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Big international races this weekend

This weekend there are a three exciting trail races taking place around the world, with a couple of top South Africans competing.

The Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run

This is the grand-daddy of 100 mile trail runs, the oldest and most prestegious 100 mile race in the USA, and maybe the world. This year’s event includes a stacked field of runners from the USA and around the world, including our very own Ryan Sandes. Ryan has run the race twice, and finished 2nd in a time of 15h03 in 2012, and 5th in a time of 15h46 las t year, and he has said that this is a focus race for him this year. I think he has a good chance of taking home the victory this year, but he will have to run a super race because the competition is very tough. The other guys likely to make up the top positions include Rob Krar (most people’s favourite to take the win), Dylan Bowman (very impressive wins at Tarawera 100k and TNF100 this year so far), Francois D’haene (last year’s UTWT champion and unbeatable at hilly 100-milers last year), Julien ChorierAlex VarnerIan SharmanSeth Swanson, and more. Like I said, a really strong mens field.

In the women’s field, returning champion Stephanie Howe will be the one to beat. She will face some tough competition though, especially from Magdalena Boulet and Michelle Yeats. I think this will be the women’s podium, and anyone of them could take the victory, but I think Stephanie will win it again this year. For more in-depth previews of the fields, have a look at these articles by iRunFar (men and women) and Ian Corliss (men and women).

This should be a very exciting race, check out the race day webcast and live video. The race starts at 2pm South African time on Saturday 27th June.

The North Face Lavarado Ultra Trail

The Lavarado Ultra Trail is part of the Ultra Trail World Tour, 119km with around 5800m elevation gain through the Italian Dolomites. Last year, the race was won by Anton Krupicka, but due to injury he will not be back this year to defend his title. However, there are still some strong men racing, including Americans Timothy Olsen and Nick Clark, Brit Danny Kendall [Update: not running], New Zealander Scott Hawker, a bunch of Italian, French and Spanish athletes, and South African Daniel Rowland. Daniel has been living and training in Chile and most recently Switzerland, so he should be used to the altitude, climbing and technical European trails, so he has a good shot at a top result.

In the women’s field Italy’s Francesca Canepa and France’s Nathalie Mauclair and Caroline Chaverot will be the ones to watch, with these three all in contention for podium spots and the win. Check out iRunFar’s race preview here.

Big up to some other South Africans running the race: Lloyd Samassa and Gregory Perks, good luck!

Mont-Blanc Marathon

There are a bunch of races at the Mont-Blanc Marathon event including 80km, 42km, 23km, 10km and vertical km distances.  All the races take place in the beautiful Chamonix Mont-Blanc Valley, a trail running mecca in the Alps.

In the 80km event, some of the top men include Manuel Merillas from Spain, Seb Chaigneau from France, Phillip Reiter from Germany, Alex Nichols from USA and Caine Warburton from Australia. My money would be on Manuel Merillas, so much talent in such a young guy, or Alex Nichols after some good performances recently.

In the women’s race, Rory Bosio from the USA is the hot favourite to take the win, after her performance at UTMB last year, she is definitely the one to beat. [UPDATE – Although Rory is entered, I’m not sure if she is actually running] Also one to watch is Mira Rai from Nepal. Check out Ian Corliss’s 80km race preview here.

In the 42km event, the favourite for the mens race must be Max King from USA. By his own admission he crashed and burned a bit during Comrades, but I still think he has the speed and ability to take the win over the shorter course. But he will have some tough competition from some other strong men including Michel Lanne from France and Erik Haugsnes from Norway,  In the women’s race, another Comrades runner Ellie Greenwood from Canada should be able to take the win if she has recovered from Comrades.

In the VK, trail legend Kilian Jornet is signed up to race, so it will be interesting to see what kind of shape he is in after doing mostly mountaineering recently. I wouldn’t be surprise to see him win the VK regardless, that guy is amazing. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see him enter and win the marathon event, he won it last year and although he isn’t signed up yet, it could happen in which case he will be the one to beat! Max King is also running the VK, so that should be a good contest.

In the women’s event, Emilie Forsberg has also come down from the mountains to race and could be tough to beat, but also depending on current fitness. She won’t have it all her own way though, with Megan Kimmel and especially Laura Orgue racing. Laura is probably the favourite to take the VK victory.

All in all, an exciting weekend of racing up ahead. I will to be doing any of theses races this year (although all of them are on my bucket list!), but I will be racing at the final race of the Winter Trail Challenge at Milestone Kitchens. Let me know in the comments if you have any favourites or predictions for the races.

