30 April 2019

Ultra Trail Drakensburg... Part 1

Lesotho, Mountain Kingdom: me running on the edge

“Respect the mountain,” said Tobie Reynecke to the other 5 of us trekking up the Black Mountain. If ever there is to be a 100 miler club in SA, Tobie will be the first life member. He has completed 54 to date and attempted a few more!

The Ultra Trail Drakensberg 100 miler (UTD) starts at 11am, at 2900m up. We were less than a marathon into 100 miles, feeling the cold seeping through layers of clothes. We had traversed the edge of the Drakensburg escarpment on the Lesotho side seeing the sunlight play with clouds, buttes and ridges; it was all spectacularly breathtaking. You can picture dragons hording treasures in inaccessible lairs here. And Tobie was warning both the uninitiated and experienced in our group: "Respect the mountain".

Having fun doing our last pack check, including safety pins!
Oliver and I had shared a good few miles together on the ridge, swapping stories of family, life and running. He is an accomplished ultra athlete and I’m jealous of his speed! Andrew Booth organizes the Karkloof 100, the last of #RunAMUK’s 100 milers… and he’s also an accomplished ultra athlete. Andre had offered me a pair of tracksuit pants when I realized I hadn’t packed my tights (space was an issue). Jian was feeling the cold, but concentrating hard and acting as a real trooper. And of course Tobie, an affable lawyer from Pretoria who is a solid gentleman, and because he struggles to see at night had asked me to be his eyes; I’m glad I said “yes”.

The start on the deck
UTD is the second event in the #RunAMUK challenge offered by the collaborating 4 event organizers. There were to be 11 of those who completed Addo at the top of the Sani Pass… it was the last time we were all together. The two events begin 6 weeks apart, with the 3rd event (Mac Mac Ultra) just 4 weeks later. Handling the attrition on the body would be key. I’d been worried about 3 things: my run streak, the cold, and the altitude.

Starting 100 miles too fast or too slow can both mean “DNF” (did not finish); and it depended on the bodies condition. Altitude and temperature require personal adjustment each time you line up for every athlete… fast or slow! I knew what it meant for me, and was prepared. Relatively. I hadn’t considered underfoot conditions: by the time we returned to the Sani Mountain Backpackers and Checkpoint 5, I had already rolled my left ankle twice and twice more stepped into hidden holes with my left foot to fall on my right knee and elbows; and kicked 358 stones or rocks (I didn’t actually count). It was nearly sunrise…

But I am ahead of myself in this story, rather unlike in the race itself! The start from the border post is suitably full of mountain pathos. This is partly to do with the race briefing where we’re all told how we should be prepared for the cold, that the course is marked but shouldn’t worry too much if its inaccurate (there are many goats paths and it isn’t always the correct path that is marked), and a GPS is a life saving piece of equipment. Lastly: don’t pick a fight with the local dogs, back away keeping eye contact and pretend to pick up a stone. I didn’t see any dogs…

Some of the big names of trail running & the supporting community were there including Naomi Brand and Xavier Briel who circumnavigated Lake Malawi to highlight the cause of poaching pangolins, much like I am doing for One Land Love It; Eloff Hoffman, Frikkie Pienaar and Andrew Booth who organize two of the other AMUK races; Lauri Tuomaala of Finland; Tracy Zunckel the queen of the ‘Berg; Deon Braun of Trail Magazine and consummate analyst and thinker; Oliver Ruhl an accomplished ultra distance runner capable of a silver at Comrades; Rene Vollgraaff who pipped me to the post by miles at Addo and capable of going miles more; and more… In fact, all these who lined up have earned the right to be there!

The first 10km was basically a traverse around the back of the ‘Berg to get to your first checkpoint (see first photo). This overlooked the cliff that falls of the edge of the world… it is where cats come with your toys to shove them away, and the rooftops of caves where dragons hide their precious hoarded treasures. You don’t quite stumble onto it, you get hints of how high and far you can see as you approach the edge, and with the light being almost perfect at this altitude the views are fit for royals (I’d say its breathtaking, but its too high for that, you’re already out of breath just from breathing!)

