Mentors

Thanks Rosemary for posting this on twitter. And thanks Linda for posting.

Running is a great leveler. We are stripped down to our takkies and running shorts and we are all equal. We start at the start line of a race and we are all one. Even after the gun goes off we are equal. And so it goes. Yes one person wins and others follow. In reality though there is always somebody who is faster (and by definition slower) than us. The title of winner is very fleeting. And in this realisation we are all equal. In this equality we have the opportunity to support.

I look up to those faster than me and support those behind me. Knowing full well that tomorrow the roles can be very different.

In the same way every teacher has a teacher who has a teacher.

Every mentor has a mentor has a mentor.

It matters not if the runner in front of me knows that I admire (and emulate) their style. It changes nothing for them. And so it should with mentors.

Knowing that others look up to us offers us a great responsibility though. To be the best we can be.

For ourselves.

To go the extra mile. To be the mentor we would like to be.

This is an opportunity given to each of us.

Grab it with both hands!

In a garden as in life

IMG_4839I walked in my garden yesterday. I noticed some early spring buds pushing through.

A tree grows a millimetre at a time. A leaf unfolds little by little. A great gardener trims a little here, a little there. All relative to what is in front of him. He deals with reality. Takes an action then steps back and observes the effect before deciding on the next step. To do it any other way would result in a mess.

We however set lofty goals. Goals that stretch us. (remember the slogan “If a goal does not scare you then it is not worth having as a goal” or something like that). Often these goals are just out of reach, just that little bit too far. We tell ourselves that this is cool. Certainly our friends applaud us for this.

We become over committed publically and personally, (sometimes financially even) and hence we resort to shortcuts. Take running races for example. We overtrain because race day is just around the corner. We take pain killers because we are not up to the task.

Is it not better to look at what is and consider the next step, whatever that may be.

Thanks to James Clear for your inspiration here

Thoughts on the dead and the living

I:

“I made endless cups of tea. 

for visitors

for me

faces familiar

names forgotten

should have remembered

they were not there for me but for him, for themselves?

a moment alone

I promised

to myself

to look after his youngest

not sure if he heard

it’s not about me. 

 

I made endless cups of tea for anybody who would drink

too polite to decline

they cried on my shoulder 

in the second row”

 

II:

“Do you live for the living or for the dead?” I asked myself.

We lit a candle instead of going to church to mourn with the others, left behind.

I said I should go, for them, not for him, not for me. Is that a good enough reason?

For me, for you?

I celebrate in my thoughts your life and the positive influence it has had. Has.

But when that is gone then maybe it is time to move on.

Not dwell on the past, the what if’s, the what could have been’s, the if only’s.

To celebrate what we have right now.

Sometimes that includes sorrow.

But that is fleeting.

 

 

Table Mountain Top 10 trail routes: #8 Three Single Tracks – Rhodes Memorial

At first I did not get trail running. “Why would anybody want to run uphill?”

Two Ocean's Trail Run 22km

Two Ocean’s Trail Run 22km route map

 

The downhill part was obvious and I was used to it, even with a heavy pack, but running uphill seemed energy inefficient to me. The seconds saved over a brisk walk did not seem to warrant the extra effort required. So I started jogging along the jeep tracks from Rhodes Memorial towards the city bowl, choosing the more level ones at first.

In contrast I have always enjoyed single tracks, flying along, having to pay attention in order to avoid a stubbed toe, crash or worse: a tumble. When Trevor Ball introduced the genius Two Ocean’s Trail Run route he connected some of the best single tracks in the area to make a truly fantastic and challenging route. For normal folks this would take 3h plus to complete and a large dose of effort so here I describe a shorter version – manageable in a quick 1h30 to 2h session. My Movescount gps file can be found here.

Three Singel Tracks

PP: Plumpudding Hill, Q: Queen’s Blockhouse, K: King’s Blockhouse, 1-3 indicating single tracks

Start:

From Rhodes Memorial parking area take the single track path for 100m up to the first jeep track contour. There are several variations here that all lead to the same point. Turn right and follow the jeep track for a few hundred meters into a shaded area. The track turns downhill at a gentle gradient. At the first fork stay left as the track turns sharply left and uphill. Immediately stay left and head up Plumpudding Hill. 100% runnable if you are strong and trying to prove your manliness! 2/3 of the way up the jeep track turns sharp left. A lone tree is visible above.

