Saturday, January 21, 2017

What does a Namibian rhino and a Canadian muskox have in common...?

When we started to plan our trip to Canada, we realised that, with the boys a little bigger now, we should start to introduce a different perspective to our travels, have our trips be more  just about us having different experiences and more about adding value to what we believe and stand for.

With this in mind, we thought about how we could introduce a 'cause' or a 'mission' to our eminent trip to Canada over Christmas 2016, through which we could add value to our trip, our own personal lives and also make a difference. Immediately the benefactor of our Brandberg Rhino Run and Cycle Tour sprang to mind: The Namibian non-profit organisation Save The Rhino Trust. The work that this organisation do in Namibia and globally in both raising awareness of the plight of the senseless poaching of the critically endangered black rhino, as well as physically protecting said animals in the field from the onslaught of the poachers is phenomenal. Field teams work tirelessly, day and night, staying in rudimentary field camps for weeks on end, tracking the rhinos, very often putting their own lives on the line when confronting poachers. Considering the temperature extremes of the arid Kunene region, with daily maximums of 40 °C plus, and night time temperatures sometimes below zero, one can only behold these rhino warriors with the utmost respect for what they do.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, in the far north of Canada close to the arctic circle, a group of passionate scientists and volunteers are dedicated to take care of orphaned and injured animals at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve. Animals protected on the 280+ ha piece of land includes 13 species of northern Canadian mammals, including the rocky mountain elk, Alaska/Yukon moose, muskox, wood bison, Canada lynx and the arctic fox.


Alaska/Yukon Moose

Although these animals are very comfortable staying at the Wildlife Preserve within their large enclosures and within their natural habitats, the little town of Whitehorse in The Yukon experiences winter temperatures of sometimes below -40°C, with only five or six hours of day light (11 am to 4.30 pm), which is arguably not the most comfortable conditions for humans to be outside feeding hungry animals or checking on a recovering patient. The scientists, care givers and volunteers work the same hours, summer and winter, to receive and care for injured animals, present visitors with various daily tours and also perform ongoing daily chores of feeding residents and cleaning animal enclosures.

The Yukon Wildlife Preserve is a non-profit organisation, similar to Save The Rhino Trust, Namibia, and although is is partially government funded by a fixed annual amount, the deficit is made up by visitors, youth camps and other educational programs.

We visited the Yukon Wildlife Preserve in 2012, and were very impressed by the efficiency and dedication of the caregivers and researchers at the Preserve. It was clear that the Preserve is well-managed by a group of passionate people, and spending time at the facility (albeit in freezing cold temperatures) was an incredible experience for us. Visiting The Yukon for the first time, it was the perfect opportunity for us to view some of the native mammal species in their natural habitat, all within an hour or two's hike from the very informative reception office.

In this light it was thus very apt and easy for us to choose the Yukon Wildlife Preserve as the northern hemisphere partner organisation for our effort to introduce two worthy causes, worlds apart but similar in the kind of environmental extremes in which they have to work and in the dedication and passion both extrude.

Before leaving Namibia we received a care package from Save The Rhino Trust Namibia, dedicated to the Yukon Wild Life Preserve in Whitehorse, Canada, comprising of a handwritten note of kinship from SRT's CEO Mr Simson Uri-Khob, a portrait on canvas of a Namibian rhino as well as other Namibian and rhino mementos.

On 6 January 2017 we were received by Mr Greg Meredith, Executive Director of the Yukon Wildlife Preserve. We presented him with the care package and special note of kinship, all the way from Namibia, and he was clearly moved by the gesture, especially after learning about the plight of our rhinos and the exceptional work done by SRT. On his turn he presented us also with a limited print of a muskox, signed by Mr Peter Karsten, founding president of Canada's Accredited Zoos and Aquariums, which we humbly received on SRT's behalf.

Nico presenting Mr Greg Meredith with the canvas portrait from SRT Namibia.

Nico receiving the signed poster of the Canadian muskox on behalf of SRT from Greg.

Greg receives his beautiful pewter rhino pin, compliments of SRT.

Outside temperatures of -32͒℃

Greg took us for a very delightful and informative personal tour of the Preserve. We were thankful to be viewing most of the animals from the comfort of his car, only briefly stepping outside for photos, as the outside air temperature was well below -30°C. Out two boys were now old enough to appreciate more of seeing the animals in their natural environment. Greg, with his practised eye, would point out some of the animals to us, and it was a whole lot of fun the try to locate some of the very well-camouflaged animals within their snowy habitats. The Canada lynx was possibly the hardest to spot, while the two arctic foxes were an all time favourite, presenting themselves kindly for the perfect photo opportunity.

