How to Holiday with a Mamil: Take them to Madikwe, not Mauritius

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Ma-mil. Noun. The term “mamil” was coined in the 21st century and stands for “middle aged man in lycra”. It came about to refer to an increasing sub-set of the male species who spend large amounts of time in cycling or triathlon attire, training for amateur, endurance sporting events, with the aim of being awarded a circular object (usually bronze in colour) which can be hung about the neck.

Mamils have the ability to procreate, should they find a suitable partner to mate with. Mamil-related pursuits may or may not be present during the mating process. Often, instinctive Mamil behaviour begins in earnest once offspring have arrived on the scene.

Cycling is a favourite pursuit amongst Mamils. It enables them to be absent from the homestead for upwards of three to seven hours of a Saturday morning. From the time of waking, preparations begin. There is the pumping of tyres, the application of lubricants – both to the machine as well as to the person – the selection of tools, the mixing of special liquids to ensure hydration levels are maintained, and finally, a clothing choice must be made. Mamils are typically born with especially well-developed eye-sight which can detect brand names worn by packs of Mamils riding up ahead. This enables them to understand where in the pecking order, their fellow Mamils lie, in the real, hunter-gatherer, Monday-to-Friday, world.

Once the Mamils have been out on their bicycles for a number of hours, they will head off in groups, in search of food. This forms an important aspect of their socialization. Whether the groups integrate socially or not, they tend to cluster at the same set of watering holes. This allows them to keep an eye on the competition and to obtain a close-up view of who’s wearing what gear.

Once the Mamil has fed, he has little choice but to return to the homestead. By this time, he will understandably seek out some much-needed rest. It difficult for him to comprehend why his mate cannot empathise with this primal need. He has spent the week hunting, to provide for his family. The sixth day, is a day of riding and then of rest. On the seventh day, the Mamil would naturally be restless and edgy without a mandatory visit to the gym or a long run, depending on the season.

I married a Mamil – though he was neither middle-aged nor sporting lycra at the time. (With the exception of an incident involving a Speedo on Camps Bay beach in the summer of ’99, but we won’t go there.)

Holidays with Mamils (let alone their offspring) are not usually relaxed affairs. Food is often readily available – no hunting required – and this means that a Mamil usually has a heightened sense of portliness. This is followed by a desperate, animalistic instinct to exercise. If holidays are your idea of spending time with your Mamil mate, then Plett in December is a disaster. Mamils migrate south in the summer and descend upon the N2’s Engen garage on their bicycles each morning, to ride to Nature’s Valley and back. If you envisaged mornings at rock pools with your young children followed by family beach walks in search of pansy shells… think again. The Mamil might make it to the beach when the sun is nearing its highest point in the sky and the children are famished and exhausted.

Mauritius may seem a safe bet, with its coma-inducing humidity and hotel gyms equipped with three pieces of machinery. Not so. Resort pools cry out to the Mamil –  who is quietly attempting to mind his own business on a nearby lounger –  to “do laps! do laps!” And then there are invariably other Mamils around the pool who saunter over, sweat-drenched in their fluourescent Nike gear, obviously just in from a run. No Mamil likes to be outdone in this manner. I recall a particular Mauritius holiday, before my mate had begun his pursuit of Ironman. Unusually for a Mamil, he could barely swim. (I say this with love). Despite this, the idea of reading a book poolside for a week was so anxiety-inducing, that he took up windsurfing. He worked at it, morning and evening, capsizing more times than he stood up, but at least he was active. A summer holiday in the Alps meant hiking with children in backpacks, a boat trip on the Amazon meant traipsing through mosquito-infested swamps in a desperate attempt to raise his heart-rate. In short, a day without exercise was a day wasted.

Until I took my Mamil to Madikwe last month….Surrounded by wild mammals, he was trapped. We woke up in the morning, we readied ourselves for breakfast in a leisurely fashion, we ate, we strolled to the pool, we played board games and kicked balls around, we went to lunch, we napped and we read, we went on an afternoon game drive, we bathed the kids, we ate supper, we went to bed and repeated all this for THREE WHOLE DAYS! Okay, there was an instance when we tried to march around the camp while the kids rode their bikes. David even had my Garmin Forerunner and was measuring our distance intensely but after about 10 laps, we’d covered a grand total of about 1km, the bikes had punctured from the thorns and we called it a day. There was also an attempt to turn the 1980’s rockery around the pool into a rock-climbing wall.

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This involved David teaching Chiara elaborate rock climbing moves. She then decided she wanted to do it all by herself, but she lost her footing and fell – SPLAT – into the pool. David responded by jumping in fully clothed. Thankfully, we now know that her instinct to swim when landing in deep water is fully honed, so there was actually no need for any David Hasselhoff moves. But at least David got his heart rate up once over the holiday…Moral of the story: mamils must be surrounded by other mammals and then they will ignore nature’s constant calling and actually relax!

