Running is a great foundation for Adventure Racing
01 January 1970
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Welcome onto this edition of Old Mutual Live, I’m Brad Brown, thank you so much for listening and downloading to this podcast. Don’t forget, if you want to find more of this content, dogreatthings.co.za is where you can find it.
I am so excited to welcome our next guest onto the show today, a slightly different angle. I love what people do around the sport and how they interpret the sport for themselves and do great things themselves. It’s a wonderful pleasure to welcome onto the podcast Lisa de Speville. Welcome Lisa, thanks for joining us today.
Lisa de Speville: Hi Brad, thanks very much.
BB: Lisa, your background is quite interesting. You’ve been involved in adventure racing for many years, but deep down you’re a runner. You love running, obviously you use running in various different ways. But your love for sport and being outdoors and running, where did that emanate from?
LDS: Back in school I was a 100m and 200m sprinter and I always swore that I would never run anything further than 200m. Then a friend in the athletics team invited me to join him for a 10km road race. His dad was a regular road runner. I went off to the race and he walked and ran and walked and ran with me and I think it took about 3 x 10km races. I did that third one, I did without walking and I did it under 60 minutes.
I think that was really the bug that bit for me. I was in Standard Nine at the time and from the age of 16, off I was on road races and 21km. Then I got into adventure racing and then into ultra running. It’s just gone from there. I think I’ve been running distances over 10km for more than 26 years now.
BB: Do you break them down into less than 200m splits so you never run more than 200 in one shot?
LDS: No, not at all, I break them water point to water point!
What adventure racing is all about
BB: Lisa, your background is pretty interesting. While involved in varsity you fell in love, as you say, with adventure racing. That’s taken you on this whole new trek. For somebody who is listening to this, who maybe has heard the term ‘adventure racing’ and isn’t quite sure what it is or if somebody is listening to this and has never heard of it, in a nutshell, what is adventure racing?
LDS: Brad, for me the wheels really fell off when I discovered adventure racing. It’s a team sport of four people in the team, normally it’s a 3 guy, 1 girl ratio. I’ve raced in an all-girl team as well, so you can mix it up as you want. There has to be one of the opposite gender and it includes mountain biking.
It’s all off-road disciplines; so mountain biking, trekking, paddling and the key here is navigation. I say it’s kind of Amazing Race, Treasuring Hunting, where there’s a course that is set. There’s check points out there that you have to find. There’s transitions where you change disciplines and you’re pretty much given a map and say: Off you go.
You go from your start to check point one, check point two, into a transition, change your discipline, next check point, next check point. You work your way around the course, changing disciplines as you go. Really, the key of it is navigation. You choose your routes, what you do between A and B is your choice. As long as you go through the defined check points and transitions on the course.
BB: I’m surprised that you say most teams are three guys one girl. Is the girl there to read maps? Because guys are useless when it comes to directions and reading maps and besides, we won’t stop and ask for directions!
LDS: You know, it should be that because I find that women often tend to be much better navigators than the guys, but too few women actually navigate. I’d love to see more women navigating and captaining their teams. There aren’t that many, but the ones that do navigate tend to be really good.
How adventure racing is much like Comrades
BB: I love that. Lisa, let’s talk about the orienteering side of it. I mean you’re doing these things, some of the races are in very off the beaten track areas. But these races happen, not just in South Africa, but around the world. In South Africa they happen in places pretty close to the big centres, so if it sounds interesting. It’s actually pretty easy to get involved in the sport.
LDS: Most definitely. When people say to me: How do I get involved in adventure racing I always say to them, grab a couple of friends, look at the event calendar, look for a date, enter it and rock up. Depending on the distance of the race, whether it’s 25km, 50km, 80km, 120km, all the way up to the 600km expedition races, a bit of fitness comes in. But again, it’s like Comrades. There’s people who run Comrades in 5:30 and there’s people who run Comrades in 12:00.
Your proficiency, your speed, your everything, definitely, it’s fitness. But it also comes with experience in this game. It doesn’t help to run five minutes a KM and you’re running in the wrong direction. That’s where navigation comes in. The best way is just to grab some friends, enter a race, start off with a race that’s in the 50km arena. Then up you go up the disciplines and work your way to Expedition Africa, which is our local expedition race.
BB: I’m having a bit of a chuckle to myself, it’s almost like Pokémon Go on steroids.
LDS: Definitely, recently a friend was briefing me on Pokémon Go, his son’s into it. So I’m really keen, I can’t get the app to work on my phone but anyway and I said to him, adventure racing, orienteering, rogaining, it’s been around the whole time. It’s been around for 30-40 years and very few people cross over it. Now you put it on a cellphone and have little creatures hiding all over the place and everyone is crazy for it.
What kind of base fitness do you need?
BB: Watch the sport grow Lisa, watch the sport grow. Let’s talk about, just the sport itself and from a fitness perspective. It’s pretty tough and like you say, people do it like they would a Comrades. You get guys and girls that run faster and you get guys and girls that do it slightly slower. But you’ve got to be pretty fit to take part in a sport like adventure racing.
LDS: Same thing, shorter distance races, children can do it. A 25km sprint race, really, we’ve had 7-year-old, 8-year-old children doing it with their parents. So there’s definitely no excuse, I’m not fit enough. Most of it the distance is made up in mountain biking, not running. With a 25km event you could have 16, 17, 18km of mountain biking.
Your stage is broken up. Again, with adventure racing, when you look at a 600km race or 150km race, you’ve got maybe 30km of hiking. You’re going to have 50-60km of mountain biking, maybe 5km of paddling, then you go back onto foot. Except in the long races, there you might spend a day and a half on foot. You’re not running the whole time, you’re hiking, hiking hard.
