Favourites, Races

Race No. 2: Top Form (10km) OMFG I just smashed my personal best this morning

I’m still in a state of shock.

I crossed the finish line and my first though was ‘WTF just happened?’. If you read yesterday’s post you’ll see that I ran 83km in training this week and I was hoping (but doubted I would) slip in under 50 minutes which I knew was a big ask on tired legs.

So I usually know when I’m going for something big because I can feel if I’m ready, I check my previous times so I know exactly what pace to set, I tell friends what I’m going for (because that helps to push me because I don’t want to tell them I missed the objective by 2 seconds), I think about the course, I visualise the finish line, I think about the time I’m going to see on the clock when I pass it and I push myself to the point of tears to get it. NONE OF THAT HAPPENED THIS MORNING.

So there I am last night with no food in the house. Hmm, I think, better eat some carbs (I’m avoiding this and sugar at the moment) so I’ve got some energy for the race. I jump in the car, stop at Texies on the Grand Parade and go and buy myself fish and chips (god I love fish and chips, but I never let myself eat it). Doesn’t matter, I think, its just a training race, it’s on 10km and you’ll be lucky to break 50 mins so have a treat. WHO KNEW FISH AND CHIPS IS THE FUEL OF CHAMPIONS? I munch along to the Sochi Winter Olympic opening ceremony and go to bed.

Get up at 4:45am, bimble around for an hour (as is usual with me), get in the car and show up 30 minutes before the race starts. I bimble around some more looking for anyone I know, bump into Janet and Rob Lanning who are quite frankly an inspiration (race every weekend and are in their 70s), have a joke about the Comrades Marathon which always goes something like this: Running Friend: ‘What race are you going for this year?’. Me: ‘Comrades’. Running Friend: ‘Ooooo, ha ha ha’. Me: ‘Yes, ha ha ha ha ha’. Why is it that things that aren’t appropriate laughing material are actually hilarious? ‘Ha ha ha ha, yes, I’m doing the Comrades Marathon this year! 89km, ha ha ha ha ha!’.

Gun fires, we’re off, it’s misty, cool with a light breeze, the absolute perfect running temperature. I clock 5 minutes exactly on the first km which is good to see that my pacing is spot on despite dodging the walkers (or should I say the ‘Walking Dead’ complete with the throaty rasping noises, god they are annoying, but at least they are getting out there). The next 4km go well and I’m taking off 10-15 seconds a km, go through 5km at 23:42 which is awesome as I’ve struggled to get under 24 on my time trials and I know I’m on for a sub 50 minute even if I f*** up the last couple of kms.

6, 7 and 8km  go past and I’m feeling okay, managing the pace, breathing is regular, posture is good, picking up the speed a little and I start to think that maybe I can do a little better than 49:59. 9km and I’m breathing harder, hanging on but I’m not dying. Now even with 500m to go I’m still not seeing a PB because I’m not feeling like I’m running with the horrendous effort necessary to get one. I see the sports field, I see the blimp looming out of the mist and I check my watch. OMFG, I round the corner and cross the line at 46:43.

Yes, 46:43.

How the hell did I do that and I didn’t even try that hard? I ATE FISH AND CHIPS FOR DINNER for god’s sake. I even forgot the Gu that was in my pocket. WTF? I’ll put this into perspective, my previous best was 48:50 last year on a flat course which I thought was pretty good. I crossed the line this morning and didn’t know how well I’d done because I hadn’t checked last night, I hadn’t done my homework. I knew I’d never been under 47 minutes, but I’d never been under 48 either.

As with most miracles, after 5 minutes has passed, you are never quite sure that they actually happened. I seriously hope the time on the clock wasn’t a trick of the light because I’m beginning to doubt myself.

> Have a look at my other PBs

Running Notes:
Route: Turfhall Sports Centre – out around the houses – Lansdowne – Athlone – Turfhall Sports Centre
Distance: 10km
Time: 46:43


Race No.1: Kloof Nek Classic (21km)

Probably the hardest half marathon you can do, just when you think you’ve run up a very steep long hill there is another one and then another one. Ouch it hurts. Ran with Clement who told me that I was the ‘bus driver’, we had a good chat until Clement decided to ‘get off’ near the summit of Signal Hill so had to drive myself for the last 5km. Weather was perfect with no wind, felt great and pushed it on the downs, managed a personal course record so pretty happy as this race is a good indication of fitness.

