The highs, lows (and everything in between) of my 16 week Paris Marathon training plan.
Hey Malcs.....just got back yesterday. Apparently it was the toughest Comrades in history (I'm sure they say that every year!). A few people have asked for a race report.......this should be the last one I'll be writing for a while.........rest is definitely on the cards now!
I was wide awake well before my alarm had gone off. It was 2:30am and if felt like I hadn't slept for more than 20 minutes all night. I probably hadn't. This was it. No more sleeps left. I was finally going to tick off a race that had been at the top of my bucket list for many years - The Comrades Marathon. It was an 'up' run this year, meaning almost a 6,000ft elevation gain over the 87km course from Durban to Pietermaritzburg.
If this didn't sound like a lot on paper, it certainly looked a lot on the bus tour of the route the day before. No hill training I'd done was enough to prepare me for this. On top of this was the weather forecast for the day of the race - temperatures reaching 31 degrees Celsius and a head wind reaching gusts of up to 40mph. I'd also managed to catch my wife's sinus infection a day earlier, meaning I awoke with a sore throat and a head that felt like it was frozen in an ice block.
Strangely though, I wasn't feeling nervous. Daunted yes, but also excited. I had no idea what this day would bring or whether my training had been enough. I did know that I was going to try and enjoy it! The race started at 5:30am. I got to the start at just gone 4:00am and was shocked to see people had already entered their pens and were sitting patiently for the race to start. With my walnut bladder, I'd never manage such a wait! I entered about an hour later, squashed towards the back and waited. As the clock ticked towards 5:30am, the South African national anthem was played, followed by Shosholoza and Chariots of Fire. The atmosphere and singing sent shivers down my spine. I was definitely feeling overwhelmed now.
Before I knew it, the gun had gone off, and we had started the long road to the finish. It only took a minute to cross the start line and I was away in to the dark night. My eyes were transfixed on the road in front of me, making sure there were no chances of tripping over fellow runners and pot holes.
I was secretly hoping to go sub 9 hours before the race, but even though I was less than 10 minutes in to running, I knew this wasn't going to happen. My sinus infection wasn't bothering me at all, but the temperature definitely was. It was muggy and the sun was still an hour away from rising. I was already drenched in sweat. With the constant uphill climbs for virtually the first 46km, I knew it was going to be a struggle to keep such a pace and still maintain enough energy for the 2nd half.
The first major climbs of Cowies Hill and Fields Hill came and went, and even with some short walking breaks up these, I was still maintaining 10 minute miles, which was needed to come in under 9 hours. With the sun up, the temperature was rising rapidly. Crowds were out in force, the smoke of their breakfast braais crossed the course. I was expecting the smell would make me hungry. It just made me nauseas.
It was just before entering Hillcrest that the 10 hour bus swallowed me up and spat me out. There was no point pushing for this dream with another 60km still to go. I'd been running with a girl I'd met at the 3 Forts Marathon a month earlier for a few kilometres and was still feeling pretty good. It was nice having company. I was wearing a Union Jack vest, offered to all UK runners. This certainly helped with getting more vocal support (and light hearted abuse from Australian supporters!) from the crowd.
It was only after the third of the five main hills - Botha Hill that I started to struggle with the constant uphill running. I walked for all of this and then enjoyed the first proper downhill section, passing the Wall of Honour and Arthurs Seat on the way to Drummond and the halfway point. I was about 10 minutes down on my sub 9 hour goal by now and was feeling confident of posting a decent sub 10 hour time. That's when the trouble started.
I felt I'd been doing quite well at staying hydrated up to this point. I'd been taking a gel every hour too. The one thing I hadn't been replenishing enough of was salt. Energy drinks hadn't been enough. The cramps started and they immediately brought me to a walking pace. I tried to start running again and my calves again let me know that this was against their wishes.
Luckily the 4th major climb was coming up - Inchanga, which meant walking time, which I hoped would help with the cramps. I took advantage of a salt tablet and some salted orange segments. Unfortunately the damage was already done and the cramps never went away. There were more downhill sections now and I happily managed to run these, but as soon as the uphill sections returned, the cramps also returned.
