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 28, 2013

Venit, vidit, vicit HBTC 2013

Stevie's finish sprint on Hout Bay beach
For those of you who aren’t Latin boffs: she came, she (very briefly) saw, she conquered the Hout Bay Trail Challenge 2013 – in style and with a smile!

That’s Stevie Kremer through and through – an incredibly talented trail runner who makes dashing up mountains look easy, and does so barely breaking a sweat.

When I met this crazy American girl at Sierre-Zinal SkyMarathon in Switzerland last year, I told her about our great range of trail races here in South Africa. So it didn’t take much convincing to get her to squeeze a gap in her year of teaching in Italy to come to the world’s most beautiful city (my unbiased opinion) to run one of South Africa’s most favourite and most challenging 37km trail races, the Hout Bay Trail Challenge.

With wins at the Jung Frau Marathon (earning her the title of World Long Distance Mountain Running Champion 2012) and the Hermannslauf 31km in Germany, a third place at the Zegama-Aigorre in Spain, and a win and new course record at the Mont Blanc Marathon in France, Stevie is fast gathering pedigree. Snapped up by Salomon International in 2012, she is one of their most promising athletes.

Stevie landed in Cape Town on Thursday after four days of flying (New York to Munich, to Milan, to Rome, to Cairo, to Johannesburg, to Cape Town). I whisked her straight home to drop off her bags, she threw on her running kit, and we whipped her up the mountains to recce Legs 1 and 2 of the course. Any hint of jet lag was left in the mist and wind up there – conditions were foul and it was an into-the-deep-end introduction for what to expect on race day!

Anyone who’s run the Hout Bay Trail Challenge has utmost respect for this race – don’t be fooled by its “easy” distance (37.5km), the route is tough. Kilometre for kilometre, it’s the most challenging on SA’s trail calendar – not only is it technical, but the course is unmarked. And to boot, the scenery is exquisite – the route covers the mountains surrounding the valley of Hout Bay.

The route: 
Starting and finishing in the Hout Bay harbour, the route covers 2 224m of ascent and, of course, the same again in descent. It has runners slogging up Karbonkelberg, around the front of Klein Leeukoppie, up Llandudno Ravine, over about seven of the Twelve Apostles, taking a right turn before the Valley of Isolation, running past Woodhead Dam, along the base of the Hely Hutchinson Dam wall, and traversing across onto the Smuts Track at Nursery Ravine. Popping onto the jeep track near the Bailiff’s hut and De Villiers dam, runners charge down to Constantia Nek, ready for the final slog – up Vlakkenberg (on race day only the polite leave the “l” in the name), onto the side of Constantiaberg (this stretch of single track makes the Vlakkenberg section worth all the effort – it’s one of the prettiest paths on the peninsula), down past the Manganese Mine to lower East Fort (nasty final click-point), and across Hout Bay beach for the final 1.5km stretch to the finish at the yacht club in the harbour.
(whew, I’m out of breath just describing all that)

The Cape winter weather strutted its stuff with all its might – from stinging downpours, sideways slamming hail and blustering winds, the runners had it all. And yet records ricocheted – AJ Calitz won the race in 4:00:21 (beating Will Robinson’s record by almost 6 mins); the mixed team winners Salomon (Christiaan Greyling, Noel Ernstzen, Landie Greyling) in 4:00:21; and Stevie had a stormer. She whipped the course into submission, smashing the women’s course record (which, importantly, was set on a 1.5km shorter course) by over 6 mins with a 4:34:55.
HBTC's trophies by Red Earth

the two race winners, Stevie and AJ 

Congrats to the 209 finishers of the HBTC 2013 – you’re all the richer for the wonderful experience. No doubt you’ll be back in 2014 to run your personal battles with the world’s most special mountains!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Racing The Planet: Iceland - for Solomon's Haven

Next up on my bucket list, the land of fire and ice: Iceland, for a 7-day, 250km self-sufficient stage race, starting in the highlands between Iceland's largest glacier Vatnajokull and Langjokull, from 4-10 August (click here for details).
Apart from the challenge of running that distance carrying a +/-10kg pack, the temperatures may well be extreme. While still officially late summer in early August, Iceland’s weather this time of year is unpredictable, with the likelihood of strong, icy winds and temperatures dropping below 0 deg C. 

As always, I'll be doing this for the cause that's close to my heart: Solomon's Haven. This is an emergency shelter in Mitchell's Plain, Cape Town that is home to +/-16 children, all of whom have been abused, neglected or abandoned by their own families and referred for safety to Solomon's Haven by the Department of Social Welfare. Maria and Alec Solomon provide a secure and loving environment that focuses on building self-esteem in preparation for the children’s eventual healthy integration into society.

Solomon’s Haven is a registered non-profit organisation and receives a government grant of less than R200 per month for each child in its care. This has to cover school fees, food, clothing, medical costs, and transport. These government grants are supplemented by Alec’s small income as a builder and, importantly, by donations.
The Haven provides a place of safety for children of all ages, from small babies to teenagers, many for a few years, some for just for a night or a few days. Often Maria receives children in the middle of the night needing immediate attention, care and refuge. As tribute to her enduring work for the community, Maria was runner-up in the V&A Woman of Worth 2003, and very proudly won the full award in 2004.

To raise funds for Solomon’s Haven, I’ve registered with BackaBuddy, an online donation site through which donating is simple, fast and totally secure. It's also the most efficient way to donate directly to where funds are needed. You don’t have to be in South Africa – anywhere in the world works just as well!
Please help me to raise as much as I can for Solomon’s Haven. Here’s the deal: I’ll do the tough stuff and slog across tundra, and you click on the DONATE NOW link at the top of my BackaBuddy page! My donation page is called http://www.backabuddy.co.za/champion/project/icelandic-250km-race 

Please remember, every donation – big or small – counts for a lot. Let's do it, together!

