Walk This Way — Frequent Flyer

Of all the books in the world, the best stories are held in the pages of a passport. Having visited 17 countries so far in her race walking career, race walker Anel Oosthuizen has been blessed to see and experience quite a few of the amazing sites and cultures of our world.

Travelling is one of my favourite things to do, and although I prefer doing it by going on holiday with the people in my life that I love, all of my overseas travelling was thanks to sport. Every single one of those 17 countries I visited was because of race walking, so I think you will understand why I speak about my gratitude for my walking talent, because it has taken me all over the world to experience things that I would probably never have experienced otherwise.

Preferred Destinations

Now we all know that sitting on a plane for 18 hours is by no means all glitz and glamour, and recovering from (or worse, training with) jetlag even less so, but I have made so many incredible memories on my travels that will stay with me for my lifetime! I’d like to share a few of my favourites destinations with you, because each one of these places has special memories for me, and has been part of making me the athlete I am today.

Eugene, Oregon, USA: My first Junior World Champs and the first country visited outside of Africa. I was really young and inexperienced, and I still remember how nervous I was when we got there… and jetlagged! Seeing so many elite athletes on a world class track blew my mind completely, and it was then that I realised that hard work can really get you places. That was also when I decided to fully commit to qualifying for the Rio 2016 Olympics.

Rome, Italy: It was the last race I competed in before the 2016 Olympics in Rio, probably the most jet-lagged I have ever been, but the best experience of a new country, as I had family members flying over from London to come and support me. Having that kind of support at a race is unforgettable, especially when you are in an environment that you don’t know.

Taipei, Taiwan: I went there, with one of my best friends, to compete at my first World Student Games. It was such a different experience to what I am used to, as I got some time to actually explore the city and use their public transport, etc. I also had probably one of my hottest races ever, with the temperature clocking in at a boiling 41 degrees Celsius at around 8 o’clock in the morning! (In Rio it reached 44 degrees.) That is when you come back to your own country and really appreciate our more bearable, ‘cooler’ summers!

Banska Bystrica, Slovakia: This country feels like a second home to me now, as it has been my base for preparation in the European season for the last two years. Both times I made it my home for a month at a time, and learnt so much about their food and culture. It has also been the place where I have gotten mentally stronger, thanks to training with 50km World Champ and Olympic Champion Matej Toth and his training group. Having them as a support group after travelling there alone has been one of the things I have appreciated most while training there.

Lugano, Switzerland: This is the most beautiful race I have ever done. The 2km loop for the 20km is located on the banks of Lake Lugano, which is absolutely breathtaking, and the city is like something I have only seen in movies. Being a more expensive country to visit, I enjoyed seeing the difference and contrast between the places I have been to.

Podebrady, Czech Republic: My favourite memory of a race thus far, twice taking part in the European Championships 20km. This is where I set my SA Record, and then broke it again by a millisecond, and this was also where I walked my Olympic qualifier for Rio 2016.

Life Lessons

In visiting these countries, I’ve learnt a few things that have been useful throughout my travels and walking career.

  • You cannot always control your race circumstances, so learn to adapt to local conditions.
  • Jet lag is often unavoidable when you’re travelling long distances, so plan for it, and rest, rest, rest!
  • Different countries, different foods, different eating habits – try and stick to your usual diet as far as possible, especially before your race, and preferably keep the tasting and experimenting for later!
  • Lastly, and most importantly, seize the moment and enjoy your experience. You may only get to visit that place once in your lifetime, so try to take in as much as you can!

About the Author: Race Walker Anel Oosthuizen is a multiple SA Champion and Record Holder, and represented SA in the women’s 20km at the 2016 Rio Olympics.


Talking track

Walk This Way – By Anel Oosthuizen

As a young girl watching athletics, I always admired how some athletes could run around a track non-stop and not seem to get tired. When I started race walking, doing just the 1500m, it felt like the longest three laps of my life, never even imagining that one day I would want to attempt a 50-lapper 20km! If I look back now, I realise how one’s mindset and perception of things plays such a big role in achieving your goals.

I started my athletics career when I was still in school and grew up doing a lot of track racing and learning about race walking through track. For me it has always felt a bit more nerve-wracking racing on the track, as it feels like I am surrounded by judges on every corner. (Which you actually are, because there are normally four judges on a 400m track, together with a main judge.)

