Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Red Cross package

Yesterday I got a parcel from the Red Cross. I suppose I am in Africa, but still. This one contains my sponsorship pack - a marathon magazine, advice on fund raising, a T-shirt, and a running vest. There is apparently more to come, as they have re-designed their running vest. I'm not sure if I'll be using it for training, although it should certainly be cool. I'll have to put sunblock on my white shoulders if I do, as I'm used to a T-shirt. The other shirt sent by the Red Cross is just a regular shirt - good for starting conversations that will end in "so why don't you sponsor me...?". To deal with those conversations, I've printed off a pile of slips of paper with my blog and Just Giving details on, so there's no excuse.

And so there's no excuse for you either, here's the sponsorship page. Get over there and see how generous people have been so far. No pressure...

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Breakfast in Noordhoek

Wow, what a beautiful run. Hout Bay to Noordhoek over Chapman's Peak Drive. I also managed to talk four other people into running with me, and their respective families into joining us for breakfast. Party of 20 for 8.30 on a Sunday - not bad going. Good breakfast too, at Cafe Roux. Now if England had just taken a few early wickets in Durban, then the morning would have been perfect. As I type they have just suffered an assault at the hands of SA's no. 10 batsman, Dale Steyn.

This week my running shifts from Tue-Wed-Fri-Sat-Sun to Tue to Fri & Sun. I'm not sure what the significance of that is, but I'm sure it's important. I'll try and keep up. 47km this week; 344 to date. Feeling strong.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas run

... and Christmas blogging too. Having failed to get out last night - the carol service clashed with my proposed running time - I had to go this morning. There was a surprising number of people on the mountain. At one point I disturbed a buzzard, which soared off below me, and then later I saw a pair of sunbirds with bright red rumps. I'm going to need to get a bird book to go with the "Lore of Running".

The only dodgy point was right at the end as I was coming back downhill to the car park. There was a group coming up, and as I came to here, some girl stepped straight in front of me. Luckily the old side step still works, or the instinct for self preservation is strong, and I managed to miss her. I would have completely flattened her otherwise, which probably would have spoilt two christmases.

Merry christmas to all my readers and sponsors!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


It rained this morning, mocking my smugness at the summer training in Cape Town. Still, it keeps things nice and cool, although my shirt gets wet from both sides. Further hazards this morning included a tree that has blown across the route, some kind of film shoot who have parked their vans and portaloos all over the path, and a Mercedes / puddle combination. Yesterday I saw the aftermath of a car crash, although I cna't figure out quite what happened. It seemed to involve a guy in a Golf who had crashed into something, hard enough to set off his airbags, then driven a bit further up the road only to discover that he had cracked something important. When I got there they were putting sand on the oil that had leaked out of the crack during his short post-crash trip.

Yes, it is getting harder to think of variations on "I went for a run again". Next dilemma: run on Christmas day or not...?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

New friends, now enemies

The guys organising the British Red Cross runners have set up a mail list so that we can communicate with each other, and share stories of blisters and training tips. There are, reassuringly, a few other first timers out there, plus one or two serious runners, including one guy aiming for an impressive 3 hours. The one thing they all have in common, though, is cold weather training. I am lucky enough to be acclimatising myself for April in London by training through Cape Town's summer. Today was probably about the same in Centigrade here as it was in the UK in Fahrenheit. I wonder if my fellow team members appreciate being informed of my heat concerns? Probably not.

Up the mountain today - 10km of beautiful running through the forest. I needed a 60 minute run according to The Plan, and stopped the watch at 1:00:01. How's that for accuracy?
297km so far since I started on 15th Oct.

Friday, December 18, 2009

What's it about?

So who am I putting myself through all this for? Well, you've heard of the Red Cross. Their own description, from their website: "We are a volunteer-led humanitarian organisation that helps people in crisis, whoever and wherever they are." Says it all, really. The British Red Cross is part of a worldwide network, but they operate outside the UK as well. In South Africa in particular they do a lot of work with HIV/AIDS.