Plumpudding Hill

Lone Pine Tree on Plumpudding Hill

The first of our three single tracks start in this corner on the right. The vague track dips into the gully and climbs up the other side to cross a rusted barbed wire fence to eventually join a jeep track. Enjoy the cruise along this. You will meet a T-junction in a s-curve of the main jeep track. The Woodstock shooting range is below you in the gum trees. Turn left and up the slight hill which levels out after a couple of hundred meters. Just before the dry stream crossing there is a jeep track going uphill to the King’s Blockhouse. (If you continue straight here you miss out the second single track but rejoin the route a few hundred meters ahead.)

Up this hill, once again 100% run-able. After a little distance the track levels out (maybe you get to pass some mountain bikers on this section). The branch to the right is our choice. This ultimately leads to Tafelberg Road and can be used as a short cut, but not today. Our second single track awaits on the right, where the ground turns grey. Easy running through fynbos at its best leads us into a cork tree forest. We slowly lose a bit of height to reach the ruin of the Queen’s Blockhouse.

Queen

The Queen’s Blockhouse ruin

From here it is a short but very steep descent to a jeep track. Turn left. [Turning right would take you back to the top of the hill above the shooting range.] Through a dip and out the other side. At the top of the hill turn sharp left onto a zig zagging jeep track which snakes up the ridge in large arcs. At a point where the track levels out in direction City Centre there is our third single track which starts with a few steps and is marked by a cairn. Up this to the signal cannons just below Tafelberg Road. Cross the tar road onto a single track leading uphill. 50m on there is a left fork. Take this and it will level out pretty quickly. This is the lower Contour Path. All the way along here to just behind the King’s Blockhouse.

When standing at the cannons below the Blockhouse it is easiest to take the gently descending jeep track to the left. This snakes downhill. Once you have completed a complete S-curve you will see a wooden bridge and mountain bike track heading down the crest of the ridge. Down this. Enjoy the baarp! You will be spat out on top of Plumpudding hill to your left (facing out). You can either head down this and back to the start or find the super steep single track directly down from the beacon to the jeep track that you started from earlier on. As you can see from the map there are many options for shortcuts and more (or less)direct lines to be explored.

The coffee and cake at the restaurant is much deserved, the view is not bad either!

 

A Confession about Honesty

I had two conversations about training with people over the last few days. One was with a friend training for her first 10km, the other with someone tapering for Comrades.
The common thread: “Am I doing enough/the right thing?”
They were both comparing themselves to others, we all do.
So let me break it down:
I am currently training for the Transrockies Trail Run. In the next few weeks I hope to run my first 100 km week in many years.
Thats is the glory bit. “worth” posting on the socials.
Now for the reality:
Last weekend I overdid it by racing the VWS hard (well too hard for where I was at). Add on top of that a harder than expected run on Saturday and hill repeats on Friday morning… (what the hell was I thinking?)
So on Tuesday the hubcaps finally came off and I was reduced to an utter crawl. See those stats here:
Tuesday trail
It was a wake up call and got me back to reality. Luckily I had the insight of my running partner to point out the obvious. Who knows how long I would have stumbled along in the dark without him pointing the elephant in the room?
What I should have done is schedule an easier run in between the harder sessions. Like I had been doing for weeks.
So here is a sample of a easy run. Max HR 135. Average HR 121. I challenge you to go slow and reap the rewards!
slow run
“And now for the something completely different”
Nobody posts about those type of outings. We don’t see top runners spout on Instagram about their slow jogs or recovery runs or even rest days. It just is not considered sexy to talk about the outings without #blessed sunsets or #HTFU tough as nails or #isurvivedthat now you should give it a go…
“The truth is out there”
The reality is that all top runners have built themselves up over years. Years of laying a foundation of consistent work. What this really means is building a base of slow (non sexy) miles. Think of this as the concrete foundation under the ground for your running skyscraper. This only comes “slowly by slowly“. This might take months or years. We are all different and that should be celebrated and not resisted.
If you don’t have a good foundation then your house will fall over. Joe Friel is one of the best coaches in triathlon in the world. Read his thoughts on base training ala Mark Allen here.
What is easy (or slow)?
A bit of research shows that the Kenyans run their easy days about 40% slower than race pace. If they are racing a marathon in under 3min/km then they will do easy runs at 5min/km.
So what does this mean for us mere mortals who are already slow?
If I am aiming to run a 3h marathon (4:16 min/km) then my slow runs should be close to 6 in pace.
Do the maths for yourself!
Nowadays the best way to work out what your training should be is a Heart Rate monitor. You don’t need anything fancy at all. Just something that tells you current HR. The most basic model.
And if your slow means that you have to walk, then you walk!
Nothing really changes.
So if you are still not convinced then listen to Dr Phil Maffetone and Mark Allen.
So what is my point here? Ultimately you will know what is right for you. Mark Allen (and the top Kenyans) have worked that out and that is why they were/are so successful. Underneath all the ego you know too!
You just need to listen.
So here is the challenge: Let’s support each other to be in our truth. to run our pace, to go on our path and be OK with that.
I commend Meg on her article here. We need more people like you leading the way.
The beauty of running is that there will always be somebody faster than you, but there will also be somebody slower!

