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Praemonitus praemunitus… forewarned is forearmed.

Just because we’re amateurs doesn’t mean we can’t try to be as professional as possible in the way we approach our racing. This applies to physical preparation... obviously, but knowing the course that you will race on is critical whether you are competing for positions, times or completion.

Professional athletes have the time and resources to be able to train over race routes. This helps them focus training sessions to target the specific demands that the route may present. It helps in equipment selection such as wheel choices and gear ratios. In short, it is invaluable preparation.

That is all good and well when you have all the time in the World to travel and stay in a race location and have sponsors who will fund not only the trip to the race but also a couple of trips to recce the route. So how do amateurs get the necessary route experience when they have to pitch at work from Monday to Friday and have school fees and bond repayments that take precedence over training trips. Especially if our goal race is a couple of thousand kays away?

In short… modern technology.

I got the idea for this article while applying all of what I am about to tell you to the Tri-Rock Cradle half iron distance triathlon. This is an all new event on roads that I have not and will not have the opportunity to train on.

So this is how I do a virtual recce of a race route…

First things first, map it – Now, I think chasing Strava segments is stupid. Race on race-day train the rest of the time. Stuffing up your session for some online bragging-rights is lame. I’m only interested in how you did at the races. But… I have found Strava very useful for mapping a new race route. You are able to get accurate gradient percentages, which are very useful for gear selections. Using the list of segment results on your race route (thanks to those who have sacrificed good training) will also give a very good indication of how severe a climb is but I only use the results of names that I recognise and usually local pros because I suspect some okes are out there in their cars logging segments.

Another number to note when looking at a route profile is the meters of ascent. Strava tells me that there are over 1100m of vertical in the Tri-Rock Cradle bike route. That is a fair amount for a triathlon. I use the ratio of 1000m of ascent to a 100km travelled to indicate an undulating route. Not mountainous but not at all flat. So this is nudging above that.

Climbing has an impact on wheel choice. Aerodynamic wheels are not that light so we are in the grey area of deciding whether we want to favour aero over rolling weight.

When I look at the route though I see that there are long stretches of straight road and that the climbs seem fairly regular in gradient. This means that we will be able to tackle them in a steady fashion without too much acceleration required. Weight in the wheels has more of a negative impact when having to climb really steep hills, out of the saddle and accelerating back up to speed out of corners or where the gradient of a climb constantly changes. So I am still leaning towards the disc wheel for the Tri-Rock Cradle.

Besides, the aerodynamics will pay for themselves as we hurtle down the long straight downhills on this out and back course.

Looking at the uphill last few kays of the cycle at Tri-Rock and the tough, one kilometre climb to start the run, the second transition is going to be hard. Another thing that can be prepared for in training.

The run itself is not easy at Tri-Rock as well. Nearly 300m of ascent in a half marathon means it is going to be more of a strength orientated run than one where absolute running speed is a factor. This will definitely impact what kind of quality running sessions I will be doing in preparation. More hill reps and less 400s on the track, which I will admit does not make me sad at all.

Next we need to check the prevailing weather – Sites like Windguru and Weather Underground will give you very accurate current weather predictions but we can get out of our car and stick our finger in the air to check wind direction and temperature on race day, what we want is a prediction of what the weather will be like a couple of months from now. I just assume, because I know you are not doff, that you’re planning this race a few months in advance…? So a little bit of searching and a few clicks and you can find some great stats on what the wind and temperature is like in any given month in the area of your race.

I have only ever raced bike races on the roads that are being used at Tri-Rock. I remember one occasion, in a Dome to Dome road race in 2008 where the bunch was completely split by gutter winds. So I have it in my head that the bike may be too windy for a very deep front wheel.

So searching for the weather history of Lanseria Airport on Weather Underground, I discover that in February 2014 the wind speeds are not that high, mostly in the late teens to early 20kph range, which will not have much impact on my 90mm front wheel.

Another Google search reveals that the predominant wind in the area is NW. Which means a lot of crosswind but also most likely a headwind between 30-40km on one of the longest climbs on the route. All things that can be simulated in training.

