Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Race report: FNB Desert Triathlon

The FNB Desert triathlon is not really a huge race, but it takes place in one of the most beautiful settings you can imagine for a race. You swim in the icy cold Atlantic Ocean, after which you cycle through a portion of the Namib gravel plains with vast open nothingness on your one side and huge coastal dunes on the other. And to finish it all off you get to run along a portion of the beautiful Swakopmund beach line. What is not to love. Also, OTB Sport organises the race and they really know how to bring an exciting event together smoothly. The triathlon used to only comprise the half-ironman distances (now the Ultra category), but in 2010 it was changed to encourage more participation. Ever since then I have been wanting to take part in this race but I have been pregnant or unfit every year since then. Until 2014. I just had to do it.

I have not been running for the last 6 weeks due to an injury of sorts, but I was able to swim in our local indoor pool. I have always been a relatively confident, although slow, swimmer, so easing back into longish distance swimming wasn't a big deal. But now with hindsight I think perhaps there were a few things I could have done differently in preparation for this triathlon.

Vee and I, preparing my transition area before the race.

For instance, it would have been advantageous had I swam a few times in the sea before the event. The last time I actually swam in the sea (longer distances) was when I was pregnant with Zee. I used to swim laps in the Mole for exercise since I didn't run during my pregnancies.

My word. Although it was nearing low tide the sea was very choppy in the usually calm Mole area. The swim route even had to be changed just before the event started since the outermost buoy was washed away. So even the ultra-distances had to swim laps out and back in the Mole, instead of triangular laps. 

Zee and I, waiting for the participants in the Standard to finish swimming for the Sprint to start.

Then it was our turn and off the gun went, and we all started wading through mesh of sea bamboo in the shallower waters. For the first 50 m or so it was just arms and feet and bamboo around the arms and ankles. And 15 ˚C water creeping down my back in my wet-suit and attacking all my senses. The water was so shallow that we could actually stand and shake of excess sea plants if the kicking didn't help anymore. The faster swimmers just seemed to fly through the choppiness and sea plants, but I was brave and only took a few swim-breaks during resting. So needless to say I was in the top five to endure the cold water the longest (no cash prizes for that though).

After that fabulous shock to my system I emerged from the cold of the ocean (wet-suit and all), cold to the bone. I made my way across the beach a midst cheers from my hubs and boys like I was the first swimmer out. They are just the bestest supporters ever! I called the Hubs over to the transition area to help extract me from my wet-suit, which had, after our extended swim, developed severe separation anxiety and didn't want to let go of my calves and ankles. By the time I got the wet-suit off and my feet dry enough for socks and shoes, the remaining 4 competitors that were behind me were already off on their bikes. I still fiddled with my helmet and just before lunchtime I was also out on the bike.

Now, the beauty of a race like this, an extremely well-organised one, is that all the competition categories share the same course or at least parts thereof. Once we were cycling, the competitors in the Ultra and Standard categories started to lap us, and I found it uber-inspiring to watch super-trained athletes in their specialized attire doing their thing. Once again I found myself pedaling my little heart out, with burning quads and calves, and along come these guys and gals, donning little reversed garden gnome hats and moon suits, flying past me with a swoosh, never to be seen again (unless they lapped me again, but luckily I wouldn't know). To say the least, I was honoured and humbled to be sharing the desert vistas with athletes of that caliber. 

Cycling through the Namib gravel plains.

Here it would suffice to mention that my hubs was home for the weekend from an interrupted field trip. He contracted malaria and was advised to rather return home until he was out of the woods. We had an unpleasant experience with malaria during our Canada/South America stint in 2012 and didn't want to take any chances. Turns out he was (mostly) as fit as a fiddle after 36 hours and we ended up enjoying the weekend with him home. 

My Love came out to support me every step of the way.

He gallantly oiled my bike the day before the race, for which I was so thankful, for this time I could be the one smiling (instead of blushing) when I heard the normal tell-tale of an amateur Swakopmund local cyclist: that corrosion-induced tweet... tweet... tweet for every revolution of the pedals. But those bikes and their riders are the ones that warm my heart. They and those beer-bellied guys that came out shirtless, donning short skipants, still giggling at each other before hitting the water for the swim (and beating me). Staying in their normal comfort zones just was not an option. I love it and I respect it.

After an hour on the bike, completing the 20 km, I got back to the transition area where the official requested I disembark my bike. I thought no sweat, I will just run the remaining 20 m to where my changing area was, which is when I discovered that I couldn't feel my feet. Actually, the entire portion from my knees downward. Fist I checked if I hadn't indeed lost my lower legs while swimming or cycling, but they were still very much attached to my body. So I immediately slowed the jogging effort to a walk and just stowed my bike and my helmet for the run. Three kilometers. Easy. My toddlers can do 3 km. 