As I always tell new race walking athletes that have just moved up to a new distance, the track should not be seen as your enemy, nor should you look at your distance as a large, frightening number of laps. What really works for me is taking it one lap at a time, concentrating on my time per lap and always trying to improve on the previous one. It goes by so quickly, and before you know it you will get that golden sound of the final lap bell ringing in your ears. The most crucial thing is to concentrate on something completely different than the amount of times that you have to walk around the same loop.

Lastly, it always feels like I have to concentrate more on technique when I am racing on the track, as you go around bends much more and also may be passing or lapping slower athletes, so concentrating on the perfection of locking your knee properly with every step is of utmost importance. How you walk around the track can either let you finish without any problems, or it can get you ‘into trouble’ with the judges and result in you standing in the pit lane watching as your fellow walkers are passing by. My motto is simply to keep your feet on the ground at all times. Literally and figuratively!

About the Author: Race Walker Anel Oosthuizen is a multiple SA Champion and Record Holder, who represented SA at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

IMAGE: Courtesy Anel Oosthuizen

Girl Power

Kalmer’s Corner – By Modern Athlete Brand Ambassador René Kalmer

I had the privilege of celebrating Women’s Month by spending it in fine style with more than a dozen special women in my life!

Running, racing and appreciating this beautiful month with fellow females all over South Africa makes August a beautiful month. I also appreciate the fact that I’m able to travel the country again to take part in races, spending quality ‘sister-time’ with Christine, and enjoying a full night’s sleep (without my daughter Karli), where not even race day nerves can wake me up at night!

My journey back to full fitness over the past year after the injury and my pregnancy, has been quite a rollercoaster ride, filled with many ups and downs and a lot of mixed emotions. What I have learnt over the past year is to really appreciate my health and mobility, and not to compare myself to the younger, fitter and faster René I used to be. I have also learnt to enjoy the small victories along this new journey of running while being a working mom, and that includes being selected to represent Central Gauteng at the SA 21km Champs in PE in July. I can’t even remember when last I wore the red and black CGA vest, but I was very proud and excited to represent my province again.

Friendly Rivalry
After a running career of more than two decades, I have also come to realise that running is actually not an individual sport. In the past, I would never have discussed my race goal and strategy with a fellow competitor, but that has recently changed, as I have experienced the value of working together as a team to achieve individual goals. For example, on the start line in PE I told my KPMG teammate Stella Marais (running for Gauteng North) what my goal was and we decided to work together. Then 1km into the race we caught up with Anel Terblanche, another KPMG teammate who was running for Western Province and told her what our goal was. It was similar to her goal, so she too joined the pack.

Stride for stride we ran together, handing each other water sachets at the water tables and chasing down the girls in front of us. At the end, Stella sneaked into the top 10, I finished 11th and Anel 12th. It was celebrations all round on the finish line, with Stella and Anel crushing their PB’s by more than two minutes. I was also impressed with my sub-80min, which was my best 21km time in more than two years. The KPMG team was also over the moon with Christine’s great podium finish, as she claimed third place in 1:15:34.

Girls’ Day Out
Next stop was the fourth leg of the Spar Grand Prix series in Pretoria, always a highlight on the running calendar. This time around I arranged with 20 girls from the Vorentoe High School to join me for the race in Centurion, and what a festive experience it was! Andre was the bus driver for a big group of the girls and it was great seeing the girls playing DJ and jamming to their favourite tunes while travelling to the race. Meanwhile, in my car I had to answer questions on life, love and even some more difficult questions on boyfriends, future husbands and parenthood. It made me realise the innocence of their youth, but it was great to listen to the girls’ stories.

In the race, I finished 20th in a time of 38 minutes and was very happy to be back in the top 20. What made the day more special, however, was the time spent at the stadium with the Vorentoe girls after the race. They really had a great time dancing to Denim, sliding down the grass embankments on cardboard boxes, and generally just having a ball. The balloons were also a big hit and we had to take LOTS of them back to Johannesburg to decorate their rooms back at the school.