Beautiful little arctic fox.

We were taken through the hospital of the Preserve, where weak orphans and injured animals such as raptors and owls are treated. The Preserve employs a veterinarian that operates on injured animals, and autopsies are performed on all carcasses. It was incredibly enlightening to learn how this dedicated group of people perform work we have grown accustomed to seeing in Namibia, with our great number of wildlife rescue operations here locally, but under equally harsh but totally opposite environmental conditions.

We remain grateful for the time and effort Mr Meredith took to receive and show us around, and humbly in awe at what the staff of the Preserve achieves year in and out.

Upon our return to Namibia we conveyed the gift from The Yukon Wildlife Preserve to the board of trustees of Save The Rhino Trust Namibia. An excerpt from the note by Greg to SRT follows:

"When reviewing the SRT web site I am very impressed with the efforts with which your SRT team is tackling this most important conservation initiative. I commend SRT’s Management and Field Teams as well as Board of Trustees for the outstanding work you all do to protect rhinos and educate the public on how we might all be better conservation leaders."

The gift and overall message of mutual respect, appreciation and attempt to create awareness of the cause was received very well.

Nico presenting the CEO of SRT, Mr Simson Uri-Khob, with the gift from Yukon Wildlife Preserve.

Hannelie presenting Simson with the Yukon Wildlife Preserve pin.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

An absolute perfect first day of the year.

To say that today was the quintessential 'Touch and Go' day would be the understatement of the.. well... year. But we are Africans, and as we all know, Africans know how to make plans.

When we decided to come to Canada last year, the Hubs and I started scouring the web for races to run during our planned visit. When I came across the (32nd!) annual Vancouver Resolution Run scheduled for 1 January 2017, we were elated and entered ourselves promptly. This was in August already. Free technical jackets for early bird registrations had absolutely nothing to do with this.

Vancouver, being in Canada, can get very cold in winter, but since it is at the coast it doesn't snow as much as in the interior of the country. Unless the Scholtze wants to have a white Christmas. Then Vancouver receives a LOT of snow!

Yesterday, the 31st of December, was overcast all day and snow fell for most of the day. When we came home late afternoon, snow had accumulated in the streets where we are staying, and parking our little rented vehicle was a huge mission - it slipped and almost got stuck in the piles of snow next to the road! Snow kept on falling, and as the night skies cleared, temperatures started to drop into the negatives... We were so excited for our planned family run on New Year's day, but I started to doubt if we would be able to make our way across town for the 10am start in these conditions, completely new to us desert dwelling Namibians!

For starters, we didn't have a clue how we would fit our rented double stroller into the trunk of our tiny car. The Hubs and I tried briefly outside in the snow yesterday, but then gave up. We contemplated taking the bus, but that would mean leaving home before sunrise, two hours before the start of the race, and standing around in the cold.

This morning we woke up to a stunningly beautiful, frozen, sunny Vancouver New Year's day. The snow of the past few days had swaddled the entire landscape in a soft, white blanket. It was a sight to behold!

Rice Lake, Lynn Valley, just up the road.

North Vancouver.

After we pried open the car doors, which were frozen shut, the Hubs managed to fit the double stroller in the tiny car with some seating rearrangements. Donning the entire content of our suitcases, we set off for downtown.

The guys and gals from Denman Running Room really went all out to make this run a memorable one. The route followed 5km on the seawall around Stanley Park, and even passed through a light house, the boys loved it! Some sections were really icy, while we ran on fresh snow in other areas; a real technical trail in the heart of Vancouver - so much to love!

The highlight for me was that the boys really loved running short sections in the beginning, and how they were both so excited to run the last section towards to finish line. Zee thought everyone ran in aid of rhinos again (he thinks all races are Rhino Runs), and he was pretty impressed with the turnout (melting my heart).

After the race we all huddled inside the store where they had hot chocolate, juice, bananas, bars and to-die-for choc-chip cookies. We warmed up a bit while celebrating our terrific start to what promises to be a beautiful year, before we headed out for a stroll and sledding on the snowy north shore foothills. (Yes we froze. Yes, we had several meltdowns by kids and some adults. No, we don't have it all down to a tee but we TRY, we always try...) But more on trying and failing and trying some more in another post ;)

We ran the Resolution Run in Swakopmund last year, but the start was at midnight instead of the 10 am Vancouver start this year. I suppose a midnight run in this cold might have been a tad different to the Swakop cold, so luckily it was during the day. Hopefully we will be able to turn this into a family tradition of sorts, wherever we will find ourselves on future New Years days.