Winter Trail Challenge 5 – Table Mountain PMB

The 5th race of the Winter Trail Challenge 2015 by KZN Trail Running took place at Table Mountain in Pietermaritzburg on the 20th June 2015. There were two events on offer, a 12km route and a 7km route. This is a challenging race, with a steep climb at the start, and amazing views over the Dusi and Umgeni River valleys. I did the 12km route, which circles the entire top of the mountain, while the 7km route stays mainly on the Dusi side of the mountain. The race starts at a local school, and there is a great vibe at the start and finish with music and local dancers, which really adds to the atmosphere.

The mountain doesn't look so big from down here...

The mountain doesn’t look so big from down here…

It was a beautiful morning, a little chilly, but sunny and not too bad, and a larger than usual crowd of runners lined up on the start. The race was started at around 7:40am by the local Nkosi, and immediately the course starts climbing up the mountain, around 200m in the first 1.5km. This first climb is quite tough, it starts with around 800m of dust road before getting onto a single track. Most people were brought to a walk by this stage by the steep gradient. Once on the top, the route follows the edge of the mountain, which like Table Mountain in Cape Town, is definitely not flat on the top!

A beautiful morning at the foot of Table Mountain PMB

A beautiful morning at the foot of Table Mountain PMB

The course follows cattle tracks for most of the way to the far end of the mountain. These can be quite challenging to run on since they are quite narrow and often covered by long grass so you can’t really see where your feet are landing. After about 3km, the 7km course splits off and heads up a hill while the 12km course continues round the mountain. In quite a few places, the course goes off trail and you end up running through long grass. There was also a small river that had to be crossed, and in trying to get over without getting my feet wet, I managed to land one foot in a hole filled with water and took a bit of a tumble. No harm done, except for one wet, muddy shoe. Once you reach the far end of the mountain, the course follows the cliffs on the Umgeni side, with magnificent views over Nagle Dam and the Umgeni river. At some points, the course goes very close to the edge of the cliffs, with some high drops. Careful footing is a must!

Unfortunately I wasn’t feeling great, probably because of the new breakfast cereal I tried in the morning before the race which didn’t seem to agree with me, so I wasn’t going quite as fast as I wanted and walked a couple of the hills. But once I reached about 8km, I started to feel better and picked up the pace. It wasn’t long before we started the steep descent back down the mountain to the finish, and I tried to run it quite hard. I love downhills, especially technical ones. I managed to catch most of the people who had passed me on the top, and ran pretty much full pace down the final kilometre to the finish, setting a new 1km PB in the process (3:42). The final race distance was was around 11.1km, and I finished in 1:10:15, 2 minutes faster than my time last year.

The Durban Runner displaying all sorts of running goodies

The Durban Runner displaying all sorts of running goodies

Apart from not feeling great, I enjoyed the run. The views from the top are really spectacular, and we had a perfect clear day. It is also really cool that most of the money raised from the entry fees goes back to the school and local community. It was also cool to have The Durban Runner, USN and Trail Magazine involved, with USN providing some much needed refreshment at the finish. The top three male runners where all part of Martin Dreyer’s Change-a-Life Academy, which is producing some really fast guys. The winner was Mthobisi Mzolo in 47:41 while the ladies race was won by Pippa McGregor again in 1:01:35. Strava data for the races is here.

Shoes: New Balance 1210v1 Leadville

Full race results

Andrew Booth at the prize giving.

Andrew Booth at the prize giving.

Winter Trail Challenge 4 – Giba Night Run

The 4th race of the Winter Trail Challenge 2015 by KZN Trail Running took place on a chilly Wednesday evening at Giba Gorge on the 11th June 2015. There were two events on offer, a 10km route and a 5km route. The actual distances of each course are actually a bit shorter, around 8.6km for the 10km and 4.3km for the 5km course. I decided to run the 5km event, and to try and push a bit harder than usual to see how well I’ve recovered from Comrades.

Registration at Giba

Registration at Giba

The 10km event set off first, with the 5km event starting a couple minutes later, led out by Andrew Booth to guide the route for the first few hundred meters. My strategy was to try and stay with the front runners as much as possible and see how it went, but two guys went off the front at a blistering pace that I knew would not be sustainable for me, so after about 800m I slowed a bit and was passed by 2 other guys. I stuck behind them, and the three of us wound our way through the forests of Giba. Soon we started catching the second placed runner, and by the time we reached the turnaround point at the dam, we overtook him. By this point, the first guy was already around the dam and heading back, around a minute and a half ahead of us, so I knew I didn’t have much chance of catching him on the way back.

