The Warm-up Routine

The simple science of warming up and cooling down properly is essential info for all runners. – BY ERNEST HOBBS

As discussed in the January edition, there is a popular perception that stretching before running improves performance and reduces the risk of injury. However, research has shown no conclusive link to these claims, some even pointing to detrimental consequences as a result of stretching. However, while traditional stretching may not be the best idea before a physical activity, a thorough warm-up may be essential.

The principle of a warm-up is exactly that: A slow but progressive increase in exercise intensity to prepare the body for exercise. Ideally, this should consist of three small phases, namely Stretch, Activate and Mobilise, easily remembered as SAM.

1. Stretching should be done in a slow, dynamic (moving) manner rather than a static (stationary) manner. Slow is the key, as ballistic (explosive) movements could increase risk of injury and lead to soreness. Structures inside the muscle are responsible for a stretch-reflex, contracting the muscle when it stretches too far. Slowly swinging the limbs to the comfortable limit of range will trigger the inner structures of the muscle to relax, as there is no risk of the muscles tearing.

Active Isolated Stretching (AIS) is another beneficial stretching technique, using the contraction of one muscle or muscle group, for example the hamstrings, to stretch the opposite muscle or group – in this case, the quads. Again, this method is dynamic, holding a stretch for only a second, and in so doing the inner structures again relax and safely allow the muscle to stretch to its comfortable limit.

2. Activating involves contraction of the muscles, thus allowing them to lengthen during the stretch and shorten during contraction. This mimics the action of the muscle during exercise, raises the local temperature, and increases blood flow, effectively supplying the muscles with nutrients. A warm muscle is more pliable and becomes more effective in its function, which may improve performance and reduce risk of injury.

3. Mobilising is to joints what stretching is to muscles. By taking the joints through increasing ranges of motion at increasing intensities, the tendons and ligaments around the joint are lightly stressed. Although the tendons and ligaments have poor blood supply, the movement alerts them to activity and warms them in a manner similar to repeatedly bending plastic.

Engaging Reverse Gear
Just as a warm-up is essential to prepare for exercise, so too a cool-down is essential to prepare for rest, by reducing the intensity of activity gradually and leading the body to a state of rest. It maintains an increased level of blood flow to remove waste by-products from the muscles, while reducing the production of waste by-products.

Simply put, the cool-down is performed in the reverse order of the warm-up, but here static (stationary) stretching may be of benefit during the cool-down. While the muscles are warm, they stretch more easily, lengthening the muscles to improve flexibility. In addition, static stretching while warm relaxes the muscle, reducing the risk of cramp following exercise.

Hand in Hand

Ironman couple Rodney and Melanie Nel finished the Ironman hand in hand on the red carpet in 2017, having only done their first triathlon a few months earlier, once again showing that the Modern Athlete DARE TO TRI Programme will get you to the finish line. – BY DTT COACH DERICK MARCISZ

The Nel couple joined DTT in July 2016 and did their first triathlon at the 5150 Bela Bela, then went on to do 70.3 East London earlier this year. “We consistently followed the DTT programme and participated in several triathlon events throughout the season. Although we always stuck together during training, we competed separately in races – each to our own abilities,” says Melanie.

After 70.3, Rodney decided he wanted to do the full Ironman, and Melanie decided she might as well enter as well, as she would be doing most of the training with him anyway… but what she didn’t know was that Rodney had decided to do the race at his wife’s pace. “During the months leading up to Ironman, Rodney decided that he wanted to stick with me on race day, as a symbol of starting and finishing this journey together, but he only mentioned this to me two weeks prior to the event. I never expected him to commit to something like this, since he is stronger in all three disciplines, and I knew he would have to adopt a slower pace,” she says.

Of course, due to the fact that it is just about impossible to keep track of anybody in the swim, the couple devised a strategy to be able to race together. “I started the swim a couple of minutes ahead of him in order to arrive in the first transition roughly the same time,” explains Melanie. “Beforehand, we agreed where to meet just outside the transition area on the bike course – whoever was there first would wait for the other – and from there on we stayed together for the entire race. I was especially thankful to have Rodney by my side during the run – it was tough mentally and physically.”

The Nels finished hand-in-hand in 15:34:23, and Rodney says “I knew what Melanie was capable of on race day, and allowed her to set our pace. I was merely the extra mental support she needed. Every Ironman finisher says the red carpet moment makes it all worth it, and as we held hands, we heard the announcer welcoming the “Nel Family” on to the red carpet. That was a moment to treasure for the rest of our lives! Now we are planning to be back in 2018, to do the race each to our own.”

