After all in front of them stood a nutrition specialist speaking of the benefits of white rice pudding and quinoa. What was he to think of them, aspirant top runners, if he found out their pre-race meal was the simple staple diet of South Africa – pap?
“Pap, hmmm,” the expert responded “Don’t have too much, maybe two spoonfuls”
Most in the audience gasped! Two spoonfuls is a joke, that’s for babies.
It is late Friday night and we’re at our club’s (Fat Cats AC) briefing for Comrades Marathon novices.
Having received tips on how to tackle the monster from a silver medallist Rene Grobler, we are now sitting attentively as 32GI’s Mark Wolff dishes out nutrition advice.
Having lapped up everything he taught us about the two body fuel tanks (fat and glycogen) as well as on how to hydrate prior to and during the race, most of us are sitting patiently, waiting to hear him tell us what to eat.
The expectation, actually, is for Mark to rubber-stamp most of our diet - pap before the race and mageu and bananas on the road – it is what we usually have and it has gotten most of us this far.
But no, Mark’s list of good food for an endurance runner doesn’t include any of those.
“You must have spinach, broccoli and rockets - and steam them or boil them, don’t put them in the grill because you’ll kill all the good stuff,” he advises “Also add turmeric and cinnamon into your foods.”
He speaks at length about the goodness of lean meats; snacking on fruit, nuts, biltong and the importance of cutting down on sugar.
All good. But what about pap?
The chairman of our club is renowned for taking along a cooler bag with his pap already cooked to races. He had one at the Two Oceans and he improved on his previous time at the Cape Town race in a big way.
One of the legendary pap and road running stories is that of New York City Marathon winner Willie Mtolo.
Prior to that race, Mtolo created a 9/11 situation that saw the entire Hilton Hotel he was staying in vacated. The South African had bought along a stove and duly started to prepare his putu only for the heat to set the fire detectors off.
“Before I run I always love to eat putu because I believe when I eat putu, I’ll be ready and strong on the day,” Mtolo said.
It is what most black runners believe and while clubs invite nutritionists to give them tips, most of them highly valuable, don’t dare tell them not to eat their "putu".
As Wolff said on Friday: “Nutrition is what will make or break your Comrades Marathon”.
Ask any of the black runners who have won the ultimate human race and I can bet you the majority will swear on pap having made their Comrades.
Sure I am taking heed of Wolff’s nutritional tips. But I am definitely also trusting in pap to help fuel my maiden Comrades as well.