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!

Monday, September 21, 2015

S is for summer... and for snakes

We’re now into summer and we’re not the only ones out there enjoying the trails – here in southern Africa there’re a few more “obstacles” to be hoppin’ over and around than just rocks…

Snakes are ectothermic (cold blooded). This doesn’t actually mean they have cold blood, but rather that they have no internal mechanism to control body temperature, so they have to depend on their immediate environment to warm themselves. That’s why we’re far more likely to come across snakes in summer than during the colder months.

In writing this blog, my intention is not to scare but simply to raise awareness around snakes so we can know what to do when we come across them out there when we’re in mid run.

Remember, it’s the same principle as applies to the ocean and sharks: snakes were out there long before we were, and the mountains, veldt and bush are more theirs than ours, so respect is key in our relationship with them. We’re in their territory, not them in ours.

This blog post is by no means anywhere near a comprehensive explanation on herpetology! That research would take me ages. Instead, it’s a quick overview of which snakes we need to be wary off when running or hiking in southern Africa. (Apologies to readers elsewhere in the world J )

There’re more than 150 species of snake in southern Africa. Only 16 are considered dangerous. Snakes have a bad reputation for being deadly. But the truth is they’re not really interested in us at all – in fact, they do their best to have as little to do with us as possible. Snakes only attack if they feel threatened.

Basically, there’re only four types of snake in South Africa that can be classified as dangerous to humans:


Description:  colour varies from green to brown to black. Boomslangs have a short stubby head and large eyes.
Size:  max length 2m
Where found:  throughout southern Africa in karoo scrub, fynbos, savannah and grassland. Not found in the central Highveld or Lesotho. Spends time in trees and shrubs.
Defence:  very shy but if provoked will puff up its neck and sometimes its entire body.
Venom:  haemotoxic (affects the body’s blood-clotting mechanism, causes severe bleeding internally and from the mucous membranes. The venom is slow acting and can take 24-48 hours to produce severe symptoms.

Description:  usually plain coloured, can be yellow, red, brown or black.
Size:  max length 1.6m
Where found:  fynbox, karoo scrub and arid savannah in the Western, Eastern and Northern Cape, Free State, Namibia and Botswana.
Defence:  stands its ground and spreads a hood when threatened.
Venom:  neurotoxic (nerve-destroying), resulting in difficulty in breathing, then dizziness, loss of consciousness and, if untreated, suffocation through respiratory collapse.


Description:  dark brown or black with one or two white rings around the throat.  
Size:  max length 1.5m
Where found:  grassland, fynbos and savannah in most regions of South Africa apart from Northern Province.
Defence:  disappears quickly when disturbed, unless cornered, in which case it rears up and puffs its head.
Venom:  neurotoxic (nerve-destroying), which affects breathing. As with the Cape Cobra, if untreated can cause respiratory failure and death.


Description:  stubby body; colour varies from yellow to browny with distinct chevron markings along its entire body.
Size:  max length 1.4m
Where found:  occurs throughout the whole of southern Africa, but not on mountain tops, in desert sand or thick jungle.
Defence:  relies on excellent camouflage; it freezes when disturbed so is often difficult to see, and can easily be stepped on or stumbled over. Hisses or puffs when disturbed.
Venom:  a potent cytotoxic (cell-destroying) venom that attacks tissues and blood cells. The venom is slow-acting, and the victim can take as long as 24 hours to die.

Preventing snake bites
  • If you come across a snake on the path, leave it alone – DO NOT TRY TO MOVE IT OR KILL IT.
  • If you’re very close to the snake, keep dead still. It’s likely to ignore you and just slither away.
  • If you’re not very close to the snake, simply walk away – there’s no need for dramatic fleeing, as snakes never give chase.

DO keep victim calm
DO immobilise victim and keep the wound below heart height if possible
DO apply a pressure bandage, taking the strapping from the site of the bite towards the body. Strap firmly but not so tight as to restrict circulation.
DO give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation if victim is struggling to breathe
DO get victim to hospital ASAP.