Denman Resolution Run #32, around 200 entries!

Fresh snow/sludge, Stanley Park.

'Ice skating' waiting to start the race.

Happy New Year, dear readers, and thank you for being part of our journey!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Otter African Trail Run: Retto Challlenge 2016 race report.

It has been more than 6 weeks since I completed the Otter African Trail Challenge, but to date I have not been able to get this race report out. Sure this draft has been sitting in my computer for 5 weeks now, but as per usual, I find it incredibly hard to pen down words to aptly describe a life altering experience such as the one that was The Otter. My usual flirtations with the same old three or four adjectives all look shallow and nondescript when I reread this; not at all reflective of what I carried away from this experience. This is also the reason why I couldn't bring myself to write/recite my own wedding vows for our wedding day, and why our sons' birth posts are also still in draft format, some five and three years overdue. My words just don't feel beautiful enough.

But, nevertheless, I will give it a shot. I may not be happy with the final product, but some idea of the experience will at least be shared with those who care to read.

Truth is, my head and my heart still lingers in that Forest. I close my eyes and I am right back there, every time as vivid, with only the sounds of my footsteps and rhythmic breathing, the forest quiet, alert, acutely aware of my passage. Skittish creature eyes watching. A cheeky lone Grey Loerie calling 'kokok! kokok!'

I met a part of myself in that forest that I haven't known before.

The Otter African Trail Run is known as 'The grail of Trail'. It is apparently one of the most popular and toughest marathon distance trails in the world, and also one of the most beautiful and pristine, which is why most people absolutely love the trail, whether it is to hike or to run it. Ryan Sandes, the South African professional trail runner, noted in his book that if he had to choose only one trail to run for the rest of his life, it would be the Otter.

The Race is incredibly well organised by the deeply passionate team from Magnetic South, founded by brothers Mark and John Colins (of Camel Trophy fame... yes, there were Land Rovers!), assisted by South African National Parks (SANPARKS) members and sponsored mainly by Salomon and GU.

We arrived at our cozy little cabin in Stormsrivier Village at mid-morning on the Wednesday, and settled in before we headed over to Storms River Mouth for race registration and mandatory gear check. The vibe at race village was incredible, the setup huge and the organisation really impeccable. I received my yellow and black race bib, my dibber (timing device), an awesome Salomon Otter race shirt and a goody bag to die for! Seriously, I have not received a goody bag of this caliber (yes, we LOVE our race goody bags!) When I saw a travel size of 'Ouma Hanna's Boerseep' I almost wept. I have been importing Ouma Hanna's soap from SA since 2012 for use on my sons' laundry. This goody bag had my name on since day one!

Otter goody bag content to die for! (Source)

After a yummie lunch at the local Park restaurant, it was time for me to get to know what was waiting for me the next day... it was prologue time. All athletes have to complete the prologue the day before the race for seeding purposes. It is a distance of just under 5 km over terrain pretty much representative of the Otter trail itself. I averaged about 10 minutes a kay over the short route of numerous short steep hills, protruding tree roots, rocks, streams and steps. Not your average run in the park! Since I really had no illusion of my fitness levels going into this, I opted to take it real easy and tread carefully, which by no surprise landed me very close to the back of the pack on the seeding list. It was part of my self-preservation strategy, so I was content.

Race day arrived and apparently for the first time the Challenge had beautiful weather. Temperatures were mild and luckily we had no rain. The Abangeni (fastest group of contenders for the podium) set off at 6 am from the beautiful beach of Nature's Valley. I had Nico and the boys there to keep me company until my name came up, which kept my nerves in check. Runners were sent off in groups of 4 according to their seeding times at 30 second intervals to avoid congestion.

Start from Natures's Valley. Terrence Vrugtman. (Source).

The first 2 km was the only flat section on the entire race, following the beach line to the actual start of the Otter trail. People were chatting nervously or just kept quiet, like me, wondering if it would be OK to take the first walk break. I felt chuffed and instantly fitter when I saw the first guy slowing down for a walk, only to later see him sit down and nurse his heavily bandaged ankle. So much for that little victory.

