Sunday, November 3, 2013

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

bike skills

So this morning we had a quick ride out on "The Red Road". Just an hour in the dark and wind but it was awesome to spin the legs.

We certainly did not need huge skill to stay on our steeds but just strong legs to push into the wind.
Here are two links of superb bike skills to inspire for the rest of the week:
Redbull Rampage 2013

and for the roadies.

Enjoy the week, enjoy riding!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

minimal shoes: an overview

on my shoe rack (l to r): Vibram Five Fingers Bikila, Merrel Trail Glove, Vivo Barefoot (model unknown)
I have written a fair bit about minimal shoes over the years here, here and here on this blog.

I have worn the above three pairs as my day to day shoes (Luckily I work in an office where I can do this ;))
I have done a little running in the VFF but that totaled less than 50km and only about 5km at a time. My thinking has always been that you can get most of the benefits with very little risk of injury by wearing minimal shoes every day rather than expose yourself to the pounding of running and run the risk of injury.

The minimal shoes that I have worn the longest and in some way are my favorites are the Bikila from Vibram Five Finger below. Well I noticed something rather interesting over the months. Let's look at the bottom of the shoes at the wear. First of all I am amazed how little wear there is after two years of wear most days to work. Have a look at the image on left closely.
You can see that there is uneven wear on the left and right feet. (just remember that the left shoe is actually on the right in the image)







Let's look at this more closely:

For some reason I can not place these images next to each other. Please excuse the unnecessary scrolling.
My right foot (image left) has got a lot more wear in the ball of the foot. Not sure if you can see but there is hardly any wear on the big toe. I tend not to roll through very well on this foot and it shows on my running shoes too.





My left foot has a good bit of wear in the big toe. Otherwise nothing else weird here.









Now a look at the heels:
First of all I was surprised by how much wear there was on the heels but then I was standing a fair amount and not actually running as per natural barefoot runners.
Right heel show way more wear than the left.

Next up the Merrel Trail Glove:
I got these so that I would have a more "normal" looking pair of shoes. They worked pretty well. One issue I have with them is that the transition from midfoot to toe area somehow goes through a dead spot which is really annoying.





Enter the Vivo Barefoot:
 As you can see the sole is flat as a Karoo landscape and the forefoot is super wide. I really love these and they are a close favorite, especially when worn with injinji socks.












Maybe I can get some people who know more about wear in shoes to comment. Right now I just wanted to document my experiment of one here.
I like all of the above shoes for what they do and the "close to the ground" feel I get. But then I like a bit more protection underfoot when pounding down a rocky trail.
Let's have your comments and experiences below!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Running the TMB – Guide to a circumnavigation around Mont Blanc and a traverse through three countries!


 Chamonix is the staging ground for many mountain adventures. Mont Blanc (Western Europe's highest peak at 4810m) towers above town. Mont Blanc also defines the border between Italy and France.

The adventure I describe here is the Trail du Mont Blanc. This is a multi-day hiking trail which starts in the Chamonix valley and traverses the lower slopes of Mont Blanc. There are many variations and ways of doing the trail. Slack packing to continuous nonstop running adventures for the cream of international trail runners take place here.

The TMB hosts the best trail runners from all over the world at the end of August for the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. Entry is limited and you have to qualify by doing smaller races before. The UTMB is probably Europe’s hardest trail race at 166km and needs to be completed in under 46h. Not an easy task if you consider adding in 9500m of ascent (and descent) too.

In fact the up (and down) hills are so brutal that they will punish all but the strongest.

Let me not scare you off though!

There are however several ways in which you can experience this tour de force at your own pace.

You can either run, fast pack or be as self sufficient as you like. You can also do sections and spend as little as a few hours to several days on the trail. Better still you don’t have to book the trail and admin is down to a bare minimum.

Travel to Chamonix:

The best way to get to Chamonix is to fly to Geneva Airport and then take a shuttle from arrivals to your accommodation in Chamonix. The best shuttle services are either Chamexpress or Mountaindropoffs. Both have regular shuttles and are reliable for this 90 minute journey. Prices are about 29 Euros or so (2013). This gives enough time to quiz the drivers who are usually very well informed on any other info you would like to know. Shuttles can be booked on line. Best not leave this for the last thing though as you can't book online within the last 24 to 48 hours before your intended shuttle.