Not Bad for an Old Codger

Some elite athletes enjoy a relatively short career at the top level, but others seem to go on forever, even seeming to getting better with age, like multisport legend Donovan van Gelder, who can still give the youngsters a run for their money after 30-plus years of top level competition. – BY SEAN FALCONER

If Donovan van Gelder ever finds out what keeps him training and competing at the highest level in multisport well into his 40s, he should bottle it and sell it. He’d make a fortune! Inevitably, he gets asked all the time what his secret is. “It’s no secret, really, just hard work. I love the training, and I am generally quite a solitary individual, which lends itself to training for the sports that I take part in. I think another big factor is that all these years of training build up in the body, and I am stronger as a result of the miles I have covered, so as long as the motivation is there, I’ll keep going as fast as I can. Mainly because I have OCD – obsessive competitive disorder!”

Ironically, given that his main line of business these days is coaching other athletes through his CyberCoach website (as well as being National Brand Manager for Innovate running shoes), he says he thinks he underperformed as a youngster, because he was ‘uncoachable’ back then. “In the 80’s, nobody really knew how to mix the three disciplines for triathlon, so we were just winging it, but I’m opinionated and stubborn, so I didn’t train as well as I do now. Luckily, I’ve done many coaching courses and learnt from experience, and training knowledge has improved, but that said, while I definitely think I could have performed better in my 20s, I did put less wear and tear on my body, hence I am still performing now at 46.

Donovan has spent most of his life in the Durban area, and today actually lives with his wife Estelle and six-year-old daughter Audrey just one kilometre away from where he grew up in Waterfall, near Hillcrest. While attending Hillcrest High School, he earned provincial colours in club soccer, ran cross country, and also played a bit of rugby and cricket, but says he enjoyed swimming the most. Then in 1986 he did his first triathlon, and the proverbial bug bit…

“I was told by the PE teacher about a tri event at Kloof High School, so I entered, along with a really good mate, Wayne. He was better than me at swimming and athletics, so no surprise that he beat me in the swim, but after I caught him on the bike, I thought he would beat me again in the run, but I ran away from him instead. That’s when I realised I can run well off the bike, and over the years I have often run closer to my PBs in tri events than in straight road runs. I think something in my physiology is suited to multi-discipline events.”

After school, Donovan was called up for military service and posted to the Army’s Infantry School in Phalaborwa, but just before he was due to leave, he happened to speak to Dave Sinclair of the Natal Triathlon Association, who used his connections to arrange for Donovan to go to Voortrekkerhoogte in Pretoria instead, where all the top sportsmen in the army went. “Who knows where I would be today if not for Dave, because I would not have been able to train for triathlon in Phalaborwa! I did my six months of Basics in Pretoria, plus training as a medic, and then I was posted back to Durban and stationed in the sick bay in the naval base. For the rest of my national service I was basically a professional athlete, with a flexible schedule that allowed me time for training and racing. The Army was therefore not a hardship for me.”

Back in civilian life, Donovan studied through UNISA to become a journalist, and still harbours dreams of writing novels some day, but it was in multisport that he made a name for himself. He won various national titles in triathlon and duathlon, and was in the first SA duathlon team to compete in the World Championships in the USA in 1991, but says he doesn’t remember his racing history accurately because he never really kept track. “I’m actually annoyed with myself for not keeping notes, as I’ve done a lot of racing after 31 years.” That included a few years as a pro triathlete in Holland and Belgium, and he also won silver and bronze medals at the SA Cycling Champs. “It still burns me a bit that I never got a stripey jersey for winning an SA title in cycling,” he admits.

Looking back on his long, illustrious career, Donovan says it is hard to single out highlights. “Every big race I’ve won was a big deal, but I think the half iron wins were my favourites, especially one of my first ones, where I ran the leaders down and only knew I was going to win with about a kay to go! Another event on Durban Beach stands out. As usual I was behind in the swim, but then I caught a monster wave that brought me in. I didn’t know I was in the lead, and in transition I still asked my dad how far I was behind the leaders! I can’t remember if I won that race, but remember having to think what to do, as normally I had to chase.”

In August last year, Donovan decided at last to pack in his competitive tri career, after simply not enjoying the bike leg of the 5150 Bela Bela event. “I decided to just run and see what I can do, but I needed a goal, so I decided what about Comrades? The problem was that coming from triathlon, I wasn’t spending nearly as much time training, so I easily got up to 120 to 130km a week, and because I am a bit addicted to training, I overdid it. I sprained my ankle running in Kloof Gorge in January, which is the critical time for Comrades build-up, then favoured the other leg while trying to come back too quickly, and ended up tearing my calf.”

