I'm not a natural blogger and I'm no techie. I'm an ultra trail runner by passion, and a journalist by profession - in that order of priority.
In this blog I use the one to talk about the other - my trail thoughts, musings and meanderings about running mountains and trails.
I call it rockhoppin', just because... well... that's what we trail runners love to do!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

delayed update on C2K

The start line of Coast to Kosci 2010
Apologies: delayed Rockhoppin’ update on the C2K due to festive season slow-down :-)

Marie achieved her third Coast to Kosci, finishing as 4th woman and 11th overall in a blistering time of 37:28. Seven of the 38 competitors did not complete the full 240km, and the final finisher crossed the line in 45:49. This race is gruelling.

Despite her good result, my crazy SiL says she’s disappointed. She’d wanted her PB – a sub 35 hour. To achieve this she knew she’d not be able to sneak in any breathers or rest breaks. And that she did: aside from two 5 min massages, she went continuously for more than 37 hours. But, in her words, she got her nutrition wrong, she felt nauseous so couldn’t take in enough calories, and she ran out of energy.

“Anyway, I feel reasonably pleased that I was only an hour slower (than last year) even though I felt so weak. I've learned a few things for next year!”
Spoken like a true fighter – bring on Marie’s C2K 2011!

Competitor + crew in the mist at the summit

The weather conditions of this year’s event were not great. The runners fought a headwind for most of the 240km, and it became stronger as they neared the summit of Kosciuszko. This was even worse for those finishing later, as conditions deteriorated into the afternoon and it became dark, cold and misty.

“But while it was bad out there, the conditions were nothing compared to the 2008 run when we couldn't get on to the mountain at all. This year, although the wind made it harder, closing the summit route was never considered.”

Most of the times this year were slower than in 2009 except for a few stand-out performances. Of the 15 repeat offenders, four were quicker and the rest were slower than last year. To put this into perspective, Jo Blake, winner of C2K in 2009 and 2010, was a full 2hrs45 slower this time, finishing in 28:45. Still a phenomenal time though.

Friday, December 10, 2010

my incredible SiL

In case anyone’s wondering, I’m not the only nutter in my family. There’re actually two of us. My sister-in-law, Marie, is a complete and utter, dyed in the wool, pedigreed Nutter of Note. There’s almost no running challenge that scares her, no distance that makes her laugh in disbelief, and virtually no endurance feat on two legs or wheels that she wouldn’t try.

Marie is, without a smidgeon of doubt, the most mentally strong woman I’ve ever run with. I’ve witnessed her block out pain as if the injury isn’t there. I’ve been with her when she’s commented that she had “something in her eye” and chosen to ignore it so she didn’t have to slow down or stop... and then three hours later when we crossed the finish line, I picked the blade of grass from her eye.

Distances just don’t frighten Marie. Ten years ago she was a 21km road runner. Now she has more ultras under her belt than I can keep track of. And I’m not talking about ultra marathons that just sneak over the 50km mark, I’m talking ULTRAS. Try 204km in 24 hours (when she represented Britain at the Brive 24 hour champs in France, May 2010 – and yes, that’s the one where they go round-and-round-and-round a 1.25km circuit to see how far they can run in 24 hours. Fun stuff!).

And then so not to lose the edge, she did a 48 hour round-and-round-and-round race in Australia just two months later, in which she clocked up just over 261km. (Her incredible achievement shows that while 48 hours may be double 24, but it sure as hell doesn’t mean the runners double their 24hr distance. The 48hr is mindblowingly gruelling, never mind the physical strain of pushing through continuously for that long.)

Now it’s December, and time for Marie to do her favourite ultra: it’s the Coast to Kosciuszko in Australia, affectionately known to the nutters that run it as the Coast to Kosci, or the C2K. It’s a 240km race that’s mostly on tar, and goes from Twofold Bay on the NSW south coast to the top of Australia’s highest peak, Mount Kosciuszko (2 228m).

This will be Marie’s third running of the C2K. Her goal this year is to finish the 240km in under 35 hours. The weather conditions this time of year can be perfect... or they can be foul, with icy temperatures and gale-force winds.

The event started this morning, Aussie time. Excitingly, it can be followed with almost-live updates on (http://www.coast2kosci.com/live2010.html)
And as I write, the most recent update has Marie at the 148km mark, it’s just before 2am there and she’s been going for just over 20 hours.

Sheeez, my fingers are tired just typing that!

Next blog post, Marie will have her 3rd C2K in the bag. Watch this space :-)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sky Run 2010

One hundred and forty-eight trail runners touched the sky this weekend in the 13th running of the Sky Run. But two runners did more than that: Ian Don Wauchope and Tatum “Hobbit” Prins carved their names across the night sky by blitzing the race in true champion style – Ian in 14:56 and Tatum in 20:12. Both were brilliant times for this new course, which was undecidedly nastier than the original route that finished at Tiffendel. Huge congrats to you both!

Sky Run is a unique event in SA – not only is it the most technically challenging trail race in the country but it’s on an unmarked course, requires self-navigation, and is staged in a vast and distinctly remote corner of the Wartrail / New England section of the Eastern Cape.

The race starts at 4am in the little town of Lady Grey and ends 110km and, for some, up to 36 hours, later.

It’s tough, harsh and rugged, peaks at an altitude of more than 2 700m above sea level, has 5 316m of leg-burning ascent, and 5 158m of quad-trembling descent.

If you have guts and love a rough challenge set in the most awe-inspiring surrounds, this race is for you.

