Thursday, February 26, 2015

Lovely Lakenvlei

I slipped off to Lakenvlei yesterday for a quick visit and overnight stay to confirm the route for the 2015 running of my race - the third year. Again I hooked up with Amos and we drove the route together. He'll cut the grass by tractor next week so that it is race ready.

I spent the night playing with my maps - updating our rogaining/MTBO map of the property - and to work out the best split for the 30km route and to calculate distances between waterpoints and overall route distances. With that done, I crashed.

I've had a heavy few weeks (with too many 2am nights) and while my new Checkpoint Challenge Schools League has been successful and fun, it has been demanding with map updates, course planning, reports, admin and all the other bits. We're on the home straight now with a training event on Monday afternoon for my selected participants (top scorers) - to teach them how to do a point-to-point course and how to use EMIT - and then the FINAL on the 9th where my kids will run against participants from the other schools league. Nail-biting stuff. I hope my kids will rock it.

And a harddrive crash on Monday morning didn't help my stress levels. Fortunately all is well.

But as I turned on to the paved road leading down to Lakenvlei Forest Lodge... it's amazing the effect that the place has on me. Within minutes I relax and just this one night away saw me returning to Jo'burg invigorated and ready to attack tasks that had me feeling overwhelmed 24hrs earlier.

Some photos from my quick visit and afternoon spent out on the route.

The paved road leading to Lakenvlei Forest Lodge
On arrival at the main lodge and reception, after saying hi I usually head outside to look at Lakenvlei Dam. Serene and peaceful.
This is why the grass needs cutting... the approach to Waterpoint 1 from the trees. Komatiland Forests very kindly cut the grass for Forest Run. Some sections are A-ok, but on those where no-one has been - since Forest Run last year - the grass can be as tall as me!
Wild dahlias... and a little cosmos
Bass Dam - and about 1.5km from Waterpoint 3. Only runners on the 60km route will pass here.
It took us a few hours to go around the route. I got back to my log chalet and set an alarm for 18h00. I passed out on the couch for about 30 minutes and on waking headed down to the main lodge to wait for sunset. Aside from the security guard who came to say hi and check if I was ok, I was the only other person on this part of the property. Very cool. Lakenvlei is usually full on weekends but is very quiet during the week.

Sunset took a while to come and was well worth waiting for. The colours, which are so soft and pastel ahead of sunset, got richer with the sun's descent.

Sun saying bye-bye
The colours became so warm and golden - beautiful.
This gave me the idea of moving prize giving one hour later and combining it with sundowners so that the runners and their family can enjoy this too.

Leaving Lakenvlei this morning. I'm already looking forward to being back here on 10 March for a few days and the weekend of Forest Run. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Running robots, shadowing and stories

The Sunday before last there was an Urban Series orienteering event at The Wilds, a great park/gardens area in Houghton, Joburg.

Two weeks before this we had another event and post-race looking at the results, I noticed that one of my clubmates was further down the rankings than I expected. She's a runner and she's been orienteering for a few years. I dropped her a note and asked if she'd be open to me shadowing her at The Wilds to see if/what/where she's going wrong.

Shadowing is a great coaching tool - one that is useful to both the shadower and shadowee. I've had the pleasure of shadowing a few children of different ages and, during our British Orienteering Federation Level 2 coach training, I had the fortune of being shadowed. It can be a bit unnerving but you do get insight into what you're doing in the field from the perspective of someone with experience and perhaps a different way of doing things.

When shadowing the shadower usually hangs back a bit, moving at the same pace as the person they're following. The shadower just watches and doesn't interact with the person. In this situation I did interact with my friend to listen to what she was thinking and planning and seeing to be able to suggest alternatives (not necessarily better, just different for her to consider).

At The Wilds event I ran first and then I returned to the start to meet up with my friend. Within minutes we were off.

In navigating there's something I call a 'story'. The map is like a book and within it are stories - routes from one point to the next. In your head, you create a narrative to get you to your destination.

A narrative could read:
Get back onto the path, run uphill for 100m and take the left split at the Y-junction. Go for about 30m past the junction - there will be dense vegetation on your right - and look for an indistinct path on the right into the vegetation. Take it. Within a few meters the checkpoint will be on your left at a man-made feature (North side). If you get the pond, you've gone too far. Turn around.
In the beginning part of the story we're not too much concerned with detail because until we've covered that 100m we're nowhere near the checkpoint. Using a robot (traffic light) analogy, this is GREEN running. There may be a few GREEN elements, especially over greater distances. You can take a path, follow a vegetation line, head on a compass bearing... you just go until you get to a feature (attackpoint) that signals when you've got to start paying closer attention.

As you start to close in on your checkpoint you need to keep a closer eye on the map and the terrain. It's here that I'd check off paths, bridges and other features that confirm my location. We call this AMBER running.

