Start training now for Otter 2019 with AlpasFit training academy coach and elite trail runner, Christiaan Greyling. He holds the title for the 2017 Otter African Trail Run and he is returning to defend it in 2019. Christiaan says that winning is a mental game and 80% of success is in your mind: “If you don’t believe – you won’t achieve.”
He spends an enormous amount of time preparing mentally – visualising every moment of the race – working on his subconscious and going so far as to picture exactly where he will overtake his competitors on the course. Come race day – all he has to do is execute the plan. The Otter is a gruelling race, but there’s a science to race prep which also includes hours of training, skills development, and commitment balanced with nutritional support. “If you don’t tick all these boxes you are not going to make it; arrive unprepared at your peril,” says Christiaan.
“It’s true that everything in life, including athletic success, starts with a dream. You’ve got to believe that you can do it and then formulate a plan and be prepared to make sacrifices along the way. Sacrifices that are fairly insignificant in the bigger scheme of things.”
Christiaan says that to run Otter 2019 you need to start preparing now.
“Once you have made the decision to compete: commit, don’t make excuses and go for it. It’s a very tough race and can be a long, long day out there. To enjoy it and to finish – you want to be prepared as best you can be on race day.
“The race being what it is – I would recommend that you consult a coach to help you prepare. We have very specific coaching for the Otter and stage training camps geared for our clients who are competing. You need to know what to expect on race day and by simulating the race well in advance, assessing areas of weaknesses and working on them – you are far more likely to have a great day on one of the most scenic trail routes in South Africa. So act early, enter for 2019 now, make the commitment and formulate a solid plan,” says Christiaan.
Eat Your Way to a Strong Finish
When it comes to nutrition for Otter, Christiaan says you need to adjust your diet at least two nights prior to the race so as to bulk up and to pack in loads of good nutritious food. His advice is to eat what you want and as much as you can two nights before the event. He warns that leaving it to the night before the race is too late and will just be weight that you have to carry on race day, adding that it might even upset your stomach.
“Keep your meal light, simple and easy to digest the night before your race. Include a bit of protein, less complex carbs and low on fibres and fruit. Enjoy your meal. Make sure to introduce electrolytes the day before the race. I use Biogen’s electrolytes which don’t contain sugar. On Otter 2019 race day, eat your breakfast at least an hour and a half before the event starts – which is possible because we all travel by bus to the race start. Make sure that your breakfast contains good carbs and good calories but is low in fat and fibre. It mustn’t be a heavy meal. This is not the day for bacon, eggs, and three slices of toast. That’s not a winning strategy. I usually have something like a sugar-free oat bowl, or a chia bowl. I sometimes have two eggs and black coffee because I don’t stomach lactose too well.
“During the race I would recommend you take in about 200 calories per hour. This means you should read your food labels to make sure what you are eating meets this calorie quota. I take in some calories through energy drinks, or through energy bars and natural fruits like dates. Gels are a quick fix of about 100 calories so about two gels per hour should set you right. Start eating early in the race – even within the first half an hour and back off towards the end,” says Christiaan.
Training for Otter 2019
Hills and stair training are an important part of any Otter race prep. Christiaan advises that in the 20 week build up to the Otter you need to train hills and stairs twice a week.
“Because the Otter is so different to other races, you need to develop different muscle groups and work them constantly to be able manage stair climbing. A typical stair climb or hill session includes plenty of stair repeats where you alternate between a track session and stairs. The best option here is stadium stairs which are ample in size. The Otter stairs are quite unique as they are bigger than your normal stairs so this is a good place to emulate the race stair work.”
“It’s a big movement and very difficult to mimic on normal terrain. Once a week we would also schedule in a simulation run that’s very similar to the Otter trail. You can find one in Stellenbosch, and there’s the Assegaaibosch loop which is probably the best kept secret and a stretch we have trained every week for the last few years. For those in Gauteng – try the Wilgespruit area.
“You really want to simulate a training course as closely as possible to the Otter. At the end of the day it’s not really the 2,600m ascent that’s the issue but the fact that the accent is spread out over the 42km. Added to this, your biggest hill is only 130m at a time, so there’s no point in doing a 1,000m climb for the Otter. Rather go and do 10 hill repeats of 80m to 100m. Add in lots of hill repeats (and find stairs if you can) and then you are in the gold zone.”
Christiaan explains that normal hill repeats will not only improve your ability to run uphill, it will also improve your running economy; it makes you a better runner. He adds that when you run up a hill, you use your gluteus muscles to propel you forward, so strong gluteus will improve your stride without over striding. Focus on building your gluteus, join a strength training coach who can help you to develop proper structure and strength in these muscles.
“Make sure you also do your simulation run every four weeks and it should be at race pace. All the other longruns should be at an easy pace so you train in your aerobic zone.”
Skills and Techniques
Developing better climbing skills requires practice and at AlpasFit they have a technique they champion referred to as “Heart, Eat, Beat, Feet and Bums.”
Heart: You don’t want to attack hills at such pace that half way up the climb you don’t have any energy left and end up in your anaerobic zone where everything just burns and you’re spent. You want to keep your heart rate steady and rather climb the hill at a heart rate of 155 to 165 (although this differs from person to person).
Eat: refers to a well-planned race where you don’t need to eat on a big climb. Normally stair climbs take more than 10 to 15 minutes each, but if you bonk on one of them, it can take longer so plan to eat in advance. The biggest climb you will find in the Retto is between 29km and 32km which means you should take in ample nutrition 26km to 27km in to make sure your fuel kicks in when you need it. Make a mental note to eat well before the climb.
Beat: Find your rhythm and settle into a steady pace. Even when you are walking, just try and settle into a steady rhythm of left right – left right.
Feet: Keep your feet under control and take quick steps up hills where it’s runnable. When it isn’t – switch to a different technique and use your hands to form a triangle to push off from your knees. Be sure to work into your gluteus.
Bum. Finally – the most important tip I can share with trail runners is this – think about your bum! When you climb up a hill, imagine you are holding a R5 coin between your buttocks. If you do that, your butt will activate your gluteus muscles. When this happens, your strongest running muscle will be doing the work it needs to. As a rule, this muscle is quite lazy and deactivated, but come race day, you want to use your gluteus to the max! You can even do activation exercises. At AlpasFit we share tips on our social media platforms to help fellow athletes be the strongest runner they possibly can be.
Christiaan wrote an article about using your glutes to effectively climb hills in TRAIL issue 13.
Christiaan adds that the more pain you endure during training, the less pain you will experience on race day. “I have never heard anyone say that this race was not worth the effort. Every time one competes or take on a challenge it changes you. It makes you more committed, focused and a better you. Just do it, commit and have fun preparing and taking part in the adventure.”
“Discipline is not a light switch – it’s a way of life. You need a good support structure to facilitate the level of commitment required to compete in a race like this. Even more importantly though – enjoy it. Adventure is a fun and a choice. People need to realise they are responsible for their choices and how they live their life. They need to consciously choose life, happiness, fitness and health.”
For more Otter preparation advice, read Nine tips for a successful Otter African Trail Run by John Brimble, and How to run your best RETTO by Deon Braun.