“So I did nothing for a while, and put on weight, because I’m Dutch and I like beer and cheese, and by April I weighed 77kg, the heaviest I’d ever been in my life. That got me back on my bike, doing hilly fat-burning workouts, and I found I was enjoying it again. Then I saw that the SA Duathlon Champs were just 10 weeks away and decided to give it a go if I can get in shape. I finished second in my age category, thanks to 30 years of training in my body that allowed me to bounce back so quickly. Not bad for an old codger! However, my days of racing as a pro are done, and I’m just going to race as an age-grouper, but I will still be racing to win, and I’m not going to make it easy for the lighties, because I consider it my responsibility to make them achieve what they can!”

Back to the drawing board!

After being out of running for almost a year, my coach, Lindsey Parry and I decided that it was time to get back to the drawing board and do some proper base training, but we could not afford to take any short-cuts in my getting back to shape. – BY RENÉ KALMER

Building a base is the first phase of a training cycle, where you prepare your body for the more challenging workouts to come closer to your goal race. The main goal of base training is to increase one’s endurance (aerobic capacity), and it must include the following three components: Increased mileage, long runs and faster workouts. But first things first, I had to report for duty at the High Performance Centre (HPC), because it was time to face the facts (and the fats) with the dreaded body composition and VO2Max test.

The VO2Max test is a scientific way to measure your fitness at the present moment. You start off very slowly on a treadmill, with your mouth covered with a mask to measure your oxygen consumption. This is to determine how well the heart and lungs work to deliver oxygen to your working muscles, and blood is drawn from your ear every time before the speed for your next level increases, which is used to determine your lactate threshold. I nearly caught a speed wobble when the speed reached sub 4min/km in my first test and I had to call the test quits, but I am happy to report that I was able to get closer to 3min/km on my next test six weeks later.

It was awesome to see the improvement over the weeks, and a great motivator for the long road back to full fitness as I built up the three components of my training.

1 Increased Mileage: With the help of the data from the tests, my coach could personalize my training program to make sure I do all my morning runs at the correct heart rate in order to optimise my training. At this stage pace was irrelevant, but it was good to see how my pace increased week after week at the same heart rate. In the build-up phase, it is important not to increase both pace and distance at the same time, as you might risk injury in the process.

2 Long Runs: They say “A long run puts the tiger in the cat.” A long run is synonymous to endurance events and is a critical component to successful training. Not only is a long run the best way to increase stamina, but it also helps to improve mental toughness and muscular strength. So happiness was… when I started to hit double-digit kilometres and was able to join my sister on Sunday and midweek long runs again. For now, in most of these runs I’m more than happy to watch Christine’s back, but I’m looking forward to run side by side to her soon, instead of chasing her.

3 Faster Workouts: Going faster is not the main focus during base training, but is a great way to maintain leg speed, and faster workouts can be anything from progression runs to interval training or fartlek sessions – or a set track workout. Still, I was a bit concerned when Lindsey suggested I add a “Math Test” to my weekly programme. Luckily, it turned out that the MAF test is an 8km on the track run at a specific heart rate – 180 minus your age – and clocking each kay. It might sound boring, but I enjoyed the weekly outings to the track, and I loved seeing how I literally shed minutes off my 8km time week after week. (This is also a good reason to keep a logbook to track your progress.)

Seeing is Believing
Over the past few months I have become a huge advocate for slow running after witnessing the benefits first-hand, having logged endless LSD (Long Slow Distance) kilometres day after day. In the past I thought slow running and recovery days were just showing your weakness, but in my current journey back to fitness after pregnancy, I have improved my 10km time month on month without doing any quality workouts on the track or road.

That’s why I was thrilled when I ran 48 minutes for my first 10km in more than a year, at the Spar Women’s 10km in Durban in June. Then at the Spar Women’s 10km in Pretoria, I definitely had the biggest smile when I crossed the line in just over 41 minutes. Then I added some faster interval and fartlek workouts to my training programme, in order to dip under 40 minutes again! #40mustfall

Roll If You Want To

Over the past decade various novel training and therapeutic practices have made an appearance, and while some had a limited lifespan, self-myo(muscle)fascial(connective tissue) release has shown some longevity. The most common form of this is foam rolling, but what does it do, does it work, and are there any safety considerations you should be aware of? – BY ERNEST HOBBES, BIOMECHANIST

The most important thing to understand is that foam rolling aims to improve flexibility, performance and relaxation, and reduce Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness (DOMS) experienced in the days following hard training. It intends to achieve this by compression and shearing of body tissues. Apart from the physical manipulation of the muscle, this may lead to an increase in local blood flow and local temperature, and thus an increase in local metabolism, much like any warm-up would do.

