Archive for April, 2011



It began at 4am on Tuesday 19 April. Bidding farewell to the wife and one daughter (the other fast asleep at home) at the airport, I set off in search of the fabled southern tip of the planet’s most interesting continent. I arrived at said location about 17 hours later. But not before I had exhausted all “new release” options on the inflight movie channels.

I met up with my South African family and spent a few lovely days with them, before my running partners arrived from Johannesburg and scooped me up, at which point I began a four day adventure that consisted of eating out at a lot of nice restaurants, staying in a lovely B&B, running a bit each day (and a LOT one day – more below), and just generally being on the receiving end of any and all “pom” related gags. And believe me there were a lot of pom related gags going on. Let’s just say health and safety in South Africa appears to be lagging about a decade (and perhaps two) behind Europe and leave it there.


My alarm went off at 4:50am. First thing I did was check the weather forecast. It was 6 degrees. No danger of overheating just yet! I rolled into my usual pre-race routine, coffee, shower, race kit on, coffee, breakfast and get the hell out of dodge. Barrow, my B&B roommate, had been struck down by man-flu in the lead up to the weekend, so very sadly (but sensibly – H&S) decided the only option was a DNS.

I met fellow Hajjim Sandalboy (Eric) and Simone at breakfast and after some brief formalities including telling each other how fat they looked, we trotted off to the start together.

There were some emotional moments at the start line. Sharing the pre-sunrise darkness on the road with 8000 other runners, listening to the national anthem. It was a goosebump moment. I felt good, I was ready to roll. The gun went and we were off.

My race plan was to run at a specific effort rather than chase particular splits early on. I set off and settled into an effort level I felt comfortable with. As it turned out this was about 4:25 to 4:30 per km. To break 4 hours I needed it to be 4:10 to 4:15. So with each passing km marker I was accumulating time that would be next to impossible to jettison on the hilly second half. My chest felt tight during those first 10km and I was coughing quite a lot. I had only finished my antibiotics on Thursday (two days ago) and I realised I was not yet 100%. Nonetheless I decided to carry on and hope that it didn’t get worse. I knew if I needed a dropout point (disaster) I had Barrow and PQ standing at the 12km mark and again at the 26km mark. My coughing and spluttering didn’t get any worse, but didn’t go away either, for the next couple of hours.

I was clicking away the 4:25’s quite comfortably now and was grateful for all the training miles in my legs and the strength they had given me, so that, even with the flu remnants, I could still get the job done. Halfway (28km) came in 2:05. If there had been any last lingering thoughts of breaking 4 hours (and getting a silver medal), then it was at this point that they faded away completely. The course profile (flat first half, big climbs in the second half) means that running a negative split is pretty much impossible, and even maintaining the same pace over the second half is almost unheard of.

The first of the climbs is Chapman’s Peak, which tops out at about the 32 or 33km mark. The scenery is breath-taking. A cliff falls away to the Atlantic Ocean on your left hand side throughout the climb. My legs were feeling good at this point. The relatively slow pace I was running didn’t seem to be challenging them. Around the 25-35km stretch I was tempted to push on. The words of warning I had received a number of times in the last few days were going through my head: “The race only starts at 42km”, “Contantia Nek will blow you away” “save your strength” etc etc. I heeded their warning and held back.

Coming off Chapman’s Peak the course takes you into Hout Bay and towards the 42.2km (standard marathon) mark. On the descent down Chappies I caught and passed Sandalboy. SB had also targeted sub-4 before the start and has set off at target pace from the gun. He looked to be struggling when I saw him and told me to carry on when I pulled up alongside him. We had a brief chat wherein  I used some colourful language to describe my current views on the sub-4 challenge. Then I took his advice and moved ahead. That was the start and end of the battle to be first Hajjim home.

From Hout Bay and the marathon mark (which I hit in 3:13) onwards I simply felt stronger and stronger. The fabled Constantia Nek couldn’t do any damage to my legs. I ran strongly all the way up, passing people continuously. I began wondering why the hell my chest had had to play up in the earlier sections of the race. I was full of running now. I crested the Nek at 46km and picked up the pace to the 50km mark. My split was 3:51.

The final 6km felt like a bit of a roller coaster, albeit with a lot more down than up. I kept the pace going and sped up some more for the final 2km, both of which were under 4 minutes. As I ran onto the field towards the finish, I saw my Dad, my sister, my brother-in-law and my niece all shouting for me. I felt fantastic. A few yards further on were the non-running Hajj crew. Barrow, PQ and Keli were all cheering me on. Thanks for the support guys! I crossed the line in 4:17:22. Not even close to sub-4 but I felt like I had just had one of the best running moments of my life. I loved every step of the race.

I met up with the family and we took some pictures to remember the day. Then we all went and found Barrow and the gang, and we waited for the others to come in. Sandalboy ran 4:41 I think and Adam ran 4:44ish. A great run on his debut. And congrats to SB for getting his permanent blue number for completing his tenth Oceans. Simone was next home in 5:54. A solid run given his preparation. But not solid enough to avoid him being crowned the 2011 Beer and Chicken Bitch.

The rest of the day was spent, swimming (more like an ice-bath), showering, and enjoying some fine KFC and cold South African lager. In the evening we headed out for a few post-race beers. It was great catching up with old friends. A brilliant day all around. Thanks guys.

I missed Bec and the girls a lot while I was out in SA. I am sure everyone was getting sick of me talking about them, texting them, and video-skyping them, but frankly I don’t care. :-). They are the reason I am running the best times of my life right now and they support me 100% in every aspect of the racing and training. Next time I come out to run they will be with me.

And with the extra oomph they provide on race day, that stinking sub-4 barrier had best be looking over his bony shoulder.

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Press the button

What do distance runners know about upper body strength? That’s right, very bloody little… up until now.

Inspired by an idea aired on the MarathonTalk podcast , three of us decided to give it a go.

The premise is this: You do three sets of press-ups each day, starting with 1 per set, i.e. 3×1 and increasing each set by 1 press-up each day. So, day 2 is 3×2, day 3 is 3×3, day 4 is 3×4 and so on until, after 100 days, you reach 3×100.

The idea is that Joe Average couldn’t drop to the floor and produce 3 x 100 press-ups at the drop of a hat (sorry) but that he could if he followed this simple incremental process, thereby proving – in practice – the “training” principle.

That’s the theory.

Turns out I’m a wimp, and I didn’t make it past 3 x 21. (I conjured up a watered down version of the plan, suitable for lesser athletes, which worked well in my case – I dropped the 3 sets down to 1 set. But that’s not what this is about).

This is about Niceguy Eddie and Gracie, who both stuck to the task and pressed their way all the way to 3 x 100.

I filmed the culmination of the challenge. For your viewing pleasure, a badly edited version of said video footage is below.

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