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Day 1 of the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon – people dropping from the heat!

{This is my Kalahari ultramarathon report originally published on SleepMonsters. For an overview of what this one-week race is, check out my previous post] “This year will be the real race,” RD Estienne Arndt said to me at the start line. He was referring to last year’s KAEM, when racers didn’t get the full Kalahari Desert experience due to unseasonably cool temperatures and even a few days of rain. In contrast, today’s temperatures were predicted to sit around the mid 40s (well above 100 F), and those conditions are expected to hold for the entire week.

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Dave and me at the start line.

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And we’re off! Mostly dirt roads, but some cross-country.

It was already very hot as 70 of us set off from the start line at 9am. Starts for the rest of the week will be earlier. Today’s route was by far the easiest route of the week, though – only 25 km, with little elevation gain, rising 100 m over the first half then dropping 200 m over the second half. Those elevation changes may seem trivial to you, but out here in the sun they translate to serious issues of heat management. Even a tiny uphill raises your body temperature, so having the gentle downhill for the later (and hottest) part of the route was a very good thing.

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The group is not too spread out yet. Many of us taking it very easy because of the heat.

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Approaching our first aid station!

Aid stations were around 8 km apart, so there were two along the route before the finish. Dave and I had been advised to take this day as a training day, and to acclimatize, and we took that seriously. We were well down towards the back of the pack, but we managed ourselves really well. We made the first aid station in around 1:20, so managed to sustain a decent jog/walk pace. Shortly after, we passed a pair of guys from Austria, Josef and Ambros. Josef was obviously in trouble, having knee issues. As we approached the second aid station, Ambros caught up with us jogging, and told us that Josef had dropped out. Shortly after, we passed a 4WD with some of the medical crew, giving a woman an IV.

Less than 10% into this race, and already conditions were taking their toll.

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We did run a bit – but mostly we took it very slow.

The route, however, was spectacular – in some places due to the starkness, wide open plains with a few sparsely scattered shrubs. In other areas, traversing rounded granite outcrops, winding our way through dry stream beds (soft sand and no wind, VERY hot but very pretty) and over bare rock hills. We were especially thrilled to see a herd of five giraffe a short distance from the track, less than an hour from the start.

Dave and I kept up our very conservative and relaxed pace. The heat was affecting Dave quite a bit, so we took our time at the second aid station, giving him a chance to cool down. The volunteers here are amazing, many them who have come back many times over the years.

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Dave is not looking his best.

It was noon when we left this aid station, and Dave was having a lot of trouble keeping his body temperature down, so we stopped a few times for him to try to cool down. It’s hard to find a good place to stop – the low hilltops had a good breeze but no shade, and the shrubby trees were located only in the dry river beds – stiflingly hot and sandy, and no breeze at all.

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Nice scenery – when we remembered to enjoy it!

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Dave wasn’t sure he would be able to finish the race at this point…

The last part of the route followed a very hot and narrow dry stream bed, enclosed by rock walls. We rounded a spectacular gap flanked by giant granite boulders, and there was Camp 1 set up – most of the field already here, relaxing in the shade in the gazebos. The temperature here in the shade was 48C, which means out there in the sun and on the hot sun it must have been well into the 50s.

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Wejust rounded this boulder – and there was camp! Phew!

That heat definitely took its toll. I don’t have any final results or info, but I heard upon my arrival that 4 racers had pulled out so far. Ambros, in the next gazebo over from me, has been wailing with insufferable cramps, and got carted away by the medical crew for an IV. (Rules here are that you are allowed one IV – if you need a second, you are out).

Edward Chapman of the UK, here for his ninth time, was still well behind us. When he came in, after 6 hours on the course, he expressed concern for his friend Michelle. He had been feeling unwell and had stopped in the shade, so she should be ahead of him – but she had never arrived. Estienne immediately sent out a search crew. As I am writing this, Estienne has just returned to say that they found Michelle unconscious on the track several km out from here, so she also is out.

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This is what camp looks like. And what we do here.