There is evidence to suggest that this may cause relaxation of the muscle and neural pathways, which could actually lower performance and increase risk of injury. However, the same could be said about slow, static stretches (held for 30 seconds). Before exercise/competition, the last thing you want is slow communication between the brain and muscles, so this could be avoided by including additional elements to your warm-up, such as dynamic stretches, and Active Isolated Stretches (AIS), which would stimulate neuromuscular communication.

The Research Shows…
According to research, foam rolling has shown minimal benefit to athletes. There is no evidence to suggest that it improves athletic performance in endurance, speed or power events. Although foam rolling has been found to improve flexibility, this is temporary, often only lasting a few minutes. This may be due to a temporary reduction in the sense of pain/stretch, or a reduction in the bonds between connective tissue and muscles, but there is still no consensus in the scientific community on this. It is also difficult to determine the psychological effect foam rolling may have before competition, as it allows an athlete time to relax and focus on the task ahead.

Foam rolling is often seen as a “self-massage”, but there is far less control over the pressure applied to the tissues. In fact, the pressures often reach 10 times the highest medical compression category, and are not only applied to the muscle and connective tissue, but also to the bones, nerves, chemical- and mechanical receptors, and blood vessels. In extreme cases, studies have shown temporary interruption of blood flow and complete compression of blood vessels. Therefore, while minimal serious health risks have been reported, it is advised that athletes suffering from diabetes and osteoporosis, or at risk of venous thrombosis, etc. first consult a physician before trying foam rolling.

There is currently no conclusive evidence regarding the benefits of foam rolling, but there is also no reason to exclude it, particularly if an athlete enjoys it. Foam rolling is unlikely to be of any help if used in isolation, but may enhance your warm-up and cool-down, and foam rollers are currently available in various shapes, sizes and profiles, which may affect the experience and results.

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

Making Sense of the New Ride

Salomon have built up an enviable reputation in the trail running world for their robust and reliable off-road shoes, which provide great cushioning and even better support and grip out on the trails. One of their latest models is the Salomon Sense Ride, which has been referred to in some circles as a “quiver killer,” and I can see why – BY SEAN FALCONER

In archery terms, the quiver holds an archer’s supply of arrows, his ammunition, and ideally he will have different arrows for different shots. Similarly, a runner has various shoes in his or her arsenal, for different running surfaces (rocky, sandy, compact, loose), conditions (weather, heat, wetness), or racing plans (long and slower versus racing flat out). A ‘quiver killer’ is designed to cover all these needs in a one-shoe-fits-all way, but no surprise that it is rare for a single shoe to be able to meet all runners’ needs. There are just too many variables in trail running… but the Sense Ride still comes damned close to covering all the bases.

Soon as I took my new pair of Sense Rides out of the box, I was in love with the bright red and orange colours – personal preference, I know – and couldn’t wait to put them through their paces. And my feet started happy, because the Sense Ride provides what feels to me a slightly roomier forefoot and toe box than other Salomon models I have tested. I have the good old one slightly wider foot issue, hence I usually wear an 8.5 UK sizing for that wee bit extra width, but I still find some shoes too tight on the left foot. Not here, because these felt great from the outset.

I also really like the stretchy Endofit bands running from the tongue to the footbed. The tight ‘neck fit’ does force you to ‘work’ your feet into the shoes, but along with the Sensifit bands in the upper design (those prominent orange triangles you see on the outer sides), these ensure a snug fit once your feet are in, which in turn is enhanced by the iconic Salomon Quicklace system – just pull it, tuck it in and go, no need for tying bows.

On the run, I found the shoe to be cushy, comfortable and smooth-riding, as the Vibe Technology combination of EnergyCell+ (high rebounding midsole compound) and Opal (cushioning, vibration-absorbing midsole compound) did its job, especially when I came pounding down a steep mountain side near my home in Stellenbosch. On that run I also appreciated having a Profeel Film rock plate in the forefoot for added protection, because I was landing on some uncomfortable stones and rock heads with impact. That said, I still found the forefoot gave me the flex that I enjoy, since I am a midfoot striker and thus like a flexible forefoot.

