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.

Four Day crash course in Fastpacking:

IMG_2526 (1)What I learnt from four days of lightweight backpacking or fastpacking:

  • I have over 20 years experience in carrying very heavy loads (mainly climbing gear) up very remote peaks. This is quite a different skill set to Ultra Light travel to which I am far less experienced.
  • The Osprey Talon 22 is perfectly adequate to carry all your kit for and adventure of this nature. It is a great pack if you plan to mainly walk. For more of a running approach a specific running pack will work better (Osprey Rev Series, Montane Dragon 20, Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20L etc)
  • Navigation: My partner had printed out a map and drawn a GPS route from google earth on his Garmin Fenix. I used 1: 50 000 standard maps and carried a compass. They were heavier but the combination worked well in that we could confirm the identity far away peaks. I also carried a GPS with pre loaded waypoints. Pre loading GPS points of important junctions was hugely beneficial in making sure we stayed on track. The combination worked well. I never used the compass so with hindsight I could have left it behind.
  • Gear I carried and did not use: I would still carry it and not leave anything out.

Frist Aid Kit, fleece gloves, spare matches, Waterproof jacket, Windproof Shell (I am undecided on whether I would take this for this particular trip. Normally this is one of my essentials but with day time temps being up to 30°C most days I am not sure which probably means that I could have left it behind.)

  • Gear I carried and did not need:

Compass (see above),

Opinel knife. I could have substituted for a simple scalpel blade instead.

Extra stove and fuel. It only weights about 270g combined but every bit helps. We used a methalated spirits home made stove and carried about 250ml of fuel in a juice bottle. See the instructions of how to make it here. Before all you MSR and Jetboil lovers knock this try it!

  • Items that turned out to be essential: needle and thread. My partner’s bag tore as we were about to start. Without this repair possibility he would have had a very uncomfortable trip.
  • Items that I wish I had changed:

We carried 3L of water per day per person. This was perfect for the conditions. I had a 2,5L bladder and my partner had a selection of 500ml bottles. He could quite easily pace his drinking with this system whereas I was playing a bit of guess work. Essential to his system was having easy and on the go access to all bottles. Big mesh pockets on his bag made this work. I had a 500ml water bottle which I intended to use with 32Gi Recover shake or Nutriboost meal replacement first thing and last thing in the day. These two drinks worked really well at the end of the day to fill me up before we got to dinner. But having only one bottle meant that I was limited to having this last thing in the day when I knew we would not run out of water. I would probably choose a bottle system in future. It does not put all your vital water into one potentially vulnerable container and is easier to measure your consumption on the go. You would need a bag that can carry two bottles up front and two bottles, easily accessible on each side.

IMG_2517I bought a 9°C (Comfort Rating) Mountain Equipment Helium Solo Sleeping bag. Temperatures were not lower that 12-14°C any one night. I wore running tights, First Ascent DermaTec base layer as a top and Rab Polartec Alpha over that and a Reversible Polar Buff as headwear.

I should have tested this combination at a known temperature to know how cold I would be. Instead I made the classic mistake of trusting “tested numbers” not taking into account personal variance.

  • Specificity is key in training. My best training session was a 6h 24km walk with a heavy pack. I knew I was undertrained going into this venture but I only managed to do what I could without getting too fatigued. I will emphasise this more in future.
  • My emphasis needs to mainly be on capabilities rather than my gear. I need to work on being more comfortable enduring the cold (necessitating less gear). I was never uncomfortable as such but you can always be better. I need to put more emphasis on fitness. I need to improve my navigation and my competency with using a GPS. I believe my skills are above average but you can never be too good in this department. When you really need to navigate under pressure then experience counts!
  • Nutrition for every day: breakfast: cooked porridge of two handfuls of rolled oats with some cinnamon and seeds mixed in.

snacks: 2 bars (selection of Ziberto Energy Bars, 32Gi, Trek Bar) Trek Bar offers best kj value for weight.

1 stick droe wors (about 80g)

100g mixed nuts

80g dried fruit mix

1 scoop Nutriboost

1 serving 32Gi Recover

Lunch: left over serving of dinner

Dinner: 50g dehydrated food. Required about 1h of soaking and then bringing to boil.

Ate all my snacks on day 1 but after that I felt I was less and less hungry. Is this fat burning setting in? My body becoming more efficient? I could have certainly have done without one serving of either Nutriboost or Recover and possibly left another of the above behind also.

