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!

Puffer Prep 201:


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.

PUFfer preparation 101:

Puffer workshop flyerI am lucky enough to have been asked by SSISA to talk about gear required for this year’s PUFfer so I thought I would add a few thoughts on general prep which might be useful to first timers of this trail run.

The Peninsula Ultra Fun run is only a few months away. Those entered should certainly spend a fair amount of time thinking about how best to prep for this iconic ultra.

This is the first of a couple of articles I want to write to help those that have not done the event before on their journey.

Here I will talk about the route and what you should know.

The basic route is fairly simple (start at Cape Point and finish at the pub in the V&A Waterfront) but with legal shortcuts which you should get to know early on to make your race day journey more pleasant.

There are a couple of sections you want to know well as every year runners get stuck here:

1)      Base of Red Hill short cut

Puffer Short cut Redhill 090614Pretty obvious. Take the footpath just after the statue sellers on the right.This cuts out the first right hand bend on the steep side of Redhill. Don’t try and be clever and cut out the next bend too.





2)      Top of Redhill to Lewis Gaye Dam

Puffer REdhill shortcut 090614You will find the path AFTER the sign for the hiking trail on the left and after the house with the big trees on the right. There are several options but they more or less go in the same general direction. Work it out…



3)      Lewis Gaye Dam to Black Hill

Pretty obvious but worth a recce as you don’t want to go the wrong way. The crux is really to take the single track to the right just before the big fence. There should be a few other runners around so hang with them if you are unsure.

4)      Sunvalley to Ou Kaapse Weg shortcut

Puffer Ou Kaapse WEg shortcut 090614When heading out of Sunvalley you can either follow the horrible camber tar section of Ou Kaapse Weg until the four way intersection at the Noordhoek turnoff or sneak right at a sandy patch and save many minutes.



5)      Ou Wapad Shortcut

Wait for the white sandy patch just before the right corner. Head left for a short distance until you hit the path going right. You will get your shoes wet here!

6)      You should know Vlakkenberg pretty well, also Constantia Nek to the Lower Cableway Station. This is the easiest of section to recce. Leave your car in the waterfront and catch the Myciti 109 bus into Hout Bay and get off at Imizamo Yetho and run the few km up to Constantia Nek and run back to your car!

7)      Oh and there are a few sneaks close to the end but I suggest you work them out 😉

Thanks to Kylie for the GPS track.

If you want a detailed route description by creator of this event Jean-Paul van Belle then click here or here. These are both links to older sites but the info is still very relevant.

Check out this article too which has a pretty good explanation of why we make silly mistakes late on in a race.

In search of a Hill:

Apologies for this self-indulgent post. My mind is so pre-occupied with the Ultra du Mont Blanc that I think of it constantly. I am trying to find ways to prepare as best I can for this big unknown.

I have been immersed in a spreadsheet over the last little while comparing altitude gain/distance covered for various runs. All my training ideas this year have been guided by UTMB. Let me explain. 166km with 9400 m of altitude gain and drop= 57m/km of gain.

I did this little sum a few months ago and it still boggles me on a weekly basis.

Let’s look at local road races we consider hilly (ascent values unconfirmed):

distance ascent ratio

Red Hill Classic 36 km 590 m: 16 m/km

Two Ocean’s 56 km 1000 m: 18 m/km

Kloof Nek Classic 21 km 560 m: 27 m/km

Ok some ultra trail examples:

Addo 160 km 3950 m: 25 m/km

Puffer 75 km 2375 m: 32 m/km

And now some shorter races:

Otter 42 km 2200 m: 52 m/km

Three Peaks 50 km 2700 m; 54 m/km

Garies Trail run 20 km 1200 m: 60 m/km

HBTC 35 km 2175 m: 62 m/km

So guess what I will be doing over the next few months. I need to get good at the ups and downs. Especially running the down hills and being able to run after hammering my legs on a steep down. For me this will be the crux. Running The Mast yesterday felt good and will become staple. Oh that is a decent 780m/21.5= 36.