Prof Ross Tucker on how to get the best Ultra result on Saturday
Hi Ultra Marathon runners! Prof Ross Tucker here, hoping that you’re enjoying a healthy and effective taper week before your big race on Saturday! Of all the things you can and should do to give you the best possible result on race day, getting your pacing strategy right is perhaps the most important. You have to manage how you “spend” your effort over the 56km, given that you tackle two challenging hills and their descents.
This is especially important this year, because the new route over Ou Kaapse Weg is a different challenge - it means you don’t run Constantia Nek (good news!), but you have a harder climb sooner in the race. So you have to really adjust your targets and expectations.
I have prepared the pacing targets for the race, and the table below shows you what time you should be aiming for at various points along the route in order to hit your ultimate goal.
The targets are based on what scientific research has shown to be the most effective strategy, namely EVEN EFFORT throughout. A lot of runners make the error of going off too hard, trying to “bank time” for later.
Having to do Ou Kaapse Weg makes this really tempting. However, it would be a mistake - you should rather be conservative early, and aim to finish strong.
That’s possible because Southern Cross Drive is nowhere near as challenging as Constantia Nek, so my advice is to hold back and you’ll find that you can really make up time in the last 14km. So, you’ll aim to get to the marathon maybe 5 to 7 minutes slower than normal, but don’t panic!
You will get it back if you run even effort! Good luck, and please don’t hesitate to ask any questions! Look out also for the adidas pace-setters on race day - they’ll be carrying flags for these target times, to help make your job even easier!
The 2015 race throws a new foe your way, in the shape of Ou Kaapse Weg. For some it will be familiar but forgotten - the race went over it more than a decade ago, and it is slightly more challenging (and thus slower) than the Normal Route. It changes the dynamic of the race, because even though both routes, normal and detour, have two significant hills, the Detour puts the harder hill first.
You’ll be used to hitting Constantia Nek shortly after the 42km mark, and that’s a really difficult climb. The Detour route has Southern Cross soon after the marathon, and it’s quite a lot easier than the Nek, and so the end result is that you can gain time after the marathon mark. However, Ou Kaapse Weg replaces Chapman’s Peak, and that’s definitely a tougher prospect - longer, steeper and more sun exposure.
The end result, and my summary of what the Detour route means for you is this:
- You can expect the first half to be more or less the same as normal - the route deviates just before 27km, so it’s not exactly the same, and you’ll need to push a little more from 10km to 21km, but your halfway target is about the same
- The section from halfway (28km) to the marathon is going to be quite a bit slower on the Detour - Ou Kaapse Weg is a very challenging climb. It’s long, and steep in places, exposed to sun, and it has a very steep descent into Tokai, so therefore, you need to plan to reach the marathon a few minutes slower than you would do had you gone over Chapmans Peak - the table shows the projected times to the marathon
- The section from the marathon mark to the finish is however easier and faster in the Detour route, because it features more flat running through Tokai, and it replaces Constanta Nek with Southern Cross drive, an easier climb because it’s shorter and less steep. So, what you lose from 28km to the marathon you can make up from the Marathon to the finish. But only if you’ve been sensible to that point!
Therefore, it’s very important to factor this in, and to not panic if you find that you’re going slower than you normally would.
I think you will be tempted to try to keep your targets the same, and run Ou Kaapse Weg as if it were Chapman’s Peak. That would be a mistake - the climb is a lot harder, and if you burn it too hard between 26km and 37km (the section that includes the climb and descent of Ou Kaapse Weg), your legs will remind you of it later! The key word to a good Two Oceans is thus PATIENCE.
Overall, I’d break the route down as follows:
- First 10km - relatively easy, flat along Main Road, and chance to get into a good rhythm early. Don’t make the mistake of trying to bank time on the flats because you’re nervous about the hills - for every minute you gain here, you stand to lose many more later. So relax, get into it gradually, and get to Tokai Main Road feeling sharp. Think of it as your warmup!
- 10km to 21km - because the Detour is a slightly tougher route overall, if you want to run the same time, you have to find somewhere to make it up. This section is where I’d suggest that, and so you can nudge the effort up very slightly, putting yourself maybe a minute ahead of what your normal schedule would be to 21km on the Chapmans Route.