After the beach section we hit the Otter in full brute force, facing the first set of numerous sets of stairs straight out of hell. In my life I have never experienced so much cursing during a race. Thank heavens most of the time I was beyond earshot of anyone. The hills just seem to never ever stop. And once you peak, calves and hamstrings throbbing, the landscape drops straight down again into the pits of the earth's deepest core. And you guessed it. Only to go back up again. And so on and so forth. The Otter bears a trail factor of 2 (i.e. multiply the trail distance by 2 to get the equivalent of the required effort on road), over 2600 m of elevation gain, 4 river crossings and at least 11 significant climbs (depends on who's climbing), according to the website.

Retto trail course and profile (Source).

After about 10 km we hit Bloukrans River, which proved to be a non-event this year as the river and tide was really low. With all the race volunteers and Sanpark rangers there the vibe was very friendly and exciting and I really wanted to stay a while longer when one volunteer offered me some coffee. I was tempted! River entry was via a slide, and very unladylike I sploshed into the waist deep water and sufficiently dunked my entire kit, drowning my 'zip-locked' mobile phone. I crossed the remainder of the river calf-deep and from there had to run with water sloshing from my shoes, but that wasn't as bothersome as I had feared.

Plunge into Bloukrans! ( Source).

The GU munchie point marked half-way, and by that time I was completely knackered. I have enough marathon experience to know not to trust myself and the pain or exhaustion perceived between the 17 and 22 km mark, but MAN, I was dead on my feet at this (the only) aid station. Thank heavens the Munchie point was much less of a spa treatment than what I had thought and hoped for, and more a snack-on-the-go pitstop, becaue I am pretty sure had I sat my tired bum down on a camp chair they may have had to helicopter me out of there. We promptly filled our water bladders, grabbed some fruit, nuts and GU and was gone again in 5 minutes. Only to be faced with 'Jou Ma se Trappe' right after crossing the river. I wish I had a picture of this little sign at this Mother of a Stair Case, as it was SO  apt after that little break, and had me in stitches for a long time after overcoming it.

GU munchie point, half way. (Source).

The route is an incredibly beautiful mix of  scenery and varying terrain. Longer sections of running in the forest is alternated by sections through the fynbos in full sunshine, traversing jagged rocky cliffs, negotiating bouldery beaches or crossing shallow rivers. The only flat (less interesting but immensely beautiful) section was the first 2 km of beach run on the Retto course.

Some photos of the course. Terence Vrugtman did an outstanding job with his photography. (Source).

As planned (dictated by my late application of race training), I stayed pretty much to the back of the pack, power hiking up the stairs, running the flat tops and bottoms and sort of trotting down the stairs and over rocks and boulders at a safe pace. I was determined to finish the race within the allotted time, come hell or high water (and did they both come...). At Scott Hut, the race officials informed me that I was within 10 minutes of the cut-off for that point. I was relieved, but definitely not out of the woods, so to speak. I felt sorry for my fellow runner, a much older gentleman, who was receiving treatment by a medic, and who ended up not completing the remaining 13 km after coming so far.

It was just after Scott that I realised I had GPS issues. According to my Suunto I had about 4 km to go instead of 13. I figured it was due to the dense tree canopy, and because I had set my watch on a less accurate GPS setting in order to extend the battery life (which was totally moot, since my Ambit Peak 3 battery can last easily up to 50 hrs in the most accurate GPS setting). Expensive lesson!

According to the pacing band for a sub-11 hour run one should allow yourself 2 hours for the 5 km from Ngubu hut to the finish. I reached Ngubu with only 1 hr 40 min to spare and no idea about what the route up ahead held in store (it is hectic) and without a trustworthy GPS to guage my progress. I had to seriously haul butt if I wanted that medal!

Passing a fellow runner on a very muddy, slippery section of the trail I slipped and possibly pulled a glute, which really hurt, but I pushed on hard, making the most of the downhills and really dug deep into what I had left. When I thought it could really not get any tougher, the last 5 km on the Retto course really rose up to challenge my limits, but I had already come so far, I couldn't back down.

The last 800m or so was easily the best (possibly fastest) run of my life, finally finding myself on some level ground again with the bright, awesomely beautiful yellow finish line up ahead of me. Hearing some friendly voices calling my name, encouraging me on and to realise they are two fellow Namibians and Rhino Runners was such a treat! A few meters on my handsome Hubs and beautiful boys were waiting to escort me across to the lawn to the finish. We crossed the finish line with 10 minutes to the final cut-off, I made it. I was done. I could rest. Tears of utter relief!