Swimming – A case for Life Coaching

swimSix years ago I could not swim. Well actually I thought I could swim. To my best knowledge I could do it.
‘I certainly was not as good as those pros but I can swim’ I kept telling myself. 
I had learnt from my dad who had learnt in the Namibian desert. Go figure.
He called it farm dam swimming: breast stroke with your head well above the water line. ‘What is the problem?’ I thought.
I was in my mid 30’s when I started dating a swimmer and was exposed to a whole bunch of ‘pro’ swimmers. Guys and girls who were successful and did tumble turns and all that.
Suddenly what I had been trying to wish into reality (that I could in fact swim) was shown up for the illusion that it was.
The problem with people who are good at something however is that they often don’t know how to pass that knowledge on.
So I sought the help of a coach. Somebody who had studied how to teach. The Total Immersion drills felt awkward at first and it took  me ages to master them. I studied notes, got videos, watched on line…
In fact after the initial weekend intro course I religiously practised at the Sea Point Pavilion.
I did not have access to any other pool as I was not a gym bunny so logistics were an issue.
One afternoon at the start of winter Ryan Stramrood and some of his ‘pro’ buddies arrived in the lane next to mine. I was super excited to share the pool with real heroes who had swum The English Channel and stuff. My excitement did not last very long after I got out of the water as I got quite hypothermic on the drive home due to the cold.
I migrated to warmer waters at the Long Street Baths before I finally got a Virgin Active membership. At this stage I was still just doing drills. Not real swimming. I can’t remember when I actually managed to swim a whole length of the pool non stop. I was ecstatic and I was determined.
I knew this was the way. The only way for me to get it right. I would come home and proudly state that I had done 20 lengths, then 30, then 40. The point is I made progress. I was working on technique quite hard and just generally relaxing in the liquid environment. I was working on the skills that allowed me to progress. The same way building a foundation looks pretty boring and unimpressive until at some point the concrete sets and the walls shoot up above the ground. So too there was a time when that was not enough. I would have to work on fitness. Finally I joined squad. I was put in the slow lane, next to the wall. This was quite welcome as I could grab it in panic.
The point is I slowly improved and Viv gave me great pointers. My swimming volume increased dramatically and a new norm was laid.
I started doing the Clifton Mile and got comfortable in the sea. with a wet suit of course. The point is I was trying to become a triathlete so there was no need to endure the cold.
I sought out Neil Macpherson’s endless pool of hell. The drills he gave me lifted my stroke like nothing else. If you want to ever bring yourself down to reality then I can highly recommend a splash with Neil. The drills WILL lift your game if your ego can take the beating that is.
Learning is all about accepting where you are at and having the determination to improve from there, no matter how small the improvement. As long as you are going in the right direction, you are going in the right direction. Those improvements stick.
One of the first triathlons I did was in Durbanville at the start of winter. The ‘warm up’ was a disaster as it had the opposite effect. The water was far too cold. Finally we swam our one lap and I got out the water and promptly fell over as I was not accustomed to the change in body position. Ear plugs sorted that out. They were a crutch that I used willingly but deep down inside I knew that I would have to learn to cope without them at some point. many years later I left them behind too.
We were well on our way to training for the BIG DANCE when we did a training weekend in Fisherhaven. The swim across the lagoon was supposed to be 2 – 3km in total. It turned out to be that distance to half way! The worst was I swam by myself. It was not fun to be left way behind by my wife and paddler at the time but the lesson was a good one. If I could survive that then I would survive the swim at Ironman.
Each new level of competence brings a plateau. We have the choice to enjoy it and wallow or challenge ourselves to a new level, whatever form that may take. As we gain more competence we have the option to learn new things and constantly be challenged. Or we stagnate.
I am not singling out any one intervention as a game changer. It was putting the right thing in at the right time. The  fact that my stimulus was just the right intensity every step of the way led me to cope with each challenge rather than hit overwhelm.
I could not have gotten to where I am now if it had not been for a coach (or every single coach I have had actually) to guide and steer me in the right direction. Constantly giving insight and reflection. I took everything on board and took what I could use and discarded what I could not.
[I still remember being asked to practice tumble turns on the lawn. At the time a stimulus too far (by no fault of my coach at the time!!) I just hate water up my nose and as such I don’t tumble turn.]
What if we embraced the same growth mindset in life issues? How much better could we perform? Who do you have to reflect you accurately, to point out areas of improvement, to push, to prod?
Post script:
I am now swimming in lane 2 with Gary. He still gives me pointers in more sessions than not. I know where I am at and I continue to seek. I know I am on a plateau with swimming. I am OK with that only because I am doing huge growth in other areas of my life. I will get back to actively looking at my stroke in the future. There is no rush.
Now when we get a warm up of 40 lengths it is not something completely out of the ordinary.

