Monday, May 18, 2015

Omate TrueSmart 2.0 Review (For The Runner)

Over the past few months the debate has been raging on which is the best watch for the runner that wants everything, I personally swapped out the Suunto Ambit 2 for the Garmin 920XT for the simple but very important ability to forego the need of connecting up to a PC post run. There is nothing more irritating (to me at least) to not be able to get the run or ride uploaded to Strava almost immediately after pushing the stop button.

In more recent times several magazines and commentators have been lauding the Apple Watch, and while I don't share the same sentiments, it is certainly clear that many runners who do own an iPhone, and run with it, may be investing in Apple's first foray into the world of wearables... a very late entry compared to the likes of Motorola with the Moto360 or LG with the G Watch. One could go even further back to 2011 when Motorola introduced the MotoACTV, a touch screen GPS watch with WiFi, Bluetooth, 16GB storage for music and mapping function. A truly amazing device which unfortunately got scrapped by Motorola and is no longer supported.

My own MotoACTV served as a project to explore the world of rooting Android devices and coming up with my own customized running solution.

Fast forward to 2014 and the resurrection of the full Android experience on a watch came in the form of the Omate TrueSmart, A Kickstarter project which reached a final backing in excess of a $1,000,000 making it a VERY big success. After discovering the device only a few weeks ago I decided to pick one up, Let's take a look at what makes this $120 device worth every penny.

Design and Features

The Omate TrueSmart - A full Android Phone on the wrist

The Omate TrueSmart is an extremely well built device, and when you consider the fact that you are paying up to 5 times less than its nearest (more well known) rivals for essentially a very similar experience when coming to materials and design it's quite an eye opener indeed.

The TrueSmart is a metal body design with a quite comfortable silicon band, the real deal maker here though is the built in GSM support with 3G, GPS, WiFi, Bluetooth, Micro SD card slot, removable battery, IP67 water and dust certification and Sapphire touch screen display. I challenge anyone to show me any device that can come anywhere near to this price and include a sapphire panel.

SIM Card slot accessible by unscrewing the side panel

The watch also comes with a 5MP camera in between the power and home buttons, it's not really an essential item, and quite strange to have on the wrist... very spy like, but I guess for those moments when you're not carrying the phone and you absolutely have to take a photo of something, now you can.

5MP camera between the power and home buttons

Rear panel giving access to Micro SD card slot and removable battery!

More information on specifications can be found on the Omate website, but essentially this is a decently powered Android 4.2.2 device considering its size.


The TrueSmart comes preloaded with Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean and is really just a miniature phone, this means that the possibilities are endless in terms of running and cycling applications that can take advantage of the built in GPS function. Straight out of the box however the watch is not immediately ready for hitting the trail. 

One of the problems that needs to be taken care of first is getting Google Play and Services side-loaded. What this does is allow for any of the Google Play Store apps to be installed and this is where the customization can begin. My suggestion is to first install a launcher which better suits the small screen size and makes for a more visually appealing timepiece... You'll still be seen as the ultimate nerd though :)

One of the standard watch faces
Customized home screen using Mini Launcher, notification panel hidden and battery widget placed in top right corner. Only a few apps on the home screen (Facebook, Inbox, MusicMatch and Google)

Next up is your preferred sports app, this is a matter of preference and there are many apps available. If you are normally uploading to Strava it may be your natural choice, I find the Strava app quite painful though in terms of visible data during the run. My personal choice here and one that I am so far very happy with is Ghostracer, a very nice Strava integrated app that allows for racing against segments and previous activities. The best part is instant upload to Strava once the activity is ended, either through the 3G connection if you install a SIM card into the watch or via WiFi once you get home.

Run ready for upload indicated by green arrow - Press it and it instantly uploads and turns into a Strava icon

Ghostracer - Which I've set to launch by tapping the home button meaning I'm running in only two interactions with the watch.

During The Run

So far I've taken the watch out on two proper test runs, the first being a very hot 24km trail in the desert just outside of Dubai, with temperatures reaching 38DegC, I think it was a good first test. 

Battery dropped to 72% from 100% after the 2h45 run (approx 9% per hour), however at this stage I did not yet have a SIM installed and did not have Bluetooth headphones connected, The screen was also set to switch off after 30 seconds and I could view the run data simply by tapping the power button (I tapped the button fairly often though).

