told me that it was too expensive for them. Surprised I asked, "But we've paid for everything - all they have to pay for is food!". It was only after the week that I knew why food was so pricey. If you're eating meat twice a day and vast, unnecessary quantities overall of food (including about 12 x 2l Cokes (R13 each), Nespray milk powder (500g makes around 3.5l of milk and costs around R45 - the students requested this as they prefer it to real milk), Cremora for tea and coffee (R20/jar), hot chocolate etc), of course it is going to be expensive. They spend a considerable amount more on food than I do! And they hail from a 'supposedly' low-income community about 40km South of Polokwane.

Later on the drive back to Polokwane the topic of hiring cars and credit cards came out. Things being what they were, we had a brilliant teaching point from incidents prior to departure about maxed-out credit cards. I explained how the money isn't yours, how the bank is like a casino (they always win) and how much you actually end up paying because of interest. Same with store accounts.

And throughout the week, being an anti-litter fiend, I had a few opportunities to rectify littering issues. Even when dropping off the students at their homes on Saturday afternoon an opportunity presented and I hope that my earlier comment of "Just because everyone jumps off a cliff, does that mean you should too?" and my departing reminder that "This is your home. If everyone tosses rubbish on the floor, your home will be a rubbish dump. Do you want to live like this and who must clean up after you? Promise me, please, that you'll always put your rubbish in the bin. Decide whether you want to be an astronaut or not."

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Big 5 O - Day 5 (it's a wrap)

Well, that's it. A week of orienteering is now over and I'm ensconced in a B&B in Polokwane, ready to head home tomorrow.

This morning kicked off with the final event, a fast and hot and sweaty sprint through the Botanical Gardens in Nelspruit. It really is a beautiful property although I didn't take much time to enjoy it. I was the last starter of my group, so my runners were all in by the time I finished.

I had a good run with only one route that could have been more desirable. I ran past some of my group and wanted to hand over the car keys. I got distracted and ended up taking a slightly longer route around - not a biggie but in a sprint it's enough to lose a place.

My group did pretty well today. Tebatso had a come back on the middle course to not only beat Lesedi (who beat Tebatso on D3 and D4) but to also win the middle course overall. There were more participants on the short course today (about 9) and young Tseke was 3rd overall - no incorrect punching today. A clean course for Mary too.

Ephraim too had a clean run on his longer and more challenging W21A course - but he did make one very big bloops that cost him 10 minutes. He knows exactly what he did wrong and he did well to problem solve and fix the error. This obviously affected his placing substantially.

Unfortunately both Diketso and Juliet mis-punched a control - the same one (it must have been near their control) and so they were disqualified - but they said that the rest of their controls were all really good.

As you've read in my past posts, I'm immensely proud of my charges. Let's take a look at how they've done...

Mary - the teacher
Mary is the type of teacher who changes the lives of her students. This outing is a case in point. She has been to two previous  big O events - SA Champs in 2012 and GOC Champs in the middle of this year. She hasn't had much O success before and as she says, she previously couldn't find the first control.

Mary has had a sterling week! She has improved in leaps and bounds with her first big success being the clean course on Day 3 and another today. Unfortunately she just missed that last control a few metres from the finish yesterday.

I discussed her routes with her a few times during the week and she has good recall, is aware of features and she takes great delight in identifying them and finding her controls without a lot of searching.

She has a lovely hill near her home and she says there is a group who walks up it in the mornings and evenings. She's planning to join them to improve her fitness. I hope to see her moving up a level, possibly to Open Medium, the next time she joins us for an event.

Juliet - the student teacher
Juliet was a student teacher at Mary's school, Mpachue High. Mary identified her as being enthusiastic and interested in different things, like orienteering, and so she invited her along. And Mary was spot-on with her assessment. Juliet is quite a sweetie and she is up for anything.

On Sunday evening, before the start of the event, I did cone grids with the group. I think that may have been the first time she did them because she struggled with rotating the map. And the next day we were into the crazy rocky terrain of Kaapsehoop.

From that to completing the course on Day 3 - and winning Open Short on that day! She also had a clean course yesterday and today it was just the one mis-punch.

She told me her 'story' after Day 3. Story time is where I get the runners to take me through their routes control by control. By Day 3, Juliet's most successful day, she was already branching out and leaving the paths to straight-line to her controls across open area. Like Mary she has great recall and she's picking out the important features to lead her in to controls. Just lovely. She too is very chuffed with her progress this week.

I'm hoping that she'll start orienteering at her new school (I'm not sure whether she has one yet) and that this opens up the opportunity for some inter-school action on Ephraim's maps.