Running along our beautiful Swakop beach.

But man, did I suffer! I honestly thought that running used an entire different set of muscles than cycling, so I really pushed hard in the cycling and didn't worry about the run. But I enjoyed a suffer-fest of note. And this was the part that I was looking forward to most! I was also wearing new running shoes that I was so chuffed with, and at the 1.5 km turnaround point I was wondering how my feet were doing in the new shoes since I  was still running on my knees and couldn't tell if I was indeed wearing shoes. Only in the last 100 m I started feeling my feet again, as well as the massive side-stitch that also had me limping across the finish line. 

Finishing with a brave smile. 

There were no finishers medals, but there were chocolate, and I soothed the stitch and tender ego with a huge piece. 

I finished in 12th place in my category in a total time of 1:28:01 (9:24 for the swim, 1:01:00 for the cycle and 17:37 for the run). Will I do it again? Most certainly yes. I loved every moment of it. The vibe and organisation is great, the caliber of competitors, especially in the Standard and Ultra categories, is a huge inspiration. All in all a great race. Next year I will be sure to actually practice open water swimming and also work on faster transitions. How I will improve on that cycling time I don't know. I still don't see myself sitting on a bike for hours on end. But I will be back and can only improve on this first effort. 


Riana








Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Going Solo.

Finally I get to share a title with Roald Dahl!

In the previous aviation post I mentioned that I was pregnant since the start of my flight training. I had an easy pregnancy and flying with the bump was really nothing different than flying without it. Except the minor privileges, of course... You know, when you park an aerie at the Avgas filling station and there is a queue, you switch off and you wait your turn. To move closer to the pump when it is your turn you have to push/pull your aerie closer, you don't 'drive' it closer like a car. Now normally you would ask your attendant or another pilot nearby to help you, but if you are pregnant, the helpers appear out of thin air, three at a time! Also, if you want to check your fuel levels you have to clamber onto the one wing strut, balance yourself while opening the fuel caps and dip your stick. Since this is quit difficult to execute with a big belly in front of you, the first time I got to check my fuel levels was after I could see my toes again, baby fully baked and born.

Balancing on the wing strut while dipping the fuel stick to check fuel levels.

So after a whole lot of flying exercises, including some emergency procedures like landing the aircraft after an engine failure (more on that in a while) and a whole lot of touch-and-goes to practice take-offs and landings, we were nearing the day that Mr instructor would kick this bird out of the nest to fly by herself. 

Now I did mention that part of the reason why I went ahead with my PPL training after finding out I was pregnant was that I knew time was of the essence. I only went flying or for theory classes while Zee was napping mid-day, and only while the Hubs (who travel a lot) was home, and in Swakop we also have the weather factor of fog, in which we can't take off or land. So that left me with very few available flying hours. But between my incredible Hubs, dear nanny and very supportive instructor (and a large window of good weather) I finally got to cram in a good few consecutive hours of flying to get me up to speed for going solo. 

Now to get your PPL in Namibia you need minimum of 45 hours of flying of which 25 hours should be dual flying and 15 hours solo. Full time students who are able to fly often, can go solo after about 10 hours (or less) of flying (in the olden days, some students went solo after three to five hours of dual flying - how, I ask you, they lived to tell the tale, I don't know!). For people like me, who only flew about 5 hours a month, it took a little longer. After not flying for a while you have to get the feeling back again, especially for the landing. Imagine when you first started driving a car, that coordination to get the feel right between the gas and clutch, not to let the car die when you pull off in first gear... now add the factor that you can't just turn off the plane and walk away once you are in the air. You have to get it right. Every time. So until your instructor is happy that you will get it right and return his aerie in a serviceable condition, he will not send you solo.

So finally after about 25 flying hours in 7 months, the day arrived. It was a beautiful, sunny Friday afternoon. My favourite day at the Swakop airfield. I often took Zee (and now both boys) to the airfield over weekends to see weekend fly-ins arrive and the scenic flights to come and go for Sossusvlei. Lots of traffic, lots of activities, and usually a number of parachutes as well. I tried to book a training flight for 2 pm but my instructor was already booked for a theory class by one of my female student pilot friends. And then he called me an hour before and said we are good to fly that afternoon. I was still stirring a pot of soup for lunch, I remember, and I just got the heebie-jeebies. It was just weird that he would suddenly reschedule like that. At that time I had been suspecting that solo 'ing was close, but I didn't know exactly when (and really didn't want to push  the subject by asking, because I wasn't feeling all that confident yet). I raced out to the Hubs' office and asked him if he would have free time to look after Zee. He was looking a little nervous, but immediately agreed. He even said that he would bring Zee out to the airfield when he (Z) wakes up. Which I loved.