The second was a 6km run around the neighborhood at night. The idea was to test a number of things and put some stress on the device:

1. Screen always on
2. SIM installed and connected to mobile network
3. Bluetooth headphones connected and music playing
4. Assistant (Siri like) software active
5. Shake to wake software active
6. Lyrics collected from web while songs were playing

The results from this test gave about 1% battery consumption every 2 minutes, about 3 hours total availability with these settings, which for the average mid week evening run is perfectly sufficient.

The accuracy on both runs was surprisingly high, the path lines on Google maps followed the actual line I had taken with what couldn't have been more than a 1 meter variation. This was with Ghostracer settings at 1 Sec / 2 Meter resolution.

An interesting feature of Ghostracer is the ability to manually adjust the scanning rates and accuracy of the GPS. This would give a definite boost to battery life and it will be interesting to see how far it would go at optimal settings.

Good accuracy
GPS recording interval, this is a screenshot from the watch by pressing both the home and power buttons simultaneously. The interval can be set between 1s and 1min
Music on the run without a phone or MP3 player

Dial pad for making calls - when paired to Bluetooth headphones and using a personal assistant app it's a simple matter of calling home mid run without touching the watch.

Size and Weight

The TrueSmart when compared to the Garmin 920XT does come in slightly heavier and with a bit more bulk, the total screen real estate is comparable but without the large amount of 'deadspace' on the 920. These are two very different devices though and serve completely different purposes for me. 

On a very long run for example where I would be wearing my Orange Mud HydraQuiver VP2, there would be ample place to stash a phone, it has a great camera plus my Garmin will last 24 hours on highest GPS resolution.

For the 10-15km close to home and when not using a storage system, the Omate really comes into it's own.Knowing that I have music, connectivity in case of emergency, access to maps and directions really does give peace of mind.

Face comparison with the Garmin 920XT

Height comparison with Garmin 920XT


For the price, there isn't a more flexible watch available right now that allows you to run without your phone, while still giving you all the features that running with your phone would give you. This watch also gives you the chance to design something completely unique, and totally personalized. Chances are my watch is a one of a kind!


  • It's a proper standalone smartwatch
  • Endless music storage 
  • Android flexibility
  • SIM slot
  • Sapphire screen panel
  • Price!!


  • Needs to be configured (part of the fun though!)
  • Not designed as a companion to phone smartwatch
  • Nerd factor
  • 10 second GPS acquisition time (I'm very impatient)

Thanks for reading :) 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2012

So here it is... better late than never, my race report of the South African Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon, 2012

Over a month has passed since crossing that finish line for the second time and once again it feels like a dream come true, to be one of only a handful of people worldwide to have completed it is a great feeling but to come back for the second year in a row just confirms a degree of lunacy and a love affair with sun and sand that for the time being I feel won't cease...

Doing the race once gives you not only the joy of finishing but for those crazy enough to do it again, something way more important... experience

The 'knowing' of what to take, what to wear and how to go about certain things both leading up to, and in the race itself is priceless and really prepares you to not only have a much more comfortable and enjoyable experience, but to also perform better.

So how did it go....?

This year saw a lot more people take up this great challenge than last year, almost double with 45 starters and a great mix of nationalities and more youngsters too!

One of those 'youngsters' was Tiaan Erwee, my room-mate pre/post race, an exciting talent and definitely knocking on the door of trail running stardom! It was interesting, if not a bit frightening to see how an athlete capable of winning the race packs such a minimal amount of kit for the entire week, and pushes their body to the absolute limit.

I on the other hand had learnt my lesson from the previous year and packed more food than necessary with an additional four dinners... just in case. I had after all trained with a higher pack weight than I had when toeing the start line so all was good and my mind could be at ease for the whole week.

Day 1:

With an advertised distance of 30km for the day, it really was a nice warm up run for what would lay ahead of us that week, the bus ride to the start saw a few of us cracking jokes while many were silent and thoughtful, whichever you were doing was based on nervous energy, nerves which were wound even tighter by arriving at the start line well before the official start time and having to wait in the ever increasing heat for the gun (Patrick's horn) to sound....