This was my second Sky Run. Having messed up rather badly last year by getting lost in the dark when the 20-hour battery life of my Garmin died after just 14 hours (even though I’d deactivated all unnecessary functions, dimmed the screen intensity, etc beforehand), I had unfinished business with this race.

This time I came more prepared. Craig and I got to the New England area a day early to recce Wildfell, which was where all had gone pear-shaped last year for me and my buddy Guy Jennings. What I remembered as nothing more than a confusion of thick bush in the dark of night now made sense in the daylight and I was relieved to finally have that section clear in my mind.

Being self-navigational and often with long sections without any sign of path or trail to follow, this race requires either intimate knowledge of the route (which very few have), or the navigational assistance of maps (provided and mandatory) and/or GPS devices. This, and the fact that the terrain is generally very rough, is what makes this race hard core. The winning times for this event simply cannot be compared to other trail races of similar distances – this course is barely visible!

Two of the many things that make Sky Run extra special are how well organised the race is, and the unbelievable hospitality of the farmers in the area. The amount of planning and preparation that goes into staging a race of this type is immense, and every year Adrian Saffy and his team do a superb job.

A HUGE thank-you must go out to Saffy the Star of Sky Run for organising this great event, and to all the marshals from the 4x4 club in Bloem, who voluntarily spend hours and hours up on the ridges and peaks waiting for us crazies to stagger through.

An equally enormous thanks must go to the local community of the Wartrail/New England area, for sharing their mountains with us, allowing us to run over their land, and then for feeding us the wonderful meals at Balloch and at the finish. You make the checkpoints and the finish line such a pleasure to reach!

Andrew & Janet Viedge of Bidstone Guest Farm, you rock! Your hospitality surpasses all, thank you for everything!

And thanks as always to my sponsor Salomon for the best gear ever. For feet to survive 110km of tough technical trail running without a single blister or hot spot, the shoes must be the best.
Long live S-Labs, they're the BEST!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Single Trouble and aiming for the Sky

Hello. Apologies for the October silence – let’s just say it was so good to be back in the beautiful Cape after six weeks away that the thought of tapping away at a keyboard featured fairly low on my list of things to do.

I’ve been back nearly four weeks now, long enough to run all my favourite local mountain trails again, and to explore a whole bunch of new paths – that’s always fun.

I’m embarrassed to admit that on my very first run – which happened to be none other than the intrepid MountainMan-Tollner’s Hout Bay Triple Trouble, and also happened to be just 14 hours after an 11-hour flight back from the UK, I fell over my own feet on the descent from Suther Peak and managed to twist my ankle good ‘n proper. So alas, my Trouble didn’t even require a Triple – the very first peak did it for me, and I hobbled home to nurse a fat ankle.

And trust me, no girl likes fat ankles at the best of times.

So there I was, freshly home from running 310km across the Alps at pace without injury, and I can’t even manage 8km on a local hill at home. Go figure. At least I know what I did wrong: I did the unforgiveable... I sneaked a peak at the view. I know I shouldn’t have, but I couldn’t resist.

But I patched up well, and when the ankle had suitably deflated and gone through the necessary shades of blue-to-green-to-yellow, I was able to hit the hills again. Just as well really, as Sky Run is now just over two weeks away. Sky Run’s by far the toughest continuous 100km self-navigation trail race in the country. It’s so tough it’s been known to make runners weep.

And this year with Tiffendel finally having breathed its last (after doing a death rattle for some years), we no longer have to haul ourselves up to the final checkpoint at Ben Macdui (the highest mountain in the Eastern Cape, a tidy 3 001m above sea level).

Race organiser Adrian Saffy, bless his smelly socks, tells us he’s found a far better spot to finish the race. But anyone who has run one of Adrian’s races knows better than to fall for his choice of soft adjectives when describing his routes. This time he’s cushioned the description of the final 45km of this year’s Sky Run in comforting words like “along” and “down”, but all Sky Runners should know better than to fall for that one... We know this new route will be no less tough than the original – in fact, we already know the distance has grown to 110km...    Thanks Saff!
I wonder what other delights await us Sky Runners this year?

Monday, September 27, 2010

still R&R'ing, but a BIG thanks

After a couple of weeks of very welcome R&R in Italy, Germany and (still) the UK, it's time for one final Trans-Alpine post: a somewhat belated but very heartfelt thank-you to my sponsors.
Salomon and Velocity Sports Lab, you're the greatest - without you Ryan and I would not have had the fantastic experience of running, and racing, the Trans-Alpine Run.

Our Salomon S-Labs carried us safely up, over and down more alpine peaks than we can count, and our kit was as comfortable and light as always. (And one of the many great advantages of Salomon kit: even after hours and hours of running, it's never stinky!)

A big thanks to MULE for all my energy bars - always perfect for ultra distance nourishment (not to mention being completely natural and so delicious!)

Thanks to Oakley for my brilliant pair of Endure shades - the polarized lenses made them ideal for all conditions, from the glare of white snow to the dim light of forest paths. I love 'em!

And to GU for the gels that kept me fuelled through the miles of mountains we covered.

And then, very importantly, an enormous thanks to all the family, friends and followers from around the world who sent us messages of encouragement before and during the race. The bundles of good wishes gave us energy that helped keep us motivated and charging up those mountains at pace!