Run with meaning. Walk with intent. Rest with purpose. The weeks leading up to UTD had been stressful, and these three phrases now became a key part of my mental game. Each time I wondered or slowed in energy, these three phrases would pop into my head and keep me focused.
Around the mountains we went, chased and chasing each other. Andre and I hooked up, with Tobie and Oliver just behind as the sun set. We dressed up now because the temperature was plummeting. Black Mountain was coming… so don’t dress too warm! A short while later Tobie and I pulled out a bit of a lead on the other two, who were shortly joined by Andrew and Jian. That little lead cost us missing the markers leading up the first sustained climb of the race. We discovered our mistake 600m later… and traversed back up to the course to join the other 4. 

Goat tracks rake the landscape.
At least 2 of our number were experiencing altitude sickness. Unfortunately this meant the withdrawal of Andrew at checkpoint 3, 45km into the event… It is the last “easy” place to drop from the event until Sani Pass 30km later.

After eating, drinking, being merry, and dressing even warmer, the fabulous five of us set off for the big one, the reason some run this race. Thabana Ntlenyana stands at 3482m (11424 ft) above sea level. There was no real wind… fortunately. A stiff breeze was only found on top. Getting up into that breeze took us about 30 minutes more than my planned time, except that I had been 30 minutes ahead of plan at the previous checkpoint... 60 minutes lost to plan. At night it isn’t easy to see the trails (all of which criss cross each other multiple times as goats scour the landscape for food). And the marking is not as copious as at Addo; it increased both the adventure and sense of satisfaction at the end; and I wouldn’t change it for the world. 


The route up and down the mountain was pretty well all up. It required crossing rivers. Wearing my Balega Blister Resist socks I knew that my feet would be as protected being wet and very quickly warm up, too… and I remained blister free even after walking through most all the streams instead of treading precariously on rocks and loose stones.

Reports have mentioned minus 9 ‘C (-48’F) at the top of Thabana Ntlenyana. The volunteers there were a special breed! Nearing the top we began crunching ice as a kind of rhythm section of a strange band. I stayed with Tobie making sure he stayed on the course, while the other three pushed to get out of the wind and cold. I was channeling Lewis Pugh (excuse the pun)… I wasn’t cold, I wasn’t allowed to be.

12.14am and we were at the highest point in Africa South of Kilimanjaro. After a very quick refuel at the top, and a photo, Tobie and I were left by the other 3 as they motored down and out of the cold. For about half a mile I kept them in sight, hoping to catch up as they stopped to greet other adventurers still ascending to the top of our world.

And then it happened again… Tobie and I found ourselves off course. Having been keeping too much attention on headlamps and not enough on course markers, I missed when Jian, Oliver and Andre turned left. We went straight and ended up wasting about an hour in deathly cold conditions, traipsing East and West while my GPS showed us only moving North. Sense of humor: failed.

01.30am We had to stop to get Tobie’s GPS of his bag. Fortunately it worked and we didn’t have to go up and down searching for the path again… already we’d done an extra mile or more! By quickly finding the right path again we stayed ahead of the chasing pack, crushing ice as it lay forming on the ground. As the night went from 2am to 5am our conversation slowed, but I kept our hiking pace up. There were no animals out at this hour, just us ghostly shapes seeking slender paths and hoping checkpoint 5 really was just around the corner and over the hill (the lies of ultra runners… we always look good!)

The road at checkpoint 5, Sani Pass Backpacker
4am. Unfortunately when the lights of the border post do hove into sight on the left as you crest a saddle you realise that they are still an hour or more away. We were trudging in silence to the crunch of iced gravel and grass. Tobie had begun to really feel the cold, as had I. There was one more layer I could have put on and I nearly stopped to do so. We were walking into a breezy headwind taking the chill down well below freezing again. And those lights didn’t move.