When the horn sounded everyone shot off at such a rate of knots, I just couldn't help but think it was way too fast, so instead of racing I decided to settle down into a comfortable pace and not worry about who overtook... although due to my inherent competitive nature I did target those ahead, this was especially the case once the sandy river beds started. Knowledge of how to approach the sandy areas really is an advantage, immediately employing the 'Kalahari shuffle' and running in the footsteps of those who had been through already... once reaching about 20km the temperature had risen to somewhere in the 40's and since my special aluminum water bottle still had ice blocks floating in it, decided to give a CP crew member a taste, the look of disbelief was priceless!

It turned out to be a great day, crossing the line in 7th place and feeling strong, it was so great to see the smiles on everyone's faces once they had completed the day, each and every person conquering the first step towards a mammoth feat!

Day 2:

Before the race we had all suspected that day 2 would have a nasty surprise, the daily CP distance chart showed only 2km from the start to CP1 and the truth revealed itself in the form of a mountain which seperated us from the river's edge where we had camped for the night, and the plateau high above us. Being part of the quicker runner group had me start later and found myself running hard to keep up with the frantic race against the sun... this combined with a serious lack of climbing fitness saw me keeping the sweeper company for the first hour and a half of the day, dragging ourselves up the steep rock face felt like an eternity and a short breather was had every few steps until eventually reaching CP1 at the top.

Emerging at the top of day 2's main climb
Still smiling, Ian the sweeper in the background

Going under a fence
Once the climbing was done we got to enjoy some good trail all the way down to one of the newly built lodges in the area before entering a seriously sandy river bed, oven like conditions ensued and the race was well and truly starting to live up to it's promise... river bed then gave way to very rocky jeep track through very tough koppie sections, all of which combined to induce some seriously painful shoulders, I was eventually reduced to a crawl and was questioning my participation in the race any further, the bad memories of the worst times from the previous year came flooding back and it was difficult to stay positive.

It was only once finding Genis and Pamela at CP3 and sitting down to rest with them that I could realize again that we were all  in this together and I wasn't the only one struggling to just move forward, Genis was struggling with his heart rate and was taking the extra time to recover fully before moving on, his sense of humor however needed no recovery and as usual was cheerful and a beacon of positive energy!

A pain pill and a good amount of nutrition later it was time to embark on the final segment before reaching camp, it was agonizingly painful... but arrived at camp, hours off target and physically shattered.

Day 2 route, ending in a dry river bed

Notice the long resting time between 6 and 7 hours

Day 3:

After a massage the previous day to work out all the kinks in the back and shoulders, day 3 dawned with a rejuvenated vigor and determination, I had also found that by simply pulling the waist strap of the pack extremely tight, a lot of weight was taken off the shoulders and put onto the hips. This was such a simple revelation that I could hardly contain my excitement and pushed the day as hard as possible.

The start of the day was perfect with cool conditions being further helped by a shady rock face blocking the morning sun for the first 5km, I had started in the 2nd group and found myself completely in the lead by 7km after scaling a rock face with the aid of ropes and an 'all of a sudden' new found climbing skill.

Once reaching the front of the field my goal became simple... Stay there! I knew that Hylton, Alwyn and Tiaan would catch and pass, that was inevitable... I had to let no one else pass today, and no one did... 4th place and a near to perfect run with no major issues!

Day 3 route

Only 20 minutes of 'non-moving time' and consistent pace throughout

By this stage a few competitors had withdrawn from the race, this is always sad because we all know the amount of time and sacrifice that goes into the training and buildup, a true warrior never gives up though and I suspect each will be back in the years to come, for those that were still in the race however, had the long day and night of day 4 to contend with, for some it would be the longest distance of their lives so far!

Day 4:

Personally this is what it's all about for me, the ultra within an ultra event... pushing the body and mind from sunrise to sunset and beyond. It all came down to this day and I would base my performance of the entire event on how this stage went, and what a performance it was... in my mind the greatest day running I've ever had!!