Accommodation in Chamonix:

There is a huge selection of accommodation in Chamonix from hotels to dorms and camping. If you are there for a week you can rent an apartment which is quite convenient.

In Cham three options stand out for those on a budget:

The Vagabond is true British bunk house. Rooms are shared and it is within walking distance from the centre of town.

Refuge Le Chamoniard Volant offers bunk rooms with 4-6 persons per room. It is situated a couple of minutes walk up the valley, just off the main road.

Camping de la Mer de Glace is awesome. It is a few minutes by bus out of town, up the valley towards Argentier. There is a small grocer close by so it is not essential to go into the main town for basic supplies.

For all of the above ask your host for a Carte d’Hรดte. This allows you free access to the busses that travel up and down the valley from Les Houches to Valorcine. This is by far the easiest way to get around and super convenient if you intend to do day trips into the hills.

All the above offer a baggage hold facility while you are on the trail, also free wifi so that keeping your tweeps updated should be easy.

For those with a bit of time you can catch the free bus to les Houches down the valley and do your grocery shopping here. This will save you significantly if you can afford the time.

Preparing for the trail:

What surprised me both times I visited the trail is how steep the up and down hills are. The biggest difference to trails in SA is that you will hardly encounter any steps. Rather just a very steep incline. It is well worth training this. Find the steepest MTB single track trails and go up and down them as often as possible. Or even training on the steepest tar road will help. The terrain underfoot is not technical at all so I would not worry about that.

Navigation, Accommodation, Gear:

Route finding is straight forward and accommodation is easily found in the many Refuge’s along the way. These all offer a bed in a dorm (or room of 2 or 4). Dinner is served at about 18h30 or 19h00 and breakfast is included and generally served at 7h00. Showers are free. You might want to call one day ahead just to make sure, especially if you want a private room or are a group.

If you plan correctly you can carry little more than a day sack and rely on resupply along the way. Just be aware that shops generally close between 13h00 and 15h30 so you may catch main towns during their lunch hour. Be flexible. You can also get around using English although and introductory “Bonjour” does seem to go a long way. French is the language of the trail.

There are four major passes to cross over 2400m and six other big climbs which take you to about 2000m.

For those with several ultras under the belt and some trail running experience I recommend taking 4 - 5 days to complete the circuit. Please follow the link of my description of how I did the trail in July 2013 here.

Options and ways of doing the trail:

There are many ways of doing the whole trail or any part that you would like. It is also fairly easy to bail out from St Gervais, Courmayeur, Trient and Valorcine. I think it should be pretty easy to escape at Champex Lac too. There is a direct bus from Chamonix to Courmayeur (78km) so it is super easy to do half the trail. If this is your choice then I would recommend going from Les Houches to Courmayeur.

I can recommend breaking the trail at the following Refuges. They look nice and seem to be in a superb location:

La Balme 39km

Refuge De La Nova 50km 

Refuge des Mottets 56km

Refuge Elizabetta 63km

Refuge Bertone 82km

Refuge Bonatti 90km

Refuge Elena 97km

Gite Bon Abri 125km

If you want to do only a few sections of the trail then I can recommend St Gervais to Courmayeur. Catch a bus to St Gervais and this part of the trail will give you the longest section away from towns and up into the remote hills.


Other trails to be done as day excursions out of Chamonix are:

Col de Montets to Chamonix

This is the last 15km with some of the best views of the entire trail. You look across the Chamonix valley at the Drus, Aiguille du Midi and Mont Blanc. Take the free bus to the start and enjoy! The first climb above the Col is brutal with its switchbacks but you are rewarded with a traversing trail which is very runnable. You can do several variations and you might need to keep your navigation head on not to get off the official UTMB route if you are being purist. It is pretty difficult to get properly lost though especially in good weather as the valley below is an obvious guide.