My average pace by now had dropped drastically. The cramps had spread to my arms, quads and strangely my cheeks. The kilometre signs still read 32km to go, 31km to go. They were passing at a ridiculously slow speed now and I felt despondent there was still another 20 miles to go. I was now in to unknown territory. I'd never ran this far before. The sun was beating down, the wind was letting itself known and blowing a dust storm into our eyes. There was nothing enjoyable about this. I swore there and then that I would never be so stupid to ever attempt anything like this again.
The next 10 miles were definitely the hardest. I was running on my own and the course was passing sparsely populated areas, which meant less crowds. I'd also made the decision of damage limitation. I was starting to feel a bit sick now and with the cramps, I decided to focus on getting the bronze medal and not on time. To get a bronze medal I needed to finish in any time between 9 and 11 hours, which meant I had plenty of time to play with. All I had to do was run about 4.5 miles an hour for the rest of the race and I'd come home in time.
About 12 miles from the finish I got talking to a local runner called Theresa. She was running her 10th Comrades and was getting her green number. It was nice to have company again and I ran the rest of the race with her. It definitely made the last miles pass without any incident. The camaraderie amongst runners is something this race is famed for, and it certainly didn't disappoint. We walked the up hills and ran the down hills. I was more than happy with this.
Climbing the last major hill, Polly Shortts about 8km from the finish, it was carnage. I must have past about 10 runners collapsed or past out in the 2km climb to the top. Other runners were cramping up more than me and they looked like they were playing musical statues, too scared to move again for fear of what was coming.
The crowds were back and as the stadium came closer in to view, I finally allowed myself to think I was going to complete it. The stadium finish was like no other. I managed to spot Mrs. Shady in the crowd. The look of relief on her face was easy to see. Not surprising considering I'd told her I was going to be there 2 hours earlier! There was no sprint finish. My legs didn't have it in them.
I got my bronze medal with less than seven minutes to spare, finishing in 10:53:06. I was ecstatic and actually felt really good. That feeling last for about 2 minutes when my stomach let me know that it had not been digesting any of the liquids I'd been taking on for at least the previous 6 hours. So instead of celebrating finishing with everyone else, I found myself filling airline sick bags for several hours. Hydration and nutrition will definitely be areas I'll be focusing on next time! (It's strange how my mind has already forgotten all the painful parts of Sunday's race!).
It might have been the toughest race I've ever ran, but it's one of the best experiences I've had when running. Completing the race meant I ran 21 miles further than I'd ever ran before in my life. Now it's time for a bit of a break!
Shandy_Andy - you Sir, are a legend. Mental, but a legend!
Shady- that's a great account of your race. Sorry I didn't see you at the finish but I was busy throwing up too!
It was easily the toughest conditions that I've encounterd in my 14 runs at Comrades...
Wow, wow, wow. What an achievement! Thanks for coming back and sharing your report with us.
Ady - bloody hell! How you managed that I will never know. Great to hear that you got to the end in one piece. That is a phenomenal result.
I haven't had cramp in my cheeks before but it sounds bloody painful!
Echo the above - thanks for taking the time to report back, really appreciate it.
Slow Duck - 14?!!! Did I read that right? That is just crazy. Well done to you too!
Thanks Malcs - yes, 14, I'm afraid I've been well and truely hooked by Comrades...
Thanks Daniel, Slow Duck, Tiny Runner and Malcs! It's definitely time for a few weeks rest now. No races planned now for a while. I think I'm going to concentrate on getting speed over the Summer and try and get my 5k and 10k times down. Hopefully this will allow a push for a sub 3:20 marathon and a more successful return to Comrades next year!
Slow Duck........although I'd love to get my green number at Comrades, I'd have to come up with a new money-making venture to make it a regular race (although I definitely would love to!). Saying that, I'm hoping to go back next year to get my B2B medal (although I've still got to get this approved by Mrs. Shady!). Total respect to you for your 14 Comrades!
You know you will be back next year for some more fun!! And the fact you only get one chance for a back to back means its a no brainer!!
They certainly know how to hook you in at Comrades and get you to come back for some more
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