The Middle-aged Man in Crisis: The Age of Endurance Sport

He was not a carouser or a sportscar guy, and he already had a shed full of high-end bicycles – that other refuge of the middle-aged man in crisis.

Tim Lewis, “Land of Second Chances: The Impossible Rise of Rwanda’s Cycling Team”

I suppose it’s no accident that, as a 35 year old suburban mom, most of the men I come into contact with are… ahem…”middle-aged”. They are the spouses or partners of my friends and fellow mommies and they are in their late thirties or early forties. As to whether these men are “in crisis”, I can’t presume to know, but what I do know is that more than a handful of them have taken up endurance sports with the zeal of semi-professional athletes.

When The Princess was born, two dads we know ran their first Comrades Marathons within months of the birth of their first children.

Holidaying in Mauritius in December, we met a dad who had recently run the Otter African Trail Run and become obsessed with the sport. In fact, he was scanning the Mauritian landscape during our transfer from the airport and was considering doing a race whilst on holiday. His wife and I looked at one another knowingly. He responded by asking if she’d rather he found himself “a blonde from Benoni”. She said yes, she would actually prefer that, as he would’ve tired of the blonde more quickly.

I think she may have had a point.

Over the past several years, it feels to me as though The Iron Man and the “Half Iron” have become buzzwords. And I think David starting feeling left out. In December 2012 he took part in his first triathlon in St Francis Bay (a sprint distance triathlon).

But it wasn’t until about six weeks ago that he started talking seriously about the Buffelspoort Triathlon on 9 March. He would pop to the gym a few times a week to swim, he did a few slow runs with me (which I blogged about here) and kept up his cycling. Not being well versed in the in’s and out’s of triathlons, I assumed he was talking about a sprint distance triathlon (750m swim, 20km bike, 5km run) or perhaps an Olympic distance triathlon (1.5km swim, 40km cycle, 10km run). But when I stopped to confirm the distances about 3 weeks ago, he was referring to a…gulp…ultra triathlon: 1.9km swim, 90km cycle and 21.1km run. The same as the Half Iron Man event. A few weeks ago his training dipped when he was travelling for work and he told me that he was having second thoughts about doing it. I completely encouraged him to laugh it off. When I was “training” for the 94.7 I wanted to be talked out of it when I moaned to my spouse so I figured it would only be fair to make him feel better about opting out. A week later he was still contemplating what to do. And then he said the key words:

“I’ll be in such a bad mood on that day if I don’t do it.”

“You should definitely do it,” I said immediately.

The night before Sunday’s event, he was literally cramming for the swim by studying an article in Triathlon magazine on common mistakes that triathletes make with respect to their swimming techniques.

The next day, our alarms went off at 3:30am, we were on the road by 4:15am and we arrived at Buffelspoort Dam in the North West Province by 6am for race registration.

Receiving a competitor body marking from the high school girl volunteers - possibly not the worst experience for middle-aged men in crisis
Receiving a competitor body marking from the high school girl volunteers – possibly not the worst experience for a middle-aged man in crisis

Once David had his body marking, it was time for him to set up his cycling and running gear in his transition area. Ever the light traveller, he just packed a few essentials:

All the gear...
All the gear…

Unfortunately, we were to discover that a triathlete’s transition area is not quite the same as a walk-in closet. You were not allowed to bring along a plastic version of a suitcase.

The next challenge was for him to put his newly purchased wetsuit on. We learnt that there is a special technique for this but fortunately, the lovely Carol from Troi Sports (herself an Olympic paddler, I believe) was there to help:

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She also told David that he should try to relax. She had no idea that he’d have had a better chance of giving birth at that juncture.

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Finally, at 7:11am the ultra competitors were off. David had said he’d be breaststroking the swimming leg (not his sporting forte). I thought that there was no way he would have the balls to do breaststroke in front of a bunch of cool, fit ultra triathletes.

But apparently, he did. Out of 170 swimmers, I could identify David as the only swimmer whose head bobbed up and down and whose arms did not exit the water. As a supporter, it was very convenient in terms of identification.

After two laps in the Buffelspoort Dam, David was out of the water and in his transition area to get kitted for the cycle. Here, it would be safe to say that Oscar nominees probably take less time to get dressed for their event. His transition time clocked in at no shorter than 6 minutes and 57 seconds. To give this some perspective, the winner took 1 minute 37 seconds, whilst most people took between 2 and 3 minutes. A few were slower and took just over 4 minutes. I even saw David folding his clothes and placing them in special, individual bags at one point.

But then he caned it on the cycle leg and also did very, very well on the run.

In the end, he came 60th out of 170 ultra competitors who finished the race. Not bad for a middle-aged man!

The 60th of 170 finishers
The 60th of 170 finishers
David's youngest supporter
David’s youngest supporter