Montenvers Mer de Glace via Aiguille du Midi halfway station down to Chamonix.

Awesome views of the Brevent. Start off with a cog railway ride up to the Mer de Glace at 1913m. This glacier is really worth a visit. From the main train station ascend a little before starting the gradual traverse across the Plan de l’Aiguille to below the Aiguille du Midi halfway station. Descend the long switchbacks into town. This is essentially the opposite of the Col des Montetes to Cham route described above.

Le Tour, Col de Balme, Trient, Cantogne, Valorcine (or carry on to Chamonix)

Absolutely awesome!

Catch the free bus to Le Tour and slog up the steep ski slope. Cross over the border into the land of Toblerone and enjoy the fast and FANTASTIC to Trient. You can buy some snacks at the bus station before you head back up the immaculately maintained path to Cantogne. Traversing towards Valorcine gives you a great view of high up dam just on the Swiss side of the border. Enjoy the sweeping descent into town.

Other prep:

Training:

Work towards spending all day on your feet. You will walk a lot so train this.

I recommend going to the UTMB website and reading as much as you can here. Most of the info for the race will be relevant to you. If you are lucky you know somebody from whom you can download the maps of the trail. 

The big challenge is altitude and the steep up and down hills. The trail is not technical at all and is incredibly well maintained and clean. I found one piece of rubbish in about 145km! People are friendly and security is not a problem at all. 

Connectivity:


You get mobile phone reception for most of the way except in some remote valleys (especially the whole of the Les Chapieux valley). You can book accommodation ahead if you want but if you are one or two people and do not mind sleeping in a dorm then you should always find a spot.

Money:

Once on the trail you will need enough cash to pay for each night and for food. I used 300 euros for the four days and that was sufficient. Each night is about 40-45 euros for dinner bed and breakfast. You will get bedding but will need to hire sheets.

I did get caught out in Courmayeur when I arrived at lunch time and found the super market closed. In France expect shops to open at 10h00, close for lunch from 13h00 to 15h30 and then remain open till 19h00. Similar times in Italy and Switzerland.

Kit to take:

See my kit list below. I would recommend this as a minimum for reasonable conditions but use your discretion.
I purposefully took the smallest running pack I thought I could get away with. The Salomon 12l skin pack worked perfectly. 

I ran in Ronhill shorts and an Icebreaker 150 weight short sleeve. It was great as it did not smell and dried quickly after I managed to wash it.

I wore Salomon Sense Mantra shoes. I suggest you go with a shoe that is good as an all-rounder with a little bit of support as you will be doing a fair amount of walking rather than running.

The ground underfoot is pretty mild with some significant sections of tar. So I would not worry about the best grippy sole or taking the most minimal shoes. Something that you can walk the whole day in and run some of the way is best.

I wore Injinji toe socks as they give my toes more of an individual and independent feel and action. They are my favourite but I was glad I had a spare as I got a hole in them after day 1.

Running cap and sunglasses were worn all day.

Sunscreen and lip protection are essential and needs to be applied often against the higher levels of UV at altitude.

As spare clothing I carried arm warmers for early morning starts. I did not use them once. I carried two Buff® (one for wearing during the day and the other for at night if it proved cold) I only used one Buff on the first night. I would probably only take one in future.

I carried waterproof top and longs and a pair of tights and thick base layer. I wore the base layer and tights in the evenings but otherwise good to have them for emergencies. Keep in mind I had pretty much perfect weather.

The bulkiest item was my synthetic insulation top. I wore it a little each evening so not essential but nice to have.

Toiletries: tooth brush and paste. The tiniest bit of soap and a micro towel. I did carry a good first aid kit with blister plasters which was the only thing I used out of it. Oh and I do use a safety pin to repair a zip on my pack and also to pop a blister.

My mobile phone was communication portal back home via SMS and wifi where I could get it and also I recorded photos and diary on it. Don't forget your charger with euro plug.

I lost my headlamp but would probably only carry the lightest one possible (like the Petzl e-lite) for going to the loo at night. Everything else is overkill.

