two swimming stories

From the sport of swimming:

The other day I came across two interesting stories from the endurance sport of swimming:
I give a shortened version of the first here:

updated 8:47 p.m. ET Feb. 12, 2009
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – A U.S. swimmer crossed the Atlantic Ocean this month — but did she swim “across” the ocean?
Common sense dictates that Jennifer Figge, a 56-year-old endurance athlete, can’t claim to have swum from the Cape Verde Islands to the Caribbean island of Trinidad, a journey of about 2,500 miles, in 24 days.
It would be impossible for any human to swim the Atlantic without stopping. No boat can drop anchor in the middle of deepwater currents. Holding onto a fixed position each time a swimmer climbs onboard to rest would require an ocean of fuel.
The Associated Press had reported that Figge, of Aspen, Colo., swam 19 of the 24 days, and that she spent between 21 minutes and eight hours a day in the water, depending on conditions. The AP also repeated the claim of her representatives, who said she was “the first woman, and first American, to swim across the Atlantic Ocean.”
Subsequently, after accounts of Figge’s effort were questioned, her spokesman David Higdon acknowledged she probably swam about 250 miles of the whole journey.
Figge’s team had inquired about what it would take to qualify for the Guinness World Records, but decided the requirements were too difficult to comply with. “Honestly, we look at all the forms and requirements and Jennifer said, `This isn’t what the swim is about. Forget about it,'” Higdon said”

The second article is about two Cape Townians Ram Barkai and Andrew Chin: I have felt their fear. I appreciate their honesty. They recorded exactly what they did. See below:

“Taking It To The Extreme — February 7, 2009
Each gulp of air was icy and painful.
By Steven Munatones, Swimming World Open Water Correspondent LOS ANGELES, California, February 7. 39°F (4°C) water temperature, 32°F (0°C) air temperature with a 19°F (-7°C) wind chill due to a wind. Those conditions adequately define extreme swimming. Ram Barkai, 51, and Andrew Chin, 40, both from Cape Town, South Africa, swam 1.3K and 2K respectively in Lake Zurich in mid-winter following standard English Channel rules (i.e., no wetsuits or suits below the knee or covering the arms*).
Chin said he had planned ahead of the swim to cover one kilometer, while Barkai aimed for two. Local physician Dr. Beat Knechtle who oversaw the swim, added: “No one has ever swum these distances in the lake in winter before.” Chin said, “Within minutes of diving into the lake, I lost feeling in my hands and feet. In fact, I was completely numb by the time I decided to stop swimming.” In order to take his mind off the pain during his swim, Chin repeated his wife and children’s names in his head while swimming. “When I started battling to say their names, I knew it was time to get out. All I remember is the support team dragging me into a boat and covering me in blankets.” Barkai, who joined Lynne Cox and Lewis Gordon Pugh as the only individuals to swim a significant distance (1K) in Antarctica, said he had decided to continue when Chin got into the boat despite being painfully cold. “The last 500 meters were very hard. I was breathing into a headwind of -7°C (19°C) so each gulp of air was icy and painful. I tried to close my hands into fists, but couldn’t. They were frozen stiff.” Towards the end of his 2K swim, a police diver in one of the four support boats jumped into the lake and swam alongside Barkai fearing the worst. “I really wanted to finish the swim, but was struggling. I kept my eyes locked on the team doctor each time I breathed and knew if he wasn’t worried about me, then I was okay.” Barkai started hyperventilating after finishing his swim, but with support from the doctor he brought his breathing back to normal. “It was only after 30 minutes in a hot shower that I started recovering. I don’t remember anything at the end, except that I was dragged out of the water. I couldn’t stand.” Despite having swum the furthest south of any human on record, Barkai said, “The wind chill factor had made this definitely the hardest swim I have ever done.””
From: http://www.swimmingworldmagazine.com/lane9/news/20222.asp

Bottom line: I don’t care what you do. Just be honest about it and don’t claim stuff that you did not do. I salute Ram and Andrew on their achievement, their honesty and guts to push the envelope for themselves!

BAt Run 09 race report

above: Tatum Loftus (1st women) and me rehydrating at the end.