Both Mary and Juliet have spent big hours out there his week - even being out there for almost three hours on their Open Short courses. I'm really, really impressed with how both of them have done.

Ephraim - the mapper
Ephraim is our star map maker and he has the most experience of the bunch. He has been at the same events as Mary plus we have had him here for the School O Camp (I think it was) as well as a mapping course (Dec last year) and another recent mapping outing, with Nico, to advance his mapping skills. He's mapping on OCAD too now and his maps are beautiful!

Ephraim is also responsible to starting the Polokwane O Club - and he organised their first event last. He already has nine club members.

Ephraim ran all five days on the M21A course, which is a bit shorter than the Elite course but still technical. He had some tough runs but with big improvements daily. He ran with a tracker each day so we spent a good chunk of time each day overlaying the track on his map, comparing where he thought he ran with where he really ran and also looking at the errors (how and why they happened), alternative route options as well as all the good routes and why they worked.

Even comparing his Day 3 and Day 4 runs... very different with far less and much reduced hunting for controls - shown by tell-tale circles and squiggles - yesterday.

With such an amazing ability to map I'd expected his recall to be a lot better. It's definitely improving with the practise of drawing in his route after each event. I think that this activity definitely helps to focus attention in the field of paying attention to what is around you. He did do some really good routes yesterday in challenging forest terrain. I have no doubt that he'll continue to improve as he makes more maps and with more O event experience.

Tseke - Mary's son
Tseke is the youngest of the group - he turned 13 in November. I've met him a few times before and he hasn't shown that much interest in O. On Day 1 he punched his first control (on the path leading from the start), then four controls from other course. Then he saw a snake and ran back to the start and that was it for him.

So I'm thinking that he's just not into O and that he's here because Mary is here... but still I'm hoping that he'll find something in this sport to spark his interest.

He had a very near course success on Day 2 when he got all of his controls bar two just before the end. Talking through his route it seems that he really missed them by metres - not looking / seeing them.

And then success on Day 3. Was I pleased for him! And he looked like a cat that'd caught a bird. Really pleased with himself too. It was like seeing the light come on as young Tseke got into the groove and realised that he could really do this.

On Day 4 he, like many others, missed that  last control just before the finish controls and thus got a DSQ. Such a pity because he did so well with his other controls.

He did have a clean run today at the sprint AND he placed third. Whoop-whoop!

Tseke is a bit reserved but as he improved and realised that he could do this I was delighted to see him brightening up and settling in. I'm hoping that he'll take on a middle course next time.

Diketso - bubbly lass
Diketso was the first of the teens to get into my car on departure. She hops in, squealing with excitement, grabs my mobile phone and says, "I want to see your photos". Well, she later took a few photos of herself... I have lots of photos of my cat, some recent crochet projects, some flowers and veggies in my garden... And then she sees my water bottle, grabs it and says, "I'll have a drink" and proceeds to take a sip. Hahahaha. She's very vibrant and sweet. She goes into Grade 10 this year.

She has actually been fairly consistent with few hassles this week. She was bouncing for joy after her completed course on Day 3 - and she also had a clean run yesterday. Just the mis-punch today. I'd like to see her moving up to something more challenging like the middle course.

Tebatso - quiet and focused 
Tebatso, like Lesedi, took the place of other students who were meant to attend. And I'm so glad that we got him!

Tebatso is a good runner and his navigation is clean. Chatting through his Day 3 route I see that he's making good decisions and he pays attention to what is around him. Very little hunting for controls.

Like Diketso, not much drama from Tebatso. He had a really good run on the sprint today, cleaning up very nicely to win AND he also won the Open Short category overall. Nice. He definitely needs to go up a notch on courses to experience more challenging controls. I have no doubt that he'll take it in his stride. He seems to be a very chilled, considered and un-flustered character.

Lesedi - fast and competitive
Lesedi was roped in my Mary at the 11th hour. Thank goodness! What a talented orienteer and runner!
As he was taking the place of another runner he was on the Open Short course for Day 1 and Day 2. This was actually probably a good thing although he wanted to be on Open Middle. I like to think it gave him more of a cushion to get into the groove.

And into the groove he got! He ran Day 3 on Open Middle and beautifully completed the course. Like Tebatso he has a good recall and seemed to make few errors. He recognises features and can evidently run like the wind.

Although Tebatso beat him on Day 3, Lesedi flew through the Day 4 (longer) course. When I arrived at the finish the men there told me about one of my runners who completely obliterated the field. I haven't checked all of the results but he did something like 36 minutes on the course that other more experienced (albeit a bit younger) orienteers did in the 50s.