I did find the shoes a little on the stiff side for my taste at first, notably in the heel, given that I normally run in lightweight, low profile shoes – again, personal preference – but the more I ran in them, the more comfortable they became. Oh, and for those that focus on heel drop and stack height, the heel and forefoot measurements are 24mm and 16mm respectively, for an 8mm drop, which is pretty conventional these days.

Meanwhile, the bi-directional Contagrip outsole provided solid traction on the various surfaces I took the shoes on, soft or hard, sandy or rocky, wet or dry – and they were even comfy on the short tar section to get to my favourite trail head. This outsole is not quite as aggressively lugged as Salomon’s popular Speedcross model, but is still right up there with most top-end trail shoes. As for the upper, I found the breathable mesh did its job to keep my feet cool, and I didn’t mind the close fit of those Endofit bands around the middle of my feet on warmer days. Even if I had, I would still have said that I prefer a snug, secure ride to a wee bit more ventilation.

The bottom line is that this is a shoe that most trail runners will find suitable for most of their runs. Yes, there are more technical shoes that some will prefer for the most technical trails, while others may look for a more minimalist design to get ‘closer’ to the trails, but the Sense Ride offers a great one-shoe-fits-all option, which is especially welcome in the current financial climate where buying more than one pair of shoes is tough. I thoroughly enjoyed running in them, and look forward to many more happy kays on the trails in them. Plus, I may have mentioned this already, but I really like the red and orange design!

Get them here: The Sense Ride is available in men’s and women’s versions at Cape Union Mart and other Salomon stockists at a recommended price point of R2499. (Prices may vary from stockist to stockist.)

Sign Me Up (Again)

Having used the Modern Athlete DARE TO TRI Programme to go from being a tri novice at Bela Bela to a good Ironman finish in PE of 13:29:50, Jason Edgecomb says he is ready for more of the same!

During April 2015 I was informed by a doctor that I should stop running altogether, as he had diagnosed a hip condition that would be aggravated by running, and eventually, in years to come, could result in a possible hip replacement. Needless to say, I stopped running immediately! I could only get an appointment to see an orthopaedic surgeon that specialises in hips four months later, and he assessed my hips via X-rays and an examination concentrating on stride, stride length, landing position and gait. He derived that being so tall (6 foot 4) resulted in me over-striding and subsequently putting too much stress on my hips.

I then saw a running style specialist as well as spoke to Jeppe Athletics and DTT coach Derick Marsicz, who both helped me adjust my running style, and the hip pain subsided. I had also been taking a natural supplement that helped me with my hips as well as other health-related benefits. That allowed me to finish my first Comrades in May 2016, and two weeks later I decided to accept the challenge of becoming an Ironman, so I contacted Derick and joined the Modern Athlete DARE TO TRI programme.

Up for the Challenge
Being terrified of open water swimming, I trained my swimming up to four times per week. I barely managed 550 metres in my first indoor session, but with Derick’s guidance I was soon completing 2000m sessions in the gym, and the coached open water swim sessions with DTT helped my confidence. Meanwhile, the bicycle training was also a challenge. Due to my height, it was difficult to find a bicycle that suited my length, but I eventually sourced a bicycle from a friend who is even taller than me. Then I ensured that I attended every weekend DTT ride – even though one of the regular training venues is more than 50 minutes’ drive from my house – and Derick helped with technique and gearing.

In August last year, I attempted my first triathlon at the Bela Bela 5150, which I finished in 3:05. The event was superb and I was ‘triathlon hooked,’ which saw me sign up for the full Ironman in PE, and so I continued to train with DTT. With two sessions per day, the late evening sessions were the hardest, as my wife trains as well and we needed to juggle our family commitments, as we have two young daughters.

Six weeks before the Ironman, I attended a Two Thirds Ironman distance training camp in PE, on the Ironman course. The sole purpose of attending the camp was to ensure that I was comfortable with the sea swim. Derick had advised me to concentrate on the swim and gauge my feelings for the race, and I ended up swimming 3.3km and felt good.

Ready for Action
So we arrived at race day in April, and it was amazing to stand on the beach amongst all the other athletes in wetsuits. The staggered start was fantastic and I started the swim feeling good and having fun, and the 3.8km swim was over much sooner than I expected. I really enjoyed it so much that I even ran from the beach into T1. The bike leg was also awesome, with stunning views along the coast. And I just kept reminding myself of the things Coach had taught me. It was awesome to see my wife at the 90km turn point, and I saw her again as I exited T2, to begin the 42.2km run.