South Africa's AIDS situation is shocking. I think I'm right in saying that there are more people in South Africa living with HIV than in any other country. Average life expectancy is in the low 40s. Close to home, Cynthia, our domestic worker was diagnosed as HIV positive earlier this year, so she is now on anti-retrovirals, and a counselling programme. 

The British Red Cross's work here has been going on for 10 years and will run to 2011, by which stage they will have reached 580,000 people. From the website, the focus of the programme is:

  • preventing further HIV infections
  • expanding and improving the quality of care, treatment and support
  • significantly reducing stigma and discrimination
  • increasing the capacity of the South Africa Red Cross.
The third point is vital - Cynthia travels an hour in each direction, at significant (to her) expense to a clinic away from where she lives, rather than go to the one in walking distance, in case someone that she knows sees her. For more details on the HIV programme in SA, go here.

So that's what it's for. It makes the sweat and aches worthwhile, so please sponsor me.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Not me, my new running buddy. We did a run of about 9km yesterday, and about half way round he pulled up with an expletive. Hes pulled a muscle in his calf, but hopefully a bit of lying in the sun will sort it out. In the meantime, I am very impressed with his new healthy lifestyle. He's out here on holiday, but so far has refused beer, wine, and extra helpings of pudding. I'm worried he's going to waste away. Either that or he's been kidnapped and substituted with a clone.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Running buddy

They say you should run with a partner. Well I am picking up Tuppy from the airport today. He is coming out on holiday, at least that's what he thinks, but I know he's been running quite a bit, so he can keep me company. It sounds like he might be quite fit, so we should have fun. The only problem is that we are both subtly competitive, and we also tend to get into the wine & food over Christmas, so it could kill both of us, but what a way to go!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Wind & fire

The Cape of Storms, they call it. Well this weekend is a biggie. The wind has been howling, snapping off trees and dislodging things in the roof. After a braai dinner, we went to bed quite early, to try and get some sleep amid the noises and gusts. After about 30 minutes, we were woken up by the phone and a very panicky neighbour. The phone said that the neighbour's house was on fire. The neighbour was a bit more accurate, and when I looked out of the window I could see the illumination from the flames on our side of the wall.

Stumbling downstairs half asleep, I whipped the curtains open to find that I had missed most of the action. The wind had reignited the braai, and then fanned some sparks that had caught on the dog's bean bag. That had apparently gone up - quite spectacularly according to the neighbour - and signed the door and the window frame. Luckily nothing else other than the braai had been caught in it, and the only thing that was left for me to extinguish was the melted plastic wheels of the braai. The tongs are a bit singed, and all that's left of my wire brush is the bristles. Thank God, nothing else caught fire. The patio is a bit singed and the paint on the door bubbled, but we were very lucky.

This morning I ran in the same wind. On one roller-coaster bit of track I struggled to the top of a rise, then started to head downhill, only to hang there as the wind gusted. It was bloody hard work, but I ran over to Constantia where it's more sheltered, and suddenly it felt easy again. I think I'm getting used to longer distances - I don't really get going properly until I've done about 5km.

Friday, December 11, 2009


I posted a while ago about what I reckoned the benefits of trail running are: good for speed, and good for stability of the back. I feel comprehensively knackered when I've run on a trail in a way that I don't when I run on the road. Thanks to Stu, I've now discovered that the experts at the Guardian agree with me - trail running is good for you. I'm a running savant!

If you go to www.grauniad.co.uk, it redirects to the Guardian's website!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Map my run

For all of us highly trained, keen runners, there is a great site called MapMyRun. The interface can be a bit clunky, but it's free, so who's complaining? It enables you to plot your run route, and will then give you a distance and profile. I probably spend more time planning my long runs at the weekend than actually running them.

Trail running tonight - from Constantia to Kirstenbosch and back. I accidentally joined a faster group than I normally run with, so am now properly knackered. There are 4 groups, and I usually go with the third. The first is the nutters who go like the clappers. They come downhill at a scary pace. Even if I could go that fast, I still wouldn't have time to work out where to put my feet. I can't get too close to the guy in front, or I don't have time to spot a place to slap my feet down. The second group runs a bit faster than my normal one, but doesn't stop as long when they pause for people to catch up. It feels quite relentless.