He has also informed us that the route will be altered tomorrow because of this heat. The distance will remain the same, but the section between CP2 and CP3 will be changed from “Death Valley” which has no vehicle access, to a more road-accessible route. As Estienne put it, if any other people drop from heat stroke, he needs to be able to get to them quickly by vehicle. I am really glad that they have such excellent safety procedures in place here – it was really clear to all of us today that the heat can kill very quickly, if you end up off track and run out of water.

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Prepping for Kalaharai Augrabies Endurance Marathon – our first self-supported staged ultramarathon

LIMG_1258In October, Dave and I raced the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon. The race is named for where it takes place: in Augrabies Falls National Park, in the Kalahari Desert, eastern South Africa along the border with Namibia. We’ve both raced multi-day staged ultramarathons before, but this would be our first self-supported race.

LIMG_1259Self-supported means you must carry your own gear – in other words, carry a fairly heavy pack. In addition to the week’s worth of food, we also had to carry all of our clothing for the week (some racers opted for almost no clothing other than what they raced in – yuck!), sleeping bags and mats, and dishes. Race organizers provided hot water (so freeze-dried instant meals were the go) as well as canvas shelters for us to sleep under. Anything else was up to us.

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Monkeys showing their stuff. Yup,umm, those are what you think they are…

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Cute little monkey family. (I think they are laughing at those boys).

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This is the restaurant at Augrabies – frequented by colourful birds and these little dassies.

 

We were expecting heat – but by the week before the race, the forecast was looking scary! Day-time temperatures for race week forecast to hover around 40°C, or 105°F (and it ended up getting WAY hotter than that). We had been warned about very cold night-time temperatures here, so my husband Dave and I both brought our down jackets. Ha ha,that ended up being a joke.

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Compulsory gear check – if we didn’t have all of the required gear, including at least 2000 calories of food per day, we were not allowed to race.

This year’s event had 71 racers entered, 34 of them from South Africa, and the remainder (just over half the field) coming from around the globe: elsewhere in Africa, the Middle East, a great number from Europe, three from Canada (including Dave and me) and one each from Australia and the USA.

Figuring out nutritional needs – packing enough, but not too much, not to mention the right balance of foods – was a challenge. I was carrying enough for close to 3000 calories per day, which ended up being more than I needed. However, I would rather err on that side, than go hungry at the end of a tough week in the Kalahari Desert!

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Testing out our sand gaiters – some by ar.co.za and some by Rough Country. They velcro on to the bottoms of the shoes, to keep all sand out (major blister prevention strategy).

Some runners had their packs down to around 7 kg dry weight. Dave’sand mine both came down to 12 kg. We were okay with those weights starting out – not wanting to be missing stuff and suffering out there – but by the end of the race we both had learned so much that we would be able to go way lighter next time. Aid stations were 8-10 km apart, and we were provisioned with 1.5 l of water at each, so we would be carrying up to 1.5 kg of water on top of that dry weight.

Dave and I trained with our weighted packs for only a few weeks before the race. I think I would have been better training with the heavy pack a bit longer than that, as it does put a different type of strain on your joints and your feet – but overall, I was feeling pretty good pre-race.

Planned daily distances were: 25k, 30k, 40k, 80k (overnight stage), 47k, and 21k.

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There were monkeys in our camp/race headquarters at Kalahari Augrabies National Park, and nice short walks to view the waterfalls and gorge. Dave and I went out on a two-hour game drive the afternoon before the race (I feel I should be resting – but I cannot resist seeing more of Africa and its wildlife, not to mention get an idea of the terrain we would be passing through). On the drive, we saw eland, springbok and a giraffe!

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Heading out on our pre-race game drive.

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A chance to get a look at the country we would be running through. Not a lot of shade.

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Herd of eland.

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A springbok.

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Our first giraffe!

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Another lovely view of the gorge.

