Jamie Marais’ Four Giants Challenge
01 January 1970
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Brad Brown: Welcome onto yet another edition of Old Mutual Live, great things start here, great things start now. I love, absolutely love hearing about what adventures people get up to when running and plans that they’re doing. We spoke to Camilla Kearns just a few weeks ago here on the podcast. Her and her husband Warrick, as we speak, are busy cycling all the way up to Kilimanjaro on those Qhubeka Buffalo bicycles. Raising funds and awareness for the Qhubeka Charity.
I’m super-stoked to welcome our next guest onto the podcast cause he’s doing some amazing things too. He’s an adventurer and extreme endurance athlete. Welcome onto the podcast today Jamie Marais. Jamie welcome, thanks for joining us.
Jamie Marais: Thanks so much Brad, it’s fantastic to be on the podcast, looking forward to chatting to you.
BB: Jamie, just to give a bit of background and some of the stuff that you do. You’re obviously in the middle of putting something massive together, which we’ll touch on. But in June you broke a record that involved Lions Head, tell us a bit about it.
JM: Absolutely, so the project we’re preparing for is the Four Giants Challenge. I’ve had to really do some very specialised training for each of the challenges. The special focus right now and for the last six months on the running aspect.
A 12-hour working day up and down Lions Head
What happened was, I looked at Lions Head and I looked at various times and things and efforts that have been done on Lions Head. I spend half of my life running on Lions Head, literally, it’s my favourite training ground. I actually decided to go for the greatest number of summits every attempted or recorded in a 12-hour period on Lions Head.
A lot of the records exist on Table Mountain and I decided that as part of my training, just to test my body for the first Giant I’ll be facing, which is a 24-hour record on Table Mountain. I thought, let’s start with a 12-hour record on Lions Head.
What I did was I went and set up a little base camp in my car at the bottom of Lions Head and I literally ran up and down from 6am to 6pm at a measured effort. I managed to run up and down a total of 12 times in 12 hours. Which was 60km, with about 6 000m of vertical climbing. What I will say is my knees were fairly sensitive afterwards!
BB: Of that I’ve got no doubt. Did it sort of put into perspective what you’re trying to do with this Four Giants Challenge, did it scare you a bit?
JM: You know what, it did the opposite, it was quite a big consolation. Because there’s certain things you only discover about your body when you put yourself in very extreme situations and that was the purpose of this. I knew it was going to be tough. After six hours, we’ve actually got a video up on YouTube. If you just go onto my YouTube channel, Jamie Marais. The listeners will be able to check out the actual 12-hour record.
Guys were interviewing me every couple of hours and you’ll see after six hours, I was so broken that I actually spoke into the camera and said, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to run for another six hours.’ The funny thing is the first six hours were really bad, but at about seven hours my body kicked in, my mind kicked in.
So to answer your question no, it didn’t scare me, it actually gave me a lot of confidence for the Table Mountain Challenge. I’m hoping to achieve between 20-24 consecutive summits in 24 hours, over a period of two days. But the vertical ascent is massively different to what I did on Lions Head. We’re looking at the Table Mountain Challenge as being 18 000m vertical, over two days, which is huge.
What the Four Giants Challenge is all about
BB: That’s massive. Just to put that into a bit of perspective, I may be wrong here. But I think Everest is around 8 000, so that’s huge. You’re basically doing way more than that. Let’s talk about the Four Giants Challenge, the Table Mountain part of it is number one. Tell us a bit about what you’re planning. We’ll get into the why, because that’s obviously the big driving force. What have you got up your sleeve, what’s on the cards?
JM: So, Four Giants Challenge basically consists of four of the most extreme physical challenges that have ever been taken on across my three favourite sporting disciplines. It was really just a crazy idea we came up with in November last year on a run.
I was thinking, South Africa is facing massive challenges. What can I do in my own sort of unique Jamie way, as a way of inspiring people to face the giants in their own lives. The Four Giants Challenge consists of four challenges across three different sporting disciplines.
The first giant is going to be 24-hour record attempt on Table Mountain. Where I’ll be going for 24 summits in 24 hours over two days. That’s going to be about 18 000m vertical with about 72km of vertical climbing. Obviously the format will be up Platteklip, run across and then descend via the cable car and then back.