I'm planning on taking Tups when he's out at Christmas, so I hope I've memorised the route correctly. It's a bit tricky when you're watching your feet all the time. And you've got no sense of direction. Someone told me that it's because I am from the northern hemisphere, and I am now in the south, so the sun is in the wrong place. It's confusing, and that's why I get lost all the time. Sounds pretty plausible to me.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Cool runnings

The world cup in SA next year is going to be cool, in every sense of the word. It's winter down here that time of the year, so anyone expecting to catch a tan is going to be a bit disappointed. Not so at the moment - temperatures are consistently mid-20s and up, which makes the time of the day that I train quite significant. On Sunday morning, I ran on Chapman's Peak, but left it too late. It's great in the mornings when it's in shade, but when the sun has got over the mountain, it's hard work climbing that hill. I've resigned myself to the fact that I need to get out there early if I am to fit in all the running I need to do. I'm running at least 5 days a week for the next 4 months; combine that with party season, and the mornings are the only option. At least it's cool - out this morning half awake with Springsteen on the iPod and it was lovely. Maybe a bit like London in April?

Postscript: I'm a petrol head, so I notice cars when I run. This morning I saw a Porsche Panamera. What a beast. It looks OK from straight in front, or straight behind, but from any other angle it's an ugly bastard. It looks like they gave a 911 to a chop shop to make a limo. Given that the 911 has hardly changed in 30 years, they haven't made a good looking new car since the 928. The Cayman is nice, but basically that's based on the 911 too. Don't even get me started on the Cayenne. Bleeah

Monday, December 7, 2009

Tired legs

I've worked out that the aim of marathon training is to get you running with tired legs. It then becomes a normal state of affairs for your body, and you just get on with it. Last week I took an unscheduled day off, and ran one day in three. The next run, I felt like Superman - the feeling of having legs that are lactic acid free is amazing. It makes me really look forward to the tapering part of my training. Maybe that's why novices tend to start races too fast - you can't believe how good it feels.


Having run yesterday morning (I really must get up earlier to avoid running in the heat), I thought I had finished for the day, but someone had other ideas. We had tickets for The Killers, playing at Val de Vie in Paarl. When I first saw this, I thought "wow, The Killers are playing Cape Town", since concerts by big bands here are few and far between. My next thought was "where the hell is Val de Vie?" Well, Val de Vie is one of these 'lifestyle' winelands estates, where the residents play polo and ponce about in their Range Rovers, and it's down the end of some narrow roads. Staging a concert for one of the world's biggest bands. What the hell were they thinking?

To cut a long story short, it ought to be a drive of just over an hour. We were expecting a bit of congestion, so left in plenty of time, but we ended up queueing on the N1 for 2 hours, then giving up, parking, and walking for another hour. We walked from 6.5km away - additional training I hadn't planned on, and walked 3km out before a very kind vet gave us a lift back to our car. In total it took us over 4 hours to get there. It would actually have been quicker to fly to Johannesburg to see them play at a proper venue than it was to drive into the winelands to some over-ambitious wine estate. What a cock up.

They've supposedly got Elton John playing there in March. Don't do it Reg!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Sand update

According to the preliminary results, I came 30th out or a field of about 120 in the Surfer's Challenge. Interesting race: I was about 10 minutes behind 6th place, but 20 minutes behind the winner. Hmmm...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Give us your money!

The whole idea of sponsoring someone to run seems a bit odd to many South Africans. If, at a dinner party, you asked around, you would find that many had done marathons and ultra marathons. Just in my poker group there is a guy who runs a half marathon a month, and has done 10 or 12 marathons; another who did the latest Cape Epic (an 8 day 900km mountain bike race); another who regularly runs 20km+ on the mountain; a fourth who is training for some daft long distance canoe race... The locals go in for their endurance sports: there is a field of something like 15,000 for this year's Comrades marathon (90km). In the UK, meanwhile, people are still vaguely impressed by marathon runners.