This also impacts the gear choice. Got to make sure that we have an 11 on for the way back…

Probably the most significant factor as far as weather goes when predicting conditions for the Tri-Rock in February is that the temperature seemed to hit the thirties almost every day in February 2014. A half iron distance race has us running at the hottest time of the day so the heat will definitely be something to prepare for at Tri-Rock Cradle.

One more thing… there are some interesting features on the Tri-Rock Cradle bike route. There are a couple of paved roundabouts and some tricky intersections. So that I know what is coming, I use Google Maps ‘Street-view’ so that I can see and prepare mentally for what is coming my way on race day. It is helpful in deciding how aggressively to tackle a corner when you know what it is like coming out the other side.

Street-view is also useful in gauging the state of the road. Smoothness of tar is critical in deciding tyre pressure. You can actually have a look at points all along a route and get a very accurate mental picture of the terrain and scenery so that when you arrive on race day, it is almost like you have been there before.

I have used the Tri-Rock Cradle as an example here but this kind of thing can be done for any ‘out-of-town’ race that you might be preparing for. We are able to get a clear picture of the demands that the course will place on us. What equipment will be required but I have found it is also a great way to get my head ‘into’ a race.

You probably define yourself as a 'jock' but getting a bit 'nerdy' will have a positive impact on your race. What else are you going to do between sessions?

Race Report - Tinman Series Race 4, Durban 16/11/14 (1km/30km/10km)

(photo credits to: Jethro Snyders and Susan del a Porte)

Durban has had some heavy surf conditions this Spring and the 16th of November proved to be much of the same. For those of us who have grown up here and don’t mind a bit of messy surf, we were hoping that Damian from B-Active would not take the decision to cancel the swim and revert to a duathlon as in race two.

I obviously understand the decision from a safety perspective and that day we were also without the dubious protection of the shark nets. Fortunately Damian is committed to doing what he can to maintain things as they were planned and give triathletes what they want. So a compromise was reached with the lifeguards and we had a swim, which was considerably shortened.

As in the Tri-Rock earlier in the season, I was being a loud-mouth about triathletes being able to handle tough swim conditions, only to be worked over nicely through the white-water going out. Perhaps I need to make my way down to the coast more often for some practice (I live about 30km inland) and stop resting on my laurels of twenty-eight years of experience? You are only as good as your last surf swim DvG... and I got smacked properly going out!

Fighting my way through the swimmers who had done a better job than me through the rollers, I rounded the two buoys, which had been placed fairly close together, and headed for the shore. A bit further behind Glen Gore and Mark de Swardt than I had hoped to be. Fortunately, some of my misspent youth in the Indian Ocean started coming back to me and I managed to pull a nice, ride-able wave in the mid-break that closed things up again and I ran up the beach more or less where I had hoped to be.

Onto the flat but windy 30-odd kays, consisting of six laps of the beachfront circuit and I was soon in a lead group with Glen and Mark. After race number three of the series, where the deciding factor of the race proved to be my attack as we all came together, they were not getting taken by surprise again. So as I eased passed I made the universal cycling symbol of, “let’s work together,” and hoped that the guys would trust me to keep my end of the bargain.

In all aspects of sport, business and life, we sometimes have to demonstrate our intent before other parties will reciprocate. So I did a big turn on the front for about three-quarters of the 5km lap to show that I was not going to accelerate and try to leave my companions behind. This seemed to do the trick and the three of us began rolling through to keep the slightly larger chasing group at a reasonable distance.

I was a bit devious though I must admit… I have spent some time as a cyclist and, a beautiful sport though it is, it does teach deception. The flat circuit does not offer much in the way of opportunities to hurt your opponents but, with the SW blowing, one place is after the tricky, off-camber, left hand turn after the swimming pool. Every lap I would go in hard, hoping to create a few gaps between our wheels. I would then accelerate up the slight incline, with the tailwind assisting by negating the drafting effect. My thinking was, if the guys let the wheel go, I was out of there, if they fought back on each lap, it would at least soften their legs for the run.

As things turned out, the three of us rolled into T2 together and ran out, just as the chase group was entering. So I figured about 40-50 seconds on some potentially quick runners like Haig Gibb.

I hit the first kay really hard out of transition, trying to encourage my old foe, Glen, to race for second and allow me to run at my own pace. This seemed to work and I got a gap fairly quickly. I then settled in to see what I could run for the flat 10km off a cycle, which had turned out to be not as hard as normal.