Approaching the 50km mark
It all started at 10am and after getting into a solid average pace of 6:30/km I was soon all on my own in the most beautiful terrain I've ever experienced, a mountain pass jeep track with amazing vista's filled me with so much awe and a tingling energy that the difficult climbs became a breeze and I quite literally felt like a pro athlete tackling one of the big North American trail ultra's albeit at a much slower pace :)

The long stage is traditionally slightly easier in terms of terrain than the rest of the race but this year there was no respite... river beds, rough track and mountainous terrain were the order of the day, it only made the accomplishment of finishing so much sweeter.
Bakiye from Turkey (Woman's winner)

A time of 13:13 for 80km might sound a touch below par to the uninitiated, but combine that with 100km in the 3 days preceding it together with a heavy backpack, rough trail and 40 DegC heat and it's really something that I'm proud of.

Day 4 route - only 1 hour of non moving time

Consistent pace with a near perfect CP turnaround rate

Rest Day:

After finishing the previous night at 23:13 I struggled to sleep mainly due to cramps but also due to the excitement of welcoming fellow runners home to the camp, this continued well into the early hours of the morning, each person having gone through their own personal battles with the Kalahari desert and each overcoming them, some had completely run out of nutrition, others had made it on feet that were completely destroyed, there was one though who had time and sheer exhaustion against him, but never faltering Kian, the great spirited man from Singapore arrived well into the morning with the sun firmly risen by 8am... what an honor to greet him in ovation after his 26 hour epic journey!

The day was spent enjoying well deserved rest, swimming, washing, eating and staying hydrated, until we were visited by crew members and friends who had not made it to this stage, it was great to see them.

Meng, a participant from 2011 and someone who kept me in the race after suffering paralyzing cramps on day 1 of last year, made a visit as well, to the complete surprise and delight of the runners that were part of the team he put together for their charity effort.

Halloween on the rest day

Day 6:

The day I had been most afraid of had arrived, last year this stage had me questioning whether I should give this sort of thing up completely, so this time I wanted the revenge! Once again one of the later starting groups, and once again setting off at a quick pace, this time with Tertius 'Bees' Marais, we made the most of the cooler morning temperatures and covered some good ground early... the going wasn't easy though and the early sections were through technical river beds with lots of rocks and trees which needed to be' ducked and dived'

Day 6 start

Eventually though the river beds made way to absolutely awesome rose quartz littered hills and jeep track, allowing us to pick up the pace while being filmed from the gyro-copter which whizzed overhead.

The latter stages of this day reached extremely hot temperatures and I consider myself lucky to finish when I did, the runners who crossed the line beyond 3pm really felt the brunt of the desert heat with temperatures approaching the high 40's

Day 6 route -  another ultra, another solid performance

A progressive increase in pace!

Day 7:

The last day of something like this is always so amazing, every single person has a smile on their face and a spring in their step, and with seemingly superhuman strength and speed, everyone gets to the finish quicker than they've run the whole week. At some stage I remember sprinting along the national park gravel road that leads to the finish at the Augrabies Falls, no sense of pain, no sense of fatigue... VICTORY! and a whole 21 hours off my previous time!!
13th Overall and a 21 hour improvement at 40h21

I don't think it's possible to put into words the feelings that one goes through when approaching the finish line, it's so much more than anything else I've done, this desert chews you up, spits you out, and when you're crawling around trying to escape it chews you up again, No matter how good you are there is a definite amount of respect this desert deserves, and if you don't give her that respect, she'll not reward you by letting you leave successfully...


The class of 2012 - Congrats to everyone!! and hope our paths cross again!

I'll be back...

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Hoka OneOne Run Shoes - Wear tested

Over the past 6 months there has been only one brand of shoe that I have would even consider running in, be it road or trail, and that is the HOKA ONE ONE, a paradigm shift in running shoe technology which lays the foundation for minimalist 4mm heel-to-toe drop mechanics combined with a 2.5x over sized EVA outsole, giving the wearer the best of two worlds and a downhill running experience second to none.

The history of the brand is an interesting one, two gravity sport enthusiasts, Jean-Luc Diard and Nicolas Mermoud, using their background from developing shoes and apparel at Salomon, came up with a unique concept of reducing fatigue and impact, while still maintaining a good pace, all the time allowing you to go further than ever, in more comfort. The name of the shoe apparently means 'To fly over the Earth' or as some other references mention 'Time to fly' roughly translated from ancient Maori language and is pronounced HOKA OH-NAY OH-NAY, and not the number '1' as the spelling suggests.