I was here before:
The “gun” went off, Well actually more like a motley crew of mountain goats slowly headed up towards the hills, not quite running at sub 4min pace, not quite walking either. There was a larger supporting crowd than in previous years seeing us off. I found myself out in the lead pretty quickly- not exactly what I wanted to do but there was this tall guy (Simon von Witt) seriously pushing the pace. The early tar kays were ticking away far too quickly. This was insane. I tried to back off a bit in the hope that he would too but it did not work. One of us was going to blow. I just prayed that it would not be me!

The Bat Run was under way and I had put in all the training. Everything was looking good except the weather. Today was one of the hottest days this summer and the wind was picking up. Hmm we would have to see what happens…

The Bat Run is a limited entry event which starts at Kloof Nek at 19h00 on the full-moon weekend in Feb. The route takes runners to the top of Devil’s Peak, back down to Tafelberg Road, up Platteklip Gorge, down to Kloof Nek, it is then followed by a quick jaunt up Lion’s Head. The finish is at Kloof Nek. Only 25 km, 2085m of ascent and descent all run in the dark and finish in under 4h05 to break the record. Easy init?

We ran along Tafelberg road to the zig zags leading up to the Nek (16min27 ). Faster than I had ever done this in training. Simon was right on my heals all the way up to the Nek. Thunder Clouds were gathering in the intense heat. I threw water on my head to cool things down a little. Lightning flashes got closer and closer. Retina burn! Time to put my head down and just keep going. I was hoping to be able to open a bit of a gap between me and Simon just to take the pressure off a little. It was not really working! Ironically I figured that the worse conditions got the better my chance of winning was. My mountaineering background would hopefully help me here.
That is not why I was here though. I knew for a while that the record should be at 3h30 to 3h40 range. On paper it is doable. The question is “Am I up to the task?”. Right now conditions weren’t helping and the question mark was getting bigger and bigger. Top of Devil’s Peak and a quick turn around (53min). At least now I did not have to look into the lightning flashes and just concentrate on the slippery slidy down hill. I was going full blast but feeling surprisingly relaxed. Just almost falling down the slope. I hit the road not daring to look behind me for fear that I would see Simon a few paces behind. A quick jog along the road and I reached Mel and friendly seconds at the bottom of Platteklip (1h17).

There was no need to use my BD Icon headlamp. The moon was behind the clouds but it was bright enough for the plod up the gorge. Step, step, step, hydrate, throw water on head, step, step. I was barely on pace at the halfway point. 37 min up Platties certainly is not fast but that was all I was capable of. Eric Tollner was taking some pics at the top. It was really nice to see him. Even better was the fact that it was completely dry. No moisture on the slippery steps meant that coming down would be fast. I had to think economy as far as hydration goes. The temps were so hot that I had to use quite a lot of water to just cool down, let alone get it down my throat. I was only a few minutes past the top of Platteklip when I could see the light on top of Maclear’s Beacon. The guys at the checkpoint had placed the guiding star strategically so that would could all see how windy our little path was. Touch the beacon and a quick turnaround. This would be the first time that I would be able to tell how far anybody was behind me. 4minutes passed until I passed the second runner. Jayde Butler and Roger Steel (this time without a hat- I guess the moon was not too bright!) were not far behind. Down Platties in went really well (20min). My legs were going strong. I was not even thinking about conserving them too much. Just running in the moment. Many lovely greetings of runners coming up- Thanks to you all! I always find it very hard to recognise everyone in the dark especially when I am trying not to break my legs running downhill. Tafelberg Road and a water refill from my seconds! Espresso Gel kicked in none too soon to. In fact seeing as I never drink coffee this double shot of espresso (and the serious dose of adrenaline) kept me awake the whole night. Herda cycled next to me down to Kloof Nek. The company was quite nice despite me not being able to talk much. My brain was maxed just trying to work out splits and keep me on pace. I was really surprised to see such a large crowd at the Nek cheering me on.

