Sub 3h15

For anyone trying to crack the 3h15 barrier anywhere in the world

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17/06/2012 at 23:03

I'm back from the internet abyss and landed in the UK this morning.  Sorry I haven't read back.  I just wanted to share my Comrades report.  Sorry it is a long one.... 

17/06/2012 at 23:04

<span style="font-size: 8.0pt; line-height: 115%; font-family: 'Segoe UI','sans-serif'; mso-fareast-font-family: Calibri; mso-fareast-theme-font: minor-latin; color: #2a2a2a; background: white; mso-ansi-language: EN-GB; mso-fareast-language: EN-US; mso-bidi-language: AR-SA;">The alarm was set for 1am. For nothing else in the world would so many people rise at such a time.  I had been looking forward to this day for 231 days since I had entered.<span style="font-size: 8.0pt; line-height: 115%; font-family: 'Segoe UI','sans-serif'; mso-fareast-font-family: Calibri; mso-fareast-theme-font: minor-latin; color: #2a2a2a; mso-ansi-language: EN-GB; mso-fareast-language: EN-US; mso-bidi-language: AR-SA;">

<span style="background: white;">I left the hotel at 1:30. The night was warmer than typical. Over my running clothes I had my jeans and jacket and carried a rucksack with the last minute items, but mainly it carried a lot of food.

<span style="background: white;">I started to see other runners and as we converged to the bus pickup point, the density grew until I was in a queue with thousands of other runners waiting for the bus.

<span style="background: white;">I started to feel the enormity of the course on the bus. The driver could rarely get the bus into top gear. The bus strained and struggled uphill and screamed on the downhill. Another English guy, a 4 time runner, sat next to me and an Australian woman novice next to him. I wanted to sleep so didn’t join the conversation as they chatted through the issues of the day so I caught odd fragments as I snoozed. He described his first Comrades as a typical novice run - first half in 4:10 and second half in 6:20. I wondered what the day would hold for me. I had been desperate to get the Bill Rowan medal for a sub9 hour finish. I wondered if I could finish at all.

<span style="background: white;">For weeks prior I had had trouble with my right leg. In the week before I made runs of 5, 3 and 2.5 miles. Each run had caused pain, but the last along Durban seafront had difficult because of the pain. I started to contemplate 'just finish' or DNF because of my leg. Confidence was already low

<span style="background: white;">As the bus continued its journey, I began to feel very small. The distance and the size of hill were daunting. This was no place for over confidence or arrogance I thought. I had to take the humble approach and follow the advice of others who had gone before me.  My the minimal walking breaks I had planned became replaced with the recommended interval and I focussed on the first half plan to minimise the use of energy and keep reserves for later.

<span style="background: white;">I tucked into breakfast on the bus - dry Muesli washed down with energy drink, bars and a big iced bun. I was surprised that I was the only one eating. It was now 3:30 but I didn't see much eating going on even before the start.  I wondered if people had a nutrition plan.
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17/06/2012 at 23:05

<span style="font-size: 8.0pt; line-height: 115%; font-family: 'Segoe UI','sans-serif'; color: #2a2a2a; background: white;">We were dropped off at a set of traffic lights in a regular South African town. I was a bit underwhelmed that the start of the world’s greatest race would start so inconspicuously. I went through to the closed area and the atmosphere changed immediately. There see runners in all states of preparation. I queued for coffee at 4am and slowly got ready - the last food, contact lenses, bag drop. There were a group of black runners joyously singing Shozolosa and it really made me happy to hear. I sheltered in Nandos who had thoughtfully opened their doors.  It wasn't as cold as it could be at 8C, but cold enough.<span style="font-size: 8.0pt; line-height: 115%; font-family: 'Segoe UI','sans-serif'; color: #2a2a2a;">
<span style="background: white;">I went into the starting coral at 5am and gently worked my way forward. At 5:15 the corals were closed and the internal partition removed and we surged forward so that I was only 30m from the front and right under the clock. The starting celebration didn't disappoint, SA national anthem, Shozoloza, chariots of fire, the crowing cockerel then not a starting gun, but a starting canon.

