Seven reasons you should be in Queenstown from the 23rd to 25th October 2015

From the 23rd to the 25th October 2015, The Ancestral Society of New Zealand will be holding its inaugural international symposium in Queenstown, New Zealand. It's a big deal. Not only is it a big deal for a small organisation like AHSNZ to host an event of this size, but also a big deal to have a collection of such high calibre speakers on diverse topics in the ancestral health realm.

1) The line-up of speakers is fantastic. If you are following the discussion about understanding and resolving the mismatch between the environment we have created for ourselves and the one in which our physiology and anatomy evolved, then you really ought to be there. Some of the leading voices contributing to this discussion will be there, some of whom you've heard of, some of whom you haven't. Hurry up and go get your ticket here. No really, now. I'll wait.

Need more convincing? We already have one presenter's talk in the vault. It's fantastic and it's by Ian Spreadbury, BSc, PhD on the effect of cellular vs acellular carbohydrate on our gut microbiome. Under his hypothesis, refined flours cause issues for us, via our gut bacteria. The question is, does this hold true for the likes of "Paleo" flours and "Paleo" baked goods made from such flours? His answer is fascinating and you get to hear it in Queenstown. As a teaser I can tell you that I've seen it and it's fantastic. Here's that link again to go get your tickets.

2) Being there in person is better than reading reviews on the interwebs a few days after the fact or aggravating your gradually increasing feelings of FOMO from live Tweet streams. Plus, socialisation is an important component of the ancestral health model. You'll retain more of what you hear and talk about with the people you'll meet there too.

3) It's in New Zealand! Queenstown, New Zealand! (photographic evidence of awesomeness below).

4) You get to hear a perspective on Maori ecology and the connection to health and physical activity from Dr Ihirangi Heke. This is a talk that is uniquely Aotearoan, where indigenous health and physical activity are reimagined. Collaegues of mind who heard Ihi speak rated him and his message highly. I'm looking forward to this presentation.

Dr Ihirangi Heke

4) This gentlemen (@craigzielinski) will be saying some important things about strength training from years in "the trenches". His motto is Ferrum Et Vitriolum (that's "iron and vitriol" in Latin, non-latin speakers). He'll be saying it passionately, he'll be saying it with a Scottish brogue. You really ought to be there to hear him.

Craig Zielinski

6) A visit last year to John and Emily McRae's farm at Glendu Bay near Wanaka was quite a treat for a 'townie' like me. It's one thing to talk about local and organic produce and the qualtiy of the food we eat, it's another to put that into practice, sustain a business and a family and keep land in the family all the while with constant pressure from surrounding development. John and Emily McRae are proving it can be done if you are innovative and engaged with your community. John spoke at the AHSNZ Wanaka conference and was very well received. This year, is Diana Rodger, CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farmer, grad student (soon to be registered dietician), blogger, author and mom will speak on sustainable food and what that really means from her perspective as a farmer and nutritionist.

7) Finally reason number seven which is there way more than 7 reasons I can think of to be in Queenstown from the 23rd to the 25th October. I'm also looking forward to hearing and participaing with Darryl Edwards, The Fitness Explorer, Phillip Beach, a mentor of mine on archtypal postures that are 'built into our form via evolution, and hearing from Dr Emily Deans about the human microbiome and mental health.

I'm sure you'll find more than seven reasons why you'll be glad you attended the symposium. Here's that link again to go buy your tickets. Once you've done that you can then found more information about how to get there,where to stay, and what to do in and around Queenstown. I hope to see you there.


Read the following passage and take a guess as to when it was written:

Those who sit at their work and are therefore called “chair-workers,” such as cobblers and tailors . . . become bent, hump-backed, and hold their heads down like people looking for something on the ground; this is the effect of their sedentary life and the bent posture of the body as they sit and apply themselves all day to their tasks in the shops where they sew. . . . Since to do their work they are forced to stoop, the outermost vertebral ligaments are kept pulled apart and contract a callosity, so that it becomes impossible for them to return to the natural position. . . . These workers, then, suffer from general ill-health . . . caused by their sedentary life. . . . But it is not so true of many other sedentary workers, potters and weavers, for example, who exercise the arms and feet and in fact the whole body; this keeps them in better health because the impurities in the blood are more easily dispersed by such movements. All sedentary workers suffer from lumbago. . . . They should be advised to take physical exercise, at any rate on holidays. Let them make the best use they can of some one day, and so to some extent counteract the harm done by many days of sedentary life. . . ."

Now for that guess. Was it close to 1713? The advice back then stands in good stead today - take a break, move around, vary your posture.

