Friday, September 30, 2011

Wild Run Part III

I wondered if I had cooked my goose by running that much quicker the day before and I noticed some swelling on the outside of one foot. When its the last day and the mileage is about the same, well...what has to be done, gets done. It rained quite hard in the night but the morning was cool and overcast - perfect running conditions.

The ascent was the highest of all the days and mostly came in the last third but if you're walking, it doesn't really matter. But beginning at the beginning is a good place to start. Our destination was the famous Hole in the Wall, 34km distant. There would be less beach running and more inland running and for me, this was the most interesting day because of the variety.

There were also some navigational challenges which saw a couple of runners heading waaay inland. Once again we started on an incline on a small dirt road which then climbed up and over a small hill to reach the beach again. I started by walking to ease my achilles and sore foot into it. I had also taken the precaution of putting my road soles into my trail shoes. They had a slight heel raise and once the achilles was warmed up, I never felt it again. But the was eina for all of it.

Aileen and Brett jogged off and once we were on the beach they were a constant 150m or so in front of me. Once again, there were gorgeous beaches to behold and most people seemed content to amble along knowing it was the last day. We caught up to Heather and Carlo who had left an hour before the field. She was limping along determined to get to the checkpoint before calling it a day. Brave woman with a great attitude and Carlo was a hero. He then ran the rest, clubbing a lot of people on the way, it must be the rested legs!
I finally caught Aileen and Brett at the check point and the three of us set off on the last beach before heading into the rolling green hills and small villages. At the top of the first climb, we followed some people in front. Aileen and I were taking photos and when we looked up they were all standing in a huddle, arms gesticulating in all directions. Looking back, we saw Kelvin Trautman (photographer extrodinaire) bolting down the hill and without a thought, we turned and followed. He knew the route and he would run past all the runners, take amazing photos then bolt past again with camera in hand and heavy backpack.

The scenery changed to one of natural forests and magnificent aloes. One last beach saw us walking at a brisk pace because of my foot and Aileen's tender knee and then we swung away for three big ups before the final one that brought us out above Hole in the Wall and the cheerful yellow finish banners. The last swim across the Mpako River mouth was the biggest and we made the most of it, using the waterproof camera to take the final pictures.

The race was over. But the cameraderie and memories are forever. The final dinner and prize giving was a great celebration of everyone's achievement and was a fitting way to end. Rushing off after the race just would have detracted from the experience.

Writing about it here doesn't do it justice. To all those we ran with, suffered with, chatted to - I hope to see you there again.

Owen, Tam and the team - respect! As one race organiser to another, I know what it takes and you guys rocked.

Aileen - way to go friend. Can't wait for our next adventure!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Wild Run Part II

The runners were split into two start groups with the majority (slower) starting first.  After our 7h50 day, we were clearly in the first group (we had by no means been the last the previous day!).  The run started on an uphill so as the countdown reach "go", we all walked leisurely up the hill until it reached a flat section and we began to jog.

Some neat navigation saw us pop up near the front of our group and this was given added value when we heard a lot of thrashing and cursing as a group of the "faster" runners cams mincing their way through the marshland to fall in behind us.  Pardon me while I smirk.

A shallow river crossing cropped up quite quickly and as Aileen and I were looking for a dry place to cross, she slipped and banged her knee.  Bravely hobbling on, we hoped that it would loosen up again.  The beaches were flatter and harder and we found the going much better, almost finding a crisp pace in places.  Did I mention there was a strong tailwind?

Surprisingly, I felt quite strong on the way to the check point at Dweza Nature Reserve and Brett and I and a Pat (of 23 Comrades fame) were bowling along merrily.  It was at the first serious river crossing that I realised Aileen was nowhere in sight.

I made the decision to carry on until the checkpoint and reached there feeling pretty good still. Then there were only 12km left for the day.  At the check point, one of the runners told me Aileen was battling with her knee and going along slowly at a pace she was comfortable with. With only the 12km left, I decided to carry on. Nice friend - I know!