The first half of the course up the the dam was mostly gradual uphill (nothing steep or long, only around 40m vertical gain), so the way back was generally downhill, which suits me better, so I opened up a bit on the descent from the dam and passed the 3rd guy and ran behind the 2nd guy for a while, before passing him on another downhill section. Running quickly down trails in the dark with just a headlight is really fun, but a bit tricky because its hard to see potholes and rocks. From then on, I ran alone for the rest of the race, pushing hard on the downhills and keeping up the pace on the uphills. In the end I finished second by more than 2 minutes, with the winner breaking the course record. My time of 19:51 for 4.3km was pretty quick for me, and my lungs really felt it, but me legs felt good with no pain.

The mens long event was won by Craig Turton in 37:55, while his sister Robyn Krause won the ladies event in 45:19. I followed up the race with a great burger/beer special at the Giba restaurant to end off a good evening at a great trail running destination. Stave data for the event is here.

Shoes: New Balance RC1400v2

Headlamp: LED Lenser SEO5

Full race results here

Good vibe at the Giba restaurant post race

Good vibe at the Giba restaurant post race

Shining some light on headlamps

With the Giba Night race coming up tonight, I was interested in what options there were for headlamps available at the moment, and which would offer the best value for money on a Rands/Lumen scale (where lumens indicate the brightness). For trail running, the brighter the better (I’d recommend 100 lumens at a minimum), however brightness comes at a cost both in money terms as well as in weight and battery life. So doing a quick search on the internet, I put together this table listing options from some well-known brands.

Make Model Peak Lumens Price R/Lumen Rechargeable Batteries Weight (g)
Extreme Lights Extreme XPh 670  R850.00 1.27 Yes Li-ion or 3 x AAA 255
Extreme Lights XPh3A 160  R299.00 1.87 No 3 x AAA 51
Petzl MYO RXP 370  R879.00 2.38 No 3 x AA 175
LED Lenser H7.2 250  R675.00 2.70 No 4 x AAA 165
LED Lenser SEO5 180  R550.00 3.06 No 3 x AAA 105
Petzl Tikkina 60  R199.00 3.32 No 3 x AAA 85
LED Lenser Neo 90  R299.00 3.32 No 3 x AAA 54
LED Lenser H7R.2 300  R999.00 3.33 Yes Li-ion 165
Petzl NAO 575  R2 019.00 3.51 Yes Li-ion 187
Petzl Tikka XP 160  R599.00 3.74 No 3 x AAA 85
LED Lenser SEO3 100  R399.00 3.99 No 3 x AAA 105
LED Lenser SEO7R 220  R999.00 4.54 Yes Li-ion 93
Petzl Tikka R+ 170  R899.00 5.29 Yes Li-ion 115
Petzl Tikka Plus 2 110  R599.00 5.45 No 3 x AAA 85
Petzl Tikka RXP 215  R1 199.00 5.58 Yes Li-ion 115
Black Diamond Icon 3 200  R1 199.00 6.00 No 4 x AA 193

I got these prices from a couple of online retailers including Cape Union MartAwesome Tools and iWarehouse (I can’t vouch for any of these except Cape Union Mart, since they are the only ones I have actually bought from). The R/Lumen gives an indication of the value of the headlamp, the lower the better, since you are paying fewer Rands per Lumen. [UPDATE: I added the Extreme Lights options, they look like good value and apparently the service from their website is very good although I haven’t tested it personally – Extreme Lights]

LED Lenser SEO5

LED Lenser SEO5

One thing to note is that brightness isn’t the only factor. The weight and fit is also important since the headlamp needs to be comfortable on your head and not bounce around, so I’d recommend trying before you buy. Some of the options above have a separate battery pack which is worn on the back of the head, with the lighting system on the front, while others have the batteries included in the lighting system. This is a matter of personal taste, having the batteries at the back helps to balance the weight, but increases complexity. Anther factor to consider is whether or not the headlamp is rechargeable or not, and whether you can replace the battery pack with normal batteries should you run out of juice mid-race. Obviously a rechargeable pack will save money on new batteries, however rechargeable batteries don’t live forever so you may have to replace the pack down the line (Petzl guarantees their rechargeable packs for 1 year or 300 cycles, but this doesn’t mean it will definitely be dead after one year. LED Lenser guarantees their whole rechargeable headlamp (SEO7R) for 5 years, so this is a good indication of how long you can expect the battery to last if cared for correctly).