We finished the day with a McDonalds burger, Coke and Ice-cream – the way Women’s Month should be celebrated – and both the girls and I are already looking forward to the final Spar Women’s Race at Marks Park in Johannesburg in October! I am thankful once again for Spar, for inspiring and supporting women in general by getting thousands of women, young and old, to do some exercise while spending time with precious friends. #GirlPower

IMAGES: Courtesy Rene Kalmer

Weighty Matter

The emergence of cross training as complimentary exercise to enhance running performance has allowed runners to experiment with various other forms of training. Weight training is a popular choice, but how does it affect your running performance? – BY ERNEST HOBBES

Firstly, type I slow twitch fibres contain many mitochondria, which act as power stations within the muscle cell, providing it with energy. These fibres fatigue slowly, and have a greater dependence on energy production using oxygen and carbohydrates. On the other hand, type II fast twitch fibres contain a limited number of mitochondria and lower energy production, while fatiguing faster. Essentially, type II fibres work best to produce large forces for short durations, while type I fibres are better suited to produce lower force over long durations.

Secondly, mobiliser muscles are responsible for creating movement by applying a greater amount of force and work through a greater range of motion, while stabiliser muscles are responsible for maintaining balance and posture, producing lower forces and acting through a smaller range of movement, providing a better platform for mobilisers to act from. In many ways, this relationship works similar to that of a construction crane: If the crane is anchored to the ground it is able to lift larger weights to greater heights, but if not well anchored, greater weights and heights risk the entire system collapsing. Similarly, if the stabilisers around a joint do not function optimally, the body will restrict force production or range of motion in order to minimise risk of injury.

Now, weight training is aimed at developing type II fibres in mobilisers, enhancing the ability to produce more power through a large range of motion. While high force production and a large range of motion are desirable in practically any scenario and sport, does the extra time and effort of weight training improve running performance?

Several studies have looked at the effect of weight training on endurance sport, specifically running and cycling. Ideally, the athletes were expected to perform at higher speeds while experiencing the same level of effort, or at the same speed but experiencing less effort in doing so, thus demonstrating greater exercise efficiency. The results found no significant change in running or cycling efficiency, leading researchers to conclude that heavy weight training (large weights at low speeds) as well as explosive or plyometric training (low- or body weight only at very high speeds) showed very little to no benefit for endurance runners and cyclists.

At the end of the day, if you would like to improve your running performance, perhaps it is best to put those dumbbells down and focus on improving your efficiency. If you are happy with your running performance, but desire greater strength or muscle size, there are various workout protocols to choose from.

Take home points
• Weight training may bring about hypertrophy (muscle growth) and result in weight gain, which may affect your running performance.
• Weight training is associated with increased muscle stiffness and reduction in muscle length, so stretching may become more important to maintain flexibility.
• Any form of exercise requires sound technique. To get the most out of weight training, it is advisable to speak to a knowledgeable expert.

IMAGE: Fotolia

Running Almost Broke Me

Comrades has always been the race I had to do, the one I have been working towards for years, and this year my dream came true, I became a Comrades finisher! However, in the glory following my finish, I realised how much my dream had cost me. As a passionate runner, I realised that my body could only take me so far, and that I needed some help from vitamins to get myself back on the road. – BY Thulie Dubazana

I am no stranger to long distance running, I have completed marathons aplenty, I know what it means to push your body to finish, and I knew that with Comrades I would need to push harder than I ever had before. I did just that, I pushed and pushed, with that medal waiting for me at the finish line my driving force to keep me going.

What I didn’t expect was how I would feel afterwards. In the weeks after the gruelling 90km ultra, I could feel the toll it had taken on my body and knew that I needed to rest. Running had become too much, it was too hard, so I decided that I needed to take a break. What I didn’t know at the time was how long that break would be! We are now four months past Comrades and I am still not running – I just don’t have the energy.

Something I love had taken a lot from me, and I realised that to recover properly I would need help, because just getting through a work day was taking everything from me. I was battling to concentrate, and by the time 5pm came there was nothing left. I spoke to my colleague at work, about how I was feeling and how I was struggling, and she suggested adding Vitamin B to my diet, to help with my energy, and Magnesium to help with my sleep at night.

With nothing to lose, I decided to try it, so I started with a Vitamin B tablet in the mornings and Magnesium at night. After just one day of taking both tablets I could immediately feel the difference – I suddenly felt energised, and my mind and body could cope with what the day required of me. It was so immediate that I thought, surely it couldn’t work so quickly, but I kept taking the supplements and every day I felt better and better. The months of fatigue were lifting, and it was like I could see through the cloud for the first time in a long time!