That's probably why I found this section long and hard. I remember a long stretch of beach with huge sand dunes and realising that going over was the only option. Sadly for me, Brett had fallen back slightly as had Pat. Sadly because a young runner (Clare - see we were a friendly bunch) caught me in this section and cajoled me onward. We'd walk a bit then she get the pace going.  Damn these younger people with no respect for their elders.

The final swim was in the Mbashe River mouth about 2km from the finish (apparently rich with Zambezi Sharks). Finally I got rid of her encouraging her to go on ahead!  It was all uphill to the finish at The Haven but I ended up 44th which I was right royally impressed with.

Aileen came in about an hour later well ahead of many other runners.  Her knee was swollen and the one blister she had was quite ugly.  Grit doesn't even begin to describe her attitude - grit in spades.

On this day, a new record was set for the longest day.  Our room mates from the first night - Heather and Carlo - had come in with the sweeps in 9h43.  Heather's knee had packed up and she had limped most of the way.  I guess this is what these adventures are all about - hanging in there, determined to get to the finish.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Wild Trail

I just don't understand how people survive without adventures.  Its this step out of the ordinary that makes the day to day living and grind of domesticity all surviveable.

Wild Run was my second big adventure this year.  It was a long haul to get to the start line but I really looked forward to the experience. Aileen (@gardengodmother) and I had been upbeat about the event. This was probably to disguise the fact that we knew we hadn't done enough long runs. But there is also time to just get on with what you have - and this was one of them.

We flew into East London and then were transferred to Thatches in Kei Mouth just in time for briefing followed by dinner at the Green Lantern.  There we met Brett and Francis. He was running and we ended up doing a lot of miles together and she (a physio) provided Aileen with a lot of plaster for blisters. The few people we had spoken to all seemed to have fallen into our category of training but were they spinning a yarn?  Exaggerating the deficit in case things fell apart?

The next morning was stunning and the 80 runners loaded onto the ferry across the Kei River for the official start.  7.30 and we were off jogging down the beach accompanied by thundering booms as massive spring tide waves crashed onto the shore.  The high tide crimped our running space onto soft sand which ended up giving lots of people blisters amongst other niggles.  Then there was the camber.  Picture running 45km on a steep camber while sinking into soft sand.  It did some damage.

I decided to keep my feet dry for as long as possible on that long first day which meant some time wasting at the two big river crossings (Khobonqaba River and Nxaxo River).  Note: river crossings equal swimming.  This, together with my fabulous (new) trail shoes (Inov8 Roclite 295) and handy gaiters meant I had absolutely no problems with blisters or toenails.  Upfront, I'll tell you that by the last day, I had quite bad tendonitis in my foot from the sand and camber but nothing else wrong.

As the day wore on, the headwind increased but the tide eventually went out giving us a much firmer footing and easier running. Aileen and I made a little train of two to give one person respite from the wind by drafting.

The scenery was spectacular.  Long empty beaches, brilliant green headlands, black jagged rocks and perfectly blue water.  I guess this is what keeps you going when you're tired.  Honestly, I don't remember much other than the approach to Mazeppa Bay and being able to see the finish about 5km away.  I remember the final swim across the Qhorha River and the 100m stumble to Kob Inn.  I remember my the tiny muscles in my feet feeling like they were cramping while I lay on my bed dozing.

I remember being gratified that everyone was hobbling - without exception. Oh yes, and I remember seeing the wreck of the Jacaranda at some point.  The pictures will have to tell some of the story.

We mingled and chatted to others throughout the afternoon and evening in a camaraderie of shared suffering. It was early to bed after a five course meal with a hope and a prayer that the feet would be ok the next day.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Three More Sleeps

The next big Event is only three nights away.  @gardengodmother and I head off the beautiful Wild Coast for the three day Wild Run.

Its been a long haul to get here. She and I both sat eagerly at our computers in January waiting for entries to open. It was a frantic few minutes trying to fill out forms and submit them and hoping we'd got ours done in time.  It took twenty minutes for all the entries to be taken, but we were in!