So just before 2 pm I drove out to the airfield. "She had the need to feel the thunder" by Garth Brooks was playing on the radio (music and smells... they move!) and I was excited like a race horse. And nervous as heck, although nobody still mentioned nothing about flying solo. I did my pre-flights, the instructor jumped in as usual and I had to do a whole lot of talking over the radio and waiting for incoming traffic while we were lined up. Somewhere during all this my instructor told me to calm down, because my nerves were all over the show, and it was obvious.

Finally I got to take off and did a circuit or four. We went over emergency landing procedures, and everything went smooth. The last radio call while you are doing circuits usually includes your intention after touch down (if you are a student). So if I intend to do another circuit I would say I am on final approach, doing a touch-and-go (immediately give full power again and take off) or full stop, meaning that I am done and will be vacating the runway. So after about 4 circuits I was sitting on final approach and called that I would be doing a touch-and-go, and my instructor said 'make that a full stop'. By that time my nerves were all calmed down and the idea of going solo was actually a little out of my mind. I was quite at peace with my flying skills at the moment and ready to do a few more landings, enjoying the afternoon with all the activity around us. And after we touched down he said I can go for a circuit on my own. 

Those words. That feeling. Oh my word. I remember I still asked him 'are you sure?' and he agreed. I can't remember my parents sending me off with the car alone for the first time, but this, THIS moment I will remember for ever. 

We taxied to the apron, and as we approached, the sun from the front, I could see my tall handsome Hubs standing there, extra tall with the small man-child sitting on his shoulders. The Hubs waived a normal 'Hi' waive to me as I dropped my instructor and carried on back to the holding point for runway 24. Turns out the Hubs knew about the plan to send me solo (the friend who's class was canceled called him at the same time as my instructor called me to tell me to come fly - hence his nervous face), but when we came over to the apron he thought it was not going to happen and he relaxed for about 5 seconds. And then HE got the heeby-jeebies!
   
At the run-up point I was going over my checks, took a few sips of water and ate a few sweets. Mentos. They still are my number 1 go-to sweets in sweaty situations, also while I'm running. I looked over to the empty seat where, by now, I was very much used to seeing my comforting instructor sitting. I leaned back to grab my empty headphone bag and put it on his seat to obscure the emptiness, and then I said what I knew the Hubs would say had he been there: "This is it, Bossie!" After that I turned on to RWY24, checked the wind, corrected the Direction Indicator according to the compass and made sure the landing lights were on. And then I gave full throttle.

Of the actual circuit I don't remember a lot. It went perfectly smooth, like predicted for a first time solo circuit. All conditions should be optimum and your instructor has enough experience to know that there is a very small window of opportunity to send a student solo. It is at a certain point where the student works him or herself up to a peak in performance, confidence and excitement. Once that window is missed, it takes a long time (if ever) to regain all those perfect peaks.  

After I landed the aerie I had the presence of mind to remember that a number of parachutes were dropped during my solo circuit. Their pilot still congratulated me over the air on my solo and I checked with him if all his people were on the ground before I proceeded to taxi over the general drop zone area. He confirmed that they were and then I think I relaxed for about 2 seconds. And a tear of utter elation ran across my cheek. I still get goose bumps thinking of that moment.

It was the 15th of March 2013. I will remember it, because the next day was exactly one month before Vee was due to be born. After going solo I only continued flying for about a week before I called a halt in training in anticipation of our new baby.

With the Hubs and Zee after going solo for the first time. 

With my brave, wise, instructor.
To have the Hubs and Zee there to witness it all was amazing. My husband was, and is still, such an amazingly positive supporter throughout the entire process of getting my PPL and flying regularly. I really am a very very lucky lady to have him by my side.

It  is still arguable, of course, if this was indeed my first solo, or if the first solo only came a few months later after Vee was born and not accompanying me in the cockpit anymore! 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Race report: Merrell Eden Duo Lite

Aaaand after that short interruption we continue with our normal program schedule.

We had the most wonderful time in the western Cape, South Africa! For active people that also love to spend a lot of time in nature, this is surely one of the best regions to visit. The diversity of scenery and routes and activities is just mind blowing. Not to mention all the attractions for little boys ...and I'm not talking theme parks or arcades... I'm talking rocks for climbing, streams for playing in and getting wet, logs for walking over, things to climb on and fields to run in. It really is so easy to keep children busy in nature. Also tiring, because man, they have hidden stashes of energy that we obviously don't have access to!

The Eden Duo was such an amazing experience. And no, we really didn't have an idea of what to expect until we had completed the race. The race started at 6 am, and since we stayed on a gorgeous guest farm outside of Wilderness, we had a 30 min drive and had to leave just after 5 am. I have mentioned how I love early mornings.... we were in our elements!