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The Golden Ultra Day 2: A 55 km mountain ultramarathon with 2700 m cumulative gain/loss

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Photo: Bruno Long/Golden Ultra

I woke up Saturday morning feeling amazing! I had got plenty of sleep – which is rare on multi-day races – and my legs felt great in spite of the previous day’s big uphill. My summer spent climbing mountains around my Vancouver Island home was really paying off. Today I would find out if my downhill training was also sufficient, as the 55 km route was basically one big mountain climb: starting in the town of Golden at 785 m, hitting the summit at 2365 m at our 31k mark, then descending over 1500 m back to town.

A few days previous, the forecast was for rain, but luckily that had mellowed to a total expected precipitation of only 3 mm for the day, with expected temperatures at town-level of around 8C. Of course things can change quickly in the mountains – but that had me make a last-minute decision to not carry my rain jacket after all, and just take a light nylon shell instead. Jacket, hat and gloves were all required gear: all things that I think any of us would have carried on this route anyway, required or not.

That's me, with two other local racers, starting out and still in forest. Photo: Bruno Long/GoldenUltra

That’s me, with two other local racers, starting out and still in forest. Photo: Bruno Long/GoldenUltra

Three of the three-day racers who had run the previous day chose to DNS, so the field was now down to 48 attempting the full distance. It was just getting light in Spirit Square, downtown Golden, as we headed out: first for 3 or so km down the road alongside the river, then veering left to start the climb through the forest.

There were a fair few locals in the field, but the rest of us had no idea of what to expect from the route. What a surprise to find that we were rising along the lip of a spectacular canyon! Its irregular lip was on our immediate left – a completely jagged and eroding edge, and from there a 500 m (1500’) dropto the rushing river below. Don’t stumble! Signs warned that this was sensitive mountain goat habitat – I sure wished I had time to hang out here with my binoculars. But the race clock was ticking… I snapped some pix and kept going.

Climbing along the lip of the canyon.

Climbing along the lip of the canyon.

Very quick stop to appreciate the view...

Very quick stop to appreciate the view…

And this is the view! It's a long way down...

And this is the view! It’s a long way down…

The 22 km aid station - not too cold yet.

The 22 km aid station – not too cold yet.

I climbed for a while with a nurse named Jen from Golden- nice to have someone to chat to as we plodded upward. I was faster uphill than her, which gave me the opportunity to get a bit ahead of her and then stop to take pictures (nice when I can actually have people in my photos!) It got colder and windier as we ascended, now along a forested ridgeline, and I soon stopped to rug up, very glad that I had chosen a thick fleece toque for my required-gear hat.

Climbing with Jen.

Climbing with Jen.

The terrain got rougher and rockier, and by around 1pm Jen and I were in the clouds. You’ve all been there, you know the routine when climbing a new mountain: :this one has got to be the real summit.” Around the third false summit, nearly 2pm, Jen said “We’re gonna be tight to make the aid station cut-off.”

What?? I hadn’t even looked at the cut-off times because I had just assumed I wouldn’t be chasing them! “Yes,” she said, “It’s a 6:30 hour cut-off to Aid Station #2”- which was around the 33 km mark. We were 6:20 into the race, and we could actually see some figures silhouetted in the fog at the next summit (which, hopefully, was the real one). I pushed hard – do NOT want to be DQ’d up here! – trying to balance the need for not generating too much lactic acid in my quads as I ascended with the need not to miss the cut-off.

Another false summit. No way to know how much further...

Another false summit. No way to know how much further…

And here I am - finally on the real summit! Photo: Bruno Long/Golden Ultra

And here I am – finally on the real summit! Photo: Bruno Long/Golden Ultra

And we made it! And there was a race volunteer up there with both bad news – the aid station is another 2 km ahead – and good news – it’s an 8-hour cut-off. We still had an hour and a half! (“Oops, sorry!” laughed Jen!). This was at least the actual summit. From here, we followed a very narrow, rocky (and somewhat scary) ridgeline. Jen was much faster than me on that type of terrain. I caught her momentarily when I made the aid station, but then didn’t see her again for the rest of the day.

Here's the view looking back from the 33k aid station - the summit I was on and the ridgeline coming down. LOTS of descending still to go.

Here’s the view looking back from the 33k aid station – the summit I was on and the ridgeline coming down. LOTS of descending still to go.