  • The Big Three need the most attention for weight savings: Shelter, Sleeping Bag/Matt, Pack.

We had the z-packs duplex which was brilliant. The reason we decided on a closed tent rather than tarp only is that all the literature warns of creepy crawlies in the form of scorpions and spiders. Not being a friend of either this was a good compromise to make sure we limited exposure. We both used Thermarest Neoair mattresses which were awesome in that they are compact.

  • I carried a Petzl Myo which ended up being overkill BUT if we had to have travelled at night then this would have been a deal breaker. Glad I brought it.
  • My partner in crime was way more experienced than me. I have learnt a great deal and hope to explore more. The choice of partner is key in ventures like this. We worked well and for this I am very pleased and thankful.

PUFfer Preparation 301

I have had an interesting email conversation with a fellow trail runner on gear and how to best use it stretching over the last few weeks. This conversation and my presentation at SSISA prompted me to put expand on ideas here. My comments are aimed specifically at PUFfer runners but are universally applicable. Let me know your thoughts.

Basic Action Suit:

The extreme alpinist Mark Twight coined the term Action Suit for alpinism. It is equally applicable here with some adaptations. I encourage you to observe other sports closely and see what you can learn. (on Giro a few weeks ago the boys all got to the top of a snowy Col only to be handed a newspaper and surgical gloves….)

DSC00371I prefer to be on the cold side of things. Heat is your enemy. (the more you sweat into your clothing, the more you will get cold when you stop) This is something that you can train. A few years ago I went to climb Mt Rainier with a colleague. We walked up the lower snow slopes to get to the camp. I wore a base layer and a wind breaker and a Buff® on my head. I was super vigilant to keep cool. My colleague however wore a base layer and an insulated waterproof breathable jacket. He was sweating buckets and when we stopped to eat some snacks he was instantly cold. I just layered over the top of my kit and was comfortable.

PUFfer runners on the bus www.jacquesmarais.co.za

PUFfer runners on the bus http://www.jacquesmarais.co.za

When you get off the bus in Cape Point you want to be cold and even shivering. Anything more and you will overheat within a few minutes of running exertion.

For  legwear it is either shorts or tights – really your call. Tights can help with chafing and will dry quicker as they are closer to your skin. Shorts tend to have more pockets to put stuff and rubbish.

Stevie doing in race kit

Stevie doing in race kit

On my body I wear a light polyester t shirt. A short zip really helps to regulate heat.

I do most of my temperature regulation by wearing a Buff® at the start in a beanie. I will remove this and replace with a cap. A running cap is awesome in that it keeps the sun (and rain) out of your face. I need all the head coverage and it works well to scoop water from a stream later to cool you down. M like’s her running visors but then she has loads of hair.

 

 

Comfort layers: Warmth, Water, Wind

Warmth:

Staying warm is relies on many things. One of them is insulation from the elements. That is actually quite simple. You need to trap air next to your body. This trapped air acts as insulation and is heated by your body. The more effectively that air is trapped the better that garment will work.

This comes down to two factors: Fit and fabric.

You want a snug fit so that you can effectively trap air next to your skin.

The fabric of the garment also plays a huge role here. You have three choices. I am not going to go into each in detail. You can read all the marketing gumf on each manufacturers web site. The basics are:

Polyester great at moving moisture.

Polypro (great cold weather base layer),

Wool (great natural fibre) Merino Wool has the ability to hold a bit more moisture so that it does not feel damp so it feels drier. It also does not feel like a plastic bag next to your skin and does not stink! We distribute Icebreaker in South Africa so I am a fan.

Some races have a fleece layer as part of the required kit list. Personally I prefer carrying two base layers. The outer with a short zip to regulate warmth. These are more effective at trapping heat and as a result will keep me warmer. The First Ascent Derma Tec is super warm. In fact I can only wear it when I am stationary (evenings when camping) I have never exercised in it but I am pretty confident that it will stand up to anything you throw at it in SA.

We have seen a few triathletes migrate up to the trail scene and with them compression gear in the form of spandex and lycra. These items work fantastically well but are no good in offering warmth. Spandex just does not have the same insulation properties as polyester, polypro or wool. You have been warned!

Waterproof breathable:

Last week I was in a new running shop and I was told that customers want cheaper waterproofs. I was shown a jacket with no hood, not seam sealed and about a quarter of the price of anything else. You get what you pay for!