Thanks to you all - it was a fantastic experience.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Running with The Machine

“Fatigue is inevitable. Managing fatigue is a skill that may take years to learn, but it’s what makes the difference between a good runner and a great runner, whatever your speed.” Lindsay Weight

It’s a question I’ve often been asked – both in the preparation for and since completing the Trans-Alpine Run: what’s it like running with Ryan Sandes. So I thought I’d leave it until after our event to put the answer into a blog post.

Ryan (aka Sandman, as many like to call him, although clearly that name wasn’t appropriate for this race so I prefer to call him Mach1, as in with reference to speed and to Machine) was, every minute of every one of the eight days of the race, an incredible team partner.

As many of you will know, racing – whether running or cycling – in a two-person team requires tremendous buy-in by each partner. It calls for 100% commitment and constant communication, otherwise the partnership simply won’t work. If either team mate isn’t on the same page as the other at any time, things fall apart.

And, usually, both members of a two-person team are of similar running ability. Usually, that is...

Before the Trans-Alpine Run, I’d done four stage races, three of which were two-person team events: two Cape Odysseys (the first with Sylvie Mazurkiwitz [nee Harris] and the second with Karoline Hanks) and one African-X (with Tatum Prins). All three of those partners are not only great runners but were superb team partners, and the result for each of those races was a ladies category win. Each time we were well matched in all the essential ingredients for a good team – ability, temperament and goals.

With Ryan and I, there was no doubt we were well matched in terms of our hopes and goals for this race, and the same goes for temperament. We’re both consistent in temperament and know the importance of constant consideration for team work. But whoooa, when it comes to running capability, everyone knows that without a shadow of a doubt that no one matches Mach1. This man is a phenomenon. Now, I know that’s stating the obvious: his racing history shows that. But running this race with Ryan gave me a front row opportunity to watch this man in action. And sheeez, can he run!

But it wasn’t his running capability that startled me the most. It was his patience, his tolerance and his constant unselfish approach to us as a team that impressed me. Never once in the eight days of our race did Ryan show any sign of frustration or exasperation when I wasn’t able to maintain his pace or push harder than I was already. Instead, he gave me constant positivity and encouragement to keep me going, keep me digging deep.

And while it was obvious that I found the degree of difficulty of alpine running harder than Ryan did, this race was by no means easy for him. After all, as the far stronger partner, his role of packhorse and engine room put much physical pressure on him – I just had to put my head down and trot behind! I was responsible for gauging of pace (ie. telling the said engine room that we were going too fast) and, inevitably, the heavy breathing for both of us.

Not once did Ryan whinge – not even when he jolted his back on Day 2 jumping from a steep forest path over a ditch onto a tar road. I could tell he was sore, and every morning he would stretch it carefully before the start, but still he never hesitated to throw me the tow rope when the next huge hill came.

Running this race with The Machine has shown me a glimpse of the guts and determination that a winner has to have. To push through fatigue, face harsh conditions (like extreme heat or cold, as is often the case in Ryan’s races) and still have the determination to push the pace takes tremendous guts and determination.

It was a privilege to run with Mach1.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Trans-Alps, the final four days

Apologies everyone, I really wanted to be able to update my blog regularly and give you daily updates throughout our race, but alas, connectivity was almost as challenging as each of the 8 stages so I had to let it slip. Now here I am, two days after Ryan and I crossed the finish line, I've caught my breath and put my feet up, and am ready to tell you all about the final frontier: the second half of our mammoth challenge!

I know that by now you all know how the story ends... but with all the trememememendous support we received from everyone, I owe it to you to give you all those promised gory details. So, sit back and enjoy - and this time, with the long-promised photos!

DAY FIVE (34.5km from Prettau to Sand in Taufers, Italy) was meant to be the shortest stage of the TransAlpine Run but the organisers had a little sting in the tail for us at the start line - there'd been mudslides on the original route so they'd diverted the course slightly and added in another 5km. Nice...
The start was chilly - I donned my gloves thinking I'd shed them after a while, but the weather remained grim so I ended up wearing them for the whole run. The stage began with a sheer uphill, and both the Brits and the Swiss teams hit the hill hard to get ahead of us. The hill became steeper as we ascended what's known in winter as "The White Wall", which in summer was a zigzag of shale with snow on the top (2537m). It was pretty chilly up there and thankfully we didn't have to stick around long - the summit was sharp and almost straight away we started the radical descent.

Another haul up through some goregous forest trail, and then down again, this time towards the valley where we knew the finish was. But we also knew it involved an extra 5km - only far of course if you're aware that it shouldn't have been there in the first place! The extra distance was really beautiful though, winding us down past a massive waterfall before the final few km's of flat path into the gorgeous little town of Sand in Taufers.

I'd been able to run strong today, which was a huge relief after Day 4's gut problems. The other teams had flown though, and we finished in 4th place: Iona & Casey (Team TPC Freight Mgt) had stormed in 2nd, with the Swiss +Austrian duo of Gaby & Seppi (Team Salomon) close behind them. The gap between them and us was now 22 mins. Definitely too big for comfort.

DAY SIX (39.7km from Sand in Taufers to St Vigil) was going to be an interesting one. It started with 20km of tar road (uurgh) before lurching us up a massive ascent (from 900m to 2275m), and then down 1100m to the finish. Our motto for the day: "It's just a hill - get over it."

We knew that after the gruelling terrain everyone had been through the past five days, the tar would take its toll on many legs, but the number of dropouts on during that tar section was scary. It was cruel. And from a beauty perspective, this stage was the least picturesque. We were happy to see the finish line. Again, in 4th position, we knew that the next two days would be the make or break of the race.