The magnesium relaxed me before going to sleep, and I woke up fresh and ready for the day. Even my joints felt better, and for the first time since Comrades I felt like I could run again!

I never thought vitamins were important, but in just two weeks of taking two pills a day I have experienced such a big difference that I am now telling everyone how important it is to help your body, and to give it what it needs so that you can push and break your limits. I love running, and now I know I am going to improve and get stronger, because my body has the support it needs!

Are you feeling fatigued, with no energy, do you think you would, like Thulie, benefit from adding more Vitamin B to your diet? Why not take our survey to find out if you should be adding more Vitamin B to your diet. Just click on the link below:

read_more Running Almost Broke Me Columns

Feet of Flames

When you take those first few step in the morning, or after sitting for a while, and the bottoms of your feet hurt like crazy with a burning pain, chances are you have plantar fasciitis, a common overuse running injury, but the good news is that a bit of rest should be enough to get you up and running again. – BY SEAN FALCONER

Knee pain, shin splints and Achilles pain seem to get all the ‘fame and glory’ when it comes to running injuries, whereas the bottom of the foot literally stays out of the limelight. Until you get plantar fasciitis, that is. Then every step just walking can be painful, let alone actually running. If you’re lucky, the pain will go away or get less after a few steps, but your foot may hurt still more as the day goes on, especially when you go up stairs or just stand for a long time.

The plantar fascia is the thick, fibrous band of tissue (fascia) that reaches from the heel to the toes, supporting the muscles and arch of the foot. When this fascia is overly stretched, tiny tears can occur in its surface, causing inflammation and pain when you stand or walk. This is known as Plantar fasciitis, and can happen in one foot or both. It is common in middle-aged people, but can also occur in younger people who are on their feet a lot, like athletes, especially if:

  • Your feet roll inward too much (overpronate) when you run.
  • You have high arches or flat feet.
  • You walk, stand, or run for long periods of time, especially on hard surfaces.
  • You are overweight.
  • You wear shoes that don’t fit well or are worn out.
  • You have tight Achilles tendons or calf muscles.

When you go for a check-up, your doctor will check your feet and watch you stand and walk, and may take an X-ray if he suspects a problem with the bones of your foot, such as a stress fracture. Once diagnosed as plantar fasciitis, there is no single treatment that works best for everyone, but there are several things you can try:

  • Give your feet a rest: Cut back on activities that make your foot hurt, and try not to walk or run on hard surfaces.
  • Ice your heel: This will reduce the pain and swelling. Alternatively, take an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen or aspirin.
  • Stretch the fascia: Do toe stretches, calf stretches and towel stretches several times a day, especially when you wake up. (For towel stretches, pull on both ends of a rolled towel that you place under the balls of your feet.)
  • Replace your shoes: Pick shoes with good arch support and a cushioned sole, or try heel cups or shoe inserts (orthotics).

If these treatments do not help, your doctor may give you a splint to wear at night, shots of steroid medicine in your heel, or other treatments. You will likely not need surgery, which is only recommended for people who still have pain after trying other treatments for six to 12 months. Instead, good old rest is your best bet to get over the problem.

IMAGE: Shutterstock

The Good Squeeze

Athletes who recover better are more likely to train harder and improve performance, and thus in recent years, various forms of compression treatments to aid in recovery have gained popularity, the most commonly used being compression garments. – BY ERNEST HOBBS

Breaking it down to essential basics, training results in damage to and inflammation of muscles, temporarily reducing their ability to generate force and increasing risk of injury. Compression garments contain a firm elastic component, which compresses body tissues through pressure applied to the skin and muscles. This compression is designed to reduce the space available for swelling to occur, or an oedema to form, as a result of the exercise-induced muscle damage. By limiting the fluid within the area, compression garments limit the cells from experiencing further damage. Additionally, improved lymphatic drainage allows metabolites and damage proteins to be removed at a faster rate, and enhanced blood circulation may allow faster cell regeneration and protein synthesis.