The second giant will be a couple of months from now. Which will be an official Guinness World Record attempt for the greatest vertical height on a bicycle in 12 hours. What that means is I need to ride up and down a climb of sorts, or mountain passes of sorts. We’re still deciding on the location. For a period of 12 hours, to try and break the current Guinness World Record. Which is just under 9 500m vertical. That’s going to be a big ask because the guys that are doing the Everesting on the bikes are doing the height of Everest, which is 9 000m in 24 hours. I’ve got to exceed that in half the time, so that will be an interesting one.
The third Giant is one of my other favourite sports is stand-up paddle boarding. I’ll be the first person to attempt stand up paddle boarding across the longest lake in the world, which is actually Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania, in central Africa. The distance there is 676km, which is not that far if you’re on a bicycle. But if you’re doing 7 or 8km per hour on a stand-up paddle board and you’ve got 20 foot crocs and large colonies of hippos around, it can be quite challenging.
The final Giant, the fourth Giant is going to be a speed summit of Kilimanjaro, where I’ll be attempting a run up and down in under 10 hours. It won’t be a record, but I will join a small group of guys who have done this. It’s not the sort of thing people do every day. I think running up and down in 10 hours is pretty challenging. Those are the four Giants Brad.
The driving force behind the Challenge
BB: That sounds incredible Jamie. I sit here listening and often I chat to people who do incredible things like this. You get two types of people who respond and you get the one who goes, gee, that’s incredible and I’d love to do it. You get those that say, gee, that sounds crazy. I’m normally in the first group where I go, gee, I’d love to do that. But this one, I’m not so sure. Tell us why you’re doing it, what drives someone to do something as big as this?
JM: You know Brad, I think you’ve got to believe in your dreams. Funny, I’m 40 now and I actually found my old matric journal a couple of weeks ago. I made a very interesting statement there at the tender age of 17 when I finished matric.
My closing words to the school were, ‘If you have a dream that seems impossible to achieve, don’t let others doubt get to you. If you’re dedicated, anything is possible.’ The Four Giants Challenge is very much my response to the challenges South Africa is facing.
My wife and I had an opportunity to immigrate about two years ago to Canada. We went across and we checked it out. We just decided, we were kind of, you know, fed up with all the issues and challenges in South Africa and we were on the usual, let’s just leave train of thought.
On a run I was thinking about where we’re at as a country and the challenges we’re facing and I just thought, you get two kinds of responses. You either jump on the first flight out of the country and set up camp somewhere else, or you stay and try to do something about it.
The reason I came up with the idea, was I realised that people are facing massive challenges around South Africa, and I’m talking about every aspect. Financially, commercially, politically, every aspect. This whole project, the Four Giants Challenge was really just my way of inspiring South Africans to realise that no giant is too big to face.
The second reason I’m doing this is for Sabrina Love Foundation who look after children with special needs. The logic there was to use my physical ability to help children with a physical disability, who could never do the sort of things that you and I do on a daily basis. Brad, that’s kind of the basis of why I’m doing this.
How do you train for something like this?
BB: It sounds incredible. Tell me, they’re all big, as stand-alones they’re massive. You’ve got to undertake each one on their own. But from a training perspective, tell me a bit about your training regime. Because you can’t walk into one of these things underdone, you’ve got to be at the top of your game.
JM: Definitely. Each of these challenges is going to require a dedicated focused effort for several months. I think initially I was hoping to do one every three months and have them all wrapped up within a period of 12 months. But what has made it challenging is that we’re actually funding the project privately.
We’re very well supported from various sponsors and brands as partners and equipment and that. But in terms of the engine and the economics of it, we’re doing it all ourselves, so we have to pace ourselves. Also physically, to go and run up Table Mountain 24 times in a row takes some very specialised training and preparation.
I’ve decided that the first two challenges, the running and the cycling, I’ll take on in 2016. The paddling and the speed summit of Kili, I’ve decided to make 2017 challenges. But I’m preparing in focused periods for each challenge. I’m not overlapping the training.
