I have been reminded of my time in Johannesburg this week. Was out for an easy 10k this morning and caught in a thunderstorm and torrential downpour. I have always maintained the climate in Gauteng is the best in the world but thunder and lightning are a feature of the summer weather in the highveld. They don’t do these things by halves either. Typically the temperature rises to about 30 degrees during the day with very little humidity which is beautiful. Then about 4.30pm, all hell breaks loose. Today’s downpours are a mere shower. The only place I have seen heavier rain is Mumbai during the monsoon season. On top of this sheet and bolt lightning spread over a wide area. Most dangerous of all, hailstones are frequent. These can genuinely be the size of golf balls or even tennis balls. A common sight in October and November is drivers sheltering their expensive BMWs under motorway bridges to avoid a pummelling from the storm.
By 5.30 it is all over, the sun and warmth return and it is time for an even more frequent saffer pastime, the braai. In a standard Jo’burg lifestyle, the only thing that prevents people downing a case of Castle Lager at a summer evening braai is a long lunch earlier in the day. All of this might make you wonder how the world’s greatest ultra marathon survives in this culture. However, it is very much an outdoor lifestyle. I have also been sorting through some old boxes and tripping across some memories this week and I was constantly tripping over reminders. the fact is, Everyone participates and especially in endurance events. In addition to Comrades, the Two Oceans cycle and running marathons, the Korkie Ultra Marathon and the Dusi Canoe marathon are well established along with a plethora of other events.
The participation element is a crucial difference between the sporting environment in South Africa and here in the UK. Outside of the traditional strongholds of cricket and rugby, their impact on top level sport since readmission twenty yearns ago has been relatively limited. They don’t have the facilities but they also have a different attitude. Everyone takes part. Mass participation events of course exists everywhere but in South Africa there feels like a a marathon virtually every weekend. People take things seriously and build a whole lifestyle around these events even if they compete at a very amateur level. I remember playing golf with a guy early in my time there who was in his early sixties and probably weighed at least 100kg. He talked about his running and the runners’ breakfast he was hosting for 50 people at his house the next weekend as part of his preparation for Two Oceans. He even invited me. A similar approach prevailed even in rugby. The office team in Johannesburg had a full schedule of matches and 30-50 spectators would turn up from our side alone at every game. Participation also extended well beyond the white elite. Running and football were both mass participation sports in the townships and in rural areas. The climate obviously helped but doing sport was a part of the fabric of life that just does not happen in this country.
I was far from immune to this culture. Obviously my golf was a key thing and it was another telling example that I was able to join one of the top clubs instantly just by agreeing to play for their team. Despite this focus and my enthusiastic participation in the beer and steak side of the life, I also took part in kwik cricket, touch rugby, swimming and a few other odd events. I even managed to run a couple of races while there.
The first time I agreed to do this, I decided to do some training. This turned into another of my futile three week bursts of effort which did not become habit. In this case, part of the issue was altitude. Few people realise that Jo’burg is 6,000 feet above sea level and coupled with my sixteen stone bulk it did not make for a good running experience. The piece de resistance was when I decided to do some short sprint intervals one day. I jogged down the hundred yard cul de sac in which we lived and sprinted back up a few times. On the fourth attempt, I carried straight on into the house and was violently ill several times. Definitely not ready for quality work! A few weeks and no training miles later I lined up for the start of the Harrismith Mountain Race. This consisted of 4km of rough uphill running to reach the foot of a cliff. The ‘runner’ then pulled him or herself up hand over hand for a kilometre or so to reach a plateau. A couple of k’s across the top scramble down the cliff on the other side and follow the rough track back to town to finish in the high school stadium. I knew I was in trouble when the medical truck overtook me on the road out of town at the start. I struggled even to run the downhill bits and it took me more than two and a half hours. Bear in mind the winner who had a PB under 30 minutes for 10km took 53 mins to cover the 12.3km course so it was tough! Looking back, I really enjoyed it but that didn’t make enough of an impression to convert me.
My other experience was another great example of sporting participation. I took part in the FNB Company Relay. In fact, I have photographic evidence that I did it twice, in 1991 and 1992. This event was a marathon distance around the city split into, I think, 8 legs. These were of varying lengths with the longest about 12km. Mine was the so called executive leg, 2.8km albeit with quite a stiff hill. I can’t remember the exact numbers but I believe the firm entered about 20 teams and there were thousands of athletes taking part. I still have the instructions which shows that the baton change was split into 7 wide funnels at each handover. The logistics of this were challenging, imagine finding 7 areas big enough to handle this plus a start and finish in a major city. Staging the race and achieving wide participation is testament to the culture.