From De Morbis Artificum Diatriba [Diseases of Workers] By Bernardino Ramazzini (1633-1714)

A trochanter's worth of reading

Having a spring clean today (kind of wishful thinking but it is 21°C in July) of my desk and bookcase I realised I have a full tibia and most of a femur's worth of backlogged reading, in books alone, to get through.

Although I had implemented a self-imposed book buying ban at the start of the year in an effort to clear the backlog I had already accumulated, I allowed myself an amnesty period to buy a few more for my birthday recently.

The resulting tsundoku, that's the Japanese word which so accurately describes ever growing stack of unread books, combined with a haul of unread books that made it into my shelves unread, is a bit startling.

Only three of those books are osteopathy related with the rest a mixture ranging from font and graphic design to neuroscience, New Zealand's Te Araroa trail, to human evolutionary biology. The rest of winter's receding nights are taken care of.

Comrades 2015

TL;DR version

Over the moon, the DOMS in my legs couldn't touch the grin on my face with a silver medal round my neck*.
A one hour, twenty-eight minute and forty-one second improvement on my 2013 'up run' time to finish the slightly longer 2015 87.7km** course in 7:29:18. A very satisfying result after 364 days of thinking, training, tinkering, and researching. A total of 2100.00 km of training with a specific Comrades training block of 1509km to get me over the line for a silver medal. Looking forward to some time off then getting back to the shorter stuff!

1st half 3:42.48
2nd half 3:46.30

Cowies Hill 16,8 km 1:25:16
Drummond 43,7 km 3:42:48
Cato Ridge 57,7 km 4:54:26
Lion Park 70,7 km 6:06:04
Polly Shortts 80,2 km 6:52:55


Overall 415
By Gender 394
By Category (M40-49) 102

* Silver doesn't mean 2nd place :)
** A marathon is 26.2 miles, Comrades is roughly 56 miles and yes, that is a long way. Comrades was inspired as a tribute to the sacrifice of Vic Clapham's 'Comrades' during the Great War and was modelled on the now defunct London to Brighton race.


'Aftermath' of Comrades 2014

Aftermath may be the wrong word, invoking scenes of desolation and destruction but I wasn't altogether happy with my performance and result last year, even though I managed to improve my time from 2013. My main reason was feeling so bloody awful on the last stretch from Fields Hill to Durban. I vividly recall uttering the words so infamously declared by many Comrades runners over the years, "never again!"

2015 will be different

"Never again!" Well that decree didn't last long and the day after Comrades I was thinking about preparing for the 2015 race. I had to take stock and assess what was the cause of my race performance; a 'post-mortem' examination.


While the overall mileage looked about right, on closer inspection my training for 2014 had been inconsistent, with too many troughs of low mileage weeks and a peak in weekly mileage too late in the Comrades specific training segment (Emma pointed this out to me - 'your training wasn't that good'). I also could do with adding some strength work into my training but I wasn't sure what that might look like.


In 2013 I wrote my pacing notes on my arm to key landmarks. That worked well. In 2014 I used a timing band with km splits - too much stress and mental bandwidth tied up with making calculations on an increasingly weary brain. For 2015, I'd go back to pacing by landmarks - less of a headache on race day and more workable solution given the inconsistent pace over the variable terrain.


I felt under powered in the latter half of the race and partly that was nutrition. I'd have to work out a better plan here. In my defence 2014 was a hot year and the humidity was a factor as we approached the coast.

After returning to home, I sketched out a plan for 2015's up run:

  • A decent break from training (four weeks)
  • Train for a late 2014 sub three-hour marathon to qualify for 'A' batch start in Comrades
  • add in some strength training
  • After the qualifier, return to running with a low heart approach
  • Ramp up training volume from Jan 1 but with more emphasis on consistency
  • Start training for Comrades in late to mid February

And that is pretty much how it played out.

  • In August I started gymnastic strength training using GymnasticBodies and attended a seminar with Coach Sommer in November.
  • I ran the Sydney marathon in September and finished in 2:59.08
  • After the marathon I did easy, unscheduled training with no speed work and ended the year with 3 increases in my 5km PB, on three different courses, over 3 weeks
  • Ramped up the volume at the end of the year with a run camp with SWEAT Sydney in Jindabyne, NSW.
  • Started training for Comrades in mid-February with Bob de la Motte's Comrades silver medal training chart.

Day before
The plan was to get the legs moving at North Beach park run in the morning and relax the rest of the day. With a large crowd expected with the Comrades runner influx to Durban this would be perfect in the sense that a big crowd (1245! up from 204 in 2013) would make for a slow jog. As it turned out I walked the whole thing and chatted to some women from Durham park run and enjoyed the sunshine.
We had a large lunch at Afro's Chicken which included just enough carbs to induce a fantastic 2 1/2 hour nap. After some room service and laying out the race gear it was time for bed again. As far as sleep goes before a race this was the best I've had so far.