Still, it's almost required of a London marathon runner to be sponsored: more than three quarters of runners are collecting for somebody, and many running it in fancy dress, as if it wasn't hard enough anyway. The total amount raised by runners in the race is somewhere north of £46 million. It's the largest single annual fundraising even in the world. There are 750 charities with 15,000 places for runners, of which I have got one of the Red Cross's ones, in return for pledging to raise £1800.

All of this is a thinly disguised hint to sponsor me. I'll be posting soon on the work that the Red Cross does worldwide as well, so you can see some really good reasons for forking out. It's also not like this is a regular thing for me - this my first marathon, so take pity on a 40 year old virgin!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The selfishness of the long distance runner

According to my big running book, one of the biggest problems in training for a long run is the time it takes from all the other things you could be doing, such as spending time with your family. My wondefrul wife and the kids are very supportive: whenever I stagger in the front door, I am greeted with "how far did you run, Dad?", and "Daddy, did you run FAST?" from junior.

The more one can combine running with other things, though, the better. Hence my plan this morning: to run Tom to school, literally. He was cycling, and I was trying to keep up. It's only 2km there, so it's good speed training, but I was too slow for his liking, especially since it's downhill. Uphill on the way back was a little slower, but it's a virtuous way to start the day.

Life as a runner

I'm not sure that I am cut out for long distance running. I am currently about 15 stone and 6'3", or 96kg and 1.91m. I have at times been very fit in my youth, but have always gone out of my way to avoid going out of my way. At a school rugby camp, when I was a bit lighter, we were once dropped out of town and told to run back. Dawdling at the back, a friend's brother came upon us in a car, and gave 3 of us a lift for a couple of miles. Inevitably we were caught, and forced to redo the run the next day. This time the monitoring was looser and our planning was tighter, so we had a car organised in advance, and we got away with it.

A few years later at college, I was playing university rugby, and trying to keep fit during the summer. I would do a loop of about 3 or 4 miles with a friend. Until that point I had never realised what the expression "running rings round somebody" meant, but he would do just that: skip along in front of me, bounce off the pavement onto the road, sidestep behind me, overtake me, and repeat the process. When I staggered in after the first lap, he would trot off to run a second.

Playing rugby after university I was as fit as I have ever been. A holiday photo of me about 4 months after I had stopped playing shows me still with a washboard stomach. Still I would avoid any run further than about 100m: I would always rather run through something than around it if possible.

On moving to Cape Town in 1998, my wife and I, inspired by the South African outdoor lifestyle, decided that we ought to get fit. We entered ourselves in the Gun Run - a half marathon, and began training. For both of us, finishing (in 2:06 - perfect 6 minute kms) was something of a victory. Over the next 10 years or so I did another 2 Gun Runs, 2 or 3 Knysna halfs, and 2 Two Oceans halfs. The races have been preceded by a get fit campaign of 2 or 3 months, and followed by a slump back into inactivity. Each time I've just tried primarily to finish, and secondly to do a decent time. The only time I had a real goal was the 2001 Knysna, when we had to finish in time to get back, shower, and get to the pub for the Lions / Australia test.

Having run this years Gun Run on 11th October, 5 days after my 40th birthday, in 1:51, I felt pretty good. It was my second fastest time for 21km, and I didn't feel completely finished for once. I had always told myself that I should run a marathon one day, and so decided to do something about it before it got too late. I applied to the British Red Cross, and they have given me one of their places in the London Marathon 2010. For me this is perfect: it goes right past my old rugby club, my Sunday morning haunt of Greenwich market, the Isle of Dogs where I used to work, the road I designed, and then right along the Embankment. It's going to be a big day, one way or another. The map on the wall above my desk inspires and scares me in equal measure. Both are effective motivators for the training I need to do.

All I need now is sponsorship...

Monday, November 30, 2009

Training update

An occasional series. As of today, Monday 30th Nov, I have run 190km since the Gun Run on 11th October - when my training unoffically started. My peak mileage is still low by 'proper' runner's standards: 37km last week. The peak will be about 90km in a week, sometime in March / early April.