Ok, so on to the shoes themselves... I currently run in 3 different models, each of which serving a specific purpose, starting off with the 'MAFATE' we have a thoroughbred trail shoe, designed to take on the gnarliest of trails mainly due to it's aggressive tread pattern and higher degree of (softer)cushioning when compared to the other models, the shoe fits small at half a size to what you'd normally wear, so if you're an 11 it would be wise to size up to an 11.5, at the moment this shoe is used infrequently following the introduction of the new STINSON B EVO earlier this year.

Hoka OneOne Mafate

The image above shows over sized cushioning employed on the Hoka range, what's also interesting to note is the width of the sole throughout the length of the shoe, which aids in providing stability in the absence of medial postings and other stability devices, and since a natural mid-foot strike is promoted due to the low ramp angle, stability is further increased just by getting the running mechanics right.
Un-boxing my first pair of HOKA's

46km run through the Ice and Mud of Belgium's Foret de Soignes
This was only my second run in the shoe!

Most of my running has been on the road for the majority of the time that I've been wearing Hoka's, and this is mainly due to the 90km Comrades Marathon in June, so a shoe was needed to cross the divide and be used as a base training and racing shoe, this saw me purchase the 'COMBO XT' (European name) or STINSON B (American name), which was sold as Hoka's first mult-purpose, multi-terrain shoe. The Combo XT marries the road usability of the BONDI B road shoe with a rugged, high quality upper that can handle any terrain. So far this has been my 'go to' shoe and has covered around 1000km with minimal signs of wear so far, doing everything from tough 50 mile trails to the Comrades and various other 50km+ road ultras and marathons in-between.... This is a shoe which could quite possibly reach 2500km of use before needing replacement and it's next big test will be the Golden Reef Road 100 miler on August 31st

The Hoka Combo XT multi-terrain, all purpose run shoe

Zero 'collapse' after 1000km 
Slight wear on the tread, with most of the tread decals still visible
Most of the wear is in the mid to forefoot region in the center of the sole

Next in the line-up, and latest purchase is the STINSON B EVO trail shoe, which, as the word EVO would suggest, is a complete re-vamp of design and quality by the brand, sticky rubber lugs with an ultra lightweight upper combine to form a winner in my opinion. Speed lacing has been employed, and with slightly less EVA and a firmer cushioning platform, the shoe feels more stable, and faster than anything Hoka has made before!

The Stinson B EVO, a well thought out shoe

So far I have run in the region of 400km in this shoe, mostly on trail with a road 21k and 32k thrown in to test performance, the stickier rubber definitely hampers progress on the road compared to the Combo XT, but after a little getting used to, it's hardly noticeable...

On trails however, this is an absolute bulldozer and doesn't negotiate with trail hazards, it bludgeons them in the face! quite simply the best shoe I have ever run in. 

The EVO has been slimmed down from the 'clown shoe' appearance of the MAFATE and provides a tighter performance orientated fit, claimed to be true to size, I still feel a half size up is non-negotiable.

The Hoka brand is still very much unknown in South Africa, with many people still casting staring eyes my way at start lines, the look goes against what all the magazines preach to us about barefoot and minimalist running, but under the surface this is a natural shoe with the same minimalist principals of the sleekest out there... designed to ensure you can run, and run, and run... all day, all night.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Num-Num Trail 2012 - Race report

A week later and I'm still in awe of the sheer beauty of the Num-Num trail challenge which was held near Badplaas in Mpumalanga, the only race so far that can compare in terms of beauty and difficulty, and done in one day is the Addo, although the Addo involves a lot more 'runnable' trail and nowhere near the technicality of Num-Num, so going into the challenge nursing a bout of ITBS was a bit of a risk, but a risk I'm glad I took in the end, if only to be part of this awesome event

We arrived at the Pongola camp on Friday evening after a fairly quick drive from Secunda on roads which must be getting upgraded for all the Badplaas holiday makers that Secunda houses, on any given weekend there are probably more Secunda residents in Badplaas than from anywhere else!

After a quick registration and goodie bag collection, Chanel and I headed off to get some rest at our home for the next two nights, Misty Valley Lodge.

