Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2010

The Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2010

Quiver tree

My adventure began on the 12th October 2010 with an extreme travelthon from Hawaii to South Africa, eventually arriving in Johannesburg 36 hours later. The following morning we embarked on a 10 hour bus drive to Augrabies through a thirsty looking landscape and were joined by more runners and crew members from Johannesburg for the trip. All in all a 46 hour journey to get to the start line and the games hadn’t even begun!

Vervet monkey and Dassie (Rock Hyrax)

On arrival we were housed in comfortable chalets at the Augrabies National Park and had a visit from Vervet monkeys almost immediately. Within the near vicinity we could view the spectacular Augrabies Falls and had the opportunity to take photos of Quiver trees, Dassies (Rock Hyrax), Broadley’s lizards which are only found within a 100km radius of the falls. The females are brown and black with three cream stripes on their backs and the males are rainbow colored in order to attract a mate. A huge chunk of Rose quartz was on display at the park and I was soon to find out that the Kalahari is littered with the stuff. That evening a game drive ensued and we came across multiple giraffe and a small herd of Springbok and stopped off at a scenic lookout over a deep gorge which the Orange River flowed through. That evening we had dinner at the Augrabies Lodge and met more of the runners and crew.

Orange River


Registration Day: The next day we had our backpacks checked for compulsory equipment and listened to a race briefing from race director Estienne. We were weighed and I weighed my pack which was 10kg dry weight which fellow runners thought was too heavy and thanks to Nic, helped me purge my bag of at least 1kg of excess food which I discovered I did not require.

A special mention needs to be made of the caterers who made an effort to accommodate my vegan diet which I’m sure was rather an alien concept to them.

The start with the Hawaiian flag

The Kalahari desert

Day1: I felt fantastic as the race started, as though I had wings on my shoes. I had elected to represent Hawaii in the race to pay tribute to my island home of the past decade and to perhaps add something unique to the event. I found that after Check Point 1, I was pretty much running on my own and followed the red and white striped tape that was tied to bushes. Somewhere along the way I stopped seeing the markers but the terrain seemed to match the written description of the route. After a short while I stopped and felt confused and could see runner’s footprints in the sand along the track. I backtracked, reread the instructions and thought that I must be going in the right direction. Which led onto a dry river bed in a gorge. I kept going but had a constant nagging feeling that I must be wrong and that I should have seen tape. I then saw a wet patch (of urine) in the sand and more footprints which admittedly started to look confused, going in both directions. I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that I was going wrong and eventually came to a fence and looked for the supposed ‘gate’ that was meant to be there and saw none. By now I had wasted more than an hour and decided to go back the way I had come thinking “how wrong can I go, just follow the dry river bed back up the gorge and resume where I had deviated off the path”. As we had been briefed beforehand, once you turn around, nothing looks the same anymore and I should have stopped when I first noticed that there were no markers. At this point the potential to panic was there but I decided to take out my safety whistle and mirror to try and attract attention. The act of blowing the whistle actually prevented me from panicking but no-one ever heard it. It occurred to me that I might never be found and ‘this could be it’. At this point I stopped under the shade of a tree after drinking my last drop of water. Approximately 2 hours had passed since taking the wrong turn and then I heard the beautiful sound of the quad bike and saw Estienne. He was furious with me, as I’m sure it must have been very worrying when the crew realized I was lost after not showing up at Check Point 2. At this point Dr Charl arrived in case I needed medical attention but fortunately I was feeling physically 100 % fine and was taken back to the trail to resume running again, arriving at the finish so much later than I had anticipated and a bit shaken from the sequence of events. I made an on the spot decision not to dwell on the misfortune and continue to enjoy the adventure and make the most of it which was my best decision of the day.

Chanleigh and Heather at Camp1

The Orange River

The first camp was situated along the banks of the Orange River and was a blissful oasis of cool water with grassy river banks where we all swam and felt very refreshed. I photographed otter prints on the banks of the river and we heard the beautiful cry of a Fish Eagle. During my extra 12km excursion I had also seen three Klipspringers bounding through the river bed. Each day I would have the opportunity to have fantastic interactions with fellow runners who were all friendly and encouraging.