Research has shown that compression garments do assist with recovery after intense exercise, though they do not reduce the exercise-induced muscle damage incurred during exercise. Furthermore, short-term use (up to 2 hours) is unlikely to yield any benefit, whereas medium use (8-24 hours) and long-term use (more than 24 hours) has been found to reduce feelings of fatigue and the time taken to for muscles to generate maximum force. These beneficial effects have been noted to last beyond 72 hours of use, though generally the best results were achieved in the first 24-36 hours.

It should be noted that the potential benefits are proportional to the amount of damage suffered, and while running does cause some muscular damage, resistance and plyometric training is associated with far greater damage, and thus benefit more from the use of compression garments. Additionally, even though compression garments do assist with the recovery process, it may not be the most worthwhile use of time as studies have found that other forms of recovery (massage, cold water immersion, active rest, etc.) may provide superior results. Furthermore, Inconsistencies in the measurement of the pressure applied and the variability of human anatomy makes it difficult to identify and standardise an ideal pressure for recovery.

5 take home points

  • Recovery needed after training is highly specific to the intensity, duration and mode of exercise.
  • Compression garments seem to benefit both well-trained and novice athletes similarly.
  • The temporary decrease in ability following exercise is complex, and as such it is unlikely that one recovery mechanism will address all degenerative processes.
  • Compression garments might not be the ultimate ‘one-stop’ solution for recovery from exercise, but can be an effective and convenient addition to any recovery plan.
  • As with exercise, it is always wise to consult your physician before using compression garments, as there are certain contraindications which may put some athletes at risk.

About the Author
Ernest is a biomechanical, video, and running gait analyst at the High Performance Centre (HPC) of the University of Pretoria.

IMAGE: Getty Images

Real Runners

During the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon Expo, I did a quick filmed interview for a social media platform and was asked where I would be supporting the runners during the ultra, as a vibe point commentator. As I was answering, a colleague piped up in the background, “Ask him when he’s finally going to join us in running an ultra.” That got me thinking about a debate that I have listened to – or participated in – many times over the years, and it usually starts with somebody referring to ‘real runners.’ – BY SEAN FALCONER

There are some runners in South Africa that believe you’re not a real runner until you join a club and begin racing regularly, while others say you graduate to ‘real runnerdom’ once you’ve done a marathon. Others take it a step further and say you need to run an ultra-marathon, and of course, there are many who believe that real runners must do the Comrades. In fact, you have to do an Up Run and a Down Run to really be called a real runner!

This mindset was driven home when I listened to that same interviewer chatting to multiple SA Champ in road, track and cross country, Nolene Conrad, a few minutes later. She had just returned from the World Half Marathon Champs in Spain, where she had blitzed a 71-minute time to take more than a minute off her PB, but more importantly, had run an IAAF Gold Label qualifier. This means she will now be in line for elite, paid invites to the top standard distance races around the world. That is a huge achievement!

In other words, the last thing she is likely thinking about right now is running a 90km ultra… but here she was being asked when she plans to run the Comrades. Not if, but when, as if it is a given. Now I know that particular interviewer is a very keen Comrades runner himself, and he has an infectious enthusiasm for all-things Comrades, but I couldn’t help shaking my head.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the ultras, even though I have chosen not to run them as yet, but I understand that runners like Nolene are focused on shorter distances, because that is where their strengths lie, or where they are enjoying success in their careers. They may step up to the ultra in the future; then again, they might not… and that decision should not decree whether their running is real or not. The same goes for every Average Joe runner out there.

What it boils down to is that I believe there is no such thing as a ‘real runner.’ Because that would imply that there are false, unreal or half runners, wouldn’t it? No, I say that if you put one foot in front of the other, be it fast or slow, going long or short, racing or jogging, you are a runner. And that’s a badge of honour that we are all entitled to wear, no matter how far or how fast we run. So just lace up your shoes and go run. That’s keeping it real.

IMAGE: Jetline Action Photo

Family Ties

Running and all the running related sports have a wonderful way of bringing people together. Friendships are made, or rekindled, romance comes out of chance meetings, and sometimes you even have family reunions in unusual places. – BY SEAN FALCONER

Thanks to my part-time hobby of doing commentary at events, I enjoyed one of those family reunions at the recent Fedhealth XTERRA Lite Triathlon in Grabouw. As the athletes arrived to rack their bikes in the transition zone on that Sunday morning, I was on the mic doing pre-race announcements when I spotted my cousins Wesley and Dale. I took the opportunity to give them a special welcome over the mic and wished them well for the race. (I may have also cracked a joke about the famous Falconer receding hairline… glad to report that our clan has no problems laughing at ourselves!)

