Sunday, April 21, 2013

Over the Hills

The brief was simple; 3 days, 90km, the men's veteran category (old men's race) at the Pronutro African X trail run. My partner, the mountain goat Dion Middelkoop, had chosen me as replacement for a rock rabbit who was probably a vet (over 40) but his two passports told different stories. So I was in, albeit as a late replacement, giving Dion the opportunity (in his words) for some nice 'long sunday runs'. 

I'd trained like a demon, so had Dion, with identical March mileage of 525km and lots of hills. He's also more talented, and as this was a pairs race, it would be the weaker partner who would determine the outcome. We had the bad luck story of last year as our main opposition. Noel and Derrick who had led all the way to the final day before injury hit and a win became a hard to take loss. 

The leaders gunning it on day 3

The racing was fast from the start and that should have suited me, but my good times in the US have been on the road or the more manicured American trail. Day 1 was 33km, day 2 similar and day 3 a fast 24km. We saw some beautiful parts of Grabouw, on single track, wine farms, rolling hills, zebra, and a lot of the backs of Noel and Derrick. Dion was patient, he never complained, despite our disparity in abilities and speed. 

Dion had time to run ahead and take photos!

We flew day 1, we lost by 4 minutes. Day 2 was for the rock rabbits, we lost another 14 minutes, but had a ball running over the old wagon trail and into the stunning MTB single tracks of Grabouw, it was proper trail running. Day 3 was a roadies day, but with hills, again should have suited me. N and D put another 10 minutes into us. It's very hard to be disappointed with three second places and second overall, and I'm not, but boy do I want to come back and race again. Running for Team Contego and being competitive got my blood pumping and left me wanting more. African X isn't the most technical trail race, or the longest, but it is the most fun, and ensures everyone has a blast. 

Happy it's over and we held onto 2nd overall

Thanks to Dion, Team Contego (Fast Eddie), Stillwater, all the supporters especially Lee-Ann Harris, and the runners, who made it an awesome 3 days back in Africa.

Friday, April 19, 2013

African X'ed Day 1

Today was day 1 of the 3 day African X trail race in Grabouw, Western Cape. Almost 300 teams (of 2 runners) lined up at 8am on a cool, breezy morning. All the greyhounds were there, from 30 minute 10km runners to seasoned mountain goats. I was with a mountain goat; Dion Middelkoop, and a late replacement in the veterans category (over 40 years of age) for Dion's original partner, who Dion wasn't sure if he was 39 or 40. He would have been faster than me, and maybe even have enticed Dion out of 3rd gear and from taking photos of me on the run!

I love running. And hate it. Its unforgiving, relentless, takes no prisoners and a lot of the time defies logic. When you think you have the perfect prep, the race bites you. Sometimes it works the other way around, but not often. 

This week I'd tapered, finished off a massive month training, run a 21km personal best, and thought I was in great shape. The start, with the greyhounds, seemed pretty steady by my standards, no sub 4 min kays, just a pack of fast runners sussing each other out. We hung with them for a few kays, then a few kays with our Vets competition, then what seemed like a long slog where we had to just keep plugging away, feeling like shit! Well I did. As i said this is a team event. You have a partner, who is stronger or weaker than you. I knew the score, but hoped i could at least pull Dion out of his comfort zone once or twice. Maybe the course; undulating, no real big climbs hurt me. It was relentless and the pace was under 5 mins a kay for us all the way. That's not fast by race standards, but with trail terrain it wears away at your legs and those small hills start to hurt.

They all did today. We didn't see our category competitors after the first few kays, and for me it was just survival. I bit disappointing after such a great couple of months training, but thats the beauty of running. It's no respecter of what we want to happen.

Up front the team of Nicholas Rupanga and Kane Reilly blitzed the field with Mike Bailey and Ben Brimble staying with them until near the finish. A J Calitz and Nic De Beer were 4 minutes back. Day 2 is 30+km of more technical trail with the first 10km taking in a lot of the climbing. 

Its going to be a long day!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Why we give a X

A week away is South Africa's most popular, and most competitive multiday stage trail race, African X. A 3 day 'clover leaf' format where you have one race village (in Grabouw, Cape Town) and the participants run various routes around the area, staying each night at the same venue. The stage distances are roughly 33km, 35km and 24km, with climbing of 700-800m per day. It is also pretty special in that you run in pairs and have to stay with your partner all the time (there are penalties and disqualification if you separate).

This dynamic changes everything. Suddenly you aren't the lone runner, with ipod, going your own pace, fast when you want, slow when you tire. If you and your partner are of equal pace, strength, moods, and running styles it's pretty much a miracle. Normally one partner is stronger most of the time, and that is the easier of the two options you have in a pair. Find a slightly weaker partner, motivate, cogule, encourage and support them as you should have more time and energy to devote to them!