Photo by Deon Braun (Trail Magazine).

After another gear check I was off to an awesome massage, compliments of the Hubs (who was uber relieved that I finished in time... for his own safety, of course). This was by FAR the best birthday present ever, thank you so, so much my dearest Hubs.

PS. Don't you dare do it ever again, Nico Scholtz!
PPS. I know you know I entered myself again for the Otter 2017... I simply can't wait!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

2016 SkyRun 100km race report

Nico's big race, the long awaited SkyRun 100km took place this past weekend. The race started in Lady Grey and crossed a section of the South African Witteberg mountain range to finish at the Wartrail Country Club. The SkyRun is considered by many athletes as the toughest trail run in Africa, as it is a self-navigated, self-supported race in a very remote and rugged setting, with roughly 4500m of altitude gain and loss. There are a number of peaks that need to be crossed with mandatory gear, mandatory medical checkups and strict cutoffs times that apply. Total time cutoff is 32 hours, with a 15 hour cutoff  to the 60km mark, the only place where seconds and supporters could meet and assist their runners.

Unbeknownst to him, the Hubs was entered into the SkyRun as a birthday present from his very loving dear wife (as mentioned here). This is a race that he has some long overdue unfinished business with, as he tried his hand at it a few times some 15 years ago (without proper training or gear) but couldn't pass the 60 km cutoff in time. He bravely accepted the challenge again in April, and started with the gruelling training program.

Now, I have to mention here that this is a man that used to run 3 to 5 k's every second day just to keep fit. His heart actually lies with mountaineering (which actually makes this race the perfect challenge for him), but he barely trains specifically for a summit challenge, he just maintains a very active lifestyle.

He followed the SkyRun 100k training program to the T, running tempo runs, time trials and long runs as he had to, never skipping a day, with strength training in between on top of all his other priorities.

Through the six months of tough training:
  • he never once missed family dinner, bathing the boys as he has done the past 5+ years or reading bedtime stories to our boys for a run. He would rather run hill repeats in Uis after they fell asleep, or run with his reflective vest through the dark, cold streets of Swakop. His family always came first.
  • he would rather start his long runs at 4 am so as to be back early to make me my first coffee and spend our special morning time together as a family, even though he worked on his computer until 12 the previous night (every night). He is that type of father and husband.
  • he would encourage force me to take time off for a nap or a run if I ran low on me-time or if our schedule of alternating run days got mixed up for some reason, he himself forgoing his rest or run time to give me an opportunity to catch up. He is the perfect gentleman like that. And then he would run in the dark again.
  • he would run in very sketchy places while travelling (frequently) for work, such as on treadmills in lonely, stuffy hotel gyms or on dark (after or before long days in the African bush), potholy, central African streets while children chanted his name and he had to dodge trucks and motorbikes and bicycles and just generally find himself on the bottom of the road user food chain.
  • he ran up and down Brandberg Mountain several times while the boys and I camped at the base, always making sure that he stuck to his strict turnaround times for our safety and comfort always putting us first.

During his training he picked up problems with both his ITBs, and we started with physio and additional exercises soonest, but the problem persisted. Nico finished his first road marathon in October in 5 hrs, after he had to walk the entire last 10km due to ITB related pain. He didn't quit his marathon, nor his training program, but he had to scale down on long runs. We hoped for the best.

On our way to the SkyRun 2016 we spent time with dear friends of ours, one of which who happened to by a physiotherapist. Linkie showed us a different way of strapping the ITBs, and also some new exercises that we will both be doing from now on, we are so grateful for her input.

Spending time in Bloemfontein with beautiful friends.

We arrived in Lady Grey on the Friday, well in time for the registration and race briefing. The process was fairly smooth and included a medical examination. We already had dinner and was under the impression that race briefing would be before dinner (so we didn't book a dinner for all of us), but ended up having to wait until after dinner for the briefing. The boys enjoyed the playground though!

Vivi and Daddy.

Waiting for the race briefing. Cold in Lady Grey! (Source)

The race started in Lady Grey town at 4 am, and roll call was at 3.30 am - luckily we stayed in a neat, comfy flat near the start.

Nico called me after the second checkpoint (21 km) and was going steady but strong. His ITBs were holding up, we were so relieved!

The boys and I had a leisurely  morning of breakfast and packing, after which we left for our accommodation near Balloch caves/the finish. At least, we THOUGHT it was near, but since we were driving a very low clearance sedan car and most of the roads were gravel, the going was really, really slow.