Enough memories. Despite my drenching this morning, it has been a pretty good week so far running. The heat in Scotland at least is much less intense than in Majorca and I have gone back to listening to music while I run. I have also started playing with nutrition but will report back on that once I have had a few weeks to make it work. The result of this is that last week was 50km in just four days once I recovered from my sore throat and I am hopefully heading over 40 miles this week. Feeling very positive for now. I am heading up North to stay with my dad next week and will be doing a recce of the Loch Ness Marathon route. See how the positive mood survives that.
Looking slim and athletic during the 1992 FNB Company Relay. The shadows I am overtaking on the right are walking!
Back from two weeks fantastic holiday in Majorca. Has taken a few days to get on top of things but finally found time to jot down an update on my running for those two weeks and a few thoughts for the future. Also, have added a couple of new pages. Starting with some pics from my prolonged leaving golf tour – I know you all want to see them! I have also created a new page which I will build up to share my inspirations. This includes a box to comment directly from here to Facebook if you want to add any ideas.
We were lucky to have a beautiful villa as a base. Fairly old fashioned so dark and cool inside but with a lovely outdoor area including pool, barbecue, plenty of shade and nice gardens with ripe lemons and plums falling off the trees. The immediate setting was pleasant as well with very quiet country roads for about a kilometre in every direction. Once beyond this area though, it was a little more difficult to find interesting running country. Basically 4km straight along a busy road to reach Puerto Pollensa and the opportunity to run along the shore. I also found another slightly more interesting route over to Cala St Vicenc which was about 11km there and back so not too bad overall.
The good news is that with plenty of time to relax I managed a total of 100km of running over the two weeks. This is staring to creep towards thirty five miles a week so the work load is starting to build nicely. I also managed a long run of 21.5km so again good base of endurance. I had a quick refer back to the training plans in a couple of magazines when I returned and I am pretty close to those schedules. I am not a great one for following a fixed plan but nice to sense check that thinks are broadly on track.
Despite all this, I was little frustrated with my running. I found it hard going most days and specifically, I was running out of energy after 30-40 minutes pretty much every day. On the long run days, I even resorted to walking a little albeit only for 200 or 300 metres at a time. I spent a fair bit of time trying to figure out physical causes for this. Obviously the weather was hot and I don’t really think I slowed down my pace sufficiently. I started not taking water with me but after a day or two was carrying some on every run. I also experimented a bit with nutrition, carbs the evening before, in the morning etc but made very little overall difference.
At the end of all this, I have three conclusions. Actually these are really more questions to be worked on over the next few weeks.
I have reached the conclusion that I don’t have a strategy for nutrition, especially nutrition during a run. I have been taking gels but they don’t have a noticeable effect and certainly don’t last very long.
Second thing, which sounds daft, but I can’t make myself run slow enough for long enough. I keep thinking I have been going very easy and then I get tired after 8 or 9kms and I discover I am only just over 5 min per km. I suspect this is largely a factor of concentration.
Which brings me to my biggest current concern. I am struggling mentally, not with motivation but with concentration. For a few months earlier in the year, I had been finding it easy to just run and let my mind wander onto other things. However, this is not happening right now especially over longer periods. Obviously, I need to spend longer on my feet as the training goes on so. Need to work out a new mental approach.
So overall, in a good place but with a few things to learn. Arrived back from holiday with a slight sore throat which kept me off the road for a day or two but back running yesterday and will post again soon.
This will be my last blog post for a couple of weeks because we are off to Majorca tomorrow for a couple of weeks proper holiday. Will be a bit weird when I get back and don’t have to set the alarm for a flight to London on the Monday but for now just looking forward to a break and hopefully a good few miles with the sun on my back.
As promised (or threatened) I wanted to use this post mainly to update on my various golf trips. Last odyssey posting ended with the Alba trophy at Woking on 8 June. I was back on Caledonian Club duty for the match against the East India Club at the Berkshire on 11 June. This was great fun as I was partnered by Ross Gibbons who I found out a few months ago (at a dinner in the East India Club as it happens) was at school with my dad. Ross is a larger than life guy and fun company. Unfortunately, our golf was not up to the task and we lost our match – the team won though so hey!
The second trip that week was very special. A group of six of us eventually played at Sunningdale Old on Thursday 13 June as part of my retirement celebrations. It was fantastic to be with such close friends and the golf course is truly magnificent. Over and above, Sunningdale is a proper club and so the atmosphere was very warm and welcoming. I especially liked the small touch of putting a sheet on a lectern at the entrance welcoming all those who were bringing guests to the Club that day. It was made even more special because the top name on the sheet was the PGA of America. Not often I have been named on the same list with this body! The golf was followed by a curry with an expanded group of 12 in the evening and we proceeded to Huw’s media club for many a nightcap. All in all perfect way for me to sign off.
