Sunday, 8 April 2012

Week 6 of 18 - The Two Oceans's Ultra

This weeks training was all run focused, as Lauren and I were in South Africa to visit our friends Amy and Col and so swim and bike were out.Amy has got into her running big time since moving to the warmer climate that is Cape Town and so on our first day here Amy took me on a 10k run. It was an adventure negotiating the traffic, tree branches and Kerbs but we found our way home and it was good to get out and used to the heat and to the kind of pace I was hoping to run in the race Saturday.

Me and Ames also went for a run with her friend Natasha around Greenpoint park near to the stadium used at the World Cup on Wednesday, where we got to experience the strong Cape Town wind, me and Ames both hoped we wouldn't have to face that Saturday when I ran the Ultra and Amy did the half.

Amy showed us a lot of what Cape Town had to offer, in the week before the race, with Col working hard all week we only managed to see him in the evenings. I drank far more than I would in the lead up to the race, but come Saturday morning when we woke at 4am I was rested and relaxed from our first week in Cape Town.

There was none of the wind we had experienced on Wednesday as the four of us walked to the start at just before 5. Lauren as Head of the supporters club had made signs for me and Amy as well as buying a couple of hot pink Two Oceans T-Shirts for her and Col to wear. We said our goodbyes at half 5 and I went off to the Ultra start, Ames to the half start and the others went to grab a spot hoping to see us as we set off.

I waited patiently in zone C trying to stay relaxed as the half marathon set off at 6am. Eventually at 6:25 after the South African national anthem had been sung we too were set off.I was over the start line in 10 seconds and soon into my running on the wide road that is Main Road. I had planned to run at 6min km pace and get through 30km in 3hours. I had been told that the 30k mark not the 28k point should be seen as half way, with the hills at the back end of the race to slow you down. I set off at around 5:45 min/km and this felt comfortable.

After 3K was the first incline up Wynberg Hill, but with fresh legs it felt easy and the pace was steady. At the summit of Wynberg Hill the next 5K or so is a gentle downhill, and I really made an effort to put the brakes on, but the average pace began to move closer to 5:30 min pace. I nipped into the loo at 5K and managed to disturb a fellow runner, but he didn't lock the portaloo so he was asking for it.

I carried on now comfortable, and a runner called John said hello and asked how I was getting on. With every runners name on their race numbers both fellow runners and supporters would urge you on which was brilliant. John was in the age 60 category and from his race number you could see that he had ran nearly 20 ultras and looked and sounded very comfortable at this early stage.

John and I said goodbye, and it was after 8K or so and 45mins of running that the forecast rain decided to come. It was gentle at first, but it soon settled in and started to come down harder. The red from my race number had soon run and so my pristine white shirt was soaked through and now looked bloody.

I was listening to the Ipod trying to distract myself from the Km's that stretched out before me. An American called Michael also started to talk to me, he was a missionary who had been in South Africa for 11 years. He told me about his son who had bi-polar and that put into perspective the problems that I was likely to encounter over the course of the race and how relatively insignificant they are.
Michael was hoping for a sub 5 hour run and was meeting his family at Fish Hoek and so we said goodbye and he headed off down the road.

The rain showed no sign of abating but I was still moving freely and felt strong. I went through the half marathon point in a little inside 2hours. I got a text from Lauren saying Amy had finished her race and so I tried calling in the hope I can chat with the other 3 but the call wasn't connecting. I managed to text Lauren telling her I gone through 25K in 2hours 20mins and as I went to read her reply the phone went out. I tried in vain for the remainder of the race to get it working, but water had got into the phone and the battery was low and so I lost my lifeline to the rest of the support team. I was really gutted, but more for knowing Lauren would be worrying and I couldn't get a message to her.

There was nothing I could do about the phone, and worrying about it was just a waste of my energy and so I tried to put it to the back of mind and just drive on through. I went through 30K in a shade over 2hours 50mins nearly 10minutes ahead of schedule. From the look of my Garmin splits Chapmans Peak the first of the two significant hills began around the 32K point as KM's 33 and 34 were at 8:18 and 8:59 min/km's I did walk sections of it in an attempt to save energy and my legs had felt heavy on the lower slopes of Chappies.

Once at the summit of Chappies my legs did feel in a bad way particularly my Quads, but there was a 4 or 5 km section of downhill to enjoy and so I took it very easy in the hopes of saving myself for Constantia Nek the more significant hill on the course. We had driven both Chappies and Constantia in the days leading up to the race so I did have some idea of what lay ahead. But tackling the hills at 40kmh in the car doesn't quite prepare you for doing it on foot.