All this time I was still battling to even walk without a bit of a grimace, the left knee really letting me know that something's not quite kosher, I'd been lazy with the treatment and had basically just refrained from running for a week, before finally deciding to see the physio and really start focusing the use of a TriggerPoint roller on the proper effected areas, this helped but not nearly enough in the short time to be totally confident of a good run.

Race morning! we were at the start bright and early and enjoyed a nice warm cup of coffee and the warmth of a fire, before seeing off the first 2 groups of runners, we took off at 6:50 in group 3... just starting and getting into some sort of a rhythm relieved any thought of pain and it actually felt quite good, this was going to be doable!

The first 4-5km gave us a small taste of what was to come, Chanel struggled in this time, maybe more than she ever has in any race, it wasn't looking good... we arrived at the first CP very slowly, being passed by most of the runners from the 2 groups that started after us. It was here that she decided to pull out of the race, her first DNF ever, a difficult decision.

After saying our farewells I decided to smash it a bit, I was feeling good and with a competitive streak I just had to catch those who had passed us, in no more than 30 minutes this was done! about 20 runners reeled in and I started regaining on the early lost time. 'Smashing it' in this race doesn't mean 4 min/km though, it's was closer to 10/11 min/km, which, on the technical terrain was probably equal if not more of an effort than a road 4 min/km!

in the next few km's we were treated to some beautiful waterfalls nestled into secret pockets of lush ravine forest, I can't remember how many times I said WOW, it was really a slice of natures perfection.

as the time passed on and the k's slowly trickled by, I began to realize that this was only getting tougher, no respite whatsoever... just sheer challenging trail, all of which was either going up, or down, nothing flat at all! Until eventually a 3km stretch of sandy dirt road stretched out in front of us rounding the edge of the escarpment and allowing for the only section of actual continuous running I would have that day. The remainder of the race was spent climbing long, steep rocky singletrack. Gingerly inching down knee-breaking descents or scrambling over ladders and swing bridges, A Spartan race for true warriors.

The last CP I reached before my eventual decision to withdraw was also the 'lunch spot' for the day, incredible what an ice cold coke can do for you, it really lifts the spirits and in my case maybe too much so, as I went flying out of the CP heading down the rocky path, I felt the knee finally give up the ghost.... I could hardly walk never mind even attempt to run and had to resign myself to the fact that I'd be dragging myself to a part of the route that I could be 'rescued' at. The next 8km were sheer torture, I also stopped concentrating on where I was going and focused more on every foot fall to try minimize the excruciating pain.

With only 4km to go to the next checkpoint and being able to see the Camp area, I managed to miss a marker and get lost, ending up high on the ridge, far above the river bank I was supposed to be following, 30 minutes passed in my attempt to regain the trail and it was doing no favors towards how I was feeling. In my absolute stubbornness I didn't use the 'emergency exit' parallel to the camp across the road but decided to persevere and reach the final CP, this involved more ladders, no less than 3! which at this stage made me laugh in a sarcastic sort of way.

In 7h55 I reached 29km, the point that I decided not to continue, it wasn't worth doing real damage to an injury which is still fixable, there's always next year...

 Congrats to everyone who completed this incredible race, and to the winners who posted superhuman times!

A well organized race with huge potential to become one of South Africa's GREAT trail races!

I'll be back :)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Magalies Mayhem Race Report 4-6 May 2012

The best thing about our sport is the chance to be free and enjoy the outdoors and places we would just never see otherwise, hence my decision to skip the long 50km club run and instead take part in the Magalies Mayhem 65km stage trail run, through quite magnificent trails in literally our back yard.
A mere 30 minute drive from Fourways has you enveloped in natural beauty, blue hazed mountains and the peace and quiet you wouldn’t expect from such a short journey outside of a bustling metropolis.

The fun all started on Friday 4th May after arriving at Van Gaalens Cheese Farm, we were shown the field where we may set up our tents and then return to the main restaurant area for registration and a few drinks, there weren’t many people camping as it was a short drive each morning for the Joburg crowd, but the few that did stay over were a great crowd. I set up next to… unbeknownst to me at the time… the male and female winners of the race, and elite athletes in their respective careers!
My good running friend Chen from the Fourways club arrived shortly before the start of the first leg, and the camaraderie of the weekend was already evident as we all helped each other with tents, hammering of pegs etc.

