Last updated: 2019-03-16
Notice: © 2013 to 2019, Chris R. Burger. This document may be reproduced as required for personal use, and may be freely referenced from other Web sites. However, publication elsewhere, in full or in part, requires express prior written permission from the author.
Chris R. Burger is a researcher, engineer, pilot and former road safety professional who is valiantly trying to return to normality after severing all his left knee ligaments in a 2014 running accident. He regularly runs road races in Gauteng North, near Pretoria, South Africa. He writes under the name of Yeti, after the Abominably Slow Man. He loves to record his experiences and share them with others, but could no longer bear the aspersions of illiteracy cast by the Agapé Athletics Club newsletter's MSWord Auto-Correct. On this page, text is written in a text editor without a spell-checker, and all errors are entirely the author's own doing. However, the slow running is obviously all attributable to the altitude (about 1500 m) and his age (54).
Most recent races are at the top; older races are listed in reverse order. I started this collection late in 2016. I will keep digging for older reports and add them as I find them, and hope to write them more regularly in future.
Due to another commitment at 08:00, I could not run the half marathon. I got up at 04:30 and made my way to the venue. Traffic was snarled up as I entered Pierre van Reyneveld, and the last km took at least 10 minutes. I found parking about 500 m away and started running to the entry point. I entered, and was back on the road within five minutes. Josias joined me for a while. He was planning on doing the half marathon. I managed to work in about 5 km before the start. In the start bunch, I chatted to Ken N. The start was punctual, and we were soon cruising freely. I was almost exactly on time at the 1 and 2 km marks. Iain was just ahead of me, and we exchanged some banter. A nubile young woman ran past. Iain introduced her as his niece. Am I the only one from a small family, or am I still too young to look innocent enough? We soon caught up with Neville, who immediately faced an astronomy question from Iain. I was cruising fairly comfortably, and gradually making up time. I passed the halfway mark at 29:00. The water points did not have caffeine-free drinks. Iain and I were comparing notes about bad war movies. At the split, Iain continued on the half marathon while I continued on the shorter route. I gradually started winding up my pace. Just after the 7 km mark, we were joined by the 5 km tail-enders. The terrain was flat, and I gradually gained on my planned time. The last 3 km flashed by in 16 minutes, and I finished around 55:15.
After collecting my medal, I walked back to my car along the race route. I saw several familiar faces coming the other way. A pleasant surprise was Liebeth, whom I wasn't expecting to see at a race. I was soon driving along. I managed to avoid most of the race route, and made my way to my destination with plenty of time to spare. Mission accomplished—except that I am woefully short of my distance target for the week. I suppose I'll have to make time for another long run this weekend; something that I would have preferred to avoid.
The Good: Nice flat route in a quiet neighbourhood.
The Bad: No caffeine-free drinks.
The Ugly: The weekend's running ain't done yet.
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This race has been relocated from Wonderpark. Add the start time that's half an hour later, and to my mind we have a much-improved race. In addition, that nasty ridge that we had to traverse previously would not be there. Laurens had pre-entered me, but somehow the race number disappeared during the past week. I woke up at 05:00, found my way to the start and bought an entry. Within minutes, I was ready to start. Laurens and I met coincidentally at the back of the bunch. I was hoping for a 6:00/km pace. He was planning a more sedate 6:30/km. I was uncertain of my strategy, in the light of last weekend's marathon. At the start, I heard rumours of a Tom Jenkins routing. That name strikes fear into the heart of any Pretoria runner. This time, we would be descending down the dreaded route, but it still meant that we had to cross the famous Meintjieskop, on which the Union Buildings perch. We set off slowly, allowing the thick bunch to restrain us. We passed the start line in about 1:45. We passed my mom's childhood home before turning right up Eastwood to tackle the constant climb. I passed the Venters and exchanged some banter. Karen was managing one of the intersections, and I heckled her. The climb was no joke, though. I again noticed that I was no longer slower than the bunch on the descent. All that practice really did bear fruit.
Down in the valley, I was just over four minutes behind my pace. I managed to hold this deficit almost exactly constant from the 3 km marker all the way up to the 12 km mark, so I was actually maintaining my hoped-for 6:00/km pace. I was pleased. Apart from the usual dull pain in my left knee, I was fairly comfortable. From about 6 to 9 km, Corline was playing hare and tortoise, clearly busy with interval training. I encountered Ken N on the climb back into Colbyn. He was walking, but soon resumed his run and bolted past. A meander through the leafy streets of Hatfield East took us past the LC de Villiers sports grounds. Half a dozen youngsters with backpacks and tracksuits emerged from the gate, effortlessly bolting past us. On the second lap, I soon encountered Neville, who was mixing a magic potion at one of the waterpoints. He was wearing a rather pained expression. I took advantage of the shelter offered by the fence at my mom's childhood home to leave behind some excess liquid. Canine instincts? We again crossed Meintjieskop, then turned sharp left into Russell Street for the second-lap 1,1 km blind loop. I noticed Marius and Leticia ahead of me, with Laurens behind me. Hendrik was chatting up a female official. I encouraged him to start running again. He did, effortlessly cruising past. I commented how impressed I was that he was constantly chatting up females while supposedly doing a strenuous half marathon. His defence was that they were his nieces. Large family? At this point, he was running with yet another niece. I shared some arias from Mozart's Don Giovanni with them. Although Hendrik may not have reached 2065 like the Don did, he was certainly well on his way. And that's just the ones I know of. In races. His niece liked my singing.
On the second climb up Meintjieskop, I'd lost another minute, and was now constantly five minutes behind my pace. On the way back up to Queenswood, I was pursuing a bunch of Affies. I alternated between walking and running. I passed Leticia on the climb. She looked fresh, as she does, but was walking at times. The Affie bunch gradually left me behind, but I still had them in sight at the finish line. I finished comfortably, still five minutes behind my planned schedule and not too tired. I was happy. Discounting the few minutes lost in the start bunch and the first km or two, I'd maintained my hoped-for pace within a minute per lap. Given last week's marathon, I was happy. I stopped at the Club tent. Hennie and Marix were there, along with Josias. A speaker right next to the tent blared loud music. Marius arrived, followed by Leticia. We chatted for a few minutes before Laurens joined us. He'd been a bit slower than planned, but was also happy to have survived intact. We snuck off to breakfast at Wimpy's. The service was slow, and as we waited, Hendrik arrived, accompanied by a young blonde. I walked up to their table, and he introduced me to his niece.
I was very disappointed with the disaster in last weekend's marathon. Against that background, I'm pretty happy that I was able to maintain a descent pace this week. The pain was no worse than usual, and the cramped calves have apparently recovered fully (with a little help from a Tuesday session with my biokineticist Deirdre). We're now fully in the swing of things with a target distance of 54 km per week, and the Irene Ultra coming up in four weeks. Only time will tell whether I can get to the point where I can do a marathon comfortably again.
The Good: Being fully recovered less than a week after a disastrous marathon. Good marshalling. Lots of green cool drinks.
The Bad: Losing my pre-paid entry.
The Ugly: Meintjieskop.
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When I last did this race in 2017, my goal was far more ambitious. My wheels came off terribly, and I just barely managed to meet the Comrades qualification criteria—more than half an hour later than planned.
This time, I was less fit. I had been prevented from doing as much training as I'd wanted by that pesky calf muscle injury in December. I did not complete a full sixteen-week training programme like I did last time. In all respects, it looked like I was in trouble. Nevertheless, based on my recent experience in half marathon races and the Bronkhorstspruit 32, the tables forecast a spectacular finish around 4:15. I was more cautious, electing to aim for a much slower target. I have learned a lot about race nutrition since last time, and was hopeful that I would not fall apart as spectacularly again.
I drove this time. I collected Laurens and Alet, and we left the city at 04:00. The traffic gradually got denser. Nevertheless, we kept moving well until no more than 1 km from the stadium. We had plenty of time, and managed to park just outside the stadium around 05:25. I queued for a while to collect my race number, while Alet entered for the 5 km fun run and Laurens looked bemused. Laurens was aiming to run even more slowly than I was. The start gun went about a minute early. We were waiting in the start bunch, but did not leave immediately. The mat-to-mat timing afforded us the luxury of leaving after the worst crowding was over. By 06:05, the bunch had thinned enough, and we set off down the road. It was a pleasant change to be able to run comfortably from the first minute.
Laurens and I soon separated. I chatted to Elbert about post-race arrangements, then settled down into a comfortable jog. The route is fairly flat, and I managed to remain within seconds of my target pace for more than 10 km. The first serious hill popped up around the 13 km mark. I walked up the hill, remaining within seconds of the target pace. We passed the 21 km mark just after the stadium. The field was now much thinner, with all the half marathon runners out of contention. Alet handed me my sports drink, a precaution I'd arranged due to the total lack of caffeine-free drinks at the previous race. This time, it was completely different. Water points were separated by much less than the required 3 km, and all water points had sachets with orange-coloured drinks and even the occasional cream soda. Even on the second lap, most water points had snacks available—jelly sweets and biscuits and bananas.
Wanja and Mandy ran ahead of me for some time, both in their new club colours. They enquired about our pace, and my report that we were exactly on track for a 4:30 finish seemed to please them. They gradually slid out of sight up ahead. The distance markers started diverging from my GPS on the second lap. On the first lap, there was never more than 150 m of difference. Gradually, the markers stretched until eventually they were almost 400 m late. I didn't relish the extra 400 m of running! Mostly, my GPS pace was a few seconds fast, with the markers sliding by up to two minutes late. I could afford to lose a couple of minutes, so I was happy. Around the 30 km mark, things started changing. I started developing cramps high up in both my calves. I looked for my salt tablets, but found none. I looked again. They were definitely not there. I asked at each water point. The second one was able to help me with a few small packets of household salt. I consumed a couple of them, reducing my mucous membranes to a burning mess. I had some water, but not enough to extinguish the fire. I decided to walk for 1 km to allow the salt to work its magic. Around the 32 km mark, I was able to resume a 4+1 survival strategy. I'd lost some time, but I was still within striking distance of a sub-4:50 finish. This figure was meaningful, as it is the new Comrades qualifying time—ten minutes faster than when I last qualified. Unfortunately, it didn't last. While the cramps had subsided, the muscles were excruciatingly painful where the cramps had been. I realised that I was doing real damage to my calves. The prudent thing was to start walking. My last attempt to run was around the 36 km mark, near Gary's house. I spent a good minute gawking at his antennas, noticing that his HF antennas were somewhat the worse for wear. After this point, I simply walked all the way to the finish. The parallels with my last attempt were painfully obvious. Very painfully.
Initially, I was able to maintain a fairly brisk walk, at around 9:30/km. As time passed, the briskness diminished. The pace gradually slid to 10:00/km, then 10:30, then 11:00. Accordingly, the anticipated finish time gradually slid from 04:50 to 05:20. This was not going to be an ego trip. However, I maintained my resolve to walk, not wishing to inflict lasting damage to my beleaguered calves. The temperature was rising into the thirties, and the cloudless sky allowed the sun to beat down mercilessly. My GPS quit just after five hours; it obviously doesn't cater for back-enders like me. At the entrance to the stadium, Laurens was waiting for me. I hadn't seen him pass me, although I was expecting to. He admitted that he'd chickened after the first lap, finishing the half marathon with a comparatively slow time. Alet was also there, walking the last few hundred metres to the finish with me. There were no caffeine-free drinks at the finish. I sat on the grass feeling sorry for myself and drank my post-race recovery drink. I then painfully hobbled back to the car, grateful that we had managed to park relatively close. When I got to the car, the thermometer showed 32°C.
We were able to escape the stadium area relatively quickly, and soon found ourselves sailing home on the freeway. Many factors had been a lot more favourable than on my previous attempt. There were caffeine-free drinks aplenty. There was enough food to eat, both on my person and at the water stations. I was able to ingest enough sugar and enough water on an ongoing basis. I was well rested, having tapered according to plan for the last three weeks. There were also a few factors that were worse. I got no sleep at all on Friday night, after unexpectedly being called out to fly. I had had a bout of stomach blues a week or two before that left me rather weak. The December calf injury had left me slightly under-prepared. Nevertheless, I did not anticipate the extent to which my wheels would come off. And it was again due to cramps. I hadn't had any trouble with cramps in the past two years, but I suppose I hadn't tried any long distances in that time. I'd dutifully taken my tablets before the race, but perhaps not over a long enough period. I'll really have to try and find a solution to this cramping problem.
With a possible long trip in the next few months, it is unlikely that I'll have another chance to qualify for Comrades. If the trip happens, at least it will take a lot of pressure off me. Perhaps it's time to concentrate on shorter distances again. A sub-48 10 km sounds like an attractive idea...
The Good: Good water points. Occasional food. Everything according to plan up to 30 km.
The Bad: Having my wheels come off in the last quarter, just like last time. Only worse.
The Ugly: Those cramps. I'm clearly not a long-distance runner.
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Laurens and I entered the 10 km race, as we did not want to exhaust ourselves. We are tapering for next weekend's marathon, after all. We decided to meet some distance from the start venue and to do 6 km of running before the race. We would arrive just as the start gun went, then run the 10 km race. The marathon and half marathon would start at 06:00, followed by the 10 km at 06:15. We agreed to meet at a small shopping centre not far from Phobians at 05:30. Unfortunately, nothing worked as planned. I soon realised that the roads around Phobians were hopelessly snarled up with traffic. I took some back roads to place me on King's Highway. Even there, we were crawling bumper to bumper. I spoke to Laurens, and it sounded to me like he was going to be even later than I was. We eventually met much later than planned, and only hit the road around 05:45. We would get nowhere near the planned 6 km distance before the start. I was still a little lazy after yesterday's Parkrun, and struggled to maintain the pace. Laurens was even more lethargic, lagging behind me by some distance. We heard the start gun at exactly 06:00. I intercepted the route about 800 m downstream. Even at 06:08, there was still a constant stream of runners tackling the route. Presumably, most of them had likewise found difficulty with the traffic.
I joined the start bunch at exactly 06:15, having run only 4,5 km rather than the planned six. I was disappointed to learn that the start was being delayed, as they were waiting for the last half marathon and marathon runners to pass a certain point. The intention was to avoid the two fields overlapping, so that the leading 10 km runners would not get snarled up in the back markers of the main race. We eventually started seven minutes late. If I'd known, I could have completed my 6 km!
The start was dense. I decided to aim for a 6:00/km pace to make up for the slow and shortened first session, and for the enforced wait. At the 1 km mark, I was 1:30 behind schedule. The bunch was flowing, but somewhat too dense to run freely. I kept my head on a swivel, looking for Lize who also had to be somewhere in the bunch. We were gradually climbing, and I did not make any progress in whittling down the deficit until we'd passed the 4 km mark. There, we started the descent from Waterkloof into Brooklyn. A slightly rotund female runner came shooting past in her blue-striped vest. I took the opportunity to up my pace, using my best downhill technique to keep up. From this point, I managed to maintain 5:40 splits fairly consistently. By 8 km, I was slightly ahead of pace. The last km was a descent, followed by a level section on the track. Ms Blue Stripes passed me again on the downhill. I gave chase, and managed to beat her home by a few seconds. I was pleasantly surprised to beat 0:58 by a few seconds.
Laurens had planned to be well behind me, so I settled down at the club tent. Hennie had again managed to secure a prime spot at the finish. I sat there alone and watched the first few dozen half marathon finishers, including some well-known names. I cheered Laurens and Lize home, then went to meet them at the medal tables. I walked back to my car, observing a bunch of my peers finishing the half marathon. I noticed race numbers of almost 4000 for the 10 km race, and over 3000 for the half marathon. These numbers suggest a field of over 10 000 for the three races! I was fairly happy to feel almost no ill effects. The short distance did not even cause the customary left knee pain to increase. I felt hopeful that the taper is actually working, and that I'll arrive at the marathon start next weekend strong and well rested. There is only one way to find out!
The Good: Nice route. Good distance markers. Good traffic management. Caffeine-free drinks, although of an ilk that's not too inspiring.
The Bad: The late start on the 10 km race. Could they not hold back all the late starters in the longer race to wait a few minutes for the next bunch?
The Ugly: That traffic.
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I collected Laurens from his home. We arrived about a quarter of an hour early, and jogged about 2 km to warm up. The announcements at the start took forever, and most people were talking, so that no-one actually heard the announcements. The start was quick, with a bunch of little kids leading the way. I could not count my ranking, with far more than a dozen runners ahead. From experience I knew that I had to restrain myself. The first km went by in exactly 5:00—slightly too fast. The track was relatively narrow, with several runners just in front of me. Tall wet grass brushed against our legs. A "mature"runner in a green 250 shirt and I jostled for position. I could see a dozen runners ahead, so I assumed we were in thirteenth place.
The next 2 km went by in 5:15 and 5:10. Undulating terrain and a weaving track made for tough going. I had to occasionally resort to walking to keep my breathing under control. I was mindful of tomorrow's long run, and did not want to expend all my ammunition today! The distance markers were all clearly visible and correllated closely to my GPS distance. Just after the 4 km mark, two young guys caught up with me. We left Mr Green behind and pushed to the finish. We crossed a small bridge to finish in the shade of a tall tree. Although I thought I was near number 13, I was given number 18. Clearly, the leaders had been so far ahead that I could not even see them!
I was pretty happy. The results show three fifty-plus runners (including a woman and one sixty-plus) ahead of me. If I don't have any long-term effects, I'll be very happy. Tomorrow will tell. Laurens arrived a few minutes later. He collected some pancakes, and we set off for home. There really is something to be said for this Parkrun thing.
The Good: Nice route in green surroundings. Good distance markers.No traffic.
The Bad: Not much.
The Ugly: The first woman in my age group, way ahead in the rankings...
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When I last did this race in 2017, my goal was 5:41/km. This time, survival was the only goal. I wanted to complete 32 km and live to tell the tale. I figured that 6:30/km would be about right, given my recent half marathon performances. I did a 12 km session on Monday and a more modest 7 km session on Wednesday, but was still slightly stiff and sore when I got up at 04:30. Laurens collected me, and we arrived with about 15 minutes to spare. His goals were even more modest than mine, as he's still recovering from illness over December. After scripture reading and prayer, we started about a minute late. The bunch flowed immediately, and I crossed the start line in about half a minute. At the 1 km mark, I was about a minute late. We meandered through town, then crossed the bridge and started the relentless climb. I had to remind myself to take it easy. I didn't see the 2, 3, 4 and 5 km markers, but Gustav assured me that he had seen them all. Gustav was walking, and was planning to finish in 3:30. As I knew that his pace would be very consistent, I decided to use him as a marker. It proved to be a wise decision, as my natural pace was way too fast.
On the back straight, crossing the N4, I settled into a rhythm of running for a km or so, then walking until Gustav caught up with me. Koos van der Walt, Leticia and the Twins with Walter were regularly trading places with me. I was consistently about two minutes ahead of my target pace. I passed the 10 km mark at 1:03, 20 km at 2:08 and the half marathon mark at 2:13. I hoped I wasn't overdoing things, as most of my recent half marathons were in very much the same ballpark. I was mindful of the fact that more than 10 km, including a serious climb, lay ahead at this point. Around the 22 km mark, the serious climb started. I had to walk more than I had been doing, and my lead shrunk to zero around the 27 km mark. At this time, I was having trouble keeping up with Gustav. Marius came from behind with a disciple. I stayed around them for a while, until Marius left me behind near the 29 km mark. I managed to adhere to my eating strategy. There were green cold drinks at every water point, and I had gels at one-hour intervals. After the two-hour mark, I also had some fruitcake. At least my concentration did not falter, so it seems like my nutrition strategy is working. Amazingly, apart from the usual left knee and right hamstring issues, my right arm cramped up slightly from the regular swinging. That's a new one! I suppose I shouldn't be surprised; continuously swinging your arm to and fro for over three hours must put some strain on it.
Passing through the Buddhist compound, I could see Gustav up ahead, but could not catch him. I tried to maintain a 4+1 survival strategy, but it sometimes degenerated into 4+2 or even 3+2. I arrived at the 31 km mark, with 1 km to go, at exactly 3:24. If I wanted to break 3:30, I would have to cover the last km in under six minutes. My legs were desperately tired, but I continued my run-walk strategy right up to the end to finish a few seconds inside 3:30. Two athletes overtook me in the lane, after the finish line. I spoke to them, and they responded very aggressively. I let them go; I hope the change of finish order doesn't cost me an official sub-3:30 finish!
Leticia was in the club tent, looking well rested. To my amazement, the Twins finished separately. Elaine cruised in with Walter a few minutes behind me, with Estelle well behind them. Laurens reported almost exactly the same situation as mine. He had 1 km to go at exactly 3:54, and also had exactly six minutes left to tuck in under four hours. He likewise made it with seconds to spare.
I survived my first 32 km in two years, less than two minutes behind my planned pace. Fine. Somehow, the thought of tacking another 10 km onto the back of this race doesn't appeal to me. Let's hope that a slightly fresher start due to a bit of pre-race tapering and a flatter route will help to make up the difference. Just three weeks to go...
The Good: Good marshalling, interesting route. Green cold drinks at all water points that I tried.
The Bad: Those two climbs. Again.
The Ugly: The two thugs at the finish line.
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I last ran this race in 2017. Then I was aiming for a pace of 5:41/km. This time, I had no specific pace in mind. I wanted to survive unscathed to be as ready as possible for next weekend's 32 km race. The past week has been rough, with lots of physical labour and little running. At least the night before was much calmer than the previous time. I was in bed just after 22:00, and woke up before the alarm clock went at 04:30. I collected Laurens at 05:20. We found parking about a block away. Laurens had to buy a temporary licence, but we still comfortably got to the start in time. At exactly 06:00, we heard the start horn. The 10 km runners would start 20 minutes behind us, but the half marathon bunch was still big enough to cause a slow start. I was about halfway down the bunch, and we took over 40 seconds to get to the start line.
Unlike last week, I wasn't able to find a comfortable rhythm. The uphill towards the Union Buildings didn't help. By 2 km, I was about two minutes behind a 6:00/km pace. Just before running past the presidential residence, a blue light brigade passed us in the opposite direction. I didn't even know fat cats got up this early. Like last time, none of the water points had any caffeine-free drinks. I sailed past Erika on the gradual uphill. I thought it was too good to be true, and it was. Her companion explained that Erika was accompanying her, and she was much slower than I was. Just after the 6 km mark, the leading 10 km runners came screaming past. It wasn't exactly an ego trip to be overtaken after 38 minutes by guys who've only been running for 18!
As we descended into Queenswood, a Phobians runner with a boom box loudly spouting thumping music came crawling past. His backpack covered his licence, and while I could not read the number, it was clearly expired. He directed a sexist remark at a female traffic official. Clearly, this dude has an attitude problem. I asked him to turn down his music. As I half-expected, nothing but abuse resulted. The irony was that he was running with two members of the SAPS running club. I passed the toilet in Queenswood with much gratitude, thinking back to the events of the previous year.
The section in the Moot is relatively flat. I passed Sandra around 12 km. I had my emergency gel at this point. After the next water point I had to pass Sandra again. I was gratified to find that I was slowly undoing the time deficit. I was careful to restrain myself, as I knew that over-exuberance today would cost me dearly next Saturday. I managed to run almost continuously, with the odd spell of walking. I walked all the way up the railway bridge, then enjoyed a relatively flat section of about 1 km before the climb to the finish started. On the climb, I passed two guys carrying a wooden cross with a Biblical inscription. I was grateful that I didn't have to carry anything up that hill. Like last time, I was surprised at how quickly the last km passed. There probably is something wrong with the distance markers. I didn't complain, though. I finished relatively strongly in about 2:07:30. Subtracting the start delay, I had actually maintained a 6:00/km pace. It was a pleasant surprise.
They were handing out free mageu again, so I managed to replenish my glycogen in a pleasant way despite the complete lack of green drinks. I took the time to visit the Phobians tent. I found the obnoxious boom box owner there, and managed to read his expired licence number. A pointed discussion with a referee left me hopeful that Boomer would perhaps be more considerate in future.
The next week will be relatively easy, as I want to rest for next Saturday's proceedings. I guess by this time next week I'll know if there is any possibility of making it to Durban in June.
The Good: Good marshalling by experienced runners, including many familiar faces.
The Bad: No cooldrinks except Coke. Again.
The Ugly: AGN11983 from Phobians with his boom box and his sexist remarks.
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It's been a heavy few weeks. With 24 km already on the clock this week, I faced the half marathon with some trepidation. Apart from general stiffness and malaise, I also had some strain in my left knee. Nevertheless, there was no option: I had to try the half marathon and go down fighting if I proved wanting. With the hotter weather north of the Magalies, the 05:30 start aims to spare the marathon runners the worst heat of the day. I dragged myself out of bed around 03:50 to meet Laurens at his house just after 04:30. We collected Jonathan. The traffic wasn't too bad, and We found parking not too far from the venue to be in place about ten minutes before the start.
The announcer counted down to the 05:30 start. The horn sounded exactly on time, to the second. The bunch was dense, despite the fact that the 10 km runners would only start later. I crossed the start line almost two minutes late, and it was a full ten minutes before I could run at my own pace. After 1 km, I was already four minutes behind schedule. The flat terrain caused no serious difficulties, and I found myself thinking that this race is normally completely uneventful. Looking back at last year's race reinforces that impression. Jon and I ran together to about 6 km. Around the 7 km mark, Laurens ran next to me for a while. I passed Hennie and Marix in the bunch. Willie greeted me in his new club colours.
I passed the 10 km mark in 1:05, five minutes behind schedule. Nevertheless, I was pleased. I managed to run for about 14 km before taking a walk break. It's been a while since I've been able to maintain a run for that long. In the second half, we gradually regained some altitude we'd lost in the first half. I knew that there would be a sting in the tail, with a steep but short climb to the 20 km mark on the R80 bridge, and a continued climb for the last km to the finish. The 10 km tail-enders joined our route around the 17 km mark. The distance markers seemed exactly right, with three markers spaced almost 100 m apart every km. I passed Erika—a welcome change! I ran with Koos van der Walt for a while before leaving him behind. The nasty bump to the bridge came and went, and I finished fairly strongly with an uphill 5:40 last km to the finish. The time was just under 2:12, the fastest for the year but a far cry from my previous times.
There were few members at the Club tent. I noticed that everyone had Mageu, and went to queue for my own free sample. Getting to the counter and back again required some jostling. The pineapple flavour definitely won't be my first choice next time, but I had the opportunity to top up my glycogen stores while waiting for my travel companions. I noticed that I'd lost two magnets off my race number. I could only assume it must have happened at the mageu counter. Sure enough, I found my two magnets on the ground, trampled underfoot by thousands but mostly unscathed.
So far so good. Three weeks into the year, I'm pretty much on track with three half marathons under my belt. The times are slow, so there is work to be done, but the basic endurance is definitely building. I'm still not entirely comfortable with the idea of a 32 km race in two weeks, but there is definitely hope.
The Good: Excellent organisation. The flattest course in the Pretoria area. Enough green cold drinks, except at one water point.
The Bad: 21,1 km remains a long way.
The Ugly: The littering by the runners from Fat Cats running club.
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I last ran this race two years ago. That time, the route consisted of a figure eight. The first 10 km was very hilly, just northeast of the Pick n Pay Hypermarket. The last 11,1 km was on flatter terrain to the west, towards Menlyn and back. What I find a little perturbing is that my goal that time was to run 25 km at 5:40/km pace. This time, I would be lucky to survive 21,1 km at 6:00/km. Thursday night's thunderstorm thwarted my plans to run, leaving this week severely wanting in the training distance department.
League races always draw the crowds. I was told that 5000 people gathered at the start. I believe it. I met Karen, who was waiting to hand over her half marathon entry to Tebogo. She was going to opt for the 5 km fun run this time due to an injury. I spent a few minutes chatting to Neville and Zelldra. Laurens was nowhere to be found. The gun went on time, but it took two minutes for me to cross the start line. As is their custom, all the slowest runners started right at the front. Navigating through this morass took its toll, and by the time I saw the 3 km marker, I was almost four minutes behind schedule. As before, it was a thrill to see an uninterrupted ribbon of runners filling the street ahead and behind, as far as the eye could see. The bunch gradually thinned out, and by 5 km I was running freely. As we hit the serious hills, I was already seven minutes behind my pace. In fact, our average pace was not much faster than 7:00/km! I occasionally chatted to Neville, and I saw Juline and Wanja more than once. I chatted to Alex a few times; she was also alternating between walking and running to survive those hills. There was also a young Tuks runner with two plaits that didn't quite match. I silently dubbed her Pocahontas. On a steep downhill interlude, a rotund young runner with a temporary licence careened downhill, weaving wildly from side to side. He nearly caused another runner to fall in his wake. I wondered if he would maintain his mad pace on the next uphill. The answer was not long in coming. Before the next water point, he was visibly wobbly. This water point offered craft beer along with the usual water and cold drinks. I wondered about the ethics of handing out beer on a race. Is alcohol consumption allowed on ASA events? Would be fun if runners got disqualified for taking a beverage from a water point...
We started descending from about 7 km. It would have been good news, except that I started seeing more and more distance markers for the second lap. Clearly, we were going to have to negotiate this torture yet again, without the reprieve of the Menlyn loop! At least the Twins were not there to torment me this time. Barely had the thought entered my mind, when I saw them up ahead. I overtook them just as the downhill started.
We soon passed the start and commenced the second lap. At least the bunch was much thinner this time, and we could run freely. Unlike on the first lap, I was definitely being overtaken by many runners. Was I fading, or was it just that the 10 km runners were no longer with us? Koos van der Walt and co passed me gradually and disappeared up ahead. The extra loop was right on the hilltop. We passed Neville's house, where Neville and Sonja were chatting to Ken and Walter. They summoned me to join them, but I declined. I was already seeing visions of a time even worse than last week. A car was parked against a tree with the front end smashed to bits—presumably the product of the previous night's debauchery.
I walked most of the serious hills. On one of them, Wanja in her new club's colours passed me at a furious pace. I expected her to collapse within metres. She joined Juline and co halfway up the hill, and I left them behind. I saw Norman by the roadside at the S4J water point, snapping away with his camera. Pocahontas was always just ahead, providing a strong incentive to keep going. Watching my pace slip further and further behind schedule wasn't exactly motivating! I resolved around the 18 km mark that I would at least try to beat 2:20. Not much of a target, but under the circumstances nothing more ambitious appeared to be achievable. I managed to stay within reach of that target, but often had to run when I would certainly have preferred to walk. My left knee and my right hamstring were definitely keeping me aware of their presence. I finished about 20 s inside my decidedly unambitious target and made my way to the Club tent. Marix handed out fruit kebabs and cool drinks. I spent a few minutes chatting to Leticia, then found the League points lookup table. This time, I managed to collect a measly four points out of a possible 10. Let's hope everyone else suffered too. Given the hills, it's not unlikely.
After chatting to Francois and visiting the CSIR club tent, I made my way back to my car along the finish route. Most of these runners were just going to miss the three hour cutoff. About 200 m from the finish, one woman's legs turned to jelly. She collapsed in a heap. Several other runners and I helped her to her feet. She immediately started sprinting, and crashed to the ground. I begged her to slow down, and offered her a sports drink sachet. She declined, on both counts. Several runners tried to hold her down to contain her self-destructive tendencies. She wriggled loose, started sprinting and crashed onto her face again. I found my car and drove off, feeling very sorry for her, and for myself.
The next few weeks will be tough. Apart from the half marathons every Saturday that Laurens so thoughtfully bullied me into, there is a 32 km race in three weeks, and a marathon in six. I'm not so sure that it's achievable, but I'll certainly give it a try. There truly is only one way to find out!
The Good: Good organisation, marshalling and water points. A large field with a festive atmosphere.
The Bad: A congested start. No green drinks at the finish.
The Ugly: Those hills. Twice. Really?
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I haven't done a half marathon since early October, and certainly not after hurting my calf muscle. I had an anxiety attack last week after looking at the calendar, though. There is precious little time to get ready for the mother of all hill climbs. Even before that, I have entered for a marathon in March. And the Bronkhorstspruit 32 km race is in February. So it's time for a series of half marathons, regardless of how ill-prepared I feel.
From last year's race, and even the year before, the routine is now old hat: North on Hans Coverdale West, east on Hans Coverdale North, south on Hans Coverdale East, west on Hans Coverdale South and then another lap. And on the second lap there was going to be a very nasty little extra hill, and a stretch of going west in Hans Coverdale North. I knew that it wasn't going to be a walk in the park.
Laurens was going to pick me up. At about 05:00, I had a text message from him. He wasn't healthy. I would have to drag myself out of the house and, using super-human motivation, make my way to the start alone. I found parking a block from the stadium. I was early, so I intended to spend a few minutes at the club tent. Not far from my car, I bumped into the Terrible Twins on their way to the start. I decided to join them. At least this way I could keep an eye on them. The start was busy, and we parked ourselves in the middle of the bunch. We exchanged stories about selfies, because several kids were taking pictures of themselves in our immediate vicinity. I saw Mandy and Wanja in the bunch, as well as Johan. Neville was near us. The Twins and I were planning two laps; Neville was taking the sensible option and would be abandoning us after a single lap. I discovered that it is hard to keep a conversation going with the Twins. Elaine seems to be everyone's friend. Our chat was interrupted by dozens of admirers who came to say hello. I didn't know any of them. And here I thought I was her only fan...