Running down (I walked a lot of this stuff, rocks were slippery and wet and it would be a long way to fall!) Photo: William Eaton/Golden Ultra

Running down (I walked a lot of this stuff, rocks were slippery and wet and it would be a long way to fall!) Photo: William Eaton/Golden Ultra

I was very cold when I hit the aid station – which was the top of the same gondola we had finished at yesterday. My core temperature was actually totally fine, but my hands were cold to the point of barely being able to use them. I needed to eat, but I knew that I could not stand still or I would chill instantly.

Fortunately, there was a little room there, toasty warm, where we could sit to eat! There were two racers already in there recovering from mild hypothermia, and the safety director looked at me, worried, when I entered, asking me all the proper questions to assure that I was OK and not in need of aid. One of the racers was still very cold, unsure if she would continue or not, and the safety director was monitoring her, taking her pulse. The other racer gradually warmed up, and he headed out as I ate.

Love this pic, of a runner on that exposed ridgeline. Photo: Bruno Long/Golden Ultra

Love this pic, of a runner on that exposed ridgeline. Photo: Bruno Long/Golden Ultra

I spent maybe ten minutes in there, eating as many chips and pretzels and drinking as much water as I could stuff in. The icy wind shocked me when I stepped back out – had I really been running in such cold? But I knew that I would be losing altitude very quickly from here, so I started to run. Down rocks, then eventually down a switchbacking gravel path below the gondola, down down down to the resort we had started at yesterday, then through the parking lot (waved on by race volunteers cheering us on and directing us) and into the forest and down and more down.

Later that night, at dinner, everyone I talked to agreed that this section – between the aid station at 33 km up top, and the next aid station at 44 km, was much longer than 11 km! (I think several km longer). But the terrain was pretty fast – some mud at lower levels, nothing too bad.

And then abruptly I emerged at the same bridge where we had crossed over the Kicking Horse River that morning: just 3 road km and I would be done! I still had pretty good running legs (well, maybe “jogging” is the better word here). A local woman on a bike rode with me and encouraged me the last 500 m, pointing out the finish tent (I thought I was much further out) and motivating me to pick up the pace for the finish – and, to lots of cheering, I made it in.

Today's winner,Jorge Maravilla, up on the ridgeline. Photo: William Eaton/Golden Ultra

Today’s winner,Jorge Maravilla, up on the ridgeline. Photo: William Eaton/Golden Ultra

It was the multi-day racers who killed it today! In all four categories, multi-day racers took top place, finishing ahead of runners who were “only” doing today’s 55k. Notable were the two Open category (under-40) winners.

California’s Jorge Maravilla tore the course to shreds, finishing in an incredible 5:53:37. “It was hard,” he told me. “I’ve never done a race with so much vert.” And the women’s winner, Ailsa MacDonald of St. Albert, AB, put out an equally impressive performance, finishing in 6:18:33 to take second overall! Apparently Ailsa is new to trails, currently making the switch from running road marathons – so I think we will be hearing a lot more about her! Full Day 2 results can be found at https://timing.zone4.ca/results/21166f7b-91f4-8d83-c871-2d7caa6d1559/.

There’s nothing like that feeling when you cross the finish line after a tough race and the tears well up just a bit in your eyes. But no time to dwell on that – I was a good hour longer than I had expected, finishing in 11:25 (cut-off was 12 hours!). Time to get warm clothes on, enjoy dinner with my fellow runners at the adjacent Island restaurant, then get back up the hill to sleep before tomorrow’s final stage

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Ultrarunning around the world – show this Tuesday at Char’s Landing, Port Alberni

Me, on a 5-day race in India. (Ack, the kids are beating me!)

Me, on a 5-day race in India. (Ack, the kids are beating me!)