The most dangerous part of the course- crossing the Kloof Nek Circle went ok. Then walk up the short section of tar to the Lion’s Head parking. A friendly park official tried to dissuade me from walking up. “But I am part of the race…”. “Oh ok…good luck” And I was gone. The circular route is real pretty with its changing vistas as you circle the peak. It is even better alone and in the dark. The crowds we had seen earlier heading up for a sunset walk had obviously realised that their excursion up this lightning pole was probably not such a good idea. Not a single soul was left on top. No wind, just a little drizzle. Just enough so that I would have to watch my footing on the sandy steps. Go, go, go. Down the chains and run forest run. Ok, unless something real bad happened now I was in the clear.
I congratulated second (Alister Pott) and then Jayde in third (go boykie, go). Jayde had been throwing up on his way down Platties but managed to keep things together and fight back until the end. Well done mate!

Roger was looking strong and relaxed as ever in forth.

I savoured the last few minutes down to the Nek on my own. I had given this run my all. I have never run as hard as this before and am happy with the result.
3h46- beat that boys!

Thanks to all who encouraged and rooted for me.

Dry shandy- Best Recovery drink ever!

I have been doing a lot of thinking recently about nutrition in general. All this sweet artificial stuff we put into our bodies is not cheap. Energy Bars at R25! What? I just can’t stomach that no matter how good it tastes. I use Hammer Perpetuem and Recoverite for longer adventures. After my little adventure up the hill this morning I discovered the best tasting recovery drink available in most SA fridges! 1 part Windhoek Lager, 1 part Schweppes Dry Lemon! Easy

The zing from this baby made my mouth tingle to a higher level. I had my brunch and then snoozr time. Perfect recovery plan I would say!

Red Hill Classic 36km race report:

(The Hilly Communist)

Roger mailed me in the week with the above in the subject line. The conditions were perfect for this year’s run- no wind and cool temps to start. This was a relief compared to last year when race organisers had 90 min to change the course due to veld fires raging around Scarborough and Red Hill.
This year the start was a rather relaxed affair. Not the normal claustrophobic pushing of other events. Maybe the early morning trip to the deep south was too much for the pushers? The gun went off and we set off through the ‘burbs of Fish Hoek at a leisurely pace. Roger and I started together. I was concerned for my hamstring- see how it goes approach. The usual chirping between the two of us lasted at least the first 10 km’s. Running at a great pace the km markers flicked by at a rapid (ok somewhere around 4:35 pace).
Misty Cliffs- the name says it all! Especially in the early morning light. Then the gradient got steeper just after the sleepy Scarborough. Need to put a bit of work in. I had to remind myself that this was only a warm up for the real communist onslaught just up the road.
We turned left at the bottom of Red Hill glad not to have to do the 6km extra loop for the marathoners. Head down and keep the legs turning at a reasonable rate.
At the top we were greeted by the best water table I have seen on a road run in a long while. Food, real food sizzling in the skottles, liquid refreshments. I was running in a small group and I really wanted to keep up with them otherwise I would certainly have stopped for a lengthy lunch!
I really had to relax on the long downhill into Simon’s Town. The pace was hotting up. I just hope that I had enough in the legs to push the last few km’s to the end.
Running so close to the ocean should be flat. So why did I feel like I had to fight uphill? The watering tables were plenty and cheering voices a welcome sound.
Very pleased with 37th! in 2h47.

Polar RS 800 Review part one:

It was the Christmas holidays, nobody was in the office and all of a sudden the “low battery sign” on my Polar RS 800 came on. I have had the unit for about 2 years so this was to be expected at some stage. Bugger, what to do now? I went to various stockists of Polar in the hope that they would have a clue. All I got was blank stares. It just looked so easy.

The RS 800 has a user changeable battery. That was easy enough to figure out. Finally after much searching the Cape Union Mart Canal Walk branch sold me a battery for R80! I was on my way when suddenly Mel mentioned that I would probably lose my warranty claim if I did this by myself. Even the manual did not allude to this…..????

I try not to be too much of a technophobe and I really did not want to train without my watch recording all the things it records.

Monday 5th Jan did not arrive soon enough and I called the ever friendly Travis at IHF Products (the South African Polar distributor). I explained the situation and that I had a race on this weekend (Bay to Bay on the 11th). He said that “if everything went to plan I would have my watch back by the weekend”. Cool- if everything went to plan! So off into a Speed Services envelope my watch went. Me holding thumbs.