There was a Minute of Silence prior to the start, for a well-known athlete who had been knocked down and killed in Thembisa earlier this week. Actually, it was 19 s of almost-silence. Just as the last athletes in the bunch stopped talking, the announcer re-started his continuous babble. The start was exactly on time. The street was very full, and it took about a minute to cross thes start line. The bunch flowed reasonably well. I saw Hennie briefly. The Twins were mostly just ahead of me, babbling continuously. I was gasping for breath. At the 2 km mark, I was almost a minute off the pace. Not too bad, considering the slow start, but the horrible hills were lying ahead. Locals were sitting by the roadside, dispensing advice, encouragement and bad, loud music in equal measure. I walked most of the steepest hills, along with most of the runners around me. Locals kept yelling criticism to the tune that running shoes are not made for walking. I invited them to join us. None accepted.
I gradually lost ground to my planned pace. By 4 km, I was three minutes behind. This deficit stayed much the same for a long time. Ahead of me was a runner who was clowning around. Or so I thought. He was running with extreme knock knees, with his toes pointed inwards. Surely no-one could maintain that gait for any period of time without breaking something? It soon became clear that he was just running in his natural style. And regardless of what I thought about his style, he was still ahead of me!
I passed the 10 km mark and the beginning of the second lap at 1:03. Wanja was just ahead. I wanted to pass her, as I knew that she never walked on uphills. I needed a head start, failing which I would never see her again. I couldn't do it, though. As we hit the foothills, she was just ahead of me. To my amazement, I was able to catch her around the 13 km mark, as she was also walking up the hills. We chatted for a while. She had broken some toes a few months ago, and was also trying her first half marathon in many moons. Neither of us was having an easy time of it. She commented about Mr X Legs ahead of us, saying that she initially thought he was clowning around. I told her that I'd had exactly the same thoughts on the first lap, but felt that I had to point out that he was still ahead of us. On the steep hills, I had some pain in my left knee, and my right calf muscle was complaining slightly. I hoped it wasn't going to tear again.
In the hills on the second lap, I lost more and more time. In Helium Street, an official told us that it was all downhill now. I knew he was lying. The loop to make up the extra km would wind back up the mountain before passing the cemetary. By the 17 km mark, I was over 10 minutes behind my pace. I chirped to Wanja that we could finish in 2:22:22 if we sped up slightly. I was only half joking. At least the last 3 km would be mostly a slight downhill.
The distance markers were as broken as last year, so I never knew how far we still had to go. Wanja lagged behind with around 3 km to go. Soon after, I saw Jonathan ahead. I actually passed him at one point, but he sailed past again in the last km for a strong finish. I caught up about a minute in the last 3 km, finishing in about 2:15:30. Jonathan was just ahead. Wanja was not far behind. The Twins finished about 10 minutes later.
At the Club tent, everyone complained of slow times. It seems like the route was slightly long, and the temperature was 30°C in my car on the way home. I suppose I should be happy. Although I was slower than planned, I did manage to complete a half marathon relatively unscathed. By mid-day, only some stiffness and a dull ache in my left knee were left. There is hope that I will be able to run again on Tuesday.
The Good: Festive atmosphere (as one would expect in Eersterus on weekends!). Good marshalling. Green cold drinks at all the waterpoints (except the finish).
The Bad: Those hills are still not getting any easier. The distance markers were again completely broken.
The Ugly: Manoni Club's CGA5975, who loudly dispensed his questionable taste in music to all around him.
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Today was going to be the big day. We would run the Valhalla Parkrun, then zip across to Mogale City for the Sterkfontein Parkrun. There was some ambiguity on the Valhalla Website, so we had a Plan B. The Golden Harvest Parkrun was accessible, provided we could leave Valhalla by 06:45. Accordingly, we left Laurensís home just after 06:30. It was raining continuously. This day was going to be wet.
The first spanner in the works happened about five minutes from Laurens's home, when I realised that didnít have my Parkrun barcode with me. We turned around to get it. It was now unlikely that we could make it back to Valhalla in time for the 07:00 start. We eventually decided to head straight to Golden Harvest, as we had a better chance of making it there by 07:30.
We got there with several minutes to spare. Unfortunately, we got bad news as the gate. The park was flooded with "two feet of water". The Parkrun had been cancelled. I was disappointed, but on the other hand, I definitely didnít want to get both feet wet. We headed to Sterkfontein Parkrun, making phone calls on the way to find out whether that run would still be on. We didnít want to play in the same horror movie twice, and we could still find an alternative if we started early enough. At the venue, there was lots of activity, and we soon confirmed that the run would be happening.
We now had an hour to kill. Being growing boys, we decided to look for breakfast. We found breakfast at the Key West Mall, then headed back to the site. We had to park several blocks away. Clearly, the crowds had not been deterred by the pouring rain.
The start announcements started ten minutes late. We were all looking like rained-on chickens. The race director made the announcements, repeating three times that we should "keep right" and even getting the crowd to say it after her. Bruce Fordyce said a few words. Thank goodness—many words would have been really painful in that drizzle. We set off, and it soon became obvious that this Parkrun wasnít going to be the easiest or the fastest ever. The ground was rough, the slopes were steep and the mud was slippery. I saw many runners skidding, but my foot slipped only once. After about 2 km, I was being blocked by two runners abreast. I asked them politely (or so I thought) to keep right. The one runner started pontificating about how one has to keep left, and how I wasnít a real runner, and how Iíd never run a real race before, and how some guys just donít get it. I kept trying to pass on the left. At one point, she cut in front of me, almost causing me to crash into a tree. I held out my hand straight in front of me to indicate that I was there. I lightly touched her shoulder. She turned around, elbowed me forcefully and yelled at me. I later had to look up the four-letter word she used. It seems to be a vulgar word pertaining to intercourse, with the remarkable characteristic that it can serve as a noun, a verb, an adjective, an interjection or an adverb. Live and learn! At least the vulgarity aspect was perfectly evident to me from the outset.
The route was steep in places, often on a narrow path with two-way traffic. Keeping right seemed to work well. Iím obviously not a real runner. As if to prove that point, it soon became evident that I wasnít going to make it in 30 minutes. I managed to maintain a fairly even pace, and crossed the line in about 32:30, in 92nd place and feeling strong. Laurens finished a few minutes after me, also feeling good.
The results showed that the winner was no less than Shadrack Hoff. The relatively slow winning time of 19:38 makes it clear that I wasnít the only one suffering in the conditions!
Was the expedition a success? It was disappointing to miss out on two new Parkruns for the day, but in retrospect it wasnít a bad outing. The Parkrun itself was quite an adventure, and the leisurely breakfast beforehand wasnít too bad either. And we were home by 10:00!
The Good: Good organisation. Good distance markers. Beating not just Bruce Fordyce, but three Fordyces, fair and square!
The Bad: The difficult conditions and steep slopes made for a challenging and interesting run...
The Ugly: The local "real runner" with the colourful vocabulary.
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Today would be the first time in many moons that I would attempt a 10 km race. This fact alone is daunting. The further little detail that weíre in the middle of an athletics fest involving two Parkruns tomorrow made me more than just a little apprehensive. I decided to take it easy, with the sole goal to survive intact for tomorrow morningís capers.
The Old Yearís Race (despite its dubious linguistic veracity) is a long-time institution in our area. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately for a fragile runner), the route changed a couple of years ago, excluding the horribly steep hill around three-quarters through the race. Rumour has it that some carmudgeon complained about people having fun in the neighbourhood, and they had to re-route the race to avoid his street. Nevertheless, even without the sting in the tail, 10 km is a respectable distance for someone who hasnít done it recently.
I came straight from the office, electing to buy a temporary licence rather than having to drive back to my house. I arrived about 25 minutes early, and very quickly managed to get the number and tack it to my shirt. It was raining, and I stayed indoors as long as I could. Wanja and Juline and Mandy were there, as were Laurens and Peter and his wife. The Terrible Twins were also there, admitting boldly that they had come there with the sole purpose of humiliating me in public. Again.
I got lucky. As I left the building at 16:55, the rain reduced to a slight drizzle. It stayed that way for a while, and then stopped entirely. I never got more than slightly damp. The start was a few minutes late. It didnít feel like a slow start, with a very small bunch, but I was almost two minutes off the pace at the 1 km mark. Laurens and the Twins were with me, with Wanja and Juline just behind. The Twins were chatting continuously, just to show me. Although we would miss the nastiest hill, there was plenty of undulation in the route, and I often found myself walking. The Twins did too, presumably just to annoy me.
Although it wasnít quite a two-lapper, there was a lot of winding and weaving to fit a 10 km route into a small suburb. I was severely traumatised near the half-way mark, when the lead vehicle came screaming past, followed by some sinewy athletes at breakneck speed. Itís been a while since I have been lapped in a race, and it wasnít a nice feeling. Fortunately, I soon saw the 5 km mark up ahead, and felt a little better. They still had some way to go when I passed the halfway mark, so at least I wasnít taking more than twice as long!
Around the 6 km mark, I was walking up the hill to the highest point with the Twins when Wanja and Juline shot past. We were 1:40 behind my planned progress, and they provided the incentive I needed to pick up the pace. I had relatively little time to make up almost two minutes. I moved as fast as I dared, jockeying for position with a guy panting like a steam train and a woman in black looking very determined indeed. With 3 km to go, I had 1:20 to gain. With 1 km to go, facing the oncoming traffic in Soutpansberg again, I had 0:55 to gain. I sailed home with 20 s to spare before the hour elapsed, suggesting that Iíd done the last km in well under five minutes. There is some life left in these old legs after all, despite all indications to the contrary.
Mandy was waiting at the finish, looking rested. Laurens finished about two minutes behind me, followed by the Twins and then by Wanja and Juline. They had maintained almost exactly the same pace since I left them, and they looked relaxed.
As I write this report, perhaps two hours after the race, I feel pretty good. Iím hoping I actually got away with it. There is a slight ache in my left knee and a hint of stiffness in the calves, but it looks like I should be ready for some action in the morning. A good nightís rest, and I should be ready to hit the road around 06:00 for our first Parkrun. Survive that one, reposition to the next one in under an hour, and survive the second one—thatís the order of business tomorrow.
With just over 1000 km in the log for the year, it looks like Iím well positioned to start some serious Comrades training this week. Just cover 1000 km or so, get some other training like swimming and biking, and stay injury free. Piece of cake. Letís hope it proves as easy as it sounds!
The Good: Breaking the hour mark relatively easily and remaining unscathed.
The Bad: Those hills are not to be sniffed at.
The Ugly: Almost being lapped by the winners.
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A bout of over-exuberance after my personal-best previous Parkrun caused me to tear a calf muscle. A six-week recovery period followed, and I'm only now getting ready to try some "normal" running again. Laurens has likewise suffered from a hamstring injury, and is also taking it easy. We therefore decided to use the festive period to rack up some new Parkruns. Both of us have done seven previous Parkruns, but in very different ways. I've done six different Parkruns, while Laurens's previous experience has all been at a single venue. Given that we know that some Parkruns do exceptional runs on public holidays, we did some homework. We were too late for the Christmas bonus races, but it seems feasible to do two new Parkruns on New Year's Day. So step one was to do a new Parkrun today (a routine Saturday) and then find two Parkruns that happen at different times on Tuesday.
I picked Laurens up at 07:12 and proceeded to Laudium. We arrived with plenty of time to explore the environment. We even took a warm-up run down the route with the tail walker, who was doing his own Parkrun before taking up his duties.
Announcements started exactly at 08:00. Visitors were welcomed, some from as far afield as Port Elizabeth. A local youngster and a white Rasta bolted from the start and quickly built up a lead. I resisted the temptation to chase them. A woman ran past and followed them. I was impressed, but she didn't last long. I settled down into a two-way tussle for third place. My partner didn't know the route either, so we had to try and stay in sight of the two leaders. Very soon, they were out of sight half the time. The route was mostly marked with yellow stones, but in places they were a little confusing. We gradually descended into the cricket club, running around several pitches before tackling the uphill back to the start. We entered the second lap from the main entrance. Somehow, the hills seemed so much steeper this time. Number Three started leaving me behind just as another runner passed us. I settled into fifth place, with my previous partner just ahead and another runner just behind. I started lapping the stragglers halfway through the second lap. The climb up to the finish was torture, and I probably would have slacked off a lot had it not been for Number Six about 100 m behind. I finished in fifth place in about 28 minutes. Laurens finished about two minutes behind me in tenth place. The results took longer to appear than expected, only showing up on the Web site at 17:26. There's something to be said for smaller Parkruns—neither of us could dream of a Top Ten finish at a busy venue!
The Good: Good organisation, no traffic and green surroundings.
The Bad: No distance markers.
The Ugly: Those hills on the second lap...
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I was in the USA for some gliding, and could not resist the temptation to run a Parkrun there. My trip had been arranged at fairly short notice, so I could not make use of the opportunities afforded by the Marine Corps Maraton and the New York City Marathon during my stay. Parkruns have not really taken off in the USA. Surprisingly so, given that the "five kay" is a popular distance in that country, and that their races are extraordinarily expensive. There are only 27 Parkruns countrywide, very thinly distributed indeed.
I planned to try the Delaware and Raritan Canal Parkrun. This Parkrun takes place on the western outskirts of New York City, near Somerset, New Jersey. It typically attracts a small field, with the previous week's record entry attributed to the nearby marathon. I had to repeatedly adjust my travel schedule due to changing demands, but still managed to end up in the right area around sunset on Friday night. After having had to make a detour to get around a damaged bridge, I found the correct parking lot. I spent some time surveying the area before finding myself a place to sleep for the night. I could not identify the Parkrun route, as I hadn't seen the map in several weeks, but I did walk around the park and look at the general lay of the land before finding a place to sleep for the night.
I arrived early. There was no sign of activity, except for a handful of people walking their dogs in the bitter cold. I was wearing a parka, gloves and a woollen hat. My breath formed clouds around me as I walked. These would be ideal competitive conditions.
Around 08:50, two dozen people started arriving and ambling down to the river. It took some resolve to strip down to running gear. We were starting from a completely different location to the one I had surveyed the previous day. Nevertheless, it was clear that the route would be completely flat, a definite plus for someone who lives in hill country. The announcements were made, and there was a question about visitors. Several hands went up, and one mentioned that he was from Britain. There was considerable excitement about the visitor from a distant place. We started around 09:05. I settled into third place, behind the Briton, who in turn was pursuing one of the locals. We ran between a canal and a river on a paved trail. Both the canal and the river showed no perceptible flow, suggesting that the slope was practically zero. Probably because I ran alone, I was able to maintain a 5:00/km pace to within a few seconds, up to the 3 km mark. At this point, I started suffering. I still had the Briton in sight, and a local was chasing me from behind. The pursuer passed me before 4 km, and I desperately chased him for the last while. I managed to make up about half a minute in the last 2 km, allowing me to finish in just about exactly 24:30.
The results were pleasing in more ways than one. Apart from my fastest Parkrun ever, I also achieved my highest placing. Let's just ignore the fact that it was also the smallest field ever...
The Good: Lots of sea-level oxygen and perfectly level terrain, resulting in a personal best.
The Bad: Not much, really.
The Ugly: I may never improve on my Parkrun personal best again, at least not in my native high-altitude hill country!
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This year's race would be a League race, so good attendance could be expected. I was placed at the same place as the last two years, at the end of the nastiest climb in the entire race. I had severe trouble getting in through the gate, as the guard had been instructed to lock the gate at 05:00. Nevertheless, we were in position around 05:40. Jon came by to check around 05:50. The start must have taken place on time, as the lead car came up the hill around 06:15 showing more than 14 minutes on the clock. After the first few runners, the density of the bunch started growing, until around 6:30 there was a continuous stream of bodies streaming up the hill. Most of them looked slightly strained, having conquered the steep hill to turn left at my marshalling point, only to find a dirt road climbing even further up the hill.
I saw dozens of familiar faces in the crowd; Danie, Debbie, Wayne, Kevin, Sonet, Melanie, Iain, Louis, Laurens, Tebogo, Marix, Hennie and Elbert spring to mind, more or less in order of appearance. I tried to encourage them, pointing out that the flat part of the route was almost over. Laura showed up after a while, reporting that her first half marathon attempt was thus far going exactly according to plan. Around 07:10, the traffic slowed to a trickle. Once I thought the last walker had passed, I drove down to the East Gate to ensure that no stragglers remained. I advised Jon, who asked me to find out where the last half marathon runner was. Alet and I drove down the route, finding the last half marathoner around the 8 km mark. I then crawled through the traffic, escaping to meet an Air Force commitment by eight.
The next morning, it was to be my turn to face the same route in the Helpers' Race. I reported at the start just before 06:00. We all filled in our entry slips, and started around 06:05. A group of four, led by Colin, immediately left us behind. Zelldra ran with me for a while, claiming that she was so unfit that she was probably going to crack around 6 km. I had the distinct impression that she was going to crack me instead, so I let her go. Brian was just ahead of her, and the two were soon joined by another runner. There was now a group of four in the distance, the group of three just visible ahead of me, a solitary runner in bright yellow behind me and then a large bunch. In Brummeria, the group ahead of me took a wrong turn. I hollered at them, and they corrected. The group behind me hollered at me, trying to verify that I was still on the correct route. If I had any doubts, at least they were allayed when I soon saw the 3 km mark, the only one that had been left behind from the previous day. We soon found our way back to the CSIR East Gate. After a slight kink, we hit the steep uphill on which I had been perched the previous day. I got to sample the grim reality of that climb for myself. I valiantly ran up the first part, but nonchalantly strolled up the dirt track for the last half of the climb. When I got to the crest near the tower, I resumed my run, about two minutes behind 6:00/km pace. I soon found myself back on the tar road and very familiar terrain, circumnavigating the building in which I work before climbing to the highest point on the road. From there it would all be downhill.
I slowly but surely caught up with Brian. The yellow runner was still behind me. I was determined not to let him catch me. I maintained a steady pace on the downhill, completing the first loop with the group of three just ahead. I directed Brian into the second loop, and passed him in the loop for a strong finish. The last km took well under four minutes, at least indicating that there was still some reserve left in my legs. I finished in 55:44, roughly in line with expectations given the hilly terrain and good for six points for my club. Of course, Zelldra was standing at the finish line, looking relaxed and rested. I'll never believe her again, ever...
The Good: A chance to see thousands of runners in action.
The Bad: Seeing how far down the field my peer group is.
The Ugly: Having to face those same hills myself the next day.
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This was going to be a tough morning.
Our club's Jacaranda City Challenge Marathon was on. I was scheduled to help with the parking, starting at 03:30. As is often the case when I have to get up very early, I slept fitfully. I really didn't feel very strong when the alarm clock went!
I stood to direct the traffic from 03:30 to about 05:30. I had to find a public toilet, which took a while. I then set off to the Voortrekker Monument, arriving around 06:40. I slept in my car in front of the gate. Just after 07:00, I was woken up by a forceful knock on the window. The security guards were worried that they might have to call the morgue. I entered the premises and got another 40 minutes of sleep. When the alarm clock went at 07:45, I needed a lot of resolve to drag myself out of the car. Alet was parked not far from me, and we ambled to the start. After the customary announcements, we started up a very steep hill. The Website advertised a steep climb to Fort Schanskop, followed by an equally steep descent to the finish. In reality, the route was very different. After the initial madly-steep ascent, we ran around the Monument on a relatively flat ring road before resuming the climb towards the fort. I had a hard time just maintaining 6:00/km. We ran through the fort between the 3 km and 4 km marks, descending madly down a steep gradient. I pursued a youngster with earphones and a barefoot runner about my age. Just after the circle, where I expected to turn right and tackle the ultra- steep descent to the start venue, we were directed into a channel and unceremoniously finished.
To my amazement, Mapmyrun claims that the finish is only 16 m higher than the start! It also claims that the route is flat from 3 to 4 km, something which is very far from the truth. Nevertheless, the route shows up as 300 m too long, which helps a little to ease the pain. The 28:41 is my slowest Parkrun so far, by a long shot.
The Good: No traffic. Good distance markings. Reminiscing about my victory in a cycling race at the same venue, almost 40 years ago.
The Bad: The Monument is on a hill. A very steep hill.
The Ugly: Having to keep my eyes open.
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Like last year, this race would be Agape Athletics Club's annual half marathon championship. As before, the sponsors would celebrate their Scottish heritage by encouraging runners and marshals to wear kilts. Anyone completing the half marathon in a kilt wins a Chamberlains gift voucher.
This time, the weather was fine. I got up at 05:00 and made my way to the venue. I found parking a few blocks away and managed to enter and line up at the start with about 10 minutes to spare. I easily found Louw and Marita, and Laurens joined us a few minutes later. Laurens was also wearing his kilt, but all three of them had decided to opt for the 10 km race.
As I haven't exactly been training hard, my goals for this year were even more modest than last year's. I didn't even bring PJ's SHESM with me.
We were again walked from the initial start to the real start line, but this time without a pipe band. It was a welcome relief. Louw and Marita bolted from the start line, and I didn't see them again. Laurens stayed with me initially. On the protracted uphill around the 2 km mark, he stayed behind. I expected him to catch up with me on the downhill, so I didn't wait. I didn't see any markers before the 3 km mark. At this point, I was almost three minutes too slow for a two-hour finish. I wasn't worried just yet, as the start had been relatively slow. I made up a bit of time on the descent into the Innovation Hub. At least the dirt road has been tarred in the recent past, making the descent a little less risky. I passed Ken N, who was wearing a white T-shirt and a temporary number. He'd apparently forgotten his club garb and licence at home. The climb up Meiring Naude Drive is never a lot of fun, but I cruised across the bridge at the crest feeling relatively strong. After the gradual descent to the start of the second lap, I crossed the 10 km mark at 1:01; at least four minutes behind schedule.
Although I managed to maintain my pace fairly well during the second half, I wasn't able to catch up on my planned pace. About 3 km from the end, two clubmates cruised past. I set about chasing them, but just could not maintain their pace. The incentive helped, though, as I was able to maintain a much faster pace on the last stretch than I had been doing. The last km sailed past in under five minutes. As I entered the finish venue, I noticed another clubmate in front of me. I was catching up quickly, but not quickly enough. Gustav finished just one second before me. Not much of an ego trip to be beaten by the first walker in my club, in my age group!
I collected my shopping voucher and bumped into Laurens. He had decided to wait for me, and we set off to our customary post-race breakfast venue. I unexpectedly got an invitation from Louw to do some gliding for the rest of the day. I would be lying if I didn't admit that it became a looooooong day. About two hours into that flight, I started feeling very sorry indeed for myself and mysomewhat tender glutei maximi...
The Good: Relatively easy parking. Good marshalling. Good water points, including green drinks.
The Bad: The slog up King's Highway and Meiring Naude. Twice.
The Ugly: Finding a neat pile of three unspent Chamberlain's gift vouchers in my wallet.
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I had to be in Kroonstad for some weekend gliding, so I decided to take in the Kroonstad Parkrun before reporting for the day's activities. I was awake well before the 4:20 alarm clock, and despite the drive of well over two hours, arrived at the venue with plenty of time to spare. Attendance was lower than most of the Parkruns I've attended, but there was a lot of banter as we waited for the briefing and start. The briefing (in Afrikaans nogal) was comprehensive and included a welcome to all out-of town visitors.
The start was quick, and I ended up in 15th position as we went through the first gate. Most of those ahead of me were primary school kids, with one or two adults in hot pursuit. The first stretch was out-and-back, so I got a good look at much of the field after the turn at the 1 km mark. After about 2 km, we turned north. As one would expect in the central Free State, the route was mostly flat, with only a slight uphill grade to the windpump at the northern end. I was in 12th position by this time, and jostled for position with another runner for the remainder of the route. I did some walking, and eventually saw him slipping ahead. I was strongly motivated by a pursuer perhaps a hundred metres behind me, and finished strongly. The sequence marker was not handed to me. Instead, it was on a ring held by a volunteer, who presented the tags to the scanner in order of finish.
While waiting at the finish, I chatted to my pursuer. He thought the route might be a little short, perhaps 4,8 km or so. He is preparing for Two Oceans, and had run to the venue from his home in town. After chatting for a few minutes, he set off to return home. At least he did have the decency to admit that he had desperately pursued me and failed miserably. So there.
As is customary, the results appeared within hours.
I managed to tackle my day without being unduly exhausted, but nevertheless having had some vigorous exercise. At least my ever-improving results give me the impression that the regular training is not a total waste of time!
The Good: A nice run through flat countryside, with quick and comprehensive results and no traffic.
The Bad: Not much!
The Ugly: Up at 04:00...
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After several weeks of travel and other commitments, I wanted to get some distance on my legs again. PJ has been torturing me twice a week with sessions of around 10 km, but despite trying very hard and being coaxed by lots of competitive testosterone, we haven't been able to do better than 06:00/km pace. Maybe the steep hills around the CSIR had something to do with it, but it is still frustrating to be relegated to little more than walking pace.
This race shares its venue with the Jackie Mekler 25 km race. I dragged myself out of bed at 04:40, collected Laurens at 05:20 and managed to find parking and enter very easily. We lined up for the 06:00 start with a few minutes to spare. It was cold, but not to the extent of recent races. The horn sounded about two minutes late, and we set off in a smooth start. Both Laurens and I suffered from stiffness and discomfort, but the first km went by in 6:15. I would have to maintain a 5:40 pace or so, but there was lots of time. At the 1 km mark, Melani cruised past, casually mentioning that she had been out of action since May due to an injury. She didn't look very injured to me. We passed walkers Jaap and Gustav around 2 km—a likely sign that we were going a bit too fast. At the first water point, I lost Laurens. It soon became apparent that he was well behind me. I didn't wait, as he has a habit of catching up on the downhills. I soon caught up with Melani, and we spent several km chatting. I was suitably impressed to learn about their travel plans for the next month or two. She soon struck up a conversation with another woman. I was somewhat relieved, as I didn't have much oxygen to squander. We ran through the upper half of Valhalla, on reasonably level terrain. I was relieved to notice that we were maintaining the required pace without too much discomfort. I was also relieved to notice that we didn't take the Jackie Mekler's steep downhill route all the way to the Hennops river.
Melani pretended to be taking it easy in the aftermath of her injury. Nevertheless, she remained with me until she split off to the 10 km finish. I passed the 10 km mark at 55:30, well on track for two hours. In the second half, I walked more regularly than in the first, definitely feeling the effects of the first lap. This time, we did descend all the way to the Hennops. Getting back up the hill wasn't much fun at all. Once back in Paul Kruger Road, I was confident that a two-hour finish was in the bag, and I started working towards beating 1:59. At the 19 and 20 km marks, I was well on track. The last km seemed very long. Despite being slightly downhill and me running comfortably most of the time, it took well over six minutes. I finished at 1:59:57 according to the clock. I suppose it is sub-two, but that's cutting it a bit too fine for my liking.
Laurens was waiting for me at the gate with a medal around his neck. It turned out that he'd had some trouble and decided to call it quits after the first lap. Our Club tent was not there, so we cruised to his house and then to our customary breakfast buffet. I was decidedly stiff on my way back to the car.
If I am to make another attempt at Comrades next year, there is definitely a lot of work to do!
The Good: Easy parking and entries. Good marshalling and light traffic.
The Bad: No green cold drinks on the route; just caffeine and water.
The Ugly: The female PMC athlete who cut 45° in front of me, almost causing me to crash. Is she a part-time minibus taxi driver, or what?
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I haven't done a half marathon under two hours in six months, but based on recent progress, I was hoping that today was the day. Unlike last year, I didn't schedule any further commitments for the rest of the day. And this year, I was still slightly sore from Thursday's proceedings at Castle Walk.
I collected Laurens at 05:55. We arrived around 06:15. Entries went smoothly, and we were lined up at the start with about five minutes to spare. There was a nasty nip in the air, and between the cold and the after-effects of Thursday's race, I wobbled awkwardly for the first km or two. Iain was regaling one of his clubmates with a biased account of Thursday's tale that I shared with him, while I was trying for dear life to keep up with Laurens. As is his habit when my tempering influence is not around, he started much too quickly, and we shot past the 1 km mark in 5:20. This time, the distance markers were perfect—a far cry from the total absence at last year's race.
We were gradually descending, and I knew that we'd have to recover the altitude at some point. From about 5,5 km, we climbed continuously for more than 2 km. We were climbing straight into the rising sun, making it impossible to see the officials and the traffic ahead. About 1 km of slight downhill followed, then a gradual climb back to the starting point. The 10 km finishers peeled off to the left. We hit the 10 km mark at 0:57, just a minute short of the required pace. I was feeling relatively comfortable, and was hopeful that we would make it. I lost Laurens on the uphill. I didn't wait, as I assumed that he would overtake me on the downhill, as is his custom.
Just after completing the 1 km loop, we saw the 5 km finishers passing us in the opposite direction. The first two were probably the captain and the vice-captain of the school rugby team. Number three looked like the school nerd. Number six was an overly-friendly li'l people person who grinned widely and waved at us as she passed effortlessly. She could have been no older than ten. It was quite an incongruous sight. I would keep an eye on her for the 2024 Olympics.
Ms Aurecon provided me with constant pace from 10 to about 14 km. Just as she left me behind, Laurens approached from behind. He was complaining loudly that he didn't think we'd make two hours, given the amount of climbing ahead. I admonished him as not being a quitter, and told him that I thought it was doable, given enough determination. As if to prove me right, he shot past and disappeared up ahead. I thought he was overdoing things, and overtook him on the tedious climb. By the end of the climb, I could no longer see him behind me. I just continued with a walk-run strategy, and around the 18 km mark it became evident that I was going to make it in under two hours. Two Affies runners cruised past, encouraging me to join them. I couldn't quite keep up, but in chasing them, I did manage to finish just behind Ms Aurecon, in just short of 1:59. Laurens finished less than a minute behind me. He had apparently caught up nicely while I was doing my walk-run thing in the last km.
There were goodie bags and green drinks at the end. I collected my jacket from the club tent and spent a few minutes breathing heavily before tackling the trip back to the car and the now-customary breakfast buffet.
The Good: Easy parking. Plenty of water and green cold drinks (albeit of the unbranded variety). And good distance markers.
The Bad: Feeling smug about a sub-two-hour finish. It's not supposed to be a big deal!
The Ugly: Those stiff calves the next day. Note to self: Don't do Castle Walk and a half marathon in the same week...
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Like last year, I set a modest target. The hilly terrain wasn't going to make it easy, and I'm not at my fittest. I was sorely tempted to stay in bed, as the wind buffeted the house throughout the night and it wasn't exactly warm. I arrived about 15 minutes early. I found parking close by. Entries were quick and painless, and the start bunch was relatively small. Seems like many others succumbed to the temptation to stay under the blankets.
Laurens said that he might stay in bed due to some sniffles. I couldn't find him at the start, so I chatted to Josias and Ken. I took the initial uphill easy, then cruised down the protracted downhill. I surprised myself by finding enough breath to tell Iain at length about my recent flight in Yemen. I arrived at the halfway mark about two minutes ahead of schedule, leaving me with 32 minutes for the last half. Given the serious climbs, it wasn't going to be easy. I ran for a while with an Affies bunch, passing James on the way. I could see Frances up ahead, and used her as a pace marker. Unfortunately, I could not shrink the gap.
With about 3 km to go, we joined the 5 km tailenders. The road was very busy, but most of them managed to keep left and our progress was not impeded. Just before the 8 km mark, I finally managed to sail past Frances. I cruised strongly up the last hill, and to my own amazement, managed to finish with about two minutes to spare.
We all received goodie bags, but I did not find the contents inspiring. There were no free drinks this year. I spent some time at the Club tent, chatting to Josias and Mandy, before making my way to the breakfast buffet place. It had been a great start to a restful public holiday!
The Good: Easy parking and entries. Leafy surroundings. Distance markers were fine this year.
The Bad: No cold drinks on the route, just water.
The Ugly: These hills are not getting any better.
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With the Spar Ladies Race being held this afternoon, and with me not gender-identifying as a Lady (even in these enlightened times), I was wondering what to do. I've had three slow weeks, with 10 days in stifling-hot Dubai for simulator training and then more than a week of sniffles eating into my regular running. Louw asked me on Friday if there was a race on, so I had no excuse. I suggested that Laurens and I would meet Louw at his house around 07:15 and include the 5 km between his house and the Botanical Gardens as a warmup and cooldown.
I hadn't done this Parkrun since my first attempt in February, so this attempt would be my second. I was hoping to match my previous time. Hoping for a substantial improvement was probably too much to ask under the circumstances.
We left Louw's house a few minutes late, but with plenty of time to make it to the venue in time. Arriving early would not be a great idea, as we didn't want to cool down too much before the start gun went. Both Laurens and I were a little sluggish—Laurens as an after-effect of the previous Saturday's sub-two half marathon and I as a result of a sedentary lifestyle and advanced age. Plus possibly some after-effects of the sniffles. Louw suggested a detour to avoid the busy Watermeyer Street, but we declined. Running more than absolutely necessary was not part of the plan.
Amanda picked Louw up close to the start venue. We met them at the gate, made our way through the crowd and got into position just as the gun went. The start, just like last time, consisted of countless maniacs dashing madly for the first turn. I resisted the temptation, but once I'd turned the corner, none of my companions appeared to be close to me. I was in a fairly tight bunch, but no-one obstructed my progress. Ahead of me was a young woman, ostensibly of Indian descent, whom I immediately dubbed Pocahontas (although I didn't find it necessary to share this fact with her).
I did a bit of walking on the worst uphills. Mostly, I cruised at a comfortable rate. Pocahontas maintained a fixed pace, and we played Hare and Tortoise several times. On the second lap, I'm not convinced I would have been able to maintain anywhere near the pace without her.
