Tuesday, November 23, 2010

SALOMON SKYRUN 2010 by Lettuce and Netski


What could be more appetizing for the Pennypinchers AR Team in the middle of November to round off the year than a road trip into the “Wartrail “ district and the challenge of a 100 km trail run at altitude with loads of technical sections and the most amazing views and vibe.

With the faithful Combi packed with a couple of tents and some running kit Jeff, Jeannette,Chris and James headed for the hills (mountains) with Jeanette’s better half Colin along as “super “second. Lady Grey plays host o the start of the race and the Wartrail Country club hosts the finish. For those that don’t know where Lady Grey is, it lies in a valley near Lesotho on the Eastern Cape / Free State border.

4:00 am 105km to go

Adrian Saffy the event organizer had this to say about his event.

“What an experience this years Salomon Sky run turned out to be organizing as well as for the athletes.WE made South Africa's toughest non stop mountain run even tougher by adding on an extra 10kms, including a serious technical ascent to be tackled at night, after 90 grueling kilometers.We were astounded by this years entries into Sky run. Before we knew it we had over 170 runners (almost three times our usual field). Only 40 of the entries received had any Sky Running experience, the rest were Sky Running virgins. We were in for one hell of a ride but gratefully we had the backing of our sponsors, marshals and landowners and were ready to take on the challenge.The weekend saw streams of athletes roll into Lady Grey with second hand information about what this event holds in store for them. Sitting in the Lady Grey Mountain View Country Inn and listening to some of these Sky run 1st timers planning and strategizing reminded me of my first time and brought back those memories of the fear and anticipation of taking on an unknown adventure. Those feelings we thrive and live for.The Salomon Sky run is not a race it is a journey and there is no guarantee that no matter how much you train and prepare, that you will finish the full route. With so many novices taking part this year our stress levels were higher than usual. What would the weekend hold?”Adrian

We had decided before the start that the four of us would stick together for this race although the Sky Run is very much an individual race. This would give Chris and Jeff time to race with Jeannette before next years African Expedition Race in May. This may sound like an easy thing to do but it does in fact make it more difficult as we would find out as time progressed on the mountain. Jeanette had this to say about her second Sky run (what she forgot to say is that in her previous report on the Sky run 2009 she said that one does need to train specifically for the run). This is what she had to say and it would appear that all the aches and pains have gone because this report is all about food!!!

“So there I'm walking down the Pick n Pay isle wondering aimlessly what I am going to feel like eating on this 100km Sky Run. I thought I'll attack it like one of the adventure races. With that in my mind the yoghurt coated peanuts ended up 1st in my basket brining back fond memories of the Bull 2008 and any fond memories of any adventure race means something!!! Jelly babies have been replaced by the far better yummy Gu Chomps so no need for those buggers, salt and vinegar chips always a good idea and since summer is just around the corner the Choc√≥ bars have been replaced by the healthier version of health oat bars. The sarmis where going to be a salami, mayo, and cheese gherkin version how delicious does that sound. Well all I can say the 1st 60km only saw me able to face and digest my GU’s thankfully they made it into the backpack. Yoghurt peanuts nope and chips never made it into the backpack. So my 1st 60km consisted of 2 GU’s and 4 chomps. The yummy sarmi which was made by our super duper second was hardly eaten because I felt too guilty to bring it back. So sitting at our 1st and only transition I was a bit stuck of what to pack food wise. Well all my cappuccino flavored GU’s made it into my side pocket since we will be going thru the night, a packet of Gu Chomps and 2 sarmi’s. The health oat bars never even saw the light of the day. I ate everything in sight and ran out of food!!! Okay the last 40km did take a bit longer then we thought we played around the wrong mountain for 4 hrs during the night and decided a little snooze in the old pump house was in order so hence the running out of food. So the moral of the story is one never knows what is going to happen, what you feel like eating and that is the beauty of these races and that's why we keep on coming back. “Jeannette

Here is how the day went from under my cap.

At 4: ooam Jean-Michael (the founder of the Sky Run) blew a sheep’s horn and the race started with a fast jog down the streets of Lady Grey. After about 4 mins the road ends and the hiking trail up to CP 1 starts. From here for the next 10 km is up hill and technical single track. One needs to keep moving here but not be a sheep and follow because there are some better choices of paths. On the climb up every one is short of breath and if you are looking for excuse one could say that the altitude is hurting you. I think it is just the cold are and one is going slightly too hard in the excitement of the race start. After CP 1 you start your relationship with the barbed wire fence that runs along the crest of the Witteberg Mountains all the way to Skidauw just before the 60 km stop at Balloch.