DO NOT kill the snake
DO NOT apply a tourniquet or restrict circulation to the area
DO NOT suck the wound
DO NOT make any incisions in or near the wound
DO NOT inject snake bite serum unless the bite was from a Black Mamba or a Cape Cobra

One last point. If you happen to see a snake trying to cross a road, do try your best to usher it along (without endangering yourself) - the sooner it can cross, the sooner it can be out of danger from traffic. Take a couple of minutes to interrupt your run or your journey to stop the cars and give the snake the chance it needs to safely get to the other side. so many snakes end up as roadkill, and it's a tragedy.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

SA’s oldest and newest trail races

Trail running has taken the running world by storm over the past decade, and South Africa’s no different. The sport has burgeoned at such a pace across Europe, the US, the UK, Australia and Asia, just as it has in our country, and the international calendar is ripe with races popping up in practically every far flung region of the globe.

South Africa has its own rich heritage of iconic trail races on its calendar. The oldest by far (although admittedly, it’s not pure trail) is the Harrismith Mountain Race, a 15km race on the Platberg (‘flat mountain’) near Harrismith in the Free State (Harrismith Mountain Race). 
Platberg, near Harrismith

The first formal staging of the race was in 1922 and this October will celebrate its 93rd running. Tipped by the much-revered Wally Hayward as “the toughest obstacle race in the world”, the 15km race also hosts the world record for the most consecutive wins in a single race – achieved by South African Michael McDermott, who won it 16 times in a row, of the 30 times he competed.

Other races with deep roots in SA’s trail running history include the Rhodes Run (started in 1989, mainly dirt road) (Rhodes Run), Mont-aux-Sources Challenge (1993) (Mont-aux-Sources Challenge), the PUFfeR (1995, more than 30% on tar) (PUFfeR), Three Peaks Challenge (1997, about 50% tar) (Three Peaks Challenge), SkyRun (1998, pure trail) (SkyRun) and the 7-day self-sufficient desert race, the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon (1999, no tar) (KAEM).

And for the adrenalin junkies amongst us, there’s skyrunning. the South African Skyrunning Association (SASA), affiliated to the International Skyrunning Federation (ISF), brought official skyrunning to the mountains of southern Africa in 2011, featuring categories like the SkyMarathon®, Ultra SkyMarathon®, SkyRace® and the Vertical Kilometre®, all forming part of the annual national Skyrunning Series.

These types of races focus on pure mountain running, with virtually no tar on route, and where elevation gain is the primary challenge.

So far this year there’ve been six races in the 2015 Skyrunner® Series – the Drakensberg Northern Trail SkyMarathon® (KZN, 42km, vertical gain 2 100m) (DNT); the Ingeli SkyMarathon® (KZN, 42km, vert gain 1 800m) (Ingeli Trail Run); Uitsoek Skymarathon® (Mpumalanga, 36km, vert gain 2 167m) (Uitsoek Skymarathon); Xtreme Dodo Trail (Ultra SkyMarathon®, Mauritius, 50km, vert gain 3 500m – this was the African Skyrunning Continental Championships) (XDT); the Ti Dodo Trail (SkyRace®, Mauritius, 25km, vert gain 1 500m) (TDT); and the Wolkberg SkyMarathon® (Limpopo, 34km, vert gain 1 781m) (Wolkberg Trail Run).

Next up in the series will be on September 26th with the Marloth Mountain Challenge (MMC), an Ultra SkyMarathon® in the Marloth Nature Reserve in the Langeberg mountains above Swellendam in the Western Cape. With more than 85% of the 55km route being on remote mountain hiking trail, and a vertical gain of more than 3 400m, this one will be tough, beautiful, and one to test the trail running stalwarts.

In October is the Matroosberg SkyMarathon® (MTC), near Ceres in the Western Cape, offering 2 100m of vertical gain over 37km.

The final race in the 2015 Skyrunner® Series will be on November 28th with the Lesotho Ultra Trail (LUT), a 50km Ultra SkyMarathon® with 3 200m of vertical gain in the fresh, lung-busting air of the Lesotho highlands. Now in its third year, the LUT starts and finishes at the beautiful Maliba Lodge in the heart of the Maluti mountains.

So, whatever your trail kick, keep those quads and lungs pumped and ready for action, because there’s lots of it happening – and even more to come!