The one week running without my Polar I felt like driving without my seatbelt- Naked!

On Thursday I had not heard anything from Polar so I called. Ok this took quite a bit of effort as the line was engaged for hours. Once I got through they said they had the unit and the battery change would cost R100. They mailed me banking details. I did the transfer within the hour. The next morning I received an SMS saying that I could collect my unit from the post office. Yes there it was. New battery and all.

So what is the point of all this?
There are so many gadgets on the market these days that all claim to do wonderful things. In fact when making a purchasing decision, there are often several brands which meet our needs. At this point I would seriously consider after-sales service. I have owned the Polar 625 before this. Unless something drastic happens I will stick to Polar as my first choice. The products work and have the right features and their after-sales service is fantastic.

Incidentally a colleague of mine has sent his three units in to a competitor. Hmm let’s see how long they take to repair these?

Steenberg Ridge scramble

A brief description of the fantastic scramble just above Lakeside.
A new year and a new adventure. All Cape Tonian’s have seen it. Very in your face in just the right light. Right there in front of you, up on the hill, just at the end of the road. The M3 that is. Steenberg Ridge is the broken ridge running up the side of the hills above Lakeside. Just park your car at the pub at the start of Boyes Drive and walk to the first bend on Boyes Drive. From here take a vague path until this levels out and continue up the hill to the left of the blocky gendarme. The initial climbing starts up the obvious white, stepped faces. This little warm up gets you onto the crest of the ridge and the crux pitch. From here continue up the buttresses to the large rock window just below the top. You will now be on Steenberg Peak, close to the Naval antennae. Follow the cairns to the jeep track which is easily followed to the Silvermine East gate on Ou Kaapse Weg.
And so with none of the above knowledge I followed my old climbing friend Gareth up this little adventure on the 2nd of Jan. I was advised to bring rock shoes and chalk. But seeing as my chalk bag was a solid block of caked chalk from exactly a year ago I only managed to scratch together two (yes one left and one right) climbing shoe. Somehow they had mysteriously shrunk while gathering dust in my cupboard for the last 12 months or so.
The story of my caked chalk bag is one that I am not certain I want to revisit. It involved no free-climbing on my part just carrying a very heavy pack filled with metal a very long way up a hill only to be rained on for 36h straight while not losing my sense of humour.
The route finding was surprisingly straightforward on Steenberg Ridge with the odd cairn to be found on ledges along the way. The rock is solid and gear seemed fine to me, but then I was not really looking. The overall grade would clock in at 11 or so.
What a grand way to start the New Year!

Hex Traverse 13 Dec 08

Hex River Traverse report:

Fairy Glen, Thomas Hut, Perry Refuge, Pells and down in 9h13.

I am still trying to get this blog up and going so am playing catch up with recent trips so here goes:

I had long heard of the great Hex Traverse. Despite climbing and walking several isolated areas of the Hex River Mountains I had never connected any of the dots. Today was the day.

Friends of mine Duncan, Gosia and Dan had done one of the standard traverses and wrote about their experience. I quized them a bit more and let the idea brew a little longer. A few weeks ago I realised that I would be in my old home town Worcester with nothing to do for most of a day…..!

That is all I needed I figured. Roger Steel did not need any pursuasion.

Our plan was to start from Fairy Glen, walk up to Thomas Hut via Fonteintjiesberg to Perry Refuge, Across the Pell’s and down to a waiting car at the bottom of Waaihoek. Simple in theory.

Due to the restrictive starting hours we could only enter Fairy Glen at 7h00 and drive past the lion den. The inhabitants were thankfully sleeping and not looking too hungry! A quick 95 min up to Thomas hut saw us fill bottles and bladders to the brim. It was going to be a warm day and the promising looking clouds from earlier did not seem to be hanging around for much longer.

3h to Perry we reconned and we almost made that cutoff if it was not for the magically disapearing GPS which decided to depart our company unanounced.