<span style="background: white;">We were off. The world’s greatest footrace, the ultimate human race – let’s see how I would do.

<span style="background: white;">In the weeks prior, I had studied the course profile in detail and had split it into 5 sections (thanks to the course description of Barry Holland) and three different average paces which included walking breaks. The first 20km were to be average 9:30 m/m, the next 25km at 8:30 m/m and the last 45km at 10m/m, with a few 'bonus' faster miles to average 9:30m/m overall and a Bill Rowan medal. The first section was 20km to the highest point and included three notable hills.

<span style="background: white;">We slowly shuffled forward and just jogging by the start line. It was very congested and slow and my hopes for a fast first downhill mile were disappointed. As the congestion eased we started to slow ascent to Polly Shortts. In the down run, the peak is reached over 5 gentle uphill km. I had started easy and a steady flow of runners were passing me. I checked my pace and thought it OK and then I heard one of the Green numbers say to his mate 'It's a long way to Durban' shaking his head at all the others streaming by. I immediately dropped my pace by 15s or so.

<span style="background: white;">The atmosphere to Big Pollys was very quiet. I was getting my mind in gear for what was to come and checking I was doing everything right. Just easy running I told myself, just like a training run for now. I discarded my first disposable top riping it off, as we ascended Pollys. Then came the sharp downhill of Pollys. There would be enough downhill later in the day and I went slowly to preserve my quads. Immediately came Little Pollyps and stated running the first third, I took my first walking break and was surprised that I had not seen anyone else walk so far. I disposed my gloves and was back running again as we crested Little Pollys. The sun started to rise and down we go, carefully to preserve my quads. Off with my last disposable top and I was one of the few already in their running vest. Up to the highest point, again it is gentle climbing over many km and on the way I take my second walk break of 3minutes on the middle third of a hill. The highest point is actually very inconspicuous and I only know I'm there because of a sign saying 'highest point'.

17/06/2012 at 23:05

<span style="font-size: 8.0pt; line-height: 115%; font-family: 'Segoe UI','sans-serif'; mso-fareast-font-family: Calibri; mso-fareast-theme-font: minor-latin; color: #2a2a2a; background: white; mso-ansi-language: EN-GB; mso-fareast-language: EN-US; mso-bidi-language: AR-SA;">There was a bit of a side/head wind and it had blown most of the km marker boards down. For those I do see, the numbers were abstract - 79km to go has no meaning to me - its just a very large number in running terms for me at least. I'm also doing a good job of ignoring my Garmin and only pace and average pace catch my eye.  I reach the highest point bang on plan at 9:30m/m including 3 notable hills, the slow start and 2 walk breaks.  I felt absolutely fine but had some realisation that things would get a lot, lot harder later.  My right leg too surprised me – it was sore for the first few miles but then the pain went to the background.<span style="font-size: 8.0pt; line-height: 115%; font-family: 'Segoe UI','sans-serif'; mso-fareast-font-family: Calibri; mso-fareast-theme-font: minor-latin; color: #2a2a2a; mso-ansi-language: EN-GB; mso-fareast-language: EN-US; mso-bidi-language: AR-SA;">

<span style="background: white;">The next of my 5 sections is the 18km between Highest Point and the foot of Inchanga. It is an undulating section and an opportunity for steady running. My plan was for average 8:30m/m pace with one walking break.<span class="apple-converted-space"> 

<span style="background: white;">I had bought a Union Jack vest and realised it was a good move when we went through the first town on route of Camperdown. In these little towns the whole population had turned out to watch and shouted my name or for GB/UK/The Queen. I chatted to other runners and nicely ticked off steady miles. Towards the end of the section there is the school for disabled kids and they line the street and high-5 the runners. I like many other slowed to high-5 the kids and felt the privilege to run. Believe me I would need every ounce of motivation for the next section. At the end of this section (38km gone), I was feeling fine and now average 9:03m/m a little behind planned pace .

