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!

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)