Arrived at the starting point just as all the participants in the Lite started to put on life jackets for the first leg of the race, which was a 5 km paddle down the Touw River. At that point we were still in two minds weather we needed wet-suits, as advised by the organisers, in order to stay warm during the kloofing section. Luckily, after chatting to some other galls we decided to leave the wet-suits and just brave the cold, which was a non-event in the end and we were really glad we did. Because we still had way too much stuff which we carried along. But this was the first race of its kind we competed in, so we learned.

Since we weren't wearing amphibian running shoes we were wearing old running shoes with a dry pair of shoes stashed in our little hydration backpacks. We both carried about 2 L of water (which I am glad we did, since I am not keen on drinking from mountain streams, no matter how safe they say it is. A mommy with a tummy bug is just not my idea of fun.) We also carried a few energy bars, a phone and a camera. But best of all I think was the dry pair of socks and baby powder that we carried to get our feet dry after the kloofing and before the cycling. Our feet thanked us for it. Most people that competed in the Lite actually just went with the clothes on their backs, even though there were no support along the race (although seconds were allowed, but we didn't have). They possibly had energy bars stashed with their bikes at the transition, but no water during the trail run/kloofing, which I suppose can be done.


The Hubs and I at the starting line, donning our event team shirts.

A total of 20 teams lined up in their kayaks. Since we were from way out of town we rented a kayak from the local Eden Adventure guys based at the starting point, and needless to say, this thing had the weight and shape of the Titanic compared to the other professionals we were surrounded with. It caused for a good giggle or two before we set off, but I was never too worried since my hubs rows faster than a Yamaha engine. He really is a machine. It would of course, have helped if my rowing could have made a tiny, tiny contribution to our forward propulsion, but alas. I am afraid that we practically went backward during the two short rest periods when the Hubster stopped rowing. I gave my all, but that little ship dropped its nose like an ostrich looking for cover. Stopped dead in its tracks. Needless to say the Hubs limited his rests to a few seconds.


In our little rented ship, ready to start.

At the starting line.


The rowing probably took us about 30 to 40 minutes, and the transition went pretty smooth. We rowed barefoot so during the first transition we powdered our wet feet and put on our running shoes for a very short trail run section (about 2 km) on the beach, before entering the kloof. 



The Hubs at the transition from paddling to running. The scenery on the entire race was absolutely breathtaking. 

I think one of the most important aspects of this kind of race is to be prepared as possible. For an adventure race I think it is most advisable to attend the race briefing. Different from a road race, you don't have the luxury of a wide, black tarred road with nice white lines down the middle, pointing you in the exact direction in which you have to proceed. On this race, once you leave the straight and wide of the paddling section, you are basically on your own. Especially if you are not in the front pack. We couldn't attend the race briefing since it was around 8pm, which is wayyy after our curve view. But next time we will most probably brave the dark and  make sure we attend the race briefing.


The Hubster, afloat up the Kaaimans River during the second serious swim section in the Kloof.

You see, we got lost. A few times. And it cost us serious time and a little frustration at some times. And I am sure most of it could have been avoided had we attended the race briefing. We did of course scrutinize the route on Google Earth and talked to the organisers the day before, but minor details had been lost and made us run back and forth in some places to find the way. Luckily we met up with a ladies team who had completed the route 
a few weeks before and that helped. Until we got ahead of them and seriously lost the track!


Taking a sip of water and a selfie after one of the swim sections.

Since we had our hydration packs with extra dry shoes with us, we had to take the packs of before every swim section in the kloof, put the packs in dry-bags and remove the lot again after swimming. The dry-bags did make nice floats in the river, but one could also argue that swimming might have been easier had we not have the packs to slog with us. We were, however, very glad that we didn't take the wet-suits, because the water wasn't nearly as cold as we had expected, and the suits would just seriously have kept us back. 

But all in all the the whole kloofing did take a really long time. Because you really proceed slowly across the boulders and streams and into and out of the river. Through the reeds, around some trees and shrubs, wondering if this is the correct side branch of the kloof to follow... you catch my drift. We spent about 3 hours in the kloof. Which really was a pretty and pristine place to be spending 3 hours of our Saturday! Really, we have been talking afterwards about how really nice it would have been if the race organisers had a few photographers in the kloof. The scenery is breathtaking, and the Bear Grills moves we executed were many, so photo opportunities were ample!