DAY SEVEN (42.2km from St Vigil to Niederdorf) was for me the hardest of the entire race. Starting with a 400m climb over the first 12km, and then two steep ascents of 800m (to 2380m) and 600m (to 2194m) over the next 18km, the day's profile was by far the toughest of the race... particularly as we'd already done 235km by this time. But experience has taught us both that in stage racing, the final couple of days are the most critical. That's when everyone's legs, and minds, are fatigued and mistakes can happen. It's also when injuries are most likely. It's never something I'd wish on anyone, and after all, we were just as likely as anyone else to be the victims of "The Final Days"...

Day Seven was tough, really tough. And I can certainly say that racing downhill on scree is most definitely NOT one of my natural talents. I'd heard the secret to speeding down scree mountainsides is to surrender to gravity and let the momentum take you. Hah! That's all very well but when every smidgeon of your body is screaming "survive", you want to screech on the brakes... which of course is the very worst thing to do, and all hell breaks loose with balance and your knees get the jitters and you doubt your footing and your eyes can't keep pace with your feet and everything around you is one big blur of panic...

The final six km's of the stage were on jeep track and tar into the town of Niederdorf. And I'll never forget them. As I hit the tar I felt a jab of pain under my left knee cap. Uuurgh! It was debilitating - and worse, I'd never had this feeling there before. I stopped for a few moments to rub it, and then we pushed on. Dammit, I thought, I hope this wasn't going to be our undoing...     I ran on, gingerly, and thankfully it eased. I was worried.

Then, just minutes later we were pushing along at Ryan's usual comfortable pace (note: RYAN'S, not mine!) with my head down and my lungs burning, when Ryan blurted out "There they are, it's the Brits, just ahead!". Sure enough, there were Casey & Iona, just ahead, walking. Good grief! Ryan wasted no time - this was our chance. He threw me the tow rope, I hooked on and off we went - and not at Ryan's comfortable pace: his race pace. Oh my God, did we fly! My legs have never experienced such speed. In those next several minutes I witnessed firsthand what Ryan must've done to achieve his record sub-24hr Atacama Desert time. It was crazy!    And we made it across the finish line that day as happy kids - a podium place in 3rd position!

Those moments changed our race. This was the chance we'd been waiting for, this could be our break. Casey had injured his quad coming down the scree so hard. We were sad for them - they'd raced so brilliantly and were storming the run. This was to be their second year in a row of achieving 2nd position in the mixed - a huge achievement. But we didn't know the extent of Casey's injury - we had to presume it was just a niggle, and that he'd be patched up and anti-inflammatory'd, ready to race hard on the final day. What we'd have to do is go HARD, really give the 8th stage everything we'd got, and hopefully make up enough time to eat up the minutes that had accumulated between us and them.

DAY EIGHT - The Final Race (33.4km from Niederdorf to Sexten) was not tough in profile but if time depended on it, it would be a nasty one. It started with 15km of gradual uphill along a jeep track, and then a 1000m ascent over the next 7km, followed by 8km of downhill to the finish. Simple. And we lined up at the start knowing that this would be the big test - particularly for me, as let's face it, trying to run at Ryan's pace is a near physical impossibility for me!

Ryan and I ran those 33.4km as if our lives depended on it. We pushed a pace that, for me, was only just sustainable - and which, until then I'd thought I'd never be able to maintain. It's amazing what panic can achieve! We crossed the finish line in 2nd position in the mixed category, the happiest people on earth.
What we only then learned was that Casey had had to pull out after the first three km's, his injury was too severe. This automatically saw Gaby & Seppi into 2nd place, and us into 3rd overall. But what was most important for us is that we fought hard to that finish line - for us nothing had been automatic, and not for a moment did we ever consider that we'd not have to pull out all the stops to get there.

crossing the finish line on the final day in 3rd place overall - this pic said it all! 
There's a great quote I love by world marathon champ Paul Tergat:
"Ask yourself 'Can I give more?' The answer is usually 'Yes'."
Until running the Trans-Alpine Run, I thought I understood how to dig deep. I thought I'd often dug deep, and could even remember specific times when I'd called on myself to really push hard. But this race I took that to another level. During the 8 days of TAR, there were many times when I had to search so far within myself to give more, and every time I could - and did. This race taught me so very much about perseverence, endurance, digging deep, trusting and the strength to be had in believing in myself.

And it showed me just how incredibly strong my partner was. There was barely a moment over the 8 days when I didn't marvel at Ryan Sandes: not only his natural talent as a runner but his incredible determination mixed with a constantly even temperament of patience and quiet fortitude. Having the opportunity to partner Ryan in a race like Trans-Alps was for me the highlight - it was such a privilege. I have enormous respect.

Ryan, partner, you ROCK!

Hopefully I'll be able to supplement my next blog post with even more pics. Keep an eye out!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

TransAlpine Run - a gutsy day 4

Today was Day Four of the TransAlpine Run (43.9km, from Neukirchen, Austria to Prettau, Italy) and although 3km shorter than yesterday's stage, it took us just as long.

It wasn't so much the profile that was to blame for that, although it was indeed tough (we climbed from 850m to 2669m over a distance of 30km, with the final 800m in 2km, taking us well above the snow line). The best description for today's run was gutsy - in more ways than one. My stomach acted up from the time I awoke at 4:40am, I had to go to the loo twice before race start, and over the 5:19 it took us to complete today's stage, I had to take 5 pitstops. It was crazy. I swear I must've given the cows along the way serious poo'ing competition.