The commentary team rotated during the day, so we took turns working in various transition areas, or at the finish line, and I just happened to be at the swim-to-bike transition as the boys came running up from the water, so I gave them another shout-out. A while later, I just happened to have moved to the bike-to-run transition when they arrived back, so I got to chat to ask them how the race was going thus far, then send them on their way for the run leg.

As luck would have it, I rotated back to the finish line a while later and was on hand to bring them up the home straight, with the words, “The Falconer Boys are here!” Johanna Ginsberg of Jetline Action Photo was on hand to snap a quick pic of the three cousins, along with their friend and fellow racer Ralph Shminke, and that’s definitely one for the family album.

Meanwhile, fellow commentator Paul Valstar quickly pointed out, over the mic, that my branch of the Falconer clan apparently missed out on the tall genes… No argument there! (See what I mean about us being able to laugh at ourselves?)

These are the experiences and memories that make me so glad to be a runner, as well as being a journo and commentator in the running domain. I never, ever lose sight of the fact that I am damned lucky to have such a dream job, and to be surrounded by so many wonderful people.

Cut the Cramping

Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramping (EAMC) has a habit of sneaking up on even the best prepared runners. Here’s what you need to know. – BY ERNEST HOBBS

Although cramping can be experienced in most sports, it is particularly common in repetitive endurance sports such as running, especially in hot environmental conditions. Historically, cramps have been attributed to dehydration and a loss of electrolytes as a result of sweating, but the circumstances around EAMC are more complicated than that. Currently, two prominent theories are supported by research.

Electrolyte imbalance and dehydration theory: More recently, this theory has focused on dehydration, proposing that a significant loss of salt can only occur with a large loss of body fluid. As the body begins to dehydrate, there is a reduction in blood plasma levels. To compensate for this, water is taken from the intercellular spaces near blood vessels in order to maintain central blood volume. This results in the muscle becoming firmer and deforms the motor neuron axon terminals, causing the muscle to become hyper-excitable, a state in which a muscle is more likely to involuntarily contract, the end result being a sustained contraction, i.e. a cramp.

Altered neuromuscular control theory: Within the muscle there are two sensory organs. The muscle spindle reacts to stimulation by contracting, while the Golgi tendon organ reacts to stimulation by relaxing. As a muscle begins to fatigue during prolonged exercise at high intensities, the muscle spindle becomes more active, and the Golgi tendon organ becomes less active, resulting in the muscle becoming more and more likely to involuntarily contract.

1 Cramp often sets in when exercise (race) intensity is higher than an athlete is accustomed to relative to training. Therefore, occasionally train at or near race pace.
2 High temperature environments increase the risk of dehydration. Prepare accordingly regarding hydration and electrolyte replenishing.
3 High sweat rates further increase the risk of cramps. If an athlete is known to have a substantial sweat rate, it may be necessary to ensure sufficient dietary salt.
4 Strengthening synergistic muscles spreads the work. A case report found that strengthening the gluteus maximus prevented cramping of the hamstrings, as the strain of exercise was shared more evenly.
5 Athletes returning from injury or prolonged rest are at higher risk of experiencing muscle cramps, and should systematically increase exercise intensity and exposure to heat.
6 Correcting technique and muscular imbalances and/or posture may reduce the risk of muscles fatiguing quickly.
7 Since shortened muscles in a contracting state have an increased risk of cramping, regular stretching may help muscles maintain a longer state.
8 Consume electrolytes and water when the early signs of cramp and fatigue present themselves. Once cramping occurs, it may take some time before this is able to help.

The most effective treatment of cramp remains stretching the muscle in a slow and controlled manner, as the Golgi tendon organ is stimulated to relax. It should also be noted that a history of cramps increases an athlete’s risk of experiencing cramping. This means that effectively treating a cramp in a race does not mean the cramp will not return later during the same race.

About the Author: Ernest is a biomechanical, video, and running gait analyst at the High Performance Centre (HPC) of the University of Pretoria.