Today he was a bit off the pace but still I think he finished in 3rd.

He's also a quiet fellow but I can see the sparkle of competitiveness in his eyes.

I'd like to see both Tebatso and Lesedi running with trackers - I'm interested to see what they're doing out there. I'd like to see them doing much more O running.

So.... those are my charges and I'm immensely pleased with them.

One of the orienteers came up to me at the finish today and said that she has been manning water points and that without fail my group has been very polite and friendly and appreciative whenever she's seen them out there.

I've been living with them for a week and can attest to these teens being very well behaved and polite. A wonderful reflection on their school and parents. Mary says they also all do very well academically. They're hard-working and clever students.

Mary has had them in check too. She had a roster up with duties - like preparing breakfast stuff and washing dishes. And we were spot on time for our departure times every day. Perfect!

The only thing we have to work on with this group is night-time stuff. Goodness, I'm a sound sleeper and I haven't had an unbroken night of sleep this week. We've been in close quarters and on the first night, although we only had to leave at 08h30, my group were awake at 5-ish and some were talking and making noise (we only got to bed around midnight). We discussed this and decided that 1h30 before our departure time was wake-up time and that if people woke up before this they were to stay quietly in bed or go outside to enjoy the morning.

I think it was the next night that some had upset tummies after eating chicken that was a bit off. A noisy bathroom door being whipped open and closed (not one iota of attention being paid to trying to open and close it quietly - which, was possible) flushing loo and other sounds meant waking up a few times.

And then there was the sneezing and sorting and sinus clearing the one night with grunts and snorts following from about 3am to 5am... and then a 2am cell phone alarm, which was next to the sleeper but that I turned off - leaping from my top bunk. Why the hell is an alarm set for 2am? And then this morning another cell phone alarm going off at 4am... that no-one turned off - I think it turned itself off... I did explain that I'd spent five weeks in hostels in Argentina - with anything from three to seven roommate and that with comings and goings I wasn't woken up and that people generally go out of their way to be quiet and not to disturb those sleeping.

The final shock to my system was seeing the food eaten by my clan. Chatting to Mary this evening once we returned to her home I told her that I'd never seen so much food being eaten. She'd commented that she doesn't eat much... OMG - massive meals. I just don't know how they can handle the volume of food. Comparatively I eat like a bird!

Chicken or meat with every meal - lunch and dinner; load of pap (maize) or rice (and potato salad) and also some veg and salads. It's good food but just really large volumes - and then there are the glasses of Coke and potato chips... Quite an eye opener for me.

I stuck with easy no-cook salads, throwing in chickpeas or red kidney beans and hard boiled eggs. Good thing that I didn't plan to cook food and I wasn't hungry at all most of the time, surrounded by these big meals. I did explain that at home I do eat more variety but for convenience here, I was quite happy to eat mostly the same every day. Easy. They probably think I'm totally weird!

So, that was my week. Active and interesting. I especially found the coaching very satisfying and rewarding.I couldn't have asked for better or more enthusiastic students. A really wonderful group.

On the orienteering side I had superb navigational runs although I didn't find them physically tiring overall - partly because the distances are comparatively 'short' for me and because I did walk the gnarly terrain, only really running nicely over friendlier terrain - of which there wasn't much. But navigationally, I'm delighted with my routes and control finding. Just to speed up and also to head out of controls faster...

On Friday night I went for dinner with Tania and we talked over our routes. We took similar routes on Day 4 most of the time but Tania made a lot more mistakes and those of greater magnitude. But she ran harder and faster and so overall was a minute faster or slower than me. Interesting.

I'm looking forward to a good sleep tonight - and off home in the morning. Night.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Big 5 O - Day 4 (more good runs)

That's the last forest day done. Phew! Four days of orienteering are done and dusted and only the fast-paced sprint through the Botanical Gardens in Nelspruit remains.

My Polokwane bunch all had good runs again today. Unfortunately not a totally clean sweep as Mary and Tseke both missed the last control, which was located not much more than 10 metres from the very visible and tempting finish controls. This was an error made my more than a few runners. Very disappointing because all of their other controls were correct and yet they've got a DSQ.

I've been through Ephraim's course with him already and he had far less hunting for controls today - hitting more of them accurately or with just a little look around. He also seems to be correcting errors better - looking for fixed features nearby to work from.

When I came into the finish the people at the finish tent told me how one of 'my' runners totally blitzed the medium course. He started 39 minutes after another experience young orienteer and he overtook her to finish in 36 minutes. I definitely think speedy Lesedi should be on an age-category course next time.

