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!

Friday, December 9, 2016

Ultra-Trail Cape Town's ultra-spectacular playground

Tomorrow will be staged the third running of Ultra-Trail Cape Town (UTCT), when 1 000 extremely privileged trail runners from 40 countries will experience the exhilaration of running up, over, down, around and across South Africa’s most photographed landmark, Table Mountain.

Depending on whether they’re running the 35km, the 65km or the full 100km, some will be slogging further and for longer than others. Many will have already recced their race route in sections or in its entirety, while others will be seeing this special mountain up close and personal for the first time.

But one thing’s for certain: all will feel the grace and power of that great mountain – the mountain that Nelson Mandela once proclaimed “a gift to the Earth”.

This is not a blog about UTCT and what a fantastically organised event it is, nor will it be raving about the event’s achievement of having been announced part of the 2017 Ultra-Trail World Tour. In just two years, the race has put the beautiful city of Cape Town on the global stage of ultra-distance trail running, and it certainly doesn’t need a pre-race blog to reinforce that.

No, this blog post is about the mountain that lies at the heart of this, and several other great Cape Town trail races. It’s a mountain like no other – not for its height, for surely it cannot compare to the giants that loom elsewhere in the world; nor for its hardness of rock, its upper layer consisting of highly erodible sandstone.

                                                                                                                                           photo by Andrew King
Table Mountain is in a league of its own for so many reasons, and it’s no surprise that in 2012 it was proclaimed one of the world’s New 7 Wonders of Nature.

Tomorrow Table Mountain will be the focus for 1 000 trail runners and their friends and family around the world, so this blog post pays tribute to the mountain, in all her glory.

Facts (and some fun fiction) about Table Mountain

FACT:  Table Mountain is far more than just the magnificent flat-topped square-cut monolith it appears to be from Cape Town city centre. Instead the 6-10km table forms the front face of a spine of mountains that winds its way some 50km directly south along the Cape peninsula to the Cape of Good Hope. The Twelve Apostles make up its immediate backbone, with 17 buttresses leering gracefully across the Atlantic Ocean above Camps Bay and Llandudno.

FACT:  More than 500 million years old, Table Mountain is older than the Alps, the Andes, the Rockies and the Himalayas.

FACT:  Table Mountain is the only natural site on the planet to have a constellation named after it. In 1754, French Astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lecaille named the southern constellation Mons Mensae (Latin for “the table mountain”) after the iconic landmark. The name has since been shortened to Mensa.

FICTION:  The famed “tablecloth” that settles on the table top during the south-easterly wind common to the summer months is not a cloud at all, but rather the effect of a smoking duel that’s been raging since the 1600s between a Dutch pirate Van Hunks and the devil.

FACT:  Table Mountain National Park hosts the richest floral kingdom on earth, with more than 1 240 floral species, 60% of which are endemic (they exist nowhere else in the world). The area is recognised globally for its biodiversity and its unique flora and fauna.

FACT:  The original San name for the Table Mountain range is Hoerikwaggo, meaning “mountains of the sea”.

FACT:  Table Mountain National Park has more than 800 000 visitors a year. Since it opened in 1929, the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway has taken more than 22 million people up the mountain.

FACT:  Table Mountain is visible from as far out to sea as 150km. And yet the Cape Peninsula has more than 600 shipwrecks along its shores.

FACT… or fiction?  Table Mountain is getting higher. The mountain is syncline, which means it was once the bottom of a valley. Part of the great Cape Fold Belt, it was gradually pushed up (and is still being pushed up?) to form the parallel ranges of mountains that run for 800km along the southern and south-western Cape coastline.

And the most obvious fact of all is that Table Mountain forms a majestic one kilometre high backdrop to the most beautiful city on the African continent.

So, to all those readers who’re running Ultra-Trail Cape Town tomorrow – and those of you who will run on our mountain any other time, remember to touch her lightly, she's very old and very special.

And always, take only memories, leave only footprints.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Thailand Power of Ten Challenge

Running an ultra is no doddle. Anything over 42km is gruelling on the body, and the further you push, the tougher it gets. Add to that the conditions you’re running in and the terrain you’re running on, and things can get rather interesting…

Imagine running 50km a day for 20 consecutive days, in heat and humidity that saps every smidgeon of bounce from your legs, across all terrain from tar to dirt road to sodden rice paddy. And then, on the 20th day, adding the toughest stretch of all, a formal 100km trail ultra marathon, just for good measure.