- 21km to 28km - you’ll lose some time here because it features the first couple of kilometres of the Ou Kaapse Weg climb. That means you’ll hit halfway in about the same time as normal - you get ahead from 10km to 21km, and then slow a little to 28km. Because the first half of Two Oceans is quite a lot easier than the second half, your goal should be to run the first half a little faster than the second. For example, if the goal is 6 hours, then your target to halfway should be around 2h52. That leaves you about 3h06 for that second half and a safe sub-6, and is a good split. Obviously, if you go faster than this (let’s say 2h45), then you’re risking a blowout second half. This is the delicate balance you must find. I would err on the side of caution - every research study done says that finishing harder is more effective.
- From 28km to Marathon - as mentioned, this is a tough section of the race, certainly harder than the equivalent section of the normal route. So, just relax and accept that you’re going to be slower, and leave yourself with something to make it up in the easier final 14km.
- Ou Kaapse Weg is long, but it has sections that are a little flatter, and so you will be able to recover on the climb, if you keep your wits about you. Like Chapman’s, there’s a small climb, then it drops, then it climbs for real, and so don’t be fooled by that first little climb and descent. The other problem is that it will be exposed to the sun, so focus on keeping your exertion levels down by staying cool, pour water on yourself and just relax. There are important moments to come - you won’t achieve your goals by being aggressive here, but you can certainly miss them if you are! One very important tip is that the descent is very steep and long. You have a great view over Cape Town, but that’s the only upside. If you fly down this climb (and you may be tempted because you could feel very strong at this point), then you may pound your legs to the point that they’re empty by the time you reach the last 10km. That’s what you need to avoid. So hold it back, be patient.
- The flats through Tokai - the next segment of the race winds through Tokai and there are a few short hills to contend with. Just focus on rhythm here. The bottom of Ou Kaapse Weg is shortly after 36km, and Southern Cross starts at 45km, so that’s 9km of flat or almost flat running. Gather your thoughts, and your legs, get energy onboard, drink, eat and try to reach the marathon mark with some “ammunition” left
- Southern Cross Drive - this climb goes from 45km to just before 48km. The first part, up to 46km, is not too bad, so ease into the hill. The challenge starts only after 46km. From 46km to 47km, it builds, but the first part is actually quite flat. But as you get under the tree cover, it kicks up, and that’s where you have to knuckle down, focus on relaxing and finding a consistent rhythm because for the next ten minutes, you’re working hard and climbing. The last kilometre (from 47km to 48km) is tough, but then you get a nice descent to recover. Overall, if you take the bottom half easy, it’s really only a 1.5km climb, and that’s why you’ll make time up - on the Normal route, you’d be on the 4km slog of Constantia Nek. So, if you’ve left something in the tank, you can make big time here.
- Kirstenbosch Section - this section runs from 48km to 53km, and is also “bumpy”, so the challenge here is rhythm, just as it was through Tokai. The camber going past Cecilia Forest doesn’t help, especially on tired legs, but the great crowd support should be a boost. Here, the key is to focus internally on how you feel. Forget the watch, forget the next kilometre. Keep your thoughts in the “NOW”, and on what your body is doing. There are little steep pulls, and little drops, but they’re very short, so they do throw your concentration and rhythm. use this period to consolidate, ahead of the last push. Once you get to the Top Gate of Kirstenbosch, there are almost 3km of descending, some of it very steep. If you have good legs and feel strong, now’s the time to cash in. Not too aggressive, mind you, because there’s one final sneaky challenge waiting, but you can start to open up here. This 5km section from 13km to 18km is the fastest of the race. Enjoy the vibe at Kirstenbosch while you fly by the crowds.
- The final 3km are surprisingly tough - exposed to sun, and also certainly not flat. As soon as you turn off Rhodes Drive, you climb up what is called Chet’s hill, and if you’re on the limit there, it will hurt. That’s why no matter how good you feel at 15km, you need to keep some ammunition on standby. The final 2km are easier, except for the fatigue in your legs and the heat (if it’s sunny), but you’re close enough now that it’s just a big push, the finish line is in sight!
Overall, the key early on is patience, especially on the climb and descent of Ou Kaapse Weg. Southern Cross is nothing like Constantia Nek, but if you’ve gone too hard on Ou Kaapse Weg, then it will feel even harder! My honest advice is to accept the hit that Ou Kaapse Weg will give you, lose up to five or six minutes in that stretch of the race, because if you do, you’ll cash in between 42km and the finish.