And then toward the very end of the kloof we really got lost. One of the mountain hiking trails just happened to open up at one of the places where we crossed the river, and since the well-used track was not closed off with tape (the organisers closed other no-access routes like this), we just assumed that we had to take the trail. By that time it had started to rain, and we seriously got the itch to start moving faster. Once again, I bet this part of the route was discussed at the briefing, since we were the only ones that took this wrong route.

But we really, really liked our private little wrong route! We were running on a leafy mountain trail with fresh legs that had a lot of built-up energy after only 2 km of beach run all day. The light drizzle also made it really exciting and we covered ground fast. Of course a good adventure race wouldn't be complete without a good old face plant... I was in front and my foot caught on a huge tree root. For the life of me I don't know what my arms were thinking because they obviously didn't get the memo to try and prevent my face from connecting with the mud. Full face plant, complete with a mouth-full of leaves and dirt! Of course then I was wasted for the next 10 minutes, I couldn't stop laughing! The more serious competitor of the team only mustered a quick grin and then it was back to running.

Once we reached the summit and exited the trail we didn't see any transition points where they were supposed to be and the serious route search started. By that time it was pouring down and we started to get a bit cold and uncomfortable. We approached a farmhouse with dogs that was really uninviting, and after a while we just decided to find the nearest road and try to make our way back to civilization. And then miraculously we met up with another couple coming from the other (correct) way, and bam, we were back on the route and about 5 minutes away from our bike transition point! We were really glad to finally be back in the race and actually on a route that took a little less navigation. 

And now it is confession time. I really sucked at the biking part, and I really wasn't all that crazy about it either. Why, for the love of all things comfortable, can't they make bike saddles softer? Honestly? Solid concrete with nails pointing upward can't be more uncomfortable than a (rented) bike saddle? Ugh. And riding down long, steep hills scares the life out of me. It may be a genetic thing, or a mother thing, but like my cuz Karien over at Running the Race, I also probably go faster on uphills than down hills. And boy, were there uphills and downhills! I regularly jumped off the bike and just pushed it (up, not down!), and then we just laughed because I was walking at the same speed as the Hubs that was actually pedaling his heart out! The bike section was truly quite tough (for us), and luckily it was only about 15 km.


Giving our behinds a breather halfway through the cycling leg. 

We finished the race in 4h52min, in 16th place. We were actually not disqualified, even though we missed a checkpoint (and I don't know how big of a chunk of the route was gained or missed). The total route, however, wasn't 50 km as is still claimed by the organisers but rather around 30 to 35 km. The cycling was much shorter than the proclaimed 30 km (thank goodness). But it still was a nice challenge for team Moto-Moto, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves up to the last minute! The wooden finisher medals we received was also quite nice and something different.


Nice finishers medal made of wood.

Back at the guest farm of course the two chidlers didn't even notice we were gone for that long! Ouma and Oupa played and pampered and entertained the two like nobody's business. We were so grateful to have been able to complete such an exciting event without any worries about the boys, knowing that they would have a blast with Ouma and Oupa. Love them all to bits!


Ouma with boys, doing what they love, playing in water. 


Oupa with Vee.

So now we are really stoked for trail runs. At this stage we have our eyes on the Crazy Store Table Mountain Challenge next year in September, a 40 km trail run on Table Mountain. We'll keep you posted. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Ready, steady...


We are as ready and prepared for this race as we will ever be. After spending the afternoon packing and repacking our race backpacks we found that we had to leave some stuff behind that won't fit in the backpack since, well, uhm, we never actually tested the pack after we filled the 3 litre hydration bladder. Three litres of water takes up a whole lot of space. (Oh, are you assuming that we never actually ran carying a hydratuon pack? Really, why?)

Packing our gear for the Eden Duo multisport race.

Tomorrow morning we'll be up and off before the crack of dawn since the race starts six and we still need to fit two coffees and a 20 min drive to the starting line before that.

Ouma and Oupa are geared and briefed and already in bed to get a good head start for their adventures with the boys while we sweat it out in the bush.
Moto-moto lined up and ready for take off runway zero-six, report next after job complete.
Riana

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Eden Duo here we come!

The entire house is on its head with gear and bags and hyper children. This is how we prep and pack!

Zee insisted on wearing his race apparel yesterday, despite my pleas to keep it clean for race (support) day.

Race teams will consist of two members. This is a 40km race that will start in Wilderness with a leg of rowing on the Touws River, followed by a trail running/kloofing leg and then cycling the final portion back to the start at the Ebb and Flow campsite in Wilderness.

Our team name is Moto-Moto, which translates to 'hot-hot' (or fire) in Swahili. A tongue-in-cheek reference to Zee's favourite Madagascar movie, which also prompted the 'team emblem' of Marty and Melman.

The children's race support shirts with Marty and Melman. 

Needless to say, the entire family is up and ready to tackle this race. Ouma and Oupa is geared and ready in SA to keep the youngens occupied while the Hubs and I race.