From memory it would start getting light at 5.30. We were about 1km away from those lights when it did begin to get light, but actually it was further. And it took longer. And it got a little colder. But Tobie piped up, “we go over here, skirt the field, head up the road and we’re there”. It was a statement of hope, energy and fact. Tobie was back. And we reached the checkpoint soon after. It was warm, welcoming, welcome.

I’ve been told I’m charming. I assume that means I’m also good at flirting. But what I heard next was the first time ever these words were directed at me. Bearing in mind that I had planned to be back at checkpoint 5 by 3.30am, and it was 6.30am, the doctor who had cleared me after checking my pulse and when last I had urinated said, “You’re flirting with cutoff, boys, and you’d better push to make sure you don’t get cut”.

It was time to get up, and get down Sani Pass! To be continued…


4 awesome charities benefiting from 4 awesome events:
  1. Community Veterinary Clinics
  2. One Land Love It
  3. Rainbows and Smiles
  4. The Herald Christmas Cheer Fund

25 April 2019

Dot watching

Have you done it before?

What gets you (or would get you) dot watching?

I'm CHALLENGING you to watch my dot as it travels this Ultra Trail Drakensburg route, and for every 1 mile I travel (1.6km) I hope you'll donate a dollar or a Rand to #RazeABar.

Track me: https://app.sportraxs.com/en/race/utd160-2019/athlete/steven-lancaster?fbclid=IwAR1kwAvJ2UGlKg1JrQ3kMhmGqApsslVapNP5-8az9BF3a_KtUWvam0PNkUc

Donate:  https://www.backabuddy.co.za/champion/project/razeabar2019-upiufd (Please message me if you're having issues donating and we WILL find another way)

PS: you don't have to watch it the whole time/way ...
PPS: consider sharing this with a friend... the aim is to impact 100000 lives this year by raising a million ZA Rand (US$69000)
PPS: Each donation of R100 will gain a lucky draw entry! If you donate R10k or more, I might organize you a special thank you 😉

21 April 2019

chocolate happiness

It is "that" time of year where the chocolate is hidden around the gardens and houses, with evidence of bunnies or other generous creatures is left, to remind us: Hope, Life, Love.

We're giving the OLLI (One Land Love It) symbol before Addo,
not showing you how big your Easter Eggs need to be ;)
It is part of my big "Why". We are blessed to be able to partake in one measure or another. And because we are alive we can give something: time, money, expertise.

Forget those new year resolutions... make your Easter resolution be to "LIVE".

And we cannot truly be alive alone. We need to give, to be among others. And what better way than to give to those who make the most impact. This is the reason I have chosen these four charities for #RazeABar... professional, effective service to those who need it most.

May you be blessed as you LIVE!

https://www.backabuddy.co.za/champion/project/razeabar2019-upiufd  <- Donate here, or dm me at fb.me/razeabar for donations directly to the charities on behalf of #RazeABar! Thank you ;)

13 April 2019

Do fun and run go together?

Balega Grit & Grace socks... an example of uBuntu
This morning I ran with an expert thinker (and doer). Someone who got me thinking about life again, and influencing forces around us... the "uBuntu" principle (I am because we are). Thank you, EC. EC's "job" is framing things and reframing them to leave our world a better place.

With just 6 weeks from the Addo Elephant Trail Run to Ultra Trail Drakensburg, and knowing that only 4 weeks thereafter is Mac Mac, I ask myself (like many others do): Is running fun?

Honestly, I've told people that running itself is not "fun". It isn't. It is a constant pounding of the feet up into the ankles, legs and back. Does it sound like water torture. It can be torturous.

Or you could re-frame that and say that running is meditative. Repetitive actions and breathing are an aide to focused thought.

You have three real inputs into your mood while being "out there". They are your body (hydration and nutrition are your biggest factors here), your mind, and the surroundings (people and environment).

