My Two Oceans 2019 Experience - What A Difference A Year Can Make!
Last year’s and this year’s Two Oceans were like day and night to me. In 2018, the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon was my first ever ultramarathon in the build-up to my first ever Comrades. I had run my very first marathon six months earlier in August 2017 after two months of training, shortly before I moved to South Africa.
I was inspired by my boyfriend Werner’s brother Johann, who was doing all these long-distance races I had never heard of before. I jumped in head-first and quite frankly did not have a clue of what I was doing. Ten days after emigrating and about six weeks after my first marathon, I ran my second one (Cape Town), followed by the Voet van Afrika a month later, then another month later came Winelands. The last was an awful experience and at the time I could not understand why. Surely with all the mileage I had done it should have been a breeze? However, I still continued my “let’s do all the races” mindset and went from Bay 2 Bay to the Red Hill Marathon, to Cango and then Weskus, with a fair share of half marathons and shorter races in between. All of them done as a race, of course. Because why not?
In the meantime, I had some niggles and needed a good few physiotherapy sessions to get me sorted out. Just days before the race I had a panic because of pain in my leg, which fortunately went away.
And then it was time for my first Two Oceans. I had read a little bit about the course, knew that the first half was flat and the second half hilly. I was sceptical about the ‘saving something for later’ philosophy, worrying that I simply wouldn’t have anything left if I held back. I had never done a training run up Constantia Nek but nevertheless felt confident because I had run over Chapman’s Peak once or twice. My hope was to run Two Oceans in under five hours, despite many people telling me that the first one should just be run for the experience. I obligingly nodded my head in agreement but thought to myself “I’ll show them!”. Boy, was I wrong! I made the classic mistake of going out too fast and by the time I reached the halfway mark, I was ready to quit. My legs were so sore and I had to take many walk breaks. It felt like my spirit was broken (very dramatic, I know) and I couldn’t pull myself together, which frustrated me even more. I considered dropping out when I passed the medical tent on top of Chappies, but reasoned myself out of it because I thought that waiting for the bail bus was probably going to take longer than dragging myself to the end. I hated myself and the rest of the race and came in at 5:34:09 feeling defeated and embarrassed. Me and my big mouth. The only thing that I saw as a huge positive was that Johann caught me in the final 2kms, also feeling a little rough, and together we run/walked our way to the finish line which we crossed together – a very special moment indeed!
My plan for 2019 looks very much the same as last year’s. The aim is Comrades, so everything else leading up to it serves as training for The Big C. But the difference is that one year on I am wiser and more willing to accept my limits and the influence of the circumstances; I can gauge a lot better when it’s best to quit, when to push, when to take it easy. Constantly – maybe even too much – sucking up the advice of more seasoned runners like a sponge, I have learned more with every race and training run. I took note of what certain very well-respected and experienced runners I had the pleasure of running with mentioned, such as Mark Wagenheim and Tony Abrahamson. One such thing, for example, was their surprise by my marathon times, which are relatively slow compared to how I perform on my shorter distances. I said I always battle with the last bit of a marathon and end up slowing down. Perhaps I should do a few more long runs to make sure I stay strong in the last part of the race, I was told. And I needed to do speedwork. So I made sure I did.
I started doing track and time trials, neither of which I had done last year. I focussed more on the recommended long runs. I started learning more about nutrition before, during and after races, and experimented with it on training runs. Even then it is hard to predict how a race day is going to pan out. I experienced my first DNF at the Red Hill Marathon, where I had to pull out after 25km because of gastro issues. I was surprisingly okay about it. I knew what I had done wrong. I took it on the chin and was adamant about running 17km, no matter how slow, the next day to make up for the missed distance.
The Cape Peninsula Marathon was only a few weeks later and to my own surprise I felt a lot more confident. Even though I missed the PB I was hoping for by a few seconds, I had never felt so strong during the last 12km of a marathon as I did that day and I really enjoyed the race.
At the start of the year I joined a new running club not because it is close to where I live (quite the opposite), but because of the people. I have never felt more welcome than with the AAC. The encouragement and support are incredible. Several times a week I chose to wake up extra early to drive 35 minutes to our training sessions before work, which is in the complete opposite direction. Those early morning alarms were ruthless every single day, but once I got in my car and saw other early birds already out on the road, it really wasn’t all that bad. Even the never-ending climb up Camps Bay Drive. The people I ran with were all in the same boat as me and they simply made it fun to be there. On other days Werner selflessly dragged himself out of bed to cycle next to me on those dark early morning runs in my own neighbourhood. If anyone deserves a medal, it’s him!