Sitting with both Lesedi and Tebatso last night to hear their 'stories', both have superb recall of features and of exactly where they went and the tracks they used. I'd like to think that this recall would be extrapolated to the trickier courses where there is not as much road/path use. I think I'll be right on this one. Both very accurate in their telling.

I had another very fine outing today with a lot of opportunity for forest straight-line work, which I thoroughly enjoyed and I'm happy with my routes. I had two controls where I didn't hit them immediately - I've put them below to show you. I lost time, but a few minutes - not big chunks.

Control 17

I kept in controls 14, 15 and 16 just to give you a bit of an idea as to what it 'looked' like out there. The light green and dark green actually weren't too bad going. Mostly young pine trees so you can't see much ahead of you. It's just a bit of bashing through young branches.

Coming from 16 I had a good line on the ride (a ride is an open strip of forest - often very much like a broad path - often with short plants growing). My initial heading was ok and then I went down the side of a shallow re-entrant. I knew I'd overshot but wasn't quite sure in the terrain where the control was in relation to where I now found myself... I decided to head back to the ride to try again.

You can see some red on my route back to the ride. I saw a falled tree trunk and what looked like disturbed ground and thought it may be a good location for the pit feature that I was looking for. But I didn't want to randomly hunt - hoping for the best - so I stuck with my plan to return to the ride to try again. This worked like a charm although I would have lost a few minutes here.

Controls 22 and 25

22 foxed me a little. My heading was good and the description was 'between two hills'. They weren't really hills but more rocky knolls... I actually landed up on the second one but with all the green dense vegetation I couldn't tell whether the 'second' hill was to my left of right. I had a little wiggle first to my left (less dense vegetation) and realised that it must have been to my right. As I moved that way I saw Sarah - she'd just left the control which was barely 5 metres from where I'd initially landed.

I had a horrible time leaving 22 - just nasty vegetation. Loads of stuff to trip over. After the nasty experience of contouring to 23, I tried to use the tracks more. That was definitely more pleasant.

Sarah and I were just about together heading to 25 - she was just ahead of me. I got to the rocky cliffy area where I thought the control should be and saw Sarah below me looking around. She'd landed up in the same place and hadn't seen the control. It seemed like we were to the correct side of the spur... Sarah, being below the cliffs, spotted the control first, a bit more North than we had expected. And knowing what the forest is like we both headed straight up to the road instead of going through it to get to our second-last control.

Coming into the finish it seems there was quite a bit of attrition on our course today. Some women not completing the course or getting DSQs. I could end up with a pretty good placing (depends how many more runners still had to come in and what they did out there) although it is pretty depressing to see that I was almost one-hour slower than the winning Finnish runner... She definitely ran every one of those sections where I was walking!

My time was around 2h30 for 12km. It sounds slow in road-runner terms but in orienteering...things are very different.

I'm going out for dinner tonight - my first chance to play with friends. My buddy Tania is this side tonight - with the last event in Nelspruit in the morning. Looking forward to comparing routes with her.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Big 5 O - Day 3 (middle distance & Polokwane successes)

We had a longer drive today from Nelspruit to the Elandshoogte area - well worth the drive to get on top of the escarpment to enjoy the view - complete with bright blue sky, glistening forests, winding roads and early morning heat already setting in.

A little view of the drive home - the area we were in was more green (less felling) with some open grassy areas.
Before I puff up my chest and grin broadly in the telling of the exploits of my Polokwane bunch, here's how my race went today.

For the most part, very good and solid. I had two less desirable controls. The first was Control 2 to 3.

Control 2 to 3

(my track here going to 2 looks a bit weird to me because I took the ride - fine dashed line... I didn't go through the forest. GPSs *sigh*)

So, leaving #2 I decided to use the bottom road because I didn't feel like running uphill...So I headed to the bottom road and turned into the forest at the corner. I was definitely reading things a bit wonky because even though I could see the dark green rocky area on my left and the dark green plus open ground on my right, I took a wonky line to the control - skirting around rocks.

Control 9

Control 9 has been my worst of the whole event thus far. I approached nicely, crossed the road and checked out the big clearing with bare, exposed rock to my left. Check. It's hard to see under all of these tracks but I was looking for another, tiny clearing also with some exposed rock. I initially may have been within sight of it but I wasn't looking to my left, but rather to my right-front. I just couldn't recognise this separate tiny clearing.