We did not actually go down to Perry but rather continued to traverse high along the large horseshoe into the heat of the day. We thought we had enough liquid with us an certainly enough time. Just before the first steep gully we met other folk who were going in the opposite direction. Heavy packs and all. They did give us a few sips of nice juice though which was much welcomed.

Finally we got to the very nice pools just before Pells and refilled our bladders and bodies. The short climb up to the ridge and a call to say we would be another hour.

Down, down and more to finally reach Mel who had brought cold juices and a very happy welcome!

9h13. Not bad for a day at the office. I can not believe that nobody has done this before in a day. It is very doable and fun. Certainly more of a fast walk than run. In fact we did not run anything significant but walked pretty much non stop all the way. 3,5 l of liquid capacity and energy food.

Addo Elephant 100 miler May 08

Addo 100 Mile Trail Run race report or surviving in the bird cage

I was stunned, completely stunned. I could not believe it. Was this a dream, or had I actually just been run over by an ostrich? This tall bird (at least a foot taller than me) had run into me head-on and floored me. I don’t remember falling, or how long I was down or how I got back to my feet. I just remember having to dust myself off and staggering on. I was 40 km into the longest event of my life and certainly did not expect this! Here is a shortened version of the article which appeared in SA Mountain Sports issue 25.

The Addo was to be over double my longest run ever! I had planned meticulously. Nutrition, timing, where I wanted dry socks or a fresh pair of shoes (one size larger than my normal shoes because your feet swell over these long distances) was thought about and planned weeks before I set off. I was to travel from Cape Town to the race in the Addo Elephant Park in the Eastern Cape with a merry crew. The 1st of May saw us arrive in Addo at the briefing. I certainly was nervous about the task which lay ahead the next day. My aim was 1) to finish and 2) to finish in under 24h and earn the silver belt buckle.

The start was at 6h00 outside the Kirkwood Hotel the next day. A short section of tarred road lead us into the hills and phenomenal surroundings. There were some pretty serious hills from early on. Estienne (the RD) had warned us that the early section followed an old fence line (in other words take a straight line between two points come hell or high water). I soon found that I was running by myself. Walk up the steep, steep hills and down the other side just to do more of the same. There was mist in the valleys and the sun was not making itself known yet. Magic to be out in the hills.

All went very well until CP4 at 34 km. 3h38 into the day and I was going strong. We had a short flattish section of out and back. This was the first time I got a chance to see the other runners. I had never met Bruce Arnett before but he was looking strong in first and AO Okreglicki in second. Jo Mackenzie and Mimi Anderson were chatting away a couple of minutes behind me. In fact they would catch me at all CP’s and I really enjoyed having them around. They were having fun and that really reminded me why I was there.

Then suddenly the ostrich got the better of me. It happened so quickly that I had absolutely no time to react. (Apparently the thing to do is crouch down and make yourself as small as possible. Ostrich’s can cause serious injury with their claws. I am told that I was lucky.)

Forests and rivers followed that were real pretty. Sneaky detours spared wet toes. The going underfoot was serious 4X4 stuff with quite rough rocky terrain. Just what we had signed up for!

Out of the foothills it was. Up, up and more steepness until we finally got onto this amazing ridge and CP 8. 70 km and 7h33 into the race my pace was good. I changed into a fresh pair of Continental Divides at this point. A quick check on all toetsies did not reveal any immediate issues. We followed this blunt ridge for 15 kays or so. The views were magnificent. Then down steep dirt roads. Too steep to run so a shuffle was the best in saving the quads. I was glad to get down to the farm at CP 10. 88km and 11h36 down. A couple of slices of orange was a refreshing change from the Hammer gels, bars and Perpetuem I had used up to then. Suddenly the light started fading quickly as I entered the forest on the river trail section. Mimi and Jo caught up to me and it was a real motivation to hear their chatter in the darkness. Steep switchbacks took us over 300m of altitude gain up and into the darkness to Zuurberg Inn (CP11, 96 km and 12h49). We had finished the technical section (thank goodness) and the rest of the run was on dirt roads (some only passable by 4X4). The night was quiet and not too windy as we headed up the Zuurberg Pass. The first bit of nausea hit me somewhere around here. Just too much effort to get a gel down. Squeeze, swallow quick, rinse mouth, spit, psyche up a couple of minutes for the next mouthful…