Friday, July 12, 2013

World Ultra Trail Champs 2013 – the Saffa perspective

On Saturday 6 July, the South African ultra distance team of seven trail runners took on reputedly the world’s best in the World Ultra Trail Championships in Wales. More than 150 runners from 20 countries started the 78km race, a course of five 15km laps set in the Gwydyr Forest near the picturesque town of Llanryst, north Wales.
Soaring UK temperatures and extreme conditions saw a high dropout rate amongst runners, with SA finishing as one of the few full teams to complete the race.
British athlete Ricky Lightfoot dominated the entire race and swept across the finish line in 1st position in a time of 5:36, almost 10 minutes ahead of German Florian Neuschwander.
French Nathalie Mauclair was equally impressive, demolishing a world-class women’s field in 6:38.

        bla bla bla …  ….  …

Ok, you’ll have read the numerous press releases all week. Those facts are a bit ho hum now…  but what about the juicy stuff? What was the race really like, you're wondering.
So, here’s the low down from a Saffa perspective, juicies included.
The SA team – Tracy Zunckel, Landie and Christiaan Greyling, Dirk Cloete, Chantel Nienaber, Charl Soumer and myself – cut fine form on the start line in their striking green-and-gold kit. (Read: the guys felt relaxed in their shorts and vests, while the girls felt somewhat naked in their skimpy hotpants and tiny crop tops. It was purely for speed, we’d resorted to telling ourselves – less drag… )
a scary sight...
Countdown to 9am and we were off, cracking quite a pace as we covered the 1km tar section before hitting the forest and starting the five 15km laps.

Landie Greyling
The course was a mix of single track and wide jeep track, some steep inclines through dense forest, and a few short sections of fairly technical bits (tree roots at worst). The lap style wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d expected – 15km was far enough and the terrain sufficiently varied for it to not feel repetitive or monotonous. The course was scenic, and generally not tough underfoot.

The day was long…   and even longer for some of us than others. Landie, as you know by now, was our star of the day – she ran an absolute stormer, finishing as 9th woman and achieving her goal of coming in the top 10. Keeping it in the family, Christiaan ran a blistering 6:58, coming in 32nd and the first Saffa over the line.
Charl Soumer
Charl powered a fantastic time of 7:16, considering he ran much of the race battling a hip issue and had several massages during the race to temporarily correct his alignment. (Reliable inside sources have disclosed that Charl had to pull out all the stops in the final 3km, when he realised he was close to being “chicked” by Landie. Adrenalin and panic kicked in and he finished with 28 secs to spare before Landie crossed the line.)
Dirk Cloete

Dirk too ran a stormer, finishing in 7:21, an amazing achievement considering just a year ago he underwent major surgery on his right knee and was warned it was unlikely he would run competitively again. During the race Dirk fell on his left knee, which bruised, swelled and made his last lap extra tough.

Tracy Zunckel
Tracy, our dark horse speedster from the roaring metropolis of Bergville, struggled with a glute issue days before the race. In an attempt to awaken her “dead legs”, she threw back a couple of Cataflam, soon learning that anti-inflams during an ultra are definitely not kidney-friendly. By the final lap she was throwing up evil-looking black stuff. Our speedster pushed through and finished in 7:51, a tidy 28th position in the women.

Chantel started strong and proceeded to scare everyone back home by disappearing off the radar – her timing chip malfunctioned after the first lap and kept her progress under wraps. She ran a great race, keeping up a constant pace and finishing in 8:18.
Chantel Nienaber

Mine was a rather gritty affair. I’d wanted to score a good day – my legs were far from over-trained and I was coming into the race with a less-is-more approach: if I had a good day, I could do well. But, that was not to be…
The day before the race I woke with a sore throat. Knowing that would mean girl-down on race day, I desperately consumed copious amounts of vitamin C in an effort to stave off the lurgy before it could take hold. The +5000mg I devoured had two effects: on the positive side it bought me a day’s grace, and I was able to wake up on race day with the throat feeling no worse; on the negative side, it gave me gastro-intestinal upset enough to move an entire Russian army. Or even two. Make that three. My stomach had more trots than my legs had runs, and during the first three laps of the race, I dashed into the bushes FIVE times.
Enough Immodium later to clog a carthorse in Calcutta, I was fixed – and feeling remarkably light – so that in laps 4 and 5 I was able to pick up the pace and run as I should’ve been able to run. Lap 5 turned out to be my second fastest, and I finished the race strong, relieved that I’d managed to recover at least a couple of places and cross the line in a fairly decent time, considering.

the girls - fully clothed
It was a great day for us, and we all fought our battles in one way or another. We had amazing support along the route – our team manager Altus Schreuder with Marcus Nienaber stationed at the 9km table; my brother Graham, sister-in-law Marie, and Marinda Cloete manning the table at the start/end of each lap; and Tracy’s mum Pauline and friend Christa on the course, cheering us on. The vibe was fantastic and the energy amongst the team extremely positive. South African trail running was represented in full force, and on every count we held our heads high and did our country proud.

A huge heartfelt thanks must go to Altus Schreuder for his unfailing determination and incredible patience in the face of the barrage of political challenges he faced as team manager in the months, weeks and days leading up to these champs – and those he still faces for the upcoming World Mountain Running champs in Poland.
Altus, without your efforts and perseverance, South African trail running would not be getting these fantastic opportunities to compete on the world stage.