Initially I wanted to prepare for the running and the cycling and the paddling, as part of my weekly training routine. But it’s not possible, there’s too much involved. I’m training between 5-7 hours a day at the moment, of which two hours is gym work and 4-5 hours would be vertical running. Brad, a lot of guys are saying, Jamie, how do you train to run up Table Mountain in 24 hours, this many times?
Typical training run for me would be, I start at Lions Head and I run up and down Lions Head 2-3 times. Then I run across to Table Mountain and I run up Platteklip, run back down. Then I run back across to Lions Head and I do one or two more summits of Lions Head. That’s kind of a 5-6-hour training run, which is an extremely challenging run. But that’s the kind of thing you have to do to prepare for this.
BB: It sounds incredible. I know what it takes to train for a Comrades or an Ironman, but what I find in those, I’m constantly hungry. You must be eating your entire household…if you’re not training, you must be eating, tell me about the nutrition side of it and keeping yourself fuelled.
Keeping fuelled along the way
JM: I’ve got an interesting take on it. I do believe in a high fat diet. But I’m not an extremist and a purist when it comes to my diet. Meaning that, I’ll have a pizza, I’ll have a beer once a week or once every two weeks. Try and have a glass of wine once every few nights with my wife.
We’ve got three kids, so life is chaotic as it is with three kids. So there isn’t time for specialised recipes and all that kind of thing. But what I will tell you is, I do eat a lot of eggs and several eggs in the morning is the equivalent of a really top end protein shake. I think eggs give you the ultimate combination of vitamins and amino acids and minerals and all the wonderful things you need.
In the mornings I start with four eggs, I have two on toast and two on the side. I then have a green smoothie with avo, kale, maybe a bit of protein, some peanut butter, that sort of thing, full cream yoghurt. I literally, that actually carries me through the whole day. I can go train six hours just on that.
I definitely think there’s a lot to be said for a high fat diet, but I think you need to also live and enjoy life in between as well. If you can’t sustain your dietary decisions, as a natural extension of your life, then you probably shouldn’t go there.
BB: Absolutely. Jamie, finally, if people want to find out more about what you’re doing and if they want to follow your progress, where can they touch base with you?
JM: Very simple, the simplest starting point is my official website which is just jamiemarais.co.za, social media, Facebook is Jamie Marais Pro Athlete, Twitter is @jamiemarais and obviously Instagram @jamaismarais as well.
I would say our website and Facebook, my athlete page are probably the best ways to keep up to speed and then there’s loads of media. We’ve just had Top Billing run an interview, which has just been broadcast last week, so that’ll be online soon. I’m regularly doing training tips and updates and filming all sorts of crazy things.
I’ve rescued two people off Lions Head in the last 30 days, who both fell and broke their wrists and got pretty banged up. So we’re filming and documenting all of this interesting stuff as we go along. I’d say my YouTube channel, Jamie Marais is pretty interesting as well, for anybody who wants to go and look at that.
Then one thing I do want to say, we’ve got a really awesome Four Giants Challenge promotional video which was actually, believe it or not, narrated by Phil Liggett, the Tour de France commentator. What a lot of people don’t know about me Brad is that during my teens I really struggled with a major drug addiction. I think it was just the wrong group of friends, that usual curveball we all take. But being an extremist, you can imagine how extreme I went with that.
Phil Liggett’s commentary of the Tour de France is one of the things that inspired me to stop taking drugs and to actually start cycling at the age of 15/16, competitively. I met Phil Liggett in 2010 and shared with him how he’d inspired my life and changed the course of my life and we became good friends through this.
When I called him up last year November with this idea, I said ‘Phil, how would you feel about narrating a promotional video for me’ and he said ‘Jamie, I’ll do it with pleasure.’ All the listeners can jump onto YouTube and just go Four Giants Challenge.
You’ll actually see this little five-minute video, beautifully narrated by Phil Liggett and that actually tells the whole story of what I’m doing, why I’m doing it. With some beautiful imagery as well, with me training in the various disciplines, so go check that out.
BB: Awesome stuff, Jamie, that’s brilliant. I’ll put those links into the show notes of this episode of Old Mutual Live. Thanks for your time, best of luck in the build up to that first one, it sounds epic. We’ll be following your progress closely.
JM: Thanks, I’m grateful for all the support and Brad, it was awesome chatting to you, thank you so much.