And finally as I really close in on my checkpoint (in and directly around the circle marking the control location) I'm into RED mode. Here I'm on high alert and I have to pay very close attention to little things like boulders or pits or elevation up a re-entrant. This zone all depends on the terrain because sometimes when you're in AMBER running it may already be obvious as to where the control is located.

The principle is that when you're a distance away from the control you do not need to pay attention to every root stock, boulder, pit or path along the way.

As you get closer you pay attention to significant features that confirm your position; and as you're right close to the control you pay attention to most things relevant to pin-pointing the control flag.

My friend had perfect stories but she was in the red zone the whole way. Not wanting to make any errors, she paid attention to too many details, too far away. This is something that I tend to do, especially on tricky terrain. Spending too much time in AMBER/RED slows you down a lot.

It's a challenge to get out of the habit of AMBER/RED mode and into 'carefree' green and a lot of it has to do with confidence and faith in your story. You've really just got to run with it and trust your initial assessments, keeping distance/duration and distinct attackpoints in mind. With your map in hand and thumb on where you are and your story clear in your mind, you just can't go wrong.

Here's a great example from The Wilds event.

Take a look at Controls 10 to 11.

Fortunately for me (with 87km in my legs from the previous weekend and the morning's run), my friend decided to take the path. Great robot-running opportunity.

It's probably just less than 200m of uphill, on the path, until you get to the open ground (solid dark yellow blob) on the right and in line with this another path splits left. Yay for GREEN. We walked up the hill, not bothering to pay attention to any of the paths left and right.

The story continues with "Cut across the open ground and into  rough-open terrain where you'll see bare rock" - AMBER.

And then, "The flag will be at the top of a re-entrant, just the other side of the top of the ridge from where I'm approaching. Boulders and rocks are around." - RED.

There's an event this Sunday (I won't be there) and I hope that my friend's results come closer to matching her ability potential. She really is spot on target - she just needs to believe this too.

For fun, take a look at Control 16 to 17 and see what route you'd take. As I was playing around a bit on my run, I went almost straight-line, taking gaps through the green vegetation, even though some path running would have been faster. It was definitely more fun.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Let's crochet-a-long

Although I haven't posted about crochet for ages, my hands are as busy as ever and any free time is spent working on some-or-other project - often while listening to an audio book.

I very much enjoy the crochet-related links that friends post on my Facebook Timeline. Over a number of weeks I received three copies of the 'Crochet Shorts' link. I took it to mean that there are a number of people out where who quite fancy something a little different...? and are looking at me to make it for them...? hahahaha

custom crochet shorts on Etsy
My projects have been a little less 'out there'.

At the beginning of November 2013 I started a 'Landscape Blanket' project, which I would work on here and there. I'd work on it for a few weeks and then leave it for a few months, doing small projects inbetween. On 23 January 2015 I finished the main picture portion and I recently bought the yarn for the border, which I'll start on soon. And then I'll add the flowers in the 'meadow'.

Self-created pattern. 322 squares connected join-as-you-go
I would have probably completed this blanket if my crochet buddy hadn't sent me a link to a Crochet-a-long (CAL) that she found online.

The project is called Sophie's Universe CAL 2015 on the 'Look at what I made' website.

This CAL started five weeks ago and every Sunday you get the next couple of rounds. It's called a continuous-round Afgan, which in regular English means that you go around and around (as opposed to across or making squares). The shape builds up round by round to make a blanket ('Afgan' is a crochet blanket).

This CAL started off as a circle and now, at the end of week 4, it is all squared off. A photo from last night.


We have no idea what the final blanket will look like and each part is exciting and fun to make. I'm a week behind. Tomorrow we get week 6, I've just started week 5.

I've got a box of left-over yarn from various projects over the past few years. I'm using this project as a stash buster and so I can only use whatever is in the box for as long as it lasts. I haven't got a particular colour scheme aside from 'leftovers;. This is a pattern I'd definitely do again, with properly planned and coordinated colours.

I really enjoy looking at what other people are creating with this same pattern (different colours) on Ravelry (it's like 'Facebook' for knitting and crochet projects)

That's what I'm making. What keeps your hands busy?

Thursday, February 05, 2015

About the Ultra Trail Mount Moodie

What a good day out it was this past Saturday at the Ultra Trail Mount Moodie, an 80km (actually 87km) ultra in the Sabie area. Yes, that's right - steep ups and downs and loads of forest and wonderful scenery.

This event burst on to the calendar last year. My race number, 3, was indicative of eagerness - I was the third person to submit an entry (the day I saw the post on FB). Clive Smart, the race organiser, has been organising events here for three years. After being approached by Trail Running SA to host the SA Trail Champs, Clive added the 80km distance event to his existing weekend offering (a 6km, 12km, 20km and 35km).

Oh my heart! Surrounded by forests. View from my room at Misty Mountain.
We started from Misty Mountain - on Long Tom Pass - at 04h30 on Saturday morning with 27 runners on the start line. It was far warmer than I expected after the cool evening and my shorts and tee were perfect attire.

