Castles in the Sand

Every kid knows that you have to get it just right. The sand must be the right consistency, not too dry or too wet. If it is too wet then it flops into a cow paddy, too dry and it does not hold its shape. Just the right combination to bring out the little turrets, towers and walls that elevate this mud cake to something special. Elevate it above mere recreation.

So too with our architecture for an event. Our turrets of Load, Recovery, Nutrition, Sleep, Work etc all need to be in the right balance and position for you to build a higher and higher fortress that holds shape, is supported by each pillar and does not fall over. If you are lucky then you have built above the high water level and your tower survives a few rogue waves. Well maybe not a spring high but race day’s high tide.

M got sick (I don’t blame her one bit) but I do admit that it added to my stress. Trying to stay germ free and getting enough sleep (with a coughing partner) were adding up to dilute my sand sculpture. I was trying to add some harder sessions in order to sharpen up before I taper. The great tired set in pretty fast and hard. What I failed to understand for the last 6 days is that I needed to restore balance. Drastic action was required. I decided to cut my losses and take an extra rest day today instead of the planned long bike ride. Marcel’s Frozen Yoghurt and take away coffee replaced my bike ride. Afternoon snooze replaced bike clean (Bert is still dirty and growling at me). DVD replaced recovery shake.

Tomorrow was a planned rest anyway and I will stick with that. I hope that two days will kick the recharge button.

Some times you have to build a moat rather than extra gun turrets to protect your palace.

I can’t take it anymore. A rant about Bant!

IMG_1474Let’s dissect a couple of things around the Banting / Noakes Eating Plan. Yes it is the Noakes Eating Plan because nobody before him has pushed this so hard.

I do believe that this is not a diet that you can cheat on. This is a lifestyle choice. I approve!

I do agree that it works for some people to lose weight and feel much better. (Probably a large percentage of that group is mostly sedentary and not active.) The fact that Noakes now runs 30 km a week barely takes him out of the sedentary category

I do agree that we need to think more critically about what we eat. I praise Noakes for that!

I do agree that processed sugars are not good and best avoided.

I think that “The Real Food Revolution” is fantastic inspiration. Well done for showing that there are alternatives to our fast food attitude at the moment.

Human’s are far more complex and adaptive than most of us realise. What works for one (group) does not work for all. And just because a group has success does not mean that you can extrapolate. That is basic science.

Here is the crux:

Processed sugars are the real problem. Not all carbohydrates. If you cut out sugar in tea and coffee, bread, cakes, processed and sweetened food, all carbonated drinks and fruit juices then you are doing bloody well.

I still eat sweet potatoes, rice and fruit as I feel better for doing so.

I don’t believe that active and especially super active (let’s call them people who exercise 14 plus hours a week) can sustain a non carb fuelling plan. (Some might but I think most people will find it leads to decreased performance.) In fact I only know of one super active person that follows the LCHF diet properly. Virtually everybody else I train with or bump into out training or racing has tried but can’t maintain. Not due to will power but due to poorer performances.

Let’s not confuse Noake’s mission of trying to save the universe from itself with what he is saying: Fruit and potatoes and rice are all bad and you can eat as much fat as you like.

Am I on the right track here? What are your experiences?

Please post your stories below:

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

PUFfer runners on the bus

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!

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:

What experiences do you have to share?

Dry shandy- Best Recovery drink ever!

I have been doing a lot of thinking recently about nutrition in general. All this sweet artificial stuff we put into our bodies is not cheap. Energy Bars at R25! What? I just can’t stomach that no matter how good it tastes. I use Hammer Perpetuem and Recoverite for longer adventures. After my little adventure up the hill this morning I discovered the best tasting recovery drink available in most SA fridges! 1 part Windhoek Lager, 1 part Schweppes Dry Lemon! Easy

The zing from this baby made my mouth tingle to a higher level. I had my brunch and then snoozr time. Perfect recovery plan I would say!