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, November 26, 2015

MAN versus BEAST

Seems I’m on again about beasts - this my second blog in a few months about the topic (read my blog on The Beast 2015).

But this time it’s different. Rather than a bunch of runners trying to run up, over and down a beast of a mountain, this time it’s about two men pitted against three real live four-legged beasts, racing them over a long distance, to see who gets to the finish line first. And, importantly, to facilitate corrective surgery in animals and children with facial deformities that deprive them of a normal life.

The challenge:

Andy Stuart and David Grier during their 7 x TMC
  • 800km of mostly beach
  • 16 days
  • two 2-leggers versus three 4-leggers

It may seem so…  until you learn who the two-leggers are. Then you’ll see it’s more likely the four-leggers who should be nervous.

Check out this great clip for the low-down:

David Grier and Andy Stuart are no strangers to challenge. Over the past nine years David has clocked up close to 25 000km running endurance feats for charity:
  • in 2006, he and Braam Malherbe were the first to run the full length of the Great Wall of China (4 200km in 98 days)
  • in 2008 he and Braam ran the entire coastline of South Africa (3 300km in 80 days)
  • in 2010 he paddled solo from Africa to Madagascar (500km in 11 days)
  • in 2010/2011 he ran across Madagascar (2 700km in 64 days)

David during his run in India
Together David and Andy have run across India (4 008km in 93 days), the length of Cuba (1 500km in 28 days), and down the UK from John O’Groats to Lands End. They’ve managed to squeeze in a few other smaller, fun feats too, like running the length of Hadrian’s Wall in the UK, and doing the Table Mountain Challenge seven times in seven days.

They take on these challenges not for them, nor for the achievement, but for the difference their achievement can make to the lives of others. In nine years, David has raised over R8.7 million for Operation Smile, providing corrective cleft lip and cleft palate surgeries for more than 2 000 children in southern Africa.

Ok, so that’s the MAN team. They’re pretty confident. But then, so is the BEAST team.

Three Arabian horses with the strength, guts and stamina you’d expect of such lineage will challenge MAN, under the expert eye of world renowned competitive endurance rider and SA champ, Gillese de Villiers. If anyone can manage these studs over distance, Gillese can – she has conquered 30 equestrian one-day 100 milers, and has raced in endurance world championships around the globe.
Taryn Peters and Micah Antrobus make up the team, both highly competitive equestrian athletes with the will to win.

Why this challenge?

David has been raising funds for Operation Smile via the Cipla Miles For Smiles campaign for the past decade. The MAN versus BEAST concept was born when David learned that horses too can be born with cleft lips and cleft palates. Rhinos too can benefit from corrective surgery – Project SAVE THE SURVIVORS was started in 2012 to provide corrective surgery for rhinos that have survived having their horns hacked off. More than 80 rhinos a year benefit from corrective surgery after such trauma.
As Cipla is dedicated to providing healthcare for both animals and humans, the MAN versus BEAST fundraising challenge made perfect sense.

The logistics

Both MAN and BEAST teams plan to run early in the day to make the most of the cooler hours. David, however, is confident he and Andy will have the heat advantage over the horses, and will be able to press on irrespective of temperatures. The horses will need to break every two hours – that’s about five times a day – to consume about 15 litres of water, and a bale and a half of lucerne a day.

The three Arabian stallions are the engines of the BEASTS
“The horses will have speed, but Andy and I have continuous endurance – we’re fine in the heat and we’ll be able to push on in all conditions,” says David.

Another small advantage for MAN will be being able to hop over fences and run over rocky outcrops, both obstacles that BEAST will have cover distances to get around.

To achieve the challenge within the requisite 16 days, MAN and BEAST will need to average 50km a day – that’s a mighty big ask on sand.

The winner, be it MAN or BEAST, must finish with all its team members. Any dropouts = a team DNF.

The challenge starts on Monday…

We can all be a part of this fundraising challenge. Hop on to THIS LINK to contribute!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Ultra Trail Cape Town 2015

Much has been said and loads already posted about Ultra Trail Cape Town 2015, but I couldn’t resist leaping onto the feedback bandwagon with a quick blog.

This is not a race report – it can’t be, I ran neither the 100km nor the 65km. A dodgy Achilles peppered with a healthy dose of sense made me opt instead for the 65km relay, partnering friend and speedster Nic de Beer.

So, having only run 34km of the full UTCT route, I write this more from the position of a participating observer. And even from that stance, I saw a lot.

UTCT 100km winner Christiaan Greyling
There’s not a single person who won’t agree that everything about UTCT, from the very time the seed of such a race germinated in Nic Bornman’s head and heart, right to everyone’s viewing of the 9 min video (click here) that brilliantly captures the essence of race day, just radiates success.

So, I won’t be covering how immaculately organised the preparation for UTCT was, how fantastic the vibe was on the day, how the route epitomised everything that an ultra on one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature (read about Table Mountain here) should, or how incredible the aid stations were with their energy and support through miserable weather conditions.

Notwithstanding the incredible determination and perseverance of the runners who took on either distance, there were four specific aspects that stood out for me last Saturday.

The first was that to stage two mountain ultras simultaneously without a glitch, despite adverse weather conditions, is beyond commendable. The forward planning, the logistics and safety precautions needed to accomplish this are monstrous. The trio of energy behind achieving this can be proud – Nic, Stuart and Kim, a massive shout-out, you make a superb sports team!
UTCT's energy trio - Nic Bornman, Kim Stephens and Stuart McConnachie
The second has to be said, and just as loudly: the women’s performance last Saturday was even more impressive than the men’s. In a field of about 45 starters, 10% were female, of which three finished in the top 11 overall.

Ladies winner Kerry-Ann Marshall ran a race that, I believe, outshone even the overall winner. (Christiaan, you ran a superb race, no doubt there, but Kerry-Ann was on fire!) 
Ladies' winner Kerry-Ann Marshall came 6th overall
Second-placed lady Chantel “Hotpants” Nienaber also had a phenomenal race, knocking more than an hour of her 2014 time. In the 65km race, ladies’ winner Landie Greyling crossed the line 8th overall, comfortably within the top 10 finishers.

My third observation is that nothing prepares you better for technical trail than practising on technical trail. Let off-road running be exactly that: it cannot and never will be the same as running on trail. Running on dirt roads may be fine for Comrades training, but it won’t prepare you for technical trail.

And finally, the fourth point I took away on Saturday was that rather than the concern some had that the Cape’s unpredictable temperatures and the technical difficulty of some sections of the UTCT route might scare off potential entrants in future years, I believe Saturday’s blustery weather and challenging running conditions will attract those who hunger for exactly that. After all, REAL trail running isn’t for sissies.

I think Cape Town and our beloved Table Mountain really set the stage well for trail runners this year, and cast Ultra Trail Cape Town in the perfect light the race needs to cement its reputation as a real, tough, international ultra.

UTCT 2015 did its namesake proud. On so many levels this race is set to go far.

Roll on UCTC 2016!