Monday, 13 June 2016

Comrades – Alarm bells going off everywhere…….well not quite everywhere !!!

What can I say about `The Comrades Marathon` that hasn`t been said already ??      

It is truly an iconic event which is a must for all endurance runners. It is, for me such a brutal race – 55 miles or so of relentless asphalt with enough camber in the roads to match the elevation gains and all to be completed in less than 12 hours with 5 cut-off`s along the way. Sure the route is supported well but it`s down to you and you alone make that huge personal journey from the start and make it through the finish line in time.

I feel truly privileged & proud to have run Comrades in both directions and in back to back years & to finish within both the new & old cut-offs.

So to recap slightly.

After last year`s race I felt very fortunate to have completed within the 12 hour cut off. I was caught out by the hills in the first 40Kms & going into the race tired. Even before I finished I knew I could do better & I knew I would be back.  So before I put together my training plan I spent some time looking at my past training. This time going for more an even balanced mileage build up & constant hill work in January, February, March & April & more cross training plus to keep the motivation up I would do `30 mins min` a day for Jan & April – any exercise for 30 mins a day. My main training plan was a diluted 24 week 50  mile a week 100M plan from the fantastic `Relentless Forward Progress` by Bryon Powell.

My training had gone well, no real niggles – it is hard to try in a 24 week plan to `simmer` at the right moments & `not boil` over but a hot 55 mile hilly race in South Africa tends to keep you focused.

My brain was full of powerful mantras.

It`s possible

And my personal favourite from wonderful `The Pursuit of Happyness`

Despite the deliberate changes in my plan the Pre-Comrades mileage between the two years was less than 5 miles (819 / 815). My `Pen qualifier` time difference was only 25 seconds. I`d even worked my speed – getting my midweek `4 mile speed` loop down to 00:28:52 a time not seen since 2013.

I have to say I felt good going to South Africa.

I booked the same flights as last year – Wednesday & back on Tuesday from / to Heathrow - Joburg – Durban but didn`t leave it till March to book them. We landed at Joburg and I must admit we did have to get a wiggle on to catch the connecting flight to Durban – maybe bit more of a 1hr 55 min turnaround was needed. The plane to Durban was packed full of Comrades runners inc. Jonas Buud who came in 2nd a couple of years back & is the current 100Km World Champion.

We landed in Durban and got the group bus from the airport to Durban – costing R80, it was nice to catch up with some familiar faces on the bus. I was staying at the Blue Waters Hotel along the main beach road in Durban so ideal for the Up & Down run plus you don`t want too much of a warm up for the North Beach parkrun. I got dropped off & checked in and after a quick shower & change I went straight to the expo - remembering the tag chip from my shoe. I got my race pack & made my way inside the expo. This is the only place where you can buy Comrades branded merchandise – I had planned to bring a lot back. Also on the wanted list was `pace bands` - I wanted 3 timed bands and despite booking a hotel in PMB for the evening before the race I did also wanted to keep options open by buying a bus ticket leaving Durban early in the morning. After about a couple of hours I went back to the hotel. The evening plan`s was to attend the International meet & greet at the Hilton but I thought a quiet night would be best suited.   

On Friday I went on the `Comrades Marathon Bus` route. I was on Hideo`s bus. It was very informative & professional. We stopped first at Comrades Marathon House and then followed the route back from the start to Durban. One sight from last year that stuck in my mind was Ethembeni School – hugely inspirational & very moving.

Seeing as I wasn’t going to run with my phone/camera I planned to take loads of photos of the route inc the `Wall Of Honour` - I had completely missed seeing this during the Up run last year.

It was a fascinating tour & well worth doing but maybe do the run first then go back and do the tour another year. 

In the evening I met up fellow `members` of Runner`s World Comrades forum for a really good meal & natter at Spiga – thanks justanothrrnr for organising.

Saturday morning, well that`s parkrun of course. It was amazing how North Beach parkrun coped with 1,873 other parkrunners – a world`s best for attendance. Oh and a cheeky course PB for me (00:30:18 – 469th place). 

Later that evening I made my way to the Hotel in Pietermaritzburg & the wonderful Ascot Bush Lodge - it is a fabulous place. By accident really I met up & had dinner with Dave & Mel Ross, Penny, Greta, Stephanie, Caroline & Paul which was great. We retired about 9:30pm & I got my kit ready for the morning – I had even remembered a metal spoon for my morning porridge. Now seeing at I wasn`t planning to drop a bag in at the start or take anything back I didn`t bring much with me so I used the alarm on the Garmin & set it to 02:30am ready for the 05:30am race start. 

I must of woken up fairly soon after drifting off and like last year realised my Garmin was switched on so in a daze I must of switched it off……and woke at 04:49am – Yeap 41 mins to race start !!!! Looking back it did remind me of the Four Weddings & a Funeral scene. The hotel staff were amazing & they realised that Mel was still there & woke her up. The Hotel wasn`t far from the start as you could hear the PA / music system. I couldn`t miss Comrades because I over-slept could I ???

We drove down Woodhouse Road until the junction of Boshoff Road, I ditched my `warm gear` in the car. As we pulled up at the junction we saw cars & cars in a tailback `heading` towards the start but not moving very fast at all. Other runners were bailing from cars & coaches left, right & centre and making the rest of the way on foot so I thanked Mel for absolute star & I bailed out here too. 