Ps. At the airport now. Ready to go!
Pps. Where are the days of slinging your backpack on your back and hopping on a plane/bus for a two week outing? I packed for 48 hours straight, ONLY the bare necessities. I must admit. One bag contains my favourite coffee, chocolate, morning rusks and rice cakes. I can't bear waste time grocery shopping when we travel and risk not finding my favourite brands. At least this way we can settle in comfortably first and then in our own, leisurely time locate a shop that works. I'm just anal like that.



Wednesday, October 15, 2014

On bumps with aeries and bumps in aeries...

The first entry into my Pilot's logbook was on 16 August 2012. I was exactly 1 month pregnant. And yet to find out...

First entries in my Pilot's logbook, 2012.

By that time I have been on a waiting list at the Flying School for some time and was really psyched up and ready to learn to fly. My deposit was payed a few weeks before and the ground school books were sitting on the dining room table. 

Needless to say when we found out about our second pregnancy we were over the moon! Zee had just turned one so the new baby would be 21 months younger than his older brother. We couldn't be happier! And then started the planning and the logistics. We realised that, if I wanted to obtain my PPL (Private Pilot's Licence) any time within the next decade or so, it probably would be easiest to do it while there is still only one baby, which still takes naps during the day. So after our doctor confirmed our pregnancy he also confirmed that there was no medical reason why I couldn't continue with flying lessons. So I planned on completing the PPL during Zee's daily naps and in the remaining eight months before the new baby was due. Oh if I only knew how interesting it would still get...

Then of course I did what any responsible pregnant student pilot would do: I didn't inform my instructors. Instead I waited a few weeks. I completed the radio course and a good number of flight exercises.

From the very first lesson the instructors allows the student to take off. If at first you still had your doubts, the thrill of getting a plane in the air should really sort that for you. It was absolutely fantastic! Of course later you realise that anyone that can follow three simple instructions can do it: full power, keep her in the middle of the runway and wait for 60 mph to lift the nose wheel (with a whole lot of right rudder input from the instructor, of course). But still. After the first flight I was totally hooked. 

Then came flying exercise 10 and 11: Stalling and spinning. Stalling is when one or both of the wings of the aircraft stops flying. The aircraft runs out of airspeed and the nose drops for a dive. When the aircraft stalls in a nose-high position, to recover you merely push the nose down a little below the horizon to regain airspeed and she will fly again (this is not a lesson in flight, just a very rudementary explanation of what is referred to when talking about the stall).

Now stalling the aircraft it no real biggie. Not while you are doing it intentionally during training or for what ever intentional other reasons you may have. If you happen to stall the plane during flying for some or other reason and you recognise the stall early you can easily recover from it and continue flying. The reason why stalls are taught is for students to be able to recocnise it early and to recover normal flying. And this is also why spins are taught. 

Spins happen if you don't recover from the stall quick enough. One wing keeps on flying, the other is deeply stalled and you spin in a corkscrew fashion as is illustrated below.

Spinning around the stalled, dropped wing in a corkscrew fashion. (Source).

Cute picture, hey? I have to add here that spinning an aircraft is no longer required for the completion of the PPL excercises. The fact is that too many accidents happened during training of the spin, since many of the instructors were just not able to properly execute spins. Also, the airframes of many of the light and ultra light aircraft are not certified for spinning and other maneuvers which automatically precludes them from spinning training.

But then I trained in the Cessna 172. The Toyota Hilux of the sky. And my instructor is an aerobatics pilot that remembers his first flying lesson at the age of six, sitting in the co-pilot's seat next to his father. Nuff said. He lets his students spin, and he makes sure they can recover from it. (Just for clarity I feel I need to add that a Cessna 172 is as stable as an Isuzu KB on gravel, not as loose-tailed and jumpy as the Hilux. So I assume it is referred to the never-say-die aspects of the Hilux, not the stability...)

The Cessna 172 in which I trained for my PPL.

Now look. I am brave and I am all for fun and games, but you know the saying of opening an umbrella in somebody's whatever? That is how I feel about spinning. And I can promise you on the grave of my inhibitions that I lost on that first day of spinning, that I will recover from a stall sooner than you can reach for your cellphone to call your mother. But spin I will never again. Not for me. Thank you.

And then only did I tell them. I knew that stalling and spinning were coming at some point, so I waited it out until then. My t-shirts just got bigger and I always made sure I went to the bathroom before our hour long flying lesson, but the bump stayed tucked away for the first almost four months. 