The first leg of the race was a 10km night stage in the nearby surroundings of the farm, along the river banks and through bamboo ‘tunnels’  it was fast and furious, chasing the little dot of light cast by our headlamps. My headlamp made the going only slightly doable as I had failed to replace batteries since last years KAEM, so it was more a case of using peripheral vision to avoid colliding with low hanging bamboo. Finishing in a time of 48 minutes, I was pretty chuffed with my effort especially for a low vision night trail, A top 10 finish in the bag for stage 1!

After the first ‘leg-stretcher’ we all gathered in the athletes ‘dining room’ for a hearty pasta dinner and a couple of drinks, pro runners and newbies alike.

The first night in the tent was, to say the least… FREEZING, but after wrapping cocoon-like in a duvet and blanket all was good for most of the sleep until emerging at 5am. Coffee and some FutureLife crunch down the hatch it was all systems go for the 35km stage which would take us deeper into the Magaliesberg, I decided that I would take the day easy and run within myself, after all Comrades is only a month away and a rolled ankle at this stage would be disastrous, if not foolish on my part.

I spent most of the day running with a lady who claimed she had never run trail before… yeah right! She powered up hills that had even the top runners reduced to a walk at times. One of these hills was ‘Concrete Road’ a cement jeep track up a very steep slope, it was to be the biggest climb of the day and luckily within the first 8km so energy levels were still prevalent. 

The rest of the day was spent easing through great Gauteng trail, mostly rocky single track, until at 28km I took a wrong turn and ended up 15 minutes off course wading through a river, cursing the race organizers for poor route marking... I made my way back to the last marker, only to see clear as daylight painted on the middle of the track the straight arrow in the correct direction! Cursing myself now, I had to get a move on to catch up lost time, 4 people had passed me and due to my competitive nature couldn’t let them get too far away.

While making my way in the wrong direction, I also experienced something that touched me and will stay with me forever, it was one of those moments that almost brought a tear to my eye… A little boy who couldn’t have been older than 4 years old came running up to me from the nearby informal settlement, I greeted him in my very limited Zulu vocabulary and asked him if other runners had gone the direction I was going? He clearly didn’t understand me as all I got was a ‘yes’ for everything I said, so I smiled and said goodbye as I went on my way further in the wrong direction, once I reached the river bank I noticed that he had followed me down, perplexed with what I was doing he showed me the best way to cross… but before letting me go he grabbed my hand and placed R4 worth of R1 coins into my palm and closed my hand again! This little boy had just given me possibly all the money he had! Probably thinking that I would need it for my journey and that I was lost in the wilderness… I placed the coins back in his hands, tightly closing them and re-enforcing by feel that it’s his money, and thanked him, he smiled from ear to ear and went running off back to his home.

It really is the little things that make life worthwhile…

Once I was finally on the right track I built up a head of steam and started my push to catch those who had passed me, the next checkpoint was a quick affair spending less than a minute and downing a cup of 32Gi, 2 people caught on the technical ridge that followed, 2 to go…

For most of the day I had surprisingly found myself relishing the technical sections of the route and struggling more with the flat dirt road sections, the last 6km were flat road like surfaces and the monotony had me employ a walk/run strategy until the finish, 4:50 for the stage and finishing mid field was almost exactly what I had planned barring the getting lost part, so a good day.

After a hamburger for lunch, and a nice shower, the rest of the day was spent lazing in the shade… reading, sleeping… anything that involved as little effort as possible.

By this stage people had also got to know each other better and we were sharing our stories of adventure come dinner that night, the laughter filled the dining room and friendships were made.

Day 3, and a little surprise was in store for us… we were told that we would climb Concrete Road again as well as another hill called ‘Pofadder’ later one of the runners’ Garmin’s revealed it to be a 24% gradient monster of a hill!
The reward however for the skyward spiral, was a superlative vista over the Cradle of Humankind, awe inspiring stuff! And a 2.5km steep descent down the mountain side… taken extremely slowly once again to avoid injury, others came flying past, I couldn’t risk it… 2:10 for the 20km last stage, which on the terrain and climbs made me quite happy, without ever over exerting myself.

So after 65km in 3 days it had all come to an end, a 20th place finish, km’s and time on the legs, and new friendships made!