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Half Marathon Recon 1: Southern Cross Drive

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Southern Cross Drive: The Half Marathon's big challenge

Since the first Old Mutual Two Oceans Half Marathon, Southern Cross Drive has been THE climb that loomed large in the minds of most aspirant half marathon runners - it punctuated the race, starting shortly after halfway and climbing up towards the race's 13km mark.

In 2012, that should be no different.  The only change is that Southern Cross is no longer the race's only "punctuation mark" - the addition of Edinburgh Drive to the route means that there are now two sustained climbs rather than one.  Unfortunately, in running terms, that only serves to make the second of the two climbs even more challenging, and so for all the discussion of the challenge of Edinburgh Drive, it is Southern Cross Drive that remains the big climb to conquer on route to your half marathon triumph.

Anatomy of the climb

The climb is actually not too severe - there are certainly more challenging roads both in terms of steepness and length.  It starts at the race's halfway point, and then climbs up over a distance of 2.5 km, ending shortly before the 13 km mark and the twisty, undulating section past Cecilia Forest and Kirstenbosch.

The way to approach the climb is to view it as two "steps", separated by a more gradual section, which comes at just the right time to allow you a few deep breaths and a moment's reprieve before it kicks up again.

The start of the climb is also fairly gentle, which allows you the "luxury" of easing into it and taking some time to work out a good climbing rhythm.  The key words throughout the climb are "relax" and "rhythm" - it's not the world's longest climb at 2.5 km, but if you go too hard early on, then the final 1 km will feel like an awfully long way, and the summit will resemble a mirage in the distance as gravity weighs you down!

The video clip below talks you through the climb - the key stages, including the gradual introduction to the climb for the first 500 m, followed by a steep pull up to the 12 km mark, the gradual reprieve and one last pull up to the top.  Let the energy of the race and the crowds pull you over the final few hundred meters, and remember to save something for the descent.

Two key success criteria: Patience & rhythm

In terms of your overall race result, I believe that it's really important that you successfully do two things:

  1. Avoid the temptation to press too hard too soon on the climb.  I think the way to approach it is to see the climb and the descent as one part of the race, so that you "run over the hill" and leave something in the tank for the top.  Otherwise, you set a mental target of getting to the top, and by the time you do, you may find that you have nothing left for the descent.  Rather reach the summit feeling good, and then cash in. This means that the first part of the climb, when it's less steep, takes on a different meaning - this is NOT the time to try to "bank time" or to make up for future lost time, but rather to ease in.  The rule is that if  you push too hard, you'll lose double the time that you are able to save!  So rather err on the side of caution!
  2. Find a rhythm that you can sustain early on.  That doesn't necessarily meaning running the same pace the whole way up - it could just as easily mean that you are going to run for 5 minutes, then walk for 2 minutes, the whole way.  I've said this many times before, but it's always better to CHOOSE to walk rather than to be FORCED to walk by fatigue.  And Southern Cross is an ideal place to build that walk-run strategy into your race, if you feel you need it.  Regardless of what your pace is, however, it's all about rhythm.  Some runners around you will really push the pace, others will try to walk almost the whole hill, but what counts is YOUR strategy, and finding YOUR rhythm.  Use the early slopes, where it's not as steep, to figure out what you can do on the day, and then just stay below that "threshold" so that you get to the summit ready to "strike" for home!

The video below takes you through it, stage by stage!

As always, questions and comments are welcome either below this post or on Facebook!

Ross

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