And even though I made sure every dash off the trail into the bushes was at top speed, we lost valuable time. And it was difficult to make up those minutes - my energy was drained, and I had to dig deeper than imaginable to press on. I was so annoyed with myself, even though there was absolutely nothing I could do about the problem, other than to make sure each pitstop was lightning fast!

Enough about those gories. The views today were spectacular. We ran up zigzags next to thundering waterfalls, along green valleys with snow capped rocky peaks towering above, and over a peak (at 2669m) where the wind was howling such a gale that the chill factor must've dropped to below zero. At that point the only way we could see the path ahead was using other runners' footprints, most of which were about 60cm deep. Add a steady drizzle to this, and the white-out you're picturing is about spot on. Fortunately that section only lasted about 10 mins.

Fortunately my energy levels picked up on that descent and we flew the last 10km (a 1000m drop) at pace, to the finish line in the hamlet of Prettau, to finish 20 minutes behind the 3rd placed mixed team. So we're now lying in 4th position in the mixed category, a radical drop from yesterday's 3rd placing.

The race is only halfway done - there're still another four days to go, and much can change. We're certainly going to do our best to make sure it does!  (And a good start will be the Immodium I've taken this afternoon!)

At 29.4km, tomorrow's stage is a lot shorter than the past two have been, and we're hoping to really make it a good one. It'll be tough (I learning that in this race, there're no "easy" days), starting with an 11km climb up to 2537m.

And I'll carry the Immodium with me this time...

Monday, September 6, 2010

first report on TransAlps

Three days done & dusted of the TransAlpine Run for Team Salomon / Velocity Sports Lab. Five days to go..! 116km km in the bag, and just 189.6km to go!   (ok, it's far too early to be looking at how many km's to go - bite size chunks, bite size chunks...)

Apologies for this being my first blog since race start - today's the first day we've had connectivity :-(

So, three days of TransAlps and I already have a new respect for mountains. With each day of this race the mountains we slog up get higher and more dramatic, and the scenery ever more beautiful.
By the way, I'm afraid I won't be posting any pics to accompany the next several blog posts - I won't have any. I'm relying completely on peripheral vision for appreciation of this incredible scenery, and only occasionally do I sneak a peek at what's around us. We're in waaay too much of a hurry to look around!

My second challenge of today (my first having run 47.3km at pace up and down some frightening mountains) is to try and squeeze three days of unbelievable trail running into a quick blog before I fall asleep into the keyboard.

Day One (36.3km from Ruhpolding, Germany to St Ulrich, Austria) went really well. The first 10km followed a jeep track on a gentle ascent alongside a river, and we set a cracking pace. The rest of the route was a mixture of non-technical single track, some nasty grass slopes (ever tried running UP a ski run?) and a lot of deep, slimy, squelchy mud. We finished in 2nd position in the mixed category in 3:20 - really happy with a podium finish!

Day Two (33.2 km from St Ulrich to Kitzbuhel, Austria) and involved a LOT of climbing. The profile was scary - or so I thought until I experienced today's profile. The route was more technical than Day 1, and involved two v-e-r-y nasty, long ascents that climbed for seemingly ever. We finished Day Two in 4th place in the mixed, and in 3rd position in the mixed overall, just by about 4 mins.

Day Three (47.3km from Kitzbuhel to Neukirchen, still in Austria) was nothing short of frightening. I knew from the profile to expect that, and it didn't disappoint. Today was the longest stage, but by just 3km. I had to dig deep today like I've never dug before. The ascents were long, and the descents sheer - my legs kept telling my brain they should hold back and save themselves for the next 5 days ahead, but my brain refused to listen - I knew we had to fly down those downs as fast as my legs could carry me, because the next mixed team was hot on our heels. The finish couldn't come quicker - another 5km and I think they would've caught us. We finished today's stage in 5:20, in 3rd position in the mixed, and still in 3rd place overall in our category. It's tight though, very tight - the next mixed team is just 40 secs behind us overall. And they're still looking strong...

So far I've learned that I'm pretty damn useless at running through snow, slushing through sludge, skipping over tree roots, and running down hills at sub-4min km's. Ryan is, of course, brilliant at all of the above. And very patient!

Ryan is a powerhouse - I have HUGE respect for this man we all know is a running phenomenon. We're working brilliantly as a team - he's permanently strong and pulls me along... literally. We're using a tow rope / bungy cord - whenever we come to a hill, he hooks me in and I'm pulled (gently) along behind. The idea of using a bungy cord was something I initially resisted - that's just not how things are done. But our adventure racing friends enlightened us - Tats & Cas, you,d be so impressed with us! This is team work like I've never experienced: towing slows Ryan down a bit, and speeds me up a bit, so that we as a team make faster progress. The ultimate in team work. (Our other mixed competitors are using a bungy too, while many other alpine runners prefer the advantage of ski poles. For us, the bungy works better!)

Tomorrow's stage (43.9km, from Neukirchen to Prettau, Italy) will be slightly shorter than today's but tough - we'll be slogging up to 2669m above sea level. Let's hope our time spent up the Sani Pass helped!

So that's my wrap up for today. I hope we have better luck with connectivity as the week progresses, so I can keep you in on the race gories!

