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!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Freedom Run - just 3 days til the finish line


Yesterday I had the privilege of joining Freedom Runners Mimi Anderson and Samantha Gash on the 29th day of their incredible 32-day, +2 000km run from Pietermaritzburg to Paarl, in South Africa.

I last saw Mimi and Samantha when they were in Cape Town, three days before they began their feat. They were bursting with excitement, laced with a hint of apprehension over what the challenge might throw at them. Being experienced with ultra distances and multi-day running in all sorts of conditions, they took on this challenge well aware that ahead of them lay the unknown, the only certainties being the basics of their route (rather than what that route entailed), the mileage they had to cover, and their shared determination to complete the challenge.
The mission of their run was clear: to raise as much as they possibly could to set up a social enterprise that will empower women in a rural community in the Free State to make reusable sanitary pads, enabling young girls to be free to continue their schooling without the interruption of their monthly periods.
The crew, aka "Cafe Boys Boys Boys" in action

The Freedom Run had been two years in the planning - from identifying their mission and carefully selecting the rural community for the pilot project, plotting the route and scheming the logistics with the help of the team behind the Freedom Challenge, to sourcing their wonderful crew who would give more than a month of their lives to slog, sweat over and serve Mimi and Sam for the duration of the Freedom Run.
The training these two wonder women had to do was the easy part of their preparation - it was organising everything that was the difficult part.

Stepping into Mimi and Samantha's world for a day almost a month after they'd started was in some ways like peeking 10 chapters on in a novel when you've only read the preface. In the preface to this book, the girls had looked fresh and bouncy, eager to face the unknown of the weeks ahead. Now, seeing them 10 chapters on, they looked so different - both very thin, drawn and somewhat weathered from running for 29 continuous days in the harsh African sun.
Sam and Mimi near Montagu, Western Cape

But as tired as they seemed on the outside, these two incredible women were still bursting with vigour and vitality within, more determined than ever to keep to their strict schedule, with the end goal being to help enable communities of young girls - girls that they will most likely never meet - to attend school for the education they need to have a decent future.

On Saturday Mimi and Sam will complete the Freedom Run, having covered more than 47 back-to-back marathons in 32 days, over 2 000km without even a single rest day. They've endured their fair share of icy starts and minus temperatures, of blasting sun through blistering days, of high winds and slamming rain; they've slogged on mountain trails 2 750m above sea level, waded across rivers, and whacked their way through reed beds. Together they've laughed, cried, winced and sweated their way across a vast chunk of our beautiful country, two non-South Africans with a determined dream to change the lives of those they can.

Here's a quick synopsis of why the Freedom Run is critical:
  • In South Africa, one in 10 girls between the ages of 11 and 17 miss out on 4-5 days of school a month due to their periods. This shouldn't have to be!
  • Commercially produced disposable sanitary pads are too expensive for most schoolgirls in Africa.
  • A girl missing 4 days of school every 28 days due to her period loses the equivalent of 8 weeks of school per year. Falling behind in lessons inevitably means they end up dropping out of school.
  • 60% of girls and women in South Africa don’t have access to feminine hygiene products. Instead, they make a plan, often using rags, cloth or bits of newspaper.
The Freedom Run is not only a mission to raise awareness and confront the problem, but to find a solution. The funds raised through the challenge will enable Save The Children International to establish a social enterprise in an identified community in the Free State as a pilot project. The business will employ women to make and sell reusable sanitary pads within their community.
The project will also provide ongoing education on health and hygiene for girls and women, as well as life skills training workshops for parents.

Show your support for the Freedom Run and what it stands for by becoming a part of the solution: click on the donate tab on this link: Save The Children Freedom Run

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Freedom Run – 24 Sept to 25 Oct 2014



Today was Day 1 of what will no doubt be the toughest run yet done on South African soil. Following the route of the 2 350km Freedom Trail, a gruelling event much hallowed by even the bravest mountain bikers, the Freedom Run is a challenge being tackled by two women – yes guys, two women – who will be running an average of 80km a day, over 32 days.

They’ll run from Pietermaritzburg to Paarl. Sixty-four back-to-back marathons…   on some of the toughest terrain in the country.

Click here to see the route:  Freedom Run route (and follow the little pink dot as it progresses - that's them!)

They’re tackling this feat as a challenge, and yes, they’ll achieve a great sense of personal achievement when they accomplish their goal, but far, far more importantly, they’re doing this for something very much greater than themselves – they’re raising funds to set up a social enterprise that will empower women in the community to make reusable sanitary pads, enabling young girls to be free to continue their schooling without the interruption of their monthly periods.

The next amazing fact is that neither of these women are South African – and yet they care enough to change the lives of young women in the rural areas of our country.

Mimi Anderson (UK) and Samantha Gash (Australia) are both hard core ultra-runners supreme, each with mileage under their belts that would scare most runners the world over.

Mimi (52) has two Guiness World Records to her name – one as the fastest woman to run from John O’Groats in northern Scotland to Land’s End in southern England (12 days 15 hours 46 min), and the other for the furthest distance covered on a treadmill in seven days by a female (649.86km).
She has won ultras in the Sahara, Kalahari and Namib Deserts, she was the first British woman to run the double Badwater Ultra Marathon (470km in 108hr 10min), which is in Death Valley, the hottest place on earth.
She was the overall winner of the 6633 Extreme Ultra Marathon in 2007, a 352 mile non-stop self-sufficiency race in the Arctic, setting a course record that is yet to be beaten: 143hrs 23min. She remains the only woman to have finished the race.

Well on her way to matching Mimi’s crazy achievements, Samantha (29) was the first woman and youngest person to have completed the Four Deserts Grand Slam, she has a 379km non-stop run across the Simpson Desert in Australia, and a 222km non-stop run across the Himalayas to her name.

What will the Freedom Run achieve? It’ll set young girls free.

Here’s the reality:
  • In South Africa, one in 10 girls between the ages of 11 and 17 miss out on 4-5 days of school a month due to their periods. WHY?
  • Commercially produced disposable sanitary pads are too expensive for most schoolgirls in Africa.
  • A girl missing 4 days of school every 28 days due to her period loses the equivalent of 8 weeks of school per year. Falling behind in lessons inevitably means they end up dropping out of school.
  • There is a distinct lack of education in the rural areas about the changes that happen to a girl’s body during puberty.
  • Menstruation is a taboo subject in most rural areas, and is not discussed openly.
  • 60% of girls and women in South Africa don’t have access to feminine hygiene products. Instead, they make a plan, often using rags, cloth or bits of newspaper.

Scary? The problem is real, it’s widespread, and it’s simply not acknowledged. And yes, it’s uncomfortable to talk about.

Mimi and Samantha’s Freedom Run is not only a mission to raise awareness and confront the problem, but to work a solution. The funds they raise through the challenge will enable Save The Children International to establish a social enterprise in an identified community in the Free State. The business will employ 12 women to make and sell reusable sanitary pads within their community.
“The project will also provide ongoing education on health and hygiene for girls and women, as well as life skills training workshops for parents. It’s a simple way of making a massive difference for thousands of girls in South Africa,” says Samantha.

Check out this quick clip, filmed over the days leading up to the start today: Freedom Runners' preparation and their crew

And yes…  today was Day 1. They ran 80.98km, with more than 2 000m of vertical gain, and still looked fresh at their finish line!


Follow their progress by clicking on the tracker on www.freedomrunners.org


Help Mimi and Sam raise funds by clicking on the donate link on the Freedomrunners website how to donate