On the Balloch Caves road we indirectly caused a 20 care pileup after a courteous lady with a rented Rav 4 pulled off the side of the narrow road to give us way, had her one front wheel fall in an invisible ditch on the side of the road! A gentleman two cars behind her had to pull her out, while all the cars behind me had to pull into a nearby field to let the oncoming traffic past while I, in our Corolla, blocked half the road. Uhm, eish...

The poor lady driver of the Rav which fell in a ditch for our passing's sake!

Athletes were monitored with GPS devices on the Sportrax tracking system which we could follow on the internet (where we had reception, which was few and far in between, but it helped).

Around 30 km Nico called me again. He was experiencing neck pain, which I ascribed to tension, as I have seen the tension in his shoulders on a long run when he starts to take strain. I urged him to relax his shoulders often, and he checked with me if it would be OK to take a Cataflam, which he then did.

Waiting, climbing and playing at Balloch Caves.

The boys and I received a very tired but still strong Hubs at Balloch, the almost 60 km mark, after 14.5 hrs on his feet. For the first time he was well within the allowed time, and we were so, so excited and PROUD of him!

Our boys running to meet their dad.

He downed a few cold drinks and sat down to rest and eat dinner. He also took another Cataflam. After about 30 min of arriving he went for his compulsory medical. They found his pulse to be 120bpm, far over the maximum 100bpm to give him clearance to continue. He rested for another 30 minutes and measured again after 15 min and 30 min (so rested an hour in total), his pulse didn't come down. He couldn't continue his race although he felt strong and able. All of us were very disappointed.

Now, almost a week since SkyRun, we are 99% sure he had another bout of Malaria on the race, since the neck pain is usually his first tell tale signs. His other usual malarial symptoms persisted until the Tuesday after the race, but has cleared up since. The Cataflam suppressed the neck pain but also may have elevated his heart rate, which is why he felt strong to continue but didn't pass the medical. With hindsight, we are very relieved and thankful that he wasn't cleared to continue the race, as nobody knows how things could have turned out had he further pushed his already stressed heart. He was also really concerned about the boys and I having to drive for an hour to our guest farm at night after seeing him off at Balloch. That may also have added to his elevated heart rate, who knows!

Whichever way, he is still determined to finish the SkyRun, and will be back in 2017 to do so.

This was my first round at seconding a runner on an ultra trail, and there are many things I have learned, did wrong and will or will not do again.
Things we will do again/differently next time on the SkyRun:
  • Rent an SUV or car with high clearance. A Toyota Corolla is really not your best bet, even though it got us everywhere, it was very much touch and go and very slow going!
  • Stay again within walking distance from the start. We stayed in a very comfy guest flat that was 3 min's walk from the start, Nico was the first one there.
  • Buy all our supplies at a decent store in Bloemfontein (our point of entry) or at the very least Aliwal Noord. Only the bare essentials are available in Lady Grey.
  • Book dinner for all four of us during race briefing.
  • Stay at or very near Balloch cave or Wartrail CC so you don't have far to drive far after supporting your athlete at Balloch and before receiving him at the finish.
  • Have more food for him (real food such as lasagna or pizza or a chicken stew) - he was still hungry after his complimentary meal at Balloch, and we didn't eat at all.
  • Have his recharge electrolytes there, cold and plenty (Lucozade, Energade or Powerade), they only sell Coke and Sprite or coffee at Balloch. Take cash.
  • Have a ready made Slowmag drink when he gets there. Also take your own 5l of water.
  • Take a spare headlight or torch for the seconders.
  • Have a sleeping bag and pillow for your runner to rest properly for an hour or so.
  • Have lots of batteries for GPS and headlight ready.
  • Have a warm, clean change of clothes and socks, possibly shoes too.
  • Have refills for all his food-and-drink-on-the-go.
  • Send him for medical checkup early, then let him rehydrate, eat, send for physio if needed. Nico was probably dehydrated badly but the medics didn't have drips/ran out of drips. Early detection may have made a difference.

The amazingly talented Kelvin Trautman took some photos of  Nico for his very touching Back Markers Project.

Problem ITBs fixed with strapping! (Source)

So, so proud to receive him after a gruelling 14.5 hr run in the mountains. Thank you Kelvin for capturing the moment. (Source).