Running Notes:
Route: Camps Bay High School – Kloof Nek – Cable Station – Tafelberg Road – Cable Station – Kloof Nek – Signal Hill – Camps Bay High School
Distance: 21km
Time: 1:55:25

> See the race report from 2011

2011 Comrades Marathon, Favourites, Races

Last race: The Comrades Marathon (86.96km) 29 May 2011

I thought I’d died and gone to hell.

So I wasn’t completely honest in my previous posts. I’d been suffering from a stomach bug for two days before the race and convinced myself that it was just nerves. However it got so bad the night before the race that I ended up phoning my sister in London in a panic.

I was dehydrated when I took my place in the D pen at 5am, and by the time we’d gone 2km I needed to go again, except we were on the highway. About 5km in I spotted some other AACers who tried to get me to take a Rehidrat, which I did quickly followed by an anti nausea tablet and another pit stop. By the time I’d got to Cowies just 15km in I was dizzy and numb and vomited behind a paper bin. Enter the first Comrades hero, suddenly a stranger popped up beside me, surveying the mess I’d made and gave me his water sachet, he even rubbed my back.

At this point barely a fraction of the way in I was forced to consider bailing. Something I have never ever allowed myself to do. With another 72km to go I had to question the damage I might do to myself, but then how could I show up to work and tell them I sat down and waited for the rescue bus? In a second 6 months of training vanished, I moved swiftly from plan A (go sub 10) to B (beat last year’s time) through C (get a bronze) straight to plan Z (get a medal) judging by the fact that I had lost all my nutrients and therefore energy, the chances were slim.

I decided that if I had to get the rescue bus it would damn well have to catch me. I wasn’t going to give in. I drank at each water station, adding coke to each water, and when I felt able to I swallowed salt which I had to ask spectators for as well as the Gu I had in my pockets. Clearly I could no longer run up hill so my strategy had to be focussed on the downhill sections (not many on the up run). Walking up Fields Hill and Bothas, my throat started to constrict and I felt that breathing was difficult, I kept my hands on my waist to open the airways and apart from the sore stomach and slow pace, it wasn’t that bad until Inchanga.

I’d passed the halfway spot at Drummond and concentrated on the next climb which I managed no problem. I’d noticed my leg muscles hurt at the summit of each hill as they adjusted to the strain of being pulled in a different direction. At Inchanga I got to the top,and just started down the other side when I collapsed at the side of the road in agony with cramps in both calves. Like the vomiting I’ve never experienced this on a race as I eat properly days in advance, but I had no food and little water in my system. The pain was excruciating and I ended up groaning when hero number two arrived. He was a spectator who dashed over to help stretch out my legs. I actually cried right then, how the hell could I carry on now? He got me up and told me that a massage station was just around the bend and all I needed to do was walk over there. After a rub and ice I was off again, up Cato Ridge through the crap flat section of Harrison Flats where I was passed by the last sub 11 bus (there were three) which meant I was now officially with the back markers.

I now hit the 70km section where everything is black and most runners experience a serious downer, but I’d had the pain from the beginning. The whole race was dark and it was a fight every step of the way. Here the crowds, the noise, the smell of the braais, the kids with their ‘go Mum’ placards just pissed me off, last year I drew energy from the supporters, today I couldn’t bear them.

As I ran I tracked my progress against the cut off boards which tell runners when they will be swept. I’d gone from an hour and a half ahead to 30 minutes by the time I had stumbled and tripped down the decline at Ashbuton. I had another two pit stops and focussed on Polly Shortts. The sun was going down, never a good sign. Previously I had timed how long it had taken me to cover 10km from the 20km to go board and it was an hour and a half, at the bottom of Polly’s I had the same to do the last 10. Too tight. This is where the training kicks in.