As the sun comes up the fence line runs due east and you are blinded by the sun but follow it towards CP 2 at Snowdon. Here the fence guides you and you don’t need to leave its side that often. After Cp 2 you under go a trial separation as you follow a quad bike track for a good few kilometers and one can actually run a bit here which is a welcome changes from the tufts of grass and slopes of the previous couple of hours. The fence is never far away and one touches base every now and again just to make sure that no one is straying to far from the beaten track (no real track). At CP 3 we stumble across young David De Haast who was cooking in 12th place but had over done and was waiting for a ride down with the amazing marshals from the Bloem 4X4 club. Just after CP 3 and about 30 km into the race the route crosses a stream for the first time and we re fill our bottles before returning to the ever faith full fence line. Not long after that I make the call to climb to a saddle, leaving the fence to contour around a peak. This was slower and a group caught us from behind. Not long after we re-joined the fence line Chris started to slow down. No problem to adventure racers Jeff and I took his pack, split the contents between us and gave him his juice and food back as we reached Avoca Peak and CP 4.

Chris leads the way early on

From Avoca to Skidaw the fence runs along the Dragons Back and one has to cross over and under the fence a good many times testing you sense of humor to the limit.

One of the other competitors on the Dragons Back

With the flags at Skidau in sight we made short work of this stretch and headed away from our fence and down a steep drop to the welcoming Balloch River. The last few kilometers flew past and we arrived in Balloch 10 minutes ahead of schedule at ten to four. We agreed on a half hour stop to re fuel and rest our feet after 60 kms of rough walking and running. Jeff presented his feet to me just before I tucked into one of Colin’s sarmis and all I saw was massive blisters. I got to work with Friars Balsam and tape and stuck them back together again. A good job done we loaded up and headed out full of confidence that we had 40kms to go and the Sky run was in the bag.

Balloch wall awaited a steep very steep grassy mountain side that rises up in front of you like a fortress. At the saddle at the top the Sky run took its first prisoner and Jeff lost all his food that he had eaten at Balloch and a whole lot more. Not a pretty site. Chris the added to the carnage at the top with a runny tummy. It was with a almost delirious Jeff hanging onto the bungy and a slightly thinner Chris that we arrived at Edgehill for CP 7. Jeff just wanted to sleep and I had to drag him off the marshal’s mattress and onto some horse blankets. An hour and half latter Jeff was still broken and unable to keep anything down. With heavy hearts we left him to get a lift back to the finish which was tempting close about 5 km away (we still had thirty some thing on the race route). With Jeff leaving I lost interest in trying to navigate with the map and asked Chris to pick up the GPS track and we would follow that for a bit. A fatal mistake to get out of your map. We slogged up the wrong mountain trying to find a route that the Basutos couldn’t find so how could we. Sanity prevailed at 1:30am and we headed for a pump house to try and have a nap. Chris put his head down and was out (I think they taught him that in the military in Zim) Netski and tossed and turned under space blankets willing the sun to come up. The minute I could see the horizon outside we headed out and the route unfolded in front of us plain as day. I kicked myself for the next three hours as we easily summated the Bridal Path and hit the well worn path towards CP 8 and the turn around of the second part of the race.

The sun came up and we shared a small sachet of Island Tribe between us to try and keep out Mr. Spikes and stripped down to our race vests as the temperature rose. Food and water were starting to become an issue and I called a stop for everyone to take stock of what food and water we had left. Once again we relied heavily on the Gus, Gu Chomps and GU Brew to eeck out what nutrition we had with us. It definitely has the most bang for its weight.
Once we all new where we stood we headed off towards the finish. As with all adventure type races there is always a sting in the tail and as much as you try to will the sting away Halstone Peak was visible for about an hour before we got to the last steep climb to the last CP of the race. The views from the top were spectacular as were the views from the exposed cliff that we dragged our selves up. From there it was all downhill to the finish. The down hill was crazy steep. You really wanted to just sit on your butt and slide all the way down but 28 hours of hiking normally results in a bit of chafe and so it is not the recommended method.

All Down Hill to the Finish

A quick dip the river 50 meters from the finish injected a final spurt of energy to get us to the finish line in 33 hours. What an EPIC!!!!!!!

105 km and the Sky Run in the Bag ( one of my hardest earnt T-shirts)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Merrell Eden Duo 2010

With the Hitec Otter and Southern Storm under the belt we had a super strong and psyched up Team ready to take on the Merrell Eden Duo. Things sometimes happen that are completely out of your control and in the in the lead up to this race two of our stalwart team members lost their Mothers in two separate but totally unexpected incidents. Our condolences go out to Jeannette and Chris and we know that the time we all spend together over the next few months on “our Playground” will help to lessen the load of your loses. This left Rhona and I as the only full Pennypinchers pair for the Duo but with some juggling and emailing Jeff hooked up with fellow Southern Storm competitor from George Tony Conlon. Tony had a great Otter run and is an experienced Tri Athlete and Iron Man finisher. This would be his first venture in to the abyss of Adventure Racing.

