So yesterday was marathon day. My fourth marathon in four years.
My first marathon was something I got talked into almost as a joke. I’d been running regularly with a friend and we decided, along with his brother, to have a crack at the Cape Peninsula Marathon in February 2012. It all went fine for about 30km (apart from knee pain which kicked in at the 2km mark) and then my body went a bit weird and my running partner got cramp. I eventually walk-limped over the line in about four and a half hours and vowed never to run a marathon again.
Fast forward to February 2013 and I’m running the Cape Peninsula Marathon – this time as a potential warm up and qualifier for the 2013 Two Oceans Ultra (56km). It all went fine for about 30km and then my body went a bit weird. I eventually walk-limped over the line in about four hours and fifteen minutes and vowed never to run a marathon again.
After this second bad marathon I came to the conclusion that maybe it was the choice of race rather than the actual idea of a marathon that was the problem. The Cape Peninsula Marathon is lovely, flat…and tedious. I can’t quite work out why. The route is stunning for the most part as it goes along the coast. I think the issue is that it is a one way run – so at the end you are knackered and 42km away from your car. This is not a good combo.
Fast forward to September 2014. A new marathon is in town! The inaugural Cape Town Marathon. I had about three months to get ready for the race and in theory I was in reasonable shape on the start line. It all went fine for about 30 km and then…are you starting to see a pattern here? I eventually finished in just under four and a half hours after hitting the wall and taking over an hour and half for the last ten kilometres…and vowed never to run a marathon again.
Fast forward to July 2015. As regular readers of this blog will know I was dealing with a double whammy of pleurisy and sinusitis and my body and energy levels were completely shot. So I did the only sensible thing. I devised a nine week training plan that would end in the 2015 Cape Town Marathon.
So here we are. Exactly nine weeks and four hundred and fifty kilometres later.
Yesterday was a weird day. For starters, everything about the pre-race routine was different. I got up at 4.45am (half an hour earlier than the year before), I ate a giant bowl of oats (the peanut butter sandwiches and banana have been ditched) and then headed off to Green Point. The race size has doubled (7500 marathon runners this year) and they also threw in a 10km race at the same time. Net result – traffic hell. Not only traffic hell but my secret parking area from last year was closed. Bastards.
When I got to the start there were holding pens for the seeded groups (I was in C which is basically one pen ahead of the sick and lame). I managed to find the guy holding the sub-4 hour flag and stuck like glue until the start line. I didn’t think I could remotely break four hours but I figured he would at least get me through the first few kilometres ahead of the masses so I could settle into my own pace.
I got very emotional at the start of the race – which is unlike me. I don’t know why but I almost burst into tears on at least three occasions (and this was two hours before my nipple plasters came off). Clearly the sight of a legendary athlete (Elana Meyer) releasing a dove was too much for me so early in the day. OK perhaps it was more to do with the fact that I genuinely didn’t think I’d even get to the start line when I put the training plan in place and suddenly the early mornings, the support from my wife and kids and the feeling like I could actually do it were to blame.
The race didn’t start well. It took me about fifteen paces to need a wee and about thirty more strides to drop off the back of the four hour bus due to sheer numbers of bodies.
After five kilometres I was about thirty metres behind the four hour group and my legs felt heavy. At the 10k mark the gap was about fifty metres and the legs were no better. My right calf and achilles were sore. My left hip was sore. The day felt a little too warm. I still really needed a wee. It felt like everything was about to unravel.
And then I did something very odd.
When I run I generally acknowledge everyone running in the opposite direction. On race days I try to thank each marshall who has given up time to help make the race a success and I try to respond to people who shout from the side of the road. This year I took it a little further. Every voice I heard I smiled and waved. Every time I felt sore I smiled instead of grimacing.
Clearly I was delirious.
And yet it worked. Step by step the niggles got a little easier to deal with. 15km came and went and suddenly there was less than 10km to go until I passed close to my house. 21.1km went past and now we were over halfway. My stride was lengthening. Maybe this is doable after all.
Around the 24km mark the route heads along Campground Road past Newlands Cricket Ground and there’s a straight stretch of several hundred metres. From the start of the road I could see my wife and kids waiting to cheer me on and so without thinking I sped up and got in front of the four hour bus.
And that was the moment the entire race changed.
From that point onward I knew I could do it. I knew it would be tough (it was). I knew it would hurt (it did). I knew the last 10km would hurt even more (oh boy…they did). And I knew I might cry (I nearly did, a few times). But I believed I could do it – something that I didn’t feel in the previous three marathons.
And the result? Well…take a look for yourself.
Yup. A new PB by about 23 minutes. I can hardly believe it either.
Guess it goes to show you can achieve a lot in nine weeks…