Otter prints


The camps consisted of open sided canopy tents and a ground sheet. I had not brought a sleeping mat as I thought it would be too heavy and this turned out to be a mistake. Just before the race started I laid claim to a strip of cardboard cut from a box just long enough to pad my shoulders and hips and this was now my ‘bed’. We all lay next to each other in rows and every night I experienced jetlag insomnia from the 12 hour time difference, waking up at 2am and finding it difficult to fall asleep again amidst the snoring of 30 men and rustling of plastic bags.

That day I had covered 26km (plus an additional 12km)/16.2miles (plus 7.8 miles) in 5:33:33 -a horrible time due to my misadventure. Apparently I was not the only runner to have lost the trail but had set the record for being the ‘most lost’.

Unfortunately one runner had to withdraw from the race already and was taken to a hospital in the town of Uppington, but was doing well.

Some of the terrain we ran through

Day 2: We started out on the sandy banks of the river and then discovered that we had to rock climb out of the gorge with our heavy packs. I wasn’t expecting this but actually quite enjoyed it and once we got to the top, the views were spectacular. I spent the majority of day 2 running by myself and would find myself in the company of other runners here and there. It was during these moments that I really bonded with fellow runners. I was extremely alert and vigilant for markers as I did not want a repeat performance of the day before. Upon arrival in the camp after having made up a significant amount of ‘lost’ time after Day1, I was feeling very nauseas and it took at least a half an hour for me to feel remotely better. The temperature under the tent canopy was 40 degrees C. At this point the race director came to the camp and called me aside. He informed me that I was now in 3rd position for the women and wanted me to know in advance that I would not be recognized with a trophy if I did come in third place due to my getting lost episode the day before and having to get into a support vehicle. For a few brief moments I felt like I had been hit by a double decker bus and then slapped in the face but I managed to quickly compose myself and made my second decision to not allow this to affect my enjoyment of the event and I was happy to still be in the event considering the distance I had traveled to be there and the immense support I had been given by friends and family in the fundraising venture I had set up for this race in aid of an orphanage in South Africa.

Gemsbok skull

Sociable Weaver nest

Day 3: I felt great and had an enjoyable run. The terrain was a mixture of sandy river beds, gravel roads with deep sandy tracks and trails with millions of small loose rocks and chunks of rose quartz scattered across them. Whilst running through a dry river bed I came across the skull of a Gemsbok. This was a fairly uneventful day ending in Camp3 situated in a dry patch of veld surrounded by beautiful rocky koppies (small hills).

The physiotherapists were very sought after in the camps for much need massages after a hard day out in the desert.

I covered 30km/18.6 miles in 4:34:00

One runner withdrew after day 3 due to an iliotibial band injury.

Warm night clothes at Camp3

Evening light on the koppies

Day 4: The long run took place on a blisteringly hot day! Fellow runner, Chanleigh and myself spent most of the day together which really got me through the eternal bleakness of certain sections, interspersed with mind-blowing beautiful sections. I actually enjoyed myself due to the company. We cracked jokes, sang, went past runners, were passed by runners and were in awe of the fact that people actually lived so remotely out there in the wilderness. Much of the route was through private farmlands. The temperature soared to 46 degrees C/114 degrees F and we spent time at Check Points to change out our socks but it was too late for me as I was developing deep seated blisters on the balls of both feet. Just before the sun went down, at a very busy Check Point 5 at 44km into the day Chanleigh urged me to go on ahead as she wasn’t feeling too good at that moment. I still felt great and headed off down the gravel road at a trot. It was stunningly beautiful as the sun set red and pink over the Kalahari and the full moon arose illuminating the gravel track ahead of me. As I got to Check Point 7 my wheels fell off. I must have reached a stage of calorie depletion and felt extremely nauseas. I had been consuming running supplements all day but had not actually eaten anything. I crawled along the 10km from CP7 to CP8 in the bright moonlight dry heaving every 5 minutes and moaning in a wretched state, forcing myself along mentally in a forward motion and trying to nibble on some almonds with great difficulty. It was at this moment that French runner Patrick Mouyen came across me and he could see that I was in fairly bad shape. He stayed with me all the time until we reached the next CP even though he was quite capable of running on ahead. I could not speak a word of French and he could not speak a word of English but just having him by my side made a world of difference. I was a mess at CP8 and thanked Patrick with the only French word I knew “merci” and he went on his way knowing that I was safe. I nibbled some more and very soon Chanleigh appeared looking full of energy accompanied by Laura Foster, our wonderful journalist for the event. Later she told me that she had been pretty worried about me due to how I looked with my hair standing on end and the wild eyed stare I had been reduced to. I now urged her to go on ahead and not long afterwards started to feel much better and set off again accompanied by Laura. We caught up with Chanleigh and British David and all made it to the camp together. Chanleigh and I finishing hand in hand in the time of 16:19:00 for our 76km/47.2 mile leg.