The Eden Duo is a great race for anyone who wants to start adventure racing and with various distances and even a relay format there is definitely something for everyone. Jeff and Tony would be entered into the Vets section of the Classic section and Rhona and I would try and defend our Mixed Pairs title. The mixed category turned out to be where the racing was going to be with John Collins and Hanile Booyens racing together and the Merrell Adventure Addicts Don Simms and Tatum Prins. We would have our work cut out if we wanted to be any where near the podium , there were also another 27 Teams racing in the Classic race over 150 km.

The race starts with a short run across the Wilderness beach to the old Choo choo Train tunnel. As usual there was a lot of banter and we settled in the front bunch. Just before the path up to the railway line the pace picked up and the bunch split, I asked Rhona to hang in and hook in to the smaller faster pack. This was a good decision as there was a narrow section where we had to slide down 10 meters of ropes on the other side of the tunnel and a bottle neck was sure to form after we went thru. The upstream kloofing was beautiful and after just under 2 hours we popped out of the river onto the Saasveld campus for the first transition onto our bikes.Here we saw team mates Jeff and Tony changing and getting ready for a leg that they would enjoy both being good riders.

Feeling good coming into TA 1

The thirty odd kms of single track and then the climb up Montague Pass seemed to go well and we both arrived at Herold Wines feeling great. After a quick transition and a kit check we set of just behind Tatum and Donavon. (I am not sure who was more surprised them or us). The 25 km hike/run over the mountains back to Saasveld is spectacular. The mist came in and we went into a quiet zone and rAn down the mountain back to the Kaaimans River and up to Groenewiede.
Our seconding crew of Dael, Erez and Teva were waiting with bikes and cold juice for the 35km bike leg to Hoogekraal weir for the paddle across Swartvlei. The ride was tough for me after the pounding and fast run over the mountains and I was only to happy to be in the boat for the hour paddle across Swartvlei.I spared a tought all be it just a small ONE Jeff and Tony neither of them great paddlers at this stage.

Sedgefield Caravan park in sight (maybe some work on our timing required)

This was really were the make and break point of the race came we were faced with a 21km run along the beach from Sedgefield to Wilderness. Rhona's husband Jan and his partner top Knysna cyclist Paul Miklewood had caught up with us in the transition and were desperate to hang on to our shirt tails for the beach run. Rhona would have none of it and slowly increased the pace as we rounded Gerrikes Point. At this stage we had moved into third place in the mixed but also in the whole race as well. Our goal was now to hold onto the third place overall and make sure no men’s teams over took us on this second to last leg. The tide was pushing in but for the most part we had hard sand and were able to run the whole way except we I pleaded for a walk to try and eat some food.
The mist along the coast was great because it hid the long flat stretches of beach that often make a beach run physiologically difficult and before long we arrived at the Touws river Mouth where we had started the race about 13 hours earlier. We had beaten the threatening tide and now my thoughts did go out to the teams who still had to do the hike with the pushing tide. It did push them closer to the dead whale that we did not even see on the beach and they had a fun scramble over some rocks with the help of a ropes crew.
It was still light when we jumped into our canoe for the last short paddle up to the finish. At this stage the adrenaline was pumping and the goose bumps were up. I knew that no one could catch us now unless one of us fell of the perch (and even then!!!).
13 hours and 42 minutes of hard racing saw us finish third over all in an amazing race. Rhona was as tough as nails, super organized and a great racing partner. Our seconds Dael, Erez and Teva were fantastic. This is the first race I have done where I had ice cold juice on every leg and sat under the opposition’s gazebo as if it was our own due to the negotiating power of Erez. Thanks Guys.
From our sponsor’s side huge thanks as always to Pennypinchers in Plett Sean I think we did you proud this weekend. On the nutrition side I had very little “normal food” to eat as we seemed to be racing out of my comfort zone all the time. I ate tons of Gus and drank the GU Brew the whole race although I did go to water and GU for the last leg. The Helle Hansen tops were all used with the new “HH Warm” with the merino wool was perfect for the kloofing leg and the HH cool short sleeve worked for the rest of the day. The Blue Steel anti chaffe was great and allowed me to do the whole race in running shorts instead of changing into cycling shorts for the ride legs. My BIGGEST mistake on this race was I forgot my Rocket Compression sock and tights. I now fully realize the benefits of these. My calves took huge strain during the run legs where e I know if I had had my SOX I would have been a lot better of. The stiffness I had on Sunday morning was with out a doubt made a lot worse by me not having my tights to sleep in after the race. BIG LESSON LEARNT!!!!!!!!!.

In the final mix of results it was John and Hanile first, then Tats and Donovan in second and Rhona and I third. Jeff and Tony gutted it out over the final few kms and finished 14th overall. Special mention needs to be made of the up and coming boys from Oak Hill High School in Knysna where Jeff and I have been putting in some hours with the kids. Brandon Wilcox and Harry Marshing aged 16 and 17 finished in 9th place overall. Well done boys.