Shifting sands

To Kommetjie & Noordhoek yesterday for the Surfer's Challenge. The premise here is a race down Long Beach and back between runners and paddle skis. The final result is pretty much down to the sea - if it's rough, the runners win, if not, the paddlers. I managed to beat some paddlers yesterday, but only in double boats - they must be slower. 12km on sand is tough going, although probably good for some muscles that I didn't know about, and I did get a free cap into the bargain. At the end, it was such a relief to be on a firm surface that I jogged back to my car. I may be turning into a runner.

The highlight for me was to come up the boardwalk to the turning area at the Noordhoek end and to see my whole family standing there shouting! It's great to have a good travelling support.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Lion's Head

Trail run Thursday... along Signal Hill and (partly) up Lion's Head tonight. This is a nice gentle run for the first two thirds, then a punishing climb on loose stones, then a nice descent. We ran from the left hand end of this picture, just above the grey road, along the hill to the right hand end, then turned, and came back around the high bit (Lion's Head), then down the yellow path back to Kloof Nek. The views along over Camps Bay, and past the Twelve Apostles to where the cloud and the mountains converge at the horizon are well worth the climb.

I definitely need to replace the crappy Nike trail shoes I returned this week, hopefully with New Balance ones. The road shoes are too slippery and the soles a bit thin for the rocks. About 9km in 56 minutes, excluding the stops to admire the view.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Bouncing shoes

Here they are - actually quite simple: just search on "running bouncing shoes". Bizarre.

Walking on the moon

Morning Stu.
On Monday morning I saw a woman running along the road. Thing is, I'm not quite sure you could call it running. She was in shorts & a T-shirt, but on her feet she had the weirdest contraptions which looked like ski boots with bent blades on the bottom - sort of like the end of Oscar Pistorius's running legs. She was bouncing along, a bit like a moon walker, but nothing like Michael Jackson. I'd post a picture, but I was too slow with the phone, and I have no idea where to start looking on the web.

So anyway, I managed to buy some new shoes that actually fit. Strange to think that they will probably be worn out sometime in March. They are New Balance, cos they're the best for me as they come in different widths and I have feet like spades. I don't know why the other shoe people don't do this, but since I have non standard feet, I will always wear NB. So I tried them last night: 8km in 38:56, and after my old worn out ones, I felt just like that woman, walking on the moon.

Monday, November 23, 2009

New goals

Having felt quite good running last week, I went to one of the online 'marathon time predictors' to see if I had got better according to their forecast. The short answer is no, I hadn't, but I noticed a link to a 'celebrity marathoners' page. Now here's a challenge: find a schleb and see if you can beat their time. Lance Armstrong, pass; Chris Boardman, pass; aha! George W Bush - should be OK there. Well according to the list, Dubya ran the 1993 Houston marathon in 3:44.

That's not a bad time at all, and a fair bit better than the "just under four hours" I had been planning. Of course in 1993, he was not yet even Governor of Texas, so he probably had plenty of time for training. On the other hand, in 1993 he was 47 - 7 years older than me. I wonder if he'd given up the booze by that stage - another unfair advantage. Whatever, I now have a new target...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

New shoes

I bought some Nike trail shoes a while back - about 130km ago. They look great, but the layers of the sole are all peeling away from each other, so there are flappy bits all over the bottom. They are also lethal on a wet smooth surface, but that's a separate issue. I took them back today and left them for assessment by the Nike person, and then went to replace my worn out New Balance road shoes. NB are the best because they come in different widths, which is important when you have feet like spades. Somehow I managed to buy a pair that's too small. I put them on to run tonight and immediately took them off again. I'm still not sure quite how I managed that one.

So now I have one pair of shoes: knackered NB trainers, in which I ran my standard 7km loop in a record time of 33:19. Imagine what I could do in new shoes...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Clear round

It's a famous day. I finally managed to run on Chapman's Peak without falling over. I may have been helped by the fact that this is a quiet week n teh training schedule, so I only ran for 20 minutes, but you have to start somewhere.