I was dreading four loops of the run, but the loops actually proved to be stunning, thanks to the familiarity of landmarks as well as the support from friends and spectators. Even better, the camaraderie amongst the DTT, Jeppe and other Ironman participants was fantastic, so I looked forward to each loop to collect my loop bangles. With all four collected, the finish for a sub-5-hour marathon beckoned, and those final 100 metres were phenomenal, when I could hear the announcer and see the red carpet, as those words rang in my ears when crossing the line in 13:59: “You are an IRONMAN.” It was spine-chilling!

In fact, I enjoyed the event so much that I have signed up and registered with DTT to complete Ironman 2018!

Sign Up Today!
The DARE TO TRI programme is an affordable, manageable and sustainable training programme that fits in with your family, work and social commitments. For just R1500, you will receive coaching and be able to join coached weekend group training right up till Ironman PE on 15 April 2018. You cannot get this level of coaching for a nine-month period at this cost anywhere else!

For more info on the Modern athlete DARE TO TRI Academy, or to sign up, go to, or contact the Coach at

Older & Slower

Recently I spoke to a master’s runner who, over the last few years, had noticed a small but steady decline in his running pace, with his strides devolving into shuffles. Despite experiencing no pain and having decades of running experience, his strides shortened and his running speed slowed down. So how does a runner’s body change as they age? – BY ERNEST HOBBES, BIOMECHANIST

As a runner ages, their lung capacity decreases due to a weakening of the diaphragm and reduction of the size and number of alveoli in the lungs. Maximal heart rate slows down by roughly one beat per minute each year, which means that at 60 years of age, your maximal heart rate is around 40 beats per minute slower than it was when you were 20. Since exercise intensity is related to cardiac output (heart rate x volume the heart can pump per stroke), a reduced maximal heart rate will reduce cardiac output, thus lowering maximal and near maximal exercise rate. As a result, running at the same pace will require a higher percentage of maximal effort, while running at the same relative effort will occur at a slower pace.

Flexibility also decreases with advancing age, particularly in connective tissues, such as tendons, as they become less pliable. The muscles also become increasingly inflexible, resulting in a reduced range of motion. This affects the backwards swing of the leg, resulting in an earlier recovery and a shorter cycle, reducing stride length. In a way, this works in tandem with the reduced exercise capacity, as the most economical running intensity is brought a gear down.

Aging results in a decrease in muscle size, particularly in the lower body. In addition, the neural stimulus for muscles to contract activates fewer muscle fibres, resulting in a decrease in muscle strength. Fast twitch fibres, which better accommodate high intensity work, are affected more than slow twitch fibres, which are suited for endurance events. Even though endurance runners rely far more on the slow twitch fibres, fast twitch fibres are also used. As men have greater muscular strength, they also have the most to lose, meaning that women can slowly close the gap on their male counterparts as they age.

Generally, sedentary adults lose fitness and strength much faster than active adults after the age of 30. The exact rate of decline is dependent on age, activity level and forms of exercise the runners participate in, but it is estimated that runners slow down between 0.2% to 1.4% per year. As age advances, the rate of decline increases.

There is some good news, though. As a previous article of mine explained, running economy continues to improve beyond the age of 30 due to a constant improvement in running technique. Studies have found that running economy at 40, 50, and 60 years of age show no observable decline. There are a few things runners could do to slow the rate of decline, and my next article will focus on this as well as the risks of activity at an older age.

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

Legend of the Riddler

In his competitive days, Alec Riddle was known as the Riddler, whereas these days he is better known as the ‘Eye in the Sky,’ hovering above the leading runners at televised races to provide live updates from the route, which is just part of a very interesting and highly successful career as an athlete, coach and commentator. – BY SEAN FALCONER

In 2015, when the SABC was looking for somebody to put in a helicopter to do live commentary at the big races such as the Comrades and Old Mutual Two Oceans ultras, one of the names put forward was that of Alec Riddle. Having been a runner much of his life, done both races, and done many years of television commentary, it was a natural fit. “It’s a lovely way to watch the race, as you can see it unfolding even better than on TV,” says Alec. “I remember in 2015 telling the viewers and studio team to watch out for a guy I could see slicing through the top 10 at Camperdown, and that turned out to be Gift Kelehe, who went on to win the race.”