The wind played quite a big role on the flat, exposed promenade. The 2.5km down to Blue Lagoon was with the wind at my back and I was trying to keep my 43-year-old legs rotating with enough speed to make the most of it. Coming back was into the wind but ironically, it felt easier because speed is what you lose with age and grinding into the wind suits my running ability more at this stage. I am not what you would call a whippet!

10km down and I had managed to open up a comfortable 2:00 margin on Glen who held on for second by :20 over Haig Gibb. I ran a 36:38, which I am very pleased with. It is by no means an ITU level run split but for someone with as many miles on their clock as me and in that wind, I am more than satisfied with that time. It is good to see the training progression going in the right direction.

One more race in 2014, over my favourite distance and at my favourite venue at the Midlands Ultra and then a break from racing over the Festive Period. Onwards!

(A graphic representation of what a wind can do on the run, from my Polar V800)


Race Report - Tri-Rock Half-Iron Distance Triathlon, Durban 05/10/14

I had been eagerly looking forward to the 2nd edition of this half-iron distance race on Durban’s beachfront. I had gone into last year’s race a little short of form and had settled for second place fairly early on in the bike ride. This year I was hoping to be able to perform at my best on home turf and as a result, most of my Winter training had been focused on peaking for Tri-Rock.

This work had resulted in a 40+ PB for the half marathon in July, you have to recalibrate when you realise you aren’t going to hit those 20-something times! Unfortunately, I got a bit carried away with the road racing for a few weeks and picked up an Achilles tendon injury just before our triathlon season started at the first of Durban’s Tinman Triathlon Series events.

Stubbornness and perseverance prevailed though and I managed two 4 th places in the first two races in that series, with decent swim and cycle legs and some teeth-gritting on the run. Gradually my self-treatment bore fruit and the Achilles started improving. Fortunately I had managed to maintain much of my hard earned running condition and this bore fruit in the third Tinman, which I won. Coming two weeks before Tri-Rock, it confirmed what I was feeling in training, that my form was coming good at the right time.

Race Director Grant Kuneke and his team had wisely decided to move the swim up to the Bay of Plenty beach. This to avoid cycling out through the city of Durban and the inherent traffic issues that come with that. The only problem is, The Bay is a well-known surf beach and for good reason, the waves can be epic their dude!

I drove down to Durban on the Tuesday of race week to drop something off with Grant and thought that I would grab a short swim at the venue, to check out the conditions… well! The surf was pounding in! Bathing was actually banned as well because the shark nets had been taken in to protect them from the storm surf conditions. Now I have grown up doing triathlon in the surf and I’m comfortable when it gets big or choppy but I am not keen on sharing that surf with the ‘men in grey suits’ so my little route tester was substituted by a coffee at Mugg and Bean.

As race day approached and the surf conditions remained unchanged, in fact things got even bigger, I was starting to worry that the swim was going to be cancelled and we would end up with a duathlon. People who may know a bit about my racing career might find that surprising as I used to be a bit of a duathlon specialist but triathlon is my first love and I don’t actually swim as slowly as some may think.

Fortunately Grant was on the same wavelength and he did everything possible to make sure that we had a triathlon. So the swim start was moved to UShaka, where there is no surf, and we swam up to South Beach, where there was but still less than Bay. Then we had about a kay to run on the promenade to get to T1 and from there the course would resume as planned.

I will admit I was pretty lazy at the start. I didn’t run aggressively enough into the water and found myself in the midst of a bit of a bun-fight around the first buoy. Once around that I managed to find some open water and settled in trying to find the second buoy about a kilometre away. Being a point-to-point swim, this is fairly easy as you just swim North with Moses Mahbida Stadium ahead of you and eventually you will see the second yellow turn buoy. This wasn’t terribly easy though because there was quite a swell running and if you miss-timed your sighting, the buoy would be in a trough. That coupled with the fact that the flotilla of watercraft around the lead swimmer, Glen Gore, were often in the way when I lifted my head and prevented me from catching sight of that flash of yellow on the rolling ocean.