Personally my waterproof BREATHABLE jacket forms part of my emergency kit. I have never run in one. But when the chips are down and you are moving slow or not moving at all you want one and you want it now!

OK so what constitutes a waterproof BREATHABLE?

A decent jacket should be waterproof (obviously) but also allow moisture to pass through the membrane from the inside out. A plastic bag is fantastically waterproof but does not breathe! You can look at the claimed numbers by manufacturers all over the net. If a jacket breathes well enough it should not need pit vents.

One thing you want to be carefull of is when you put the jacket on you are pretty committed. If you later overheat (or produce too much moisture on the inside of your jacket) and you take it off then you will cool down massively. So when you are putting your waterproof breathable on you are making a big commitment.

Wind:

One of my best garments is my windproof. Each company makes one and they all work on the same principle.

I prefer something super light made from Pertex or similar. The fit is not as crucial as on a bike where you want a super snug fit.

Remember to treat it with Nikwax or similar in order to keep its DWR. In fact this layer will keep you comfortable in most conditions. This is due to the high breathability and the windproof fabric.

Emergency Gear:

I keep my emergency kit separate to my running gear. It contains:

Waterproof breathable jacket and base layer as a minimum;

Myprodol (I am in no way advocating using pain killers during a race. But when you have an accident you have two choices: either wait for a rescue, which will take hours or you can get yourself out of the worst of it),

latex gloves (I don’t plan to operate on anybody but to protect my fingers from the cold wind),

blister plasters,

space blanket (anybody who has finished Ironman and si wrapped in a space blanket will know how well it works),

whistle (Is more audible and distinctive than a shout and takes less effort to make a sound)

Nutrition and Hydration:

I like to keep Nutrition and Hydration as separate as possible.

What happens when you are low on nutrition but feeling bloated from drinking too much?

What happens when you want liquid but not nutrition?

Separating the two gives you more options.

Currently I am using 32Gi products as they suit my objectives and general nutrition right now. See my previous post here. Variety works for me. I don’t use gels early on as it blocks my stomach later. I would like to experiment with a concentrated mix of 32Gi going forward to see how that works. I regularly read what Allen Lim has to say. I find that eating solids definitely helps in keeping my stomach happy. It does clog up my throat a bit for hard running efforts though.

I put pure water into my hydration bladder or bottles.

I have both planned out before hand and my second knows exactly what to give me when. I have two bum bags that I swap at every check point and they have right hydration and nutrition pre packed.

In order to carry the above hydration and nutrition you have a couple of options:

Me wearing a bum bag only while other runners have their torso covered with back packs

Me wearing a bum bag only while other runners have their torso covered with back packs

Racing vests are very popular at the moment. They carry a lot of kit and are least restrictive on your running style but I do feel that they are pretty hot and prevent shedding heat.

If I can then I use a bum bag. This does put more weight on your hips and thus influences your centre of gravity more noticeably. But the advantage of staying cooler is huge. It is also super easy to refill bottles compared to a hydration bladder. Downside you can’t carry as much kit.

Please understand I am not claiming any of this to be the right or only way. It is working for me, right now. Let me know your thoughts.

Now go and enjoy the race!

Puffer Prep 201:

IMG_5154

sunrise over Cape Point

Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance.

I can’t claim this as my own saying but it is a British Army adage. So what does this mean for race preparation?

1) Do not try something on race day or race week that you have not tested before!

2) You want to know how each piece of individual gear works but also how they work in conjunction to each other. (I once owned a CAPESTORM Helium jacket of a few generations ago. They had the stow pocket in the centre of the back. Nice idea but would cause instant chafe if you were wearing a backpack.)

3) Gear choices that are easy to manage. We have all run along and had a pebble in a shoe. We ignore it and the pebble grows and grows into a boulder until our feet are trashed. When eventually emptying our shoe we see the boulder is a mere grain of sand. You want to deal with minor issues that come up early before they build into major debilitating problems later.

4) Weather conditions change during the day and while you should plan for these you also need alternatives and stand by plans. Practice these beforehand so that it becomes natural.

What is PUFfer?

It is the most iconic point to point trail race in SA.

Think of  it as Old Mutual Two Ocean’s Ultra Marathon 56km plus a run over Table Mountain.

Or OMTO toughest climbs (Chapman’s Peak and Constantia Nek) followed by the PUFfer route from Ou Wapad onwards!