Now it's feet-up-the-wall time!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Route description of Stage 1 - copied from website

2010 Stage 1: Ruhpolding (GER) – St. Ulrich im Pillerseetal (AUT)
Start:                                  11:00am
Vertical distance: 1223m ascent, 1034m descent
Horizontal distance: 36,30km
Estimated time: ca. 5,0 hours (10 km/hour horizontal, 600 Hm/hour vertical) 
Timelimits: V1 = 2,5 hours, V2 = 4,5 hours, V3 = 5,5 hours    (7 km/hour horizontal, 500 Hm/hour vertical)  

Opening the Gore-Tex® Transalpine-Run 2010, we have this ideally suited starting stage leading across the Chiemgau Alps via the mountain range Steinplatte from Ruhpolding to Waidring in Strub Valley. From there, beautiful hiking paths lead to the idyllically located stage finish in St. Ulrich at Lake Piller located to the west of the Lofer Steinberge. With more than 1200 meters to climb, this stage does not demand exceptional climbing skills, but with a distance of 36 kilometers it’s just short of the regular marathon distance.

counting down...

Finally Ruhpolding's busying up - the town's a-buzz with trail runners, most sporting Salomon kit from head to toe. (These Europeans know the best brand!)

And Team Salomon/Velocity Sports Lab has its very own fan club present: today the founder of GoTrail, James Hallett, and fiance Susanne Wirtz, arrived in Ruhpolding to cheer us on. It's great to have them here!

Ryan and I went for our final run this morning - an easy trot along the river to keep the legs ticking over and to do a final kit check, etc. We're feeling great. But we've had enough waiting now, we're itching to start the race! And we've just heard the start tomorrow's been shifted out from 10am to 11am - a bit of a bummer, that's half the day wasted.

The weather forecast for the next three days is looking good - let's hope it's reliable...  we don't want a repeat of last week's UTMB disaster.

We're off to the pasta party and race briefing shortly. Tomorrow dawns the TransAlpine Run 2010.
Bring it on!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

alpine meadows and Ferrero Rocher ice cream

From the cracking dry cold of the Sani Pass, Lesotho, to the sunny skies and lush alpine green of Ruhpolding, Germany, with a brief stopover in Cape Town to throw all our kit in the wash and say g'bye to loved ones, these past four days have been a whirlwind.

The 11 days at the top of Sani Pass was certainly a unique experience. One thing's for sure: from it I learned that bucket-washing's not my thing...  particularly in average daily temps of 5 deg Celcius. I'd have killed for a hot shower.

Once down from Sani Top, I took so long in my first shower that I almost dissolved.

We're now in the scenic town of Ruhpolding, where our race will start on Saturday. It's quiet and quaint, with every second shop a coffee shop or bakery, which suits us just fine.
(This evening's most valuable discovery: Ferrero Rocher icecream. OMG!)

Today we took the cable car up to the top of Rauschberg, Ruhpolding's local peak - not notably high (1645m) but with dramatic panoramic views of more than 600 alpine peaks in the region. It even boasts its own touch of modern art - an enormous metal sculpture of "Adam's Hand" leering from the highest point. A little strange perhaps, but the locals seem to like it. (I'm not sure how well Capetonians would take to the idea of Adam's hand - or Eve's for that matter - waving gayly at the world from the top of Table Mountain...)

My "countdown to TransAlps" widget is starting to give me the jitters - there're less than 36 hours to go before Ryan and I start our TransAlpine Run.

I think I need another cappuccino, quick...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

rockhoppin' the escarpment

Crazy adventure photographer extraordinaire Kelvin Trautman kicked off his Durban beach slops to brave the chilly air up here earlier this week to take some great shots of Ryan (aka Mach1) and I on the very edge of the escarpment above the Sani Pass, doing what rockhoppers love to do.

Kelvin said he was disappointed he’d missed the snow.

We weren’t!

Friday, August 20, 2010

two nine and counting...

Yesterday I learnt a new phrase – a rather astonishing one at that. But then, it’s American, so go figure! When something is absolutely brilliant, or really great, they say it’s “the shit”.

As opposed to when something’s awful, they say it’s really shitty.

So there I was, hauling up the Sani Pass in a 4x4, having made three unsuccessful attempts in a rather crochety Landrover the previous day, with two very enthusiastic American tourists and one polite Italian student, all travelling around SA on separate adventures. The pass was as winding and steep as I expected, but sadly we weren’t able to see the massive drop-off because the mist was so thick that in parts we had almost total white-out.

We took 50 bone-rattling minutes to drive the 8km from the SA border post to the top, and as we created the escarpment, we literally popped out from the wall of mist into clear blue sky and bright sunlight. It was spectacular.

And that’s when I heard it – “Hey man, this is The Shit!”

Ok, so we know they do things a little differently on that continent, but how can something so good be given such a terrible phrase??

“The Shit” or not, the top of the Sani Pass is incredible. And within 10 mins, the weather was proudly strutting its stuff... first mist, then drizzle, soon sleet, and by 5pm it was snowing. Overnight the temperature dropped to -13˚C. And this morning the landscape was draped in a soft white carpet of thick powder snow.

I’m here to get my lungs used to breathing thin air. Having done all my TransAlps training at sea level, there’s no doubt they’ll scream every time I run. Hopefully 12 days at 2 900m will see my system generating a whole crop of brand new red blood cells excited to hit the Alps!

Monday, August 9, 2010

From pole to pole

Well, I’m happy to report I’m back running again... again. It feels good not to feel, for the first time in more than a month, that I’m not popping a lung every time I run uphill.

So, to celebrate I thought I’d take up pole dancing.