Then we "appointed" a running coach as neither of us had enough running background for a staged trail run of between 33km and 45km per day at that.  Marcel Viljoen of Fitness From Africa did his best.  He had a programme to build us up to appropriate mileage but he had not reckoned with the two of us having bodies that stubbornly resisted a smooth run up.

Between backs, legs, calves, feet, we stuttered and stumbled our way through the months to bring us to this point at last. I juggled mountain biking with the running knowing that at least I was remaining fit if not running strong.  Once Ride 2 Rhodes was over, the bike was put away, still with the mud of the ride on it, and out came the trail shoes and a three month cramming session.

Mileage flucutated wildly from 2km(worst), to 64km (best) per week. Ja, ja - not ideal but hey, we worked with what we had.  The best part of the build up were the twice weekly track sessions under Marcel's guidance. Our improvements have been phenomenal through this discipline.

The Wild Run begins at Kei Mouth (just north of East London) and finishes three days and 112km later at Hole in the Wall.  The distances are intimidating for us novices but the spectacular surroundings will get us through.  The event is so popular that they have two races back to back. Although, our event is not a race - its the social version so we hope to not be last!

Events are what keep my going.  A big goal to take me out of the mudane and a friend to share it with.  The pain won't last but the memories and the experience will be there forever.

Watch this space for reports or follow on Twitter : @santacruzrulz and @gardengodmother

Try not to be too envious....

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Thursday, September 8, 2011

There was a day six

Yes, there really was. The Ride2Rhodes is all of six days but this rider got so caught up in the drama of the Race Across South Africa (RASA), I completely forgot to finish off the saga. But finish it I must as the most significant sports event so far  this year in my personal calendar. I'm about to embark on the next Event so I have to clear the decks.

I'm scraping the barrels of my memory now.  For possibly the first time in two R2Rs and one RASA. I hit the snooze button twice that morning in Vuvu. I felt drained. The polite knock on the door by our hosts galvanised me at last and @gadgetrules and I trekked back to the school to collect our stuff and push through the final day.  I knew it wasn't going my way when there was no hot water for tea and the kettle didn't boil in time before we left!

Last to go, the usual four suspects, Derek, Andries, Pawel and I, plodded out the door into a strong wind. Its 8km to the turnoff to Lehana Pass and the wind seemed to grow more ferocious, the closer we went. At times, I couldn't move forward into its teeth and I was standing still unable even to push let alone ride.
Having experienced Lehana twice already and once with strong winds, I was seriously fearful that I would get blown off the narrow path that wound its way up the ridge spine.  A long and complicated debate with myself ensued and in the end I succumbed to the fatigue which had sapped my mental edge and took in the sites of Mount Fletcher by road.  The two hour doze helped and I hopped on my bike on the other side of the mountain and rode back to meet the team.

I felt less bad about missing out when two of them said they would not have been able to help me if I had got into trouble. They were so busy trying to keep their own footing on the mountain in the insane wind. Some of the other riders opted for a longer route around hoping for a break from the pounding but all it meant was longer exposure, less recovery time and more exhaustion and for some, race ending injury.

We rolled into Rhodes with our own paparazzi - multiple RASA finisher, Trevor Ball - and celebrated with a wide range of drinks and huge plates of crispy chips. "Our" two RASA riders from FNB had a quick bike service and parts swop with Andries and Derek and were set to go the next morning on substantially better performing bikes.

I thought I might be envious of them setting off for the rest of the adventure but I was happy to have finished. Lack of long rides had taken its toll but the awesome cameraderie of our group had more than made up for the efforts of the previous six days.

And I can't close off this chapter without singing the praises of our guardians - Dave and Dawn. Nothing was too much trouble and when the going got really tough, they brought out the banana bread or fruit cake!  Its worth going back just for that. You guys rocked.