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Going (sham)poo (and hair) free

It has been a really long time since I started thinking about getting rid of shampoo in our home. Over the years my hair has gotten progressively more oily, requiring more regular washing, aggravated by the fact that I run often and how much I sweat then. I very seldom wash our boys' hair (yes, faint right about now), and we never wash our dogs (double faint), and we see how healthy and CLEAN their heads/scalps and coats are, because they EAT healthily and no harsh chemicals interfere with the natural balance of skin oils. They are not smelly or oily, and with a regular good old rinse with water and the occasional wash with a mild soap (the boys' hair), their hair stays nice and clean.

I have been reading a lot about going shampoo free (like here and here), and about the possibilities of using only products such as bicarbonate of soda, but it was only after I took the decision to stop colouring my hair with harsh, unnatural colourants that I was ready to take the plunge. See, I have been colouring my hair for the best part of 15 years, first lighter and then darker, but I fear the greys have crept in over the years and I felt it was time to take stock of the situation up top. It was time to make peace with either grey roots or biweekly hair treatments, and neither was working for me.

The last time I coloured my hair was about 7 weeks ago, and the last time I washed my hair with conventional shampoo was more than 3 weeks ago. I started to wash my hair with bicarb every 5th day, and it really worked! My hair felt clean for about a day or so, but since my scalp has obviously not found it's balanced, natural state yet, (this apparently takes about 4 to 6 weeks), my hair was greasy for about 3 out of 5 days.

I thought I would be able to out-wait the outgrowth and the grease, but my impatience just got the better of me. Luckily for me my Hubs is a very brave, open minded man, and he didn't hesitate when I asked him if we could shave my head. He poured me a glass of red and jumped right in with the trimmer!

Before and after I took 'the plunge'.

I have to admit I really love this super short style way more than I thought, and waiting out the grease is 100% easier this way! I even have the Hubs now on bicarb-"shampoo" and he doesn't notice the difference in how his hair feels. We have a winner! My short hair doesn't feel (or look) greasy, and although I rinse it with water daily, I can easily go 5 days without a bi-carb wash. No more chemicals and unhappy, unhealthy scalps. And, as a bonus, I can see a huge improvement in my skin (face and neck) since washing my face with bicarb. It acts as a scrub and is mild enough to use daily. Topped off with some coconut oil moisturiser, my skin has never been happier, and virtually oil free. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Pile on the Miles Challenge 2016

After a post and invitation by my fabulous cousin from Kimberley New Zealand(!), I signed up for the free virtual challenge to 'pile on the miles' during the month of November. This challenge is hosted by Monica from Run Eat Repeat with the aim to motivate participants to pick a fitness goal, commit to it and keep them accountable by having them report on it on a daily basis.

 I have signed up for yet another exciting marathon coming up in December, and true to form I am still tired from reminiscent of my most recent event, the Otter African Trail Run (report to follow soon). So between that and lots of other things going on right now I have struggled a bit to commit to a training plan. When I saw this challenge I viewed it as the best opportunity to kick my resting bones into action once again.

My goal is to run for at least 30 minutes every other day during the challenge period. I kicked it off today by dusting off running on the treadmill for 30 minutes tonight, doing 5 k's after the boys were in bed. The treadmill is actually my last resort to running, as late night running is such a chore for me, and I easily chat myself out of it. I'd much prefer fitting in a run during the day by incorporating it as a fun activity with the boys, but that doesn't always go according to plan. This is another goal of mine, actually. Whether the boys join in the stroller, on their bikes, running along with me or play nearby while I do sprints or run laps around the track, it would be great to have an effective running workout that also translates into a positive experience for them. When my Hubs is home I am spoiled with heaps of solo running time, so when he does have to travel for work I get to be a little more creative with my approach to working in my much needed runs. We will get there, I know. We just need to keep reinventing ourselves.

The invitation to Pile on the Miles is open and free for all. Perhaps you need some motivation during this time of year to keep up your fitness while everything and everyone else slows down, or you just want to join and share in the fun (apparently there is free stuff given away daily), pop on over to Run Eat Repeat and join the challenge.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Congratulations! It's a...

Dear friends and fellow countrymen, if you are reading this post then one of a number of unfortunate things may have happened...

A. Someone who doesn't have my best interests at heart hacked into this blog and hit the 'publish' button on this post without any consideration of the dire consequences of making the content hereof (and my current predicament) public;

B. At least one of our boys are even more tech savvy than we anticipated, and managed to navigate the internet to this site and published this post; or

C. I indulged in one too many a glass of Red and, in a fit of overconfidence or overenthusiastic folly, published this to share with you all my upcoming plight and eminent demise, and in so doing, irreversibly committed myself to face said Herculean challenge, because secretly whimping out wouldn't be an option any longer...