As we tackled the steep climb back across the ridge on the second lap, we started hitting the slow traffic in earnest. Most people were fairly considerate, keeping left and allowing the runners to pass on the right. A few needed verbal prodding, and I was politely asking a bunch of walkers to keep left when one of them pointed out to me that they were forking to the right for their second lap. The split was not marked, and the official standing there was not very helpful. I managed to overtake Pocahontas in the last 100 m, and was handed a tag showing Number 76 as I finished just under 27 minutes. Beats my previous 109th finish!
I stayed near the finish, waiting for Louw and Laurens to show up. Laurens did, just a minute behind me, but Louw was nowhere to be found. Laurens told me that Louw had been ahead of him, so we speculated that he might have retraced his steps to find Amanda after completing the course. We did likewise. I saw Ken finishing, probably with an impressive age-graded time as always! After a while, we decided that it was now too late, and returned to the finish. We found Louw there. It turned out that Amanda had run much too fast and only completed one lap. Louw had pursued me with great vigour and missed the final left turn to the finish, running an extra km or so in the process.
The official results appeared around 16:00. This time, I didn't show up in the results. "Unknown" was 76th of about 1000 finishers, with an official time of 26:48. Laurens was just over a minute behind me. Louw got lucky. He presented his tag after his unscheduled detour, but didn't show up in the official results. At least he avoided the black mark on his record!
The route back to Louw's house was torture. I'd used up my running brownie points for the day, so I resorted to a 4+1 survival strategy for much of the route. We also took the scenic route, adding about 1 km to the distance. When I started feeling better half-way through, I used the opportunity to do some informal fartlek, and caught up with some news with Louw. Laurens was still suffering the after-effects of the previous week. At least Louw and I managed to complete the last km to his house in 5:40—almost a respectable pace for us old fogies.
After a bit of scratching around, I sent an email to the local Parkrun organisers. By mid-day on Sunday, my name appeared in the results. And it's a new Personal Record too!
The Parkrun is definitely a great resource. Being able to run in controlled conditions away from traffic, without spending a cent on entry fees, strikes me as a great idea. Unfortunately, the phenomenon has not taken root everywhere, but at least in some countries it is well represented. Maybe we should find a few Parkruns with fewer finishers, so at least I can jack up my personal best finish ranking!
The Good: Still free, at a reasonable time, with quick and comprehensive results and no traffic. I like it.
The Bad: No distance markers. The invisible official at the final split that caught two of us unawares.
The Ugly: The 6 km home...
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Had Laurens not conned me into pre-entering for this half marathon, I might well have stayed in bed. After a week characterised by sleep deprivation, strenuous manual labour and no running, plus a long list of commitments for the rest of the weekend, I was decidedly inclined towards just lazing the morning away in bed. As it was, I valiantly dragged myself out of bed at 06:15 and jumped into my car. I had a logistical challenge too: I didn't have anything in the house for breakfast.
For the first time this year, I wore a T-shirt under my vest. It must have been the title of the race that got the better of me, I guess. It was cooler than last year, at around 7°C, but not the coldest race in recent memory by far. The start was again somewhat crowded, and I passed the 1 km mark in about 7:50. I was running uncomfortably, slightly stiff from the week's abuse. Around 2 km I started loosening up, as we started the relentless climb to recover the initial descent. By the 7 km mark, I had reduced my deficit from two minutes to about one. However, here things started slipping. I ate my emergency gel as a precaution, but there was nothing sugary without caffeine to drink. At the end of the first lap, I noticed Lammie walking back to his car. He must have done the 10 km race, and earned a gazillion points for the club in the 70-plus category. We passed the 10 km mark around 1:04. I grimly tried to reduce the four-minute deficit, but it grew to almost six minutes at one point. The last stretch home contains several vicious hills, which did nothing to make it easier. I managed to finish in just over 2:12, about five minutes off the pace. Reading last year's report makes for demoralising reading. It was so much faster and so much easier, suggesting that my training will need to resume at some stage! The upside is that I managed to restrict the heel-striking to reasonable levels. Maybe I'll yet learn to run like a real athlete one day...
After the race, I picked up my jacket from the Club tent and drove off with Laurens for the breakfast buffet that seems to be becoming a regular fixture. After seeing to a tyre problem on my car and getting a 90-minute snooze, my heart rate was back under 50. At least I haven't completely turned into lard.
The Good: Easy parking. Relatively little traffic. Good distance markers. Leafy surroundings.
The Bad: No caffeine-free cool drinks!
The Ugly: 2:12! I made the cutoff for five points by less than a minute.
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I've been trying to reduce my tendency to crash down on my heels when I run. It's an uphill battle, if you'll excuse the pun. After several weeks of experiments, I was going to try my hand at a half marathon. The course is very hilly, as I can still vividly remember from last year. To minimise the possibility of injuring myself, I wore my supportive race shoes, but resolved to try to touch down with as little heel impact as possible.
For some reason, I woke up half an hour before my alarm clock, despite not having had much sleep. I left home too early, and by the time I realised that I was making a mistake, I was already on the road. I easily found parking and spent almost half an hour sitting in my car. The thermometer showed 5,5°C, and I wasn't too keen to stand around much.
I made my way to the start around 06:50. I was feeling cold, and again I was one of few athletes without a jersey or jacket of some description. I chatted to Neville for a while. While scanning the crowd for Laurens and Erna and Hester, I noticed my colleague Louis. Soon, a face started bobbing up and down beside him, intermittently becoming visible. It was Laura, another colleague who had recently started running. I made my way over to them, and chatted for a few minutes before the gun went. Laura was quite adamant that they would not be running together, so I fully expected Louis to come gliding past me at some stage. Like last year, the start was reasonably quick, despite me being in the back of the bunch. I concentrated on my gait, and managed to get it right most of the time. I could definitely feel the effects in my calves, though!
Up the first hill, I chatted to Wallie and Josias. The latter was recovering from Comrades, but seemed comfortable and relaxed. We were catching up to Ken for a while, but he soon pulled away from us, presumably on his way to another victory in the 80+ category. Around the 5 km mark, Josias and Wallie lagged behind, and I ran with Hendrik for a while. After the last steep uphill in Ashton Street, we hit the 9 km mark. I knew it was fairly level from there, and briefly toyed with the idea of bailing out at the 10 km finish. Wanja and Mandy came past, looking comfortable. Wanja turned off to the finish, while Mandy continued to gradually open up a gap ahead of me. I passed the 10 km marker almost exactly on pace. I was vaguely surprised that Louis hadn't passed me. Maybe he did run with Laura after all. In the loop soon thereafter, I could see Ken and Walter well ahead of me, then Mandy. Behind me I was surprised to find Laurens. I had assumed that he would be ahead, as he is not famous for showing restraint in his post-Comrades recovery phase. Wallie and Josias were also there. Around the 12 km mark, I lost sight of Mandy. I was definitely suffering a bit on the uphills, and gradually losing ground to my planned pace. Josias came by, telling me that he was chasing a friend who was doing her first half marathon. I continued to walk and run, slipping increasingly behind my target.
After climbing the last steep hill for the second time, I tried to make up a bit of time. I was feeling very sorry for myself by this time. Hester came from ahead, having completed the 10 km race and looking exasperatingly fresh. She was pushing a pram and had the two boys in tow on their bikes. My frazzled brain didn't realise until much later that the family must have been on the way home. Somehow, the last km took much longer than I expected. I'm not sure if there might have been a measurement error. It's something I'd like to believe, as I finished almost four minutes behind my planned pace. I spent a few minutes at the club tent before heading off to tackle a busy day.
I write this piece just more than 24 hours later. I'm definitely stiffer and more sore than usual, yet it seems like the session didn't do too much damage. Maybe I'll finally learn how to run properly after all.
The Good: Relatively little traffic. Good distance markers. Easy parking. Good water points.
The Bad: Missing my target by four minutes.
The Ugly: The Metro policeman who ran with me for about 5 km, who casually tossed all his water sachets onto the road surface. So much for setting a good example.
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I collected Laurens at 06:40. We found parking in the grounds, and managed to enter with plenty of time to spare. Considering that it was a league race with the normal huge crowd, everything went very smoothly. I bumped into Miriam near the start. When I last saw her, she was expecting her first child. She had a teenage daughter with her. It's been a while.
The thermometer showed under 6°C when we left the car, so I stayed at the tent with my jacket on until just a few minutes before the start. I positioned myself near the front, as I didn't think the cutoff for six points would be easy to achieve. The start featured a sharp turn after about 100 m, so I expected heavy traffic. In the event, it wasn't too bad. Xolani on his crutches has become a feature of AGN races, and he departed about five minutes before the bunch. The start was on time, and twenty seconds later I was around the corner and running freely. The first km flashed by in 5:00, with a slight downhill grade. I maintained a constant 5:30/km thereafter, with few exceptions. I occasionally walked on uphills.
Just after the 4 km mark, I saw a runner stumbling ahead of me. He managed to regain his balance. Amazingly, he had stumbled on the same undulation in the tar that had caused Ken to crash last year. At least this guy got off without injuries. Lammie came sailing past and disappeared up ahead. Around the 8 km mark, we joined the 5 km walkers. Most of them were ambling in relaxed fashion, but there was enough room for everyone. I was pleased that I was able to maintain my pace to the finish, and arrived at the finish line with a minute and a half to spare. I was pleasantly surprised. Given my rather lacklustre training of late, I wasn't expecting it to be so easy.
I noticed several Comrades runners from our club, running much too fast for someone who is supposed to be recovering. Kevin and Sonet were running strongly, and tackled a second lap when I was just finishing. Laurens also arrived just ahead of me. Amazingly, Lammie finished behind me, having taken a wrong turn. Marshals at one of the splits were calling two options: 5 and 21. Lammie took the 5, and ended up having to retrace his steps.
Organisation was great. The route was well marked, with little trouble from traffic. Parking was well marked. Marshalling mostly worked well. There was plenty to drink, including caffeine-free cold drinks. All in all, an impressive race! After spending a few minutes in the queue to get through the exit gate, Laurens and I enjoyed a quick buffet breakfast before I raced off to join friends to go gliding.
The Good: A pretty flat route, with little traffic. Good distance markers. Parking was well organised. I achieved my goal, with time to spare.
The Bad: Not much.
The Ugly: Marshals doing weird things at the split.
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With Comrades behind us and winter showing its teeth, there is a paucity of races in our area. After last week's Parkrun and a lazy training week, I toyed with the idea of trying another new Parkrun in our area. I tried to get several friends interested. PJ and Hester declined, inviting me to a 27 km run instead. I politely declined, pleading self-preservation. I've already suffered enough for one lifetime. Louw and Amanda were more interested. So at the crack of dawn, Louw, Amanda, Alet, Marita and I departed for Ludwig's Roses, the rose farm about 25 km north of Pretoria. Marita was noncommittal on her expected time. Louw was apologetic, claiming major injuries and citing a gut-wrenching war story to support the claim. I should have known.
We arrived about 20 minutes early, staying put in the car for some time to avoid freezing to death without our multi-layered clothing. At 07:50, we took the plunge and lined up at the start. The announcements were clear, although I got the impression that the route markers might leave room for some guesswork. I started near the front, hoping to maintain that position. Just before the start, a large but elderly German shepherd (a breed of dog, just to avoid confusion) ambled by. A little white mutt barked furiously, straining at its leash to gain the right to savage the Alsatian. As we started, I counted nine runners ahead, so I was number 10. The guy restraining the shaving brush cruised by. I thought it unfair that he was using external propulsion, but in all fairness, having to put up with that shaving brush every day is a terrible price to pay for mere running glory. Another one or two runners cruised past. As we approached the 1 km mark, I walked up a steep incline onto a dam wall. The first lady sailed past. Marita! She looked comfortable and disappeared up ahead, passing the 1 km mark at 05:00. Another dog sailed past, this time a larger breed trying to drag the owner along, and having no luck as the owner was comfortably keeping the tension off the leash. It just looked too easy. After just more than 2 km, I was walking up an incline when a voice behind me suggested that I might run again, as I'd been caught. Louw cruised by as I begged for mercy, out of breath. He also gradually increased his lead, never to be seen again. I passed the shaving brush, this time being reluctantly dragged along by the owner. Justice!
The route winds among the rose bushes, with turns marked by large rocks sporting white arrows. I lost sight of the preceding runner around the 3 km mark. Given the uncertainty suggested by the start announcer, I wasn't sure that I was on the right route at all, the series of white arrows and the timing between distance markers worked well. I thought that I was number 19 at this time, but was given the Number 16 bar code. My time was 27:10, a few seconds slower than last week. The second lady arrived seconds after me. Imagine my surprise when she turned out to be Elaine, one of the two ghouls haunting me at almost every time trial and race for the past few months, chattering incessantly while sailing effortlessly past me. At least this time she was alone and behind me. Maybe the chattering makes her faster...
We could select a rose from a bucket at the finish. I found the nicest-looking pink rose in the bunch and pulled it out. It was attached to another, landing me with a pair of pretty respectable roses. I had some damage to my shoe, so I went barefoot. Neither the sharp stones nor the soggy ice-cold ground proved to be much fun, but I'm trying to harden up for my planned barefoot running attempt. Amanda and Alet strolled in about 25 minutes after me, in a tight bunch. We cruised back home for another sumptuous breakfast at the buffet place. All in all, not a bad way to spend an early Saturday morning.
The Good: Like last week, a flat route, with no traffic. Well marked, including distance markers. Parking close by. Nice ambience, with thousands of rose bushes all round. And it's free!
The Bad: I'm clearly not getting any stronger with my current level of training.
The Ugly: The contemptuous ease with which my frieds sail past. No respect!
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With Comrades tomorrow, there are no races in my area, so I decided to tackle another Parkrun. I decided to tackle a new venue, not too far from home, with fewer participants and an opportunity to improve on my 109th place finish in the previous one. Bapsfontein seemed a great place to go, with a rural environment and not too many participants. My 28-odd minutes on the previous race would have placed me around 14th last week! I spent a few minutes warming up, as the temperature was not far above freezing and my muscles were very sluggish. I noticed that the ground was quite uneven, and many of the holes were hidden by perfectly-flat lawn grass. I made a mental note to pay lots of attention to my footing.
The announcer was hard to hear, as the megaphone was placed too far from the start line and many participants were chatting loudly. The start was furious, and even though I deliberately resisted the temptation to follow the maniacs ahead, the 1 km marker flashed by in under 4:40. I was aiming for around 5:20/km, so I really had to slow down. I took a walk break on the first gentle uphill, and soon managed to get my breathing under control. I was surrounded by people who were obviously more used to these short distances than I was, and I had to be very careful not to follow them to destruction. One guy with a dog passed me at a gentle trot. The dog took a leak, and they again passed me effortlessly. The figure-eight route traverses reasonably flat terrain, with a gentle descent to and climb from a dam at the lower property boundary. The first three km markers were visible and appeared accurately placed. I didn't see the 4 km marker.
I trimmed about a minute off my previous attempt, and ended in 24th place. Official results later in the day showed 214 finishers, placing me 11% down the field. With a bit of work, perhaps I can figure out this 5 km race thing. Either way, the 5 km time trial will be useful if I decide to tackle a real training programme one of these days—it is the starting point from which I'll have to determine my training pace.
The Good: Flat route, with no traffic. Well marked, including distance markers.
The Bad: Uneven footing, with potential for ankle injuries.
The Ugly: The grey-haired 60-something who sailed past in the last km to finish ahead of me...
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Laurens and I agreed to meet before the start. He was going to do a leisurely 15 km, but his idea of leisurely wasn't exactly clear. Given that Comrades happens in just eight days, it wasn't going to be a speed session, though.
Traffic wasn't too bad, with the snarl-up only starting at the traffic light next to Silver Oaks Crossing. We found parking about 500 m from the centre. Entries were reasonably prompt, with enough pens at the tables. I left my jacket at the Club tent. Hennie wasn't running, as he was going to get the food ready. There was a definite bite in the air, and I noticed with some amusement that I was the only runner in my part of the bunch with no more than a vest to cover my torso. The bunch was not huge, and despite starting well down the group, I passed the start line about 20 s after the gun. It took a while for my gait to settle down, but once warmed up, I was cruising comfortably. We soon entered the Silver Lakes Estate, and cruised past mansions with perfectly manicured lawns and no traffic at all. I spent some time chatting with Deon, as Laurens decided to slow down and take it easy. Around the 2 km mark, we were climbing a gentle rise exactly into the sun. I could hardly see the road surface ahead, and could not recognise the marshal to my right. As I passed him, he called my name. I turned around to find Koos there; one of the two runners living in Silver Lakes that I know. I soon found myself with Chris and a bunch of other Affies runners. I was relieved that I wasn't wearing an Affies hat. They left me behind around the 7 km mark, and I watched them gradually disappear into the distance. I passed Gustav, who was making great strides (sic) as usual. He was a little concerned about the advertised off-road stretch. I found myself thinking that off-road in Silver Lakes was probably still better than most municipal roads...
We meandered through the estate, working our way towards the game reserve section in the northeast. As we entered the gate, I passed Danie and Melani—the other two runner-residents of Silver Lakes that I know. Danie was announcing the 10/15 split through a megaphone. We ran past their house, then descended into the valley to give me my first-ever glimpse of the actual lake. We skirted the lake, the proceeded to the north wall. I was gratified to pass several members of the Affies group, one by one. At least I wasn't the only one that found their pace a bit much. At the 10 km mark, we turned left to follow the dirt road used by wall patrols. It was indeed pretty smooth, with just a touch of moisture from the previous night's light rain. Had it rained hard, it could have become pretty nasty. A dozen bushbuck bolted past, skirting the bushes in the opposite direction. We cruised along the N4 for about 2 km, then turned left toward the finish. Mari sailed past. She explained at great length why she was taking it to easy. I was too breathless to respond. We rejoined the 5 and 10 km runners (probably more like walkers) just after re-entering the Estate roads. At the 12 km mark, I was about three minutes ahead of my target, and feeling pretty comfortable. I walked occasionally, but was still aiming for about 1:27. I never saw another distance marker, and needed my full concentration to weave past the walkers taking up the full width of the available paving. I followed a strong runner to the finish, to cross the line just under 1:23. I was a little puzzled, but assumed that the route must have been short. Indeed, several Club members with fancy GPSs confirmed that the route had been about 500 m short. We were treated with boerewors rolls. Laurens and Alet both finished a few minutes behind me, with Alet having done the shorter 10 km route. I spent some time chatting with Ken and Neville, before departing to a nearby buffet restaurant to enjoy a hearty breakfast with Laurens, Alet and Neville.
My left ankle is still giving me trouble, but at least the ligaments that were torn in February seem to be behaving well enough. I haven't quite decided what to do next. Maybe the time has come to tackle another concentrated training programme. Maybe for a 10 km race in October? We'll see.
The Good: Scenic flat route, mostly inside the opulent neighbourhood. Light traffic. Good water points.
The Bad: Not much. We've had two good races in a row!
The Ugly: The woman with the Porsche who insisted on driving among the runners and who seems to confuse the purpose of indicators and hazard lights...
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Laurens tried to talk me into doing the Hercules race with him. I was not too keen to get up early and drive halfway around the planet for 10 km of running. Eventually, we settled on the Cosmo Run, which was taking place at the much more civilised hour of 08:00 and much closer to home. We would meet at the gate to the Botanical Gardens at 07:30. I arrived a few minutes earlier. I found parking right in front of the gate. There was a nip in the air (my car said it was 10°C), so I kept my jacket on. Laurens was a few minutes late. It turned out that there had been an altercation between car guards that resulted in some stone-throwing, so he was a little apprehensive about damage. Entries were easy, except that the entry form demanded all kinds of personal information that they had no business with. Fortunately, the person behind the table did not push the issue, and I got away with number 2222 in my hand without having to disclose my entire pedigree.
Laurens, Neville and I took a short run before the start to loosen up. Laurens was far more determined than Neville and I, and we turned back to the start long before him. The bunch was not huge—perhaps 800 people or so. The start was relatively orderly, although the path was busy as we negotiated the initial uphill. We were still in the Botanical Gardens when we saw the first distance marker: 9 km to go. Unlike most races, this one counted down. Just after leaving the gate, we hit some really steep uphill to the east of the Gardens. As I've often observed before, I must have an allergy for concrete. I found myself unable to run, having to amble up the hill and gasping for breath. Laurens had disappeared quite soon, but I grimly pursued Neville as he maintained a lead of up to half a minute. With 7 km to go, we were descending into Silverton. With 5 km to go, we were in the valley, making our way back to the Garden. I was making up a little time on my goal at this point, and I was hopeful that I might be able to shave a few minutes off that dreaded hour. I covered about 2 km with Neville, exchanging ideas on various topics. I'll never look at Neville with the same eyes again. We entered the north gate with just over 2 km to go. We soon joined the 5 km walkers, and had to negotiate a constant stream of slow walkers all the way to the finish. At least it gave me an excuse to walk now and then. I finished in about 57:25, with Laurens about a minute ahead and Neville about a minute behind.
At the finish, we received shopping bags with some goodies. I was envious when I saw what Laurens got. I wasn't as lucky. Nevertheless, I was happy with achieving my goal. I suppose it wasn't too shabby, given the hilly terrain. Maybe I'll actually become a runner again one day...
The Good: Nice scenic route, with almost half inside the Garden and the rest in a relatively traffic-free leafy neighbourhood. Nice goody bag.
The Bad: Not much.
The Ugly: Last week's hills in Valhalla were no isolated incident. The joys of living on the rim of the world's largest impact crater...
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Last year, this race came at the height of my Comrades preparation. This year, things were very different. After my foot injury in February, I've done two half marathons, both in a slow time of around 2:20. So this 25 km race was not to be taken lightly. Nevertheless, I was hoping to start regaining some speed, perhaps around the 6:00/km mark. I arrived at Jonathan's house around 05:40. We collected Laurens and set off to the venue. Traffic was very slow close to the venue, but I was able to buy my entry and report at the start before the appointed time. Laurens and Jon were both planning an easy pace of 6:30 and 6:40/km respectively. I was sceptical. Neither of them is known for restraint when it comes to maintaining slow pace. The start was about 10 minutes late, presumably because of traffic delays and entrants still streaming into the start well after the appointed time of 06:30.
We were about a quarter down the bunch, and managed to break into a comfortable run pace quite quickly. We passed the 1 km mark at about 07:00, a minute behind my pace. Not bad! As expected, Laurens and Jon were much faster than advertised, and gnattering constantly just behind me. By 3 km, we'd made up the minute we lost at the start, and were exactly on pace at 6:00/km. The twins were still there. They gradually fell behind somewhere around the 4 km mark. By this time, we were going downhill into Valhalla. I overtook Gustav and we chatted briefly. He was walking a constant 6:00/km, so I made a mental note to keep him in sight as a pace marker. Around 6 km, the Lenoges came past. We ran together for almost 10 km, alternating positions as I took the odd walk break. As is their custom, they maintained their very constant pace nicely.
Just before the 10 km mark, a woman complained loudly about the missing distance marker. I was surprised, as I'd seen them come and go like clockwork, and was within 5 s of my pace at each of them. I told them that I expected the 10 km marker to pop up in exactly 40 s. They disagreed, as their fancy GPS watches said 10 and 10,3 km respectively. They didn't appear to notice the irony of the significant discrepancy between their ultra-accurate tools. As luck would have it, we passed the 10 km mark at exactly 1:00:01, one second after I said we would. They looked a little sheepish. I didn't.
The second lap has an extra loop extending much further south and much further downhill. And, of course, one has to painfully regain that height on the return. We rejoined the first lap route just before the half marathon mark. Between 15 and 20 km, I'd lost about two minutes to my planned pace. At this point, the Lenoges were slightly ahead, and I was running with Karien and another Agape runner I don't know. I was also being tormented by the same two women who torture me on the Tuesday time trials, by repeatedly walking ahead of me and then overtaking me effortlessly, all while chatting continuously. Their actions don't go down well when I am on my last legs and gasping for breath. The same Irene crew from last week's race also sailed by on one of the uphills.
I passed the half marathon mark in 2:09, about 12 minutes faster than the previous two races and about two minutes behind my planned pace. I found the thought of another 4 km rather daunting, but was determined to survive. I used lampposts for a 4+1 walk strategy for the last stretch. I jostled for position with a female 40-something runner from Striders. We were comparing notes about various aches and pains. Strangely, my major problem was with the glutea maxima, both of which were making their presence known in no uncertain terms. I managed to complete the last 3 km in about 17 minutes, finishing in just under 2:32. I was happy. Despite the mediocre time, I was only 5 s/km off my planned pace, and actually felt reasonably strong.
There was little activity at the Club tent. I was expecting to wait about 12 minutes for Laurens and Jonathan, but saw Laurens finishing only about three minutes after me. When I found him in the crowd, Jon was there too. He'd finished just before Laurens. So much for their intended restraint. I took the opportunity to stretch out on the grass and watch the clouds sail by while they queued for a caffeine fix. We strolled back to the car and made our way out of there quite painlessly. The Military Precision of previous years had failed, and the airshow was not on the same day this time. We didn't have the distraction of aircraft overhead during the race, but at least we didn't have to battle the traffic like the previous year either.
We were all happy. I'd almost achieved my planned pace, which is not a bad thing given the constraints. Laurens and Jon had comfortably exceeded their planned pace, without feeling much the worse for wear. They both seem to be happy that they are well on their way to Comrades, although they both seem to feel that a bit more distance in the logbook would have been more comfortable. And I'm starting to think that I may be able to resume a decent training schedule again one of these days.
The Good: Great distance markers; I saw all 25 of them! Good marshalling and not too much traffic.
The Bad: Congested entry tables and a lack of pens.
The Ugly: Those Valhalla hills just aren't getting any flatter.
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Like last year, it was cold and threatening rain. This time, I was nowhere near as fit. With only one half marathon behind me in more than three months, I faced this hilly route with some trepidation. Laurens was planning a gentle run, with a goal time similar to my 2:15 or so. We met at the start, near the back of the bunch. The route was roughly the reverse of last year's route, leaving the nastiest hills to much later in the race.
Also like last year, many runners were clad in warm clothing. With the cold not being quite as severe, at least I wasn't alone in my minimal vest this time. As we were tagged electronically, we started at the back of the bunch, crossing the line about 2:20 after the gun. Roald joined us from behind around the 2 km mark. We found our way across January Masilela quite soon, meandering through the relatively flat terrain of Constantia Park for the first 6 km or so. Laurens lagged behind as Roald and I chatted, mostly about aviation. I was a little surprised, as Laurens was constantly about 50 m behind us. We waited for him several times, but around the 7 km mark we lost him completely. We maintained a relatively gentle pace, making not much better than 7:00/km most of the time. I was in no hurry, as I knew that there were some vicious hills between us and the finish. I feared that the organisers might not be able to resist the temptation to include them in our route.
I was right. In the second half of the first lap, we faced a nagging climb, depositing us on the hill south of the church. The last portion was a steep descent, followed by a short climb before separating from the 10 km runners. The second half was similar to the first. Like last year, there were many ostensibly strong runners cruising relatively slowly in anticipation of Comrades in less than a month. Unlike last year, I was not one of them. One group of Irene runners came cruing past around the 13 km mark. I could not maintain their pace, but by alternating my walking and running, I was able to keep them in sight.
With about 3 km to go, I knew that I would last the distance, and allowed myself to speed up somewhat. I was able to cover the last 3,1 km in 18 minutes, leaving my tormentors from Irene behind. Still, my time was more than 20 minutes slower than last year, and I felt considerably less unscathed. My left knee was again complaining, and I had a massive blister on my left foot. However, I came close to matching my time in the Wally Hayward earlier in the week, suggesting that my foot injury is on the mend.
Laurens arrived a few minutes after me. It turned out that he'd repeated his low heart rate exercise, taking a walk break whenever his heart rate exceeded 138. No wonder he didn't stick with us! We enjoyed a great buffet breakfast nearby before tackling the remainder of a busy Saturday.
The Good: Good organisation. Relatively little traffic. Great running weather. Signs of a recovered injury.
The Bad: Another runner with a boom box, and not much interest from the referees in doing anything about it.
The Ugly: Slow paceó20 minutes slower than last year and with more aches and pains!
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I've had a lay-off of almost two months after severely injuring my left foot by stepping in a hole. After several weeks of gentle jogging to get back into shape, I decided to try a half marathon for size. I was unexpectedly out of town for the long weekend, so the Wally offered the first opportunity to catch up. The venue has changed, now being at the Centurion Rugby Club, not far from the cricket stadium.
Laurens was going to run the full two-lap marathon, while I was going to do a single lap. We were planning similar paces, and were looking forward to a great opportunity to do some catching up. Laurens told me that there would be self-seeding, and we agreed to meet around the 4:30 mark. We also had alternative rendezvous plans, just in case.
The street in front of the rugby club was crowded but orderly. However, there was no sign of the self-seeding pens I expected to see. I tried for a long time to find Laurens, all in vain. I started about five minutes late, and waited after the first turn and at the first water point. At this point it was clear that I'd been stood up. I now knew what a voluptuous blonde feels like when she is dumped at the roadside from some flashy Ferrari.
The first portion of the route is a gentle uphill. I was right at the back of the bunch, and on the uphill I was constantly passing people. The bunch got increasingly denser. I saw Willie and Suzette and Hennie and Marix, all taking it easy to survive for the long haul ahead. After about 5 km, I was shoulder to shoulder with a mass of humanity, with a solid stream of runners filling up the full width of the major roads up ahead as far as the eye could see. It was quite a thrilling sight! At about this time, the leading 10 km runners started passing us, after starting a quarter of an hour behind us. I settled into a relaxed rhythm, careful not to exceed the ability of my unconditioned body. I had some niggles from my left foot and knee, but nothing that I could not live with.
I saw the first distance marker at 8 km. It was lying toppled behind a rubbish bin. Up to this point, I'd been keeping track of distance solely by my stopwatch. I was about five minutes behind my imagined pace, which came as a nasty surprise! Nevertheless, I managed to maintain my planned pace of 6:20/km fairly accurately for the next 10 km or so. I managed to speed up substantially in the last 3 km, encouraged by the need to get away from the two 5:00 buses. Amazingly, I was going to pass the half-marathon mark in just over 2:20, yet both buses were ahead of me until very close to the end. They were both about ten minutes too early at the halfway mark! Clearly they believe in the "sprint until you crash and then crawl" approach. About three minutes from the finish, the lead vehicle for the marathon appeared in front of us, closely followed by the four leading runners. It was amazing to see them speeding past, having covered twice the distance and still looking much more comfortable than I felt. It was an amazing coincidence to be able to see the marathon leaders finish right in front of me.
One facet of the race that I found profoundly unpleasant is an increasing tendency for runners to carry boom boxes and foist their dubious taste in music upon the surrounding runners. I don't think I'm alone when I resent the beat-driven cacophony dispensed by these thoughtless runners.
I was delighted with the outcome. I survived my first half marathon in several months reasonably intact, and even got a refrigerated bright pink washcloth for my trouble. After a long walk back to my car, I was out of there without significant traffic delays (as long as I stayed away from the race route!).
The Good: Amazing organisation—a start of 9000 athletes that goes smoothly, efficient water points, good traffic. Surviving a half marathon again!
The Bad: Distance markers were few and far between (or possibly invisible?).
The Ugly: Those oafs with the portable sound systems that force the rest of us to share in their dodgy musical tastes...
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Today's race was in Bronkhorstspruit, a 45 minute drive away. More importantly, it was a 32 km race. Last year, I managed to complete it at faster than 6:00/km, but this year, I would probably not survive without serious damage. I wasn't going to drive all that way for a 10 km race, so I decided to use the opportunity to try out the Parkrun phenomenon.
For those of you that haven't been on Planet Earth in a year or three, Parkrun is an organisation with weekly 5 km runs in parks all over the world. My nearest one is not far from my office, in the Pretoria Botanical Gardens. I like the idea of the Parkrun. It starts at 08:00, which strikes me as a fine time for a race to start. None of this getting up at (or before!) the crack of dawn. Then there is the entry fee: It's completely free! Finally, the results appear within hours. In my case, I see official results as an excellent way to keep me humble.
The organisation is simple. You register on the Web site, then print a barcode on paper. Take the barcode with you, and you're ready to go.
I've therefore been wanting to do this run for some time, and registered some months ago. This Saturday was the first that seemed set to work out. I arrived around 07:30, easily found parking and made my way to the start. I spent some time chatting to other starters, and gained some valuable tips. I exchanged a few words with the Mollers and with De Wet. I bumped into Francois at the start—a nice surprise. We chatted for a few minutes, before I set off for a five-minute warmup. I was ready at the start just in time for the gun. Just before the gun went, Laurens tapped me on the shoulder. I had tried to get in touch with him during the week to arrange a joint effort, but it never quite worked out. Needless to say, I was pleased to see him.
My warmup run did nothing to set my mind at ease. To quote from the official course description: "It is a double lap course, quite flat and fast". Now if you know the Botanical Gardens, you would know why I was more than just a little skeptical. Even if you are a regular reader of these race reports, you will have gathered that Pretoria and environs cannot be considered either "flat" or "fast". We started quite quickly, with the runners on the right and the walkers on the left. The first section is slightly downhill. I was on the right. Unlike the usual race starts, there were no walkers in my way. Indeed, the biggest challenge was madmen (for they were mostly men) dashing past headlong at incredible speeds. I wondered if they knew that we had a full 5 km ahead of us.