PUFfer has many checkpoints, seconding and spectator points. This means there are many points of access that you have to your seconds.

The route is not technical. There is lots of running until Constantia Nek then big climb and descent of TM. Prepare for the descent down Platteklip. In my experience it hurts more when running Three Peaks!

How do I prepare?

Know the route:

IMG_5169A)    You will know that you will run at least the first 13km in total darkness. And that the hill up to the reserve gate feels super steep.

You will know that you will get wet feet past Redhill and just below the Ou Wapad short cut. I would plan to change from road shoes into trail shoes at the start of the Ou Wapad.

You will know that it can be very warm on level five and two years ago we had hail on Vlakkenberg. Plan your clothing layers to work in both these extremes.

You will know that you will walk a lot from Constantia Nek to Maclear’s Beacon.

B) Know legal shortcuts. Check here for my blog post on this.

This will give you some idea of timing for each leg. In other words I know that I will take just under one hour to run from the start to the Cape Point Nature Reserve Gate where I will see my seconds for the first time. Besides my running kit I would plan to drink from a 500 ml water bottle on the bus trip down there. I will throw the bottle into a bin at the start and then run without anything for the first hour. I might mix some concentrated 32Gi Endure powder into a squeeze bottle to have with water at the 7km water table.

I would plan every leg of the race like this and my seconds would know exactly what I need where.

Know yourself and your gear: What are you comfortable with? Do you want to stay comfortable the whole way (Carry a lot of stuff) or do you want to run the best time you possibly can (suffer a bit more)? This is a pretty personal choice and nobody can make it for you. It is important to actively make this decision though as it will affect every other decision around your race. Read Andrew Skurka for more background.

at UTMB in 2010 I had detailed time estimates for my seconds

at UTMB in 2010 I had detailed time estimates for my seconds

Use your supporters: give them clear instructions with what gear you need for each section. What time they can expect you and where.

Two years ago I was supporting Adrian at his first PUFfer. I was waiting at Constantia Nek when I chatted to the second of one of the leading women. He asked me for a energy bar as he thought that his runner might like one. This is a

clearly labeled nutrition bags for each seconding point, make it easy for your seconds

clearly labeled nutrition bags for each seconding point, make it easy for your seconds

sponsored runner! I was amazed but gladly gave him what he needed.

I want to be in and out of transitions as quickly as possible. I don’t want to be stationary.

Come back in the next few days for my post on gear.

Caveman skills clinic

Conrad-Stoltz-Caveman-Skills-Clinic-Jonkershoek-Stellenbosch-March-1415-I spotted a tweet, almost by chance, for a skills clinic being offered by none other than Conrad himself. My mountain bike signed us up as he feels he is as good as Conrad’s bike ( both are red, black and white – mostly). Who was I to object?

We checked tyre pressure and set up before heading out. It became immediately apparent the passion that Conrad has for riding. Liezel was a superb wing woman who bandaged bloody knees, fetched pumps, arranged drinks and snacks and took the odd action pic. All I between shouting encouragement to us (not the Caveman)

After practicing on some level ground we attempted a short single track section, hand built Caveman style. A few laps later we all felt pretty good about our selves. Only to see the master descend and realise that we had at least 10 000 more hours to go!

We headed to some more single track and I tried to implement the lessons. “Attack Position” is all I thought while my body still followed old bad habits.

Yesterday, a week later I headed to Tokai to practice or as Conrad calls it “play”. I am reading Brian Lopez’s book and feel like I have only touched the surface.

I look forward to practicing more and seeing improvements. I am so psyched to improve my riding and my time at Grabouw next year. However I feel I have the tools to improve. Now it is just down to LOADS of hard work getting these skills dialled into the body.

I truly hope that Team Stoltz continue and expand on these courses and clinics going forward. I think they should be mandatory for any mountain biker. 

I wish Conrad and Liezel all the best in polishing this product as I think there is a real future for their offering and in so part with the knowledge to help improve so many of us. We as a mountain bike community need the older guys (sorry more experienced) to share their knowledge. This will build the new generation!

bike skills

So this morning we had a quick ride out on “The Red Road”. Just an hour in the dark and wind but it was awesome to spin the legs.

We certainly did not need huge skill to stay on our steeds but just strong legs to push into the wind.
Here are two links of superb bike skills to inspire for the rest of the week:
Redbull Rampage 2013

and for the roadies.

Enjoy the week, enjoy riding!