It’s not that scary, you don’t have to be a super athlete, you don’t have to be a top athlete, it’s definitely 70% mental. If you’re going to go into a long race, your head has to be strong to get you through. Of course, being in a team environment, you’ve got team dynamics. You’ve got all those issues at play and your team really is as strong as the weakest link.
So it’s about your teammates helping you and having people with different strengths. I’d hike really strong and hard, but I’m not as good a mountain biker. So I might get a bit of a push up a hill from a teammate. but on foot I’m happy to take a teammates backpack. You really spread your skills and help each other through.
Sharing my love for adventure racing
BB: It sounds amazing and I know you run a very active website in the adventure racing community that if people want to find out more, they’re more than welcome to check it out. It’s www.ar.co.za, so A-R for adventure racing. Lisa, there’s some amazing articles, I know you’ve been running that site for many years and it’s become, not just a South African go-to, but a global go-to in adventure racing.
LDS: It most definitely is Brad. When I started adventure racing, there were no websites, this was back in 1999. There just wasn’t the availability of information and content that there is now. I’d been in the sport for about two years and I thought, if we’re really going to grow the community, we need something to pull everything together. So I created the AR website and then through my own involvement with writing for magazines and writing for events, I started creating articles.
There must be, I don’t know, there must be 120-130 maybe more articles on the website that deal with everything from foot care to how to pack things in your backpack to finding team mates to navigation skills and all that. It’s all there. If you want to get into adventure racing, you want to know about it, the articles are extensive. Also the site has a good number of race reports written by people after events and they recount their adventures and their experiences in races. Those are also very informative, you learn a lot from them.
BB: We’ll put that link in the show notes to this episode of Old Mutual Live. Nut speaking of races, you do a multitude of things, you also put on a race called the Forest Run, tell us a bit about that.
LDS: Well, Forest Run is a bit of a brainchild, it took me many years to get around to organising it. It’s an ultra trail race and this year, well, I moved to Parys in December. So I’m now living in the Free State, across the Vaal River. Just from being out in this area, we’re surrounded by the Vredefort Dome and these magnificent hills around it.
So I was out there for lunch and my eyes were taking in the scenery and I thought, you know what, I need to move Forest Run, which had been in the Dullstroom area. So I spent a couple of months earlier this year scouting the area and running every single track and trail I could find. The land owners have been amazing to me and so in May we had the very first Forest Run out here in the Vredefort Dome.
There’s a 16km, a 30km and a 46km route and surprisingly, over the 46km, you get about 1 400m of cumulative elevation, which is far more than I expected. It’s actually a really challenging, technical trail run with forests, surprisingly. You wouldn’t think in the Free State we’ve got forests, but we’ve definitely got forests out here.
BB: That sounds awesome Lisa, if people want to find out more about that Forest Run, where can they go and get more info?
Fascinating Expedition and Adventure Talks
BB: You also, and this is something that I’m fascinated by. I love stories and it doesn’t matter where it is, if it’s running stories or cycling stories, I just love stories. You put on an event called FEAT, which obviously aligns nicely to the adventure racing side of things. But there are so many people around the globe and here in South Africa who have got phenomenal stories to share. This is a platform for them to share their stories, tell us a little bit about it.
LDS: FEAT stands for Fascinating Expedition and Adventure Talks. Again, it was one of these things where I ended up creating an event that I wanted to go to. Now I’m on the organising side, but nonetheless, it’s a wonderful evening. FEAT brings South African adventures onto the stage for a one night only event.
Each speaker only gets seven minutes to talk and their talk is accompanied by slides. Like beautiful big images from their adventures and the adventurers on stage cross over from climbing, mountaineering, paragliding, ocean crossing, rowing, expedition biking, expedition running. You name the discipline, they have probably been on the FEAT stage.
The first event was held in 2010 and I’ve had an annual event since then. It is just the most inspiring and motivating and uplifting evening you can go to, just to listen to people’s stories, as you say. I’ve never met a person yet who doesn’t love a good tale of adventure.
BB: Yes, and if you’re one of those people that hears about somebody who has done something incredible and you think, I’d like to do that. As opposed to you’re crazy, then this is the event for you because it will motivate you and fire you up to no end.
LDS: Most definitely and I think as well with FEAT, I love all the stories. I listen to the ocean rowing stuff and I just look at the sea and I start turning green. But it’s not so much, I love and I’m captivated by it. So I don’t think, well, I want to row across the ocean. But I think it twigs that creativity in your mind.
Sometimes you’ve thought, even if it’s road tripping, it doesn’t have to be a physical endeavour. But sometimes you just listen to these stories and you think, I once had this idea to go and road trip through the Free State. You know what? I actually need to get off my arse and do it, instead of putting these things off and off and off.
The common reasons are family, time, money and somewhere along the line. You go to FEAT and you sit and you say, I’m actually going to set that date right now and in 6 months’ time I’m going to go road tripping around the Free State. I think that’s really what FEAT does for people. It’s not that everyone is going to go off and walk around South Africa, but it just reminds you that you’ve got that adventure burning in your heat and now is the time to do it.
BB: It sounds amazing. If people want to find out more about FEAT Lisa, where can they go?
LDS: The websites is feat, it’s not the ones on the end of your legs. It’s F-E-A-T. www.featsa.co.za and linked on there are videos from the talks from all the past FEAT events. They are free and they’re online for people to enjoy. We’ve had, must be around 80 speakers now over the last few years and every single one of those talks is different.
BB: Awesome stuff. We’ll put those links in the show notes to this episode of Old Mutual Live. Lisa de Speville, thank you so much for your time, much appreciated. Enjoy Parys in the Free State and the Vredefort Dome, it’s a beautiful part of the world and thanks for your time today.
LDS: Thank you very much Brad.