Laurens and I stayed pretty close together. As is normally the case, he tended to sail past on the downhills, and I tended to catch up on the uphills. The course is almost oval, starting westbound, then making a clockwise turn around the Gardens. There is a long, gentle uphill on the back straight, followed by a short, nasty climb back across the ridge before arriving near the main gate again. "Quite flat and fast" my foot! On the second lap, we would turn left into the finish just before the original start venue.
We constantly caught up with slower runners. These were over-exuberant starters that were paying the price. I shamelessly walked up the steep hill, as did many around me. Around the 3 km mark (or so I surmised from the time), we started passing walkers. Most of them were fairly good at keeping left, so we weren't being obstructed too much. It got worse towards the end, as the bunch became denser and denser. I did some walking and some running, and managed to stumble across the line in about 28:15. I'd lost Laurens somewhere around the 4 km mark. To my surprise, he didn't catch up on the downhill stretch to the finish. As I passed the official finish line, they handed me a little barcode with the number "109" on it. I handed this slip and my own barcode to someone with a scanner, and they entered me into the database.
The official results appeared within hours. I was indeed 109th of about 1700 finishers, with an official time of 28:04. Laurens was less than a minute behind me. Clearly, the organisation is as slick as I was told it would be, although it looked like their timing was off by perhaps 10 seconds.
My interest has been piqued. I understand that it is possible to gain all kinds of milestones, like running a certain number of parkruns, or running at a certain number of venues. I'll keep my eyes open in future when I travel. Perhaps we can work in a few more venues in the next few months.
The Good: It's free. I could get up at a reasonable time. Results are quick and comprehensive. No traffic. What's there not to like?
The Bad: "Quite flat and fast" my foot!
The Ugly: The Affies staff member with his/her BMW X5 that parked illegally, blocking my departure from the parking lot and forcing me to wait half an hour until someone could let me out. I know it's a BMW X5, so rules are only for other people, but still.
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Given my recent sluggish state, I decided to run the 10 km race rather than the half marathon. The later start (06:00 rather than 05:30) was a factor, as was the fact that it was a league race, and it is easier to earn points over the shorter distance. I could either run 50:15 for six points or 56:00 for five points. Given my state, the former was completely outside my reach, and the latter sounded doable, with a bit of effort.
Like last year, the weather was perfect. A low cloudbase and a slight nip in the air made for perfect running conditions. Neville had told me that rain was expected, but fortunately it was not raining at the start. The traffic was dense, but we managed to find parking reasonably close to the venue. As we arrived, the full and half marathon runners were starting. Entries were reasonably painless, and I was looking for a place in the start bunch with almost 15 minutes to spare. I wanted to be reasonably far forward, but not to the extent that I would be a nuisance to the faster runners behind me. Relatively few of my clubmates were spotted.
The start was very, very slow. We started down an urban street, and the slow runners had seemingly all started ahead of me. Clearly, I had been too considerate! It took more than four minutes before I could break into a sustainable run. By the 1 km mark, I was almost two minutes behind schedule.
The 2 km mark was clearly misplaced (either that or I had done a sub-4 km!). Otherwise, everything about the race was perfect. Marshalling was effective, turn markers were clear, distance markers were exact and visible, water points were efficient and there were enough caffeine-free drinks.
Terrain is as flat as anything I've seen in Pretoria. The only exception is a nasty hill in the last km, leading up to the bridge across the R80, but at least it is very short. I struggled to make up the two minute deficit. By the halfway mark, I was down to about a minute, but could not make any headway over the next 3 km or so. At the 9 km mark, I faced the task of completing a sub-4 km if I wanted my five points. It was a tall order, with the steep hill and a gentle but sustained climb all the way to the finish. I ended at 56:33, close but no cigar. Maybe I should have started in the front row...
At the Club tent, Ken Nurden informed me that the League cutoff times have changed. Apparently, the scale now goes from 1 to 10 instead of to 7. The tables are not available anywhere, so I have no idea how I did. Imagine, I could have saved myself all that effort!
It started raining about half an hour after I finished, so I got soaked to the skin walking back to the car. Plans to wait out the rain while having a hearty breakfast were thwarted by a long queue of other runners with the same idea.
The Good: Excellent organisation. The flattest course in the Pretoria area. Enough green cold drinks.
The Bad: Getting soaked to the skin on the way back to the car.
The Ugly: I'm a far cry from my own self a year ago!
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After last week's disaster, I was not sure what to expect today. There is some very hilly terrain, so in principle it wouldn't be any easier this time.
From last year's race, I knew the routine: North on Hans Coverdale West, east on Hans Coverdale North, south on Hans Coverdale East, west on Hans Coverdale South and then another lap. And on the second lap there was going to be a very nasty little extra hill. How difficult could it possibly be?
I was a few minutes late for the start. As luck would have it, this time they started early. When I crossed the start line at 06:03, the official time was already over four minutes. I resisted the temptation to regain too much time too soon, knowing as I did that there were going to be some nasty hills. And since I hadn't run since my slowest half marathon ever last weekend, I wasn't going to be any stronger this time.
I worked my way through the ever-denser bunch. I passed Elbert, Hennie and Marix and a clubmate that I didn't know. Because the race entry slips were not visible, I didn't know who was going to do only one lap, and who would soldier on to the end. Around the 3 km mark, I had an unpleasant interaction. A woman suddenly changed direction in front of me, cutting in front of me and almost causing me to lose my footing. I stuck my right arm out in front of me to alert her to what was happening. She crashed into my arm, and immediately started swearing at me. I didn't respond, but another woman in the 2:30 bus to my left also started gushing invective. I again decided not to respond, instead getting as much distance as possible between myself and the bus. I was just reminded again that Gauteng's population is a very stressed one.
Fortunately, there was no further unpleasantness from fellow runners. Instead, the nasty hills were doing all the work in that department. I included lavish doses of walking in my regimen, and managed to maintain an average pace of about 6:00/km. I didn't manage to eliminate the deficit due to the late start, though.
Around the 6 km mark, I caught up with Marius. Now I don't know if he was still smarting from me overtaking him in the finish straight last week, but he decided to stick with me for the remainder and make my life a misery by insisting that he would also walk whenever I did. He caused me to be racked with guilt if I didn't run most of the time. Now it's not only a bad thing, as I would imagine I could have easily notched up yet another all-time record for time on the road if it weren't for his torture. Either way, for the remaining three-quarters of the race, I was coaxed mercilessly. Coming down from the dizzy heights of Hans Coverdale North, even further east than Hans Coverdale East, we passed a cemetary. In a glycogen-deprived haze, I wondered if it might be called Laasterus.
The extra loop in the second lap was rather confusing, as for a while before ascending to Helium Avenue, we actually ran west on Hans Coverdale North. That wasn't part of the plan!
The distance markers on the last lap were definitely broken. Again, each pair of boards (7 and 18, 8 and 19, 9 and 20) was out of sequence, suggesting that either or both boards of each pair must be significantly out of position. Nevertheless, I finally staggered into the stadium after a reasonably strong finish, covering the last 2 km or so at less than 6:00/km. There wasn't a lot of fun to be had in that last stretch, but we did manage to maintain a respectable average pace.
I managed to break 2:20 by seconds, with Marius just behind me. Taking the start delay into account, I lost about nine minutes to my hoped-for pace. Looks like I'll have to take some drastic action if I want to return to more respectable times—like to actually train between races! Marius mentioned to me that last week had also been his all-time slowest.
This time, I was thoroughly wrung out. I slept for a while before my next mid-day meeting, but it did nothing to relieve the fatigue, the sore muscles and the sorer left knee. I hope it clears up in a day or two.
The Good: Festive atmosphere (it is weekend in Eersterus, after all!). Good marshalling. Some feed points with green cold drinks (although several didn't have any).
The Bad: Those hills don't get any easier, even if you've done them before. The 10 km and half marathon markers were consistently in the wrong order.
The Ugly: The battle-axe in Virgulle Steenkamp's 2:30 bus, who insisted on venting her spleen about an incident that she had not even witnessed.
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Another two weeks of too little training and too many other things have passed. It's time for another half marathon, just to keep the total training for the week within reasonable bounds. Given December's outcome, I expected that I would be able to maintain 6:00/km, which would give me a finish in about 2:07.
The late start meant a relatively civilised time to rise. Traffic was relatively light, and I managed to enter with about 20 minutes to spare. I chatted to Pieter and Kevin and Josias. The start was relatively quick, and I soon found myself settling into a comfortable pace. At 2 km, I was exactly on pace.
From 3 km or so (I never saw the marker), the picture started changing. By 5 km, I was about half a minute behind schedule. Since last year's race, the route has changed significantly. No longer did we traverse the streets of Highveld Park. Instead, we turned right into Oliewenhoutbosch Avenue for an out-and-back loop of over 2 km. I saw Danie, Kevin and Josias, Pieter and Melanie pass me, giving me a good indication of how slowly I was progressing. Just after the first lap ended, I passed the 10 km mark in about 1:02—the slowest in recent memory.
Around the 15 km mark, I started playing Hare and Tortoise with Thinus, then with Kobie. I was walking on most of the uphills, and running (or perhaps rather "shuffling") on the other bits. In the loop, I again saw the same faces I'd seen in the first lap. I was surprised, as I felt that I'd lost ground. It turned out I was not mistaken. This time, the loop went considerably further, ending in a nasty uphill all the way onto a bridge across the Gautrain tracks. I did a lot of walking, and soon found myself many minutes behind my target pace. I started playing Hare and Tortoise with Marius and his young female companion. They were also walking and running, although I could not figure out their pattern. I managed to sneak past them near the end, to finish in just under 2:22. It was my slowest half marathon ever.
Several fellow runners reported slow times. We could not identify anything substantial to explain the catastrophe. To be sure, the late start exposed us to some high temperatures (it was 31°C when I got back to my car), but it doesn't explain the lethargy entirely. Maybe it's just the tail-end of the festive season...
The Good: Quiet traffic. Enough cold drinks for non-addicts of caffeine, including including both green and orange!
The Bad: Despite the new route, A4A again messed up the distance markers. Through the last 4 km or so, the 10 km and half marathon markers were consistently in the wrong order. Again.
The Ugly: 2:22. The bruise on my ego may never heal completely.
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It's been a rough few weeks. My dormant flying career suddenly resurrected itself, and I flew around 40 hours in November. Too many commitments, too little sleep and the occasional bad weather wreaked havoc with my training programme. I've slowed down tremendously and am too scared to step onto a scale.
The obvious solution is to tackle a half marathon and see whether there is still any life left in me. The brochure was filled with language errors, and the GPS coordinates placed the venue about 50 km away from the Bundu Inn that I know. A phone call confirmed that the place I know is the right one. So I made my way towards Brits around 05:00 with some trepidation. I had a busy day ahead, including some helicopter flying. Helicopter skills with a decade of rust and tired legs would not make a good combination, so I didn't want to be completely exhausted. I therefore resolved to try and maintain a leisurely 6:00/km pace.
Entries were relatively easy. The start was some distance from the registration, and a smallish bunch ambled across the busy main road with assistance from marshals. The half marathon would start earlier and slightly ahead of the 10 km bunch. Making my way through the 10 km bunch, I was entertained by tall tales of horrible hills around the halfway mark in the half marathon. Apparently, there had been a profile at the registration desk. My trepidation didn't get any better.
We finally got under way around 06:08 after an inaudible speech by a marshal, presumably trying to explain why we were starting late. I had started chatting with Mike, a 60-something American pastor from Soweto, and we kept up the chat after the start. He was aiming for a time of about 1:50, so I told him up front that I wasn't going to keep up. He lost me around the 4 km mark, by which time I'd made up about two minutes on my planned pace. We were joined by Gerrit, and had had time to exchange ideas on Christianity, theological degrees and nasty surprises one sometimes makes in self-discovery. We even got around to the fact that Mike, who travels north to run on a Saturday to leave room for his Sunday commitments, finds a stark difference in language distribution north of the Jukskei. I suspected, though, that I would later pay a terrible price for these lively debates.
I wasn't disappointed. Even before the halfway mark, my legs were complaining loudly. I started walking occasionally. Around the 8 km mark, we hit the steep Magalies foothills, and I was more or less relegated to walking most of the way up. I passed the 10 km mark in about 0:58, feeling better than I'd feared but worse than I'd been hoping for.
Up the hill and most of the way down, I played Hare and Tortoise with Ebrahim. Both of us alternated walking and running, and must have passed one another dozens of times. Around the 14 km mark, Iain passed me, and we had a quick chat about his missile-building career not sitting well with me as a pilot. A runner ahead of me collapsed in a heap, apparently with calf cramps. She couldn't or wouldn't say what was happening, though, so there was little we could do to help. An informal bus of about 20 runners passed me near the 16 km mark. By this time, I was completely unable to maintain my chosen pace, and spent perhaps 50% of the time walking. I finished in 2:08, about a minute slower than I'd hoped for.
Given the rather spotty training of the past few weeks, I guess I was happy. I survived the helicopter flying later in the day, and my legs were even reasonably obedient. I will admit, though, that my eyelids were very heavy that evening, so the unaccustomed exercise did not leave me entirely unscathed.
The Good: Surviving in reasonable shape.
The Bad: 21 km is a long way!
The Ugly: The Magalies.
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I've been wanting to do a triathlon for some time. I decided several months ago that I would attempt this particular triathlon. However, a particularly demanding training course and an unexpected out-of-town flight (only the second in more than a year!) limited the amount of preparation I was able to do. I did manage to do two 1000 m swims and a 10 km bike ride, plus the usual assortment of random running. My main concern was around logistics. After picking the brains of Dave and PJ, I figured I had a sufficient assortment of toys. PJ lent me a pair of cycling pants, which I've subsequently used for a few run sessions and two swim sessions. Now was the time to try out my toys. Although simple by most standards, I was hoping that my collection would suffice. I hadn't ridden a bike for more than 10 km since 2001, but how hard could it be? It's just like riding a bike...
I arrived at Cradle Moon around 06:00. There was enough time to collect my timing chip, put all my toys in one place, scout out the swimming route and arrive at the briefing at 06:55. The event was relatively small, with probably no more than 100 entrants. I was amused by the collection of bikes. Mine was probably the oldest by a decade or more, and probably the cheapest by a factor of at least three. There were some very fancy bikes indeed. I didn't need a fancy bike. I was pretty certain that my bike's engine would be the main limitation. The biggest challenge would be the weather. It was ideal for cycling and running, but waiting for the swim to start in 11°C weather was not a lot of fun. Only about 10 participants were wearing simple swimming trunks with a bare torso, like I was.
We started at 07:20, about five minutes late. I tried to settle into a swimming rhythm, but was soon in trouble. I was seriously short of breath. I tried to slow down and regain my breath, but was unable to. Pretty soon, I was faced with the grim realisation: I was not going to complete this swim. I stuck up my hand and was rescued by a youngster on a paddleski. He blew a whistle, and pretty soon I was on my way back to the start, perched on the Boat of Shame. Not a great end to my first triathlon!
The marshal who recorded my number on the Roll of Defeat suggested that I might still want to do the bike ride and the run. Clearly, this was not a very formal triathlon! I accepted the offer, and made my way to the changeover area. I was one of the first on my bike, and tackled the serious uphill with gusto. Unfortunately, my front wheel was flat and was quickly getting flatter. I stopped to fix it. I pumped the wheel, trying to find out where the leak was. I could not find the leak, so I decided to continue. The wheel seemed to remain inflated throughout the rest of the ride. Perhaps the valve leaked, after I had pumped the wheel that morning.
My second setback came about two minutes later, when I had scaled the first hill and started heading downhill. My gears would not shift out of first. Although a lot of coaxing eventually allowed me to get out of first gear, it was mostly only to second or third gear. I never got beyond fifth. Perhaps it was a good thing. There was no way I could pedal on the downhills, so at least I was able to take intermittent breaks. I was amazed by the number of cyclists on the road. All the public roads we used were open, but all had bike lanes on both shoulders, and there was never any trouble with cars on the road. I did have one or two close calls with discourteous cyclists, but in general the 500 or so cyclists I saw were all enjoying a great morning on the Muldersdrift roads.
Towards the end, the saddle was hurting me, with very limited padding relative to the chamois that I'd been used to when I last cycled. My left knee was also complaining slightly, like it has been in recent long road races. My speed was an embarrassment, as I got nowhere near the 30 km/h reference speed that I'd used as an absolute minimum for long-distance cycling as a teenager. I finished the cycle leg in 1:45. Subtracting the downtime from the flat tyre, I'd not quite managed an average of 25 km/h. Not something I would like to admit in public!
The run leg started very uncomfortably. My muscles were stiff and slightly tired. I soon settled into a rhythm, aiming for what would normally be a very slow pace of 7:00/km. I was hoping to speed up later if I could, but this pace would ensure that my wheels did not come off. Or so I thought. The run had not been advertised as a trail run, which it certainly was. Terrain was undulating, with the winding route traversing ditches, outcrops and even a ghost house that we passed through twice—complete with ghoulish white faces! Having started the bike leg earlier than I should have, I was way ahead of my peer group. Most of the runners effortlessly came cruising past. It soon became evident that the female triathletes are well above average in the figure stakes, although I have to admit that the haemorrhoid-like padding in cycling pants detracts somewhat from the aesthetic enjoyment. We crested the highest point around 7,5 km. At this point, a male in a fancy red triathlon suit was just ahead of me, and a female in a pink cap was just behind me. I resolved to keep them right there. By this time, my quadricepses were really hurting. I assume it was the cycling that did the damage, as I'd never had trouble with quadriceps cramping before. My left quadriceps verged on cramping for the last 3 km or so, and it was actually less painful to run than to walk. I did manage to keep the red suit in my field of view and the pink cap behind me. I passed the 10 km mark at 1:11, just one minute slower than my target pace, with the finish line coming about two minutes later.
I crossed the timing mat in about 3:20. I declined the medal I was offered, as they did not seem to have a way of checking who had finished all three legs.
I'm disappointed, but I did achieve my objective. I got to try out the logistics. I got to ride a bike for 40 km and survived. I got to cycle just after swimming and run just after cycling, and experienced the discomfort first hand. I'm not sure why I flaked out on the swim, but it could be that my first open-water swim in two years suffered from too fast a pace. It is always harder to judge pace when there are no marks on the bottom to go by, and I can only assume that I started too fast. Either way, I'll have to do some work on my open-water swimming before the next attempt. And I'll have to do some tweaking to my bike's gears.
The Good: Getting to try out my triathlon toy collection for the first time. A genuine cyclist's tan on my right leg, for the first time in decades.
The Bad: Riding the Boat of Shame.
The Ugly: The thug in the game ranger outfit who washed his mouth on customers in the reception area. He was the sole reason several of the participants did not enjoy breakfast at the venue. And his boss, Andy Dott, who thoroughly endorses his behaviour and is obviously his role model. If you don't enjoy being verbally abused or facing head-on collisions on unmarked one-way roads, stay away from Cradle Moon!
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The small group that arrived to run the helpers' race resulted in an easy start. There was no obstruction caused by slower runners that insist on starting in the front row, although there was enough banter about the "snail scrapers". I started in front, and maintained an easy pace for the first half of the route. Around the halfway mark, Johan and I ran together for a while. Up the steep hill where I had done duty the previous day, Johan left me behind. I didn't see him again until after having crested the hill. It turned out that he'd taken a wrong turn, running a detour of about 200 m almost all the way up to the microwave tower. We continued together for most of the remaining route, sailing down the hill towards the ring road. I had some reserve left with about 2 km to go, and decided to speed up somewhat. Intimately knowing the terrain helped. I knew exactly how hard I could afford to push. As I crossed the finish line, my stopwatch rolled over to 1:00:00. Nothing to crow about in public, but perhaps given the nature of the terrain, it wasn't too bad.
The Good: A gentle run without the clutter of thousands of other runners.
The Bad: When last did 10 km take a full hour?
The Ugly: That hill. It's actually worse when you run it than when you're a spectator.
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For the second weekend in a row, I'm writing this report as an official rather than a runner. Although I am not a member of the CSIR club, I work for the organisation and regularly help with the annual race. I was placed on exactly the same position as last year, so there was little in the line of surprises. I reported to my position at 05:30. The first thing I did was a safety check. I saw several things that struck me as a little unsafe, given that several thousand people would come streaming through. I extracted a pole that once supported a road sign from the ground, moved a banner to a safer position, picked up a few dozen boulders and repositioned the boom that had been removed from the gate to a safer position in the bush. I also positioned my car to make it less likely that anyone would miss the turn at my position.
My station was just after perhaps the steepest portion of the route, around the 5,5 km mark. Runners would definitely arrive at my position feeling rather sorry for themselves. To make matters worse, I had to gesture them into a turn that took them into a dirt road with almost the same upslope as the preceding section. Many runners would not be happy.
So I decided to continue my approach of the previous year. I would make light of it, and cheer the runners up by telling them that the worst of the level section was almost behind them. As I had the previous year, I received mixed responses. Some runners did not respond at all. Some grinned. Others took a few seconds to respond, as if realising too late that I was yanking their chains. A few looked genuinely distressed. Most, though, seemed to enjoy the quip.
As always, it was fun to see the entire field pass. The leaders were running up the hill with effortless speed. Then started a steadily-increasing trickle of runners, culminating in a mad rush with hundreds of runners simultaneously surging up the hill. Many familiar faces passed. I made a special effort to chirp each of those familiar faces. Eventually, the bunch faded to a mere trickle. By about 07:30, the last valiant runners were walking past in ones and twos. Most were cheerful, but it was clear that not a lot of fun was being had here at the back end of the bunch. Soon after, Jonathan came past and gave me the all-clear to leave. After spending about a quarter of an hour picking up stray water sachets and other rubbish and rolling up the tape used to form the runners' lane, I was on my way to meet other commitments later in the day, and took a last look at the runners still on the 21 km route outside the CSIR campus. They all seemed to be cruising comfortably, having conquered the CSIR hill and now traversing the relatively level terrain in Brummeria, outside the gates.
From my limited perspective, it seemed that the race worked well. I heard rumours that the metro police had not arrived as expected, making life difficult for marshals on public roads, but the luxury of running most of the race in the CSIR premises made the problem manageable. I certainly didn't see any evidence of unhappy runners.
The Good: Another opportunity to see thousands of runners surging past.
The Bad: One of the club members who caused some unpleasantness in the late stages, driving through with his vehicle.
The Ugly: That hill. Even as a spectator it was daunting!
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This race report is different to the others. I wasn't a runner. Well, technically I'm not really a runner in any of the other races, either. Nevertheless, I normally dutifully don my running gear and report to the start line to desperately shuffle towards the finish line with other real runners. This time, I didn't. My club, Agape Athletics Club, presents this race, and I had to help. This year, I was in the parking team. It was a nice break, after several years of being the route captain on the half marathon and marathon routes. That job involved managing a team of several dozen marshals, starting before 04:00 and ending after mid-day. This time, I was a parking attendant, and was scheduled to leave around 06:30. What a pleasure!
In a previous race report, I explained that I had already run the helpers' race, and that this race would be a League race. As you can imagine, it was going to be big.
I reported to Magnolia Dell at 04:00 to receive final instructions and equipment. The instructions handed out by email were exceptionally clear, and I didn't need any equipment, so a few minutes later I was at my post with my high-visibility jacket and my best reflective strips, holding an electric torch and ready for action. Unfortunately, I had nothing to do until 05:30. I initially thought I'd use the spare hour to do some running, as I had been very lazy the past week. However, I wasn't keen to leave my car in a deserted spot. I took a drive around the area, but the one garage was already congested, one was deserted due to a refurbishment and the other had treatening signs that said that my wheels would be clamped if I parked there. Not relishing the prospect of getting trapped far from my assigned spot, I decided to sit tight and wait. John Milton would have been proud of me.
Stephan and I stood around, watching the vehicle traffic gradually increase. Even before sunrise, there was a constant stream of arriving cars and even some runners, all making their way towards the start venue at the SABS Headquarters. Wispy clouds were sailing past in front of a half moon, and there was a decided nip in the air. Perfect running weather! A handful of chickens appeared from a yard and started scratching on the sidewalk. The number grew gradually, until there were perhaps ten of them doing their thing by the roadside. I didn't know if they were expecting what happened next.
At 05:30, we closed Sibelius Street and started redirecting vehicles. Two traffic policemen had been stationed at the intersection, but it was clear that they had no idea what to expect. I thought I did, so I briefed them. The half and full marathon runners would start at 05:45, run up Dr Lategan and turn right towards us, reaching us within minutes. Then the bunch would grow and grow for about a quarter of an hour, then wane and wane, until the street was peaceful again. Then we would go home, leaving the traffic police to deal with the second lap's runners starting an hour or so later. The 10 km runners would start around 06:15, but their route would not pass our position. Or so I had been told.
Turns out I didn't actually know what to expect either. For starters, it was a full ten minutes before the pace car appeared in Sibelius Street. It seems that the runners had taken a loop around the steep streets of Muckleneuk before bearing down on us. I later discovered that we were near the 3 km mark. For the next half hour, the bunch grew and grew. As I've reported on previous occasions, I was amazed at how long it took before my peer group started appearing. Unfortunately, the race numbers are coloured grue (something between green and blue), so it was actually impossible to distinguish between half and full marathon runners. However, the real surprise came around 06:25. I had already agreed that Stephan could go on his merry way. The bunch was already starting to thin out. Our job was almost done. Imagine my surprise when the 10 km pace care came lurching down the hill, followed by a pack of sinewy athletes that seemed to be in a mad rush. They shot past, and I noticed their black race numbers. Clearly, the bunch was about to start growing again!
And so it was. For the next half hour or so, the bunch grew again, at one point filling up the entire width of the streets into and out of the intersection. I heard rumours that there were over 7000 pre-entries, suggesting a total field of about 10 000. It is amazing to stand by the roadside and see a continuous stream of 10 km people passing. It is absolutely heart-warming to see so many people prepared to drag themselves out of bed long before dawn and work up a sweat to get the juices flowing. Despite the impressions to the contrary, we are not a nation of couch potatoes after all!
The surprises were not over yet. Around 06:40, red numbers started appearing in the field. It appeared that the 5 km fun run was also going to pass our position. The first wave consisted mostly of scrawny teenagers in a mad rush. After them, things started looking very different. I have long believed that 5 km races and diet cooldrinks make you fat. Today's observations did not dispel the impression.
When the wave of red numbers finally petered out, I excused myself and found my way to the start and finish venue. I was hoping to collect my fancy T-shirt. Unfortunately, it was not to be. When I parked my car and started walking towards the venue, a patrol car with fancy lights pulled up. Kobus, the race director, asked me what I was doing. I answered that I was idly ambling about, and he asked me to help at another intersection, where they were short-staffed. I soon made my way to the intersection of Florence Ribeiro and Mackey, where the 5 and 10 km runners would cross the dense traffic on Florence Ribeiro about 1 km from the finish. I arrived there with Kevin, who had ridden the lead bike for the 5 km race. We formed a chain of four marshals with flags, allowing the traffic police to stop the cars while we directed the runners around the cars. It worked fairly well, and with the exception of a few runners that were apparently hard of hearing, we managed to allow all the runners to cross the dense traffic without disrupting their pace. Eventually, as the traffic grew denser and denser, the bunch started thinning out to the point where runners were arriving in ones and twos, and Kevin and then I left the two original marshals and the traffic police to wait for the tail end.
Being a marshal can be soul-destroyingly boring, or a lot of fun. It all depends if you make use of the amazing opportunities for observing human behaviour or not. I quipped many runners with remarks about there being only 5 km to go. Most of them flinched, then laughed. They knew full well that they were in the final stretch. If they didn't feel their entire bodies crying out for a break, they would probably have entered the half or full marathons! I also made an interesting experiment. I planted my flag to my right as I faced the oncoming runners, to try and make it clear that the runners had to turn right and pass me on the other side. By moving the flag only 300 mm, I could change the number of runners ducking past on the wrong side from about 20% to absolutely zero. It is actually possible to coax hordes of people into orderly behaviour with the necessary signals. Our chain of marshals developed concise but clear instructions for oncoming runners. "Keep right, then cross behind the minibus" seemed to invite virtually total compliance. Yet, for as long as I stood there, the marshal to my left must have repeated the mantra "People just won't listen!" at least once a minute. We certainly don't change our perceptions lightly!
My timing was perfect. On the way home, I stopped for my favourite breakfast buffet and managed to get home before 09:00 to catch up on some sleep. Now if only I can convince myself to get some exercise today, it won't be a total waste!
Just as an aside: You'll notice that this report is a perfect example of Parkinson's law. It is unusually long, despite the fact that I didn't do any running at all. As you can imagine, I feel like a worthy bureaucrat, with my mid-life crisis perfectly under control.
The Good: An amazing opportunity to see perhaps 10 000 runners surging past. Very clear instructions from my boss.
The Bad: Confusion about what was going to pass our duty point and when.
The Ugly: Getting up at 03:20. Really!?
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This race has two special characteristics. One is that it is Agape Athletics Club's annual half marathon championship. The other is that the sponsors celebrate their Scottish heritage by encouraging runners and marshals to wear kilts. Anyone completing the half marathon in a kilt wins a Chamberlains gift voucher. It's almost like being a pro runner.
Were it not for these two factors, I might well have stayed in bed. When I woke up, it was drizzling lightly and rather cold. Traffic was much lighter than we're accustomed to, so clearly not everyone had had enough resolve. Parking was also much easier to find than in previous years. Despite arriving rather late, I had only about two blocks to walk. Entries were painless, except that I had trouble finding a working pen. I left my jacket at the Club tent and spent about ten minutes standing in the drizzle with a relatively small field.
I don't believe in over-ambitious goals. It's hard enough to maintain a buoyant demeanour in these trying times, and I do not want to set myself up for failure by choosing unattainable goals. So I was simply hoping to make it into the Top 20, in my age group, in my club. Last year I was going great guns until cramps stopped me in my tracks around the 17 km mark. Instead of breaking 1:50 as I had hoped, I limped home in just under two hours. This year, I was not as well prepared as last year, and decided to simply maintain a comfortable 6:00/km pace and accellerate towards the end, if I could. I was also secretly hoping that PJ's Secret Horse Endurance Salt Mix would help to stave off the cramps. If not, enduring the taste of PJ's SHESM would be a cruel diversion. I cannot imagine how horses, who do not understand the supposed benefit of the SHESM, can endure that taste willingly.
We were walked from the initial start to the real start line by a pipe band. Perhaps it is not all a bad thing. Perhaps the pain helps to focus one's mind. The route starts with a serious climb, so focus is soon needed. We arrived at the 1 km mark about a minute behind my planned pace. I tried to gradually whittle away at this deficit. It wasn't too hard, as we descended into the valley towards the Innovation Hub. Climbing back up Meiring Naude Drive past the CSIR, though, was a different matter. Nevertheless, I arrived at the bridge over the River N1 just slightly ahead of schedule. With the undulating terrain, I saw several faces come and go, as we jostled for position with the varying pace. Ken N and Brian were two faces that I saw repeatedly. The last stretch to the finish line is a gradual downhill, and just after the 10 km runners turned right into the finish venue, I passed the 10 km mark in about 0:58.
I asked many runners which clan their tartan was from. I got many answers, some sensible. It was inevitable that I would also be asked. My stock answer was MakLeeu, although I explained that my mother's side of the family was actually MakLammetjie. I did notice a marshal by the name of MacFadyen. Not sure why he wasn't sporting the compulsory kilt, though.
The second lap was pretty much a repetition of the first, with an extra loop to make up the distance. I kept seeing Wayne ahead of me, just out of reach. Around the 16 km mark, Roco came up from behind. We spent some time catching up on news. Although about ten years my senior, he comfortably maintained the pace despite not being in regular training. I sometimes walked up steep hills, and often overtook him again when he stopped to chat to acquaintances. Roco thinks that it is his thirtieth Capital City Classic in a row.
Around the 17 km mark, Mari came cruising past. I was not going to take this affront lying down. I kept seeing her up ahead, and resolved to try and catch her on the downhill to the finish. It took some doing, but I managed to pass her with about 1 km to go. Gritting my teeth, I managed to maintain the pace all the way to the finish line, finishing just ahead of both Mari and Roco.
I collected my gift voucher and found my way to the club tent. There wasn't much beside water, and Wanja and I found our way back to our cars after a short break.
Did I make it into the Top Twenty, in my age group, in my club? Time will tell. I did see Fritz in the loop on the second lap, about five minutes ahead of me, so I can safely assume that he beat me. I saw Paul at the start, and never saw him again, so I assume that he beat me. Let's see. Maybe I'll get lucky.
Running a half marathon in a kilt is an enriching experience. There is no way that one could possibly understand the fearless confidence of a man like William Wallace if one hasn't. Although it wasn't my first time, I realised yet again that it is not a coincidence that the Scots keep talking about leaving the UK. The annual gift voucher doesn't hurt, either. In fact, one of these days I'm going to rake them together in a neat pile and actually go and spend them.
The Good: Relatively easy parking. Good marshalling.
The Bad: Waiting for the start in the drizzling rain. Climbing those hills, repeatedly.
The Ugly: A pipe band and dozens of brutes in fancy skirts. I am an old-fashioned type, you know.
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Traffic turned nasty about 1 km from the start venue at Irene Village Mall. I was sitting almost still for several minutes before crossing the R21, wondering if I would get there in time. However, I found parking not too far from the centre with about 15 minutes to spare. After struggling with recalcitrant pens to fill in the entry slip, I found my way into the middle of the start bunch with about five minutes to go.
