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Two Oceans 2012

This is a running blog and I will do my best to stick to talking about the race and not about the FANTASTIC holiday we all had in South Africa this Easter.

 

Chapter 1 (Don’t worry these are short chapters): The Preparation

 

My training this year has been a mere shadow of last year’s. My long run count was down by nearly half (6 runs of 18 miles or over, compared with 13 runs last year). My 12-week average leading into this year’s race hovered just below 60. Last year it had been early 70’s.

But let’s dispense with bland statistics at this point, because, as we all know, we can massage them to tell whatever story we like. The bottom line is that this year I was a lot more relaxed about my buildup and was feeling in great shape. I had my form verified by two performances – a half marathon PB in 77:26 and a 20 mile “marathon pace” race in 2:09. I knew I hadn’t logged the big miles but felt I was in decent shape anyway. I was in a good place.

 

Chapter 2: The Hiccough

 

Two weeks before race day I developed a nasty cough. Was it mental? Would it go away? What the hell man. I didn’t go to the doctor. I should have. The cough didn’t go away. In Cape Town, three days before the race my sister insisted I see a doctor. (She is a wise woman, my sister). The doc broke the news that I had bronchitis. He told me not to run, and immediately followed that up by announcing that he expected I would ignore his advice and run (He is a wise man, that doctor). I dosed up on the meds and waited for a miraculous recovery.

 

Chapter 3: Race time

 

Rain had been forecast for the day. The forecast was right. But we had a dry first hour, so hey let’s not complain. I set off knowing I needed 4:10 or quicker per km, in order to average the 4:17 required for a silver medal. (Breaking 4 hours at Oceans gets you a silver medal). First km or two I was in thickish crowds working my way through. The splits were 4:50 and 4:20. No problem yet. Once I got into my running I ran a couple of sub 4min kays and settled into a pace ticking off kays in the 4:00 to 4:05 window. It felt incredibly easy and I held back, told myself not to get carried away (bitch, be cool). 10km came and went, then 15. All still good. I saw the family all waiting for me between the 15k and 16k mark. High fives and lots of cheering. They’re awesome and I felt great seeing them.

Around 17k I caught up with the unofficial silver bus. A group led by a guy who could allegedly run 3hr55 to 3hr58 with the reliability of death and taxes. I latched on and patted myself on the back for finding this group. From now on I could relax and not think about pace. These guys were the Oceans experts; they knew how to do this.

I was still keeping track of my splits out of interest and after a few kays in the 4:15 to 4:35 range I asked running buddy Adam (another passenger) whether he thought the pace was right. He wasn’t sure. We waited another few kays. The pace wasn’t picking up. We were now running out of flat kilometres on which to bank time. In a few kilometres’ time we were hitting Chapman’s Peak, a climb that announces the second half of the race. Still, to my retrospective regret I made the mistake of sticking with them. I was second guessing myself now. Have I got this wrong? Maybe this pace is right. Wouldn’t I be an idiot if I set off only to be caught by the wizened heads in two hours’ time.

Finally we went through halfway and I knew I’d screwed it up. 1:58:30. I had exactly 90 seconds of cushion to handle the multiple big climbs in the second half, not to mention general fatigue that would soon set in.

Enough is enough and I set off ahead of the group. I was on my own now and made a big push, far too big, up Chapman’s Peak. The km going up Chappies was my fastest in the last 10. On a damn uphill. It was too much. Going down the other side of Chappies I knew I was done. Adam had caught me and I told him silver was still on the cards, just, if he had anything in his legs. He pulled away and I didn’t see him again until much later.

From 32km to the marathon mark I shuffled along. I tried to keep my legs going at a decent pace but the earlier mistakes were unforgiving. I got to the marathon in 3:04 and resigned myself to a final 14km of jogging. I resolved not to stop at any point, nor to fail to notice the wonderful scenery I was running through.

I caught Adam at the start of Constantia Nek, the final infamous climb in the race, from 44 to 46km.

In the pouring rain earlier on, and with two hours plus of running in soaking wet kit I had chafed on a level not experienced before. I won’t go into details for obvious reasons, but it had got to the point that blood had run all the way down my leg and into my shoe. I hadn’t even noticed until another runner pointed it out to me at about the 50k mark. Pretty embarrassing. I managed to rinse it away with some water at a water point so  it didn’t look too noticeable. Let’s just say the post-race shower was not as pleasant as it could have been. I was still wearing plasters two days later.

Anyway back to the race. I settled in to focussing on proper running again from the top of the Nek and got the pace back down to under 4:20 for the final 5 or 6 kays now. The only motivation being that I might beat my 4hr17 from last year.

I finished in 4hr14, with my awesome supporters, Bec, Jode, Amy and Dianne, braving the atrocious mud and cold rain on the UCT Rugby fields where the race finishes. Dale was also in attendance, but had been assigned the task of looking after our younger support crew members, Abigail and Matt, in the warmer confines of one of the cars.

 

Chapter 4: Final thoughts

 

Oceans 2012 was a race I will remember for:

 

  • what might have been

 

  • excessive chafing

 

  • how lucky I am to have such hardy supporters, braving pretty much anything and always with a smile and always cheering wildy as I shuffle past, invariably at a pace far slower than I promised beforehand.

 

 

You win this one, Two-Oceans-Silver-Medal. But you will see me again. Oh yes; we have unfinished business.

 

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Oceans11

 

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.

RACE DAY.

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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