Nutrition and hydration will keep you going all day, night and more if you get it right; and you'll be "happy" doing it! Ask the Mungrals and any 200+ miler. Your mind also needs to be saying, "I can do this, I can beat hard things". And you can! Don't be stupid and do stuff you can't do, or run on a broken foot... Common sense needs to be very common in your life ;) But I think you'll get what I'm saying, that tough people outlast tough times every time. This is where your mind comes in, and why I have my life word as "perspective". You need to know the good and the bad and reference each of them to maintain that ying and yang... a balance. And lastly enjoyable surroundings make your activity worth investing both your body and mind into it... its good for the soul! Good friends, good places to run, good things to eat and drink on the way.

So, if you'd like to chat to me while you're out there... invite me along for some torture... or meditation! We'll make running fun.

07 April 2019

Adaptations...

Being a coastal runner has many huge benefits. Two of the main ones are that there is plenty of oxygen to suck in, and the climate tends to be rather temperate (never too hot, and never too cold). So training well and often is relatively "easy".

The pic here is of myself and Dawn (our 2nd summit) and Chantal and Ronald (of Ultra Running SA fame) on their 1st summit of the Lady's Slipper "mountain" as we prepared for Addo. You can see its not that high and that is the sea in the background. If you do be fit  this mountain really be just a hill.

So what scares me most about Ultra Trail Drakensburg? Yip... you guessed it: Altitude!
From the race website: "The race will start at Sani Mountain Lodge (The Highest Pub in Africa), at 11h00 on Friday 26th April, and head into Lesotho on a circuitous route that is almost entirely above 3000m (9842ft) in altitude. A number of high points will be passed with the highlight of these being Thabana Ntlenyana at 3482m (11424ft)."
3482 meters above sea level is significant. It is the difference between 20.9% oxygen in the air and 13.6%. A full 1 third of my training oxygen will be gone when I tackle UTD. What does this mean?

Well, it hasn't changed my training... I'm still running easy most of the time with a few stronger sessions. There is the nutrition and hydration going in that ensures I stay healthy and ready to tackle mountains. And of course the focus of a mind on getting over these "hills". I will not be the first, and I won't be the last, and although I may not the strongest to do it, I won't be the weakest, either.

Having a life word of "PERSPECTIVE" means I have the luxury of stepping back and seeing the bigger picture. In this panoramic picture there are 3 things I've learned from others that have climbed the heights. Very few people can do it quickly! So number one will be:

  1. Take it S-L-O-W! I'm not Kilian Jornet and I'm not a Sherpa with a natural innate ability to adapt to height (at least I don't think I am yet...). Where I was hoping for 30 hours at Addo, I've adjusted that up to 37 hours at UTD (the respective cut off times are 37 and 44 hours).
  2. Clothing is key... on the mountain you are exposed and your life can depend on your equipment. There is a comprehensive mandatory kit. I may have an extra item or two depending on the weather predictions. Clothes are your first defense in maintaining your core temperature, and it is vital to spend your energy moving forward, not heating yourself up! Naturally, I'll have a sock based in natural fibres... read more here. #BalegaBestSocksEver
  3. Food is energy. I have successfully used GNLD bars and protein on Addo and other adventures... easy to digest, no GI issues, and maintained energy levels. Because it is going to be colder at UTD than it was at Addo, I'll obviously have an extra bar or 2 in the bag. And of course enjoying the wares presented at each aide station along with getting them to sing a Christmas Carol or two 👈
Most of the preparation for tackling height is in the head... especially when you're going far. You won't be able to go as fast. So you might expect a pic or two from me along the way! haha

UTD is 19 days away... Race 2 of #RunAMUK to #RazeABar
Donate here to 4 worthy beneficiaries and change 100,000 lives...: 

02 April 2019

Running is a team sport

This is me referring you back to "that time" I did the Washie 100... most everyone I knew (except maybe Allister) thought I was crazy to have finished it; and even crazier to think carrying on running was a "good" idea. There was one MAJOR difference in my approach to Addo, and that was to get professional help for my body. For reference, on the left is a picture of me approaching about 148km (appropriately we had just passed a cemetery where another photo was taken and that was posted to social media with the caption: "proof of life"). Here you can see just how tight and pulled my body was... nothing was working correctly at this stage, but there was no way I wasn't going to finish!
Since then... Ilona Hearne Biokineticist! Thank you Ilona for getting me "straight".