Hey! We know we have readers from around the world – and a big hello to you all. But this is a special post aimed at the locals. If you are one of our local Port Alberni readers, I just want to tell you about the slide show and talk about ultramarathon running that Dave and I will be doing this Tuesday at Char’s Landing. Read the rest of this entry »

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A race that is sure to become ultramarathon legend: my Ultrafiord 70 km run, Chilean Patagonia

11182061_555765111232685_3227778224974255049_nAbout time… here, finally, is my post on the Ultrafiord race I ran last month in Patagonia: at 70 km, my longest ultramarathon to date. I’ve already posted an Ultrafiord race report on RunningUltramarathons.com – but here is a more personal account of what happened.

Well, I have known the Race Director, Stjepan Pavicic, for around 15 years, and I know his style: his motivation is to create races that are big and wild and very very hard. Read the rest of this entry »

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Scared: About to “run” (ahem) 70k in wildest Patagonia (Chile)

Wow, this’ll just be a quick note, because I am heading out to the race start very soon: for the inaugural Ultrafiord ultramarathon, here in southern Patagonia, Chile. There are 100 mile, 100k and 70k races going on. I’m running the shortest one… but it’s not that short!! Our time cut-off is 32 hours!!

Photo on 15-04-16 at 4.15 AMI’m in the town of Puerto Natales right now. Here’s a pic from the computer this morning, here at the lovely Hotel Weskar (on the water) at first light, 8:15 am. Our race starts at 8:30 tomorrow morning. So I’ll have 11 or so hours of light, then it’ll be by headlamp after that.

I had originally thought I would do it in 12 hours or so, maybe a bit more. (I did the Angel’s Staircase 60k a year and a half ago in 11:40, and I was injured then). But now that I have seen the route info, I am thinking I could be 16 hours or more. Read the rest of this entry »

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Made it through the Comox Valley Half-Marathon last weekend!

LIMG_7888Well, some day I will actually run a decent half-marathon. My best marathon time is 3:56, so you’d think I’d be able to run a half in 1:55 or less. But something always seems to go wrong for me – injury or illness. Well, this time, running the Comox Valley Half-Marathon, the problem was respiratory stuff: a cold I came down with over five weeks ago, which turned into bronchitis.

So of course that affected my training – although I did manage to continue training at some level through it all (experimenting with HIIT, high-intensity interval training, which meant very short but high-intensity workouts on the exercise bike rather than doing much running). I also could do weights.

So basically I entered the race with my legs feeling great and strong, but my cardio fairly poor, and my lungs still not healed. I went there with my friend Gail – we got a hotel and had a nice Thai dinner the night before, and were very appreciative of the generous 11am race start time. So at least we were having fun!

Gail was hoping to run under 2 hours, and I honestly didn’t have any idea of what time I would take. I told Gail I could be anywhere between 2 hours and 2:15 – possibly even more. The whole route is an out-and-back: a gentle uphill out and downhill back. I figured I would go as fast as I could conservatively sustain going out – and if I was still up to running, I would aim for a negative split coming back.

Highlights on the way out were seeing a bunch of crazy people on the side of the road, wearing weird wigs and blowing kazoos – and realizing that they were Ryan and Andrea! (They used to live here in Port Alberni). And also the huge dead tree on the side of the road with an eagles’ nest and the two eagles watching over us.

I made it to the turnaround in 1:01.45. I realized it would be tight to make 2 hours, but it wasn’t impossible – I’d have to make up 3 and a half minutes on the way back – so I went for it.

I calculated my time at every kilometre marker, and was running around a 5:30 kilometre. But I needed to do around 5:20 to make my 2 hours. Would I have enough left in me to sprint in the final 2 km?

By the 19k mark, I realized I wasn’t going to make it. I let off the pace, and finished in around 2:01:20 (my official race time was 2:01:39 – they’re not showing the chip times for some reason, though). Oh well, it still is a half-marathon Personal Best for me (as pathetic as that is! leaving me lots of room for improvement). And I did achieve a pretty good negative split – under an hour on the return. (Gail achieved her goal too, finishing in 1:58!).

Honestly, I am pretty happy with running that time considering the health problems I have had. Some day I will run faster… Big thanks to Ryan and Andrea for hanging out on the course for my return, so Ryan could get this great photo of me (smiling even)!

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