Race day
Comrades always involves waking at an ungodly hour no matter which direction it's been run. Three am is about as late as you can wake without being a rush. Shower, race gear and down for breakfast, which for me was a couple of boiled eggs, coffee, a few tablespoons of mealie pap (ugali) a banana, coffee and half an avocado and handful of macadamias.

Emerging from the hotel lift the lobby was a abuzz with activity as were the streets heading to the start pens at 4:15 am. A nervous loo stop and then it's 'good bye' and 'good luck' and 'see you at in Pietermaritzburg'.

I make my way into the 'shark tank' of 'A' batch corral, which compared to the other pens I'd walked past wasn't as full. Working my forward in the milling group I spot Warren, a Hillcrest local and instigator of the Strava Comrades group who I've been in touch with for a year or so. We chat and it's great to have something else to focus on in the swirling energy of start line nerves.

The MC does his bit to whip up the noise and excitement of the runners and spectators - not that our nerves needed to be frayed any further. It's time to get focused for the starter's gun and the road ahead. Shortly before the gun we surge forward as the tape is dropped and we move closer to the timing mats. We're all packed in tight now and there only one way out - forward. Then with about 10 minutes to the start the familiar line up of songs and sounds that novices have heard about and the old hands know by heart begin. The South African national anthem, Shosholoza, Chariots of Fire, the cockerel crow of Max Trimborn*.

Bang! we're moving. I feel hands on my back. I put my hands up in front as the jostling starts and we all try to stay on our feet with shoes attached.  We roar down Dr Pixley Kaseme Street away form Durban Town Hall with the crowd 5 deep on the either side. There are B and C batch runners streaming past. I check my pace and I'm happy where I am for the next few kilometres as I can feel my left calf letting me know it will require some time to warm from standing around on the start line for an hour. Amid the cheers I notice a mosque on the right and hear the call to prayer.  

We swarm right on Joseph Ndulu Street then left; we're on the viaduct climbing up over the market area beginning to wake up as we head up to Tollgate. I remember to run well clear from the gutter and the crown of the road where the cat eyes live. In 2013, I rolled my ankle on the viaduct and gave myself a scare and kicked a cats eye near the Wall of Honour. I resolve to avoid those rookie errors again.  More cheering from the overpasses but the supporters are thinning out.  We head up another climb along Jan Smuts towards the first chaotic water station and the bright lights of the first TV camera position. 

I steer well clear of the water tables heading up Jan Smuts.

I steer well clear of the water tables heading up Jan Smuts.

Heading toward 45th Cutting I fell in with a cluster of green number runners. The pace they were moving at was right for me and it's hard not to think that green numbers know what they're doing. There was talk amongst them of going for silver but after half an hour or so I started to pull away from this knot of green numbers with a young guy called Nicholas from the Celtic Harriers Cape Town as we made our way to Cowie's Hill.  

"It's not a picnic!" - Bill Adcock. 

"It's not a picnic!" - Bill Adcock. 

Coming through Pinetown, where a diversion added 800m to the course, I figured it's time (19km) for something to eat and start on a PocketFuel. Damn! I wish I had a couple more of these but my shopping trip prior to leaving Sydney wasn't as well planned as it should've been. I hunted the Comrades expo and the shops of the Gateway centre in Umhlanga for more but it seems Pocketfuel hasn't made it to this part of the world.  

Heading up Fields Hill it's all smiles (mostly)

Heading up Fields Hill it's all smiles (mostly)

Out of Pinetown we turned to head up Fields Hill and the runners in front formed a single file 'work-gang' up the heavily cambered incline. Not only is the climb a beast the camber makes it all the more unpleasant. I stop about a 1/3 of the way up for a pee break. At the moment I'm hydrated, but it's not till I'm heading to the bus to take us back to Durban, eleven hours later, that my kidneys and bladder spring back to life.  I chatted to Nicholas about his running and goal for the day. His dad is a green number with 20+ finishes but hadn't started this year due to injury and work commitments. It's Nic's first Comrades and with a solid sub-three hour marathon he was aiming for silver too.  I lost touch with Nic on the final km of Fields but I could still see him ahead of me and I tried to keep within reach. 

Heading up through the Bothas Hill area I welcome the crowd support and the cool, leafy shade. I high-five the guys from Kearsney College for a lift.  I'm about 3 hours in, about to finish the first 37km; the majority of climbing is almost done.

Forty-three kilometres in and we pass the Comrades Wall of Honour, get a glimpse of the Valley of a Thousand Hills and pass Arthurs Seat. I doff my cap, 'Morning Arthur'. 