I've raced three multiday team events, two Odysseys (5 days, 210km) and a truncated African X when the final day was cancelled. We were lucky enough to win our category each time. All with ultra strong, ultra consistent female partners. Moyra and Viv were the two toughest runners I've been lucky enough to run with. 500km of running over 12 days and I dont remember one gripe or complaint. From them. The heat and cumulative mileage broke me on the last day of the two Odysseys, but otherwise we were well matched.

African X 2013 is different. I've trained harder than ever before. My partner has trained harder. I've run more hills than ever (10,000m in March), he's run higher (14,000m). I've been 2nd and broke my 21km Personal Best. He's won a trail race and ran much faster. You can read his blog. He has youngsters for breakfast. I feel massive pressure to perform well. I'm competitive so is he. Being very much the weaker partner will be an experience and I know it is going to hurt, but I'm also hopelessly excited about racing as a team against, or at least around the best trail runners in SA. Extra motivation arrived last weekend when friend and SA meteorologist Simon Gear bagged an Oceans silver (sub 4 hours for 56km) after training his butt off. The guy on the left is about to fire the gun denoting the 4 hour silver cut off. THIS is what it should feel like to achieve your goal. In any walk of life.

I'm not the only one feeling the pressure I'm sure. A friend of mine is running her first multiday race and is single minded in training. African X, not letting her partner down and running well for her sponsors is the priority, which it wouldn't be in a solo event. This doesn't apply to all runners, many of whom will run to enjoy the spectacular Western Cape views, but most teams track where they finish each day and look at their category rivals. We'll race hard, but it's going to be special to back in the SA trail community for three days. That's why we give a X.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Modern Life is Rubbish

My two bug bears with litter are cigarette butts and runners littering. Both of these instances seem 'acceptable' by the litterer because either everyone does it (former) or someone will clean up after me (later).

My building in Portland ( is a non smoking, pet and environmentally friendly building up towards PSU in Downtown. The no smoking rule SHOULD extend to 10 feet from the building, but the main entrance almost always has butts on the floor. How is this acceptable? It is littering just the same as throwing sweet wrappers on the floor.

Last weekend was what is now the biggest event in South African road running, the Two Oceans marathon (there is a 56km, 21km, and two trail runs) with over 30,000 participants. The ultra goes over Chapman's Peak, an iconic Cape Town location. The wind blows in Cape Town, always has. The problem is water is given out at more than 20 aid stations on route, in plastic sachets and bottles. 100,000's of them. The clean-up after the race seems to only concentrate what is actually on the road! Hows does that work?

So you have this sight. Not a great advert for Cape Town, this stunning stretch of coastline or the race itself. Is it the runners who are the problem or the packaging? Why does South Africa (uniquely?) use plastic sachets that blow away easily in the wind? Plastic cups aren't much better. A few races are trying to address the issue of litter and at the same time use of resources. The recent Chuckanut 50k in Bellingham gave a reusable plastic pouch to all runners which they could fill at each aid station. 

A much better idea. No-one was complaining about having to wait to fill up. Maybe 11,000 road runners would make this unworkable? But whats unworkable in a 56km ultra. Having to stop for 10 seconds or so to fill up your pouch. You'd have the same number of volunteers with jerry cans instead of handing out cups. Runners wouldn't be able to litter, race organisers would save money and the environment and wouldn't run the risk of having a race being sanctioned for not clearing up. Surely a win. win for everyone concerned.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

It is about the bike (in Portland)

This weekend Portland met summer and what a mood changer. Downtown turned into cafe society central, Washington Park filled up, even the river looked less murky.

Running in Forest and Washington park with just shorts and tackies was divine. Sitting outside having coffee in the square likewise.

I hadn't ventured onto the streets on my bike until Sunday. A combination of the weather and an invite from a new friend took me 'over the river'. It was 23 degrees and biking seemed a good idea. GPS plotted it and then followed the bike paths all the way to the door. Bike left outside, a few drinks and then cycled home at 10pm in complete safety. This is how a city should do biking. How it should be to live in a city caring only about enjoying it. Portland isn't maybe typical in the US, in fact it's probably atypical, with its weird reputation, tattoo society and outdoor culture.

Biking is now something I'm looking forward to whereas before it scared me to venture onto the streets. Whether its going to a bar from home or 100 miles on the road I know my bike is calling and once three days of being dragged by Coach Dion around Grabouw is over I'm going to bond with my Specialized again and also take advantage of a NO WIND city (Capetonians will understand).

Until then I continue to fall in love with Forest and Washington Parks. Trail running heaven 1.4km from my office door and the same distance from home. It's not TM but it's not far off. Truly blessed.