Of course, it helps that Alec has three silver medals each in the two big ultras and knows their routes well. In fact, he was 21st in the 1988 Comrades with a 6:05:23 time, came into the finish alongside 1990 women’s winner Nadine Harrison (whose sister is married to his brother), and in 1991 he finished alongside Bruce Fordyce after running much of the race with women’s winner Frith van der Merwe. “I was with her from 10km to 75km, because I was determined not to let a woman beat me. Then I blew spectacularly, and was sitting there when Bruce came along and sat down next to me. He told me he was waiting for a TV camera so he could tell everybody I was throwing myself a pity party… That got me going again!”

Having been awarded SA colours in biathlon, triathlon and lifesaving, in later years Alec came back from a long lay-off from competitive sport to earn spots at the World Ironman Champs in both Full Ironman and Ironman 70.3 distances, and in 2011 was crowned World Champion in his age category at the 70.3 World Champs in Las Vegas. Not bad for a guy who says he was very much a second-tier runner throughout school…

Running in Africa
With his father working in the building industry, Alec’s family left England when he was six and worked their way down to SA. “My Dad arrived home one day and my Mom said she had applied for a job in Africa for him, because she was tired of the English weather. So they packed their bags and the four kids, and we’ve been here ever since,” jokes Alec. He grew up in Natal and says he discovered a love for running at Westville Boys High School, then at Empangeni High School. “I wasn’t particularly good while at school, but we had an exceptionally good running culture at school, and one of my highlights was winning the under-15 schools category at the SA Cross Country Champs in East London as part of the Westville team.”

After school he went to study at the University of Port Elizabeth, and that is another interesting story. “I was registered to go to Rhodes, but just after finishing Matric, I went into the SweatShop store in Braamfontein, and Gordon Howie suggested I go to UPE instead, due to its strong athletics team. He phoned Mike Bosch, who organised me a bursary, and my whole life changed. We had a wonderful running club for the years that I was there, and legendary SA miler Johan Fourie once told me that UPE never had the same depth as Tuks or Maties, but in relays, we always managed to give them a real challenge.”

Alec went on to earn his SA University colours in this third year after finishing ninth at the SAU Cross Country Champs in Stellenbosch, but he says the highlight of his UPE days was in 1982 when a he was part of a 10-man team that broke the 24-hour relay World Record in Cape Town. “We ran 303 miles in 24 hours and I did 33 miles, with our team averaging about 4:40 per mile, which is equal to about 2:55 per kay!”

Talent Development
Having completed a BA degree, majoring in Mathematics, Alec began teaching at Grey High School in PE, then was offered a marketing post for the Grey PE schools. Later he started a sports management business, representing top sports stars such as cricketers Kepler Wessels and Dave Callaghan, and the next chapter saw him help launch Max Africa in 1999, with Xolile Yawa and Mark Sanan. It was a PE-based high performance training camp, backed by New Balance, that attracted some of the top talent in South Africa, and Alec is justifiably proud of their achievements.

“Our goal was to get SA athletes competitive, and we picked up a few international victories, with the highlight being Abner Chipu finishing fourth in the Boston Marathon. One year we also had six out of the top eight finishers in the SA Half Marathon Champs, with Abner winning the title. The athletes lived with us in a dormitory attached to our home, and my kids grew up in training camps in Lesotho, and it showed that if you incentivise the guys, they will perform.”

When Max Africa closed in 2002, Alec went into financial brokering, then became certified as a registered financial planner. He soon made his mark in his new field, and in 2008 he was a finalist for the Financial Planning Institute (FPI) Personal Finance Financial Planner of the Year Award, and in 2009 he won it. Today Alec is with Private Wealth Management, a division of Old Mutual. Today, aged 57, he lives in Stellenbosch with wife Michelle and kids Camryn (19) and Jamie (17). He still runs, but is also often seen seconding Jamie, who is quickly developing into one of SA’s hottest young triathlon prospects. Not surprising, given that his father was once of SA’s top ranked triathletes.

Simpler Days
“I got into triathons in the mid-80s after seeing a poster at the beachfront about a tri event. I was doing lifesaving and could run, so I just needed a bike. I won my first tri race, got a sponsorship from Stellenbosch Farmer’s Winery, and four months later I was part of the South African team in the London to Paris triathlon! Those were fun days… we would just leave our bikes next to a car or leaning against a tree while we did the swim, and we didn’t wear helmets back then.”

Alec went on to win an SA Champs title, to go with his SA titles in biathlon and the long run in lifesaving, and won a number of events, including the Durban Ultra Tri, which in turn qualified him for the Ironman World Champs in Hawaii, but due to SA being excluded from international sport in those years, he was unable to go. Frustrated, he took a break from all sport and admits he got very fat and unfit. “When I eventually returned to tri action, I was teased by my old friend Mike Bosch for only being on page 17 of the results, so that night I wrote on a serviette that when I turn 50, I will qualify for the Ironman World Champs in Kona.”