Valley of a Thousand Hills, always spectacular. 

Valley of a Thousand Hills, always spectacular. 

Coming through Drummond I recall what Nick Bester and Bruce Fordyce told me a few nights before at the International Meet and Greet - 'half-way' is 46km not Drummond. That piece of advice crystallises my race plan - easy to 37km with all the climbing, steady till Inchanga and assess how I'm feeling. Get through halfway in a time that makes a sub-7:30 time possible then push hard to have enough time at the top of Polly Shorrts to push on to the Oval. 

I get over the top of Inchanga and I feel good. I've had a very conservative first half  and I'm in good shape but now's the time to put those relatively fresh legs  and push on.  I start to pull away from Alexander and he says 'go'. I push on to Ethembeni Special School. More high-fives with the kids here not only lifts the spirits but can give you a lump in your throat. A kilometre or so later, in what seems like the middle of nowhere, there is a group of 10 or so women singing Shosholoza. My spirits lift again. A good 'patch'. 

After Inchanga we run through the Cato Ridge area which is industrial, dreary, flat and a bit of a spirit sapper. From Cato Ridge to Lion Park is where the questions get asked; Will you finish? Can you push on? It seems that everyone's splits through this section are slow, including mine. 

Somewhere between Cato Ridge and Camperdown (61km) my concentration slips.  As I trail two runners that come past me who look like they are on pace for silver, I drift onto the crown of the road and clip a cats eye with my left foot and hit the deck on hands and knees. The two runners in front turn their heads and keep going. "Probably a cats eyes" I hear one say. The runners behind me say "sorry", which is nice, but they really don't have much involvement in my error. A quick check and only my left palm is grazed and I get going. I'm a bit shaken. A 'bad patch'.  

After the fall I somehow still have a water sachet in my hand and I raise it to drink. My phone that I brought to take a few pictures slips out of my arm band and lands on the asphalt. Smash. I pick it up and kept going. I'd only just had the screen replaced after I dropped it at Sydney Airport. Resolution: no more phone in races. 

Past Camperdown and on to Umlaas Rd, the highest point of the course and back to some more crowd support. Once past Umlaas Rd there is 6km of downhill. It's time to push hard and it's not just because of the smell of the chicken farms that dot this area close to the course. 
Up Little Pollys and down the other side with more downhill at a gradient where 4:20-4:30/km pace is possible. It hurts but I'm moving fast and the end is close.  I pass a guy in an Aussie singlet. I hear "that must feel good" in a South African accent. I chuckle and keep going.  With 15km to go I start to feel a flutter in my left hamstring and my adductors on the up-hills letting me know if I pushed too hard I would soon seize up and grind to a halt but I'm still able to fly down the downhills and make up time.  For parts of last 12km I was stride for stride with an Ethiopian elite female runner (Alemtsehay Kakissa who places 21st) as we head to the finish.


In 2013 I came over the small bridge at the bottom of Polly Shortts and thought "oh shit" as I looked up the incline. This year it was, "there you are". Halfway up Pollys I heard a Brit grunting and occasionally shouting to himself. If it weren't the 31st of May, sometime after lunch on the outskirts of Peitermartizburg I'd think he was a nutter. But I know what he's up to and he becomes my 'tractor'. I knew there were 3 bends in the road that tease you as you grind your way up. Then, once you come round the final bend you pop up into the suburban outskirts of Peitermartizburg like the previous 80km were but a dream, if it weren't for the ache in your legs and fatigue weighing down on you. I get up Pollys a minute and sixteen seconds quicker than last time. Final push.

After cresting Polly Shortts I had to hit sub-5:00/km to have a chance of making the silver medal cut-off. I know there are 3 little hills between Pollys and the Oval that no one tells you about. I can fly on the downhills but the uphills are dicey with cramp threatening to strike. The last 3 km and Alemtsehay is right on my shoulder and jostling me, which given we have a road two lanes wide seems odd.  I slow a couple of strides back and venture to the other side of the road, sure enough she comes back to jostle. As we take the final left hand corner to the stadium there's an incline for a hundred metres or so and I drop back behind the Ethiopian, I'm on my own again. 

I run my fastest splits of the race in the 82th and 88th km; the last 1.1km into the oval 1:28 seconds faster than 2013. Is it enough?  I turned down the chute to the oval to the crowd noise winding up for the medal cut-off countdown. The grass of the oval feels like heaven after 87km of asphalt but it's unsettling too. I try a stab at some extra pace. No, don't do that,  just maintain, no time for heroics. I cross the line and drop to my knees and press my forehead to the grass. I can stop moving. I get up and turn to see the race official raise the gun and fire for the silver medal cut-off. 