I want to be a good pilot, and for that I needed the best training, including the complete spinning exercise (I was never really nauseous during my pregnancies so that was a plus). I figured it would be safe to spill the beans after the worst was done and I proved that I wouldn't barf all over the cockpit. Apparently that worked, since neither of the instructors batted an eyelid during the big reveal and we just kept on flying.   

So after the spinning it was mostly touch-and-go's in the circuit ("bumps") - where you take off, go around in the circuit pattern, land and immediately apply full power again for the take off. Bumps are mainly to practice landing and takeoff procedures. The 'bump' was doing bumps and thoroughly enjoying it! I remember noting how I could feel baby Vee moving and turning while I was flying. I think his little system is wired for adrenaline after all those touch-and-go's and stalls and spins. But nothing, really nothing, gets close to the adrenaline rush of a first time solo flight...

But more on that later.





Sunday, October 12, 2014

IVORIAN WAY

Training for Eden Duo in Wildernis South Africa - running in the Ivorian Jungle - breathtakingly humid, hot and beautiful.



The French way is probably not the best way to get energy levels up for a race - the boutique wine bought in a nearby village (yes a village) says all you need to know about the Ivorian (aka French) way in West Africa...




Race Report: The Lucky Star Half-Marathon


I love early mornings. I used to love getting up way before the crack of dawn and start my workday with a mug of coffee or two before the sun was even out. Then came babies and the consequent lack of sleep, so nowadays I try to make the most of whatever shuteye I can get...

But on race days I don't mind getting up in the wee hours of the morning. If we are not on location I summons an entire support team to fill in for me at home me so I can slip out early to line up. The recent Lucky Star Half-marathon kicked off at 7 am, so I got to get up at 5 am since I need my two hours head start for preparations and caffeinations. And then I was almost late for the start because I had to drive all the way home again for socks! I forgot my socks?! I arived with 2 minutes to spare.

Early morning race day preparations.

The Lucky Star Marathon has been taking place at the coast since 1985. This year marked it's 29th anniversary, which is quite remarkable. More that 800 athletes lined up in total for the full marathon, the 21.1 km, the 10 km and the relay races. It was also the Southern Region Half-Marathon Championships, so a number of international teams also participated. The route of the Marathon is from Walvis Bay to Swakopmund, while the 21.1 km and 10 km races started in Swakopmund and followed a route alongside the coast direction Walvis Bay and back.

This is a route that I have traveled on regularly in the past seven years, but I don't think I have really taken in the breathtaking scenery before as I did during this race. It really is beautiful, with the ocean on one side and the coastal dunes on the other. 

Yes, there is a road race that takes place in THIS beautiful setting. It is called the Lucky Star Marathon. (Thanking my Lucky Stars it is on the tarmac BELOW these Mother dunes).(Source)

For the half-marathon the route itself is relatively flat, with a few long but low hills. I found the terrain surprisingly comfortable, with level tarmac most of the way or an option of level gravel on the shoulders where the road slants in a bend. I often opted for the gravel, even on the level stretches since I find it easier on my knees.

The race was extremely well organised. Water tables were situated every 3 km and traffic officials did what they could to keep us safe on this busy road. I did however feel that heavy trucks could have been directed to the alternative route behind the dune belt for the duration of the race. It wasn't pleasant to breath heavy exhaust fumes and to fight the wind gusts and flying sand from passing trucks. But in all honesty it was perhaps 3 or 4 trucks in total. So not really that bad.

The water tables were manned by Etosha Fishing personnel, and they apparently had a competition on for best team spirit. This was easily the most supportive, fun race I have attended in Namibia. People in costume were cheering and friendly and ready to hand out a drink or a word of encouragement wherever they could. Cheers to them! 

The Etosha Fishing 'Cowboy' water table won a prize for their good spirit and costume. (Source).

Although breaking my PB (pubic bone. Or Personal Best time) wasn't really my main goal for this race, I seem to derive from a long line of overly competitive boere people and once we get that itch, it rarely goes away. My previous PB over the half-marathon was 1:59:30, which I ran earlier this year after a longish baby-and-second-pregnancy running break. My goal for this race was to bring that time down with a few minutes. But when an English lady cornered me at the third km and asked me my goal time, I had to commit to a number - after I got over the initial shock of being challenged so boldly by a rival. Aren't the English supposed to be more proper? Who asks your goal time?! You make small talk while quietly pinpointing your opponents' week spots to plan the sudden overtake and the triumphant, pretend-reserved, wave at the turnaround or finish line! But the game was on. I aimed for 1:55. 

