I am …(a runner)

desertWe all define our selves with what we do and the more we do so others define us in the same way.

Take those brackets away and what are you?

What are you left with?

We all wear hats in our lives. Those hats represent the roles in our lives. Different hats in different situations. In relation to other people. We are husbands, friends, colleagues, friends, lovers, sons, daughters and runners.

So what happens when a storm or sudden gust of wind tears the hat from our head?

What happens when we get injured?

Who are you?

What hat are you wearing now?

Paradise Lost is Ana Frosty’s journey through that question.

Kiss or Kill is far less gentle question.

Ultimately you need to work out how to put down new foundations.

Sometimes a new role can help. Often caring for another helps us heal. Eric & Peety’s story is one such example.

Maybe we need community more than the finish time to define us.

This community needs to support each of us, not only as a runner, not what races we have run or times recorded but in who we really are when we are not wearing a hat.

Let’s create and foster that community, for others, for ourselves!

Beyond the Mountain book review

IMG_1665Steve House‘s actions speak loud, louder than words. The resultant art, painted on the canvas of big blank faces. And his book Beyond the Mountain tells that story.

I was truly riveted for most of the book, not once wanting to put it down. I actually wanted to enjoy it before getting it and I certainly was not disappointed. I had heard much of Steve‘s routes over the years but have hardly read any of his writing. Yes there is a touch of Twight darkness in a couple of pages but overall it is much more human and I can relate to it much more easily. His version of the Slovak Direct on Denali is interesting as I have read Twight’s many times.

But the book does live up to its name in that summits attained, or not are vehicles only for something more.

How do you review a product like this without reviewing the man? Who am I to review him anyway? The one nagging thought that keeps coming up is “Why does Steve see it as acceptable to leave his stove which has run out of fuel as trash on an alpine face? Why not leave all and any trash? And how different is that attitude to that of big expeditions? Why is it OK to put your own ambitions above those of the greater good?” That is the one question I would like to hear the answer to.

Other than that this is a truly inspirational book. Not in a far out sense but making the suffering and emotion seem real and tangible and the whole experience human. I can only recommend this book to all climbers, alpinists and coach spectators alike. You will not be disappointed!

And if you are still not convinced then read this much more articulate review here.

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


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.


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!

what’s in a name?

Climbers appreciate the significance of names much more so than runners:

The vertical folk have:
“Scaredy Cat” Describes an obvious emotion and a taunt. Are you good enough to attempt this route? Even if you know nothing about the route the name gives you some kind of idea.

“Ocean’s of Fear” Vast expanse, that emotion thing again.

“Stem Gem- the baptism of fire” Beauty, something rare mixed with a transition. A right of passage and not an easy and pleasant one.

“Magic Mushroom” ‘nough said.

“Titanium Trip” Super hard voyage of discovery.

“Super Power” Once again a taunt. Are you up to it?

These all inspire some sense of fear and power and having to overcome great dificulties to reach the summit, to survive.

The more horizontally inclined among us have:

“Boston Marathon”
“Berlin Marathon”
“San Fransisco Marathon” Location, location, location…
Then there is the exception to the rule:
Two Ocean’s …. (hey where did the ultra go) I thought that a Marathon was 42,2 km exactly or 26,2 miles. The distance a greek bloke ran long time ago to tell his king somethiing really important.

The first hint of things not quite being the way that we thought. Read on:

Even in describing routes words like “obvious” tree (or some other feature) will sprinkle litrature. “Interesting” often describes the undescribable. “Character building” see “Stem Gem” above. In fact the route Stem Gem would only carry half its mystery if the name did not include “the baptism of fire”. I first read about it in the late ’80 and was intrigued. I wanted to know what this fire was about. I wanted to be born again too!

The climbing route “That Thing” sounds quite obvious and not too inspiring. Ah what a gem it is. And what a hidden one. 35m of vertical fear. That was until some idiot decided to bolt the crap out of it. But that is for another day.

Certain names may not give much away at first glance but for those in the know there is a whole baptism of pain hidden behind it.
“Barkley Marathon” (see another post),
“Badwater Marathon” By now you will have worked out that “marathon” does not always refer to the 26,2. In this case it is 135… miles…
“Jonkershoek Marathon” who knows how long this one is.
“Marathon des Sables” Ah the marathon thing again…
“Trans 555” or Route du Sel a 555km race through the desert. Makes the MdS look like breakfast.
And for the climbers:
“Direct North Buttress” the “little brother opposite El Cap. Only 18 pitches as opposed to 32….
“Moonflower Buttress” on Mount Hunter. Sounds pretty hey?
Then G4, ok, ok Gashebrum 4. It is not even 8000 m, a bloody long way from anywhere and nobody knows about it. So what is the attraction? Maybe that only 7 people have ever summited. That the best have tried and failed, that it is exactly that.
That which if you have to ask then I won’t bother (sorry paraphrased). If you don’t get the real drive of why we do something then you’ll never get it.
If you have to compare your 10k times with others to boost your own ego, if you need to compare your seven summits record to feel like you are a climber then you obviously don’t get it.

Climbers have long had the science of sandbagging down to a fine art. I guess the reason for this is the hours spent sitting around campfires into the late hours emptying whisky bottles and spinnng yarns of heroism- some true, some not. While after a jog runners go home and drink recovery potions, have a massage, shave their legs and enjoy compression garments. Climbers are also inherently closed in their community and won’t tolerate posers easily. You need to survive some interesting, character building stuff to enter the inner circle.

If it’s not in your blood then it will never be.

If you don’t want to do the real deal then you will cut corners, pull on gear and call it free and dope when nobody’s looking.

Let’s face it we all want recognition. The ego is fragile!
We compare known distances and grades and times. So what is your 10k time? How the darn should I know? I enjoy it that is what matters. Mind you it does not always have to be fun to be fun (Mark Twight).

I will measure you by, how what you say measures to what you do.