Eventually I got there. I was pretty much on my own around the buoy, about thirty or forty seconds ahead of the chase pack. This is not how I usually race. I normally look for feet in the swim and sit in but the lumpy surf conditions had spread things out.

Heading in was the most challenging part of the swim. In a surf swim I would always check the route to shore, trying to determine washes, where the surf line was etc. Having driven to the start from T1, I did not have this opportunity. Shouldn’t have been a problem. After all, was I not one of the big-mouths shouting for the swim to stay the same and triathletes must harden up and learn to swim? Yes I was… So, as I began to feel the swells starting to rise, I knew I was approaching the wave zone, I started checking under my arm for a wave and there it was… upping the stroke rate and the kick I went for it… NOPE… I was too late and I knew it and decided to pull out… NOPE again… the wave wasn’t having any of that and it hauled my big mouth over the ‘falls’.

So for breakfast I dined on some dirty Indian Ocean but at least I was getting churned closer to shore. Hitting the beach I remembered some sage advice I received as a 15-year-old, “If you swallow a lot of sea water, stick your finger down your throat and get rid of it or it will mess your stomach up later.” Embarrassingly I did this as I ran passed the lady directing me on the correct route. She didn’t look impressed by my race-craft and experience.

The barefoot run on the promenade was not the most fun I have had. I also had to be cautious with my Achilles as I was not completely over the injury yet and was scared to do more damage. I was told that I was fifth out the water but I passed two guys in the change tent as they struggled to get their dry wetsuits off. Been there and done that and learned that lesson. I had removed mine at the start of the run and carried it in.

Onto the bike, up the beachfront and then onto the closed off M4. What a pleasure! I was now in second with Glen Gore about two minutes up the road. This was a great position for me to be in with my weakest leg behind me and to be one my own on the bike. This gave me the ability to ride at my own, steady rhythm without having to worry about trying to surge guys off. To do that I push the flats and downhill sections and actually hold back on the climbs. Trying to maintain a very limited cadence and HR range by using the gears.

Glen was riding hard and it took me until Umhlanga to finally hit the lead. From there it was just me and the newly-tarred, super-smooth M4 to Ballito. The only intrusions in my solitary world were the occasions the TV bike came up alongside or the helicopter flew overhead. If I could place an order for the perfect way to ride the 90km leg of a triathlon, this would be my ‘usual’.

I had done a few training rides on the route and knew that the tar was immaculate. As a result there were 11-bar in my tubbies and they were singing pleasantly as I turned and picked up speed on the downhill back from Ballito. I could see at this stage that I had about four minutes on the second place rider. At the time I was not sure who it was, as TT helmets with visors conceal identity pretty well.

This made no difference though, I have a personal ambition to never average less than 40kph for a half iron distance bike ride and I was focusing on achieving that rather than worrying what time gaps were and who would be closest to me starting the run. So, keeping tabs on my average speed, and paying attention to not over-gear and allow my cadence to drop, I rolled my way over the climbs at La Mercy and Umhlanga and finished with the flat stretch through Durban North and into T2.

Conveniently, we had to go all the way to the end of the M4 and then do a U-turn back up to the off-ramp at Blue Lagoon. This again gave me the opportunity to check on who was chasing and how far behind they were. I was gratified to see that I was now just over seven minutes up on second, with a third rider not too far behind him. This was a very comfortable margin for me to take into a half marathon but at 43-years-old anything can happen and I was taking nothing for granted.

The Run was out and back three times, up and down the awesome promenade alongside the ocean. Pretty much pancake flat and with not much wind to speak of, one of the easiest run routes around in triathlon. The multiple turn-around points are also great for someone in the lead who needs to keep tabs on his pursuers.

Coming back from the first turn I saw that it was Michael Cannon in second place. He is a very quick runner but with the lead that I had managed to build on the bike, he would need to have a blinder and I would need to have a nightmare. Stranger things have happened though… that coupled to the fact that I did my first triathlon before Mike was born, kept me focused on my own pace and keeping hydrated and fuelled.

In the end I had a great run. Averaging around 3:50ish per kilometre, with even splits throughout. Mike was having a fantastic run and I had lost just over two minutes to him by the finish but I was grateful to have some time in hand to pick up my daughter Audrey in the last 100m and run with her across the line.