While I was pondering this newly set goal, I suddenly had an epiphany (not an alcoholic beverage in this case) and  a game plan was born. I decided to run the way I run my long runs, essentially without a watch to check my pace, just by feel and feedback from my body and the course. The previous night I read a race report of a fabulous mama-runner who also happens to be my beautiful and inspiring cousin. She reported to have tackled the 21.1 km in 5 km increments, with a uniform goal pace over the 4 sections. Suddenly it hit me that I have always tried to tackle the entire race as a whole, instead of breaking it down in smaller, manageable (rewardable) sections. Tackling the race as a whole usually resulted in extreme math problems once you hit the 13th or 15th km, when you try to work out an adjusted goal pace and whether there is time for a quick sip of water or if you will be able to fit that darn 1.1 km at the end and still make a PB. Way, WAY too complicated!

So I set a goal pace for each 5 km sections, ran by feel and just glanced at the watch to keep track of the distance, never the pace. And low and behold, running a few five kays is way easier than running a 21.1 km! When I crossed the bridge into Swakop with 3 km to go I glanced at my watch and thought it was wrong, that it had stopped at some point. I finished the race in 1:52:05, an improvement of more than 7 minutes on my PB, and felt quite chuffed.

New PB by more than 7 minutes.

My beautiful hubs came out with Vee to support me as always, driving past me a few times and standing next to the road at the 15 km mark. They charmed the last chocolate out the poor friendly support table, because when I arrived I was offered only water and a Chomp already out of its wrapper(?) I just smiled and waved. Seeing my smiling, cheering hubs and babies next to the road while racing makes me immensely happy, and those images always carry me when it gets tough. Those and images of my mother in costume.  She lives far, but we have a tradition that she always 'dresses up' to come support me in spirit. And her description of her 'costumes' has had me giggling many times during a race.

The Hubs and Vee waited at the finish line. No better way to finish a race!


Overall this race was one of the running highlights of this year for me. I love huge, well organised races with a lot of team spirit and happy runners. Times for the marathon athletes weren't apparently all that good and they complained of a strong head wind. Here at the coast you never know what the weather, especially the wind, will do come race day. You just have to take it as it comes and it honestly can change from one minute to the next. I certainly enjoyed the Lucky Star and will be back.

Ps. I passed the English lady in the last km. Not competitive at all. Really.







Saturday, October 11, 2014

Welcome!

Dear fellow lifers,

Welcome to this blog and thank you for stopping by.

I am Riana and my family and I live in the beautiful, small but cosmopolitan town of Swakopmund, Namibia. I am the wife of a hunky explorer husband and the mother of two toddler boys. Zee is 3 and Vee is almost 1.5 years old. I am fortunate to be a stay-at-home-mom and wouldn't trade it for the world. I used to be an environmental scientist before we started with a family. The Hubs travels a lot for work, all over the world, but we often schedule time to travel together and go on wild adventures. Which is easy. Since everything you do is wild when you have two toddlers!

The four of us in Moshi, Tanzania, in November 2013. Mt Kilimanjaro is in the back. 

We are an active family that love the outdoors and keeping fit. I run long distances and one of my bucket list items is to run a marathon on each of the seven continents. The Hubs is an athlete and avid mountaineer. He has scaled mountains such as Kilimanjaro, Mt Kenia, Devil's tooth in the Dragensberg just to name a few. This year he climbed the Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda, which was an absolute highlight for him. We are currently training for our first adventure race together at the end of October. The two of us will team up to tackle a 50 km course of rowing, kloofing, trail running and cycling in Wilderness, South Africa,  More to follow on that.

I am also a keen part-time aviator. I obtained my PPL (private pilot's licence) on a Cessna 172 last year and have since upgraded to fly a Cessna 182. I absolutely adore flying and do it as much and often as possible when the Hubster is home. I would like to do some bush flying courses later on to be able to ferry the Hubs to remote locations for his work. But my big dream is to fly a helicopter... A huge, shiny, noisy thing that can fly and land anywhere!

So you ask what is in the name of the blog... And I would say, as you can see, it is a pretty straight forward play on several words ;) ... But it mostly pertains to the large life that we endeavour to create for our children, as well as to being 'at large' on this planet and in life itself. That's worth pondering for a while!

With this blog I would like to connect with friends and family that live far away and abroad, but also with like-minded individuals who may find value from reading of our experiences who can also add value by commenting and sharing of their own experiences. We will provide race reports on the athletic events we participate in. I will also share some of my experiences of my short aviation career, and force/blackmail invite the Hubs to share some of his exciting mountaineering and other travelling experiences.

I would love to hear from you, whether it be a comment or just a 'like' or perhaps even a discussion. Thank you for reading.

OUKEI OUKEI

Ja ja oukei - I have been threatened enough lately...

Sitting in the Ivorian jungle, fan full speed frontal - hot as hell with a pinch of french flaire - tall trees reminiscent of the Amazon - plenty small life (bats too - ugh) and pretty spectacular.

Miss home though