The start was slow, with a very dense bunch on a relatively narrow road. I arrived at the 1 km mark more than a minute behind schedule. The bunch started spreading out soon afterwards, and I was able to find my comfortable pace. I came across Dave, and spent about five minutes exchanging news. I always enjoy his company, but it was clear that I was enticing him into a slightly uncomfortable pace, so I eventually succumbed and left him behind. I spent a few minutes running with Beate, who was winding down for a marathon and taking it easy. Perhaps around 7 km, I found a bunch of Agape runners, and spent a few minutes chatting to Wanja before leaving them behind too. I hit the 10 km mark around 59 minutes, nicely on track.
One source of frustration was the nourishment being offered at the water points. Apart from water, there was only iced tea, made by the sponsors. I would hardly rate iced tea as a universally-acceptable drink, and its caffeine content ruled it out from my point of view. I really, really would have appreciated something but water to drink with more than two hours out in the sunshine!
At this point, the distance markers started falling apart. I was impressed with the markers themselves. Each distance marker was clearly visible on a Garbie bin. However, their positioning became rather suspect. From 10 km, my splits for the next few km varied between 2:50 and 7:30, while maintaining even pace. I took a while to understand what was happening, and initially had the impression that I was lagging way behind my planned pace. However, from about 15 km the markings became more regular, and it appeared that I was just slightly behind my goal pace. I spent several km running with Wayne, while he was consistently moving along and I was taking an occasional walk break before catching up with him again. Around the 18 km mark, I sped up. I had 3 km to go and 15 minutes to do it in—not easy, but not impossible due to the slight downhill grade. In the event, I wasn't able to keep up the pace. I had to take one last walk break at the short climb into the shopping centre, and ended up missing the two hour mark by six seconds.
I was reasonably happy. I guess 2:00:06 is close enough to two hours for government work?
The Good: Relatively easy parking. Light traffic. Flattish route. Good marshalling.
The Bad: Congested start.
The Ugly: Iced tea. Please!?
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On most races, the helpers' race takes place after the race, often the following day. For our club's Jacaranda City Challenge, this year it was different. The race takes place in late October, but our helpers' race was organised for Heritage Day, several weeks before the actual race.
As I had been unavailable for Saturday's race due to other commitments, I was relatively fresh. As this race is a League race this year, I was planning to comfortably break 56:00 for five points. The six-point cutoff for my age group, 50:15, was probably just out of reach.
I arrived at the SABS a few seconds late, just in time to see the bunch of red-clad runners disappearing up the street. I quickly parked my car and set off in hot pursuit. I didn't know the new route, so I could not afford to let the runners out of my sight. The route starts with an immediate climb onto Lukasrand. It then meanders through the steep part of Muckleneuk before descending into Magnolia Dell and finding its way down the Apies River into Clydesdale. After a gradual climb up Park Street, we found the halfway water point at the University of Pretoria campus. Another gradual climb up Lynnwood Road found us in the leafy streets of Brooklyn, then past the Bird Sanctuary and up the hill to return to the SABS.
The run was pleasant, with mostly familiar faces. This early on a public holiday, traffic was light. With a small bunch that would not cause significant traffic disruption, the lack of marshalls did not present a problem. I'm not sure if it was the relatively quick start, but I was soon struggling. Even before tackling the downhill into Magnolia Dell, I was rather sorry for myself. As I worked my way up the field, I soon realised that my target might not come as comfortably as I had anticipated. Just before the halfway mark, I joined a group with Pierre and Kobus and a few strangers, and we doggedly worked at not losing sight of the runners in front of us.
The finish came not a moment too soon. I was almost two minutes outside my target, and thoroughly tired. I hope this malaise does not continue too much longer!
The Good: Light traffic. Good company.
The Bad: Still struggling.
The Ugly: Not making what I considered a relatively easy target.
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This race used to be the Andrew Greyling Memorial, and normally attracts a large field. It takes place near Brooklyn Centre, through affluent suburbs with leafy lanes. I have been slacking the last few weeks, feeling a little under the weather and not up to the rigours of a full-on training programme. Nevertheless, I decided to tackle the half marathon, taking it easy enough to be ready for other commitments at mid-day.
Louw and I have been talking regularly, mostly about gliding, but I was pleasantly surprised when he decided to join me at the race. Domestic pressure eventually caused him to opt for the 10 km instead, but if he was prepared to take it easy enough, we could run the first lap together, leaving me to complete the second lap while he headed home.
Parking was easy, using the normal shopping centre parking garage. I probably had less than 50 m to walk to the entry table, and within five minutes I was ambling along to the start sporting my race number. I found Louw relatively easily in the bunch. We started about halfway down the bunch. The bunch was dense and required some deft weaving. I didn't see a distance marker before 3 km (although some reported seeing a 2 km marker), and by that time we'd given up only about 90 s to the planned schedule. We maintained a comfortable pace, chatting to each other and to various other runners. Ken passed us several times, each time claiming that he was going to tell his wife that he'd managed to pass me. How magnanimous. Especially since he shot past around the 9 km mark and disappeared in the distance, towards the finish line.
Louw finished in under 0:59, and I continued with the second lap. I managed to maintain a similar pace, despite having to adopt a walk-run strategy to prevent collapsing in a heap. A nice feature of the race is the substantial downhill in the last km or two. I made good use of it to finish in about 2:04. Although I was a bit slower than normal, I noticed most of my peers finishing after me: Mandy, Wallie, Laurens, Ken H and Walter spring to mind. For some reason, the route produced relatively slow times. I spotted Gina walking by the roadside at least 5 km from the venue, and offered her a ride. She was grateful, apparently not relishing thought of a walk all the way home.
I made up about five minutes relative to my planned pace, and was reasonably fresh at the finish, so at least I'm not entirely dead yet. Hopefully I can pick up the pace a bit in the next few weeks!
The Good: Good marshalling and organisation. Easy parking. Pleasant surroundings. Enough drinks, including green stuff. Chatting with Louw, especially since he was prepared to slow down enough, just this once...
The Bad: The pace was relatively slow and I'm still not back to my old self.
The Ugly: Old age is not for sissies.
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This race traditionally acts as our Club 10 km championships. As if that isn't enough incentive, it is also free of traffic and on a relatively flat course, providing ample opportunity for fast times. The race takes place at historic Swartkop Air Force Base, using the relatively flat terrain around the runway to good effect. Last year, I did my first post-plastic-knee sub-50 race, and was hoping to repeat my feat this year. My long session on the previous Saturday did not bode well, requiring almost six minutes more to complete the 11 km than I had planned. The unavailability of Hillcrest swimming pool has hampered my cross-training for the past few months, and the effects were starting to show. Nevertheless, I dutifully tapered this week, with relatively easy sessions on Tuesday and Thursday.
Parking was easy, and I managed to warm up in relaxed style before lining up at the start. I was able to maintain a constant 5:00/km from the start, arriving at the halfway mark at 25:00, exactly on schedule. The race route has been re-routed since last year, meandering up and down the runway and the main taxiway. The plan was to start speeding up with about 3 km to go. Unfortunately, I had started to run out of steam even before that point, and I had a hard time even maintaining the original 5:00/km pace. In the end, I finished around 51:20, more than two minutes slower than last year. Although I'm very disappointed, I did not notice that my main age-group competitors from last year in the field. I might yet get lucky. Even if I do, though, the victory will be somewhat tempered by the fact that Erika sailed past me about 2 km before the finish, beating me comfortably and taking the club 50+ female title in the process.
The Swartkop runway is by no means flat. I have made several hundred landings in various aircraft, from ultralight Jabirus to large jets, on this runway. In other times, I spent about a year of my life in the control tower watching others do the same. I am therefore well aware that the northern end slopes up significantly. However, I was rather surprised to learn that the other end of the runway also features a significant slope. Maybe it has developed since last year...
The Good: Easy parking. Relatively flat route. No traffic. Ample green cold drinks.
The Bad: Not much.
The Ugly: Two minutes!
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15 km is a rather unusual distance. I had to look up the cutoffs for League points. My goal was 1:22:45 for five points and 1:15 for six. The latter would require sub-5:00/km, which was probably doable but would leave me in a heap of quivering jelly and remove me from my training programme for a week or two. So I elected to aim for the rather more sedate 5:30/km pace required for five points.
Parking at Pretoria Boys' High was relatively easy, and we lined up at the start around 06:50. It was icy cold. My car's thermometer showed 3,5°C when I left home, and around 8°C at the venue. I was pleasantly surprised to bump into Olga, whom I hadn't seen in several years. She'd told me that she would be coming and I agreed to run back along the route to meet her after my finish, but she'd advised me the previous day that she was unwell and would not be making the trip across the Boerewors Curtain.
The start flowed reasonably well, with a gentle uphill grade meandering through leafy Brooklyn. The route was different to my last Marcel Van't Slot, as we made our way down to the Apies River and back up to the school only once. We spent some time in eastern Sunnyside too, before returning to repeat our meander through Brooklyn and coast down to the finish.
Laurens was still suffering from a calf injury, and wanted to aim for about 1:30. I left him behind in Brooklyn. Paul came into view around the 4 km mark, always in view but just out of reach. Around the halfway mark, at the lowest point on the banks of the Apies River, I finally caught and passed him. It was just temporary, though, as he maintained his run on the uphill back to the school while I intermittently walked. Around the 10 km mark, he passed me again. Around 12 km, he disappeared from view. I tried my best to catch up, but could not do so without inflicting grievious harm on myself. I finished in about 1:20, and Paul was in the pen about ten runners ahead of me.
After receiving my medal and a welcome drink, I made my way back along the route to find Olga. On the way, I passed Erna coming the other way, looking relaxed. I found Olga around the 12 km mark, indicating that she was going faster than she had anticipated. I joined her and her running mate Helen for a while, but started cramping and had to walk back to the finish via a short cut. Olga finished almost ten minutes faster than planned. We spent a few minutes catching up on old times before she tackled the return journey to the City of Gold.
I spent a few minutes at my club tent before sailing across to the CSIR tent to wait for the last finishers. Laurens and Alet both finished according to plan. We ambled back to the cars before setting sail for home. I was pretty happy, surviving fairly comfortably and within my target time. Despite not having followed a rigorous training programme for the past months, I'm hoping that I'll be able to equal last year's run at the Spirit of Flight. We'll see. Those cramps concern me, and I haven't stumbled across a solution yet!
The Good: Easy parking. Nice leafy suburban route. Green cold drinks.
The Bad: Not much, really. Some claimed that the route was about 200 m short.
The Ugly: Those cramps are becoming a recurring theme in my life.
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I had to get to Brits airport as soon as possible after 09:00. With almost an hour needed to get there and get cleaned up, it was going to be a tall order. Nevertheless, I figured that if I was able to finish well under two hours, I could still arrive at a respectable time. I arrived early to try and peddle a spare entry that I had bought. I found parking relatively close to the finish line (or so I thought), and found a buyer for my spare entry almost immediately. He was as grateful to avoid the queues as I was to recover my money. I made my way to the club tent and spent a few minute chatting with my clubmates.
Although the Wierie race is a regular fixture on the race calendar, it was the first time to my knowledge that it was actually being run from the Wierdapark Laerskool. This year is their fortieth anniversary. I felt really old, as I can distinctly remember when Wierda Park was being laid out, with the first starter homes appearing in the open fields.
I found Laurens at the start, and we set off together. The start was busy, but flowed well almost immediately. The first 2 km or so consisted of a gradual downhill grade; it didn't bode well for the remainder of the race. I chatted with Laurens, Iain, Ken H and a few others that I recognised, maintaining what I thought was a comfortable pace. Unfortunately, the distance markers I was relying on were nowhere to be seen, so I had no idea of how I was actually doing. I also had a slight niggle in my right Achilles tendon, an after-effect of my injury from a few weeks ago. Around 30 minutes into the race, an estimated 6 km from the start, I decided that trying to run the half marathon with no pacing information was too risky. I decided instead to run hard and bail out at the 10 km mark. I sped up considerably, hoping for a finish well under an hour. I passed several clubmates, including Ken N and Lammie, plus Melanie and Ally towards the end. I could have felt almost like a real athlete, had it not been for the fact that I knew that most of them would continue with the second lap. I arrived at the finish line relatively fresh in about 53:30. I collected the goodie bag and some green drinks before finding my way back to the car, well under an hour after the start. I even made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare!
The Good: Easy parking. Reasonably level terrain. Green cold drinks (albeit of the unbranded variety).
The Bad: No distance markers! And the resulting shorter distance. I heard later that some runners noticed some distance markers spray-painted on the road surface, but I noticed none of them, despite looking intently throughout the route.
The Ugly: The fact that school kids and staffers called some of the runners "Sir". But not me.
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You may wonder about the modest target. You clearly haven't seen the terrain, then.
From the start at Castle Walk, there is a climb of about 50 m in the first km or so, then a drop of about 140 m to the half-way mark. In the next 3 km or so, there is another climb of about 130 m. The next 1,5 km or so offers a respite with a drop of about 70 m, with a gentle 30 m climb in the last km or so.
Very little else needs to be said. Parking was easy, entries were easy (although a misguided official pointed me to the wrong table), and the start was not awfully congested. Even better, last year's crazy entry fee has been reduced to a more palatable level. On a personal note, I've been nursing a bruised Achilles tendon for a week, so I had to be a little careful not to overdo things.
I started about a quarter down the bunch, and was immediately able to run as fast I wanted to. Which wasn't all that fast, given the topography. I saw Wallie and Wanja ahead of me, and took more than 1 km to catch up with them. Conversation became a little easier when the first downhill started. The distance markers were not all that great, which I figured out from the fact that it took less than four minutes to cover the third km. I also met Paul, Iain and James on the way down, the latter speeding past like a steam train.
I hit the half-way mark near Garsfontein Road around 29 minutes. With almost 100 m to climb in the second half, breaking an hour was going to be hard work. The odd concrete section didn't help. I am clearly allergic to concrete—whenever I'm on a concrete road, I find myself unable to run. Although I managed to maintain a respectable pace, I was never certain that I would be able to make my target, with the 6 km marker missing and with only about 300 m between the 8 and 9 km marks.
We soon encountered the 5 km walkers, and the road became quite crowded. I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived at the line with more than a minute to spare.
We all received goodie bags at the finish line, and they offered complementary aQuelle bottled water and cold sports drinks at the finish. I bumped into Wallie and Wanja, who finished just behind me. Wallie had taken a tumble on some uneven terrain and drawn some blood. I also chatted to Danie and Melanie afterwards. They seemed none the worse for wear, as always. After Alet arrived, we drove out in dense traffic. We managed to avoid the worst jam near the Castle Walk centre, and soon found ourselves on the way home. All things considered, the race proved a very pleasant outing.
The Good: Easy parking and entries. A more reasonable entry fee than last year. Leafy surroundings.
The Bad: Erratic distance markers. No cold drinks on the route for anyone but Coke addicts.
The Ugly: Pretoria is a hilly place, man.
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Last week's 10 km race hasn't entirely left my legs, despite a relaxed training week. I had some trepidation about trying a relatively fast half marathon. Nevertheless, if I am ever to resume serious training, I'll have to do it some time. My task for the day was to maintain a 5:29/km average pace—not a pushover, but not out of reach either.
I collected Alet at 06:00 and Laurens shortly after. We hit the first traffic a few hundred metres from the gate, and crawled in first gear for about 15 minutes before finding parking. The temperature was hovering around 3,5°C, cold but a lot more comfortable than last year's sub-zero temperatures! Alet had to buy a temporary licence, so by the time we made it to the start bunch, it was time for the gun to go. Go it did, before we were quite ready, so we started at the back of the bunch. Laurens and I gradually made our way through the bunch, arriving at the 1 km mark in over eight minutes. Not a great start, but not a train smash either. We gradually made up time, and the 10 km mark passed in about 58 minutes. I was going to have to turn up the speed a bit, but I was feeling good, so there was hope.
The route has changed since last year. Instead of completing a second lap of the same route, we branched off towards Sunderland Ridge for the remainder of the route. After a long gradual climb, we turned east into Raslouw. Like last week, we entered an out-and-back loop of more than 3 km. It was fun to see the oncoming traffic. I didn't see the leaders, but I did see a fair assortment of the more serious athletes ahead and the less serious ones behind. Laurens was a few minutes behind me, looking grim. I gradually managed to wind up the speed, and by the time I passed the 18 km mark, I thought that I would actually get close to my target. My finish time was just under 1:57, not exactly what I was hoping for, but close enough given the slow start.
We waited at the Club tent until Laurens finished, then made our way back to the car. Laurens had suffered somewhat. It seems like his stellar effort between Durban and Pietermaritzburg of eight weeks ago is still asserting itself! We queued for perhaps a quarter of an hour to make it out of the premises and the neighbourhood.
The Good: Pretty good marshalling. Green cold drinks at every water point. New route with less interference between runners.
The Bad: Heavy traffic, in and out.
The Ugly: Why can't runners keep right in an out-and-back loop? Outbound and returning traffic crossed several times in the loop, and the vehicles didn't know where to go.
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Ideally, I would have liked to have done the half marathon, but I had a meeting scheduled for 08:00, not far from the start at Eco Boulevard. During the week, I asked my boss for some flexibility to be a few minutes late, and decided to try and do the 10 km instead. If I was quick, I might be able to get away from the race before 08:00, get cleaned up and arrive only a few minutes late for the meeting.
Traffic was not too bad, and I found parking not far from the start venue. Entries were another matter entirely. There was a single group of tables, with no notices except on the tables, hidden by the dense crowd. Several runners braved the crowd for a long time, only to arrive at the table and be told that they had to queue somewhere else. This club seems to have a lack of common sense at so many levels. One wonders why they get given so many races on the annual calendar.
In my men's age group, I could earn five points by beating 56:00 or six by beating 50:15. The former was a pushover. The latter would take significant determination, especially with last week's Vasbyt still lingering in my legs. Nevertheless, it was worth a try.
The start was on time. As I was planning to run fast this time (at least by my standards), I warmed up beforehand and started near the front. The start was uneventful, and I was running freely from the first moment. Debbie sailed past in the first km, as did Josias and Kevin a few minutes later. De Wet joined me, and we chatted for a while, partly about my un-earned 1:47 at a recent race. He was planning to do 50 minutes, so I expected that I would see a lot of him. And so it was. At the 2 km marker, we were about 15 s ahead of pace. We were about to hit the first uphills, so I was happy. I walked perhaps a dozen times, as I certainly could not sustain the pace without some respite. De Wet was able to sustain a constant pace, and we kept passing one another for most of the route. Just before the 5 km mark, we entered an out-and-back loop in a single road, so I could watch the entire field from the lead car to well behind me over the next 2,5 km or so. It was fun to see where everyone was in the field—Sonet shot past, then Kevin and Josias, and behind me I noticed Melanie and several others. The far end of the loop was also the highest point on the route, so the remaining 4 km would mostly be slightly downhill. At this point, I was almost a minute behind the pace, so I would have to make good use of the downhill to gain some speed. Fortunately, with a few interruptions, I was able to do so. De Wet was perhaps 100 m ahead of me for most of the last push. I finished just inside 50 minutes, and jogged back to my car. I was well on my way to the meeting by 08:00, and managed to sneak in a few minutes late.
I'm pretty happy. Mission accomplished, with my first six-pointer in the bag! Given that I still had some slight niggles in my left knee from last week and did not rest as I would have for a maximum-effort race, coming in under 50 minutes is not too shabby. Despite the general malaise my training has suffered from since Comrades, it seems like the last three years of training has actually achieved something!
The Good: Light traffic and easy parking. Green cold drinks at every water point. Not too many hitches with the traffic (although I would imagine it would have been worse had I stayed a bit later).
The Bad: The new route is a bit drab, winding through an industrial area and then out-and-back in brown grasslands. Some km markers were facing the wrong way, where runners could not see them.
The Ugly: The chaotic entries. This club doesn't seem to learn anything from its mistakes.
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I entered for this race on a casual basis, buying numbers for Laurens and myself when I happened to be near the sports shop. "Vasbyt" means something like "hang in there", so there was obviously some element of challenge. But seeing that I can run 21 km comfortably, even on hilly terrain, how hard can 25 km possibly be?
The trouble started during the week, when my colleague Erna told me how she had been advised by her club to stay away. Tales of single-file tracks with no opportunity to pass slower runners abounded. Seeing that passing people is not a big thing in my life, I wasn't deterred by that part of the story, but the tales of horrible slopes and loose stones sounded a little disconcerting.
Laurens didn't help. He told me that he'd done the race several times, each time vowing never to do it again. He mentioned something about a sting in the tail. I checked past results on the Web, and it wasn't a pretty picture. My peers were all at least 20 minutes slower than I would expect, indicating that the race was not going to be fast and flat. But I knew that part already—there is no flat terrain near the venue, at the Voortrekker Monument.
The start was at a civilised time, so I collected Laurens around 06:55. We easily found parking and walked across the hill to the club tents. Just this trip involved a serious descent and a serious climb back to the start. The start bunch was relatively big, and a sense of anticipation reigned as we waited for the flypast. Sure enough, a few minutes before the scheduled start, three Harvards appeared from the south for a low formation flyby. The three planes were all painted in different liveries: One with the original SAAF springbok roundels, one with the SAAF castles and one in the characteristic chevrons of a drone tug. The sound of the two flybys reminded me strongly of flying a Goose in Alaska two years ago—a fond memory indeed. An artillery gun was fired, causing half the crowd to jump. Shell shock?
The start was very slow. We started halfway down the bunch, and had to contend with a lot of slow starters, narrow roads and bad surfaces. The first distance marker showed "24". Aha, a countdown, a la Comrades. Given the traditional slow times, Laurens had set his fancy pacer to 7:00/km. I was hoping to do better, but not by much. With 23 km to go, the average pace was closer to 7:30/km. We started with a steep descent on rough roads into the valley north of the Monument. We then hit an uphill on the main road (R101) up to the Exxaro headquarters, turning right across the bridge to traverse the Weskoppies before returning to the Monument grounds.
Just before re-entering the Monument grounds from the north, I passed Frances and Iain. At least starting in the middle of the bunch had one advantage—I was constantly passing people. And I suppose passing a former Comrades winner must count for something.
The average pace had by this time increased to about 6:30/km. It looked like a finish time of 2:40 might be realistic. However, I was a little concerned as we descended all the way down into the Fountains valley, before tackling the hill back to the Monument. I remember this particular hill from my cycling days. It was the steepest hill in Pretoria, and we often used it to train for mountain climbs like the Long Tom Pass. In the Vasbyt, it was just a respite, as many of the off-road climbs were steeper than any road would ever be allowed to get. Add some loose pebbles and the odd thorn branch at eye level, and you have a lethal combination of physical and mental strain.
On the final climb up Schanskop hill, with about 10 km to go, I noticed a fragile-looking ginger blonde in front of me. I quickly figured that someone so fragile, with such gossamer limbs, could not possibly do something that I couldn't do. I resolved to use her as a pace marker. It worked for a while. Just before we crested the hill, she disappeared from sight, never to be seen again. Sigh...
On the hilltop is Fort Schanskop, a relic of the late nineteenth century South African Republic. We actually ran right through it. A blast from the past! As we left the Fort, we hit the 5 km mark. We were well above the finish line, so the remaining part of the route was a pushover. With 4 km to go, I could see the finish line, well below us. Home and dry! There was a repeated announcement of "10, 21 right" as we approached an intersection. I was amused to notice that it was an MP3 player. What a great solution! MP3 players don't get tired like marshals do.
The finish wasn't quite as easy as I'd grown to expect. We dropped well below the finish line, all the way to the R101 on the north side. We then clambered up the hill towards the Monument. With about 2 km to go, I was negotiating a steep climb on loose pebbles, involving occasional use of all fours and with not a single runner actually running, when I was tripped up by a young woman running on my heels. I managed to avoid actually crashing to the ground, but it would be nice if she could learn to be a bit more considerate one day. The steepness of the terrain reminded me of climbing stairs, much more than road running. With about 1 km to go, we got to the stairs of the Monument. Believe it or not, the marshal waved us up the stairs. We climbed all the way to the top, ran around the Monument and descened down the same steps again. With just a few hundred metres to go, we entered the Amphitheatre, descending rather precariously down the steep slope before finishing on the stage. I had a strong sense of deja vu; this was the exact same spot where I finished my most illustrious sporting victory ever; an open cycle race of something like 40 km around 1980, aged 15. Hopefully, at 2:48 or so, I'll make it into the top 1000 this time...
Now that I know the full details of this race, I have no idea how it ended up on the road racing calendar. I would estimate that less than a quarter of its distance was on roads. The rest was on footpaths with uncertain footing and extreme slopes, with dust covering everything. One fascinating aspect of the race was the distinction between different sections. There were obviously different route captains handling different sections of the route, with some being rather rough and others being very pleasant indeed. My favourite section was on the south side, from perhaps halfway up to about 7 km before the end. In this section, marshalling was superb, all nasty thorn bushes on the route were marked with warning flags, there was a stencilled springbok on a flat stone every few metres and there were regular notices enjoining runners not to litter. It actually worked; I saw almost no water sachets lying around in this section. The few that I did see, were neatly stacked in a pile next to one of the notices! It's encouraging to see that people actually have the ability to behave if they're just reminded.
There was another interesting aspect to this race. Much was made of the remembrance of fallen soldiers in years past. Along the route were perhaps a dozen boards with the names of major battles, including Delville Wood and El Alamein. Although most of these battles were in the world wars, there were several battles in the Angolan war, in which the SADF got entangled. Seeing that both sides in those battles had South African involvement, I wasn't sure that these references would be universally appreciated...
I've been meaning to try a trail run for some time now. I was thinking about doing a shortish one just to see if my legs were up to the task, but being tossed into this trail run unexpectedly allowed me to do my experiment rather sooner and rather more intensely than I was planning. And I guess the experiment was a success, although my left knee is more painful than it has been in many moons. I'm hopeful that I actually got away with it! Laurens was slightly less lucky. On the same stretch close to the finish where I was tripped up, Laurens crashed to the ground. Fortunately, he picked a good spot and has only a minor abrasion on his palm to show for it.
The Good: Light traffic and easy parking.
The Bad: No green cooldrinks.
The Ugly: Duh.
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This year, the Ice Breaker wasn't icy. With temperatures hovering around 10°C, the race was positively balmy.
Alet and I arrived about 25 minutes before the start. We easily found parking a block away, enrolled with little trouble and made our way to the start. After posing for a group photo with half a dozen CSIR runners, we started on time. The start was a little slow, passing the 1 km mark in about 7:30. The undulating terrain rolled by relatively quickly. I passed Ken H and group, and asked him at what time he was planning to do his weekly acrobatic routine. He did at least pretend to be amused.
I gradually made up time, arriving at the 10 km mark in about 59:30. If I wanted to finish in under two hours, I would have to do the last 11,1 km in a similar time. I gradually incrased the pace, without too much strain. In a calibration loop around the 13 km mark, I noticed Melanie and then Mandy and Marie coming the other way. They must have been around 300 m ahead of me, giving me a good target to aim for. Around the 15 km mark, I had them in sight and continued to reel them in. They acted as great bait to keep the pace up. For the last few km, I didn't have this advantage, and just kept pushing. The last 2 km sailed by in under 10 minutes, allowing me to finish in just under two hours.
I have mixed feelings about this race. If I want to achieve my new-found goal of running a half marathon in under 1:47, I'll have to find more speed. This leisurely pace isn't going to cut it, as it's barely adequate for my prescribed training long runs. Even the tempo training sessions will be an ordeal unless I get a little faster!
The Good: Light traffic and easy parking. Good marshalling. Good refreshments, including green cooldrinks.
The Bad: A clear indication that there's a lot of hard work remaining.
The Ugly: Not much.
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Again, a start at a civilised time and no need to rise at an ungodly hour. I collected Laurens at 06:45 and we made our way to the registration and start with plenty of time to spare.
As usual in these parts, the terrain was hilly. A downhill start made for quick dispersion of the bunch. A nice surprise in the first km was Toy, whom I hadn't seen in more than three years and who was running the 10 km race. Laurens wanted to keep his heart rate down to idle, so Toy and I gradually left him behind. We caught up on the events of the last few years, until she decided to slow down around 2,5 km. I sped up slightly, but wanted to avoid overtaxing myself. Approaching the halfway mark, I was on track for a comfortable two-hour finish.
Just after the 9 km mark, two marshals were enthusiastically chanting, "Five and ten left, 21 straight!". I found myself wondering if a decent sign would not have been a lot less effort. I continued straight ahead for the second lap, while the shorter distance runners peeled off to the left. About five minutes later, I started looking for the 10 km marker. Instead, I found a 12 km marker. Strange—one marker must have been misplaced. No, the next marker showed 13, and the next 14. Around this time, a very agitated older female runner passed us from behind, asking what distance we had done. It was becoming apparent that we had missed a portion of the route. Indeed, all the remaining markers were consistent, showing the same remaining distance as the markers for the 10 km race. I had a slight niggle in my left knee and my left foot, so I decided that I would simply accept the 10% discount and let 19 km suffice. Many other runners around me were not so philosophical. Discussions ranged from outrage to crafty plans to add the extra 2 km that we had missed. I saw the two-hour bus taking an unmarked detour into the neighbourhood, presumably to make up the 21,1 km distance using GPS.
Just after the 12 km mark, I saw a runner tumbling onto the ground ahead of me. It looked like a fairly heavy fall, and I saw surrounding runners stopping to help. When I got there, I noticed that it was Ken H. He had tripped on the uneven road surface. In addition to scratches all over his shoulders and limbs, he had a deep gash on his left cheek. He was trying to stem the blood flow with one of his lily-white gloves. I gave him a description of the gash, reassuring him that it was closed and not bleeding profusely. He declined an offer of help, and we both continued on the route.
Soon afterward, I passed Alex. She seemed fairly relaxed. A stranger remarked about my "strange" style. I asked him what was strange about it. He elaborated about my unusually high cadence and the height at which my hands were being swung. Nevertheless, he opined, it seemed to work for me. Not very well, I thought, given that I was in the middle of the bunch! Nevertheless, I was gratified to hear his comments—both of his comments related to things that I had actively worked on while making my comeback after having my plastic knee installed.
When I got to the 9 and 20 km markers, we turned left towards the finish. I noticed an 11 km marker on the opposite side of the road. It was now clear; we should have turned left after the first lap and completed a 2 km loop before rejoining the route at the same point. Those marshals were clearly not the sharpest pencils in the packet, causing havoc in a race that was otherwise fairly well organised.
The race ended at the traditional finish venue for the Wally Hayward race. Anyone familiar with that race in years past will remember the very steep climb to the school, before the left turn into the grounds. At least we hit that hill halfway up, so instead of having to ascend all the way from the valley, we only had half a hill to climb. Just before the top, I passed our club tent. One would hope for reassurance after having conquered this major hill. Instead, all I got from Hennie was, "It's just a hill, get over it!". Hennie has obviously only read the last half of Dale Carnegie's book.
I tried hard to get myself disqualified, but the referees were clearly not in a mood for discussion. They had their hands full with many irate runners who felt hard done by, feeling that everyone else had done a shorter distance than they had. I was the only one demanding to be disqualified because I had not done the full route. The referees were not interested in my story.
Had I done the full distance, I would have run around 1:57, a slightly sub-standard time. The official time of 1:47, though, looks like a personal record. Given my inability to get myself disqualified, there is only one way to get rid of this blemish on my record: I'll have to beat that time fair and square.
Perhaps I've now found a worth-while target for the next few months, more or less by accident...
The Good: Light traffic and easy parking.
The Bad: Limited green cooldrink.
The Ugly: The marshals at the 9 km mark.
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Had this race not had League status, I might well have stayed in bed. The combination of winter malaise, icy weather and the last vestiges of a serious cold conspired to leave me very lazy indeed. Nevertheless, I managed to take two runs this week, leaving me confident that I could survive 10 km in 56 minutes and earn some points for the club. Unlike anyone who ran Comrades seriously, I got off unscathed by missing out on the last tortuous 33 km, so I could probably have resumed training the day after Comrades. If I had wanted to.
I had some misgivings about the venue. I know the area around Glenfair very well, and think as I might, I could not imagine any route that would not involve some very nasty hills. I arrived in light traffic, easily found parking and registered at the shopping centre. Two things were different from other races. I saw at least two dozen dogs on leashes, and heard at least four dozen runners comparing notes about Comrades.
The bunch was massive, but the start was fairly quick. Within about 200 m, we routed along Lynnwood Road, leaving plenty of room for everyone to spread out. Despite the civilised start time, I had trouble reading my stopwatch at the 1 km marker, but it was well below six minutes. More or less exactly at this point, we hit the first nasty hill. The yo-yo effect continued to roughly the 8 km mark.
I could not find Laurens in the start bunch. He sailed past me early in the race, but didn't seem to notice me. I caught up with him on the first serious uphill. We chatted briefly and compared notes. We were both feeling fine, and neither had specific plans except to break 56 minutes. Our rhythms didn't coincide, so I gradually left him behind over the next few km. Thinus kept popping up in my field of view, and we briefly chatted. It turned out that he'd gone to Comrades, but only as a supporter. He was obviously in a hurry. For the next half-hour, I kept playing hare and tortoise with him. I occasionally walked on uphills. Each time, I used him as a target to regain my pace. It worked well, and it soon became evident that I could easily reach my target. I started wondering if I could aim for six points. I hadn't seriously considered this possibility beforehand, and hadn't looked up the cutoff time. I thought it might be 51:15. Around the 8 km mark, it looked like I might just be able to make it, as the route back to Glenfair was fairly flat, possibly even slightly downhill. I resolved to try. I started leaving Thinus behind, at about the same time that I discovered that he was running the half marathon, and had another lap ahead of him. In the event, I could not maintain the required pace over the last 2 km, and ended up finishing in just over 52 minutes.