Alas, there’s nothing exotic or erotic about this kind of pole – sure, it involves dressing in lycra, looking rather flushed and doing a good deal of heavy breathing, but graceful I am not. In fact, when I’m at my pole, I look as ungainly as a tarantula on a tightrope, or one of George Lucas’s giant metal walkers off the set of Star Wars.

You see, this kind of pole dancing involves not one but two poles, and no saucy sliding or gyrating. These poles are handheld and have only one purpose: to get me up steep, winding alpine paths faster. There’s not a lot that’s sexy about that.

I’m still a beginner at this poling lark, and I have to say, I’m pretty bad at it. I’m told there’s a technique to it – it’s all about rhythm and flow. But right now my poling technique, if I can even call it that, is more about clumping along at negligible speed, splaying these lightweight sticks about in every direction and desperately trying to think about placement for four feet instead of two.

I’m told that, like riding a bicycle or learning to balance on ice skates, running effectively with poles is simply a matter of practice, and that it won’t be long before I’m “one with my poles”. I’ve got to hope so... so far I‘m a trail hazard with the things – tripping up Ryan won’t be the ideal way to try and keep up with him in the Alps.

So, if any of you have any handy tips about mastering the poling technique - or have any pole dancing tips to offer, feel free to make them known!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Snot without the trauma

People say if you want something badly enough, you’ll make it happen. Put it out to the universe, believe with all your heart, do all the necessary groundwork to prepare for it, and it will be.

I do believe that, and I live by it. I believe positivity attracts good things, and that self-belief is the way forward. There’s no point dreaming about goals and hoping that by some flash of chance they’ll just happen. It takes hard work, determination, planning and a lot of perseverance to make those dreams real.

And often, the journey is not a smooth one – there’re often bumps and hiccups along the way. I’m in mid-bump at the moment: as I write this blog post, I’m just 31 days away from Day One of the biggest, most difficult and exciting physical challenge I’ve ever taken on, and somehow I’ve managed to pick up yet another %*# bug. Unlike a month ago this one’s just a head cold and there’s no coughing involved, but my nose is so bunged up that I feel I’ve forgotten what it’s like to breathe through it.

Noses aren’t the most attractive appendages at the best of times but right now mine could win awards – for size, colour... and contents (sorry).

My TransAlps partner Ryan Sandes, aka The Machine or Mach1 for short, is being ever-encouraging – it’s just a hiccup, he assures me, the legs will enjoy the rest... But truth be told, I’m terrified these legs have been so long off proper training that they’ve forgotten HOW to run up mountains. And in 31 days, they must see Mach1 and I safely through 8 days and 296km worth of the most mountainous terrain they’ve ever encountered, up 18 000m of ascent, and the same in descent – all without flinching.

For months we’ve prepared, we’ve planned, we’ve visualised our race. We both want to do our best – for ourselves, for each other, for our sponsors, for our loved ones and friends who’ve supported and encouraged us along the way. We all want this race.

And damn it, I’m not going to let a snotty nose get in the way!

“Racing teaches us to challenge ourselves. It teaches us to push beyond where we thought we could go. It helps us to find out what we’re made of. This is what we do. This is what it’s all about.” (Patti-Sue Plumer, US Olympian)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Hout Bay Trail Challenge 2010

Yesterday was the annual running of my favourite race, the Hout Bay Trail Challenge. What makes it my favourite? That’s easy – it’s special: not only because it’s another reason (if I ever need another reason) to play on the beautiful mountains surrounding the valley of Hout Bay, but because it’s tough, really tough.

Just as running a fast Two Oceans is said to be more punishing than Comrades even though it’s 34km shorter, so the HBTC can be deceiving in its degree of difficulty. After all, it’s only 36km, so what’s the problem..?

Hah, if you ever hear those words said about the HBTC, you know the speaker knows less than nothing about it! Those who’ve tackled the race know that kilometre for kilometre, it’s the hardest race on the trail calendar. It’s not called a “challenge” for nothing!

Starting and finishing in the Hout Bay harbour, the route covers
2 224m of ascent and, of course, the same again in descent.

This year we scored incredible weather – and equally incredible winning times. The men’s record tumbled from 4:17 by 6 mins (Ake Fagereng in 4:11), and the women’s was smashed by an astounding 11 mins (Katya Soggot in 4:40).

And for the first time ever the race saw a sub-3:40 time grace its record books – the men’s team of speedster champs Ryan Scott, Mike Bailey and Ryan Sandes whizzed across the mountains in lightning time of 3:39, a full 27 mins faster than the previous men’s team record.

Now, that’s moving it!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Temporary delay over, now all systems go

Isn’t it crazy how science has managed to work out how to split the atom, create stem cells, map the human genome, conduct surgery via remote control, and even possibly have achieved a vaccination for HIV... and yet there’s still no cure for the common cold.

And common it is – if anyone in the northern hemisphere is wondering where their flu bugs go during the summer, the answer’s simple: the lurgies fly south. Right now they’re visiting South Africa, pouncing on all who wants them least. We’re in the grips of a particularly chilly winter this year, and the flu bug seems to be spreading like wild fire. You don’t have to be Einstein to work out why colds were named as such!

This year the bug’s got a particularly snotty attitude. I think its first six months of training in the northern hemisphere must’ve made it especially grumpy, and now it’s determined to show us down here just how nasty it can be. Instead of a simple 3 - 5 day head cold, this year it’s knocking everyone for 6 to 10, and just as we think we’re over it and even think of heading out for a run, it bashes us again, just to be sure.

