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.

Enduroman – the numbers

ESA map

route map

Some of you might be more interested in the numbers around my race on Saturday. I am rather pleased to be placed 11th in my age group and 26th male. full results here

ESA overviewThe swim was 2,5 km which I completed in 52 min. (4 minutes in T1: wetsuit off and to get my head into the game)

ESA altitude

altitude profile. note the big climb and then the three ascents of the run course with the three sandy climbs towards the end of each run lap

The 74 km bike took 4h26 with me keeping the effort pretty constant except for a bit of a surge after WP1 to try and catch a wheel. This was a waste as they rode away from me and I burnt a match. I lost a few places here but made them up in the last third of the route. The longest hill took well over 20 minutes of mostly granny gear! There are some fast sections towards the end where you can make up time. I fueled well on the bike, I consumed 4 X 750ml bottles with 1 scoop each of 32Gi powder in them. I had a total of 3 sticks of Landjaeger (go and ask a German Butcher), 2 hot cross buns, 1 banana, 1 32Gi bar, 1 packet of 32 Gi chews.

I hit T2 with nobody else in sight. I had no idea where anybody else was placed except that they were announcing Stuart who had finished already. My aim was to run each 7 km lap in 45 minutes. I was conservative on the first. the second finished in 82 minutes and I knew that it was race on. I tried to break 2h05 for the run but just did not have enough gears to push hard. I passed a lot of other runners but had no idea if they were in my age group or on which lap they were. I am glad that I biked relatively conservatively so that I had enough in the tank to run well.

Enduroman race report

I was fascinated by road kill. There it was, I had seen the blue gel packet in the same spot twice before and a little further on I would find the orange jelly baby just to my left on a flat rock. Discarded but now a friendly supporter on each of my three laps of the run course. And then he was not there….

I ran on wondering if somebody was desperate enough to pick him up and eat him. I had thought about that often (today and at previous races) in the closing stages of a triathlon. Where the hell was my little friend?

I climbed two of the three sandy hills and almost forgot about him when suddenly next to my left foot he cheered me on. Glowing bright orange in the sun.

I was a few hundred meters from the finish line of Enduroman SA and my race had gone to plan. In fact better than expected.

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seconds before the start

Just over seven hours ago I had to work hard against the cold, black, swallowing too much water. Not enjoying it much. The water temperature was 15*C but it felt colder. The darkness pulled at me while I tried to maintain form and I had to try really hard not just to call it a day. Then the rainbow appeared. Rain left little dimples rainbowon the surface and all became better. I waved at M and friends as we started lap two and then I found my rhythm.

Why are they all still in transition? It seemed like half the field was just standing there taking their time. Getting dressed. So different form the usual rushing madness. And off we rode up the first hill. A few passed me and I knew it would not last long. Over eager on the technical section. Then one of them fell. Frustration has to be held back so early on.

Spectator point one and I was ahead of schedule. Glad to see M and friendly cheers. I burnt a match trying to catch a draft. All in vein as they disappeared into the distance a little while later. A lesson in caution and patience. I ate meat and real food and fueled the machine. Spinning, spinning all the time. The monster hill and I let them go. Down the mudslide and front wheel was tracking well.

Easy down the cobbles and then I started to gain some places.

Pit stops went like clockwork thanks to fantastic support.

Get the speed up on the final approach.

Then Transition two and I heard them announce the winner. I knew I would walk the monster hill. But anything other than that was to be run. I stuck to the plan. Attack the downhill and then push on the sandy bits.

And so it was over. Just like that. Like a dream.

Thanks to organisers: Glyn, Geddan and crew; sponsors: Orca, 32Gi and Oakpics for making this possible. I certainly hope that this will become an annual fixture on the calendar.

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!

Three things I liked about the Argus Cycle Tour Expo:

Every year in March there is a mad frenzy to get everything ready for the Argus Expo. The biggest retail expo in SA and certainly bigger than anything else in the sporting goods market.

Every year I see the same faces. Eddy Cassar and his crew run good operation. This year I was struck by how little innovation there was. However three ideas stood out for me:

I almost missed the Polar V800 multi sport watch. Peter and his crew only had a pre production model which they were guarding with beady eyes. They never let it get too far out of reach just in case I made a runner….. If the V800 lives up to expectations then this will certainly give Garmin and Suunto some real competition. I would say it is a couple of years too late and Polar now has some catching up to do but judging by previous products from them you can expect a solid unit with some real good tech behind it. Check out the DC Rainmaker feature on the unit here. I can’t wait to test one of these!

I like to support South African companies and here are two that impressed me:

I was chatting to Mark from 32Gi. He is always interesting when you can follow all the tech and science he throws at you. He has an interesting recovery drink with pea protein. I have not tested it but sounds interesting. Watch this space as they are developing some cool new products with their new IM athletes! Bring it on I say! This should complete their product offering. And that is all I can say right now.

rebulThen I wondered around and saw the bike box in the picture made by Rebul. It is made entirely of cardboard by a company who seems to have very little to do with bicycles. This idea is so cool that it deserves mention here. Super strong, recycleable, easy to pack flat when not in use. Boxes are custom made to your specs. I love it and certainly will support them going forward when I need to transport my bike to the next event. Oh and they only cost R800!

Race Nutrition: an experiment of one

not exactly the race food I would chose!

not exactly the race food I would chose!

I could already see the finish. It was just a km or so of downhill, a shortish road section (also downhill) and then a run across the beach of Hout Bay to the finish line. Yes you guessed it I was getting to the end of the Hout Bay Trail Challenge. What I did not realise at the time is that I was in third position. Then it hit me, or more like I hit the brick wall.

