/ masters /
a class for competitors over the usual age for the highest level of competition.
Changing things up a bit from episode 1 and 2, we take a look behind the scenes of two literal masters of marathon. Meet Oscar Foulkes and Piet Viljoen, business owners and endurance addicts hailing from the mother city - juggling careers, hobbies, health, family and getting in shape for the ultimate stage race. From beating cancer, to doing back to back marathon events, alternative training methods, horse racing and swimming in canals, scroll down to read more about how these two veterans in pink aspire to turn mountains into molehills.
Who is Oscar Foulkes and Piet Viljoen?
OF: A mountain biker of extremely average ability, who is able to commit to following a structured training programme. Professionally, over the years I have been involved in hospitality, wine, web development, as well as horse racing and breeding, with a variety of side interests.
PV: I’m an investment analyst, and I have a passion for art. I love spending as much time as possible on the couch.
As a non-pro marathon cyclist, balancing all aspects of life and training can get very tricky. How do you find that balance and accommodate for training?
OF: It’s very difficult sometimes, and requires an element of single-mindedness (some might uncharitably call it selfishness), as well as an understanding/supportive family. Even with this, there are sessions that are occasionally difficult to fit in. Then, there are the massive stresses often associated with running complex businesses. These are fatiguing, and the hugely underestimated factors faced by non-pros.
PV: Early mornings help, but an understanding partner helps even more.
Talk us through the importance of alternative preparation/training for the marathon season, other than just riding your bike (like core session).
OF: From personal experience, my hips tend to get 'tied up’, which leads to lower back pain. Cycling is an extremely repetitive motion, without the kind of lateral mobility one might get in other sports, so these sessions are important for that. What non-mountain bikers might not realise is how much work the upper body does, especially on technical descents, so upper body strength is very important. I trust the experts, who advocate that core strength and additional leg work are important.
PV: I go to Gym once or twice a week, as I find a strong core helps with endurance on the bike. At the Gym, I train with Kate Slegrova, who is a top mountain biker herself, so the sessions are very much aimed at improving strength and endurance on the bike. I also swim as a recovery session.
Piet, you are part of a small community of athletes that get up each Friday morning before dawn to swim a few k’s in the canals flowing through the V&A waterfront. Tell us more about this and how this came about.
The canal swim is organized by my triathlon club, ATC. It really is special to be able to have an organized open water swim, right on your doorstep. I find it helps a lot with recovery, and is a refreshing way to start the day
Piet, you’re no stranger to suffering and taking on long distance events. Tell us a bit more about your incredible back to back marathon events during 2017.
In 2017, after the Epic, I ran the Two Oceans Ultra, then a bit later I completed the Unogwaja charity challenge – cycling from Cape Town to Pietermaritzburg in 10 days, and then running the Comrades on day 11. It was an incredible journey!
Talk us through some of your training plan & schedule, and how you get to peak condition when it counts.
OF: From a time perspective, Epic training is a lot more manageable than people might expect. My core session on Mondays is an hour. Tuesdays and Thursdays are high quality sessions (usually intervals of some sort) that take 60 to 90 minutes. Longer rides are over the weekend, and these are generally three to four hours on both days, but can extend to five hours (or slightly more) as one gets closer to the event. If you add all that up, it’s mostly 10 to 12 hours a week for the bulk of the preparation. Christmas holidays are an opportunity to do the really big miles. All of this is guided and managed by my coach, Erica Green. She has been brilliant to work with. There’s a limit to how many riders she can coach, so from a selfish perspective I’m loathe to spread the word, but credit must be given where it’s due.
PV: My training program mixes in triathlon training with mtb training, so I am always mixing and matching programs. I train with Erica Greens outfit, Daisyway coaching, and find that her programs are tough but produce the results. Of course, once a certain level of fitness and endurance has been achieved, high intensity interval sessions are the way to go achieve peak condition.
Oscar, tell us more about your history, involvement and achievements with horse racing in South Africa.
Horse racing and breeding was my first obsession, and it started from when I was old enough to be aware of the animals. When I started reading, I devoured every bit of information I could lay my hands on. The sport/industry basically consumed my life until I got involved in wine in my mid-20s, but I’ve returned to the fold over the past five years. I’ve been very lucky to have my horse racing interests fund themselves (I couldn’t do it otherwise). In fact, one could regard Sergeant Hardy as my sponsor for Cape Epic.