From massage to a journey of realignment and success

-by Ilona Hearne Biokineticist 

17th of January 2019. Summer. The off season for a lot of athletes, professional and otherwise; but not for long distance runners! Steven came for a massage, complaining of a tight calf and ITB; also his hamstring wasn't in great shape because of over-training dating back to Washie...

On completion of the 2nd massage I asked Steven if he would like an assessment after he had heard how misaligned he was. He said he had to get through the Van Staden's Mountain Marathon first... (referenced in this link). The day of the assessment Steven found out how misaligned he was, how his body had been compensating and how his muscles adopted a misfiring pattern... In essence he WAS one huge musculo-skeletal mess [Ilona, thank you for being so much more tactful in person... although I understood what you meant then, too].

With great teamwork, patience, research and discipline "we" completed Addo 100 miles not in the 28 hours we hoped for but in 30 hours 40 minutes with enough energy left to play with [#LancasterLight], his nearly 4 year old son.

The gross misalignment was caused by compensation, and the compensation came from faulty posture...

This faulty loading:
LEADS to shortening of  the intrinsic muscles
LEADS to lengthening of movement muscles
LEADS to altered movement pattern
LEADS to overloading the musculo-skeletal system
LEADS to pain and injury

SIJ dysfunction (sacroiliac joint dysfunction) leads to chronic lower back pain (LBP), and misfiring of muscles causes more harm than good, especially in endurance events and/or over time. "We" had to retrain his muscles to respond the way they are responding now to decrease the faulty load on his musculo-skeletal system.

This has led to great success because Steven can now activate the correct muscle groups in the correct firing pattern (most of the time!)

We are still working on some "kinks" but in all fairness, Steven has done amazingly thus far. "Our" next challenge occurs on the 26th -28th April, we have had 1 week of mickey mouse exercises (rehabilitation exercises that target the intrinsic muscle groups). We have 4 more weeks of training / rehabilitation and the last day of the cycle we will do a massage, and most importantly pray for success.

My treatment plan is flexible and it depends on how Steven feels on the day, so no time is lost in ensuring he meets his training goals at the end of the event. Steven's goals for UTD is to finish the race in 37 hours, we are hoping for 35 hours with the cut off time of 44 hours.

We will keep up updated on Steven's progress.. This insert is "serious" in writing but we have so much fun. Laughing and making dry jokes. So many small changes has occurred with great rewards.


This a guest post by Ilona Hearne Biokineticist. She is a professional and has designed her program specifically for me and my body. I highly recommend her, and if you can't see her, then find a professional that can help you become the best you can be... 

To donate to RazeABar, please click here.

Love running?

Running is a funny thing... either you love it, or you don't. If you love it, it gets a little more complicated: fast, slow, short, long, easy, hard, groups, alone, bla bla bla.

In Nelson Mandela Bay I am fortunate, along with Justine Sim, to have been appointed as a brand ambassador for the international sock brand, Balega. In the local vernacula "balega" means "run". And we like to keep it simple and fun 😊

Whether you run to the toilet, for the icecream truck, parkrun's weekly 5km or a blerry long way like a 100 miles and more, it don't matter. You run. And tonight we did... here are some images of the fun we had... and the opportunity to give away 3 pairs of these awesome socks!

We were joined by about 30 people in all... and made 3 of them just a little happier than run-endorphin happy with a new pair of socks.

To win a few more pairs... follow this blog OR fb.me/razeabar and help out a great cause!







Everesting: for a tree?

A sunny Heritage Day 2021 ended with a cold craft beer was two years in the making for me. However, when Adrian Gardiner says, "I like ...