My race kit - minus food. I've had this trusty back pack for a good 12 years now and it has done dozens of races and ultras. 
As Misty Mountain is on top of the mountain, there's only one way to go first: down. We started in the dark and within an hour or so it was light enough, even under the tree canopy, to turn our headlamps off.

The first big descent dropped us into the first aid station. It was a long, long downhill and I remember commenting to the aid station helper "Wasn't that a downhill!". On this section I met Su-yen and Nic, who I'd see more of later.

I quite enjoyed the next section to the second aid station. Flatter running with a good climb. On the flat I was in good company with Corne and Lorraine. They're amazing on the hills - running trip-trap so steadily upwards. I walked. They dropped me with ease.

Leaving Aid Station 2 we were on to the Fanie Botha hiking trail. I've known of it since I was a child but I've never been on it. Spectacular! The section had us on rocky and slippery trail heading up a ravine. We criss-crossed the river many times - sometimes on bridges and other times just splashing through.

I hadn't been taking photos but snapped a few. I was with Nic, an American in the Peace Corps based South of Polokwane, going through this section. We were warned pre-race by Clive not to even try stepping on the rocks in the river because they're so slick. He suggested stepping between the rocks, which worked just fine.

Nic negotiating one of the many river crossings.
A bit of what the trail looks like (a non-rocky part)
We caught up to Su-yen on one of the crossings.


And so we climbed up-up-up and came out belly-height to a waterfall.

Time to go down-down-down
And of course we descended to the bottom of the falls.

Su-yen, me and Nic at the bottom of the falls.
And then began a really, really tough ascent that seemed to take forever. At an indistinct path section we hooked up with Lorraine, another lady, Filipe and Corne. Up on top most of the others shot off. I needed the flat open space to recover from the climb with a gentle run-walk strategy for a while!


Filipe had a route profile printout and it showed a slight drop down to Aid Station 3 and then a big climb and a big downhill to Aid Station 4. Downhills sound fun; but for me they're not, especially when they're steep. I started taking it easy because I don't often run steep downhills and as a result they hammer my quads when I do.

Time to go down, down, down. Yes, all the way to the bottom where we'd find Aid Station 4
Only 24 of the 27 runners made it through Aid Station 4 (around 45km). By this time me, Filipe, Nic and another runner, Jakes, were near at the back of the field.

The next 8.5km was on mountain bike tracks. We were roasting through the valley section - very hot and humid with no respite.

Aid Station 5 sat just before another climb. Filipe, who I'd met last year when he ran my Forest Run, was sitting on the tree stump. I asked him if he wanted to join me - at this stage he wasn't going to continue. Jakes arrived and with not much arm twisting Filipe set off with us.

Jakes and I dropped Filipe on the ascent but as Filipe is a whiz on the downs, he caught us again later - and gained enough to stay ahead until the finish, which he reached about five minutes before us. The skies opened near the top of the climb but fortunately we didn't get hit  as hard as Misty Mountain. Apparently it was torrential, complete with lightning, up there.

Aid Station 6 came and went and we knew we'd be pushed to make it in before dark. Filipe left the station just ahead of me and Jakes - wrapping up the back of the field.

From the aid station we caught up with Nic and we all stayed together through Aid Station 7 (same location as Aid Station 1) and all the way uphill to the finish.

GPS readings from many runners confirmed the route to be 87-kilometres long. It took us 15h20 to get from start to finish and I was fortunate to be in good company. We were followed to the end by a race marshal in his vehicle - nice to have the light as night caught up with us.

It was also a treat to be welcomed into the finish by friends who'd run other distances during the day - Zelda, Johann, Melvyn and a bunch of others, including Clive and some marshals. Lots of shouts and cheers and goodwill for a very warm and appreciated welcome.

At the finish with Nic (8), Filipe (24) and Jakes (29). Photo by Melvyn.
I showered and headed down to dinner and the prize giving.

I came out of the race relatively unscathed. Oh goodness were my quads stiff for about 2.5 days after! Stairs were so not my friend. I've got an injured left big toenail from where I kicked a rock early on... and of course whacked it another few times in the course of the day. That will still take a while to heal completely.

I thoroughly enjoyed this ultra. I haven't done a straight-up ultra like this for ages. It was an interesting route with good variety in the running surfaces from smooth trail to rocky, slippery technical trail; smooth and open forest roads to rough and rocky forestry roads, river crossings... and of course uphills and downhill, plantation forest and indigenous forest and wonderful scenery.

My thanks to Clive for presenting this distance. From experience I know the work that goes into planning and marking routes, coordinating volunteers and all the other little bits and pieces that make these things happen. It's a lot of effort regardless of the number of participants.

The helpers at the aid stations were absolutely amazing - for friendly and warm and helpful. They even put ice cubes into my water reservoir at the last few aid stations... what a treat!

I think Clive is going to make some tweaks to the route but it should be on the calendar again next year. UTMM is not easy, but it is beautifully scenic and rewarding to finish.