Oscar, who is Sergeant Hardy?
Sergeant Hardy is a horse my mother bred, but was unable to sell because he doesn’t have 100% breathing capacity, as a result of a paralysed vocal chord. I refer to him as my laryngeal brother. It’s been a great privilege to race him with my mother. My faith in him has always been at that level, but on Sun Met day he proved it to the world by beating the country’s best sprinters in the Cape Flying Championship. It was Piet’s idea to use Sergeant Hardy as the theme for our 2017 Epic, complete with pink kit that matches my mother’s racing colours. When my son heard this, he said: “So you have hoarse power?”
Oscar, tell us more about your history with cancer, and how you’ve managed to conquer everything it has thrown at you.
I think my nature is to turn mountains into molehills. So, I tend not to get overwhelmed by challenges. Everything happens one step at a time. We might be surrounded by kak, but it is our choice how we choose to respond. By early 2006 I had just about lost my voice. In short succession I had two surgeries, the second of which was to remove tumours from my vocal chords. This was repeated in 2012 (both sides this time), and again at the end of 2015. After this, my surgeon advised a course of radiotherapy, which ran from late January until early March (2016). I feel a bit of a fraud referring to my ailment as cancer, because mortality was never an issue. However, the treatment was the worst pain I’ve ever experienced. I lived on soup and morphine for something like two months, at the end of which my body was comprehensively screwed. I started training at the beginning of May, and completed the Imana Wild Ride 13 weeks later. In a sense, this was a bigger achievement than completing Epic (which was just 12 months after concluding the radiotherapy). I knew my breathing was impaired as a result of massive scarring, but I didn’t know the extent of it until I’d completed Epic 2017. I rode with approximately 50% of my breathing capacity. If I’d known this before, I might not even have attempted it.
What advice would you give the 10 year old version of yourself?
OF: Wear sunscreen.
PV: Start saving early - compounding is magical, given enough time!
Piet, How did you and Oscar meet and become Absa Cape Epic partners?
We met through a mutual friend, who lives in London. Oscar was looking for a partner to ride the Epic – which became his big goal during his cancer treatment. He wrote a blog called “Will you be my Epic Valentine”. Our mutual friend, Deon Gouws (who has run something like 20 Two Oceans!) read it, and immediately forwarded it to me. Oscar and I met for coffee, and we immediately hit it off. At that stage he could barely ride (or speak) but he showed massive determination, and one year later we ride the Epic together! It really was special for me to be part of him being able to fulfill his dream.
A strong partnership entails more than just training together. I believe socialising and a regular glass (or bottle) of red wine is standard procedure for you and Oscar?
OF: Piet and I didn’t meet until a year before Epic, so we had a lot of catching up to do!
PV: Red wine is not only part of the socializing, it is also a very important way to carbo-load for the next days training.
Living in the heart of the city but also having trails only a few minutes from you home, is an incredible privilege. What is your favourite/goto trails to train on?
OF: Riding to the Blockhouse is an intense hour-and-a-bit, with some good climbing. However, Epic training requires much more distance. From the City Bowl, I often follow the Rhodes Memorial - Newlands Forest-Kirstenbosch-Constantia Greenbelts-Tokai loop. Depending upon how much one does at either end, it’s roughly 80km. It’s a huge privilege to be able to navigate these distances in a major city, remaining almost entirely off-road. The big factor in Cape Town is the south-easter. For short rides, I often pop over to Pat’s Track, which runs on the Atlantic Seaboard side of Signal Hill/Lion’s Head. This is great technical riding.
PV: Table Mountain is full of great places to ride, but I guess the ride up to the blockhouse is the go-to ride.
Which other marathon events will the two of you be taking on during 2018?
OF: We did TankwaTrek together. Nothing else is planned for 2018. However, while there are challenges out there, and I’m riding with Piet, the bottom line is “never say never”.
PV: We’ve done Tankwa Trek, and have no plans post Epic – but I’m sure something will pop up! I am doing the ride from Lands End to John O’Groats later on this year,. Jhb2Sea is something Oscar and I have spoken about. Maybe next year.
Piet, having conquered the Cape Epic on a Tallboy, are you planning on switching over to Santa Cruz's new marathon race bike, the Blur?
Most likely – if you can get the same confidence that its stability over rough terrain gives you, but with less weight, why wouldn’t you!