Beneath a Quiver tree on the long run

Route marker on a bush

It was excruciating doing the last few kilometers in the thick, sandy tracks leading to the dried river bank of caked clay where Camp 4 was situated.

Unfortunately we lost 2 more runners on the long day due to heat exhaustion and not feeling well enough to continue.

The Orange river

Camp 4

Day 5: A day of resting, threading blisters and drying them out. I spent much of the day lying on my strip of cardboard in the tent and hobbling around in flipflops to wash my clothes and hair in the river which was rather nice. Few people actually swam but it was a refreshing camp for sure. With the long day behind me, I was confident that I would complete the event even if it meant crawling along on my painfully blistered feet. Race director Nadia sent our e-mails to us every night which was extremely motivating for me knowing that there were people out there rooting for me and tracking my journey.

My blisters

Bed is burning

Day 6: One runner withdrew at the start of the day due to septic blisters that required IV antibiotic treatment at the camp. This was to be a brutal 46km/28.6 mile leg on painful blisters. During the course of the day I had to constantly push the pain aside and keep running which wasn’t always easy to do. Every time I stood on a small loose rock or chunk of rose quartz, I experienced searing pain in the balls of my feet. The day was a process of one step in front of the other and Chanleigh and myself spent much of the day together, again finishing hand in hand in the time of 7:56:00.

That night in our final camp a fierce, cold wind swept through the tent, waking me up and fuelling my ever present insomnia.

Nadia and Heather

Representing Hawaii

Day 7 : The last day: In the morning I ceremoniously cremated my cardboard sleeping mat on the camp fire. There had been moments during the event when I questioned my sanity: a 44 year old woman running 250km through the Kalahari desert with a piece of rolled up cardboard on her back somehow seemed a bit crazy at times but I was obviously in excellent like-minded company.

Only 24km/14.9 miles to go! The run was relatively easy except for the trail sections which had lots of small, sharp rocks which seemed to dig into my blisters, causing me to sound like a bit of a sailor at times. Right towards the very end I took a minor wrong turn through some reeds and had to backtrack again but it was not serious and then the end was in sight. What a relief! What a great feeling of accomplishment! I had covered 252km in the Kalahari desert, this was the first time I had ever attempted anything like this and it wont be the last. Running an extreme marathon is a bit like natural childbirth ~ agonizing at times but once it’s over and you’re ‘holding the baby’, it’s the best feeling in the world. The highlight of the experience for me was meeting the most incredible, humble and wonderful people. Without them, covering the distance would not have been the same. The camaraderie was indescribable. When you’re with other people for 7 days on foot in the desert you get to know a very special side of them. The crew for KAEM were also exceptional, many of whom were volunteers and it wasn’t an easy job sometimes. Co-director Nadia was dubbed the mother of KAEM and had everyone’s well-being at heart. Simon, the other co-director who filmed the event kept me laughing with his humour and witty banter. Estienne and I bonded at the end and he requested my head lei of flowers that I had brought with to wear at the finish line. We were all weighed and I had lost 3kg/6.6lbs in 7 days.