Onto the next stage and the quietest week of June golf wise with only one game that being at Royal Troon on 21 June. Again a group of 6 this time being those members of the Susan Boyle Society who managed to put the date in their diaries for the day. Messrs McKellar, Moultrie and Smyth were excellent hosts although there was a slight risk that Mr McKellar’s hospitality might overwhelm any prospect of golf. As it was we had a beautiful afternoon an one of the great classic links and despite some tiredness a wonderful and enjoyable game.
Finally onto this week and the Caledonian Club summer tour which took in the Jubilee, both Crail courses and Kingsbarns. I missed the Jubilee because I was at my first meeting of the advisory group I have joined at Stirling University. This did mean I had time to fit in a very nice 15km run from the Fairmont St Andrews Bay to Kingsbarns and back before joining the tour for dinner at the Rockies in Anstruther on Monday night. This is one of my favourite restaurants and it turned into a memorable evening with much singing and laughter. The highlight being a recitation of a poem by John Summers of Wurzels fame (but attributed to Pam Ayres) called Fifty Shades of Grey. Lyndsay Simon delivered this beautifully although even he struggled no to laugh and I think the two waitresses serving us were about to explode by the end.
Tuesday we played fourballs on Craighead followed by 14 holes of foursomes on the Balcomie. Thanks to some excellent golf by my partner Andrew Thomson we were victorious in the afternoon and amazingly my putter actually started to work. Anither evening at the delightful Forgan House, an R&A building overlooking the 18th on the Old Course with a truly splendin first floor function room and a balcony which was stunning on a perfect evening. Despite these exertions, we made it to Kingsbarns the next morning and I finally managed to play this beautiful links. It is a great and challenging layout but above all the visual aspect is simply breathtaking beating even Turnberry for its selection of views and vistas. I actually played really well for the first 12 holes as well before the elusive rhythm disappeared again.
Over these weeks, the quality of play has been decidedly mixed but the quality of the experience has been exceptional and the collection of golf courses and playing companions truly memorable. I am unlikely to have such a sustained and varied stretch of golf again for some time so my thanks to everyone who helped set it up and make it special. For the rest of you, I promise this will be much more of a running blog in the next few weeks. However, I will not post from Majorca so look forward to talking to you in a fortnight hopefully with many miles of good running to report.
Leaving PwC is a really tough job! Another week with some great golf and a fair bit of partying so struggling to maintain the training. I am going to return to the golf at a later date once the full tour is completed but wanted to concentrate this week’s blog on the running side.
By far the most important step of the week has been making a commitment to run the Loch Ness Marathon on 29 September 2013. I need to complete a qualifying race over the marathon distance or longer and this seems like the perfect choice for my debut over 42.2 km. The route will be stunning along the side of the largest body of fresh water in the British Isles by volume and it is very much part of my long standing connection with the Highlands.
I must admit to being a bit nervous of the commitment. Part of my philosophy to date has been not to commit long term so that I am motivating myself not forcing myself to run. Giving myself time does allow me to raise some money for charity though. I have decided to raise funds for the PKD Charity. This is the only charity in the UK raising funds for research into polycystic disease. The disease was at the root of Sue’s liver transplant and now her need for a new kidney so very close personally. If you would like to support this research, you can find my page at http://www.justgiving.com/Kenny-Fraser or you can donate through JustTextGiving by sending the amount you want to give to the short code KFLN68.
The importance of transplant surgery was really brought home to me over the weekend by an exchange of e-mails with an old friend who now lives in Auckland and who is on the list for a heart transplant. Get well soon Craig.
Having said that, not a lot to report in terms of volume. Between last week’s golf and some serious box shifting on Monday I actually went five days without running for the first time since November last year. Felt a bit weird when I went out again on Wednesday but by the next day I was settled in despite a bit of a hangover from James Compston’s leaving drinks at the Cavalry & Guards Club. Was great to see him in such a positive frame of mind and I think he will really make a go of his next challenge.
Kept it up through my own party on Thursday night. Part one of three but special because it was a small group of people. Great day at Sunningdale with Dave, Mike, Mark, Matt and JP then joined for a curry at the Red Fort afterwards by Mohi, Steve, Neil, Huw, Nick and Paul. Prize to Neil for travelling all the way from Dubai and thanks to Huw for taking us to his excellent club afterwards. Could not think of a better way to celebrate, golf, curry, beer and great conversation with close friends.
By the time I reached the weekend, I was conscious that although I had been out, I was not really getting in any solid training. Made Sunday into a hard day by playing golf early then 8 km of running on a very hilly route and an hour of Badminton with Lorna. Nothing too tough but sustained and felt especially good running. Followed this by managing 20.41km on Monday in a very pleasant run through Pollok Park. Took me 1hour and 52mins which is actually the longest time I have been on my feet. Tough to keep focused but enjoyable.