To the group - muchas gracias. I hope to ride with you again.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Nav crazy

Everyone is terrified of Day Five - Malekonyane to Vuvu.  The final valley stretch has caught out many a rider and there are a zillion tales about lost riders and late arrivals to the little school on top of the mountain.

We were fairly confident in getting through and the challenge as per all the other days, was to get there in the light. Once again, the entire group was going to leave together and push on as one. A big group is very unwieldy and slow so the pressure was to keep moving at a reasonable pace.

That afternoon, Paul (rasa) and I went to recce the exit from the Lodge and thought we could navigate our way in the pitch dark at 5:30 the next morning. I had slept poorly and felt like a walking/riding zombie the next day but we hit the road on time and the posse headed off to the dongas ready to begin the slog to Vuvu.

We didn't quite get it right - too many navigators pulling in too many directions. Eventally Gadget Andries, Paul and I put our heads down and pushed steadily in the direction we believed to be correct. Soon there were lights scattered all over the hillside. At a particularly boggy section, we saw Alex Harris's tracks and knew we were correct. As I squelched through the mud, I regretted (and not for the first time) not having my seal skin socks on.

The was a small stream crossing between us and the road and I took a chance and rode it only to stop dead in the mud, wheel buried and my one foot properly stuck. Urgh - cold, wet and muddy. The sun was just coming up and the temperatures dropped significantly. My toes had disappeared and my bike parts froze. The jockey wheel refused to turn and the gear cables stuck. I wrung out my socks hoping it would help but by the time I had laced up my shoes again, the laces had frozen!

No matter, it was a push up Ongeluksnek anyway and a chance for things to defrost and to get the blood circulating. The small problem was the downhill on the other side. Bitter. As we turned off the road, the sun finally hit the fields in front of us and I had to push my bike towards it, not wanting to force any of the frozen bits.

Andries scratched around in his backpack and next minute, he's got a paper taper and match and he has lit a fire under my jockey wheel. it never stopped working after that. No one else would have thought of that.

Before long, we were enjoying some of the best natural single track ever. As Pawel said of one the well known multi day races "That is just a creche."

Then we lost him. He disappeared somewhere behind us and re-appeared somewhere in front of us! By now the large group was split into two making it much more manageable and Pawel was somewhere inbetween.

We searched for him all over and eventually cell phone technology came to the rescue and we were all reunited again. However, the time spent looking for him put us under pressure to get to the Vuvu valley. And I, in my rush made an amateurish blunder in the navigation and brought us all down several valleys too early. This mean't clambering down cliff faces, pushing through thick wattle and aiming for what I thought was the road. NOT!

We were in hysterics when we got to the bottom and looked back at the huge cliff we had descended and to their credit, the boys were very upbeat about the "adventure" I had taken them on. The road was actually a wattle drag track and when I finally studied the map properly, we were almost off the paper! Fortunately, I had used the same track in 2008 with Doug and Stu Brew and knew we would come out at a good spot. Wattle drag tracks are also incredible riding and we bolted along until we could see the bell at Tinana Mission where the bakkie was waiting for us with hot noodles and coke.

The other group had left about 15 minutes before us so despite the pioneering route we took, we were not that far behind.

We rode hard to the turnoff to the Vuvu valley taking in another spectacular wattle drag descent, and there Dave and Dawn loaded us up with fruit cake. Pawel elected to ride around on the road and Derek, Andries and I set off in our race against the sun.

Memory, maps and narrative are an excellent combination for finding one's way. I relied too much on memory and we did a 10 minute detour before getting back on track. As we entered the valley, Derek spotted the other group heading up the wrong river valley! Too far for us to call them back.

Nothing for it but to grind our way through. And we did. There was quite a bit of pushing and shoving of the bikes as I strove to remember the quick route of 2009. I needed to calm down and think but I was just too tired.

Eventually we got it together and it was really quick to the point where we started to ascend from the depths of the river bed. By now I had regained my equilibrium and we reached the newly graded road halfway out the valley as it got dark. Well satisfied with our effort, we sat down, added clothing and ate all of the fruitcake.