The other exciting thing is that summer seems to have arrived at last. It was 26 degrees for the run and no wind. Sooner or later I'm going to have to run in the cool of the mornings. That will test my resolve.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Pizza run

The standard marathon training programmes all have the big run of the week on Sunday. The problem with this is that everyone has the big night of the week on Saturday. We were at a party last night, so I really didn't feel like running this morning. By the time I got round to it, having just had a slice of pizza, it was late this afternoon. Alll I could taste for the first half was pizza, and for the second half I had stitch.

Still, I'm getting better conditioned to these runs - under 35 minutes for 7km isn't too bad. Maybe I should try something similar on the evening of 24th of April. I won't sleep well anyway. Maybe just a quick one...

Friday, November 13, 2009


Not running spikes - that's for the kind of distance I'm built for. Perversely, I'm training for the kind of distance that I will never be competitive at. A first class distance runner weighs roughly half what I do. No - I'm talking about quills.

I ran on the mountain last night - the regular Thursday trail run. I'm not sure it's right for my training plan, but it's a great run, in a group, and the scenery is awesome. The problem at the moment is that Cape Town's summer is a little slow getting started. Someone told me last night that the rain we have had in November so far is twice the normal amount for the whole month. Next week is due to be brighter, so hopefully I'll be putting on suncream instead of a rain top. Anyway, I watch my feet a lot when I'm running because I'm clumsy. A friend who trail runs a lot told me that he has never seen a snake in years of running in the mountains, and I believe him. He's probably passed hundreds, but you can't afford to take your eyes off where you're going.

Like last night: as we were going along, I spotted a huge porcupine quill in the path, so stopped to pick it up to show the kids. Of course, at that point we were running on a single track. You need to keep an eye open for protruding rocks or roots, but nobody expects a six foot Pom to stop and bend over suddenly. I nearly caused a pile up. I wonder if anyone has ever been banned from the pack runs?

The quill has gone with Jen for show & tell today, so it was worth the near disaster. She has disguised it in tinfoil so that she can unveil it at an appropriately dramatic moment.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


I spend my working life giving people advice. Well, selling them advice anyway. Now it's payback time. In SA everyone has done marathons, Two Oceans, Comrades, and the latest craze seems to be iron man triathlons. At the 40th I was at a month or two ago, all the guys seemed to be in training for something dramatic: iron man, swimming to Robben Island, Everest base camp. I feel a bit puny with my first marathon. It's quite tricky to choose the right advice to follow. The normal sceptic's rule applies, obviously: consider the source.

A friend has now lent me a copy of Tim Noakes's book "The Lore of Running". This tome is 1200 pages long, and is generally considered to be the last word in running guidance. It covers everything from diet to training to shoes to all kinds of ultra stuff I will never touch. It is truly comprehensive. The only thing it is lacking is a large legend on the front: "Don't Panic".

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Tonight I ran briefly on Chapman's Peak Drive. Now this has to be one of the most beautiful roads in the world, and even on a blustery night like tonight it is stunning, but damn - the cat's eyes are fearsome! I ran on Chappies a couple of weeks before the Gun Run, which was great, except on the way down I hit one of the buggers, and the same thing happened tonight. In the UK, cat's eyes are innocuous little rounded pebble-like things. In South Africa they have a vertical surface about 1cm high that contains the reflector. If you hit this there is no scuffing over the top - your foot just stops. It's like being tap-tackled.

My left knee had pretty much healed from the last time, and now I went down on the right one. Luckily it wasn't as hard this time - last time I hit the road simultaneously with knees, forearms, hands and belly. It wasn't pretty. This time I was going more slowly uphill, but it's not nice. I never expected to shed so much blood just running.

What's up, doc?

I've finally, at the grand old age of 40, decided to treat this kind of venture a bit more seriously than I once did. I've also got a family who insist on me doing things properly, so it was off this morning to the Sports Science Institute in Newlands. It's perfectly positioned, between Newlands rugby stadium and a brewery, and I'd made an appointment for a full check up.