I am certain it won't be option C, because I absolutely intend to keep this post in draft format (hopefully indefinitely), only for it to serve as material evidence for insurance purposes during the postmortem investigation that will hopefully follow. 

You see, it all started last year when my dearest, kindest Hubs entered me into the Great Wall Marathon as a present for my birthday at end of August. I was beyond thrilled, and since the Great Wall Marathon was only in May this year, I had plenty time to train, stress, dream and prepare for this grand voyage. What a beautifully stunning gift. My Hubby is so thoughtful.

Rolling along to the Hubs' birthday in April this year, I decided to return the favour (of course! ... or soap-on-a-rope?) and entered him for a teeny tiny race with which he has some (self-admitted) unfinished business: the a 100 km trail Skyrun in the Moloti Mountains (South Africa) in November this year, affording him ample time to train and properly prepare.

You picking up on a trend yet? Well, interestingly, it gained momentum...

A couple of weeks before my birthday (this year), my dear Husband started getting all giddy with excitement, and without any prompting whatsoever it kinda leaked out that he had entered me for another race. It is incredibly hard for him to keep a surprise, and it was with great effort from my side that he managed to make it to my birthday for the Big Reveal (a month before my birthday I found the book that he intended to keep as another prezzie on my car seat, so he was really low on options...) I should have let him spill the beans earlier, now with hindsight...

Birthday morning broke and the Hubs presents me with a hand-made medal. No words, only a grin on his face that was ready to explode, and the medal that was the clue to The Race. My first attempt to name the figure on the medal was Baby Platypus, which I later thought was actually quite apt considering how I see myself faring in this race. 

The birthday medal.

Turns out the cute little animal represented an Otter. Yes, Otter with a capital O, because this race ain't no baby anything, it is the big, big Mama of trail races!  

The Otter African Trail Run is a marathon distance trail ran over the most popular hiking trail in South Africa, the Otter Trail. In an effort to contain my already tattered nerves I will tone this done a tad and just provide the bare minimum detail, but the route includes 11 significant climbs and descents, 2600+ m of elevation gain, a trail factor of 2 (i.e. multiply the trail distance by 2 to get it's equivalent of road running) and 4 river crossings (Bloukrans representing a possible huge swim). And apparently the most amazing, spectacular, breathtaking scenery you can imagine...

Otter (Retto) route and profile. (Source)

This year the trail is run is reverse from the normal route, i.e. from Natures Valley to Stormsrivier, and thus called the Retto (otter spelled backwards).

Crossing the Bloukrans River (Source)

On the trail (Source)
After my initial shock started to subside, the first stage of grieving set in, Denial. For the better part of my birthday I tried to tell myself that six weeks of prep to get myself ready for an epic marathon (make that two!) would be fine. Until it hit me (I hit Google....) Cue the second stage of grieving: Anger! My poor, well meaning, immensely thoughtful and loving Hubs went through an UNTHINKABLE deal of trouble to get me into this race (there are only 220 places for the Challenge with an 11 hour cutoff, and 220 places for the Run with an 8 hour cutoff). Entries for both races fill up within minutes from opening, and he got me into the Challenge.

Knowing that I am never one to shy away from a Challenge (check the pun), no matter how ridiculous it seems, how could he expect THIS of me?

Fast forward through the Depression and Bargaining stages (the Hubs suffered multiple weeks of them all, bless his heart) and on to Acceptance, the last stage of grieving. I started to embrace it. I didn't have time to get ultra ready and really could do only damage control, so I carefully upped my mileage and invested in some sand running and hill training (running Damaraland trails always includes hills and sand).

And then I started to get petrified excited. For years and years I have wanted to hike (HIKE) this trail, but it is such a popular route that you have to book more than a year in advance, and now with kids it would have to wait for many more years. The Hubs and I have a very deep love for and fascination with the Knysna Forest, having  read and reread all of Dalene Matthee's books and after hiking and running short distances within it in the past. I can't imagine anything better than getting to spend time in this forest and along one of the most picturesque coastlines in the world for one whole day. Whether it be running or hiking or swimming or crawling, I bet it is going to be fantastically beautiful (the scenery, not me! ...platypus?) and I will be sure to make the most of every moment of it for as long as I have.

And while I'll be making my peace (pieces) with that 2600m altitude gain, I'll obviously be working on my comeback for the Hubs' next birthday. Do stay tuned...