I’ve had 16 days of forced rest, compliments of the flu bug. Hopefully it’s thoroughly bored with me now and will find some other place to lurk – preferably under a rock somewhere so it doesn’t bother anyone else.

There’re 49 days to go before TransAlps. No time for lurgies – every day of training counts!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Dare to challenge

“No one can say ‘you must not run faster than this, or jump higher than that.’ The human spirit is indomitable.”
(Sir Roger Bannister, first person to run a sub 4-min mile)

They say the greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do. There’re so many examples of that in running – of people who’ve set their goals higher than people have thought possible, and dared to achieve them.

Over the next while I’ll be profiling famous trail runners who’ve achieved seemingly impossible things and shown that by believing they could, they did.

Trail Champ profile: Ann Trason

Born in 1960, Trason is an American ultramarathon runner from California. Her racing career spanned two decades, and during that time she smashed 20 world records.

She’s most well known for her dominance of the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, said to be amongst the world’s toughest ultramarathons for its extreme temperatures and an infamous 526m climb at the 74km mark. Interestingly, she didn’t finish her first two attempts at the race – in 1987 she dropped out because of knee problems, and the following year from dehydration. But in 1989 she finished and won, and did so for the next 9 years. She has won Western States 14 times in all, most recently in 2003, and still holds the women’s course record of 17:37:51, which she set in 1994.

Trason’s obsession with the Western States 100-Miler was born from her passion for trails: “I just immediately fell in love with it. I’ve always felt protected by trails – all trails, but Western States in particular.” (Trason, 2001)

Inspired by Alberto Salazar’s Comrades Marathon victory in 1994, Trason attempted her first Comrades in 1995 but withdrew at Drummond, suffering the effects of a viral infection. Said to be devastated and embarrassed by her “failure”, she returned in 1996 and won Comrades, setting a new record for the up run (6:13:23) – a time that would only be broken 10 years later by Elana Nurgalieva.

Then, just 12 days after her ’96 Comrades victory, she travelled halfway around the world and crossed nine time zones to score her 8th Western States win.

She did the same the following year: despite surgery on a persistent hamstring injury in November 1996, followed by a strict three months of recuperation and rehab, she returned to competition in May 1997 and repeated her Comrades victory of the year before in just 5:58. Her win made her the second woman ever to finish in under 6:00, just four minutes outside Frith van der Merwe’s course record.

And then again, just 12 days later, she scooped another Western States win.

In 1998 Trason established another landmark – she won five 100-mile trail races in 14 weeks: in June, the Western States in 18:46; in July, the Vermont 160km Endurance Run in 17:11; in August, the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Race in 20:58; and in September and October, the Wasatch and Arkansas 100-Mile Runs, thereby winning the Grand Slam of ultrarunning.

Course records
6:09:08 – American River 50 mile
6:13:23 – Comrades Marathon 90km
3:59:32 – Cool Canyon Crawl 50km
7:31:24 – Firetrails 50 mile (1987)
6:13:54 – Hunter Thompson 50 mile
18:06:24 – Leadville Trail 100 women's record (3rd overall in 1994)
8:55:49 – Miwok 100km Trail Race (2001)
6:43:00 – Quicksilver 50 mile
7:29:36 – Silver State 50 mile
22:27:10 – Wasatch Front 100 mile
17:37:51 – Western States 100 mile (1994)
7:00:47 – World 100km (1995)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

No time? It's the lamest excuse of all!

Those lines: “Gee, I really wish I could start running... but I just don’t have time...”

We’ve all heard it said, and we’ve all chuckled.

But sometimes I hear it said with such sincerity that I struggle to laugh it off – and I marvel that the person saying it actually believes it.

I wonder if they think that we runners run because we’ve got bags of free time on our hands?? As if we’ve got nothing else to do, so hey, let’s take up running!

Over the years I’ve come across so many runners who, in a determined effort to fit in their training, juggle their time to make sure they do their daily – or three times weekly, whatever it may be – trot. And ironically, it’s often runners who have the busiest schedules of all.

I know of mums who refuse to be restricted by wet nappies and Baby’s yodelling by simply popping said Baby into stroller and dashing out for a speedy 5km zip around the neighbourhood.

I’ve met high-powered business people who could say they don’t have the time or the energy to run, but instead prioritise their lunch hours for a session on the treadmill or a city run in the sun.

Then there was the couple who, finding themselves stuck for two days in a foreign airport during a host of airline industry strikes, helped to pass the time by doing twice-daily 8km runs back and forth along the highway to the airport.

And the good friend of mine who has to travel to London on business every month for five days at a time – rather than bemoan the fact that most of the time the temperature in the UK is way too damn cold to run in, and that her busy work schedule wouldn’t allow it anyway, she simply sets her alarm clock astonishingly early each morning while she’s there, pulls on all her winter woollies and heads out for her 10km run through the business heart of London in the pre-dawn darkness.

I once met a marine biologist who was training for his first marathon. He’d built up from zero fitness to marathon level over a period of eight steady months, despite having to spend six of those months on a research vessel based on Dassen Island. How did he manage to train? Some days he ran around the boat, and other times he ran round and round Dassen Island – much to the utter amazement of the penguins!

Time is a relative thing. It’s always in short supply. But it’s how you use it that determines what you get from it.

And if we want something badly enough, we’ll make the time to do it.

So the next time you hear someone telling you how they’d sooo LOVE to start running but they just don’t have the time, know that it’s actually nothing to do with time at all... the truth is simply that they just don’t WANT to start running.

And that’s their loss.