Silver medal, silver fern

Silver medal, silver fern

9 hours to go

9 hours to gun time. Yes, there are butterflies.

I just went down to the Hilton lobby to drop off a camera to make it's way to the international tent and bumped into a guy I know running his tenth Comrades tomorrow. It's a big one moving into green number status. He said it's the worst day of the year and he feels sick with it. I wished him well.

I'm not feeling so bad but pangs of adrenaline hit every now and again no matter how cool and calm I try to remain. There's nothing more to do but to get some sleep, fitful at best and get get up tomorrow, get the race kit on, some breakfast on board and head to the corrals.

For me this year it's A batch. 

Off by the start line the officials are testing the PA. Playing Chariots of Fire, Shoshaloza and the cockerel crow of Max Trimborn. Rousing, stirring stuff, but not exactly the most settling thing right before bedtime. 

2100.00km and 184 hours this year in training. 

Good night and good luck.


week 16 review - it's all done

Made it to Durban, the start line is close now and getting here is an achievement in itself.  No injuries, no illness maybe a niggle or tow that play on the mind in the weeks of tapering. Try to shush that voice in your head that plays to much attention to the niggles. 

First order of business when the expo opens at 9am is head to the Merch area and go a little crazy. Then to register and pick race numbers, goodie bags and head wear. A change this year is the offer of a visor. I decide to get one that's what I wear when I race and train and it's great to have the option.  

Comrades schwag

Then some time to relax before the Ambassador's run, a gentle leg stretcher along the Durban beach front. It's hot in the winter sun but good to get the legs moving after the 14 hours to SA and a day of car travel in Jo'burg. 

Time for some more relaxation, browsing the expo and grabbing a few things from the Workshop shopping centre then back for the International Meet 'n' Greet. This year along with the eve r present spinner of Comrades yarns Bruce Fordyce there was a slew of former winners and 10 finishes including Bob de la Motte. 

Understanding 'The Comrades' - [video compendium]

Perhaps the only way to understand the Comrades marathon is to run it or at least see it in person, but in this era of InstaTwitterFaceTubing there's ways to get a really good impression of what the event is all about.

With six weeks to go I have to say that I'm pretty tired from Bob de la Motte's 1987 training plan. I logged 140km last week which I capped off with a 21 minute 50k PB in the Canberra Ultra. I was really pleased with that result as the main focus of the race was treating it as a training run in race conditions.

Even though I was on a bit of a high for about a day after the race, there's no denying that a 50k race does not go unoticed by your body. As my rather tender right calf recovered from the race, the fatigue seemed to progress.

With the accumulated fatigue that is part and parcel of the training ('training on tired legs') it can be difficult to find the motivation to get the running gear on and get out the door. Ahead of this week's long run I trawled the interwebs for some Comrades themed video motviation. While my main aim was to collect some videos together in one place to view when my my own motivation is waning it may also give you an idea of what 'the Comrades' is all about.

New Balance

In 2014 New Balance became the new clothing and footwear sponsor of Comrades. They also commissioned these two great videos produced by T+W.  The first one is my particular favourite, if it doesn't stir any emotion in you then you may not have a pulse ;). 

Comrades History

Comrades by the CMA

Perhaps more of interest for its poetic language than visual content, this video produced by Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) and was shown at the London Marathon Expo in 2008 (via YouTube) to entice runners to a greater challenge of the 56 miles between Durban and Pietermaritzburg.  

The Essence of Comrades

A compilation I'd not seen before complied by Australia and New Zealand Comrades race ambassador Bruce Hargreaves, a.k.a Digger. This video consists of edited highlights of the CMA's 'History of Comrades' Video, and selected clips from various SABC race broadcasts.

The 1985 race 

Fascinating highlights footage from Australia's Channel 9 Wide World of Sports programme. Gives some insight into the how the political situation in South Africa was viewed at the time.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3 


Race day videos by year

Comrades Marathon GoPro "Runner's view" 2012 by Cliff Beddy.

This is a fun one. The entire 2012 race condensed into a 17:00 timelapse. 

Comrades 2013 by Stefan de Bruijne  

An 'up' run in 'the hot' year - my first.

Comrades Marathon 2014 By MarathonFilm 

A 'down run' year. Also a hot day, with increasing humidity on the way down to Durban.

Bart Yasso v. Comrades

The greatest running experience on the planet.
— Bart Yasso

From the series 'The Last Great Race' by Brian Sabin for Runner's World. This is the final episode in the series following Runner's World's Chief Running Officer, Bart Yasso as he trains for, and completes, the Comrades Marathon in 2010,  the last on his list of great races. 