All throughout these past months I was debating what my aim for Two Oceans should be. I wanted to redeem myself. I wanted to get that sub5. I knew I was stronger, fitter and more confident than last year. Also, I had now at least run the course before, so I knew better what to expect and how to approach it. Theoretically, a sub5 was possible. But I also did not want to risk my Comrades goal, and with Two Oceans being held this late in the year the recovery period is a lot shorter. For weeks I went back and forth between doing it as a training run for Comrades on the one hand and trying for a sub5 on the other. At one point I had made up my mind: I was going to use it as a long run. It wouldn’t be worth ruining Comrades. After all, the chance of running another Two Oceans was higher than running another Comrades. But, encouraged by a few strong time trials and a 5km and half marathon PB in the weeks before Two Oceans, as well as reassurance from Mark and Tony that I was in the right shape to run a sub5 without risking my Comrades goal, I decided to go for it. My Plan A was a sub5. My Plan B was, if I felt that I had to push too hard to make Plan A, to take it easier and perhaps aim for 5:15. My Plan C was to just finish in a better time than last year.
I was not nervous. I was just excited to experience a beautiful run with my friends. I had my race food in my running belt and planned to drink both water and coke on the route to keep me fuelled and hydrated. Mark and I had talked about how to approach the race. Both he and Tony had kindly shared their pacing plans with me. When my alarm went off on the morning of the race, I even had an email from Tony with his adapted pacing chart for the new route which he had still sent to me the night before. I memorised the splits in the car, reciting them to Werner as he drove until I knew them by heart.
I was looking forward to starting the race with about 5 of my AAC friends, Lisa, Mark, Rianda, Robert and Jana, and was lucky to find them all in the seeding pen where we had agreed to meet. We all set off together but soon lost each other in the crowds, however Lisa and I made sure to stick together. We religiously followed the splits I had memorised. Every now and then people we knew came and went. Nyasha from the Whalers joined us until just before Ou Kaapse Weg, dreading the climb and eventually falling behind. We were even lucky enough to be found by Tony on Tokai Main Road, who stayed with us for a bit until he was engulfed by one of the sub5 buses and we lost him. Gavin, a running friend of mine who apparently had been just behind us for ages, caught us on the downhill of Ou Kaapse Weg. He commented as he joined us: “Have you girls even stopped chatting for two seconds?” – we hadn’t. Lisa and I had kept yapping from the very start and indeed had not stopped apart from the 2kms on Ou Kaapse Weg where I couldn’t keep up with her. Our conversations varied from what documentaries and series we recommended watching to regularly checking in with each other if we were still feeling good. We both were, most of the time. The many familiar faces in the crowds and happy cheers gave us wings. But heading into Tokai, my affirmative answers to the question if I was still feeling good were not entirely sincere anymore. Then a lady from Wild Runners – Michelle, as her bib read – ran past us and commented on how lucky we all were to be doing this. How beautiful this race was, and what an incredible experience we got to have. It was exactly what I needed to hear, and I thanked her for saying that. It prompted me to, as they say, “pull my finger out” and I felt better for a little while. But around the marathon mark I was really battling a little bit and once we reached Southern Cross Drive, I was repeatedly asking Gavin and Lisa if we could please take some walk breaks. We took a few 20 or 30 second walk breaks, which all felt like one second to me. Once we reached the top, I felt better. By the time we headed into Kirstenbosch I had found my legs again and got a second wind. I felt amazing, and picked up a bit of speed. Rianda zoomed past me looking incredibly strong. Lisa and Gavin were a bit behind. With a huge smile on my face, I let the downhills carry me and eased through the last 5-6kms, passing both sub5 buses and feeling lifted by the crowds. Werner and his family were standing on the last stretch of tar, a few hundred metres before we reached the field. He took some pictures, gave me a high five as I passed, and off I sped to the finish. This year, the clock was on my side. I crossed the finish line at 4:54:20 with the biggest grin I could possibly have on my face.