At the top of Pollys I ran, only walking when the pain got too much. At this point I was blinking back the tears mainly because I couldn’t believe I was on the verge of not making the cut off, I’d put myself through all the training, the strain and agony of dragging myself through two marathons and up innumerable hills and I’d probably not get a medal. When I saw the laminated flag of the sub 12 bus catching the sun 300m ahead of me my heart sank and this really was my lowest point, if I wasn’t so dehydrated the tears would have been rolling down my cheeks. No, no, no, no, no this is not happening, this cannot be happening. If the sub 12 hour bus is ahead of you one of two things are probable – 1. You fail, 2. You catch them but do not have enough energy to move past the hundred plus people in the crowd which means you walk the finish trusting that the leader has calculated the time and distance properly. In a last ditch effort I made the decision right there that I was going to push past them and I was going to keep going fighting the pain until I was well past the group. At 5km to go I found Mike also having a bad day, I couldn’t speak from the sheer effort, barely managing a mumble, but Mike was my hero number three. He promised me we’d get there with 15 minutes to spare. Despite his own pain and exhaustion he encouraged me, talked me through it, pointed out the turns and decided when we would walk and run. There is nothing more emotional to see 11 hours and 30 minutes on your wristwatch and still have 2km to go. He gave me the support I needed and we ran the finishing straight together.

I may have ran a bad time, but I’m prouder of yesterday’s race than last year, I tested myself to the absolute limit, and I came out the other side. At any point I could have decided it was too hard, that I was too sick, that I was too disappointed with the time and given up. I don’t know where that determination and perseverance came from, but I had it when I needed it. I got to plan Z and I got my medal. I didn’t for a second enjoy anything about Comrades 2011, and no I don’t think I’ll be putting myself through it again any time soon, but never say never – After all there is nothing like a challenge.

Read last year’s post

Running notes
Route: Durban to Pietermaritzburg
Time started: 05:25
Total time: 11:44:50
Total distance: 86.96km
Runner’s condition: See above


Sixth race of 2011: Two Oceans Marathon (56km)

I’d been banging on at work all week about how much I was looking forward to this race. As every long distance runner knows you never ever ever say that. But I wasn’t racing, I was just running (and yeah, you’ll not catch me speaking like that about Comrades). Last year I took it easy and had a great run, this year I was going to do the same. Nothing to worry about, just a six hour run.

Weather forecast was perfect: 23˚ and sunny. My lift collected me at 4:45am and we joined the traffic at Hospital Bend, it was still moving when Gregg and I jumped out on Dean Street. After a jovial conversation about porta-loos (tackling one in the dark on a slope is something else) and bowel movements (runners have a strange habit of over sharing that you wouldn’t do with anyone else) we hooked up with some other AAC-ers outside the Spur and stood there shivering in the dark. 9˚ is bloody cold at 5:30am dressed only in shorts and a vest.

The half marathon runners were off at 6am and shortly thereafter I left the AAC group to crush into my C seeding pen and stand there waiting for the fish-horn. Our turn came at 6:25 and it was a bit of a shock leaving the body heat for the open road. For the first kilometre I bitched and ran like a chicken (arms glued to my sides) trying to ward off the cold.

It all seemed a bit better (and warmer) once the sun was up over Wynberg, and I settled into the bite-size-chunks routine. The course is so familiar now that its hardly necessary, but its a habit which I like. I met up with a few of the guys in the first 15, made a couple of pit stops and then bumped into Chris at Lakeside.

We decided to stay together. This was Chris’ 23rd outing (my 3rd) and he wanted to get under 6, I didn’t care and fancied the company. We ran together last year and it worked out well. We were caught between the two 6 hour buses through Noordhoek and then up Chappies. I got all tetchy about it (I don’t believe in running with pacers) until I realised it was such a good vibe, the pacer was chanting and clapping and cheering his bus all the way up Chapmans Peak. The yells that went up from the hundred strong bus when we reached the top were worth being part of, just to see the achievement on the faces of those that never thought they could run up this massive incline at 32km.

After not being used for about 10km, my downhill muscles groaned, but I kept a beady eye out for the ice lollies that I’d spotted but missed last year, slurping and running was a whole new experience. On into Hout Bay where we lost the bus and plodded towards the marathon mark, this is where it starts to hurt. Chris was slowing down and I did my best to coax him forward up Constantia Nek. We raced the Old Mutual worm up the hill which I think we only beat because there were 8 blokes in canvas frame and reached the top where had a well deserved calf massage.