<span style="background: white;">The next section was just 11km, but by far the hardest section and the later 7km being the hardest on the whole course. First came the mighty Inchanga hill -150m ascent and the 170m down over 4km. It was the single biggest obstacle I had feared before the race. Even with a walking break in the middle of the ascent it was a hard climb. At the top I was intimidated by the view to the next part of the section, but first came the 170m of downhill to Drummond. I had been looking forward to the downhill running but my legs were beginning to tire and I kept it cautious trying to preserve my quads.

<span style="background: white;">The mid-point is at Drummond and I reached the sign at 4:13 against a target of 4:10 to 4:13 and was delighted. A bit further up the road and I passed under an inflatable arch with a timing mat - the real halfway point. The suddenness for realising I’d got the wrong point led to disappointment to be passing there at 4:16. I was still getting myself mentally sorted when the road started to go very steep and I like everyone else walked. I did at least grab sandwiches and oranges to get some solids in.


Edited: 17/06/2012 at 23:06
17/06/2012 at 23:07

<span style="font-size: 8.0pt; line-height: 115%; font-family: 'Segoe UI','sans-serif'; mso-fareast-font-family: Calibri; mso-fareast-theme-font: minor-latin; color: #2a2a2a; background: white; mso-ansi-language: EN-GB; mso-fareast-language: EN-US; mso-bidi-language: AR-SA;">This 7km section out of Drummond was brutal, there are three hills - all very steep. Lots of walking was unavoidable. The fatigue in my legs rose sharply. I closed my mind to the fatigue and just did my best, a little bit of running followed by a walk on the steeper sections and run downhill gently to recover before the next ascent.  Up until now, I’d told everyone ‘I’ll try’ to finish within 9 hours.  I started to realise the enormity of the task in hand.<span style="font-size: 8.0pt; line-height: 115%; font-family: 'Segoe UI','sans-serif'; mso-fareast-font-family: Calibri; mso-fareast-theme-font: minor-latin; color: #2a2a2a; mso-ansi-language: EN-GB; mso-fareast-language: EN-US; mso-bidi-language: AR-SA;">

<span style="background: white;">At the top of the last hill in that section, Bothas, there was a flat section with a rest station.  I felt broken.  I was exhausted.  I gathered as many things as I could to replenish myself and walked. It was the legendary Comrades 'dark patch'. I doubted that I had the strength to get my Bill Rowan medal and started to think of Bronze.  I was very down and really struggling to maintain any focus..

<span style="background: white;">It was then that a Green Number, Jan, started to walk with me. I had chatted to him in the first half - he'll run the Lakeland 50 later this year. He was beaming with smiles and a good nature. I was mono-sylabic . It seemed like 5 minutes but probably less. He turned around my thinking with his encouragement and gave me the belief again. I was running again - his advice simple - run the downs and flats and walk, shuffle or run the best I could uphill - and the pace to get a sub-9hours was just 6 minutes per km or the 10m/m I had planned.

<span style="background: white;">My mental state had completely changed since my chat with Jan. Sure I was still tired, but I was convinced I could get home within 9 hours. I started to do the maths after the first km marker I saw. I became more convinced and realised I just had to tough it out. Because of the tough middle section, my average pace was now 9:14 m/m and I realised I needed a few faster bonus miles to finish with average 9:30m/m

<span style="background: white;">My 4th section was mostly downhill and undulating and 18km long. A few km into it there was a nice downhill and it felt mentally very good to run down at 8:30m/m after my struggle. But my legs were already pretty gone and I just kept going. I closed my mind to the pain in my legs and rarely had conscious thoughts except for calculating the numbers. My average pace remained at 9:14m/m until around 20km to go. This was good but my legs and in particular my quads were getting more fatigued. At the end of this section is Fields hill, 170m descent over 3km (and there is a wicked camber). I had been warned to take it easy here and I did but my legs were finished at the end of it.<span class="apple-converted-space"> 
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17/06/2012 at 23:08