After festivities and an awards evening I headed off to Cape Town for a couple of days to visit HOKISA, the orphanage I had been fundraising for. They had also been tracking my progress through the KAEM website, alongside my friends, family and co-workers. It was a fabulous feeling to arrive at HOKISA in the township of Masiphumelele and have the kids run up to me saying “you ran for us, show us your muscles”. They inspected my beautiful glass leopard finisher’s trophy and we spent time together and took photos. I felt like a bear needing to retreat into a cave to process everything I had been through and fortunately still managed to see family and a few friends. En route home I overnighted in Johannesburg and managed to connect with a few friends there before heading back to Hawaii on another extreme travelthon.
View of Table Mountain from Blouberg

Kids at HOKISA

Now back at home, my blisters have healed and I’m searching online to see which extreme event I can sign up for next…..

I would like to extend my thanks to my family, friends and co-workers who very generously donated towards my fundraising effort. Between this year and last year I have raised R81,935.00/$11,743.00 for HOKISA. A huge thank you to everyone who supported me, trained with me, ran the perimeter of two Hawaiian islands with me and all the e-mails, motivational messages and love that were sent to me during the event. Also a special thank you to the event organizers and crew, Simon for driving me to Cape Town and my fellow runners at KAEM ~ you rock!

All of the above has made this experience extra special and life enriching.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

An incredible journey so far!

I leave for the 250km/155mile Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon in a day and a half. Wow! What an abolutely fantastic journey it's been to reach this point!!
I've discovered so much about myself that I didn't know, met new and wonderful friends along the way and also managed to raise some money for an orhanage in South Africa which is dear to my heart ~ HOKISA (Homes for kids in South Africa). Hopefully the kids will also be inspired to dream big and go beyond what they percieve to be their limitations by my efforts to train and participate in this gruelling event with them in mind .
My family has been incredibly supportive and I'd like to thank them, as well as all the people who donated to my fundraising effort and those who sent me the most wonderful and inspiring messages! Without all of you, this would not be possible.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The countdown has begun: 12 days until I leave for my big adventure race:

Distance run from april to october 2010: (Bearing in mind I have a demanding full time job , I'm a wife, mother and still keep a social life)
1397 miles/ 2248 km
Races this year:
Hilo to Volcano 31miles/50km (23 January 2010)
Maui Oceanfront Marathon 26.2miles/42k (24 January 2010)
O'ahu Perimeter relay 135miles/217km (my leg 53miles/85km) informal fun run, not a race. (17-18 April 2010)
Maui Perimeter relay 170+ miles/273+ km  (my leg 50miles/80km) informal fun run, not a race (22-24 July 2010)
Maui Marathon 26.2miles/42km (19 September 2010)
Upcoming Races:
 Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 155 miles/250km (17-23October 2010)
Honolulu Marathon 26.2miles/42km (December 2010)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Kalahari Survival kit

The Backpack:
OSPREY TALON 33 Ultralight Backpack
Weight: 1lb 12oz/0.79kg (empty)
Volume: 1900c.i/31L
Sun Yellow

The Sleeping Bag:
LAFUMA Ultralight Sleeping Bag
Weight: 1lb 7oz/670gm
Keeps you warm in 40F/4C
Dimensions: length 6'11"/211cm
Packs into:10'5"/25.4cm by 12.7cm
Meadow Green and Grey

I've packed in 7 ziplock bags with avaried menu so that I don't get sick of the food
Calories: Varies between 2500-3200ca/10,464-13.394KJ
Protein: 91gm-102gm 95% vegan and 5% vegetarian (some bars have whey protein in them)

Other gear:
Pot/cup 4.9oz/139gm
camping cutlery
towel/rain ponco (it occasionally rains in the kalahari)
Headlamp and flashlight
Warm clothes for night
change of shorts and tops
4 pairs of socks/underpants (I'll wear the 5th pair at the start)
First aid and blister treatment kit with small pair of scissors
Toiletries: toothbrush and paste, hairbrush, shampoo and conditioner (I need this because of my long hair)
sunblock, insect repellant
Insect face net
Notepad to document my adventure