I’d been monitoring my watch closely and I knew we had to push the last ten km hard, Chris was up for it but I knew it would be tough over the last three km on the undulating M3. I didn’t think we could make 6 hours if we didn’t somehow get faster and there was no chance of walking now. Tick, tick, tick and not looking good.

We were averaging 7 minutes a km at the turn onto the M3 and knowing this last section is just over 3km, the maths weren’t going to work out. Push, push, push Chris! If I could get him to kick up to 6 mins a km we might just have it with seconds to spare. As we hit the grass the crowd was screaming, I was screaming, 20 seconds!, 10 seconds! and despite Chris’ herculean effort the 6 hour gun sounded so close to us that I could see the smoke. 6:00:16.

I was disappointed for Chris, but I’d had a great run trying to help a friend reach his goal. To be honest a blue that was fun because I had someone to run and laugh with, will always outweigh a close bronze by myself. I’ve got all day to run alone on 29 May…

Read my post race report from 2010

Running notes
Route: Start at Main Road Newlands, down to Muizenburg, through Kalk Bay to Fishoek, across to Noordhoek, over Chapman’s Peak, through Hout Bay, up Constantia Nek, down to the M3 and then along to the finish at UCT
Time started: 06:25
Total time: 6:00:16
Total distance: 56km
Temperature: 9 – 23˚ and sunny
Runner’s condition: Fine


Fifth race of 2011: Worcester (30km)

I’m not quite sure how this happened. Getting up at 3:30am on a Saturday morning to drive out to the country for a race wasn’t exactly on the schedule. The crowd wanted to go, so I said yes to the crowd because it was easier than doing 30km by yourself (which indeed I did do by myself as I was with the 3:30 marathoners again). I do love them because they all have nice comfortable cars which I get lifts in, and they are fab company at our raucous breakfasts afterward.

So I’d heard that country races were different: 1. There was literally nobody there – I’m used to races with at least a thousand people, but this morning I could have lined up at the tape, 2. I have never seen water tables like this – it was a full on party at every station with fancy dress (I even saw a man in a ladies one-piece bathing suit), blaring music and vuvuzelas that you could hear from 3km away (the Worcester valley is pretty quiet at 7am), yelling and screaming every time I approached – due to the fact the field had stretched out so much you could hardly see the person in front of you. At one point I had 5 people in a line holding out water sachets just for me.

Needless to say I don’t think I have ever smiled so much on a race before.

Race notes
Route: Leave Worcester, up some hills, down some hills and back to Worcester
Time started: 06:30
Total time: 2:48
Total distance: 30km
Weather conditions: Overcast
Temperature: 20˚
Runner’s condition: Didn’t try too hard and still got a (semi) decent time

Favourites, Races

Fourth race of 2011: Peninsula Marathon (42km)

I underestimated the course (I hadn’t done the A to B route before), I underestimated the wind, and I underestimated how tired an international flight made me this week.

So by 15km I knew for sure I wasn’t going to get the PB I’d been working so hard for, and was on track to get in the last two months. For those of you that aren’t long distance runners, it takes a herculean mental effort to turn that negative thinking around to enable you to run another 27km knowing that you have failed to reach the goal you’ve visualised for so many weeks. To drop off the pace and quietly give up is pretty tempting I can tell you.

I readjusted my expectations of crossing the finishing line in the 40s and pushed for a decent sub four. In the twelve or so marathons I’ve run I’ve only gone under four twice so you would think I’d be pleased.

Despite this, its tough not to be hacked off that I couldn’t push myself that extra 10% (over the 100% I was running). Fact is I lost my concentration because I was bitching inwardly about running into the 35kph wind which sucked that extra bit of energy I needed. I know I was good enough to do it, I just couldn’t do it today.

On a lighter note, as I was waiting downstairs for my lift to arrive at 4:15am, I had the misfortune to bump into a bunch of drunk twenty-somethings on their way to bed. ‘Oooh’, they said as they clocked my running kit and race number, ‘you’re running a marathon now?!’ I smiled somewhat nervously as youngest rummaged in her handbag for her Blackberry, ‘Can I have a photo with you and my friends?’. OMFG, I’m now wedged between drunken snaps in The Assembly and her BFF vomiting over the balcony.