We were out the valley in three hours which was a bonus. Luckily the other group realised their mistake and came in an hour after us.

We were assigned an awesome home to sleep in and I was more than happy to pile in under the heavy blankets knowing that there was only one more day left.

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Day three cont.

The problem with being so wiped out is that one presses send before ready.

As I was saying before interrupting myself. It been a bruising day. Constant headwind pounding at us wearing out the granny gears and feet. We walked more and rode slower. And this was a day we hoped to have an easy passage.

But spare a thought for a pair who left support station 1 (SS1) at 17.00 and got lost in the forests ending up finishing behind us at SS2. They then opt to leave at midnight to get a jump and try and do a double.

By lunch they are only 1,5 hours ahead and by SS3 they finished behind us again. A massive net loss of time and waste of energy. Dunno what stunt they'll pull tomorrow!

96km and another 12 hours. The latest I have ever got to this SS.

Late start tomorrow. Joy!
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Three down, three to go

Thanks to whoever shot NN. I owe you but no doubt she'll ressurect herself soon.

I also had other things to worry about - like sucking enough air into my lungs to keep going. I have this strange affliction. My heart rate is below 60% and I'm panting like I'm at 6000m.

A pity when my legs are feeling goodish.
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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Reward offered

She's at it again. Woke up this morning spritely and frankly, a damn nuisance. I hate negative Nellie and need someone to take care of her - preferably permanently.

Any offers?

It didn't help that we started incorrectly from Allandale Farm and wasted a lot of our early start with mud, mielies and general mayhem. But eventually we got out of there for a virtually trouble free ride to Centacow.

There must be something about Dave and Dawn, our guardians, that shuts her up.

We started the next section in good spirits and the company was as good humoured as yesterday. The real slog began with incredibly steep uphills that only the uber athletes of the trail can ride. So we pushed, swopped stories, waded rivers until we met up with Dave and Dawn for the second time.

We were quite a group by now - nine had bunched together. It was a group effort to conquer the next 6 or so kms which were virtually unrideable for tired cyclists.

We reached the fence of Nshikeni at 16.00 well pleased with our days efforts. Now it was a mere 11km to May Lodge. On the way we saw secretary birds, wildebees and a pair of buck. We were also privileged to see an enormous moon rise - the same one we had seen set first thing this morning. And now I also have seen part of the eclipse and a shooting star. Lucky indeed.

The thick soup followed by a hot shower was just what I needed but it was only after dinner that I felt human again.

Tomorrow we start at a more sane hour and explore a new route out of Nshikeni. I hope its an easier day cos I've really suffered.

Maybe next time I'll show more respect for the race!

103km. 2445m ascent 12 hours
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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Clearing the head space

I should have known better. What was I doing outside the Pietermaritzburg Town Hall at 6 this morning.

Heading for a stunning farm 110km away. The only problem was....well one of the many problems were the lack of sport specific training. Running, hiking and spinning don't really prepare one for the rigours of Ride 2 Rhodes. Muscle memory also doesn't cut it.

I really had to battle the little but insistent negative Nellie inside my head, at least up to the lunch stop at Minerva. Yummy soup, a million slices of bread and an exquisite downhill gave me some breathing space and I managed to get rid of the horrible person between my ears.

I guess what really did it was the great company. Gadget, Andries and Pawel were all going to Rhodes and we made a great group. Then along the way we picked up Paul going all the to Cape Town and we did the Umko Thrash, the Hella Hella hell climb to be rewarded with Dawn's damn fine banana bread.

Coke and banana bread make a great energy mix for the last 15k sprint. Finally we got to Allandale a shade under 11 hours later.

If you have a snide comment about the time over distance, I dare you, no, I double dare you!

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Sunday, June 12, 2011

A New Experience

I'm not sure this would ever have appeared on my bucket list but today I went gliding. 