I made it to the 40K mark a couple of minutes before the 4 hour mark which was my target time. Unfortunately my body was not as fresh as I had intended at this point. I made it to the marathon point at 4hours 17 mins and from then on it would be the furthest I had ever run in one sitting.

It is somewhere just before or just after the marathon point that Constantia Nek starts and with my legs feeling shredded I soon made the decision that the bulk of Constantia Nek was going to be walked. Others around me were running but with the state of my legs and with the runners not moving much faster than me I felt it was best to conserve energy and strength in my legs for the 8K or so from the top of Constantia Nek. It was a gamble but I felt I could still reach my target of a bronze medal and sub 6 hours by doing it.

Constantia Nek went on probably a Km longer than I had been expecting and with my walking pace of a around 10 - 10:30 min Km this meant I would have lost something like 15minutes on the hill. With 200metres to the top there was a cheering zone with big crowds and big noise. It was at this point that one of the 6 hour 'trains' went past me. A guy with a flag who is capable of running much faster than that paces people around to come home for a bronze medal. I thought this was my last chance to pick up the pace and reach my target and so I started to run and went through the crowds with the rest of the train.

The group then had around 9K to go in a little over an hour for bronze. Looking at 7min km pace. I was where I needed to be and I felt it was on. There were a couple of gentle downhill Km's and the flag runner was urging on the rest of the group telling them they had made it. But I knew that another incline was coming from our drive, and now even the flat sections were a struggle for my battered legs it was this point that I stopped and let the train run on without me.

I hadn't completely given up as I felt the train was heading to the finish line for around 5hours 55mins and so I knew if I could get myself going again I could make sub 6 and come in a little after the train. My Garmin shows me going through 50Km in 5hrs 21mins so 39mins for 6km needing something like 6:30 km's to make it. It was slipping away and after a 10min Km for the 51st Kilometre that left me half an hour for 5K it sounds so achievable now but at the time I was running 7:30 maybe on the more downhill Km's and more like 8min Km on the flatter parts. It was at this point that I went into damage limitation I knew I could walk the remainder and come in well within the 7 hour cut off but I knew that the sub 6 hours had gone.

The pattern for the last 5K was to walk the uphills, run the downhills and try to shuffle the flat sections. It was painfully slow progress, and I was soaked through and the relentless rain continued but as the Km's ground down I knew I was going to make it, and that was enough.

With 800 metres left and the University and finish line in sight I was walking when a guy came up to me, and said "let's run, just slowly" and so we did, the race had been so hard mentally and physically and the support both from fellow runners and supporters so great. That guy picking my spirits up so close to the finish line, nearly had me shedding a tear. But I held it together and we both ran strong as we entered the finishing straight, the field had been churned up into a mud bath from the rain, but I kept moving forward and saw my support crew of Lauren, Col and Amy all cheering wildly. I was so happy to see them all! They had waited in the rain for something like 4 hours after Ames had finished her race. I stopped wanting to give them all a group hug but Lauren told me to get going and finish and so I did, running through the puddles and mud, not caring anymore. I got my medal and rushed through the finishing area to be reunited with the gang for that group hug.

Everyone was wet through, and we began the long walk back to Amy's and Col's for a hot shower. My body had given up and I was shuffling home. After 15minutes or so of this the guys took pity, and we headed for the train station, two quick stops and we were tackling the final couple of sets of stairs to get us home. We all collapsed into the house wet and exhausted. But very pleased with our mornings efforts.

Big thanks to all three of them, but particularly Lauren. I hated putting her through all that worry as I traipsed around the 56K course in the rain whilst she got cold and wet she really is my number 1 supporter. But I am so pleased I did it, and with each day since the race I am more motivated to do it again and do myself justice both in training and the race, and that bronze will be mine. Well done to Amy for her time of 2hrs 17mins in her first half marathon, and well done to Col for supporting us both and for wearing his fetching hot pink t-shirt. Also a big thanks to the Marshall's who kept us going with powerade and water, to the supporters on the road who braved the weather and to all those back home who text me and were thinking of me as I was going deep into the Hurt Locker.

Number junkies here are the 5K splits from my Garmin:

5K - 28:30 (Total Time) - (28:30 5k split)
10K - 56:36 - (28:06)
15K - 1:24:21 (27:45)
20K - 1:52:04 (27:43)
25K - 2:20:16 (28:12)
30K - 2:50:23 (30:07)
35K - 3:26:06 (35:43)
40K - 3:57:24 (31:18)
45K - 4:39:20 (41:56)
50K - 5:20:54 (41:34)
55K - 5:59:25 (38:31)
56K (Long)6:10:24 (10:59)

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