Hout Bay to Llandudno Traverse. Table Mountain Top Ten Trails #6: the adventure is out there. 

It is not often that I start a trail run at the civilized hour of 8h00 on a Saturday. But we were waiting for the tide to be out.

I was lucky enough to be invited on this route by Mark Preen. This ranks as one of the best adventure trails in Cape Town.

‘But that was easy’

Could quite easily be the response of one of the other runners in our group. Not so fast! The first time I did this trail which is a mere 10km it took us the whole day! Yes as in a 8h whole day! Ask around and you will hear stories of epics, getting lost, scary scrambles, groups being benighted, rescues, and people being washed out to sea – never to be seen again.

I am not kidding. This is serious!

However on Saturday we were lucky with very calm seas and Spring low tide! Richard planned well and we even had an hour to go before the lowest tide – just in case.

Route direction

I have done this route in both directions and I prefer the anti clockwise. Either option is doable. I just prefer it.  Here I will describe the clockwise direction though as this is the way we did it last.

A good start spot is Mariner’s Wharf. Run through the harbour towards the Sentinel. This is along tarmac. You will pass underneath the Hangberg suburb. You will quickly emerge onto some level single track under the cliffs of the Sentinel and towards Seal Island. This section is very reminiscent of the first bit of the Otter trail.

IMG_4471

looking back towards The Sentinel with Chapman’s Peak Drive in the distance

Once you turn the corner things get a bit more serious in that you need to think about route choice. Staying low and close to sea level is best until forced up. It initially seems like you need to traverse over a steep gully with a path visible on the steep far slope. Don’t try this but rather drop into the gully and back down to sea level.

 

IMG_4450

dropping into the initial gully

A few sections of scrambles over damp, slippery rocks follow. Going is slow as one needs to take care.

IMG_4452

looking back at some of the scramble sections close to the water’s edge

This is a great great friction testing lab for shoes as adhesion to a variety of surfaces is tested to the max. Some you walk, others you need a bit more upward momentum…

IMG_4456

There are often several options available and you don’t always need to scramble.

However at some point you will be faced with this sight. Spot the tatty rope. It ascends the black crack onto the platform above the water. The first step is the hardest. I would encourage you to take a rope – in case.

IMG_4461

IMG_4462

Mark Preen making it look easy, Richard Sutton in the background

There is a little section of easier going after which you will face another gully.  Once again don’t be tempted to traverse above but rather drop down past the little granite blob onto the floor of the gully and out the other (less steep) side.

IMG_4466

granite blob can be seen between the two girls in blue

Eventually you will do a slow rising traverse on a fair path. This pops you onto the slabs above the Bos 400 which went down in 1994. This is the same bay where the SS Maori is also located. From here it is a fairly straightforward navigational exercise across the burnt sandy slope to the blockhouse at the end of Rocket Road. Find your way to the dunes above Sandy Bay. From here you are pretty much on tarmac back to the start and some welcome fish and chips at Fish on the Rocks.

I can not stress this enough. This is a serious route which requires respect. You will need to go in a group with enough scrambling experience and somebody who knows the route. Also carry a couple of mobile phones in waterproof pouches.

You will struggle to complete this in under two hours. But a fairly competent group should be done in under four. Come prepared for a truly special adventure.