So a very good day for me and a big thanks to Grant and his team for putting on such a professional event and giving me the opportunity to have such a good result in front of my friends and family. I am very glad that Durban once again has an annual, ultra-distance race, like the ones I grew up watching and dreaming about competing in, in the ‘80s.

Shaving down - Published in Go-Multi Magazine 



I have been removing the hair from my legs for more than half my life now. I have always hoped that my body would just give up and the hair would stop growing but alas, at least once a week I find myself bending my aging body into positions that I fear it may not bounce back from, just to achieve the silky smooth shave that my brand of razor promises me. In fact, I shaved my legs before I began shaving my face.


Now I understand the questions in 1986, when I stripped down to my PT shorts at school after my first shearing but I am surprised that in 2013 I still get asked why cyclists shave their legs. Let me list the reasons in order of importance: It shows off the definition in your pins really well; everyone else does it; it makes massage easier and crash wounds heal quicker.


For me, my initial reason for shaving was because cyclists did it. I wasn’t sure why but they did, so I needed to. There was no muscle-definition in my 15-year-old twigs that removing the hair would have made more visible and impressive. In fact, the biggest part of my leg as a whole was my kneecap. I do however remember the moment, as I strolled passed a reflective surface wearing my Polly-shorts, when I first saw the beginnings of a distinct line separating my quadriceps from my hamstring. Ah, what a moment!


I digress…


My folks were certainly not going to fork out any cash for their teenage son to get rubbed up by some hot masseuse and I hadn’t yet had any major unplanned dismounts at speed that would have brought me to the realisation that hair would infect the wounds. So yes… my only reason was that I followed the crowd and decided that smooth legs were what I needed to gain some credibility in the cycling fraternity. Remembering here that I got into cycling as a fledgling triathlete.


Mistake number one... I decided that waxing was the best way to handle this, who knows why? I probably read it in one of my Mom’s lady magazines. Returning from the pharmacy with my little brown bag containing some form of cold wax concoction that could have been used to extract cold-war secrets from the most hardened Soviet spy, I enlisted help from my dad. That was mistake number two…


He proceeded to smear this sticky gloop onto my skinny limbs with what looked like an ice-lolly stick before patting on small squares of the gauze-like material that accompanied the goo. Then bracing himself, he yanked! I think this day provided another first… it was also the first time I swore in front of my father. Fortunately, I don’t think he noticed because the hilarity that my agony caused distracted him from my expletives.


He gave it a few more tries, I was still fifteen and hadn’t yet broken the habit of doing what my father told me, but eventually my Mom, my grandparents and all neighbours within a two hundred meter radius of our house couldn’t handle my distressing screams anymore. So I escaped my dad’s demented attempts to skin me and washed off the remaining wax, probably having to use paint thinners, and proceeded to complete the job with a razor. I haven’t looked back.


Well, except for this one other time…


Speed ahead to about 1993… I had now been shaving my legs for eight years, I’d finished school, done my national service and had won a couple of triathlons, duathlons and even bike races. I had even developed a bit of definition in the pistons. So I was feeling pretty chuffed with myself. I also had a twice-weekly massage with a sports masseuse who had a room adjoining a pharmacy in a busy shopping mall.


Mondays and Fridays were my regular slots. The day after a race and two days before. To ensure I was sleek and smooth for race day, I used to shave on a Saturday. So the Friday rub was a bit abrasive to say the least. My masseuse also did, you guessed it, waxing and she convinced me that hot wax was way less painful than my earlier DIY effort and it would last much longer than shaving and thus save her precious hands on Fridays.


Being in my early twenties I was very susceptible to female persuasion, I’m not anymore of course! So I agreed. Well! I have run out of skill at over 60kph and slid across tarmac with nothing but gaudy coloured lycra to protect me and that has hurt less than what I experienced on that massage table! Fortunately I managed to maintain some semblance of masculine-pride and held my tongue but I think I left her massage bench in the shape of a cello after squeezing it so hard in order to suppress my girly screams.


So back to shaving for me. Something I fear I will be doing for the rest of my days.




I'm addicted to competition - Published in Go-Multi Magazine 



Hi, my name is Donovan and I like to compete!


