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...