Endurance sports events are always full of surprises and the Totalsports Challenge 2012 was no different. With Dan Hugo the perennial favorite, most expected him to cruise to an easy victory as in years past.
But a plucky dairy farmer from the Eastern Cape had other ideas.
Stuart Marais threw caution to the wind, making this year’s Challenge a “down to the wire” duel, finishing only five minutes behind the better known Hugo, both athletes shattering the previous record by a long way.
A full time working resident in Stellenbosch, Marais kindly gave us an insight into his sporting career up until this point, showing that an “8-to-5” need not be a limiter to sporting excellence.
CRANK: You finished a close second behind reigning champion Dan Hugo at Totalsports Challenge 2012. What made you decide to participate in this year’s edition and were you racing to win?
Stuart Marais: Yes. During my honeymoon in Thailand, my wife Beth convinced me to start racing multisport. The first race which popped up on the calendar was the Totalsports Challenge. I started preparing just under two months prior, so never gave myself a realistic chance. As my training progressed though, I got stronger and eventually I felt I was strong enough to battle the best in the game. So yes, I was going for the win.
SM: Dan is a phenomenal athlete and he has the results to back it up. He has dominated this event since he started racing it. All my friends and family jokingly backed me for a win and a potential upset on the day. I was under the radar to a certain extent and carrying some really great form. With my being the underdog, I was quite possibly in the best position for a result.
CRANK: With swimming, paddling, cycling and running making up what is the Totalsports, how did you prepare? Did you have a set training schedule? Give us an example of one of your longest and hardest training days.
SM: It can be as complicated as you make it. Ultimately, the Totalsports Challenge is an ultra-distance event, which can be compared to any Ironman or adventure race. Preparation is the key, with possibly the most important discipline being race nutrition. I focused predominantly on interval sessions. I worked really hard on my weaknesses and improved on my strengths. My longest days were up to six hour brick sessions, which I did at higher tempo than race pace to see how my body would cope with the transitions.
CRANK: While you were exclusively a duathlete, you burst on to the mountain biking scene with a top-20 placing in the 2010 ABSA Cape Epic. How did your participation in that come about and tell how the 2010 Epic panned out for you and your team mate Charles Keey.
SM: Charlie is my cousin, and at a mountain bike race in Addo, we were head to head at each other’s throats on the route. He asked me after the race whether I would be interested in joining him in the Cape Epic. Obviously I agreed, and this was my transition from multisport to mountain biking. We raced well together and understood what was required from either of us. We kept it consistent throughout and we were ecstatic with the 20th overall.
CRANK: Will we be seeing you in the 2012 ABSA Cape Epic?
SM: I would LOVE to be racing in 2012, but I’m happy to announce that my focus will be predominantly multisport and Xterra for this year.
CRANK: Having also completed the now defunct Giro del Capo, which is harder; the Giro or the Epic? Take us through a typical day in the Giro del Capo.
SM: Wow!! This was my very first road race. Talk about being tossed in at the deep end. Charlie thought it would be good preparation for the Epic, just two weeks later. I never knew what to expect. I stood on the start line expecting a leisurely stroll in the bunch, but the days were hard and the gutter riding was something very new to me. But I survived and it turned out as great Epic preparation. I loved the race, although I can’t say I’ll be going back for more of that.
CRANK: After looking through your website, I noticed you studied at Elsenberg. What did you study there and did you stay in the “koshuis”?
SM: Yes, I studied at Elsenburg College, just outside Stellenbosch. We are dairy farmers in the Eastern Cape. I stayed in the hostel and in my first year, I played rugby for the res; great fun and good memories.
CRANK: How do you fit in training with a fulltime job? Take us through a day in the life of Stuart Marais.
SM: The most important factor is balance. I have an incredibly supportive wife and a job which encourages sport. My days usually start with a 4am rise. A swimming session until 7am is followed by a big breakfast. My day basically ends after an evening training session and a lot of fun. I am blessed.
CRANK: What have been your biggest disappointments?
SM: As with anything in life, there will be ups and downs. I can’t single out any particular incident as a disappointment. It all happened the way it did and I am excited about what the future holds for me.
CRANK: Having been a top duathlete, what are your thoughts on the standard of elite duathlon in South Africa? Just how good is Brand du Plessis?
SM: Yes, this was my main sport for a couple of years. Duathlon is a rapidly growing sport and offers triathletes a great racing platform for the colder winter months. I love running and this sport suited me to a “T”. Brandt is an incredible runner. His ability to run off the bike is almost unmatched on a national level. I have great respect for him and enjoy watching him race. If I am on form, I enjoy a good battle too.
CRANK: What are your plans for the rest of 2012? Do you have any inclination towards Ironman SA?
SM: My plans for this season are largely focused on multisport. I would like to give Xterra a bash and hopefully pose a challenge to the guys at the top. Who knows? Ironman SA has definitely crossed my mind, so watch this space.