This, not so subtle, implied simile is completely intentional. I believe that Alcoholics Anonymous meetings start with this introduction and acknowledgement of an addiction. I may have it wrong, all I know about these I have learned from that window on the World, the television. The reason I chose to begin with that was because I find, more and more, that competition is something that people are embarrassed to admit, almost like an addiction to a controlled substance.


My question is, why is that? I read and hear how people are just out to enjoy the scenery or to appreciate nature or some other hippy ideal. Don’t misunderstand me, I enjoy a pretty route as much as the next person but I also enjoy a good battle with that person as well.


I believe that to suppress your competitive spirit is to deny human nature. We are, by nature, competitive. That is why we are at the top of the food chain despite our relatively frail little bodies in comparison to our adversities in this battle.


I see this trend in schools now as well. There are no winners, everyone gets a medal. That is all fine and I’d like to see more children doing sport but not acknowledging a winner and pretending there are no losers is making more of an issue out of losing in my opinion. I never won a thing at school. In fact, in one season of club soccer, my team never won one game. That didn’t mean I stopped trying and it clearly didn’t affect my self- esteem, I just tried harder. I think it is just laziness on the part of teachers and parents, that they don’t want to spend the time explaining that we can’t always win and that there is honour in competing full out.


I have learned a lot in my twenty-eight years of competing and much of that came from getting my ass handed to me rather than when I did the handing out. I have been fortunate enough to win some races with relative ease at times but the ones that I remember most fondly, and recount in boring detail at braais, are the ones where the struggle lasted until the final few metres. Win or lose, those are the races that I can remember with absolute clarity.


Now genetics, available training time and, something I’m personally coming to terms with slowly… age, all play a role in who and what we can compete with. I am not saying everyone should be out there trying to win. Pick your battles and be realistic but set your personal targets high and don’t be ashamed to have a go. There is no embarrassment in getting beaten but I’ll mock the hell out of you if I see you not trying.


Race your age-group, your mates or your previous best time. I don’t care. I am just tired of hearing this ‘touchy-feely’, “I’m just here to enjoy myself and the time or position means nothing.”


So know this, if you and I line up at the start line of an event in the future, I’m there to have fun and fun for me is racing you. So be prepared because I don’t care if you’re there to look at the scenery, If we pin on a number, strap on a timing chip and pay an entry fee, we’re there to compete as far as I’m concerned.




Drafting sucks!- Published in Go-Multi Magazine 



Drafting sucks! Literally and figuratively. Apparently a rider can save 30% by sitting on a wheel but the faster you go the greater that advantage is. So sitting a wheel is going to allow a weaker cyclist to ride with his betters and, in triathlon, save his legs for the run.


When I started the sport, drafting was not allowed but we didn’t have any men in smart jackets to police it so we handled things ourselves. Street justice if you like. Drafting wasn’t such a problem though because athletes in the 80s generally had one strong discipline and two weak ones. So if the strong cyclist caught the strong swimmer, aquaman didn’t have the legs to hold on. Drafting became more of an issue as triathletes improved and the strengths and weaknesses between athletes narrowed.


I wonder how many know how drafting came to be allowed in triathlon? I am not even sure I know exactly but the story I have goes something like this: Triathlon was wooing the Olympics but the IOC had a problem with the possibility that the winner of the race may get penalised or disqualified after finishing for having sat wheel.


So the ITU decided that they couldn’t police the drafting so they’ll allow it. Changing the sport completely. Thank goodness the same approach hasn’t been adopted for doping…


Watching World Cup triathlon I wonder why they even bother sending cameras out on the bike leg. It’s an hour of swimmers and runners wobbling around a flat circuit with no-one seemingly interested in taking a turn on the front. Often running out of skill on an innocuous corner or turn around. The lack of time spent on the bike made evident by the lack of any kind of bike handling proficiency.


Now I understand why they do this and I’m not blaming the athlete. Ussain Bolt doesn’t do four hour endurance runs. Athletes train according to the demands of their event and apart from a few exceptions, World Cup triathlons are set up in the swim and won on the run.


So what do we do? Well, some will say we don’t need to do anything, that non-drafting races are making a comeback in the form of 5150 and 70.3 etc. and thankfully for the aquatically challenged like me, we have many races where stern gents on mopeds will keep the riff-raff off our wheels.


