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First Time Tips for Two Oceans Ultra Novices by Adnaan Mohamed

  • Half Marathon

RACE day is the culmination of months of dedicated toil. You should be proud of yourself because just getting to the start line is an achievement in itself for first time Two Oceans Ultra runners. Before you even take a step at the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon, however, it’s imperative that you have a race day strategy worked out. A strategy prevents you from getting sucked in to a quicker pace by runners who are stronger than yourself. The danger of this is that when you try to stay with other individuals or a group which may be stronger than yourself. The danger of this is when you try to stay with other individuals or a group, which may be stronger than you, you can over exert, which will be to your detriment.

Stick to your own plan

Rather start slowly and let you pace be determined by how you feel throughout the race. You need to take into consideration your own level of fitness and capabilities. It is therefore important to stick to your own plan and follow it on race day. At the Dean Street start in Newlands the atmosphere will be electric and the adrenalin will be pumping through your veins. A whopping 16 000 participants will line up for the Half Marathon which starts at 06h00, while the expected 11 000 runners will set off at 06h25. Make sure you have you timing chip attached firmly to one of your running shoes otherwise you won’t get a result and all your hard word will come to nothing. Getting there early to avoid the rush is also non-negotiable. The race starts with the blowing of the traditional fish horn, followed by the gun and you off. It’s easy to get carried away with the seething wave of runners that engulfs the whole width of Main Road. Hold back a little here. Rather move off tentatively until your muscles are warmed up properly as you move along the main road past the first water point in in Kenilworth. More often than not there is a crazy scramble for water sachets. It is advisable to start drinking early, but it is more important to drink when you are thirsty rather than just drinking because you are passing a water point. At this stage of the game runners are usually full of chirps with a lot to say. It’s easier to get drawn in by the atmosphere and the faster mob in front. It’s perhaps wiser to slow down the pace down a bit and run within yourself. The section along the main road through the suburbs of Claremont, Wynberg, Plumstead and Diep River and Retreat is quite flat. Here you are able to maintain a steady pace and before you know it you would have completed 10 km. The crowds in Retreat and Tokai are always full of cheer, shouting encouragement to all and sundry. Round the bend at Lakeside (13km) there is often a surprise waiting for the uninitiated where the blustery number fluttering South Easter (also known as the Cape Doctor) can be particularly menacing.Almost without warning you right next to the sea at Muizenberg (15km) and you get your first refreshing glimpse of the Indian Ocean. The Red Sun will still be low over the Hottentots Holland Mountains far on the east side of False Bay. It’s still early, the low waves and the mist over the water make it seem as if the sea hasn’t woken up for the day yet.

Run conservatively

Up, down, around you twist and undulate - St James then Kalk Bay, past Fish Hoek just above sea level and before you know it you reach the half marathon mark. If you are still feeling strong, it’s easy to get carried away by running too fast. But it’s still early days and you are not halfway yet. Rather run conservatively and save your energy for later. As you pass the avenues and the thongs of spectators at Sun Valley, the thought of that notorious monster called Chapman’s Peak looms large. The Ultra halfway mark (28km) is reached just before the Silvermine Road intersection. From here on you push up to the top of Little Chappies, which brings up the 3okm mark. Your quads and and your calves will start protesting in the strongest possible terms as the pace slows down to a canter. The familiar chirping of the earlier part of the day gives way to quiet with only a few murmurs breaking the silence. The pristine Noordhoek beach and your first glimpse of the turquoise Atlantic Ocean on your left provides some respite from the pain.

Set small targets for the hills

It is here that simple run-walk strategy can be used to good effect. Set yourself little targets like a pole or rock, tree or traffic sign. Attack the hill in small increments by taking short strides and swinging your arms to propel you forward. You will be surprised how much you gain on others who decide either to run slowly up the hills and those who choose to walk out the hills. You will experience a sense of relief as you reach the top. You hardly have time to feast your eyes on the spectacular ocean views as the relentless ankle shattering downhill descends quickly into Hout Bay, with the magnificent Sentinel mountain in the background. It is here that you should be particularly cautious not to try to make up lost time, because you can easily do considerable damage to your quads that can be quite costly on the home stretch.

Use run-walk strategy

As you pass through Hout Bay sympathetic spectators offer a few welcome potatoes, biscuits chocolates, ice lollies and jelly sweets. They seem to know all the runners, cheering and shouting encouragement. Pain turns to joy; such is the vibe and good will from the masses of the Imizamo Yethu informal settlement. It is almost tangible. You begin to tell yourself this is the one good reason why you do it. But then you hit the infamous climb of Constantia Nek. It kicks you right hard in the middle of the gut. The masses walk, but this is a running race, so on you plod, though not much faster than the walkers. For many this is the hardest part of the race. But is can easily be conquered using the run-walk strategy mentions earlier.

The Marathon Mark

About halfway up Constantia Nek, as you pass the marathon mark (42.2km). You start nosing around for fresh pair of legs. You are now in ultra-territory and your body has actually had enough. Pain like piercing arrows will persistently shoot through your body sending signals to the innermost recesses of your brain. Your fatigued body will start protesting against your every step. The voices of defeat will continually test your mental strength. A weary smile will part your lips as the ceaseless cheering of spectators intoxicates you. But eventually you will believe the words of encouragement you start to hear. Your staggering gait will change to confident strides as you become stronger and more assured. Yet is seems that there is no respite because there is still another 14km to contemplate. But in most cases you will find that you have reached the marathon mark in a better time than you clocked in your qualifying marathon. A sense of relief overwhelms you as finally reach the top of Constantia Nek. Some respite is offered by the shaded Rhodes Drive past Kirstenbosch. At 50km you are tired. The day is often a scorcher. You are hot and you have to tell yourself you have only 6km to go.

Homeward Bound

A left turn onto Union Avenue reminds you it is Easter Saturday morning. Heavy traffic squeezes into a single lane to pass you as battle uphill against the exhaust fumes. Its only three gut wrenching kilometres to go, up past the abandoned Old Zoo and onto the UCT sports field. The welcoming tone of the crowds is music to your ears. You cross over the timing mat into the marquee and it’s all over. As you stand there overwhelmed by emotion, proudly displaying that medal, you realise like so many things in life you reach on goal only to find that it’s not actually the end but just a point along the road, where yet another goal beckons in the distance. The pain will be long forgotten and the sense of accomplishment will remain vivid in the mind’s eye.

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