Race notes
Route: Start Somerset Road, Greenpoint bit of a loop in town and then straight out on Main Road through Woodstock, Newlands, Wynberg then to Lakeside, Muizenberg, Kalk Bay, Fishoek and finish at the Naval Sports Ground in Simonstown.
Height climbed: 100m
Time started: 05:15
Total time: 3:55
Total distance: 42.2km
Weather conditions: Sunny and headwind of 35kph
Temperature: 25˚
Runner’s condition: Disappointed

Favourites, Races

Third race of 2011: Kloof Nek Classic (21km)

I can’t say I was relishing this much because I bloody hate this race. Its a half marathon which goes from 0 to 390m in less than 4km. Straight up Kloof Nek from Camps Bay High with no warm up and just when you’ve coughed up a lung at the roundabout you get to cough up the other one on the near vertical incline up to the Cable Station. I can’t breathe let alone think. Oh yeah and to make this experience even better I’m going for a time. On the last two occasions I’ve hovered around 2:05 and today I’ve promised myself I’ll get a sub 2 on this monster. I know that to reach this I need to run hard at the beginning, because I won’t be able to make up the time during the fade on Signal Hill.

By the time I pass the Cable Station my legs are like lead, but I press on faster. Finishing Comrades last year gives you this weird perspective on pain. I’ve noticed that I can push myself harder over shorter distances (i.e. anything less than 89km) because I know it will be over and done with in a couple of hours. I’ve also started to think on races that if its not hurting then I’m not trying hard enough. Now that is perverse.

I’m running with Gregg who is much better runner than me and would be an excellent runner if he trained properly. Gregg is the sort of guy that has a couple of pints the night before, does a couple of easy runs a week and then posts a 3:30 marathon. Unbelievable. I’ve showed Gregg my scribbled-on-a-post-it-note-at-4am estimated times at the key turning points, and now he is along for the ride. He got me a sub 50 minute 10km in December when we ran the Gugs 10km together and now I think I’m his pet project. Make no mistake, today Gregg is out for a training run not a race, so whilst I’m frothing at the mouth, he’s chatting amicably with me. ‘How’s this pace?’ he enquires, ‘Can’t. Speak. Right. Now’, I croak. I’m feeling stronger than last year at the Tafelberg Road turn and storm the downhills in order to make up the time I’ve lost on the uphill. I hit Kloof Nek at such a speed I thought my knees my give in and then its the slog up Signal Hill.

Now I’ve lost the momentum and start slowing to a crawl whilst everybody passes me. This is the part I hate. I run this road every week, I know it like the back of my hand yet it defeats me on this race every year. Gregg glances over his shoulder to see where I am, staying just out of reach and speeds up when I speed up which gets me up the incline. I’m gritting my teeth now as the pain is beginning to bite, so I remind myself of the time I want to see on that clock and the downhill stretch to the finish.

We turn at the cone and I’m away. I can hear Gregg telling me we’re going to make it even if we do 6 minutes a km so we can ease up. With 6km to go I know I’m going faster than this and its in the bag, but just how far in the bag? I’m taking runners one by one on the Signal Hill downhill and I’m feeling good so I step it up down the Glen. So if you’ve driven down here you’ll know its a collection of bends on a very steep downhill. Last year I was crapping myself because if you trip here at speed, next stop is Accident and Emergency. Last year I was cautious, this year I couldn’t give a stuff.

‘Do you realise you’re doing 4:08 a km?!’ yells Gregg as I’m tearing down the hill so fast my eyes are watering (its the sweat and the smell of the finish line). ‘I’m at terminal velocity!’ he says in a concerned voice. Gregg is a tall guy and is also thinking about the probability of stitches. Right now I can’t slow down even if I wanted to. I’m gritting my teeth as we turn into the school and its 400m round the grass track to the finish. Gregg, now on the softer surface, is looking more confident and we cross the line at 1:55:59.

Read my post race report from 2010

Race notes
Route: Start Camps Bay High School, up The Glen to Kloof Nek, turn right onto Tafelberg Road, turn back to Kloof Nek, Climb Signal Hill and try not to fall as you fly back down to the school
Height climbed: 500m
Time started: 06:00
Total time: 1:55:59 smashing 9 minutes off last year’s time
Total distance: 21.1km
Weather conditions: Sunny
Temperature: 25˚
Runner’s condition: Smug