Looking at `Map my run` afterwards the start / City Hall was 1.7 miles away – lucky I followed a couple of `A` pen runners and made good time – ok not ideal at all doing a warm up at what I think was sub 7:30 pace with an incredibly high heart rate but needs must. I went through the first security gates & could see the pens. I got into the first pen I could (sorry for pen jumping) & caught my breath. I thought to myself “I had my the start” then literally the famous sounds of the Shosholoza came on. I had a huge grin & thought “Right Gower don`t mess this up anymore. This is your day - Start slow”

(I am very close to this person)

After about 3 minutes I crossed the start line –It felt like the whole race went past me in the 1st mile or so but I didn`t care I was running the Comrades Marathon – I couldn`t believe that only 45 mins ago I was still asleep and probably dreaming about Comrades !!!  

Yes I had remember to start the Garmin when the gun went off this year.

After about 3 miles & the first down section I pulled to the side & applied sun-cream (Sachets are wonderful), took my shoes & socks off & rubbed Vaseline around my toes & sorted out my race gear & grabbed a discarded smock but couldn`t find any gloves . I still needed breakfast !!!

The plan was always to do better than last year. Plan `A` was sub 10:30 hrs (Bronze), then sub 11hrs (still bronze) & then if the wheels did fall off it gave me 60 mins to come home for another Vic Clapham medal. I checked my wrists bands & had put the right ones on – 10:30, 11:00 & International Area & settled down in a what seemed a very relaxed pace.  I also had my fitbit on.

Even though I was wearing a 10:30 paceband it didn`t mean too much but only where & what time I need to be. As it happens I was running at the right pace – I hit the 1st top `checks` smack on pace. This boasted the confidence and I felt more relaxed. I did have a bit of hip flexor tightness but put that as the unexpected warm up & it will go after a while – I never gave it much of a thought after that. Each water / feed station I stopped to grab a couple of things – keeping it very light and washed it down with coke.

I chatted to Dave Wood from Reading – another back to back runner for a little while, then just a bit further up I saw Hideo which was nice as he kept me going last year when I thought I was down & out. I just kept going at this comfortable pace –despite the ups & downs and the walk breaks my mile splits seemed to very constant. I was good to go past all these sights we saw from Friday`s coach trip & brought back so many memories from last year. 

I went past the marathon point – not that it really matters - at around 04:50 / 05:00 . The Miles or as it happens the Kms were nicely being ticked down. There was certain sections I was really looking forward to – coming up now was `Arthur`s Seat` & the `Wall Of Honour` - I wanted that good second half & wanted to see my Comrades plaque once again. 

I must admit I did get where `Arthur’s Seat` was a bit wrong as I picked a flower…..and then realised it was still miles away. There was no-way I was going to upset the Running Gods by throwing his flower away so I kept hold of that flower for about 4 miles cradling in my hand like if I was holding a small bird !!!!  Eventually Arthur`s Seat appeared & I said “Good Morning Arthur” and placed that carefully held flower down with the rest – ok it was a bit battered & wilted but the thought was there. Just after that I crossed to the other side of the road & patted my Comrades Plaque.

The views around this area were stunning and really did take your mind off running.

As the KMs signs counted down I knew a sub 10:30 would be slightly out of touch but if I kept it steady it would close. Soon we saw the 21Kms to go sign – that`s only a half marathon & we could see Durban!!!

The next big milestone was the 50 Mile mark. My official 50M PB is still Caesars Camp at 11:51:55 – I was well under that. I went through in about 9:20 ish. This was a major boast plus shortly after that the Kms become single digits. I saw a couple of runners cramp up so I eased off the pace & took walk breaks.  

I did actually feel that 7-5 Kms were tough but once you see that 5Kms sign – well we all know what that`s means. To be fair I was counted these down from 30Kms but only one left. Then 4Kms…..I was going to do this. I thought back to 2014 You-Tube clip of the race where Ellie Greenwood passes Ian Sharman with such a wonderful smooth cadence. 3Kms to go…2Kms to go – ok who put that bridge there….then 1Km to go. Even though I was battered (& do mean battered like I`ve never felt before in a race before) you just had to smile & acknowledge the spectators’ cheers back.

The I saw it….The Kingsmead Cricket Ground. What a sight. Two corners to go before you get to run inside. It was like I wasn`t running at all – all the aches & pains had magically disappeared. It was a truly wonderful place and like last year you wanted it to end but didn`t. Then you saw the best sight on the course – it was worth every single metre in those 89.21 KMs – The Finish.

I went through feeling so great and like I was the first one there. I was given my medal & because my number had two strips on they gave me my back to back medal – I had done it.

I did make the International Tent before they ran out of beer – I exchanged two tickets for two beers but it`s wasn’t time for beer – told you I felt battered !!! I said a quick hello & sat down for a minute or so & looked around for Mel & David but couldn`t see them. I knew I had to keep moving as I didn`t want to end up in the medical tent so I made my excuses and made my way back to the hotel. Sorry John1946 if I didn`t make too much sense on the footbridge.  

I can totally understand John Tarrant infatuation of Comrades. It is a fantastic race.

But will I be back??

Well I never say never…..I did things in training I didn`t think was possible. I pushed myself further than ever before. I got out of that safety zone, I grew, I made friends & I had fun (esp at the after Comrades Party) so if I don`t go back then thank you Comrades for being such a part of my life.

Lastly thank you again Mel.