Episode 7 

Bart Vs. Comrades: Episode 6 - Bart in Africa

From the series 'The Last Great Race' by Brian Sabin for Runner's World. 

Bart Vs. Comrades: Episode 3 - Training Run

Bart Vs. Comrades: Episode 2 - Bart's Downhill Battle

The last race on Bart Yasso's life list is 56 miles long, changes direction every year, and has the strictest cutoff time on the planet. Learn more about the Comrades Marathon.

Bart Vs. Comrades: Episode 1 - Starting Over

He's 54 years old and battling Lyme Disease. But Bart Yasso is determined to take on the last race left on his life list - the 56-mile Comrades Marathon in South Africa. His journey begins here.

Week 9 review in images - Past halfway in Comrades training

Lots of kms through the week topped off with a 50k long run on Sunday at the Canberra 50k Ultra. As I'm trying to place an emphasis on recovery and sleep, brevity in this post is a necessity so pictures will have to suffice for now.

Week 5 round up

Just back from the pool which marks the end of my rest day and the start of week six of my Comrades marathon training using Bob de la Motte's Comrade training programme for silver medal contention.  

Week five marked an uptick in volume and also intensity with hill works and track sessions added to the mix.  Tallying up the kms for the week, my total was 122.8km while the plan has 110km set out. A little bit of overage with the wark-up and cool down distance added into the mix on the quality sessions and some extra kms on the easy runs.  I realised a bit too late in the week that I wouldn't be able to do the track session as scheduled on Friday as the track I use is closed on Fridays. So that went by the wayside with a plan to swap Track to Tuesday evenings and hills for Friday evenings. Hopefully that works logistically and physiologically!

The week's key workouts

Long run Sunday

The last workout of the week was Sunday's long run. At last we are starting to get some cooler weather in Sydney which makes for better running conditions, albeit with some wind as well. Hit the pace required (4:45/km) while taking a couple of quick water stops and a walk break. Took a gel at 26km and that was it as far as nutrition went for this run apart from water from fountains along the way. With some decent rain setting in in the afternoon, plyometrics and technique drills in park was off the schedule for this week, which I was a little relieved about. I feel that session in my glutes and hamstrings till Tuesday!

Mid week Tempo

Tuesday hills

Bob de la Motte Comrades Training chart .jpg

And so it begins - The road to the 2015 Comrades Marathon

February ninth. It's not the usual day of commencing Comrades training but it's when I am officially starting my Comrades preparation, and a break from previous years.

Those who know me, know I like a spot of running (caution: I have a weakness for understatement). Once I learnt about Comrades I knew I was going to run it.  This year will be my 3rd attempt and my first in which I'll document the journey through the training process, the trip to Durban, the race and the aftermath. 


So why February ninth? Traditionally, according to conventional wisdom, Comrades marathon training starts 1st of January.  However there are runners and coaches that eschew this conventional approach. They point to observations of training endurance runners that suggest that most can sustain only 8 to 12 weeks of really intensive training in the preparation for a race. Sure, there are those bulletproof men and women who have endured long periods of gruelling miles and come through unscathed by injury or illness. They are the few. 

So who are these coaches and runners who urge runners to hold off on the heavy training till later in the year? For starters, Bruce Fordyce. A name synonymous with the race - the Comrades King. He should know. And the man who pushed him hard in some of his toughest battles, Bob De La Motte. More about Bob later. 


And then there is the great coach Arthur Lydiard. It struck me a few weeks ago while reading Timothy Noakes Lore of Running that my draw to the Comrades was almost preordained. Growing up in Auckland in 1980's watching the exploits of the likes of Alison Roe, Rod Dixon, and Lorraine Moller and the massive crowds of runners in the Round the Bays run (once the largest fun run in the world), I was oblivious to the fact that these athletes and events were guided by Lydiard. Lydiard's success was understanding the importance of aerobic conditioning as the basis of a structured and logical sequence of specific training based on physiological principles. He applied this periodisation to great success with his athletes and passed on this approach to many coaches. But where did Lydiard get his the basis for his approach? It was from the first Legend of the Comrades, Arthur Newton. Newton was arguably the first runner to take a scientific approach to endurance running, and with quite remarkable results (more on that in a later post). So, a link from me in Auckland via Arthur Lydiard to Durban and another Arthur, and to Comrades.

A few weeks ago I happened across a tweet that linked a file rather cryptically.  I downloaded it for later perusal. Once I had a chance to look over it I realised my training would take a different track from the previous two years. 

I will not deny that the 'short shorts for action sports' picture of Bob De La Motte's in the file had me 90% convinced that this was the programme for me. Given race records from the 80's have yet to be beaten was further affirmation that a programme born of that era has pedigree.