Contents of my bags was held in two ultra sil nano drybags from Sea to Summit. The lightest possible.

I carried a map and list of printed out Accommodation in a zip lock. You can download a set of maps from the UTMB website and that is sufficient.

Passport, credit card and enough cash for the trip were stashed in my pack.

I did carry a GPS to record the whole thing. I chose my Garmin fortrex 401 as it has replaceable batteries. However in retrospect I can recommend that you take any GPS unit with enough battery life to last 10h minimum. I did not use it to navigate but simply to record my journey.

Ear plugs are a necessity! You will sleep in a dorm with some level of snoring.

Nutrition and hydration:

Interestingly I drank over 5l of liquid the first day to get used to the altitude and on the last day 1,5l lasted me over 5 hours. To me that shows the quick adaptation to altitude.

I would start each day by filling the 1,5l bladder of my Salomon pack and adding one sachet of 32gi endure powder. The theory is that just having a little bit of carb regularly aids in fat usage. I certainly found that this worked but it took a couple of days to feel the benefits. Maybe more acclimatization is needed.

I carried Nuun tablets to aid hydration and recovery and they certainly helped. I catered for two tablets a day.

I also had one energy bar a day and a couple of 32gi endure tabs to keep me going before the first replenishment each day. I just could not face eating gels even when I was desperate.

What did I do well?

It is quite nice to have some food to eat straight after finishing your day. I normally finished at 17:00 so it was nice to have a pre dinner snack before dinner is served at about 19h00. (Being the cheapskate traveler I preferred to buy something in the last town, rather than pay inflated prices at the Refuge.) I also smashed back a bottle of water with electrolytes straight after finishing the day and I think this helped with recovery. I would consume at least another liter of water before bed.

I was hoping to head out early from each hut but decided that it would be better to wait for breakfast. In the end I ran much less than I thought I would so having some food inside me at the start of the day was actually quite nice. I actually ate pretty much the same as I normally would for my main meals rather than relying too much on energy supplements.

What would I do differently next time?

I was super lucky with the weather and as such probably over catered wrt warm kit for the conditions I encountered.

I would pay more attention to maintenance. Maintenance of your nutritional needs is obvious. Then maintenance of your feet. I did not pay enough attention on day two and landed up with a painfull blister on day three which ultimately caused too much discomfort on the downhills. Part of the problem was that I was not used to the type of terrain. The many, and severely steep downward inclines hammer you in a way that we are not used to in SA. I would train this more.

I would really try to take the very least and carry less water. You could probably get away with 1l max capacity if you refilled often. I did carry one 500ml water bottle up front which I would do again.

I do like having nutrition, camera and hydration easily accessible without taking off my pack. In fact the only time I took my pack off was at the end of the day or when stopped to I buy supplies.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Suunto Quest gear review

The Quest comes supplied with wrist unit, HR belt, footpod and Movestick mini. All packaged in a neat, very appealing looking box. Other optional extras include bike accessories and GPS pod. The Quest does not have integrated GPS but gets speed and distance data from external pods (footpod, cycling or GPS). I was only able to test the footpod supplied.

RRP R 2699.00

First Impressions: 
The advantage with the various pods (especially the GPS which uses the most battery power) is that you have a wrist unit which you can wear every day as a watch without having to recharge it every few days in order to have a working day to day watch. I really like that. Obviously having various pods means that there are more things that you can lose. I am happy to take that risk.

The first impression I got when I unpacked the Quest was how small it looked compared to the Ambit, Fenix and other units we have gotten used to in the past. The Quest feels incredibly light on the arm and I hardly noticed that I was wearing it. It got the nod from my girlfriend immediately and I had the wrestle it off her arm within minutes of unpacking.

What I really don’t like even on a relatively straightforward unit like this is that the Quest only has three buttons and no “back function” if you overshoot a menu. Some of you may not care about this at all but it frustrates me.

Running:
Hit the start button once to select activity, again and the Quest finds the HR and footpod quickly and I was good to go. Push it again and the activity starts. Pretty simple. Then just scroll through the data pages to view the relevant info that you want. Two lines of data is displayed over several pages. One line is bigger than the secondary data line. It would be nice to have the choice of how much data is visible per page.