World Cups are the pinnacle of the sport though and I would like to see these races being real three-disciplined events. They need to design the courses to give the strong cyclist something to work with. Some hills, some corners and even tricky road surfaces. I laugh out loud when I hear a course with a few ninety-degree corners described as technical.


If a guy or girl who can handle and pedal their bikes is given the opportunity to make up lost time or create a gap to take into the run they will make the most of it and provide us, the triathlon fan, with a great race to watch.




Supplements - Published in the Go-Multi Magazine 


I read with fascination on Twitter and Facebook, both highly credible sources of information of course, athletes and weekend warriors espousing the benefits of their chosen supplement or energy potion. Now I am a big believer in correct, calculated and careful supplementation but let’s be honest here,  most of you are getting a little carried away by the effect of your mootie.


The key to a good supplement is in fact, to not feel anything. So no slump, no surge just a good, natural feeling of being able to deliver the performance that your current state of conditioning allows. This level of performance is a result of your training and recovery. It may have been aided by the pills and potions that you are lobbing down your throat but without the training you’re not going to be troubling any leader boards or personal bests.


OK, now that I have had my little dig at everyone who has felt the need to punt their Placebo-effect driven runner’s high on social media, I will make an admission… I, like everyone else it seems, have looked for some sort of edge to improve my performance beyond where sweat and determination could take me. Now don’t get excited, this is no tearful doping admission, fortunately, I have never taken this search that far but maybe my first experiments in kitchen science scared me straight.


My first attempt at gaining an edge through my pie-hole was while I was still at school. It might surprise some, based on my strengths and weaknesses in triathlon, that I was quite a keen swimmer before discovering cycling. As the day for our annual inter-house gala approached (I said I was keen, I never mentioned the level I competed at) I read that carrot and celery juice would help me swim faster. Now I can’t exactly remember what the supposed gains were from this combination but when googling it now, I found it is high in vitamins A and C and potassium. Not sure how that would have helped me in a 50m breaststroke race? Ironically, I discovered this information on the Livestrong site. I wonder if, to paraphrase Paul and Phil, a certain rider named Lance Armstrong ever drank carrot and celery juice?


Now in the mid-80s Liquifruit only had one or two flavours. So, what was a teenager with a Spandau Ballet fringe and sporting aspirations to do? I bought what seemed like a whole crop of celery stalks and a bunch of carrots and got to chopping them down to size.  After hours of chopping and grating I stuffed this messy mush into my mother’s blender (no such thing as juicers back then) and finally, in more time than I had actually spent training, I had reduced the crop of a small farm into about two litres of pulpy sludge.


As you can imagine, without adding anything else to my concoction, it tasted vile. Still, I was anything if not determined and I managed to chug most of this in the day preceding and the morning of the gala. The result… well, let’s just say I was never required to report for drug testing as a result of my performance. 


My next attempt at kitchen pharmacology was after a few years of fairly serious training and racing but I hasten to add, I was still young. Again, I read somewhere that lactic acid in the muscles impaired performance and that consuming something alkali would help to buffer this effect. Now this became quite the trend in sports drinks and is still a principle employed today. Unfortunately I was a bit ahead of the game here and my only access to anything that I concluded to be suitable was bicarbonate of soda.


So armed with my limited knowledge of such things I proceeded to add a few spoons of bicarb to the grape juice in my water bottles. Now, as we all know, more is always better, so I added as much as I could while keeping the mixture palatable. A little aside to this story - grape juice, as well as being very good at masking the taste of the bicarb, was also reputed to have the highest carbohydrate content of the readily available fruit juices. I clearly read too much.


Now all was going well. I had added my ‘secret weapon’ to my juice and I was ready to go and ride like Miguel Indurain. At least I had the sense to try this in training first… my regular training route started with a small climb and after a few pedal strokes out of the saddle, swaying the bike from side to side, both my bottles exploded simultaneously, showering me and my bike in a sticky mess. No-one had told me and the ‘carbonate’ never lead me to the conclusion, that you shouldn’t shake a liquid containing bicarbonate of soda.


Nowadays I use supplements made by those that know far more than me about their manufacture but I’m still searching for something that will make swim faster.