It turns out that I was overly optimistic anyway. Consulting the lookup tables afterwards, I would have needed to break 50:15 for a six-pointer. It just wasn't within my reach this time. I didn't see Laurens at the finish, but he apparently finished about a minute behind me. Not bad for a guy who actually completed Comrades three weeks ago (although some might question the wisdom of this intense effort so soon...).
I still haven't decided what to do over the next few months. I certainly do not want to tackle another life-consuming project like the past few months, but I do need to figure out something that I can use as motivation to drag my lazy ass onto the streets occasionally. At least this race was a start.
The Good: Light traffic and easy parking arrangements. Good marshalling. Oh no, not another "challenging hilly route"...
The Bad: No green cooldrink, or anything but water to drink if you don't want a caffeine fix.
The Ugly: The li'l old lady who knocked down a runner just before the finish, apparently completely severing his foot.
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I quoted the Flying Dutchman when writing about the Vaal Marathon, so Iíll have to come up with a different clichť this time. Nevertheless, the moment of truth has really arrived.
The week before Comrades was not ideal. I had business commitments outside the country, and arrived back in South Africa on Friday night. The schedule necessitated a rather cramped departure, only arriving in Durban on Saturday afternoon. I managed to get enough rest in the preceding week, completing my last training run on Thursday morning in rather relaxed fashion. The carbo-loading regime afterwards made me feel a little sluggish, but after four weeks of tapering, the chronic stiffness and fatigue had disappeared from my legs. The only abnormality was the customary slight pain in my left leg and a blister under my left big toe. My hotel was about 2 km from the conference venue, and the daily walk each way must have done me in. On Friday night, I set about working on the blister with a syringe and some fiery liquid. After draining the blister, I squirted the liquid in there and stared straight ahead for several minutes until the pain subsided.
My training run terminated with 1003 km in the logbook. The exact distance was a homage to Mozartís Don Giovanni. Louwís model predicted that I should be able to complete the race in somewhere under 11 hours. The exact number was open to some conjecture, as I didnít have a flat-out marathon time to play with, but based on my 10 and 21 km times and my effortless finish in the Wally Hayward, I was confident that a bronze medal was within reach. Laurens was in the same boat, having a faster qualifying marathon but less training distance. Accordingly, we planned for a 10:50 finish. We were hopeful that we might be able to push a little harder in the last stretch.
On Saturday morning, I visited my physio Hanri to be strapped up. Although I hadnít had trouble with the ITB niggles in a while, I wasnít going to take any chances. She also strapped up my left kneecap to reduce the chances of trouble. The last hour before departure was spent printing and laminating the profiles and pace tables. My sister Yolande dropped us off at Lanseria airport, and we had a plate of potato chips while waiting for check-in.
Laurens whisked us from King Shaka airport to the guest house in Durban North. After a hearty late lunch, we spent the early evening getting our logistics ready before slipping into bed way too early for comfort. I had a continuous stream of text messages and phone calls from well-wishers. With a fancy app available for download from the Comrades Web site, it was clear that Comrades is becoming a very visible pastime. The glory—or, indeed, the humiliation—was going to be very public.
We were up by 04:00, to have breakfast early enough to allow for digestion before the race. Eggs, bacon and yoghurt made up the breakfast, as hopefully the leg muscles were already pre-loaded to saturation with those precious carbohydrates. After a short drive, we entered our start pen at 05:08, well before the advertised cutoff. Laurens had voluntarily elected to join me in my G pen, even though he was eligible for the D bunch. In the event, it made no difference. The barriers between the pens had been removed much earlier than advertised, and runners were already pushing forward. We ended up fairly close to the back, surrounded by H runners. We had planned for a seven minute delay at the start, so it wasnít a major crisis.
The start is always very noisy. Some guy who likes the sound of his own voice pours out a continuous stream of inane comments, occasionally interrupted by another commentator whose every comment reveals his misunderstanding of the rules and the race. Fortunately, the pain of Chariots of Fire was mitigated somewhat by a timing problem, leaving too little time for them to inflict the cacophony of Vangelisís cheap synthesiser on our refined musical ears for longer than absolutely necessary. Then came the fake cockís crow, and the starting gun. We were mostly in darkness, but up ahead we could see the sky awash with a myriad paper ribbons circulating through the air in the glare of the television floodlights. The bunch didnít start moving until after more than two minutes had elapsed. At this point, we slowly started walking forward. We were near the right edge, and soon noticed that the left side was progressing better than we were. In fact, at one point we were in the very last row! We elected to sail up the left side of the bunch, and eventually crossed the start line with 08:20 showing on the stopwatch. On the right, there was still a bunch of more than 100 m behind us. Some of them would not cross the start line until more than ten minutes had elapsed. We were still moving relatively slowly, but we were not in a hurry. 87 km lay ahead, and any tendency to hurry now would cost us dearly later.
The first hour sailed by very comfortably. Laurens kept complaining of tired legs—not a good sign. The first stretch of road consists of illuminated urban streets and highway. After 06:00, the glowing dawn started showing its face. Most runners seemed completely relaxed, with only the occasional crusader sailing past in misguided haste. Several buses were seen. A female runner squatted on the embankment, obviously having consumed more liquid than she should have. Like Maslow told us, modesty takes a back seat to baser functions. After about an hour, the 11:30 bus was still ahead of us, even though we were exactly on schedule for our planned 11:00 finish. Perhaps they were being a little too boisterous?
In Comrades, unlike any other race I have run, the distance markers count down. Seeing an 86 km marker soon after the start is a little disheartening, to say the least. I have to watch the time carefully to maintain my feeding schedule, as the hours roll by unnoticed. At the top of Cowieís Hill, with the first of the Big Five named hills behind us, everything is still on schedule, and I am feeling very comfortable and relaxed. I am relieved to note that my blister is not causing undue discomfort. I feel it, but it does not noticeably hamper my progress.
Near the top of Cowie's, a runner rushes up an embankment to meet his female supporter. He meets her at speed, crashing to the ground on top of her in a tight embrace. Hundreds of runners laugh boisterously. Someone behind me cries, "Teach me, oh Master!".
We are surrounded mostly by G and H runners, with just a handful of higher seedings to be seen. In this part of the bunch, there is no shame in walking up the steep hills. It is therefore no surprise that most of us walk up Fields Hill, with only a few brave individuals running. At the top of Fields Hill, we are perhaps two minutes ahead of planning, and I still feel relatively fresh.
A cheering crowd lines the road most of the way. It takes a while to get used to all the people calling my name. After initially feeling like a celebrity, I soon realise that my race number gives my name away, and the ongoing cheers become routine.
57 km to go. At the Winston Park cutoff, my colleague Preia waits on the left, handing me something to nibble on. I almost miss her, as the cry of "Chris" doesnít really indicate a friend any more. We briefly talk about the next stop before I continue. Laurens is slightly behind me, but he is taller than most and I had briefed him carefully to look for the Gorgeous Babe on the Left, so I am hopeful that they will find one another. Preiaís dad is aiming for a similar time to us, so I am surprised to learn that he passed her over a quarter of an hour ago.
The "halfway" mark at Drummond is in fact not quite halfway yet. On the descent into Drummond, it is daunting to note that we have already covered a full marathon, with more than a full marathon to come. I notice Hennie and Marix on the right with a huge camera. My left knee is slightly sore, but probably no worse than usual. More worrying, though, is the slight hint of a cramp starting to manifest in my left calf. I take some salt and try to stretch my calf muscles on the run, with limited success. The crowd infringes on the route near the halfway mark, leaving only about a 3 m wide lane for the dense field to run in. A misguided spectator coming up this narrow lane crashes into me. Fortunately, I retain my balance and stride.
A candidate for a fourth green number and his entourage run with me for a while. The young girls in the group seem to be part-time minibus drivers, weaving to and fro in a reckless manner and making it very difficult to run behind them. They keep warning runners behind them about the cat-eyes. I keep warning runners behind me about them.
As we tackle Inchanga, and the real halfway mark comes up, conversation has dried up completely. An American asks about the name of the hill weíre on. I tell him that itís just another random unnamed hill, and that we would soon hit Inchanga. I can see that heís impressed. When I tell him a few minutes later that he is almost at the top of Inchanga, he is jubilant. I think I made his day.
Preia was going to meet me somewhere around Inchanga. She is nowhere to be seen. I canít find my Rehydrat in my clothing, and take more salt from a bystander. The raw salt without water is not exactly pleasant.
36 km to go. With less than half the distance and less than a marathon ahead, we have already climbed over 750 m from sea level and conquered four of the five major hills. The remainder of the route is undulating, with the highest point no more than 70 m higher than were we are now. It looks like this year is going to be my year. I can almost smell that elusive medal now. Laurens tells me that TA and Alet are waiting after Cato Ridge, just after a yellow truck. After giving up hope, I see Preia and her mom on the left. Laurens is just ahead, and again didnít make contact. She hands me my sports drink and some electrolyte. I report the bad cramping. I canít respond sensibly to her question about what I would like at the next meeting, somewhere around Camperdown. I guess a respirator and a bed wouldn't count as valid answers.
35 km to go. The cramping has now spread into my hamstrings. I stop at a physio station. A young physiotherapist instructs me to stretch while softly massaging my calves. I ask her to treat it a little more vigorously. She seems very young and very tentative, so eventually I proceed on my way with very little relief, frustrated.
34 km to go. I see a Hillcrest Villagers tent with some chairs. I ask them if I can sit down. I sit for about eight minutes, stretching my calves as much as possible. I eventually take to the road again, managing a respectable jog for some distance. Hope flares up. With about five hours left to the finish, I can do this. Under normal circumstances, 34 km would take about three hours. All hope for a bronze medal is gone, but with a combination of walking and jogging, and enough grit, I should be able to do it relatively easily. I watch the passing rescue buses with mixed feelings.
33 km to go. After a walk break, I start running gently again. Suddenly, my left calf contracts in a violent cramp. It feels like a cannon shot. The intensity and the suddenness both catch me by surprise, and I tumble headlong onto the tarmac. Two runners stop to help. I try to get them to flex my foot and stretch my calf muscle, but they seem to do exactly the opposite. The resulting pain is quite debilitating. Eventually, they do the right thing, and they continue on their way. I get up gingerly, but it is clear that there will be no further running today. I see Raynold ambling by, near one of the twelve-hour buses. I guess a passing twelve-hour bus is a bad sign, this late in the race.
The first five Buses of Shame are full. They all shout that there is another one just behind them. There isnít. Eventually, an unmarked minibus offers me a ride. It is a staff bus of sorts, but they have about five broken athletes on board. At least the mood isnít as sombre as it is in an official Bus of Shame. I phone Alet and TA. They are still waiting at Camperdown. They havenít seen Laurens. I tell them that he would be past them by now, but that I would try to join them where they are. Eventually, my bus passes the point where I think they are. Another runner is using my phone to phone his wife, and I eventually get off the bus without knowing exactly where. Perhaps my mental acuity isnít all I thought it is, as I find myself searching for Aletís green boutique truck rather than Laurensís limo. It turns out my guess wasnít all that far off, and I find Laurensís car in the parking lot.
We start making our way to the finish. The traffic on the N3 crawls in first gear. The first 6 km stretch takes more than 45 minutes, at just about exactly the same pace as the runners by the roadside! We continue to see runners off in the distance, as the two routes cross several times. We eventually make it into Pietermaritzburg. Traffic is fierce, and the road we were aiming for is closed. A traffic cop tells us to turn right at the Shell garage to get to the finish. There is no right turn at the Shell garage. We explore several options. Eventually, we find another Shell garage, with a real right turn. We join a queue of vehicles heading in the right general direction. Several times, bogus carpark attendants try to sell us parking at exorbitant rates. We eventually find free parking by the roadside, and start the walk up to the finish venue. We find the CSIR tent relatively easily. Tebogo and her team welcome us very warmly, with food and drinks. I find the Agape tent with a bit more effort. Only Sonet is there. The hospitality trailer is nowhere to be seen.
I try to find the Mat of Shame, where I have to register my withdrawal. The Mat is very closely guarded. It is much easier to sneak into the finisherís lane and to register a finish than to register a withdrawal. I can easily understand why some runners miss the last two cutoffs and still officially finish... Eventually, I manage to register my withdrawal and go to the finish to watch the 11:00 cutoff. There is a certain amount of irony watching the runners finish exactly when I was hoping to be there myself. There is the usual drama as runners sprint for the line. Some make it. Some donít. A few collapse onto the grass near the finish, having exhausted themselves in a final desperate vain attempt to get the bronze medal.
The App shows Laurens as still on his way, hoping to finish in the last ten minutes. Alet, TA and I make our way to the finish a few minutes before the scheduled arrival. On the way, I bump into Juline, sporting a medal around her neck. I congratulate her. She is inconsolable. She hasnít been able to find the club tent. I lead her there. As there isnít much going on, I help her to locate another club tent, where she can get her clothes and telephone. I hurry to the finish, just too late to see Laurens and a small group of our colleagues finish in about 11:51. We wait for them at the exit. Eventually, Laurens appears. It is completely dark by now. We lead him to the CSIR tent, where he lies down with a blissful expression on his face. I find a dozen missed calls on my phone and start notifying all the onlookers about my disaster. Half console me, and the other half tell me what a great achievement it was. At least now I know which of my friends can be trusted.
We eventually amble back to the car and make our way to Laurensís parents. Laurens soaks his legs in the icy swimming pool. We sit down to a sumptuous dinner, before taking turns to soak in the bath and slip into bed. Apart from one midnight interruption, I sleep the sleep of the dead until the sun awakes me for breakfast. We head off soon after. At the two stops along the way, we see dozens of people waddling rather awkwardly. Most of them are wearing bright-orange Comrades shirts or the little white and red caps. I tease them about their walking style, suggesting that they shouldnít be struggling to walk at their age. Perhaps they need a little more exercise?
Iím obviously profoundly disappointed. I was better prepared than ever before, and was not expecting to have to ride the Bus of Shame again. On the one hand, it feels like many months of wasted effort. My life has been put on hold in most respects while training for this race, and I have nothing to show for it. On the other hand, I think back about three years, and I remember being unable to walk without crutches while trying to regain the use of my leg after my knee was sewed back together. At the time, there was no certainty that I would ever be able to run again.
I was so hoping to quote Lin Yu Tang about the medal being so much more meaningful in the light of two previous failures. Instead, now Iíd have to consult some quote repository to find something suitably profound to say. Let me resist the temptation, and just say that Iím profoundly grateful. I actually survived 54 km of the race, including the 750 m climb from sea level and four of the five famous Comrades hills. Itís a far cry from the prospect of being a semi-mobile invalid for my remaining years. So in a sense I have achieved my prime objective, even if the medal still eludes me.
Will I try again? I doubt it. Three unsuccessful attempts and the creeping onset of old age make success less and less likely as time passes. It is a very time-consuming project, and there are a few other projects that demand attention. But stranger things have happened.
The Good: The world's greatest ultramarathon, with superlatives to match in all departments. Great personal support by Alet, TA and Preia. And I guess I could call it a "challenging hilly route" if I wanted to be generous...
The Bad: Cramps. And more cramps.
The Ugly: Investing an inordinate amount of time and effort, and going home empty-handed yet again.
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My departure to Dubai was delayed by a day, so I had the chance to do another race before departure.
The three races on offer are imaginatively entitled First Love, True Love and Tough Love, respectively. They take place at the premises of Hatfield church, which is nowhere near its original neighbourhood of Hatfield. It now nestles cosily on the northern slope of one of the nastiest hills in Pretoria. And as I've mentioned before, Pretoria is a hilly town.
This year, the race was being run in the opposite direction to previous years. To me, it made no difference as I have not run the race for many years. We had perfect running weather, which is a way of saying it was very cold and dripping with rain at times. I decided to leave my jacket at the club trailer, arriving at the start line in my running vest and feeling decidedly chilly. Once there, I wondered whether I had not made a mistake, as only a handful of the runners were similarly clad. Most wore jackets or raincoats or at least a T-shirt in addition to the normal vest.
The start was not too congested, with about a minute being lost in the first km. Around that point, we turned left towards the south and the high terrain. A relentless climb ensued up to the 7 km mark. I noticed yet again that I am allergic to concrete. In places, the road surface was concrete rather than tarmac, and I found myself unable to run wherever we found ourselves on that concrete.
I was soon comfortable. The gamble to leave my jacket at the tent had paid off, although many runners around me were still clad like Eskimos. Around the 7 km mark, I lost Laurens. We soon started sailing downhill towards the start, and I assumed Laurens would catch up. I latched onto a runner in black who passed me like the wind, and tried to maintain his pace all the way down. We managed to pass dozens of runners on the way. Even though I needed my full concentration to keep up the pace, it seems that I've finally figured out how to run downhill.
Just before 9 km, we peeled off to the right to cross January Masilela Street into Constantia Park. The terrain there is a little more level—but only a little. For the next hour, we continued to engage a series of hills. I latched onto the downhill racer, as I was a little stronger than he was on the uphills. We jockeyed for position right up to the end. Like the last few weeks, I was feeling comfortable with only the usual pain in my left knee to remind me of times past. We were also surrounded by strong runners going at leisurely pace, winding down to Comrades which is now only three weeks away.
I had lost several minutes to my planned pace in the first 7 km. By about 15 km, I was back on pace, and decided to start cranking it up. Around 18 km, I started thinking that I could perhaps break two hours. I kept up the pressure and started sailing through the bunch. The last 2 km or so is somewhat downhill, and I managed to cruise home at faster than 5:00/km in complete comfort, finishing about half a minute inside the two-hour mark.
Once I had stopped, my jacket was very necessary and very welcome. I enjoyed a cold drink at the club tent before heading back to the car. I briefly toyed with the idea of running home to fill up my quota for the week, but decided to take the easy option and do a short run in Dubai the next day instead. I was pleased. The race was challenging, yet I was able to cruise through it with relatively little damage at a respectable pace. There may actually be something to this training thing...
The Good: Good marshalling. Challenging hilly route.
The Bad: Biting cold and a bit of rain.
The Ugly: Challenging hilly route...
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Today concludes the toughest two-week period in my training schedule, with 30, 42 and 25 km runs within a ten-day period. On paper, it looked very daunting. This morning, it finally felt fairly certain that I was going to survive. I did not have strong pace expectations, as I was more interested in survival, but Laurens and I agreed that 6:00/km would be about right. We were looking for a good workout without injury risk. My sniffles from the previous week had subsided, and seemed to be reasonably under control.
This race was virtually a repetition of the 2015 race, although I ran the 25 km race rather than the 10 km version this time. The military precision did not disappoint. Again, there was a major military airshow at nearby Swartkop Air Force Base, leading to serious traffic jams before and after the event.
Laurens and I arrived about 20 minutes before the start, and had to park over 1 km away. We dumped our jackets at the CSIR club tent and made our way to the start, arriving just in time. The start was reasonably smooth, although the large field due to the race's League status did take its toll. I passed the start line after just more than one minute, and had lost two minutes to our planned pace by the time the 1 km marker rolled around. From this point, the race was mostly downhill for the next 5 km or so. We took it very easy, exchanging notes about various topics. Laurens told me about Nike's attempt to break the two-hour barrier in the Marathon, happening simultaneously at Monza in Italy. Doing so is a tall order, as the existing world record is almost three minutes over the two-hour mark. It was scary to think that the marathon runners would have to run more than twice as fast as we were going today! I passed Hennie and Marix again in the first few km, but I didn't dare coax them into a faster pace, given what had happened last time...
Around the 10 km mark, I lost Laurens at a water point. I assumed that he would catch up on the next downhill. On the second lap, after the 10 km runners had peeled off to the finish, the atmosphere was very relaxed, with a lot of Comrades contenders completing one of their last longish runs. Surrounded by experienced runners running at a comfortable pace, I even had capacity to field an interrogation from a budding young pilot about my flying career! At the end of a long downhill run, I could not see Laurens when looking back through the field. I decided to stick with clubmates Wallie, Harry and Mandy, who were doing a similar pace to mine. I needed some restraint to avoid speeding up, and the company was welcome. Soon afterwards, Marius joined us from behind. He was chomping at the bit to run a little faster, and I fell for it. We overtook the 2:30 bus on an uphill grade with contemptuous ease, and found ourselves ahead of the bus without our clubmates. I soon realised that we were going much faster than I had been planning, but decided to stick it out. Despite my misgivings about the effects of the previous ten days, I was feeling reasonably strong. Marius and I exchanged tales about the aeroplanes flying overhead—he had also spent time in the Air Force once upon a time. He also told me how a large contingent from his family was joining his brother in his fortieth consecutive Comrades attempt. Fortunately, he mentioned that he was a proponent of walking on uphills, and I seized the opportunity. For the last 10 km or so, I took a few walk breaks while maintaining an average pace of better than 5:30/km, even on uphills. I was definitely not sticking to the plan, but I felt strong and it was clear that we would get away with it.
We completed the last 3 km in about 15:30 and had very little in the way of after-effects. I was very pleased. I had reached the end of the hardest two weeks in my training relatively unscathed, with only the usual medial knee pain and a very slight remnant of the previous week's lateral ITB problem. Hanri's strapping and exercises had apparently had the desired effect.
A breakfast sample from a marketer and a cold drink at my Club tent went down well. Most of my peers, including Laurens, arrived within a few minutes after me. We trundled back to the car, getting a welcome lift from Izak along the way. This time we avoided the airshow traffic with a slight detour, and found our way home with relatively little trouble.
The coming week is the first week of winding down, with only 45 km on the programme. The following weeks will be even less demanding, with only 35, 25 and 10 km planned. It actually looks like I'm going to make it!
I expect to travel overseas during the next week or two, so there may not be race reports for a while. If I do manage to work in a race in another country, I'll be sure to record it here for posterity.
The Good: Good marshalling. Challenging undulating route.
The Bad: Traffic at the venue.
The Ugly: No green cold drinks at all.
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The Moment of Truth has arrived. Today I'll see if I can survive a marathon properly, after apparently finding some solutions to the nutrition problems that I had in the Vaal Marathon.
The night was difficult, as a head cold started rearing its ugly head the day before. I woke up several times. Around 04:00, both nostrils were completely blocked, and I spent a few minutes rinsing my nasal passages with salt water. Fortunately, when my alarm clock went at 05:00, I was reasonably clear.
I ran the checklist that I had compiled during the previous week. It seemed to work well—I arrived with everything I needed, including sunscreen, a hat and all the food that I had to carry. I consumed a bit more time that usual, though, and ended up running about 10 minutes late. We found parking just over 1 km from the finish, with less than 10 minutes before the start.
The field was the biggest in recent memory. It took up the entire width of a suburban street to a depth of at least 250 m. I was about two-thirds down the bunch. Laurens, who had travelled separately, was nowhere to be seen. The gun went about five minutes late. It took about three minutes before I started moving at all, and about five minutes before I crossed the start line. From this point, the bunch flowed reasonably well, and I had lost only about 5:30 at the 1 km marker. The weather was great, with temperatures in the teens and thick cloud cover that filtered the worst sunshine. The route starts with a fairly flat section, followed by a relentless gentle climb up the M10. After a sharp descent followed by a sharp climb, we traversed the wall of Waterkloof Air Force Base before turning back towards the start venue. Another few rolling hills, and we could commence the second lap. I aimed for a pace of 6:30/km, but gradually eroded the five-minute deficit at the start. I caught Laurens around 2 km. This time, we were not too well synchronised. He came and went several times, but somehow our paces never quite coincided. I ran solo most of the time, but at the leisurely pace, I just pretended to be an impartial observer. There were lots of sights and sounds, and more than four hours to soak them up.
Some of the sights and sounds involve unusual runners. During the first lap, I passed two guys with crutches and artificial legs. Around the 33 km mark, I passed a runner who was clearly doing things differently. He apparently doesn't think that running a marathon is enough of a challenge, so he runs backwards. Given where I found him, he is clearly no slouch, even going the "wrong" way. There were also some unfortunate sounds to soak up, with AGN13601 again causing a racket that disturbed the rhythm of numerous other runners.
Water points were generally effective, with some orange slices and shortbread on offer here and there. Most water points had Cream Soda, but a few had run out by the second lap. I mostly ate the gels and some cheese that I was carrying, and never felt hungry or disorientated. Towards the end, I must admit that I would have appreciated something salty.
I've heard that a marathon starts at 30 km. Everything before that point is only a warmup. Given my history at Vaal, the theory makes sense. I was therefore gratified that my pace did not slow even as the 35 km mark slid past. I was still fairly comfortable, walking some of the steeper climbs and generally just jogging gently at about 6:00/km.
The Wally is famous for its nasty climb just before the finish. The change of venue has softened the pain somewhat. The last 150 m or so have been replaced by a flat finish, leaving only the first part of that climb intact. I was able to amble up the hill and finish strongly in 4:32 or so, making up most of the five-minute deficit from the start and feeling strong. I felt confident that I could have made the 4:20 limit for an F seeding, had I started a little earlier and been a little less cagey about preserving myself for the next week's training. All in all, I was very happy with my post-bionic best and by far the least tiring marathon I've ever run.
Buses can be found in most marathons. An experienced runner carries a flag advertising a specific time limit. In this race, the time limits were 5:00, 4:40 and 4:20. The Wally Hayward is traditionally the last Comrades qualifier, and the three times correspond to the H, G and F seedings respectively. There were two 5:00 buses. Given that I was aiming for 4:30 and maintaining a constant pace, I was expecting to end up between the 4:20 and 4:40 buses. Don't you believe it! It took several km just to pass the first 5:00 bus. I passed the second 5:00 bus around the halfway mark, with the clock at 2:15. They were going much too fast! If they were aiming for even splits, they should have hit the halfway mark around 2:30, or maybe even a little later due to the slow start. I overtook the 4:40 bus less than 4 km from the finish. Again, they were clearly going much too fast. I really have the feeling that some of these ""drivers" are doing their proteges a disservice, by starting much too fast and exhausting their charges too early in the race. The 4:40 bus did arrive just before the 4:40 cutoff, so I'm sure there must be many happy qualifiers in that bunch, but I have a feeling they could have done even better with more sensible pacing.
After making use of the hospitality of our respective club tents, Laurens and I hobbled back to Alet's car with her. She was already well rested, having done the 10 km race and spent a couple of hours with a novel while waiting for us.
My ITB from the previous two races did not flare up. In fact, with the strapping in place, I was probably a little less sore than after the previous two races. My knee is also no worse than before. On Tuesday morning, as I write this story, I woke up with a heart rate of 48 and my muscles have more or less returned to normal, with no more than slight stiffness.
After figuring out what had gone wrong at Vaal, I decided to give it one more go. Wally was going to be my final hurdle, and I would decide whether I was going to make the pilgrimage to Durban after this race. Right now, it looks good. I'll wait another day to get complete clarity on the ITB, to see whether my muscles return to normality and to see how the sniffles pan out. On Wednesday, I'll have to decide whether to start booking accommodation...
The Good: Good marshalling. Challenging route.
The Bad: Traffic at the venue! Not enough green cold drinks.
The Ugly: AGN13601 with his ghetto blaster and his obscured licence number. Clearly, rules are for other people.
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This League race came only two days after the 30 km Long Run and two days before the Wally Hayward marathon. With discretion being the better part of valour, I decided to make a tempo run of it rather than to tackle the half marathon. At normal tempo pace, I could earn five points for my club and get in a good workout, hopefully without inflicting damage that I would regret on Monday.
Despite its league-race status, parking was easy to find. We arrived just after 06:00, bought our numbers and moved towards the start. There was a decided nip in the air, producing great running conditions. Laurens went to warm up to facilitate a fast start, while I decided to start slowly and use the first few km as a warmup. I stripped off my jacket at the last possible moment.
The start was chaotic, as the bunch started moving without a shot being heard. I started my stopwatch as soon as I noticed the movement. As we passed the start line at about 0:40, two loud reports were heard. Obviously, they finally got the gun working! By this time, the leading runners were disappearing around the corner. I didn't see the 1 km marker, but reached the 2 km mark at about 12:30, about 90 s behind schedule. As I was still warming up, I was happy.
The route winds trough the neigbhourhood with many twists and turns, but very little undulation. I was running comfortably, gradually eroding the deficit. By the halfway mark, I was on schedule, and well west of the start with some height in hand. I continued to run comfortably, passing three Kens and several other club members in the process. Although I didn't have my GPS with me, the km markers seemed fairly accurate, with no wildly-unlikely splits. My breathing was relaxed and my stride comfortable.
At the finish, there was a discrepancy of about a minute between my time and the offical stopwatch. Seems like they only started their stopwatch about 20 s after gunshots! I was happy, though—any way you look at it, my time was below 54:00, comfortably below my target. I was feeling no ill after-effects, with my heart rate quickly returning to normal and no muscle soreness or stiffness. My left knee felt a little tight, but no worse than usual.
On the way home, there was some ITB soreness on the left knee, and I took the precaution of seeing Physio the Rapist later in the day. After being suitably strapped up, complete with shaved leg and some exercises, I'm hoping I'm ready for Monday. I'll find out soon enough!
The Good: Easy access. Flat route. Enough green cold drinks (although I didn't need them this time).
The Bad: Chaotic start.
The Ugly: That slight niggle in the left ITB...
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My running has been going reasonably well recently, with only some nagging pain in my left knee to remind me of worse days past. With some reasonably effective nutrition solutions in hand, I decided to join Laurens for a Comrades dress rehearsal. Although the Magnolia Long Run isn't strictly a race, it is an organised running event and definitely worthy of a race report.
We arrived around 05:50, easily found parking, paid our registration fee and were ready to start by 06:00. Someone with a microphone started a five-minute speech. Although runners were initially silent, the buzz soon returned and drowned out the speaker. We stood waiting until the speech ended, then started on a slight uphill. I soon realised that I'd forgotten my hat again. In the event, it wasn't a problem, as most of the streets we ran on were leafy and we started about 20 minutes before sunrise. In fact, for the first 3 km or so, I felt decidedly cold. My legs were a little tired from the preceding week's training.
Although the route was clearly marked, there were no distance markers. The pace was excruciatingly slow. We constantly had to adjust our pace, using Laurens's GPS pacer. As we knew from experience that our heart rates are very similar, we relied on my heart monitor to ensure that we weren't overdoing it. The objective was to come out of this 30 km run completely unscathed, failing which the following week could turn into a nightmare.
To maintain constant effort, our pace was not constant, as we walked on the worst uphills and jogged gently most of the time. After about an hour, we started seeing the same people over and over again. We would overtake them on the flat bits, and they would overtake us on the uphill bits. Some pointed questions revealed that most of our peers were preparing for an 11:00 finish at Comrades. It seemed that we were obviously on the right track, assuming that everyone else wasn't barking up the wrong tree too!
We finished a few minutes ahead of pace, taking around 3:43 for just over 30 km. In general, the session was a success. The nutrition strategy worked and we felt comfortable most of the way, once we had warmed up properly. With a distance of about one-third of Comrades behind us, at least there were no serious niggles. Three hours later, I was fully recovered with no undue stiffness and with a heart rate back below 60.
The next serious hurdle is the Wally Hayward marathon on Monday, followed by the Jackie Mekler 25 km memorial race the following Saturday. If we can survive next week, I may actually be tempted to visit Durban early in June. On fresh legs, it may actually be possible to keep going three times as long.
We'll see. Next week.
The Good: Easy access. Nice scenic route. Great refreshments.
The Bad: Not much.
The Ugly: Three times this distance? You've got to be kidding!
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With the Two Oceans marathon on Saturday, there was no race in Gauteng. I ran solo from home to Midstream, a hilly course with three substantial climbs. It went more or less according to plan, but I was worried that the after-effects would hamper my efforts in this race on Easter Monday, only two days later.
I was expecting dense traffic. I was pleasantly surprised, though. I arrived less than half an hour before the start, and probably wasted less than a minute in traffic. I found parking close by and was standing at the start with a quarter of an hour to spare.
The start was crowded, but to my amazement it flowed well from the start. I passed the 1 km marker at 6:15, about halfway down the bunch. The first portion was a gentle downhill, which would have been nice if one didn't know that we would pay for it later.
Many of our club runners were only doing the 11 km route, in view of the Loskop ultramarathon next weekend. I didn't find anyone who was running at my pace, so I just settled down and did my own thing. The course is very hilly, and I walked many of the worst climbs, while remaining within a minute or so of my target pace. At the end of the first lap, I was about a minute ahead of target and feeling very comfortable. I decided to push a little harder, and gradually opened up a gap, making me think that passing the half-marathon mark at under two hours would be feasible. I did so, just barely, and cruised home in about 2:02. I was very pleased that I was able to do so, against the background of Saturday's long run.
Just in case I was tempted to start feeling like Superman, I must share the story of Paul and Ryan. This father-and-son pair ran just ahead of me for most of the first lap. Paul was pushing a pram in which his daughter was riding. Ryan looks like he's about 10 years old. I didn't enjoy the thought that li'l kids and guys pushing prams could outrun me, but what really hurt was ongoing comments from Ryan about how easy the pace was...