Cheating a bit to include a Monday but has been a good week and pleased to maintain the training through the parties!
This is going to feel more like a golf blog than a running blog after 90 holes over Thursday, Friday and Saturday. More of that later but I did manage to maintain some level of training over the early part of the week. Was great to get out in pleasant sunshine without it being too warm – likewise for the golf – so the roads were very enjoyable. Always better to be outside but especially when the weather turns in our favour.
Given that golf was going to dominate, the key thing from a training point of view was to make sure I got in a long run. Managed 17ks on Wednesday going west to Albert bridge, back along the north side of the river to Southwark bridge and crossing to come back to County Hall again. It is a very pleasant route taking in Battersea Park, the Embankment and the South Bank sights. At the moment my main challenge is setting a slow pace so I can do long easy runs but this one was 5’40” per kilometre which was just about perfect for me.
Off to Dublin Thursday morning for first part of the golf odyssey at Portmarnock. Managed a quick 5k along the sea front at Malahide between arriving at the hotel and lunch. Lovely run. I have found it is managing to squeeze in these runs on days when it would be easy not to that has made the difference. Knowing what was ahead, I suspected this would be my last jog before next week so it was an important one.
Then off to Old Portmarnock for 18 that afternoon and a full 36 in the PwC GB v Ireland match on Friday. It is truly one of the great links and the weather was idyllic, unbroken sunshine, temperature around 20 degrees and just enough breeze to make you think about it. There is nothing to compare with a game in a place and on a day like this, will stay in the memory for a long time. Happily my long lost timing came back occasionally as well so the play was not too bad.
Had to skip the dinner (not the same without Mark Moffat there to entertain us anyway!) to fly back to London in order to make the next day’s play. BA brought things right back to earth with a typical 50 minute delay due to a ”missing piece of paper” so I did not get back to the flat until 11.45. Consequently was pretty tired the next morning by the time I met up with my Caledonian Club team mate for the day, Ewan Cameron, in Waterloo at 7.00 the next morning. He is a very enthusiastic and cheery companion so by the time we reached Woking Golf Club spirits were much better.
The event was the Alba trophy, now a scratch medal 36 hole foursomes event for teams drawn from a mix of old school societies, gentlemen’s clubs and local golf clubs. This makes it the toughest possible form of golf but the day was a joy. It was also nice to see that the roots of the event hark back to the lost days of 36 hole amateur golf. Sadly most of these events have now died so it was great that they have found a format to keep it alive especially with an honours board that includes the names of Micklem, Bonallack, Townshend and Benka and at a club that once boasted Bernard Darwin as its leading light.
Scoring was no more than respectable although we could have been very good in the morning but for a couple of yahoos each from Messrs Fraser and Cameron – you have to be able to give and take in foursomes! The weather was again beautiful with just a little more wind which was hard to read in the trees but the golf course was the real star of the day. It was my first experience of Woking and it is a true gem, beautifully presented heathland with firm fairways, tangly heather and mature woodlands. The greens were immaculate, fast and slopey and it was just a pleasure to be out there.
Very pleased that the body managed through two consecutive days of 36 holes without too much strain. The mind did struggle in the second round at Woking though and given the likely time on the road for Comrades will need to look into some brain games I think. Overall though was just pleasantly tired on Sunday despite an even longer 1 hour 45 minute delay courtesy of BA meaning I did not get back home until quarter to One on Sunday morning, poor Ewan facing a two hour drive to Southerness when he reached Glasgow. BA also did their usual thing, herding us onto the plane before the delayed flight crew had arrived then claiming we would be airborne 5 mins after they boarded when in fact essential pre flight checks take at least 30 minutes. The delay was not their fault but they need to start being honest rather than optimistic when doling out the sparse information they give to passengers.
It would be remiss not to wrap this post up by mentioning the best part of this week’s golf tour. The real reason the game is so great is the pleasure to be had in the company of friends old and new. The Portmarnock event is one I have played in before so was largely a case of renewing old acquaintances although I did get to play golf with a couple of good friends whose company I have only previously enjoyed on the social side. This will be my last appearance but I hope to find the opportunity to golf with many of these great partners again.
The Alba by contrast was my debut. I had met Ewan before but he was both a great companion and an excellent partner. Our playing companions for the day, Mike and Rags representing the grand old school of Marlborough could not have been more charming and fun so all in all a great day out. I say this even though all three of the above are Lawyers!
Next couple of weeks will feature more great golf – hopefully a bit of running as well.