Continued from Two Oceans Ultra Marathon – Part 4
As expected, I didn’t sleep all that well on Friday night. But I am quite accustomed to not sleeping the night before a race and try to make sure I have some extra rest hours in the bank the couple of days leading up to race day. We all started to congregate in the living room area of the guest house by 4:45. Our wonderful guest house proprietors, Tonia and Paul had the coffee on and pre bagged breakfast to go ready for everyone. Love those guys.
The plan was to leave the Dolphin Inn by 5:00. And of course our GRS Sherpa for the week, good ole Sam Mayer, took care of driving us and dropped us off right at the start. We had one slight navigational hiccup which sent us to the wrong end of town initially, but cool headed Sam made the adjustment and still got us where we needed to be. Sam was the man all week. He always made sure we were taken care of, drove us wherever we needed to be, and did it all with a smile and a helpful and genuine interest in any plans we may have concocted.
Sam dropped us off at the start and we were lined up at the very back of the pack which made me feel uncomfortable. I don’t like to see too much of the race in front of me, so a few of us edged our way more towards at least the middle of the pack. Our team was split up at the start. Which was fine with me as I generally prefer the solitude. I somehow did end up running with Trish for the first few miles; and that felt good. We eventually split up and ran our own races. Two Oceans is a beast of a different color. They say that the first half marathon is flat. That is not exactly true. The first half marathon actually inclines just enough to nudge you and make you wonder if you are climbing or are off to a bad start. It’s a subtle and gentle climb, but it is a little bit of a climb. But out of respect for the locals, I will say that the first half of the marathon is flat – by Two Oceans Ultra Marathon standards!
I felt great through the first 21km. I was a little slower than 21k race pace, but that was to be expected, given what needed to be conserved for the rest of the race. I believe I had about a 2:15 split at the 21km mark. My hope was to run a conservative 2:15 first 21km, and even more or equally conservative second 21km. Which would leave me plenty of time and energy reserves to cover the last 14 km. I knew I needed to run safe through 42km and have plenty of gas in the tank for life beyond that marathon mark. That all looked and sounded fine – on paper and in my head.
The problems came when I hit Chapman’s Peak. Which was also the same point where the true splendor of the course reminded you that there is a God, and that Mother Nature can be a beautifully dressed bitch. I kid you not, this was the most breathtaking and picturesque scenery I have ever witnessed in my life. I felt like I was watching a Nat Geo special on a life sized screen. The climbs throughout Chapman’s were significant, and unlike anything that I had prepared for. (That’s a training flaw on my part and will not be repeated in the future). But the views that I experienced while climbing proved to have almost an anesthetic effect on our “suffering”. We tend to use that term quite freely when we speak of tough portions of races. I was never a fan because I look at all of this as fun and games and see no room for suffering. There is too much true suffering in the world to pretend for a minute that we “suffer” when we hurt in a race. BUT, I will grant myself an exception this time.
Another unanticipated X-Factor was the wind. Now, understand, I have raced in my fair share of wind and even torrential rain. Wind can be very uncomfortable, and can destroy your psyche, but wind tends to forget, and most people can eventually find their way through wind given a little patience and a few self talks.
It wasn’t “wind” that I experienced while admiring the beauty of Chapman’s Peak. It was gale force, blow you off your feet, tornado caliber heaving that literally blew people right to the ground. I saw people face plant around me as if they were being knocked about like bowling pins. While I wasn’t blown off of my feet, a few times I needed to sit down on the road in a fetal position, taking cover against the mountain, with my back to the wind, just to remain in control. If I even was in control. The downhills were just as bad because once you picked up a little momentum, it was virtually impossible to slow down once the wind mowed up and over your back. Your feet couldn’t turnover fast enough, and your brakes simply didn’t work. It was … insanely and spectacularly AWESOME. It was part of the adventure and part of the journey. As crazy as it was, you couldn’t help but smile and even giggle through it all.
I finally made my way through Chapman’s and was almost sad to see her go. I lost a lot of time due to the conditions and the hills. I was forced to walk way too much of that which I hadn’t anticipated. That backed me up against the wall to make the next cut off time at the marathon mark. I made the cut, but by the skin of my teeth. But it wasn’t part of the plan and this didn’t give me much room for the next cut off which included even more significant climbing than we had seen at Chapman’s. I made it past the next cut off point but I was past the required time by two minutes according to my watch. So I didn’t exactly having the day that I had hoped for.
I made a few friends during the race. Including a ten-time Two Oceans Ultra Marathon veteran who said these were the worst conditions she had ever seen. And this was the only race – in ten – that she didn’t finish. I reflected back on what I could have done better. Then chuckled out loud as I recalled throwing my running cap to a little boy on the street who yelled to me, “hey mister, can I have some cap?” The way he scrambled for that hat, you would have thought I tossed a $100 bill to the ground. That may end up being one of my most lasting memories.
I rendezvoused with the rest of my team at our scheduled meeting spot. Some had already finished – or been pulled from the course. And a few people were still out there fighting their way to the finish. I was proud of each and every one of them and honored to be a part of this epic adventure.
My wounds quickly healed. While these things can be a little disheartening, the reality is that I traveled to the other end of the world, raised significant dollars for our mission, met some amazing people, and got to run what is probably the most beautiful marathon in the world. I will take away the things I gained, which were far greater than anything I may have just missed.
This was a fantastic experience and gorgeous journey. The accommodations were second to none. The team camaraderie was great. The work done by our captains and organizers was really appreciated and made our trip flawless. Our financial contributors, event organizers, new and old friends, and sponsors all made this trip an exciting experience of a lifetime. A special note to our friends at Nathan Sports; not only did our belt packs provide the perfect solution to our nutrition needs, we all walked around Cape Town with our red cinch backpacks which were not only great race day bags – but great shopping bags as well!
Will I go back? Absolutely. But it’s a big planet. I suspect that our very awesome little core GRS team will land on a different destination before circling back to revisit Cape Town South Africa.
Until next time, train safe, race smart, and thank the volunteers.