I was initially surprised at the low level of data that was available on the wrist unit. Maybe looking at it as a “glass half full” perspective means that you have access to a relatively large amount of data (on Movescount) at a fairly cheap price compared to the Ambit or more advanced units. After all who needs to know all that info while on the run? The two pieces of info I did miss on the watch were lap distance and some form of altitude info. You can only change the number of data pages and what is displayed on them on Movescount and not on the wrist unit.

If I do a longer trail race and I know that CP3 is 20km from CP2 then by having lap distance I have some idea of how far I still have to go. For those of us who run on the road it is quite nice to see one’s cadence “on the trot” without having to do arithmetic. With the use of the footpod you can monitor your cadence and work towards the golden Kenyan 90/min.

The real power of the Quest is in Movescount which is the Suunto website. Having said that the Quest is a great standalone unit if all you want to see is your info on the wrist unit. I would say it is probably the best of this test for that kind of user.

Once you complete your activity the Quest will give you a few pages of summary which is quite nice.
Easy enough to jot down into your Excel logbook if that is what you prefer to use. Can only see last training activity on wrist unit, not longer training history. Need Movescount for that.

The Quest also gives you the number of hours that you will need to fully recover from an activity in the form of the recoverytime page. I was a bit sceptical of this at first as the unit gave me 37h as the recommended recovery after my first session with it (I did not tell the Quest that I had another session planned for that afternoon ;))

The bezel has got a little indicator that counts down how many hours you still have to recover from 120 downward.

Data Analysis:
Suunto has the most impressive PC software of the four brands featured. Movescount is free and easy to install. It saves all your activities online. It is very easy to edit, add and plan activities. It is not possible to send these activities to the Quest for use later.  It was easy to download activities. Everything seems to work quite seamlessly and smoothly.

Suunto also has a mobile app which is basically an extension of the website. It gives you a very brief
overview of your activities. Great if you want to show off to your buddies but only after you have downloaded your race info via a PC. It would be awesome if you could transfer data from the wrist unit to Movescount via your mobile phone. Bluetooth technology should make this possible. Garmin Basecamp is halfway there and other manufacturers should learn from them and take this app type thinking all the way!

On Movescount mobile there is an option to track an activity using your mobile phone onto Movescount. I guess that is the main point of the app.

Suunto covers this growing sector of the market very well with this app. If I was using a mobile phone to track runs then this would certainly be my choice of app and the PC Movescount software.

Another feature which I really liked on Movescount and I have not seen before was the ability to put
comments next to laps. Ie “warm up lap/ran with girlfriend/ tried to keep up to Ryan Sandes/got
dropped by bunch” etc (update I believe this feature has been dropped by the latest software update.)

Movescount also has a social side which I did not really look at but you can follow heroes like Ryan
Sandes and Kilian Jornet.  You can obviously also bore the rest of your twitterati and facebook friends by sending them daily updates of your every bead of sweat.

Summary:
All in all a great little unit. Made even better by Movescount. I hate to say it but the perfect unit for those with a smaller wrist where other units look like water wings.

I have two bugs for the Quest: One is the lack of back button. I found that I always had to look at the screen to see what button to push next.
The second is the only way to get a lap is to tap the screen.
By tap I mean smack it fairly hard (even on its most sensitive setting) I initially did not find the Quest to be hugely intuitive to start with but got used to it quite quickly.

I have used a footpod from another manufacturer for many years and besides loosing it twice and only recovering it once I still like to use a footpod to check on cadence. I would probably buy a GPS pod and use that as my main source of speed and distance. It is far less likely to get lost in Cape fynbos.
20h max data recorded to this will be perfect for most bar the few ultra junkies out there.

The Suunto HR belt was by far my favourite of the test. The transceiver connects the belt on either side of it. Others should follow this example!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Garmin Foretrex® 401 GPS review

The 401 looking for signal

Why review a GPS that was released in 2006? And why is the Foretrex® still relevant today?