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Week 26 : (30August2010-05Sept2010) Total distance 82miles/132km

Monday: 21miles/34km trails and hills
Friday: 20miles/32km
Saturday: 21miles/34km trails and hills

The start of one of my favorite trails

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Week 25 (22august2010-28august2010)

Heather, Julie and Jan: somewhere on the west side of Maui, mile whatever during the Maui Perimeter times!!
Wednesday: 10miles/16km hills
Thursday: 16miles/26km
Not such a good week in terms of mileage,too much time at work and working too hard but I'll make up for it next week!!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Week 24: (15-21 august 2010) Total distance : 70miles/112km

Monday: 21miles/34km hills and trails
Tuesday: 10miles/16km
Friday: 20miles/32km
Saturday: 9miles/14
Sunday: 10miles/16km

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Week 21-23 : (25july2010-14august2010)

Kaena Point beach and trail run with 22lb backpack

Week 21: 31 miles/50km
Week 22: 65 miles/104.6km
Week 23: 28miles/45km

Friday, July 16, 2010

Maui Moonlight Madness: 170+mile/273.5+km relay around the Island of Maui

Maui Perimeter Relay: (170+ miles/273.5+km) 22-24 July 2010

I flew to Maui after a busy 12 hour shift at the hospital after having been awake since 0430 on Thursday morning but that was okay as I was amped and ready to start our epic feat of doing a relay around the island of Maui with 3 other fabulous wahine, Julie T, Jan and Julie D. Stephane was our awesome crew and he and Julie had arrived on Maui earlier that day to hire a spacious SUV and buy supplies like water and gatorade. They met the rest of us at the airport and we drove to a nearby beach park in Kahului to start our run at exactly 11pm. Julie T went first setting the amazing tone for our night running around NW Maui. We each did 10mile/16km legs with our trusty crew driver Stephane always nearby making sure we were safe. My 10 mile leg came third, the moon was incredibly bright despite the clouds and the air was cool and misty with splattering of rain.

 Experiencing the narrow, cliff hugging road all to ourselves up close and personal was exhilarating to say the least. I felt incredibly free, alive and in the moment running along the winding, remote road with plummeting views to the ocean in the moonlight, up and down some serious hills, past sleepy remote settlements and homes interspersed along this road less traveled. Along the way, as I was running an Hawaiian owl (Pueo) flew past me, looked at me and flew off again into the night and I felt that this was a good omen for a protected journey. I had a similar encounter on our Oahu perimeter relay as well as in the early dark hours of dawn when running Peacock Flats (always with Julie T)and in keeping with things Hawaiian, the Pueo is now my aumakua.

When dawn appeared as a warm pink glow across the ocean on west Maui we ran past beautiful little beaches with views of Molokai and Lanai whilst standup paddlers enjoyed the small kine waves lapping against the shores. Our journey continued along the coastal towns of Kihei and Wailea to Makena beach where we stopped to swim or take photographs and wait for the 2 kane relay team consisting of ultra runners Paul and Jeff who were going to meet us at the end of the road at La Perouse Bay to accompany me along the treacherous lava field portion of the journey on the ancient Hawaiian ’King’s Trail’. This trail stretches along the southern portion of Maui in a hot and barren landscape of loose a’a lava rock as far as the eye can see, with the back slopes of Mnt Haleakala beckoning in the distance. After completing this 5 hour ordeal where with every footfall your shoe rolls over fist size lava rock inducing much discomfort over such an extended period I was left with one blister and a lava rock laceration which isn’t bad considering the terrain. I had my GPS odometer on and can verify that King’s Trail is 14 miles/22.5km long.

My name for this trail is ‘King’s Trail - trail of Hawaiian Kings, Night Marchers and Menehune and a place where goats come to die’.