The quack checked on all my aches & pains: dodgy knees, sore toe, iffy shoulder. Apparently I'm in pretty good shape for the mileage. The only embarassing bit was when she was testing my flexibility: lying on my front, and when she bent up my leg at the knee, I got cramp in my hamstring.

Just to be sure, they then wired me up to do a stress ECG. This is great fun - wires all over your torso just like in the movies, then run on an inclined treadmill. They told me that hardly anyone ever got to the end at 21 minutes, as if they thought I might. I lasted 15 before I bailed, which was pretty good, and all the little blips on the chart were in the right place too.

So I'm fine to train for the race. Better get on with it then.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Many rivers to cross

I have one big advantage in training for the London Marathon, in that I don't live in London. I will be training through the South African summer, so may struggle with the occasional very hot day, but at least I'll be training in the daylight, and I'll be able to feel my toes.

This morning I had to run in the rain, which is actually quite pleasant. I had carefully chosen my route to give me the right sort of time & distance, and had set off with just enough time to finish it before church, i.e. maximising my lie-in. The last 500 yards or so the plan was to cross the river over the road from my house. If it's dry, then you can walk the 5 yards or so across the weir, or if that's a bit deep, then hop across the stones. Since it's been raining for about 5 days on and off, the stones were underwater, so I had an unscheduled detour, adding about 2km to the route - and only that little because the wife came to look for me.

If that's the worst mishap during my training, then I'll be happy.

Friday, November 6, 2009


I've read (oh boy, how I've read!) that runners can get addicted to running. There is apparently a "runner's high" from the endorphins that are generated when you run. I think that endorphins are the body's natural painkillers, so this is an all natural version of one of the cheaper addictions out there.

What I've noticed is that running for 6 or 7km no longer does it for me, if indeed it ever did. In order to come back from a run feeling on a high, it has to be longer. Thursday night's trail run, up from Newlands Forest to Plumpudding Hill and back, taking in views of the city and the Southern suburbs, did work. I pushed myself a bit, despite walking some of the hills, and came back really glowing. It's a combination of the run, the views, the exercise, the cameraderie of running in a group, and maybe some endorphins.

Sometimes I feel like a real runner.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Trainers & gear

You've got to have the right gear. It helps to have some idea too, but the right stuff helps. Blokes like that kind of thing. Buying the right pair of running shoes gives you some control over the process. This stuff is not cheap though: a good pair of running shoes is heading for R1000, and then there's all the moisture wicking shirts. I didn't know I needed a moisture wicking shirt until I wore one. It takes away that feeling of carrying a sodden blanket that you get from running in an old T shirt.

For my birthday I got lots of goodies - running tops, water bottles, etc. Should be easier to run through the summer in shirts that aren't drenched after 2km. I also bought myself some trail running shoes. Basically they are running shoes with a chunkier grip in a darker colour, so they deal better with stones and don't show the dirt so badly. I went to the Nike factory shop, and bought a R400 pair when they had a one day 20% off sale. Bargain.

Of course, I broke Paul's first law of shopping, which is: buy good shoes. They look great, but they gave me huge blisters, the soles are already coming apart, and they are slippery as hell on a wet smooth surface. I can run up the mountain, but not onto the patio.

Next step is to get some more road shoes, as the pair I am using now won't survive the full training period. This time I am going to get it right. I have to.

Spread betting

Now I've set up a sponsorship website, I am obviously seeking sponsors. Starting with immediate family went quite well. Next step was to approach a few friends from university. This is where the trouble started. I casually suggested in the spiel on the JustGiving site that you might like to incentivise me: perhaps an extra fiver if I break four hours. It seems that I under-estimated my target audience.

I find myself now stuck in a discussion of spread betting on my own time, with a series of people. It goes something like this: if I beat 4 hours, then the Red Cross gets an extra pound per minute, say. If, on the other hand, I don't beat 4 hours, then I pay a pound a minute to the Red Cross.