CP 13 (110km and 15h36 down) arrived not a moment too late. I had left my Nano here as a treat for the night section. Plug it in and turn up the volume. Oh and espresso gels kicked in and gave me a much needed boost into the night. I tried to run for a whole song and then walk one. That did not last for very long. Made myself another deal. Run for a minute, walk for a minute, run… that just got me more tired and I slowed down. Darn! I had 9 ½ hours to cover 50km. I thought I would just have to walk at an average of 6+km/h including stops if I was to make my goal of finishing sub 24h! We headed up onto the plateau. There was a little wind and the temp was cool, conditions were perfect! Off in the distance I could see the lights of towns below us.
Finally I spotted two lights, they were close. That must be the turnaround?! I hoped and wished. I will be there in minutes!! On and on along this dirt road, on and on into the night, tunes and scattered thoughts my only companions. Minutes seemed longer than they should. Finally the lights rose onto a hill (oh no) then I saw AO’s headlamp bob toward me. My greeting was unanswered. A final hill and then I heard the voices cheer me on! Brilliant to see friendly frozen faces out here in middle earth. A quick drink of water and turn around (CP 14, 118 km and 16h49). Homeward bound! On the plateau I met Jo and we swopped encouragements. So where had Mimi gone? I had no idea, did not think to ask at the time.

The tricky stuff was all over and it was just a matter of beating the clock now. Could I maintain my walking pace of 6km/h or so? Running was proving to be too much effort for my brain and body. Just before the first of the long downhills. Jo caught and passed me easily. I thought of trying to put up a fight but realised that she was way stronger as she headed off into the distance. Minutes later I gladly accepted a cup of warm tea from her at the Zuurberg Pass Road (CP 12, 133km, 19h09). Tea has never been more welcome than this! Down the steep pass to Zuurberg Inn (CP 11, 140km, 20h17) and a refreshing snack of orange. I had 3 ½ hours left to do the last 20km’s give or take a couple minutes. (Not exactly a PB I thought) This was going to be close. On and on into the colder depths and finally some more lights. The mind playing tricks again telling me that Wellshaven (CP 15) was just around the corner. No just keep going. I was keeping a close watch on my pace and time to make sure that I was on target. Finally cheers out of the darkness and car headlights flashing at me. CP15 and 8km to go! (5 km to cross the main tar road and then 3 km to the finish at the rest camp in Addo) 1 ½ h to go! Focus and keep going. Whatever you do don’t slow down!

The medic drives past me. “You OK?, Just tired?” I nod.

The tar road. Look left, look right, look left again. Not so much. There is not a car in sight.
A minute later panic!
Somehow I have drifted off and missed the course and am not sure which way to go. Time is running out with 40 min and 3km to go to finish in sub 24h. Slow down, think! Retrace my steps to the last point I was on course. Then I remember the instructions of Estienne at the briefing to just run along the park fence. The marking tape appears again. Keep up the pace up this unending hill! Suddenly I turn a corner and am in the camp. I hear the cheers and clapping hands before I see them. I hug Jo, Bruce and Nadia and almost forget to cross the official finish line.

I am done! 23h39 and 3rd place in the men’s.
Smiles and several cups of tea.

The short walk to our chalet as the sky is infused with some colour seems to drag on for ages. Nothing hurts in isolation, my whole body is just very, very tired. After a short shower I crawl under covers and try to warm up. This takes most of the morning. I am drained.

All in all this is a brilliant event, one of the best I have done. Well organised with well marked paths everywhere. A nice mix of terrain underfoot. All of the folks involved were super friendly and very encouraging. I can only recommend it to anyone wanting to take part. Next year there will be a 100mile, 50 mile and 40 km events all on the 1st of May.

’09

A time to reflect and plan. Look at the past and at the future and see who we are and who we want to be.
Races for 09:
Bat Run
Hell Run
Two Ocean’s
Volunteer Wildfire Services Trail Challenge
Old Fisherman’s Trail
Hout Bay Trail Challenge
Puffer
Sky Run

hmm that sounds like a fair amount already. I am sure I will add to that as I go along.