The Garmin Foretrex® 401 is the only wrist mounted navigation GPS that has user replaceable batteries. (The 401 has a smaller sibling in the 301. Please see the end of the review for a feature comparison chart. In my review here I only refer to the 401 which is the unit I have been using.)
This makes the Foretrex® hugely applicable for excursions where you are far away from power for extended periods like a navigation ultra, extended back country trips or for military applications.

Unique Selling Points:
The back of the unit showing user replaceable batteries
* User replaceable batteries (two AAA batteries)
* Wrist mounted
* Full GPS route tracking
* Easily see previous recorded or imported tracks on navigation screen without having to follow them.



The Foretrex® gives you all the tracking and standard GPS features the massive advantage of the 401 is that it has user replaceable batteries. So if you are going on a mission for longer than 10 hours most gps units run out of battery life. With the foretrex you just switch the unit off and insert two AAA batteries and start it up again. It remembers your location and previous track and just carries on as per normal.

Secondly it is super easy to view previous or imported tracks while you are on the move.
You don't need to follow them (this takes a lot more battery power) so it is super easy to see where you have gone before and follow that same route if you wish (See picture above). Awesome for when you are doing a self navigation event like Salomon Skyrun where you can find (and follow other's) many little short cuts that quicken your journey considerably.

Competitors:
Garmin fenix:
In many ways the fenix is the upgraded foretrex. The fenix has many more sports features and allows you to view tracks and waypoints the same way as the Foretrex® but it does not have a user replaceable battery. The fenix can be worn as a wrist watch and has a battery life of up to 60 hours (advertised). If your adventure lasts longer than that between recharges then the foretrex is still your best choice.

Suunto Ambit 2:
The Ambit 2 is much more of a sports watch with pretty good outdoor features. It does however not offer the same in depth level navigation features that the Foretrex® does
The Ambit 2 does have a feature where you can follow a downloaded route but this is far too basic to be of much use when out in technical terrain.

A huge range of Garmin units which stow in your pocket rather than on your wrist.

Other features:
Configure Data Fields: Main Screen can show a selection of several data. Other screens are fixed and these include altitude profile, map, etc

Electronic compass: Enables you to navigate with a map

Barometric Altimeter: Gives far higher altitude accuracy than GPS generated altitude. Pretty essential for serious navigation. Can also give you an indication of incoming weather systems.

Track back function: Super useful to retrace your steps if you have gotten lost. Just beware that this will take you back exactly the way you came and not work out the shortest distance back to the car.

WAAS/EGNOS enabled gives quicker finding and locking of GPS signal.

HotFix remembers where you have been and keeps a record of trail even in heavy tree cover

The Foretrex® does not have the most advanced features when it comes to sports functions. Does not have any multi sport functions. It is however waterproof to the IPX7 standard (more than enough for a wrist unit that is not designed as a day to day watch or swimming application)


It is compatible with HR belts and cadence and foot pods. It gives you speed but not pace when running.

The unit weighs 87g (very similar to the Suunto Ambit 2S) .
It shows battery life and GPS signal strength in the top left hand corner for constant reference. It has an advertised battery life of 17h but I found it to be more like 10h when in navigation use. If you are constantly using the compass the battery life will drop even more.

The unit does not look sexy by any stretch of the imagination but then it is there to do a job. The Masey Ferguson of outdoor GPS.


Connectivity:
The Foretrex® can upload data to your PC or Mac via a USB cable supplied and data analysed via garminconnect

You can also send waypoint and track data wirelessly to other 401 units. 


Ideal use:

Any adventure where you will be outdoors for a while and need an accurate record of where you were and potentially need to find your way back to the start of your track. 


Not ideal for:
Sports where you want to see your heart rate and pace and pacing strategy and want to have to-the-second accurate timing info. 
Certainly won't look the part in anything other than a rugged outdoor setting. Unlikely to make and appearance in Gucci mag. 

Full disclosure:
I bought this unit at a reduced price from retail at Trappers Fourways in 2009. 
I have used it on two Salomon Skyrun races and many off the beaten track recces into our mountains. 
It still remains my go to unit for technical navigation excursions but hardly gets used for much else.