Bob de la Motte busting out that eighties running style. Bob kindly posted his Comrades marathon silver training chart on Facebook

And so it is that I choose this programme for my Comrades preparation. Ironically, I start the programme with a 'rest' day. A night swim in the fabulous North Sydney Olympic pool. 

My intention to use the rest day for active recovery, a short swim really loosens up the legs and is a refresher in the greasy humid blast furnace that is Sydney in summer. 

North Sydney Olympic Pool

North Sydney Olympic Pool

Part II - Consistency, patience, excellence: A weekend with Coach Sommer of

So onto the seminar itself. The seminar was held at the newly opened Lift Performance Centre in Redfern. Actually the place is so new that it hadn't officially opened yet and the GB seminar was the first event held at the Centre. We started the day off with Coach discussing his background as a National Team coach, the origins of Gymnastic Bodies, and his involvement with Crossfit right back in its earliest days. Coach spoke at some length about his approach and how that extends to all things not just in the gym. I might be quoting him incorrectly but to paraphrase his message was I don't train successful athletes, I train successful people. Those who got that message and followed through were doing very well in life.

Working on some handstand progressions with Coach Sommer.

Working on some handstand progressions with Coach Sommer.

We started into the first practical component of the weekend with shoulder mobility. Shoulder dislocates with weighted bars front and back with different holds. Then onto stiff leg windmills where I picked up some great pointers. SLW are such a great exercise and I really look forward to these in my training and while this is technically in the schedule as mobility exercise it certainly is adding a strength dimension from the shoulder to the pelvis along the lateral line. Then it was into some Jefferson curls, and some preparation for handstands (lots of hollow body rocks, arch body rocks, and other instruments of torture!) Later in the day we moved to planche and side lever work. The weather for Saturday was fairly brutal for a session in an unventilated gym and as the mercury rose to 37C the roller doors onto the pavement were opened. A fair number of passers-by were intrigued with the goings-on and for a time a group of neighbourhood kids sat on the pavement to watch and learn. Lucky!

Sunday was pre-strength for some rope and rings work before moving into some material from the soon-to-released Movement and Stretch series (sorry, but I won't be spilling the beans on that material, you'll have to wait and sign up like everyone else). We also had several rounds of Push-Up wars with King of the Mat going on to take the next round of contenders. There were some huge numbers of reps being notched on not the freshest of arms. If anything, I would have liked to spend a little more time on the Stretch material but I think there is only so much time that Coach Sommer can listen to a group swear, grunt, and call on the existence of various deities for amusement value before it gets old!

While more time working the Foundation and Handstand material would have been beneficial prior to the seminar there was plenty for me to work on. With the rings work there is definitely no benefit to rushing into it - false progress will come back to bite in the form of tendonitis or some other injury. It is quite awe inspiring to see someone climb rope like Niels did with great form and technique off the same progressions that you are working through. Most of the other attendees I gathered were from Crossfit or strength backgrounds with a few from functional movement backgrounds (with an Olympic gymnastic in the mix as well), so a diverse bunch interested in applying the GB programme to their own training, whatever that maybe. Would I recommend the seminar to anyone interested in gymnastics? Absolutely. Also there are tremendous benefits here for rehabilitating not only the broken desk-bound but also stiff and brittle adults out there is general.

I came across a post by Coach Sommer on his Facebook page that illustrates why this approach is justified.

But the primary reason for that beautiful swing was an unrelenting pursuit of perfect technique; day after day, month after month, year after year. Some days all we did was work on basic PB swings for 45 min. Not because we wanted to, or because it was particularly exciting; but because they were just slightly off that day and needed the work. A mistake that I see all too often is people assuming that basics are only for beginners; when in fact nothing could be further from the truth.

The reality is that if you are pursuing excellence, you need to accept the fact that mastering the basics, and then continually striving to refine those basics, is going to be a part of your life forever. Because it is these ‘basics’ that make mastery of all of the exciting, heart pounding, crowd pleasing advanced skills possible!
— Coach Sommer

Patience, uncompromising attention to detail, and consistency seem to sum up the GB way.

Consistency, patience, excellence: A weekend with Coach Sommer of

Finding the sweet spot for health and performance with Gymnastic Strength Training.

It's now three weeks since I attended a Gymnastic Strength Training (GST) seminar with Coach Christopher Sommer of assisted by Niels Jørgensen plenty of time to reflect on the seminar and the Foundation and Handstand courses.

First, backing up a bit to how I heard about Coach Sommer and GST. I first became aware of Coach Sommer through Robb Wolf's Paleo Solution podcast episode 213, episode 230 and episode 241).