And now, imagine if every slogging step of that journey could be worth so much more than merely the feeling of achieving the completion of the distance. Imagine if for every ultra you run, you can give a child a gift that will change his or her life forever. Imagine that.

Forget imagination – that’s what David Grier and Andy Stuart are making reality with their Thailand Power of 10 challenge: they’re clocking up 1 100km up Thailand in 20 extremely hot and sweaty days, culminating in the Thailand Ultra 100km race. And each of those 20 days will enable a child to smile for the first time.

The thin black line is their route from Bangkok up to Ban Tham village near the Burmese border

It’s simple: David and Andy are running their miles to earn smiles for at least 20 kids in need of corrective cleft palate surgery. Those smiles will be first-time smiles, and lifetime smiles. Their run will have the power to change the lives of those kids forever. All this through the Cipla Miles for Smiles Foundation.

Operation Smile South Africa provides free surgeries to repair cleft lip, cleft palate and other facial deformities for children in southern Africa. Each surgery costs, of course, and through the work of dedicated, philanthropist medical specialists and the Cipla Foundation, the fee is reduced to just R5 500 – free to the patient but the funds still need to be paid. That’s where the fundraising efforts of Miles for Smiles come in.

Why the Power of 10?
Ten is symbolic on many counts: this is the 10th of David’s fundraising endurance challenges; it’s been 10 years since the first of those 10 was achieved (the first full length completion of the Great Wall of China, 4 200km ), and close on R10 million is the amount that has been raised through the 10 feats.

As David says “The power of 10 is the beginning of a celebration of the past 10 year, a journey of a life-fulfilling adventure of passion, zest for life and the internal yearning to make a difference in some way.”

And the 10 years has seen nearly 2 000 children receive corrective surgery funded by David’s runs for the Cipla Miles for Smiles Foundation for Operation Smile South Africa.

Over the past nine years David has clocked up around 26 000km in endurance feats for charity: 
  • The Great Wall Challenge – in 2006, he and Braam Malherbe were the first people in recorded history to run the full length of the Great Wall of China (4 200km in 98 days)
  • SA Coastal Challenge – in 2008 he and Braam ran the entire coastline of South Africa, from Namibia to Mozambique (3 300km in 80 days)
  • Madagascar Challenge – in 2010 he paddled solo from Africa to Madagascar (500km in 11 days) and then ran across Madagascar (2 000km in 66 days)
  • India Challenge – in 2011 David and Andy ran across India, north to south (4 008km in 93 days)
  • UK Challenge – in 2012 David and Andy ran the length of the UK from John O’Groats to Lands End
  • Cuba Challenge – in 2014 David and Andy achieved another first, running from Guantanamo Bay near San Antanio  in the south east to Punte Messi in the north-west of Cuba (1 800km in 28 days)
  • And now it’s the Thailand Challenge: 1 100km, from Bangkok to Ban Tham village in the north of the country near the Burmese border. Once there, they’ll run the 100km Thailand Ultra Marathon, rated by Red Bull as the fifth toughest ultra in Asia.
I was privileged to be invited by the two crazies to run that final 100km race with them. Sadly, I had other commitments and had to turn them down L 
So, yesterday they sent me this quick video clip to say hi: 

Today the guys have less than 350km to go before they reach the start line of their final 100km. It’s been hellishly hard, not so much for the daily distance they’re pushing, but for the climate they’re running in – Thailand’s humidity is soporific, and trying to exercise in those conditions feels impossible.

There are two ways you can help David and Andy reach their target of R110,000 towards #MilesForSmiles for Operation Smile South Africa
  • sms SMILES to 39051 and you will be contributing R25
  • click on the Cipla Foundation donation page and donate an amount of your choice: CLICK HERE TO DONATE

Just a quick and simple click will help David and Andy raise funds to help as many kids with cleft lip or palate as possible receive corrective surgery, and let them be able to smile!

Follow David Grier's blog during the Thailand Power of 10 on this link: David Grier's blog

* all photos credited to Peter Kirk Media