Pros:
User replaceable batteries
This unit is super easy to use
Holds signal well
Plenty of storage for routes and waypoints. I have not had to delete data in years

Neg:
The timer at the start of a new track or recording session is a bit clumsy to start. Not as easy as just pressing start on your stopwatch.

from the Garmin user manual

Please leave your comment below if you liked/did not like this review and any suggestions for making reviews better.
Thanks





Monday, August 19, 2013

Crazy Store Magaliesberg Trail Challenge 2013 race report




trail route thanks to John Black

 
Check the route in
17:08:2013 We arrive at Van Galen's cheese farm in the early cold but the day's temps are predicted to hit 20*C so it will be hot up high later in the day.
Registration is a breeze with the fancy dress folk. At 8h00 we are on a bus to the start. We get a race briefing with Trevor's typical humour.
The photographer's chopper arrives and we are counted down.
The pace is surprisingly relaxed for the first few km of farm road. I settle into about 20th place and remain there for most of the race.
Two women are just ahead and I watch that battle unfold on the first climb. The farm track turns to single track and gets ever steeper until it zig zags up to Hospital Nek. Apparently the place where the Boers used to transport the wounded to safety during the ..... Battles against ..:::: I notice that I am only OK on the hills and not my usual strong. Hmm I take note as some faster guys and girls pass me.

After half an hour or so we crest onto the top of the cliff line and turn right along single track. Meandering up and down the "non steep" side of the ridge, we each run at our own pace. I am ok on the flats but the ups I lose ground. The views are spectacular both towards Brits and to our right into the valley. We ride the crest making many turns to hit the best viewpoints. At some point we very briefly join a jeep track but veer off right at a prominent tree. (don't follow this jeep track as it will take you miles off course). We dip down to the right and I think our descent is here but no! We turn left again and climb. Finally the descent off the ridge arrives at about 15km and I make up some places. The switchback are tight and the running is fast.

Amazing to think that Trevor and his team made this trail specifically for the event. Legend goes that soldiers in the Boer War needed to descend here but heard from locals that only baboons had found a way. The thinking was "if baboons can find a way so can horses, and I guess modern trail runners".
After our descent from the crest of the ridge we turned sharply for our second climb.
We were warned about this and it did not disappoint. Finally the altitude, or lack of fitness, caught up with me and I stood gasping for air. A short traverse to the opposite side of the Kloof and we headed down the treacherous slope.
Yes you can't run this. It is more of a bundu bash at speed. I was hoping to make up some time on the flatter running section as any uphill brought me to a standstill. I fought on, digging deep to keep some kind of pace going.

The Greek church and 7km to go. I kept th pace going. Possibly a bit too fast too early but I guess Coke is to blame for that. We hit the MTB trails which weave in and out of dry stream beds. Resembling more of a cross country course and a seals life (short sharp and brutish) the uphills proved too much for my legs. I lost form and was struggling along. I walked some marginal ups ( those kind of ups that are more flat than up) and tried to do the best I could. I was passed by some more folk and had nothing in response. I thought I would be passed by more. The tunnels of bamboo were awesome and are something unique.
And yes the waterbridge needs a mention. It was far easier than I had anticipated. Finally I cross a field and the Crazy Store banners come into view. I manage a slow jog across the line. 4h of effort that I am very pleased with my 20th position.

My head spins and I sit down in th shade and hit the warm Coke! Well done to Trevor, Erik and the whole crew for a fantastic event.

Unique Selling Points:
The views are fantastic
There is no seconding along the route and no water tables except for very sparce supplies 7km from the finish. Trail running pure. Plan to be totally self sufficient.
The route takes the only two access routes up to the plateau in this area.
The route is well marked without compromising on the very remote feel.
The last few km test tired legs. This event is about as hard as you want it. Mentally it is a big step for many folk.

Very worth while and higly recomended!

I think that it is about 45min faster than the Crazy Store Table Mountain Challenge but equally worthy.

Race Venue:
http://www.vangaalen.co.za/