My sister and two of our friends had done the 6 km walk. I had told them to look for me at the finish between 2:10 and 2:15. With my early finish, we had to do a bit of scouting to get together. After a bit of banter, we all set sail for home with most of the day still ahead of us. The run was enjoyable, with quiet traffic and effective marshalling and water points. The only downsides were the non-standard distance and the lack of caffeine-free drinks. Sigh...
The Good: Easy access. Nice scenic route. Good marshalling.
The Bad: No green drinks.
The Ugly: Those hills. But I guess that's the price one has to pay for living in Pretoria!
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After the over-exuberance of the past two weeks, I did not know what to expect of this race. I decided to start gently, and then crank it up if I felt comfortable. I deliberately left my heart rate monitor at home.
Last year, this race was about 10% short, so I expected that it might happen again. Depending on my condition at the end, being short-changed might actually be welcome! Parking was a bit tight. Although we arrived earlier than necessary, we still spent a few minutes looking for parking.
The race starts at Samcor Park, then heads east into the streets of Nellmapius. The start was reasonably smooth, with little traffic on the road. Despite being in the middle of the bunch, we passed the 1 km mark at 6:20. Many bystanders were cheering us on. Around the 2 km mark, Laurens indicated that he was going to maintain a sedate pace, and I started accelerating. The route winds through Willows and Meyerspark with no more than mild undulations. All that changes suddenly around the halfway mark, with us having to cross the Murrayfield ridge twice. The result is a very hilly second half, from about 10 to 18 km. I spent most of this time chatting to Kobus about the olden days when we were colleagues in a small technology startup. He eventually got bored and sped off into the distance. Distance markers were a little variable, with deviations of up to 250 m around the 8 and 18 km marks, and the rest much closer to the truth.
With just over 3 km to go, my stopwatch said 1:45. The route to the finish was going to be mostly slightly downhill, and I was feeling strong with no sign of trouble, so I decided to try and tuck in under two hours. I managed to cover the last 3 km in just under 15 minutes, beating the two-hour mark with seconds to spare. The route was spot-on at 21,1 km, so at least the organisers seemed to have solved their problems of last year.
All in all, I am pretty pleased. With the 30 km run two weeks ago and 48 km last week, I was actually expecting to be somewhat the worse for wear. There was no sign of accumulated fatigue, so it appears that the gentle pace and good nutrition did the trick.
Laruens came in later than planned. Early in the race, his way was blocked by a line-abreast formation of runners. He ventured onto the rough sidewalk to sneak past, and felt a slight twitch in his hamstring. The pain became worse and worse, and he practically limped home about 15 minutes behind schedule, just as I started wondering whether I should go and look for him. It doesn't appear serious, but even a slight niggling injury can wreak havoc with Comrades preparations at this time of year!
The Good: Being relatively unscathed after last week's ultra-marathon. That last 3 km in under 15 minutes. Good marshalling. Good water points with enough green drinks.
The Bad: Laurens's injury.
The Ugly: The fellow runner who showed tremendous disrespect towards my shoes. So uncalled for—they are probably older than she is!
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After the disastrous experience at the Vaal Marathon, I increasingly came to the conclusion that poor nutrition during the race was at the root of my problem. I decided to use the Irene Ultra to figure out how to stay well-fed in practice.
This race was always going to be a challenge, in the light of last weekend's 30 km race in Cape Town. I recovered well during the week, but as recently as Friday there was still a hint of soreness. If a marathon on well-rested legs was a challenge, an ultra-marathon on tired legs could potentially be an adventure.
I went with Laurens and TA. We arrived in plenty of time, but got snarled up in very dense traffic. Some jokers cruised up the wrong side of the road, causing even worse congestion at the gates we all had to enter. Although we made it to the start line in time, there was not a lot of room for error. We ended up well down the bunch, with perhaps over 100 m to the start line. Unfortunately, not everyone arrived as early as we did. Well after 06:00, there was still a constant stream of traffic entering the premises on the very road that this huge bunch had to run down. It soon became clear that we would start very late. The gun went 21 minutes late, just after sunrise. We could not hear the gun, and the only stopwatch that Laurens (the tallest in our group) could see did not start running when the vehicle on which it was mounted started moving. We took about six minutes to make it to the start line. Even then, the bunch did not start moving smoothly until much later.
Although I'd remembered this time to apply sunscreen, knowing that we would spend over five hours on the road in glaring sunshine, I managed to forget my hat in my car. I only saw two other 48 km runners without hats, and both of them are genetically a lot more suited to direct sunlight than I am...
The route winds through the ARC experimental farm, then the leafy suburbs of Irene and Doringkloof, before setting off down Botha Avenue towards the Fountains. After a gradual descent of more than 5 km into the Fountains Valley, we turned around and climbed back up. Another sojourn in Doringkloof was followed by a long climb to John Vorster Drive, in which we ran all the way to South Downs and the marathon mark. Uniquely, this race provides two times that can be used for Comrades qualification—a marathon time and a 48 km time. The 48 km seeding cutoff times are more lenient, as they have been calculated for a distance of 50 km. Anyone who can keep going at a fairly constant pace after the marathon mark is likely to gain a better seeding at the finish than at the marathon mark.
This time, I would be independent of the race organisers, and carry my own five-course meal. The idea was to consume a gel sachet every hour, plus assorted bits like nougat, nuts, salt tablets, electrolyte mixture, plus whatever could be scrounged along the route. The latter consisted of a baked potato (although the baking could have been considerably more thorough!), several bananas, some vitamin C sweets and an ample supply of green cold drink.
Marshalling was good, with only one water point around the 28 km mark on the wrong side of the road. I guess my feeding strategy must have paid dividends, as I was able to continue intermittent running right up to the end.
A personal highlight was passing Caroline Wöstmann around the 15 km mark.
Before you start whispering my name along with Charne Bosman's, let me explain. Caroline cruised past me and Laurens just after the 15 km mark with contemptuous ease. Presumably, she was using the race as a training run and had started late to avoid the crowd. Soon after she had passed us, we were all stopped by a traffic official before crossing Botha Avenue. Caroline stopped directly ahead of us. I was able to sneak past her just before the traffic cop let us go. As expected, a few seconds later she cruised past with contemptuous ease yet again, but I'd had my moment. Such is the pathetic life of an also-ran.
For the first half of the route, I was trying to maintain my target heart rate of 138. It peaked around 144 a few times, but in general I wasn't too far off the mark. Laurens's pulse was very similar to mine most of the time. We were also maintaining a pace very close to the desired 6:25/km. Around the 18 km mark, as we started the descent towards the turn, Laurens left me behind. I soon noticed that I'd considerably slowed down. I eventually decided to adjust my target heart rate upwards by 10, to allow me to maintain a decent pace. I still had to walk on most climbs, so I continued to lose time. This effect didn't happen last week to anywhere near the same degree. Perhaps the 30 km race was too recent, and my body was complaining about the wanton abuse.
During the last part of the race, the sun was baking down. It was almost mid-day, and there was not a cloud in the sky. I started walking through the shadows and running in sunlight, to try to minimise the damage from the glaring sun. I finished around 5:47. The official results show about two minutes more. Still slow, but I was happy. My newly-formulated nutrition strategy seemed to work. I'd completed my first ultra-marathon with my plastic knee. The damage inflicted was fairly limited. My knee's pain level remained tolerable, and I was able to attend a music concert later in the day. By the end of the day, there was hardly a trace of muscle soreness. I'm profoundly grateful about the recovery, despite the painful three-year process that it took.
Getting out was almost as difficult as getting in. We queued for perhaps half an hour before getting out through the gate.
What happens next? I haven't tackled another training programme yet. We'll see. I definitely want to do a fast 10 km race around October. Apart from that goal, I'm still wondering whether I should try to improve my marathon time or return to my comfort zone in the shorter races. A half marathon is so much more civilised, and 42,2 km is a long, long, way!
The Good: Passing Caroline Wöstmann. Good marshalling. Good water points with some snacks available.
The Bad: Forgetting my hat in my car. The horrible traffic.
The Ugly: AGN13601 with his ghetto blaster, who refused to turn down the volume to a tolerable level.
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I find myself in Cape Town due to studies, work and family. The only available race this weekend is a 30 km run. It's not ideal by any means, as I need to save myself for next weekend. Laurens is trying to coax me into a really long run, 48 km. I decided to do the heart-rate thing. If my heart rate remains below 140 all the way, I should manage to inflict little enough damage that I can tackle next weekend's run without self-destructing.
Traffic was very orderly. It kept flowing most of the way, and only the odd BMW was trying to push forward in the right lane. Entries were a little different to what I'm used to. There was a separate entry table for each category, and the category was printed in large digits on the entry slip. I queued at the table for men over fifty with dark hair, brown eyes and blue running shoes, and was soon on my way to the start.
It never ceases to amaze me how many people pitch up for these events. Today, it was very noticeable that thousands of people were lining up for the start, and I didn't know a single one of them. In fact, most of the club vests were not even familiar to me. Of course, at this point someone tapped me on the shoulder. It turned out to be my colleague Edward. He was planning a similarly leisurely run, anticipating a 3:15 finish.
We started in pitch darkness. The start was very orderly and flowed well. I started well down the field, but lost less than half a minute on the first km. I maintained a heart rate of around 138, producing a pace of just under 6:00/km. The sun rose after a little less than an hour. We hit the first climb at about 12 km, slowing things right down. I walked up most of the steepest slopes, to keep my heart rate within limits. On the downhill around the 17 km mark, I paid the price for dividing my attention between my stopwatch and my heart rate monitor. A cat's eye caught me out, and I took a headlong tumble, making two full revolutions head over heels before coming to a stop. Fortunately, the road surface was very smooth, and the damage was confined to slightly-abraded palms and a bruised ego. There is an advantage to not knowing anyone in the bunch!
There was another fairly bad climb around 22 km or so. From there, it was downhill to the finish. I was interested to notice that my pace had slowed considerably during the race. Despite maintaining identical heart rates, I was unable to maintain a pace of faster than about 6:15. 30 km is a long way, and it is clear that one's body accumulates some damage along the way!
The race was a lot of fun, as running goes. I found my breathing to be much more relaxed than at home, taking at least 20% fewer breaths than I'm used to. The scenery was also interesting, with the route winding through the vineyards and dozens of rotten grape juice vendors. With the new graphics-based province labels, it was interesting to look at all the different licences around me. I only saw one other from North Gauteng. I was also intrigued by the strange system to keep time at the finish. Instead of handing in your tear-off slip at the finish line, you collect a sequentially-numbered plastic envelope at the finish, into which you have to place your entry slip (with the elaborate category markings) and place it on a large board with a separate slot for every position up to 1000. For the likes of me, who ended up at 3:13 just outside the first 1000, there is a cardboard box into which the plastic envelope is unceremoniously dumped. I saw Edward finishing about three minutes after me.
Marshalling was effective. Gee, most of them even know the rules of the road, and we were able to run on the right almost all the way! Water points were well-stocked, with energy drinks in addition to the usual water and Coke. The last water point even had things to nibble on—I noticed some potatoes and orange slices.
The big question, of course, is whether I've inflicted too much damage in the light of next weekend's plans. So far, so good. Apart from the usual nagging pain in my left knee, I'm comfortable and well-rested. We'll know by Tuesday or so!
The Good: Interesting countryside. Table Mountain constantly in the background. Good traffic flow. Good marshalling. Clean streets—even water sachets are piled neatly in or near the dustbins. Enough drinks, and even some food. Ample parking.
The Bad: 30 km is a long way.
The Ugly: That cat-eye that jumped up in front of me.
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Today is a public holiday—Human Rights Day. The Right to Run race takes place at Sunnypark, once one of Pretoria's proudest shopping centres but now, thirty years later, part of a run-down part of town surrounded by high-density housing. The late start made for a reasonable time to rise. I left home at 05:45 to collect Laurens and TA. Laurens was doing his low-heartrate thing on the half marathon, while TA and I would try our luck on the 10 km. The next two weeks will involve some major distances, partly in an effort to understand the mishap at the Vaal Marathon. Circumspection dictated that today was not a good day for long distances.
We arrived early. Traffic was very slow and dense for the last few blocks, but we managed to secure parking in the indoor parking without too much trouble (if you exclude the kerb that my poor car connected with on the way in). Sunnypark looked a lot better than during my last visit. Maybe some new floor tiles have appeared, and the place now looks well cared for.
The start was reasonably smooth, with a very slight rise up Esselen Street to the east. We'd lost only about a minute by the time the first distance marker slid past. I started with a bunch of eight Agape members (colloquially known as "Ag Ape"). We soon settled into our own paces, and I found myself cruising through leafy old Sunnyside East and past the University campus. Around the 7 km mark, we started overtaking the densest part of the 5 km bunch. Some fancy footwork was required to avoid the slow traffic. There was something special about today's bunch, though. Today is World Down Syndrome Day, and there were dozens of Down Syndrome kids, mostly accompanied by mommies. I witnessed something that can hardly leave one untouched—a wheelchair athlete giving a Down child a ride.
The last half of the route was slightly downhill. I was feeling strong, so I kept speeding up towards the finish. The last three kilometres were completed in just over 15 minutes, for a total time of just under 54 minutes. While waiting for Laurens, I ambled around for an hour or so, watching the finishers, trying to find something other than Coke to drink, chatting to fellow Club members and catching up on the legendary Ken Nurden's life story. My favourite episode was of how Ken, in his seventies, aimed for a ninety-minute half marathon. He ended up with an official time of 1:30:01. He must have been very disappointed, but I found myself thinking that most youngsters would relish anything close to that time in their own logbooks!
Marshalling was generally good. The water points flowed smoothly, but two of the three and the finish did not have any caffeine-free drinks. Sigh...
The Good: Nice route—reasonably flat and through nice leafy suburbs. Good marshalling. Enough parking.
The Bad: No caffeine-free drinks (except at the second water point).
The Ugly: That kerb that suddenly jumped up in front of my car on the way in...
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With no formal training programme in progress, but with two long runs coming up in the next few weeks, I was uncertain about what to do. Laurens has been running at low heart rates (read: Slowly) and I joined him for a training session on Thursday. I was toying with the idea of doing the same thing in the race, but decided that I was going to do a semi-hard race instead. I didn't want to hurt myself, but I wasn't going to plod along at a sub-140 heart rate either.
Ten minutes before the start, few runners were to be seen. I assumed that the Om die Dam Ultra had lured most of the usual crowd away, but a sizeable field arrived in the last few minutes. I was relatively close to the front, making for an easy start. The climb starts almost immediately, quickly spreading the bunch and making for good traffic flow. I would imagine it would have been more congested further back, though.
The route is hilly, especially on the first half lap. If you think you're going to benefit from the climbs in the first 5 km, you're in for a surprise. Somehow, despite a considerable altitude gain in that first half, the second half is also uphill. I was reminded of Mauritz Escher's Klimmen en Dalen, which features a square staircase on which you keep climbing constantly as you walk around it.
I maintained a comfortable 5:10 pace, except on the uphills. I walked shamelessly on most of these. The strategy seemed to work. Most of my clubmates, who started off running boisterously up those hills, eventually faded and lagged behind. Halfway through the second lap, I knew that two hours would be easy, and decided to try for 1:55. I spent some time chatting to Walter, who was slower today than he normally is on the time trial. Around the 18 km mark, as I decided to walk up yet another incline, he left me behind. Nevertheless, I was able to complete the last 2 km in under 10 minutes, comfortably breaking the 1:55 mark.
One major disappointment was that the organisers neglected to provide anything but Coke to drink. Two hours on the road with nothing to drink but water is not ideal.
The Club tent provided welcome relief in the form of canned cold drinks. This time, I collected the car while Laurens and TA waited near the finish.
The Good: Good marshalling. Enough parking.
The Bad: No caffeine-free drinks.
The Ugly: How on earth can a lap race consist of constant climbs?
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Mindful of the likely deleterious effects of last week's marathon on my legs, I entered the 10 km race. The week hasn't been bad, with no pain except a little in my knee after one of the week's two gentle running sessions.
The race's League status drew a large crowd, making it extremely hard to find parking. We crawled through the underground parking in the Wonderboom Junction shopping centre without finding a spot. We finally parked in deep gravel behind the building, frantically hoping that the car would not get stuck up to its axles. Laurens jumped out before we'd parked, as the half marathon was due to start at 05:30. TA and I managed to make it to the start line with about seven minutes to spare before the 10 km start at 05:40. I was pleasantly surprised to find my erstwhile colleague Barbara in the bunch, and we caught up on each other's lives for a few minutes before the gun went. The start was very dense, but flowed reasonably well. I could not see my watch at the 1 km marker as it was still dark. At 2 km, we appeared to have lost about a minute—not bad for such a big bunch. I wasn't worried, though, as I wasn't up for the 50:15 target time for six League points, so my only imperative was to make a relatively leisurely 56 minutes.
The mean hills started around 3 km. We had two steep climbs. I was feeling fairly comfortable, especially with the knowledge that we had gained considerable elevation, and that the second half would be much easier. Feeling no more discomfort than usual, I decided to speed up considerably in the second half.
On approaching the last major road before the finish, we were stopped by marshals for almost a minute to let the traffic through. Once the metro policeman stopped the traffic, I started running again, anxious to achieve a good time. Several cars sped through the intersection, causing a close call. The last few hundred metres were fun, with me feeling strong after a successful race and an eforced break. I finished just under 53 minutes, well within my target. More importantly, I felt fresh and relaxed. It seems like my first post-bionic marathon has left me completely unscathed!
Laurens was doing the half marathon, so I had almost an hour to kill. I spent some time at my club tent chatting with Wanja, who had finished just after me, then proceeded to the CSIR tent where we watched a strength training session by some yuppy gym. Musclebound hunks flipping large tyres don't do it for me, but I did spend a few nostalgic minutes reflecting on my officer training in the Air Force. A glimpse of large tyres will never leave me entirely untouched again.
The Good: Being fully recovered less than a week after my first post-bionic marathon.
The Bad: Those hills.
The Ugly: Motorists who disregard directions from traffic officials. And perhaps the musclebound hunks flipping tyres in the parking lot (especially the female ones!).
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The moment of truth has arrived. Or, as the Flying Dutchman is reported to have dramatically stated: "Die Frist ist um".
After sixteen weeks on a marathon programme, today I'm attempting a marathon. It will be the first I have done with my plastic knee, and my one and only opportunity to qualify for Comrades.
Let's backtrack for a minute. Comrades is the world's largest and oldest ultramarathon. It annually winds its way between Durban and Pietermaritzburg. Durban is on the southeast coast. Pietermaritzburg is inland, at an elevation of about 720 m and about 87 km away. The race alternates between Up and Down, when the two cities change places as start and finish venues.
After my knee reconstruction, I set myself the tangible target of finishing a Comrades race. It would be visible proof that my rehabilitation is complete. I chose an Up race. Although the climb is far more demanding, the downhill pounding of the Down race takes a greater toll on one's knees. And obviously someone with a vulnerable knee doesn't particularly want to pound that knee too much. When I started completing half marathons with reasonable facility and tolerable pain in 2016, I signed up for Comrades in 2017.
Much poring over statistics from past years convinced me that an F seeding is required. To enter Comrades, you have to complete a standard marathon (42,2 km) or longer in a prescribed time. The basic cutoff is five hours for the standard distance, or more for longer distances. Just barely making the cutoff dumps you into the H bunch. You start at the back, you take up to ten minutes to cross the start line and you run with others who likewise scraped through. Add into the mix a poorly-chosen cutoff time at the halfway mark, forcing stragglers to run much too fast on the murderous climbs in the first half, and the odds are not in your favour.
Doing better during qualification—the increments are 20 minutes at the standard distance—gets you into the G group, then F, and so on. The A group consists of super athletes that weigh less than 60 kg and appear to be made of subcutaneous steel wire. They are gold medal contenders, or at least silver. My most enlightening insight from the statistics was that A to F groups all have a finish rate of about 70%, while the G and H groups have a finish rate of about 40%. If you want a reasonable chance of finishing successfully, you have to have an F seeding or better.
My programme predicted that I could finish under 4:00 with a flat-out effort, resulting in a D seeding. However, I would be left in a bad state, and require a long layoff. I elected to aim for 4:20 and an F seeding instead, making it a reasonably relaxed affair and hopefully allowing me to continue my training with only a minor break. I decided to maintain a pace of 6:00/km, making the arithmetic simple and finishing about seven minutes inside the target time. I also had the option of eating up those seven minutes if things didn't turn out as planned.
Now you understand my target for this marathon. I had two objectives. The first was to finish under 4:20 with an F seeding. The second was to walk away (sic) without any ailments, so that I could immediately start to train for Comrades. March and April are the crunch months for Comrades, so a three-week layoff resulting from an all-out effort would put paid to any Comrades ambitions anyway.
Although I was determined not to allow myself to be drawn into the Comrades hype before today, some pointed studying of the official Comrades training programmes showed that my training of the last 16 weeks involved a very similar volume to theirs. If I did indeed decide to go, I would be able to continue with their Bronze programme more or less seamlessly.
The past few weeks have been a little tumultuous. Apart from a cold that haunted me for several weeks, I also had to contend with considerable pressure of work and an unexpected flight to Upington that I didn't want to turn down. By hook or by crook, I only missed one running session. I was also a little light on the cross-training sessions (cycling and swimming) in the past few weeks, due to the head cold. It was therefore not without apprehension that this weekend approached. My training programme predicted that I should be ready, but 42,2 km is a very long way indeed. Since my knee reconstruction, I have done 32 km on three occasions, and nothing more. I had no idea how my plastic knee would hold up, either.
I left home at 03:30. Laurens offered to drive, as I did not know what state I would be in after the race. It is a substantial drive, well over an hour. As always, it was fun to see the traffic density gradually increasing as we got closer. The last quarter of an hour was spent following the GPS's wild goose chase to avoid stationary traffic. It worked reasonably well, but we still ended up parking far away. A 20-minute walk was required to the start venue.
The race uses Championchip timing. Although the race started at 06:00 sharp, we had the option of starting up to 15 minutes late to avoid the densest part of the bunch. I decided to start exactly 10 minutes late to make the mental arithmetic around pacing as easy as possible, while still avoiding the mad rush. Laurens started with me, but had divided loyalties. TA, who started about four minutes before us, wanted him to help her with pacing to secure a better seeding in another race. Laurens would start with me, then spend some time on the road with her on the first lap, then catch up with me on the second lap to finish together.
On the official race documents, the route appears to be pancake-flat. There is a faint squiggle in the profile around the 10 km mark, but the total elevation difference is supposed to be less than 30 m. Of course, we would have to climb the hill twice, but overall it seemed quite manageable. I was somewhat alarmed when I saw the actual slopes around the stadium at the start venue. They had seemed so benign on paper!
The first 10 km was quite comfortable. I maintained my 6:00/km pace very easily, with my breathing in good shape and no sign of discomfort (apart from the normal slight nagging pain in my left knee). The hill after 10 km was a lot worse than envisaged, but I ran halfway up it and walked the remainder without getting behind schedule. The road was badly potholed in places. It was hard to tell if the recent lavish rains had anything to do with it, or whether the municipality is having trouble coping. I completed the first lap on time and in a fairly relaxed state. There was one major problem. None of the water points had any caffeine-free drinks. Running a full marathon on water only is not a great idea. Enquiries at every water point drew very cavalier responses. These amateur comedians did not seem to realise the seriousness of the situation. There was some food at a few water points, but everything had been consumed by the time I tackled the second lap. Also, somehow, some undulating terrain had sprung up in the mean time. The hill at 10 km became a monstrous cliff at 31 km. Around this time, I was forced to resort to my 4+1 survival strategy. My average pace slipped from 6:00 to about 7:10. With 10 km to go, I would eat up about 10 minutes, and miss the 4:20 cutoff. The last part would be slightly downhill, so I still had a chance to catch up those three precious minutes. I consumed my emergency ration gel packet, hoping to replenish the glycogen stores before it was too late.
Laurens caught me around 30 km. We stayed together for a while, but eventually he sailed off into the distance. Around 36 km, I saw him up ahead walking up a hill with Jonathan, who was aiming for a 4:30 finish. I ran past them, by this time not in a conversational mood.
Also around 36 km, my knee started hurting. I think the fatigue caused me to neglect my alignment ever so slightly. Over the past year, I have concentrated on alignment on almost every step I have taken, and managed to stay out of trouble. Now, my glucose-deprived brain wasn't coping with several tasks at once. I eventually decided that there was no prospect of making 4:20, and started walking, concentrating on my alignment with every step. I was able to restrict the pain to a tolerable level.
Jonathan passed me around 37 km, apparently in good shape. Laurens caught me soon after. He walked with me for a while, then started running. It didn't last. I walked behind him for about a quarter of an hour, then caught him. Both of us were reserved to walking painfully to the finish. After about an hour of walking, we finally walked into the stadium. Both of us experienced a first—walking all the way around the track to the finish line. Most athletes finish in a valiant sprint, regardless of condition. We didn't even care.
Laurens magnanimously offered to collect the car and bring it a bit closer. I parked under a tree and relaxed. The plan didn't quite work out. They were only able to get the car to a point a few hundred metres away. TA came to call me, and I painfully hobbled back to the car.
And so ended my Comrades hopes. Although we officially qualified at around 4:57, I came nowhere near my target time of 4:20. As I write this story, about seven hours after the finish, the worst stiffness seems to have subsided, and I expect to be in reasonable shape within a day or two. I guess I achieved half of my objective. The other half? Not even close.
Of course I'm profoundly disappointed. I'm also trying to figure out what went wrong. Everything worked as advertised up to about 30 km. Did the lack of sugary drinks do me in? Did the head cold that dogged me for several weeks make a difference? Did missing those cross-training sessions in that period leave me hopelessly underprepared? Did the three hours on my feet on Saturday, handing out water to runners in the Sunrise Monster, do me in? Or that painful rehabilitation session on Wednesday, that left me with sore calf muscles on Thursday and Friday? Or perhaps, would stretching the target pace to 6:15/km for an exact 4:20 finish have helped to make the effort more sustainable?
Right now I have no idea. I do know one thing: My short-distance performance does not extrapolate well to longer distances, pointing to a profound lack of endurance. Presumably, the Comrades would exaggerate that effect even more. Staying at home is definitely the more prudent option. Everything has its upside, though. Maybe I can now finally get around to trying some triathlons. Without the pressure of a Comrades training programme, I can probably tackle a few of these in the next few months. At least swimming and riding a bike won't tax my knee the way running obviously does!
The Good: I actually finished a marathon with my plastic knee!
The Bad: No caffeine-free drinks. Nothing to eat on the second lap. Bad standup comedy instead of sensible responses to enquiries.
The Ugly: I'm clearly not Comrades material.
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I was a little apprehensive about this race. It came at the end of a gruelling fortnight of training, and the 32 km of the previous weekend had not entirely relinquished its grip on my legs. In addition, I'd been suffering from a cold for several days. I woke up several times during the night, having to blow my nose to restore normal breathing. The ritual also involved copious amounts of Vitamin C. Fortunately, by the time I had to get up and decide, I had neither fever nor any chest symptoms.
The half marathon started at 06:00, with the 10 km race starting half an hour later. The field was huge. It's hard to estimate, but I would think that the starting bunch was at least 200 m long and took up the entire width of the suburban street, just outside the Tuks sports grounds. The new mayor was there to say a few words about how healthy this lifestyle is. He wasn't wearing a tie and didn't come in a convoy of black cars with blue lights. Not bad for a politician.
Laurens and I started about a quarter down the bunch. We started moving almost immediately at the gun and lost only a minute in the first km. Perhaps the separate start for the 10 km race dispensed with the worst slow starters that normally frequent the front part of the bunch.
A few hundred metres into the race, we crossed Jan Shoba into Burnett Street. This section is quite a thrill. It is reasonably flat, and the entire width of this major one-way arterial is available to the bunch. Despite the huge number of runners, we were mostly free to run unhindered at our own pace. The route continues in a straight line down Park Street, passing Loftus stadium before turning left into the leafy outskirts of old Sunnyside. A mild uphill section follows, routing back past the stadium and into the Tuks campus. I was amazed to see how much more densely the campus has been built up since my full-time student days.
The 10 km mark is at the start venue, but we continued eastwards on Lynnwood Road for the second part of the figure-eight route.
While the first half was reasonably flat and fast, the second half scales the dizzy heights of Strubenkop before descending into the university's old experimental farm. The slopes of Strubenkop are leafy and pleasant, but there is nothing pleasant about those hills. Up there on the lofty heights, I ran with Mandy and Stephan for a while. On the descent, Stephan disappeared into the distance, with Mandy remaining in view, but not within reach. As is his habit, Laurens shot past from behind on the downhill section, never to be seen again.
When I entered the second half, I had made up about half of the minute that we lost at the start. Everything went downhill (huh!?) from there. My deficit gradually grew to over two minutes as we started the descent, shrinking to under two on the final flat section. My breathing was comfortable and I was feeling reasonably strong, but my legs were definitely limiting on my abilities towards the end. I had to queue for about a minute in the last few metres before the actual finish line. It didn't look like the timekeepers were taking account of the delay—it will be interesting to see whether my official time will be 1:58 (when I joined the queue) or 1:59 (when I actually crossed the line). The mess was so unnecessary, as they had plenty of alternative finish lanes that they could have opened.
My club didn't repeat its stellar performance of the previous weekend. Although the tent provided a welcome haven, I had to make do with water.
Laurens, TA and I walked back to my car about half an hour after the finish. That was the easy part. For the next 50 minutes, we sat still in gridlocked traffic before finally making it back to Jan Shoba. Two kilometres in 50 minutes—that's not even 3 km/h! No help from the metro police to help the traffic into the main routes was in evidence.
The butterflies around the upcoming marathon have definitely not subsided. The thought of having to cover twice this distance is not a comfortable one just yet. However, the progress in the past few weeks is gratifying, and my plastic knee is no more painful than it has been. The training now winds down into tapering mode. Hopefully, arriving at the start well-rested will make all the difference.
The Good: Good marshalling, enough caffeine-free drinks, varied route, lots of T-shirts.
The Bad: Those hills in the second half. The queue at the finish line.
The Ugly: Sitting in traffic for almost an hour to get out of the neighbourhood.
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I woke up at 03:00, and had some trouble falling asleep again. Maybe I was subconsciously a little tenser than I allowed myself to admit. The alarm clock at 04:30 came as a horrible shock. Laurens picked me up. PJ found us in the bunch. He'd gone separately, and just made it before the start.
The start was a little slow. The race's status as a League race must have attracted more than the normal share of entrants. It took about a minute to cross the start line, and we lost another minute before the 1 km distance marker. The race initially meanders through the town, before leaving town to the north and then climbing relentlessly in a westerly direction. For some reason, I encountered a string of familiar faces today; Paul, Kobus, David, Jonathan, Brian, Vasilios and Harry all came and went. Laurens, as is his custom, shot ahead from the start. As is our custom, we caught him on the uphills, and watched him boisterously shooting past on the downhills. I was initially a little uncomfortable with some stiffness from the week's training, but loosened up nicely after an hour or so.
There was noticeably less banter than on most Saturdays. I'm not sure about the others, but I know in my case the knowledge of what lay ahead helped to maintain my focus. Tacking more than 10 km onto the end of a half marathon changes its character completely.
A 32 km run takes a lot of time, at least for us normal folks. The result is that the race continues into the heat of day. This time, the temperature rose into the twenties well before the halfway mark. The longest climb is from about 22 to 29 km, just before entering the Buddhist temple complex. Making our way up this climb was very sweaty work. I ran until about 17 km, then indulged in a one-minute walk every 1 km or so. The strategy worked reasonably well until about 29 km. After that point, no strategy seemed to work. It's just an awfully long way. At least the surroundings were interesting. The temple compound features Chinese street names and an interesting mixture of architectures. I even had the odd opportunity to practice my Chinese reading skills. I did my customary 4+1 thing for the last 2 km or so, completing the last km strongly. I managed to pass perhaps two dozen runners on the grass in the stadium. The route seemed to be a bit long (perhaps 300 m or so), but not enough to account for the few minutes that I was late. At least my time was below 3:12, which is equivalent to 6:00/km.
I was also gratified at watch many of my peers finishing after me. Almost three years of hard work and painful rehabilitation are starting to yield dividends!
I was very stiff and sore, but despite finishing slightly faster, I felt much better than on my previous 32 km attempt. This race also came at the end of a hard training week, with a 16 km fast tempo run, about 10 km of intervals and an 800 m swim. There is still a long way to go before I can complete a marathon at this pace. But at least I have several weeks left to grow into it... The coming week is still going to be tough, with several high-intensity sessions but somewhat shorter distances. Thereafter things start winding down before the marathon. I can hardly wait. It will be nice to shed this chronic muscle fatigue and knee pain, even if only for a few weeks.
The Good: Good marshalling, interesting route. A variety of caffeine-free drinks at my club tent.
The Bad: Those two climbs. The heat. No green cooldrink at the last two water points.
The Ugly: The thought of having to do 10 km more at this pace within a month...
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I didn't have a good night before the race. I left the office at 22:00 after working on an urgent document. Once home, I could not find my 2017 licence numbers. I could swear I'd left them with my vest, but they were nowhere to be found. I spent almost half an hour searching everywhere I could think of. I finally settled into bed not much before midnight. At 01:29, Evangelist Adrian elected to send me a text message soliciting a donation. At 04:30, the alarm clock shattered my somewhat fragmented sleep.