Petzl NAO

Petzl NAO

The last thing to consider is how long the headlamp will last on a set of batteries (or a single recharge), however this is pretty hard to compare since they all quote different times at different intensities. You will get a longer battery life if the brightness is turned down (on those headlamps that have different brightness settings), and conversely shorter life on higher brightness levels. Some of the higher end models (particularly the Petzl NAO, TIKKA RXP and TIKKA R+) include reactive lighting where the brightness is automatically adjusted based on the current conditions, so this is useful for saving battery life when you don’t need full brightness. I currently own a LED Lenser SEO5, which I have been very happy with. It isn’t the brightest though, and I would like to upgrade to something a bit brighter and with rechargeable batteries, so possibly a Petzl MYO or NAO, if I can convince myself to spend two grand on a headlamp!

New Salomon Running TV Episode – S4E05 – The Forest

The latest episode of Salomon Running TV produced by The African Attachment has just been released (S4E05) featuring Anna Frost, Ricky Gates and Matt Flaherty. It is shot in the Redwoods of Northern California, and features plenty of pretty slow-motion footage of huge trees and deer, and some clips of old-school loggers chopping down massive trees. As always, production quality is excellent; the only downfall is that it is quite short at just under 5 minutes.

Winter Trail Challenge 3 – Faulklands Farm

The 3rd race of the Winter Trail Challenge 2015 hosted by KZN Trail Running took place at Faulklands Farm on Saturday 6th June 2015. There were three events to choose from, a 14km, 8km and 5km option. On both the 14km and 8km routes the course drops down into the Umgeni valley, while the 5km course stays on the top of the cliffs. Usually the 14km route includes two crossings of the Umgeni River, however due to high water levels, the course was changed to avoid the crossings. I had entered the 14km event, but seeing how it had been less than a week since Comrades, I wasn’t sure how well my legs had recovered and so I didn’t expect to be able to push as hard as normal.IMG_1066

Race morning was cold (dropping to 0℃ in places on the drive up), but luckily at Faulklands they build a nice big bonfire to keep you warm while you wait for the start. It was a smallish event, with about 120 people in total lining up for all three events, with the majority opting for the 14km event. The race started at 7:35am, and immediately a bunch of frontrunners set off at a blistering pace. The first 1km starts with a short downhill, then two short uphills before dropping steeply down into the Umgeni Valley at 1.2km in. The downhill on jeep track continues for about 1km, before the course changes onto cattle tracks. It was still cold down in the valley with frost on the ground in places. The long grass growing over the path made running quite tricky because you can’t see where your feet are landing or if there are holes or rocks in the path, however this soon clears up, and at around the 4km mark the course begins following the Sindingini river, a small tributary to the Umgeni.

This section is rocky and muddy, a really nice technical trail along the river bed. The course follows this river all the way down to just before the Umgeni, where on the normal course, the 8km and 14km courses split and the 14km course does an extra loop including the Umgeni River crossings, but this time both courses turned left and headed up cattle paths back up the valley. Up until this point, my legs had felt fine, but as the climbing started, I started to feel the 88km from last weekend in my legs, so I slowed considerably. After a while, my hip started to get quite sore, so I decided not to push it, and to rather take a walk back to the start without completing the course.

Unfortunately there is no easy way out of the valley, so I had a 3km walk up steep jeep tracks to make it back to the finish, cutting off the extra loop that the 14km course follows and basically completing the same distance as the 8km course (which turned out to be 9.3km). It was still quite cold, so I pulled a chair up next to the fire and watched the remaining runners finishing the events.

I really like the Faulklands course, it is challenging and technical along the river bed, and the views over the Umgeni valley are stunning. The river crossings are also actually quiet fun, but I was glad to skip them in the cold weather this time. This race was my first DNF in a race, but it just shows that you really should take proper time to recover after an ultra event. The race was won by Solly Manduwa (who also won at Hilton) in a time of 52:41, and the ladies race was won by Pippa McGregor in 1:10:25.

[UPDATE] It turned out that since I ran the same distance as the 8km event over the same trails, I was classified as 5th in the 8km event in a time of 1:01:21. Bonus!

Strava data for the race is here

Shoes: New Balance 1210v1 Leadville

Full Race Results