<span style="font-size: 8.0pt; line-height: 115%; font-family: 'Segoe UI','sans-serif'; color: #2a2a2a; background: white;">The final section is an undulating mix, it mainly goes downhill but has 3 named hills and a fair amount of undulation. Once again my legs were gone, but this time my spirit was good. I just had to tough it out to get my Bill Rowan medal. 20km to go and 2:20 to run it. On a normal day we would struggle to run so slow. But this is not a normal day and I would struggle to run so fast.  I just kept pushing as hard as I could and rested on walk breaks in a discipline way - they became a reward that I could look forward to at various distances and landmarks.<span style="font-size: 8.0pt; line-height: 115%; font-family: 'Segoe UI','sans-serif'; color: #2a2a2a;">

<span style="background: white;">At one point I saw 2 fellow runners and thought how slowly they were running and then realised I was also running the same. It was not pretty or comfortable, but I just wanted to keep going. At several points I had run with Jan again- he told me I had the spirit of a true Comrades runner and this is probably the most appreciated compliment I have ever received. Once again he kept me going strong and I could offer little in return.

<span style="background: white;">I knew I had done it with 3km and 28minutes to run it in. It was literally all downhill or flat and I could see the stadium lights. I just kept running. I wanted to really enjoy the last km and the running on the grass of the stadium. I took a last walking break just before I started the final km. The pain in my legs diminished as I ran that last km. I had some sadness that the journey was over, but mostly growing elation that I would finish and finish well. I slowed a little to savour the moment and turned the last corner on road, before entering the stadium gates and then a little section within the periphery of the stadium before running on the stadium grass.

<span style="font-size: 8.0pt; line-height: 115%; font-family: 'Segoe UI','sans-serif'; color: #2a2a2a; background: white;">The first straight I was looking around appreciating the moment and waving to the crowds.  The elation struck and I was delighted to be there and savouring the moment.  Round the corner, I was looking for my wife and kids at the International athlete’s area.  I spotted them as I raised my arms aloft, so happy to have made it.  I round the last corner (mind the athlete being sick) and the clock reads 8:48:00  I raise my arms aloft in celebration for the last few tens of meters.  The announcer picks me out because of my Union Jack vest and announces my name as I finish.

<span style="font-size: 8.0pt; line-height: 115%; font-family: 'Segoe UI','sans-serif'; color: #2a2a2a; background: white;">I had expected to almost collapse at the line, but no, I can walk.  A Comrades official asks me if I’ll be back next year for a back-to-back. ‘No – this is so hard’

17/06/2012 at 23:08

<span style="font-size: 8.0pt; line-height: 115%; font-family: 'Segoe UI','sans-serif'; color: #2a2a2a; background: white;">It is clear that the limit was my leg muscles and their strength to resist the fatigue and the damage handed out.  My CV system operated within the limit (although obvious it took a pounding too).

<span style="font-size: 8.0pt; line-height: 115%; font-family: 'Segoe UI','sans-serif'; color: #2a2a2a; background: white;">I more or less immediately have difficulty walking.  I meet my family and kiss my daughter on the floor – I can’t get up and when I find a chair, I can’t get up from that either.  I stayed soaking up the atmosphere for a while, very happy that I had done it and bagged the medal I desperately wanted.  It was nice to meet a few runners from the Comrades thread. 

<span style="font-size: 8.0pt; line-height: 115%; font-family: 'Segoe UI','sans-serif'; color: #2a2a2a; background: white;">I walked back to the hotel, via a dip in the Indian Ocean.  It was 2km and must have taken 90minutes including the dip in the sea.  Legs very painful.

<span style="font-size: 8.0pt; line-height: 115%; font-family: 'Segoe UI','sans-serif'; color: #2a2a2a; background: white;">In the evening we go out and exchange stories with fellow runners.  Each one of them from the first to last place is true hero in my eyes.  The distance is huge, the hills are huge

<span style="font-size: 8.0pt; line-height: 115%; font-family: 'Segoe UI','sans-serif'; color: #2a2a2a; background: white;">Next day I wake up and can see the ocean from my bed, and my wife and kids are there, and I don’t have to do any running.  I’m a very happy Comrades finisher.