Gadget decided I needed a wake up call from the endless cycling and running so presented me with a gliding voucher for one of those birthday's that shall not be named.

I nearly forgot.  When it finally occurred to me that there was an expiry on this gift, I had wasted a whole summer and apparently the best gliding time. What do I know about thermals and best and worst seasons? So I duly presented myself at the Magaliesberg Gliding Club this fine wintry Sunday morning. I saw the windsock showing some activity but alas, wind doesn't seem to be a pre-requisite for getting the balsa wood and fibre glass contraption off the ground.

I must have looked like I knew what I was doing because I was asked if I was the Duty Officer as I arrived. It was my "pilot" who asked showing very poor judgement! For his sins, he got lumped with taking me up.

The group I approached knew nothing about my contact person there but took over the arrangements with aplomb and lots of enthusiasm.  It was all happening a bit too fast for me. The plane was tilted on the grassy runway looking very small and about two inches from the ground. 

I decided I wanted the real deal so opted for the winch launch (I don't know all the correct terminology) as opposed to being towed by a small plane. A very thin cable with a parachute lay partially concealed in the grass and I believe it tows at about 100km/hour.  A quick loading of a parachute and instructions on its use followed - that was really going to help! I could just see me extricating myself from a four point safety belt system, unlocking the canopy, hurling myself out and pulling the rip cord all in that order. But, Chris the pilot said, he had no plans to ditch the plane in mid air. He added later that he had ditched it into muddy fields several times in his flying career, joy of joys!

And of course there were the snide comments about the barf bag!  Unfortunately, there was an odour lurking from the previous week when the occupant had apparently ditched their breakfast.  Uh uh - no way. I was not going that route. 

Then there was a bit of waggling of the controls, some radio coms and the cable came to life and we were off.  it was noisier than I thought with the wind whistling past the canopy but we were airborne so quickly and steeply, it was freaky.  One is used to the rumbling of a jet engine down a tarmac strip building in crescendo before taking off - not here.

At about 1500 feet, the cable jettisoned itself and we were free and flying.  Chris kept a running commentary to what was going on which made me feel a lot more in control but it was a strange motion with lots of corkscrewing to keep on a thermal.  We stayed at that height for a while but then started to drop altitude a bit.  Chris manfully worked at the controls and used all of his 30 years of training to find us stronger thermals but we were circling the drain. Damn winter weather!

There comes a point where one has to call it quits and he had already decided that it was safer to go back and land.  We turned (again) and headed in a slightly different direction (yes, these things are very mobile as you'll read) and all of a sudden picked up a strong thermal and we climbed and climbed and climbed.  There was much less corkscrewing and just more lift. The buzzer that indicated ascent and descent was constant beeping instead of whining and all of a sudden, reaching the clouds was an option (literally).

We reached close to 10 000 feet which was incredible - the panorama of the region laid out for miles around. Then the fun and games started. Chris, having done the impossible, could relax and show off some of his skills and exactly what the plane could do.  He showed me how they chase thermals when racing cross country and we reached speeds of about 170km/hour. As you hit the next thermal, you start turning to gain height and all of this is done on feel and visual cues - amazing.

Good, kind pilot that he was, Chris kept asking me if I was ok. Silly me - I said yes and we launched into a complete loop. I briefly opened my eyes and saw the ground above me. Freaky with no engine to power out.  I had done that in a Harvard aerobatic plane (name dropper I know) but this was way cooler.

Then we sped off in a direct line to see how much speed we could get and I swear it was heading towards the 200kmk/hour mark. I felt as if I was in a fighter plane with the narrow cockpit, clear canopy and speed. We did a few slidey things (the name escapes me) where you do half turns and bank rather steeply and then, just for laughs, we did another 360 loop.  I kept my eyes open for this one.

Then it was all the pre-landing checks and we glided into land. Smoother than many a 747 landing I've had.

Chris, Martin, Peter (the other newbie) - thanks for a great morning. And to Gadget - that was an awesome gift, one I'll remember for a very long time.

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