This entire stretch was devoid of life but along the way we encountered many, many skeletons whitened by the scorching sun which was a stark contrast against the black lava rock - baby goats, small goats, large male goats - they were all dead! Later we saw large herds of living goats but that was nearer the end of the trail. There were remnants of ancient Hawaiian settlements, ruined black lava rock walls at various points along the trail which generally ran 200 meters away from the ocean and parallel to it. At one stage Paul made contact with ultra runner Mike M who was doing the perimeter of Maui - solo!! He was further ahead and making his way along a deviated track off the lava field up towards the road south side of Haleakala. I found evidence of Mike on the trail in the form of a bright yellow reflective wrist band lying on the blackened lava which I picked up and put into my camelback to give to Mike as a trophy when I next saw him.

I was told stories of people who had previously done King’s trail as part of an adventure race course and had been on it at night. When they stood still for any given moment they could hear the crunching of the lava rock as the ‘night marchers’ swept along the trail and they thought they were hallucinating when they saw menehunes (similar to leprechauns) sitting on the rocks laughing at them as they struggled along but oddly enough they were both hallucinating the exact same thing…

About 3 hours into our gnarly trail adventure we came across a shack which was obviously used by the ‘goat killer’. The perimeter of this open air dwelling was littered with skulls and skeletons of goats. We took some photos but this place did not have a good vibe - creepy to say the least - and so we did not linger too long, pressing onwards in the still blisteringly hot landscape and ran out of water an hour before the end of the trail. The lower our water supplies got, the more electrolyte tabs we popped in order to retain fluid which worked because my fingers were completely swollen by the time we finished. I had run out of water first because I did not bring an adequate supply with me and at one stage I had a fleeting thought that if I had attempted this trail on my own, I may have ended up alongside the skeletons of the goats. Eventually we traversed the trail leading to the main paved road - and there was Mike M! He shared his water with us which gave me a new surge of energy and instead of waiting for the support vehicle I suddenly had the desire to run and make up a few more miles for my relay team.

After a very long and exhausting day we stopped to shower and sleep in the beautiful, remote town of Hana on the east side of Maui. The only way you can get to Hana is along a thin, cliff hugging strip of road with 600 bends and 60 bridges, past too many waterfalls to count and plummeting views down to a psychedelic ocean. It is lush, exquisite and verdant on this idyllic part of Maui a.k.a heaven.

As I lay down resting under a huge canopy of leaves on the black sand beach of Hana Bay I really felt a great affinity with the aina (essence of the land) that is Hawaii. Since I started running and going on running and hiking adventures in Hawaii it has connected me in a very special and deep way with the mana (soul) of the islands and I am extremely thankful to be here.

The run from Hana back to Kahului along the Hana Highway was blissful in the late afternoon and evening where we worked out a very energy efficient strategy of each running 1 hour legs thereby staying fresh and keeping up speed. My section of Hana Hwy was spectacular, passing numerous waterfalls and many bridges on a lush, shaded, hilly, winding road where you would reap the rewards of running up the hills by charging down them. We completed our Maui Perimeter Relay at exactly 11pm on Saturday night…48 hours to the second ( I believe we ran for 31 hours). Sunday was a well deserved day of relaxation - lunch at the upcountry Kula Lodge with a breathtaking view across Maui valley to the mountains on the opposite side. Mike M finished his solo perimeter experience at 3am….well done Mike! During the afternoon we lay on a very windy Spreckles Beach while Stephane had a chance to go windsurfing at this world renowned spot.

A hui ho Maui. I now feel a great connection with this island and look forward to another return visit.
 Mahalo nui loa to the Fabulous Foursome relay Team : ‘Kamakazi Cocktail’ - our master organizer; ’ Irish Car Bomb’ - our speed racer; ’Ultra Shishi’ - our Barbie-arian , ’Dirty Martini’ - Pueo friend who can fall asleep at the drop-of-a-hat and French Fry our superb European rally driver. Also to Paul and Jeff for helping me across the lava fields, Mike for his entertaining stories and my family for giving me the blessing to participate in another epic adventure.