<span style="font-size: 8.0pt; line-height: 115%; font-family: 'Segoe UI','sans-serif'; color: #2a2a2a; background: white;">The race has finished and so has the journey.  I have had my understanding of my limits completely reset and nothing will be the same again.  They say that life is never the same again after Comrades and they are right.  With the joy also comes a sense of loss that the dream is gone and has now become replaced by a memory.  As wonderful as the memory is, I can never again have the excitement of running my first Comrades

<span style="font-size: 8.0pt; line-height: 115%; font-family: 'Segoe UI','sans-serif'; color: #2a2a2a; background: white;">Of course it would have been impossible without my wife.  She gave me the strength to finish fast but also the option to DNF or just get home. When I had experienced a lot of leg pain in my last run before the race, I talked through all the various options and I was very uncertain to even finish.  She let it be OK to fail.    My son is growing up to and his first 4 word sentence was ‘Daddy finished run Comrades’.  Of course he wants to be a Comrades runner too, but every man is a world champion in front of his year old son.

 

Edited: 17/06/2012 at 23:09
17/06/2012 at 23:09

I offer the following strategy for Comrades:

At the start, be humble

In the first half, be smart

In the second half, be tough

At the finish, be happy

Thanks for everyone’s friendship here too – It’s been a pleasure to hear the stories and the banter and I’ve learnt a huge amount

That's the end now.  Thanks

 

Edited: 17/06/2012 at 23:11
17/06/2012 at 23:18
Ah....now only the last post is editable - sorry for all the guff - I was going to go back and remove it all but I don't have the option now
18/06/2012 at 06:30

SJ - 3k, 5k and 10k pace sessions and an LSR in the space of 6 days! Sounds interesting, but way too intense for me. Hope it does the trick for you.
MM - Start of a super-easy, sensible come-back?
Speedy - nice trophy! Congratulations on a great result.
EFC-Col - all the best for the 10k.
Bike It - what can I say. Most incredible report I've ever read, in spite of all the formatting You'll certainly never forget that, so be proud of an immense achievement. Take care now.
Easing back a tad this week as I've a parkrun planned on Saturday, so 5 miles with 3 x 2 min 5k efforts this morning. NOw off to walk the dog.

18/06/2012 at 06:55
Bike It - fantastically evocative report. How on earth did you remember all this as you were going round - were you taking notes?

Sitting reading it eating breakfast having had a CNBA moment this morning when I looked out and saw the rain, so I feel very humble.

How do I convince Mrs L that this would be a good thing to do? Maybe I'll just send her your penultimate paragraph!
18/06/2012 at 07:10

Well done Bike it- sounds like an epic challenge.

18/06/2012 at 07:27
Bike it - epic stuff, very done. Fantastic report describing all your emotions. I'm sure your boy will follow in your footsteps one day.
18/06/2012 at 07:58

That's a brilliant report, BikeIt - you evoked all of the pain and elation brilliantly!  Congratulations again on a brilliant report.  I hope the recovery is going ok...

18/06/2012 at 08:31
Proper running that Bike It - huge congratulations. I hope you celebrated with lots of bunny chow. A really good account of the mental side of long distance running, and on such a brutal course too. Starting a race at slow pace can be unnerving but you got it right and made good decisions along the way too. Brilliant stuff

Ditto CC, that trophy is quite something.

Minni - shame about Lindisfarne, I ran over at the weekend, very otherworldly. That pub on the A1 by the turnoff to the causeway does a decent pint too
Edited: 18/06/2012 at 08:32
18/06/2012 at 08:33
Fantastic effort bike it and a very inspirational report. I'm looking forward to my 4 mile lunch time recovery run already, may even throw in a couple of hills.

Will you be back again?
18/06/2012 at 09:03

http://s3.runnersworld.co.uk/members/images/297347/gallery/parkrun.jpg?width=350

from the Whitley Bay parkrun- me on the right (3rd place)

18/06/2012 at 10:12

Absolutely fantastic, BikeIt -  your report brought a tear to my eye  . . .

18/06/2012 at 12:12
Slokey - quick! New stages now released.

Poacher - that causeway's always longer than I think. Are you up here next weekend?
18/06/2012 at 12:30

Bike it  a brilliant report and a very moving account, huge congratulations...

OO well done on the 3rd place park run...

Gul looks like your sharpening up nicely, good luck.

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