There are 2 big problems with this. One is that I am in danger of entering this arrangement with lots of people, meaning that they individually stand to pay an extra 10 or 15 quid, whereas I, individually, stand to pay an extra 10 or 15 quid times the number of people I sign up to the crazy scheme. The second problem is that there is a limit to how much faster than 4 hours I could possibly run. The world record is about 2 hours; my best possible time without getting a piggy back from Paula Radcliffe probably about 3.45. There is, on the other hand, an almost limitless amount by which I could miss four hours, and a whole range of potential causes for that happening.

New proposal to those who are reading: give me an incentive to beat four hours, and if I don't, then I will make one payment to the Red Cross. Let's say 25 quid. How's that?

Now shut up and sponsor me.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Hungover running

Hydration is of key importance when running. For anything over about 8 or 9km you need to carry water, or find it en route. You should also ensure that you are properly hydrated beforehand so that you do not struggle on your run.

That's what they say anyway. One logical implication of the above is something that I can attest to from first hand experience: running with a hangover is a Bad Idea. I know because yesterday was my 40th birthday party. About 3 weeks after the birthday itself (I awarded myself an official birthday too this year), it started at lunchtime with about 45 guests, and ended with an impromptu country music and whisky tasting with my brother sometime after dark. I left the run until the evening of the next day, but as you know it takes a good day of rest and refreshment to get over a big night.

Net result: 5km at 20 seconds a km slower than I managed 2 days later. That's 15 minutes over marathon distance. The price of a pint (or three) ...

Friday, October 30, 2009


I'm viewing this trail running thing as cross training. It's good for the leg muscles. After last night's experience, though, I'm thinking of revising that view. We ran from Constantia Nek "up to the reservoirs". I assumed they'd be part of the way up or something, and was assured by the organiser of the run that it was 9 or 9 and a half km.

An hour and a quarter later I was finished. It's a brutal climb straight up, then straight back down the same concrete road, so no real trail running, just plenty of pounding, and some admittedly fabulous views, accompanies by aching knees and a biting cold wind. Feeling sure that I'd worked harder than 9 km or so, I mapped it on Map My Run. It's 11.2km, with a 500m vertical climb. Bloody hell my legs are knackered.

Friday, October 23, 2009


I've been trail running for a few months now. It's a fast growing sport, certainly in South Africa, probably because the combination of beautiful mountains and great weather makes it pretty spectacular. It's also great exercise - lots of hills, and lots of variation. Where running on the road is pretty fixed, on a track you are continually adjusting for the slope, the terrain, rocks and roots. My theory is that the variation in movements is much better for your body, especially the back, which is my concern.

I've joined a regular group that runs on Thursday nights. On a good week, there are about 60 or 70 people in 3 or 4 groups. Tonight was Signal Hill - out & back from Kloof Nek. It was mostly single track, so my legs are whipped from the plants, and knackered from the hills. The mileage doesn't fit in with the schedule at the moment, but I reckon it's good speed training or something. The views from the various bits of Table Mountain that we run on make it all worth the effort.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Training schedules

Faced with the reality of preparing for my first marathon at the age of 40, I looked online for some good advice. There are as many marathon programmes out there as there are running gurus. Since all you need to run is a pair of trainers, there are lots of experts out there, most of them American and specifying their logs in miles. Having been in SA for 11 years, I'm thinking in km.

I dredged from somewhere in my memory that Tim Noakes is the running guru's guru. He's linked to the Sports Science Institute in Newlands, and contributed to Bob Woolmer's cricket book, so he must know a thing or two. In googling his name, I came up with a plan that had 26 weeks of training, based on minutes of running rather than distance. Since it's labelled 'for the non specialist', and it suits almost exactly the time I have to train, I've adopted that one. To start with I'm going to divide the minutes by 5, and run that distance. I may be able to use a smaller number in a couple of months time. Hopefully.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

I'm in!

Thanks to the British Red Cross, I have an entry in the 2010 London Marathon. They liked my entry so much that they called me to tell me so, and assured me that I've got one of their places. It's now a couple of weeks of training later, and it still seems a bit unreal. I'm setting up this blog so my sponsors can keep an eye on me, and follow my progress towards the marathon goal.

If you've read this far, then you are probably a sponsor, so many thanks, and keep checking back on your sponsee's progress!