Have I mentioned that I'm not a morning person? That fact is central to this particular story. There are things that are hard to phrase delicately at the best of times, but let's try: Waking up this early has devastating effects on the functioning of my "dump" button.
PJ did not manage to enter timeously for the half marathon. Here is another case of technology not making life any easier, but rather imposing ridiculous constraints. Entries closed a week before the race because they were using some fancy timing chip, embedded into the number. With no other choice, he entered the 10 km race with the intention to miss the turning. The only disadvantage would be an unbelievably slow official time for his 10 km race.
I resigned myself to the fact that I'd have to buy a temporary licence, but at the entry table, I fortunately found my numbers in the small bag containing my identity cards that I always carry with me. The gossamer numbers took up very little space, and I just had not noticed them before. At the start line, the announcer took great pains to point out that pirate runners attempting the half marathon with 10 km numbers would be weeded out mercilessly. PJ appeared ever so slightly anxious about these threats. My recollection of the merciless climb in the last 3 km was contradicted by Laurens, who was adamant that the last section was ultra-flat.
The start was not bad by recent standards. Despite the large field, there was enough space and things were soon flowing nicely. We lost less than a minute on the first km. After a flat westbound section on Soutpansberg Road, we headed uphill across the mountain. From here on, there was an almost continuous climb all the way to the Presidency, a stretch of about 3 km. A left turn into Colbyn was followed by a descent into Queenswood. At one point, two guys in a bakkie tried to turn left through the line of runners from behind. I politely but firmly told them off. I later realised that it must have been the lead vehicle for the 10 km race, which had started some 10 minutes behind us! It is amazing, though, that he thought he could safely turn through a line of hundreds of runners from behind, without making himself visible first.
The remainder of the race winds through the Moot area. The terrain is only slightly undulating, gradually descending over a stretch of more than 10 km. The customary light banter in the field and a geology lesson about the Vredefort dome relieved the monotony. Unfortunately, there was something else that was less monotonous than I would have preferred. My lunch from the previous day was causing me a significant amount of discomfort. By 12 km, I was getting desperate. At the next water point, I ducked off into the rental toilet to see if I could improve matters. Laurens had already disappeared up the field, and I suggested to PJ that he should continue. I'd try to catch up later. I spent about two minutes staring intently at the green plastic door before tackling the remainder of the route.
PJ backtracked to come and collect me, and we continued to gradually catch up on schedule. Around the 18 km, we hit a sudden steep climb onto the railway bridge. Despite Laurens's assurances, this steep climb was followed by a gradual 3 km climb to the finish. There must have been something wrong with the distance markers, as I was expecting to finish about a minute behind schedule. In reality, I finished almost two minutes ahead of schedule, under 1:59.
Now came the hard part: the remaining 3 km. Convincing yourself to start another vigorous run after a brisk half marathon and a few minutes to stiffen up is never easy. I got some water from the club tent—no cooldrink without caffeine was available anywhere. I then started up a gradual incline, struggling to maintain the required pace. I headed up the infamous Tom Jenkins Drive, fortunately not in the infamous direction. Once I got going properly, it wasn't too bad. Nevertheless, I lost about a minute off my planned pace.
Including the two breaks, we were about two minutes late. I was happy; it seemed good enough at the end of a tough training week. However, the thought of 32 km at this same pace next week scares me. And the thought of an entire marathon at an even faster pace in a few weeks leaves me speechless...
The Good: Good marshalling by experienced runners, including some familiar faces.
The Bad: No cooldrinks except Coke. That lead vehicle driver who sneaks up on runners from behind and then expects them to part miraculously, like the Red Sea.
The Ugly: That Friday lunch...
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Because of the full marathon on offer, this race starts extra early. If I wanted to do 5,5 km beforehand, I would have to be in position around 05:00. And I am not a morning person.
PJ had other commitments. Laurens was getting back into running after his injury, and was planning to do the half marathon at a slightly slower pace than I was. He agreed to pick me up at 04:30. He deposited me at the agreed point just after 05:00. I started a few minutes later than planned. Unfortunately, I missed a turnoff and ran halfway up a steep hill before realising my mistake. I arrived at the race start about five minutes late, but with about a km more than planned already in the bag.
There was a price to pay for my tardiness. Although the start was utterly uncongested, with only a few other latecomers running with me, we soon started overtaking the bunch from behind. For the remainder of the race, I ran into increasingly dense bunches. Towards the end, I encountered the kind of congestion that I normally only see at the start. It is amazing to see what a difference a five minute delay makes! The congestion was aggravated by the 10 km runners, who started half an hour after we did and shared the same route for the last 4 km or so. We arrived with the slowest finishers, and they were taking up a lot of space.
We had perfect running weather. It was overcast and everything was slightly wet from the previous night's rain. We had occasional light drizzle, but never enough to get us completely wet. I overtook a few clubmates early on, and around the halfway mark I started encountering some of my customary running peers—Erika, Raynold, Ken, Wallie, Lammie and Iain all came into view around the halfway mark. To my surprise, Iain is now in Irene club colours, after 32 years as a Phobian. Perhaps the time is now ripe for him to spill the beans on what he was so fearful of for all those years.
The race course is undulating, meandering through the neighbourhood with occasional glimpses of the leading bunch up a side street. There is one nasty surprise: A steep uphill onto the freeway bridge about 1 km from the end. Fortunately, it wasn't a surprise to me, as I'd been punished by that one before. I finished about half a minute behind schedule, close enough for my purposes. Officially, I just missed 2:10, due to the late start.
The run back to the garage where I had started was a grim struggle for survival. On the way in, I had the impression that I was running uphill. I remember thinking that at least my return to the car would be downhill. Somehow, things changed during the race, as the return route also felt very much like uphill! I used my customary 4+1 survival strategy, and managed to maintain it all the way to the end. Including both breaks, necessitated by having to pass through the busy shopping mall before and after the race, I completed the 32 km in 3:11, a personal best. It's a little slower than target pace, but I'm happy that things are on track for a marathon in little more than a month.
The Good: Well-organised race, with effective marshalling and even Cream Soda. Undulating terrain without extreme slopes. Almost keeping to my target pace for an unimaginable distance.
The Bad: The running bus that insisted on taking up the entire width of the suburban streets, making it all but impossible to pass. Just a little consideration would help a lot!
The Ugly: That haul up the bridge, with less than 1 km to go. Getting up at 04:30. Eish.
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PJ and I formed up in the middle of the bundle to tackle this hilly route, with another 3 km afterwards to complete the target distance. The race starts and ends at the Pick and Pay Hypermarket in Faerie Glen.
The start was very slow, with a large field in a small road. It was fun to watch the colourful field snake up the road ahead, as far as the eye could see. Unfortunately, the sight came at a price. It took more than a minute to cross the start line, and the first km was a combination of walking and jogging while trying to negotiate the slow traffic. The walkers had started half an hour before, so this slow traffic consisted entirely of people pretending to run.
By the end of the first km, we were almost three minutes behind schedule. The succession of serious hills in the next few km didn't help. We walked up most of the serious hills and ran most of the flat and downhill bits. By the time the 10 km runners split off to their finish, we were still almost two minutes behind.
The second half of the route consisted of an out-and-back loop to the sponsors' offices near Menlyn, with rolling hills but none of the major slopes of the first half. We managed to slowly whittle away at the deficit, until we were less than a minute behind schedule with 3 km to go. We managed to complete the last 3 km in less than 15 minutes, finishing within seconds of our planned time.
Of course, the hardest part was yet to come. Having collected our medals and a drink, we now had to complete the last 3 km of our prescribed session. Alas, the fast finish provided all the rationalisation we could ever ask for. Surely maintaining our pace on such a hilly course, and after such a slow start, was above and beyond the call of duty?
And so we enjoyed the hospitality of our club tent and slowly wound our way home.
Having collected my car, I went on a routine shopping spree in the Hypermarket. Or maybe not quite routine—almost half of the clients around me sported running gear, mostly with medals around their necks. Other shoppers, who were dressed like real people, had lots of questions about the race. It was clear that they didn't seem to think that running up and down those hills and then all the way to Menlyn and back was normal...
The Good: Good organisation, marshalling and water points. A large field with a festive atmosphere.
The Bad: A congested start. One of the water points could not offer caffeine-free drinks.
The Ugly: Those hills. Do we really have to traverse every single precipice in the neighbourhood?
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Laurens was out of action with a muscle injury, so I was going to have to face this gargoyle alone.
I left my car just off the N4 highway, just over 5 km from the start. I left the car at 05:30, hoping to arrive as the gun went. It worked. I heard the gun just as I arrived, but the bunch wasn't where I was expecting it. Unlike previous years, we started on a side street, winding through the neighbourhood before rejoining the main road.
Eersterus has a unique feature. The three main roads are called Hans Coverdale Road West, Hans Coverdale Road North and Hans Coverdale Road East. The route would roughly follow Hans Coverdale Road West going north, then Hans Coverdale Road North going east, and then Hans Coverdale Road East going south, before turning west to return to Hans Coverdale Road West for the second lap. Got it?
It being a League race, the bunch was bigger than most. Because of the small suburban roads we started on, the start was terribly slow and congested. It took a long time for the bunch to spread out sufficiently to allow unobstructed running—as much as 3 km. As we all know, it is customary for the slowest walkers to start in front, forcing the rest of us to pick our way past them. I think it's a selfless ploy to help all of us to develop true character.
By the time I was running freely, I was over four minutes behind schedule. I was determined to make up the time, but it was not to be. With the slow walkers out of the way, the hills started harassing us. Somewhere around Hans Coverdale Road Far-Northwest, we climbed up a hill, and another, and another. We ended up in aptly-named Helium Avenue before tackling the descent into the valley again, via Hans Coverdale Road Kinda-Central and then Hans Coverdale Road East into Hans Coverdale Road More-Or-Less-South. Most of this remaining route was a slight descent, providing welcome relief before the second lap started.
The bunch was noticeably quieter than we are accustomed to. I soon figured out that members of the organising club ACE, Athletics Club Eersterus, were quite often the source of the lively banter in local races. This time, they were the marshals. The unusually chirpy marshals and roadside crowds handsomely made up for the lack of yellow and red vests in the field. Many families parked themselves by the roadside on walls, chairs and lawns and cheered us on.
We turned right from Hans Coverdale Road Way-Down-South into the stadium to finish with half a lap on the grass of Hans Coverdale Road Round-and-Round. In a true stroke of genius, they handed out a half-litre of aQuelle water with the medals. A very welcome gesture!
My Club tent featured fruit jelly and custard, of which I slurped up two cups before proceeding back to my car. I noticed that many cars were queueing to get out of there, just like we had done in previous years. Those feeder roads are definitely not up to the demands of a major sporting event!
I walked briskly while sipping my precious water. It took a long time to empty the bottle, and I had covered 2 km by the time I managed to toss it into a bin. The rest of the route was spent running four lampposts and then walking one. Right towards the end, as I approached my car up a steep incline, it turned into a three-plus-one affair—a matter of survival. Halfway up the hill I passed a familiar car coming the other way. My friend Alet had mentioned the previous day that she would be in the area, and I had assured her that I would be back at my car by 08:50, having covered the required 6 km after the race. I didn't make it, and she came looking for me. I valiantly waved her on, determined to get back to the car on my own steam, even if it was the last thing I did.
My first leg, from the car to the race, went exactly as planned. During the race, I never did make up those four minutes I'd lost after the slow start. In fact, on the second lap the deficit grew slightly. The return to the car was much slower than planned, what with drinking the water and generally just walking a bit more than I should have. I wish I had a good model to figure out the effect of the hills. Was my performance equivalent to my target pace over a flat route? Or am I a hopeless couch potato? Or did I in fact excel superhumanly, given the horrible hills? Who knows, but at least I covered my planned 32 km and lived to tell the tale.
The Good: It was a welcome change to have real runners handling the race. Marshalling was first-class, they had Cream Soda at all the tables, and the bottle of water at the finish was a nice touch. The lively local roadside support was "interesting". My own Club's idea to provide a sugar shot after the race in the form of jelly was a great one.
The Bad: That slow start on small suburban streets. Those hills. The traffic jam trying to get out of there.
The Ugly: That last uphill to my car. But that was hardly the race organisers' fault.
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The plan was almost a repetition of the previous one. Same venue, slightly shorter training run, slightly faster. I was upbeat about this session, as I'd completed my Thursday sprint session exactly on schedule. It was a nice change after several weeks of struggling to stick to the plan.
This time, we backtracked the route to the start, running through the start bunch to complete a 5 km run before the race. After the race, we would simply return to the car via the race route, for another 3 km.
We started at 06:02 in pouring rain. Again, Laurens was taking it a little easier than I was, and arrived at the start line somewhat after me. We continued with a long loop behind the starting bunch, returning to the bunch at 06:32 for the start. Again, they started more than four minutes late. The bunch was much smaller than in December, presumably due to the pouring rain. There is no doubt that anyone with a sound sense of self-preservation would be safely tucked up in bed!
I was initially very careful to avoid the puddles, but about a km into the race, the road was flooded to a depth that submerged my shoes and socks all the way. Beyond this point, trying to avoid getting wet was kind-of senseless.
The first loop was routine, although traffic was more of a problem than during the December race. Presumably, some people had returned home after New Year. Most runners seemed more savvy, generally keeping right except to briefly cross the road for water and nourishment. I ran mostly alone, chatting for only a few minutes with Neville and Iain and a stranger who had just returned to running after having twins.
The second lap presented a new quirk. The loop that was supposed to adjust the second lap to the correct half-marathon distance suddenly proceeded almost 250 m further than in December, all the way to the end of Oak Avenue. The route suddenly became much longer than before. Accordingly, all the remaining distance markers suddenly popped up over half a km too far.
At times, the rain let up, allowing weak sunshine through the clouds. It was exquisitely pleasant running weather, marred somewhat by the flooding on the road and the wet socks. The finish in the shopping centre was displaced somewhat to provide the medal handlers with shelter against the rain, leaving the route only slightly too long.
I had not seen Laurens since early in the first lap. He usually cruises past somewhere in the second lap with contemptuous ease, so I was somewhat worried. I continued the short run to the car, arriving only a few minutes later than planned. Laurens was already there—he had decided to quit after the first lap due to a niggling leg injury. We sat down to a Wimpy breakfast—any other adjective is both unnecessary and probably inappropriate.
Again, I was pretty happy. The first sector and the race had gone exactly according to plan. The return to the car was a little slow, but within reason. It looks like I may actually successfully complete the Marathon training programme that I'm busy with! I was greatly relieved that the wet socks did not cause any damage to my feet.
The Good: This time, even the arriving traffic was light. Pouring rain does have its advantages. The absence of less-experienced runners also improved the coexistence with traffic on the race route.
The Bad: The water points had not improved. Because of the change in the loop on the second lap, distance markers were even more confused than before. The rain caused a few niggles, including bad chafing on my stomach where the running vest had grated into my flesh...
The Ugly: As expected, the officials had paid no heed to the suggested improvements. Sigh...
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My running partner Laurens and I left my car at Highveld Wimpy, to work in a run before and after the race. Having to return to the car provides a strong incentive to do the after-race run, something that is always sorely (sic) needed after crossing the finish line.
The car was left around the 3 km mark on the 10 km circular route. We planned to do 7 km before the race along the normal route, arriving at the start line when the starting gun went, completing the full race and then returning to the car following the race route, including a loop that would bring us up to the required 32 km.
We left the car at 05:48 as planned, making our way to the start at a gentle pace. Laurens preferred to start more slowly than I did. I noticed that officials were setting up the water point on the wrong side of Nellmapius, forcing runners to cross the busy traffic twice. In previous years, I've witnessed the effects, and it is not a pretty picture. I stopped to chat to the foreman, trying to convince him to rather set up the water point to the right of the road, but he was adamant that this was the way they have always done it. As my previous begging and grovelling on the topic had gone unheeded, I did not spend much time trying to convince him.
I arrived at the rear end of the starting pack at 06:32 exactly as planned. After an unwelcome two-minute wait, the start gun went. Laurens, being somewhat behind me, had no delay at all. I soon found clubmate Wanja and continued with light-hearted banter all the way around the first lap. The race undulates through Highveld Park before hitting a sustained 3 km climb up Nellmapius Drive. Fortunately, traffic was relatively light, but some runners crossed the road to run on the left rather than facing the traffic as self-preservation and the Road Traffic Regulations prescribe. The result was that oncoming traffic had to pass between two groups of runners, leaving too little space for comfort.
The weather was cool and comfortable. The second lap was somewhat less harrowing on the climb, as the more experienced 21 km runners mostly stayed on the right, only crossing the road twice to reach the badly-placed water point.
After the climb, there is a right turn followed by a meander through Eco Park, finishing with a gentle descent and a loop through the Eco Boulevard shopping centre. The distance seemed fairly accurate and I managed to finish exactly on schedule. Laurens had been waiting for me for a minute or two.
After collecting our medals and having a quick drink, we continued the 4 km return to the car. I was on my last legs, and walked some of the way. I arrived at the Wimpy about 10 minutes behind schedule. I was happy; I had covered this unimaginable distance mostly according to plan, and was no more than slightly sore.
The Good: The race is run over undulating terrain with relatively little traffic. The start and finish venue is adequate, with enough parking.
The Bad: The water points are all placed on the left, forcing runners to either cross the traffic (twice!) or run with the traffic approaching from behind. There was a traffic jam of arriving runners, as the Eco Park has limited access. Some water points did not have a choice other than water and Coke, leaving non-caffeine users high and dry. Distance markers were mostly out by between 100 and 300 m. Even without a GPS it was evident that there was a problem, as the last few markers showed the 10 km distance markers before the corresponding Half Marathon markings (e.g. 9 km before 20 km), rather than after as one would expect based on basic geometry.
The Ugly: The officials apparently have limited exposure to running, and are openly hostile to suggestions. Hubris and ignorance are an unfortunate combination!
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This report initially appeared in the Club newsletter.
Mondayís race at Castle Walk was favoured by much more tolerable temperatures (around 8įC). The start was a bit sudden, with a completely unannounced gunshot, but flowed well.
The route was very hilly, dropping several hundred metres from Castle Walk to the back of Hatfield church. The second half was a steady climb. I discovered that I am definitely allergic to concrete. Every time we ended up on concrete in the second half, I was suddenly and inexplicably unable to run, and had to resort to walking.
Traffic presented a problem at some points. I personally witnessed a Golf speeding down a road with hundreds of runners at around 60 km/h, approaching the runners from behind. Numerous runners expressed their displeasure, so maybe this driver will be more careful in future...
This time, Wanja lagged behind on the second half, but Cecile came steaming past about 1 km from the finish. I would imagine both of us shaved some seconds off our time, with virtually a dead heat. Is this a conspiracy? Do these young women gather in dark rooms to plan this stuff? Is it personal, or is it just contempt of all aging men in general?
The Good: If you're looking for terrain to do some hill training, you can't do much better than this one!
The Bad: I didnít need a fancy GPS watch to find fault with the kilometre markers—there were none.
The Ugly: I was starting to enjoy the new-found ability to consistently run sub-hour 10 km races with my bionic knee. The hilly route put paid to that pattern, with a time not much below 1:05. Seems like thereís still some work to do!
This report initially appeared (with Auto-Correct) in the Club newsletter.
The Fountains race was a league race. The weather was ideal for fast times (which is the polite way of saying that the temperature was between 2 and 4įC).
There was no start line, so participants gathered in the usual chaotic bundle. A race official was adamant that everyone had to get ďbehind the lineĒ, but had no suggestions to offer on where this elusive line might be found. As a result, the race started a few minutes late.
Personally, this race was remarkable mainly for the fact that I was trying out a fancy GPS watch for the first time, so I could proceed with a tirade on how inaccurate the route markers were. Suffice to say, though, that the route was over 300 m short. I guess I shouldnít complain, as I knocked several minutes off my post-bionic best for 10 km.
The first half of the 10 km route was uphill, almost to the top of Monument Hill. The second half, predictably, afforded an opportunity to accumulate spectacular splits back towards Fountains.
Wanja again passed me about 1 km from the finish. This time, I could not keep up, but at least by trying I probably slashed a good few seconds off my time.
The Good: Great weather for speedy running. A personal record for my plastic knee.
The Bad: The race was marred by bad marshalling on several fronts. The worst was that the 10/21 split was not well labelled. There was a piece of corrugated cardboard on which someone had scribbled ď10Ē in ballpoint pen, but no arrow or other directional marking. To compound the problem, the marshals at this point did not seem to know the difference between ďleftĒ and ďrightĒ. As a result, many runners apparently took the wrong turn at this point, either running too far or finding themselves back at the finish line much too soon. There were also droves of people turning prematurely on the out-and-back route, knocking several km off their run and presumably gathering great points for their clubs. No marshals were anywhere to be seen.
The Ugly: At least the chief marshal was driving a fancy BMW X6 with vanity plates, so it seems like A4A knows more about making money than about organising races!
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This report initially appeared in the Club newsletter.
The annual Jackie Mekler 25 km race was held on Saturday. As is customary, the Pretoria Military Marathon Club hosted the 10 km PMMC Memorial Race at the same venue. 25 km is a little beyond my scope at this moment, but I decided to tackle the 10 km race in a valiant effort to contribute to my clubís League standings.
As you can imagine, these races are organised with military precision. The first manifestation of this precision was the way in which the cutoff date for pre-entries was almost two weeks before the race. Someone such as myself who is too low in Maslowís pyramid to plan months ahead is just plain out of luck when it comes to pre-entries. I assume this strategy is specifically designed to encourage ďsleg siwwiesĒ to get up early.
Fortunately, my erstwhile running buddy Laurens had a spare number, so I didnít have to get up military-early.
Another visible aspect of military precision is the fact that they organised the race to coincide with a major air show at Swartkop Air Force Base. In an especially creative move, the race route passes right in front of the Baseís main entrance. How creative: Closing the road directly in front of the main entrance just when the show is about to start!
The net result was a massive traffic jam. We left my car about 2 km from the start and made our way to the start on foot. We just barely made it with enough time to place our bags in a trailer, as a convenient take-away for someone less privileged.
The start was less chaotic than some, as we filled up from the back. As is the way of our people, the slowest walkers always start in front, with runners having to negotiate a maze of near-stationary objects for the first 2 km or so. I passed the start line at 1:40 and the first km marker at 8:50.
After about 3 km, I passed first Marix and then Hennie. I berated both of them for being slower than the slowest guy in the Club (me), and encouraged them to speed up to earn more points for the Club. Little did I know what results my gift of encouragement would have.
The first water point was not very visible, making it necessary to suddenly switch lanes in taxi-like fashion if you wanted a drink.
Just before the halfway mark, I saw Wanja some distance ahead of me. As I know that she is also recovering from a sports injury, I decided to catch her—come hell or high water. I eventually did, but I was so spent that I could not even hold an intellectual conversation. I walked a few times to give my aching knee and my burning lungs a respite, and each time I had to catch her again.
The undulating route passes through a residential neighbourhood and some countryside, so there were no serious traffic problems. The last 2 km stretch is slightly downhill, which is a welcome respite.
I finished about 15 s behind Wanja in just under 1:02. At this rate, I may even break one hour again one day!
I had to wait for Laurens to complete the 25 km, so I had a bit of time to watch the 25 km winners. The two leaders entered the stadium together. When they passed our club tent, they were shoulder to shoulder. However, the winner opened up a 50 m gap in the last 200 m, beating Shadrack Hoff into second place and the 40+ prize.
The 2 km back to the car was not entirely effortless, but at least the stragglers had the distraction of watching formations of ancient warbirds flying overhead.
During the afternoon, we had a Club committee meeting, at which I spoke to Hennie again. He told me that, shortly after my motivational talk, he had tried to pass some of the slow walkers by running on the sidewalk. The grass had recently been cut, but was still about 100 mm tall. Hennie suddenly found himself flat on his face. It turned out that a piece of cable was hidden in the grass, and his running shoe had come to a very firm and very sudden stop. I now call him Rolux Magnum.
All things considered, an enjoyable race. However, the PMMC would do well to reconsider their decision to organise it on the same day as a military airshow, and to terminate pre-entries so early. Surely the Defence Sports Club and the Air Force Museum could hammer something out?
The Good: A hilly route, great for someone who intends to run in mountains. Good marshalling. The Valhalla street names provide a great recap of Norse mythology.
The Bad: Invisible water points, requiring sudden swerves unless you want to go thirsty. Pre-entries unbelievably early—Why?
The Ugly: Huge traffic jams due to the nearby Air Show.
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This report initially appeared in the Club newsletter.
Let me start off by saying: Running long distances is not my cup of tea. I have a car. Even if I didnít, there is almost enough public transport available to get around without one. Besides, with running shoes costing more than car tyres, Iím not even sure that running is cheaper than driving.
Add the fact that my legs are genetically ďdifferentĒ and that Iíve had a serious accident with multiple spinal fractures, and it should be clear that running Comrades doesnít come naturally to me.
Comrades does have one (and probably only one) advantage. Preparing for Comrades is so time consuming that one can only barely fit the required amount of running into six months. One cannot afford to miss even one session. When the alarm clock explodes early on a cold Wednesday morning, you simply cannot afford to roll over and snatch another hour of sleep. Missing that one session may well scupper the entire project. So entering for Comrades imposes a level of self-discipline on one's training regimen that I sorely lack.
It is for this reason that I entered for Comrades in November. Most of January and February were taken up with preparing for the Midmar Mile. Things went well, and I managed to complete the Mile in mid-February with little effort. I was quite pleased, as Iíd had to learn to swim almost from scratch a year before. When I started, I wasnít able to swim much more than 100 m uninterrupted. Comfortably swimming a mile in open water was a personal triumph.
Because of the late start, and because conventional wisdom dictates a minimum of 800 km of preparation, I had to work hard to ramp up my training. I started with 30 km a week in January, increasing by 10% per week. I peaked with three heavy weeks in May, the heaviest one being over 100 km. I would then have three weeks to recover and accumulate some reserves before the Big Day. I resolved to postpone my final go/no-go decision to the end of the last heavy week. If I was able to get there uninjured, I would run Comrades.
The training went more or less according to plan. A few niggles were handled with the help of my physiotherapist Toy, and I managed to survive the ramp-up period and the heavy weeks essentially intact. The final decision to go was taken just under two weeks before the big day.
The tapering period provided some of the most enjoyable running Iíve ever experienced. The running was effortless. I was able to just enjoy the surroundings, and look forward to the rolling hills of KZN. Perhaps the most exhilarating runs were in Cape Town, running up Kloof Nek and down the west coast of the Peninsula with a sea breeze in my hair while the sun set over the Atlantic.
My anticipation was spoiled somewhat by the weather forecast, which threatened 30įC weather with a strong northeasterly wind. At least the South African Weather Service was a little more optimistic, forecasting only 24įC. As the week wore on, though, it gradually joined the unanimous choir of doom of the other forecasting platforms.
I drove down to KZN on Saturday. The Expo was a tedious affair, with more than an hour of queuing to get my numbers. After the compulsory pasta meal and a good night's rest, we arrived at the start line about half an hour before the start.
I stood waiting for the start with an Alaskan runner. I had met Carole Holley in the guest house the night before. She is a regular hundred-miler, who was on tour in southern Africa. She hadnít run for six weeks, but at least the short distance would be well within her comfort zone. She almost regarded it as speed training. Carole was quite amazed by the ambience of the race though; the dramatic showbiz leading up to the start, the crowds by the roadside even an hour before sunrise, and the sheer numbers involved.
The dramatic synthesiser music, the recorded fake cockerel and the gun went, and we were on our way. It took more than eight minutes to cross the start line. Up to that point we were shuffling slowly forward, shoulder to shoulder and right up against somebodyís back. After the start line, we broke into a gentle jog, mindful of the long day that lay ahead.
The first stretch of almost 40 km consists of a gradual climb from sea level. Although folklore singles out three climbs in this section, there are at least six climbs that are as steep as Fields Hill, and even the first named climb, Cowieís Hill, concludes a continuous climb of 350 m. The top of Bothaís Hill is at 750 m, with almost half of the altitude being gained before Pinetown.
As soon as the sun was up, the race became a sweaty affair. My own strategy was to arrive at the halfway cutoff as close as possible to the gun, to ensure that the first half would inflict the least possible damage.
The second half was a separate exercise, with undulating hills but with almost no net climb. I planned to walk most of the uphills and to run most of the downhills to ensure that the average speed would remain high enough. The second half would have been a relatively easy marathon, were it not for the fact that one arrives there with more than a full marathon and a serious climb already on those weary legs.
I made the halfway cutoff with four minutes to spare, within 30 seconds of my planned time. My pulse was down, my breathing was easy, but my legs were rather heavy. I could also feel that a major blister was forming on my right heel.
I stopped just after the cutoff to collect my lunch from a colleague, and to do some work on that blister. After a short break, I continued up Inchanga. At its apex, everything was on track.
Conditions were becoming quite unpleasant, though. Having emerged from the coastal plain, we were now being buffeted by a stiff breeze from the right, blowing sand into my nostrils and eyes and causing us to lean into the wind just to stay upright. It was almost like running on extreme camber. My knees and ankles were starting to complain.
I had mastered four of the five hills, and all that remained was to alternate walking and running over the undulating terrain that lay ahead.
On the first downhill, I was unable to start running. My legs simply would not obey. I was relaxed, my mind was clear, my breathing was easy and my heart rate was down, but the legs were completely disobedient. I decided to walk some more, and resume the running on the next downhill. Unfortunately, the experience was exactly the same. I could continue to walk relatively easily, but running was simply not an option.
With 34 km to go, some distance before the next cutoff, I made my calculations and realised that it was too late. I would be able to make the next two cutoffs relatively easily, but there was no way that I would finish inside the 12 hour limit. With my joints complaining slightly, I decided to get into the Bus of Shame.
It was a hard decision, but actually catching the dreaded Bus was even harder. I sat with a group of stragglers, watching as one bus after another passed us. They were all fully loaded. We were sitting in the glaring sun, with nothing to drink. When the last runner and the sweep vehicle passed us, we realised that we would have to start walking. So we did.
We eventually got to the next water point, where we talked a course official into allowing us onto his bakkie. Sitting cramped with a dozen others is unpleasant, especially on tender legs. The ambience was enhanced even further by one of the other runners who was constantly at the point of vomiting. We tried to mix him a drink, using rehydration powder that I was carrying, some tepid water that he had and a nausea-prevention pill belonging to one of the other runners.
At some point, the officialís bakkie was prevented from continuing on the course, and we got off. We kept looking for another means of transport. Again, all the buses were full. It appeared that there had been so many withdrawals and even medical emergencies that the transport system was completely overwhelmed. Bus after bus passed us, with not a single open seat. We heard stories of hundreds of stragglers behind us, all waiting for a bus.
At this point, I saw something that made me perk up. A large red bus was approaching. I recognised it as the CSIRís rented bus. A few dozen of my colleagues had volunteered to man the refreshment station just after the half-way mark. They had cleaned up their station not long after Iíd passed, and were now on their way to the finish. I lay down in the road to force them to stop. They did, and picked me up along with half a dozen other casualties. My colleagues were very gracious. They did not show any signs of derision and loathing, and even allowed us to sit down while they stood in the aisles.
I have to admit that the CSIR bus is a much better choice than The Bus. The atmosphere was festive, and we exchanged banter while watching the remaining athletes slogging it out. Many times, bus passengers would recognise a club mate or colleague and cheer loudly to urge them on. There was also air conditioning, something that didnít hurt under those conditions. Most of all, the brooding silence that characterises The Bus was not there.
For the next hour and a half, we continued along the Comrades route. I saw many of the runners that Iíd run with earlier in the day. Unfortunately, many of them were not going to make it. Being equipped with pre-calculated pace charts and hours of prior poring over route profiles, I kept calculating the pace that would be required to make the cutoff, and it was evident that most of the runners we were passing would not make the grade. Going up Polly Shortts, most of the athletes showed grim determination to keep moving, but most of them were too late. A particularly poignant experience was slowly passing Sibusiso Sibisi, the President of the CSIR, who was valiantly making his way up the dreaded hill, but who was not going to make the cutoff. I'm not sure if he even realised that the bright-red bus with the dark windows contained dozens of his subjects.
Only after the Polly Shortts cutoff did we start thinking that the runners now plodding around the bus would actually stand a chance. With mostly downhill and with modest pace requirements, most of them would end up wearing a medal by the end of the day.
We got to the stadium shortly after the cutoff gun. Some looked for medical attention, while I went to find the Mat of Shame to register the fact that I had withdrawn. I found my colleagues near the finish and heard tales of triumph and disappointment. My boss had finished in 8:39. I realised that, even though it was a weekend, I had managed to fulfil my obligation to make my boss look good.
What went wrong? Conditions were difficult, but they do not provide the full answer. I have no certain answers, but there is one thing that may have played a role. Because Iíd started training fairly late, I had to run some heavy weeks towards the end, just to make my target of 800 km of training. It is possible that the unaccustomed heavy weeks inflicted too much damage, and that I had not fully recovered by the time the race started.
What about next year? I really donít want to run distances like this again. However, if I do tempt myself into enrolling again, Iíll certainly have to start earlier. Maybe a few more months will allow me leeway to take my last few weeks a little easier, and to arrive at the start with a fresher pair of legs.
We'll see. Right now Comrades sounds like too much running to my liking, but I definitely have a feeling that it constitutes unfinished business. Perhaps once the intensity of pain and disappointment has faded a little from my memory, I'll allow myself to be talked into it again. We'll see.
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