And then I did a few stupid things like thinking maybe I'd messed up my angle coming off the road and that I had my big clearings wrong. Yet I could identify all the other rocky outcrops and dense vegetation shown on the map. All where I expected them to be. So I headed back to the big clearing to check out the bare rock to make sure it all was what I thought it was. Check. I headed out. And I'll say thank goodness that Christie came along (I'd snuck past her at Control 5 - she had blitzed past me leaving 4 but then messed up 5). She pretty much went to the control, which was a few metres away from me. Doh!

I chastised myself and got my head straight again and the rest of my controls went just the way I like them - efficiently and with good approaches and no hunting.

On reaching the event area again - after the finish - I found five of my seven charges already in.

Diketso and Juliet before their starts.

Tseke waiting in he first box, ready to begin.
The first I spoke to was young Tseke - he's the one I had a deal with that he had to find all of his controls today. So he looks at me and kinda squiggles his mouth like he had some problems. And then he shows me his EMIT printout. PERFECT! Not one missed control nor one mis-punched control. He really looked chuffed. I was totally grinning too.

And then Lesedi, running Open Middle for the first time today, shows me the results on the board that have him in 1st place, a good 20 or 30 minutes ahead of Tebatso! Whooo-whoop! What a super run by him.

And then I look at the Open Short results and I see Juliet in first place with Tseke second and Mary in third! Diketso came in a while later and bumped Tseke down to third, taking 2nd.

And then Ephraim came in with a clean sweep on his course - also everything correct - and his first completed-and-all-correct race of the event. Just so good for him.

So that makes it seven out of seven today. Our first. They're all totally chuffed - but I think I am even more so.

We stopped at the shops on the way back and I secretly bought a yummy chocolate cake for us to share after dinner tonight - in celebration (Lesedi did see it but he's keeping the secret so it will be a surprise tonight).

Tonight we'll do a match-the-map game, probably more control description flash cards too and I'll chat to them about dehydration and heat exhaustion. Coming home Tseke wasn't feeling great and had a headache - spot-on dehydration symptom. I gave him some rehydrate solution and got him to cool down and he's A-ok now. So, a suitable topic for tonight especially considering the heat and humidity out here and that we've got longer courses tomorrow.

For now, I'm jubilant. Once they're done swimming I'll chat to them one-on-one about their routes (they have to draw it in on their maps every day) and I look forward to their stories of glory from today. Hip-hip-hooray!

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Big 5 O - NYD novelty event

It's New Year's Day - Happy New Year!

This morning we headed up to Kaapsehoop for a non-competitive, novelty event -  a metrogaine around the village of Kaapsehoop. Chatting with friends, we thought it should be a 'Villagegaine' as the town is so quaint and tiny. With so many interesting houses and guesthouses, it's a wonderful metrogaine clue environment. Organised by Stephanie Mulder, it was a wonderful and fun 'off-day' event.

My group paired up today and I ran with Ephraim. He handled the navigation while I kept an eye on the clues and writing down the answers. We had a one-hour time limit and we whizzed around the town to complete the route, collecting all of the controls, in around 38 minutes. We were in second or third place.

One of our other pairs also got all of the controls (Tebatso and Lesedi) - making it with minutes to spare. Diketso and Tseke seem to have fought over the map - returning a bit over time. I'm not quite sure of what went down here - Diketso started laughing when we asked.

Mary and Juliet did really well, working their way through the town. They were way over time when we found them quite happily still locating controls. Mary says she thought the one hour time limit meant minimum time. If I'd left them out there I have no doubt they would have quite merrily gone to all their remaining the controls. They're both so in the groove.

With Mary and Juliet back we did a short coaching session with a compass. We started with orientating the map using the compass and then working on direction of travel - how to determine in which direction where you want to go is from where you are. That seems to have gone down well. Mary has been asking me for two days to show her how to use a compass. She's getting the features really well so now was definitely a good time for this session.

It's a beautiful day here so most of my charges are in the swimming pool. Later this evening I look forward to doing a pacing session with them on the street outside our hostel and I think it may be time for my control description flash cards tonight.

We've got a middle-distance forest event tomorrow. Lesedi has been upgraded to Open Medium course (from short). He's champing at the bit after winning the short course yesterday. Tebatso is very confident of a good session too. Nice for Tebatso to have a rival tomorrow.

I made a deal with young Tseke (he's Mary's son) last night... I gave him R5 to play pool on condition that he punches all of his controls tomorrow. Yesterday he got all but two. We looked at his route and how close he must have been to them. We discussed how to problem solve and I am feeling optimistically confident that tomorrow will be his day.

Diketso is aiming for second place tomorrow (and, I think, to beat Mary).

In Kaapsehoop today - beautiful blue sky and lovely conditions. The rocks behind us... that's where we were running on Monday.