Having achieved that in 2010, a broken collar bone suffered in a fall while training in the USA wrecked his plans to compete, but just six weeks later he was back in action and finished third in his age category at the 70.3 World Champs in Florida, in spite of his lack of training. A year later, he was a World Champion.

Transform Your Swimming with DARE TO TRI

In the six years that we have run the DARE TO TRI Programme, the most asked question is always, “Can you help me with my swim?” It seems that for many would-be triathletes or Ironman competitors, riding up to 180km or running 42km is quite often not the biggest challenge – instead, it’s the shortest leg of the race that causes the most anxiety. For that reason, we are pleased to announce that DARE TO TRI is partnering with swim coach Jana Schoeman of Swim Smooth South Africa this year to put on specialised Swim Smooth workshops for the DARE TO TRI group.

Swim Smooth is the world’s leading swimming coaching company, specialising in simple coaching methods to help you become a faster, more efficient swimmer, and it is the official coaching provider for the International Triathlon Union (ITU) and British Triathlon. Jana is a Gauteng-based physiotherapist specialising in sports and orthopaedic rehabilitation, and as a passionate swimmer, she bought into the Australian-based swim coaching company, Swim Smooth’s slogan, “The world needs better swimming.” Earlier this year, Jana became the first Certified Swim Smooth Coach in South Africa, having travelled to the UK and Australia over the past three years in order to complete her training.

The Swim Smooth coaching methodology aims to address the three keys to improving swimming performance: Technique, training and open water skills.
• Swimming technique analysis involves a 90-minute video analysis and stroke correction session, making use of the latest technology. In most cases, the reality of what a swimmer is doing and their perception differ to a great degree, and this is pointed out through video captured from all angles above and below the water, and analysed poolside, including comparing your video to that of a professional swimmer. The stroke correction process involves live feedback relayed through an underwater headset, making it possible for the coach to communicate with the swimmer whilst they are performing specific drills to correct their stroke weaknesses.
• Training sessions not only focuses on the swimmer’s technique, but also involve optimising the swimmer’s fitness levels by developing his/her aerobic and anaerobic systems. Training involves a balance between technique, endurance and threshold training. This is facilitated through a small pacing device under the swimmer’s cap.
• Open water skills training is probably the most overlooked area of triathlon coaching. These sessions aim to teach swimmers how to face common fears associated with the open water environment, fit their wetsuit correctly, draft fellow swimmers, sight without disrupting their stroke, turn around buoys and adapt their stroke to the open water conditions.

Whether you are a beginner who would like to learn freestyle, an intermediate triathlete who wants to develop their stroke technique or an advanced swimmer looking to excel further, there is no doubt that Jana will assist in transforming your swimming. The Modern Athlete DARE TO TRI Academy will be collaborating with Jana in hosting specific swim workshops in the new season, and she will also offer personalised individual training to DTT members.

For more info on Swim Smooth, contact Jana on or 082 823 9478.

Sign up for DTT Today!
The new season of the DARE TO TRI Academy 2017/18 has started and you can start training anytime as we help you reach your triathlon goals. This training programme has transformed many everyday athletes and even self-confessed ‘couch potatoes’ into triathletes that have not only finished their first ever Standard Olympic distance triathlon, but then gone on to cross the finish line at Ironman 70.3 as well as the Ironman African Champs in PE.

This year’s programme will work toward several main goal events (but we will also do other events on the calendar, including some of the shorter sprint triathlons):
• 12 August 2017: 5150 Bela Bela – 1.5km swim/40km bike/10km run
• 24 September 2017: MiWay Cape Ultra – 1.9km swim/90km bike/21km run
• November 2017: MiWay Midlands Ultra – 1.9km swim/90km bike/21km run
• 28 January 2018: 70.3 East London – 1.9km swim/90km bike/21km run
• 15 April 2018: Ironman South Africa – 3.8km swim/180km bike/42km run

The success of the DARE TO TRI programme is an affordable, manageable and sustainable training program that fits in with your family/social and work commitments. For just R1500, you will receive coaching and be able to join coached weekend group training from the 22 July 2017 till Ironman PE on 15 April 2018. You cannot get this level of coaching for a nine-month period at this cost anywhere else!

To sign up, please go to and follow the prompts to register.