In these episodes Coach Sommer outlined his approach preparing athletes for National competition teams and Olympic trials; meticulous physical preparation of the athlete, in the domains of strength, mobility, and neuromuscular coordination that enables the high physical demands of the gymnastic movements required in training and competition. The part that struck a chord with me is the often overlooked component that Sommer emphasises. This athletic development is limited by the adaption of tissues to absorb and respond to the training load. While this may seem obvious, it's not taken into account by many coaches and athletes in many sporting disciplines. Most athletes are familiar with the muscular response to strength training but not the much slower change in connective tissue remodelling in response to training load. Muscle tissue takes around 90 days to turnover, 200-210 days for ligament, tendon and joint capsule with bone taking approximately two years (these responses are approximate but suffice for now). So it's possible to outpace the adaption from the connective tissue component with programming that focus only on muscular strength gains. Connective tissue health is only considered when it's too late, when injury strikes and more often than not it will be some form of CT injury - tendinopathy, tear/ rupture, inflammation.

At the time I was listening to coach Sommer I was preparing a talk for the Ancestral Health Society of New Zealand's conference in Wanaka on fascia, exercise and injury with an emphasis on endurance runners (more on that in a later post). There is a fairly appalling injury rate in running, anywhere from 30% to 70% (Lieberman 2012) and with higher incidence rates reported in the literature. What is it that runners are lacking or doing too much off that is contributing to this injury rate? (leaving aside the footwear factor for the time being). Could it be that many runners are getting gains in cardiovascular fitness, getting some gains in muscular endurance but coming into the sport with strength in limited ranges of motion and compromised mobility and doing nothing to develop this and getting further and further ahead of what the connective tissues system can absorb? This is only a hypothesis but look at the overuse injuries that runners develop. Achilles tedinopathy, patello-femoral syndrome, ilio-tibial band syndrome, plantar fasciosis, tibialis posterior tendinopathy, and the list does not end there. All of these are fascial injuries if we use the broad International Fascia Research Congress definition of fascia which includes tendon, ligament, fascia proper and aponeuroses.

Sommer related a story where in his time as a gymnastic athlete he ran 20 or so miles to get across town and then repeated the journey to return home with no soreness or tightness in his legs the next day. Show me a runner who wouldn't want that response to their long runs! Sommer attributes this to the high level of conditioning inherent in gymnastics, connective tissue integrity from gymnastic strength training, plyometrics and repulsive work. So there is definitely remarkable gains to be reaped by endurance athletes as well as Olympic lifters and Crossfitters with gymnastic strength training.

Sommer explained that when he first started taking GST seminars with adults he completely underestimated the lack of mobility and overestimated the strength of participants. Training that his younger athletes did as warm-up left adult participants crushed and gasping. Adults can be strong enough through strength training to destroy their joints because they lack the strength and elasticity in their joint tissues. His observations is that the stronger an adult is the more 'crippled' they are in terms of mobility. So the first order of business for adults in GST is mobility. He stresses the importance of mobility as injuries will occur at the weakest link - the joints, tendons, and fascia. These connective tissue injuries take a long time to heal (12-18 months) and can't be rushed.

These aren’t my rules, they are Mother Nature’s.
— Coach Sommer

It's evident that Coach Sommer has poured a tremendous amount of time ,work and money into the Gymnastic Bodies programmes over the years to enable compromised adult beginners to start and progress to higher levels of strength and mobility. Consistency, patience and 'taking care of your business" will lead to progression over time.

Listening to Coach Sommer's approach to preparing athletes for competition I knew I had to take a closer look at his training programme. It so happened that when I checked the GB website an upcoming Sydney seminar was on offer. It seemed a good time to sign up for the seminar with Foundation 1 and Handstand 1 courses included even though my preparation with the material would be limited (8 weeks).

In the next post I'll give an overview of the seminar weekend itself.

  1. Lieberman DE. What we can learn about running from barefoot running: an evolutionary medical perspective. Exercise and sport sciences reviews [Internet]. 2012 Apr;40(2):63–72. Available from:

Under way...

Well, I'm finally underway into the wide world of blogging. Perhaps I'm subjecting myself to a pipeline of the mental outflows of cranks, trolls and assorted interwebs freaks, but some much nicer folks think I've some useful information to impart.

So thanks to the nudging of these fine folk I've set aside my procrastinating tendencies and gotten underway. So thank you @WildernessEMC for the nudge and website name, @primalmeded for seconding the motion, @gratitudejack for vetting the double entendre potential of proposed domain names, @primalRUSH for suggesting some, and @mikkiwilliden, @drgregbrown and @_Jamie_ Scott for voting on names. And to a couple of my GORUCK Tough friends for showing interest in the talk too.

Obrigado a todos pelo incentivo!