Luckily Stevie had advised me to pack a Energade drink as a backup. I grabbed it and a crack appeared enough for me to climb through and finish strong.

That was my introduction to fueling in 2006. It has been a continuous journey since then to find the best solution.

A few years later I was running the same race and I caught Jayde on the tar down to Constantia Nek. He was cramping. Out came another Stevie miracle. I had packed a little sachet of salt (the ones that you can apparently get when you go to a fast food restaurant). I handed him one of these. He put it on his tongue and swigged some water down. Be warned that the salt tastes pretty hardcore when all you have been pushing down your throat is sweetness. But I have found the effect to be pretty instantaneous.

At some point I found Gu and I have migrated through the entire range of flavours. My favorites are Peanut Butter, Chocolate Outrage and when I can steal one away from M: Espresso Love. I also love the Roctane super charged Gu which is the bomb when you are doing short intense efforts and you simply absolutely have to leave no stone unturned and need power now! Hands down Gu is my go to when I am running short efforts. Mark and Rebecca have been fantastic in their support and encouragement and their dedication shows.

The problem I have found is that for longer efforts I find it really hard to consume sweet things all day. I need variety otherwise I just shut down and then nothing will go down.

At some point during my Addo 100 miler run I felt nauseous. It was dark and I was alone on a long uphill stretch to the turnaround. I opened a hammer gel and forced it down knowing that if I did not I would pay later. I was on a strategy of a three hour cycle where I would take Perpetuem for one hour, a gel for one and then a bar for the third. My strategy was to keep things interesting so that I would want to fuel till the end. This worked pretty well. Later in the night I had a cup of tea and this was awesome. Tea always is! It was warm and the taste was different.

Then came along Mark Wolff and his low GI product. The first time I tried it I thought it was just a hoax. To be honest it left me depleted. It took me a long time to try it again. In the interim I worked on burning fat stores more efficiently. I changed my diet (Yes I tried the Low Carb High Fat thing and I lasted 4 days). I started to do longer efforts with water only and my body responded pretty quickly. The best I have managed is run 30 km with about two mouthfuls of water on a very hot day. I felt awesome at the end. The effort was ok and not super slow either, so very pleasing.

I started to introduce 32Gi endurance drink powder again and it worked much better for me. Currently I am using mainly 32Gi mixed very week in water bottles to stabilise blood sugar levels. For an easy ride I will mix one scoop of 32Gi in one bottle and the other bottle I have water. This helps to stabilise sugar lows. On top of that I eat Jungle bars for harder efforts or races. They are affordable (under R 10 a bar), taste good and at least look like they have some natural stuff in them.

So what am I getting at?

I have tried and raced successfully on all of the above. I do not regret using any of these products. In fact when the need arises I will go back to Gu and Hammer. Just like you increase your fitness over years and sharper your strengths towards specific challenges so your gut and nutritional system changes and evolves to meet current needs and training challenges.

I arrived at the first proper aid station into the biggest race in my life (UTMB 2010) at about 30 km. My strategy was to take all my own fuel and be completely independent of the seconding tables. I could hear the announcer and cow bells 15 minutes before arriving at the station. The crowds were huger than huge and I worried that I would not find my sister who was seconding me. I ran past tables of cheese, salami, soup and breads of every description. Then there were the many tables of sweets. I ignored all of these. I learnt a huge amount that day and you can read about it here. If I was to go back to an event like this then I would use provided nutrition much more. In fact I would train to consume breads and cheeses etc.

I like to train and race by feel. I try to have some idea of when I should consume calories but I assess how my gut and body feels at regular intervals and work out what I need from there. Yes this might not be as scientific but it works for me.

What works for me right now:

I like to separate nutrition from hydration. (When I drink something I drink to quench thirst not to consume calories. When I need fuel I eat something) This way if your body is feeling low on energy but your gut is bloated you are more likely to be able to consume something solid rather than force more liquid down your throat.

Portability is a bit issue. When running for long periods you want to carry something light and easy to digest as fuel. Gels seem to be the obvious choice however I will start to explore concentrated forms of 32Gi and see how that goes. (BTW I can’t use tabs of 32Gi as they seem to be too sweet for me and stop me consuming sweets pretty soon after.)

attempting to make our own rice cakes

attempting to make our own rice cakes

I just found an interesting piece by Allen Lim of Scratch Labs on why his rice cakes are so popular. Interesting theory. Update: here is the link to the video clip. I have tried rice cakes before but they were pretty dry. Basically what he is getting at is that regular energy bars do not contain enough water to help in digestion. This leads to GI distress. At the time we did not think this to be an issue at all but the above puts an interesting spin on this.

Full disclosure: I have been given product by each of Gu, Hammer and 32Gi at various points. I was sponsored by Mule Bar when they were still available in SA. For this I am very thankful! I am currently not sponsored by any company. I don’t think that any one brand is outright better than the other. Each brand seems to do one aspect really well and as such you should choose your nutrition according to your event and personal needs.

Your fueling strategy depends on where your body is at and what you have trained. Like the question – “What shoes do you run in?”

You might be interested in the following links too:

http://www.timothyallenolson.com/2013/04/10/nutrition/

http://www.irunfar.com/2014/01/nutrition.html#idc-container

What experiences do you have to share?

http://wordpress.com/read/post/id/42218024/235/

http://wordpress.com/read/blog/id/57865718/