Thursday, April 12, 2012

Three Oceans

After I came back from Utah I must admit my enthusiasm for triathlon took a dive. It wasn't an immediate process, but developed slowly over a couple of months.

In fact I did do some events, and even got my first AG win in the inaugural Cotswold 113. A great event by the way and one which I'll be going back to this year. The win was in part due to a lack of depth in competition, but I still put in a solid performance working off the fitness from Utah.

Looking back I was mentally burned from putting in all that effort, achieving lifetime best fitness and executing the race I wanted to (36 mins faster than 2010) and after all that, getting absolutely nowhere nearer to qualifying. Overall position went from 101st to 81st, but crucially AG position went from 17th to 22nd.

After Cotswold 113 my training took a slide - first I stopped swimming, then there were other things to do besides ride at the weekend, and finally the runs became less and less frequent too. The only problem was I had signed up with friends for a marathon in Dec 2011.

When I got to the race in Portsmouth I knew it was going to be bad, but I hadn't counted on just how bad. I'll cut it short and just say don't enter a marathon on no training (and when I say no training, I'm not talking about the 10 hours a week triathletes will tell you is no training, I mean No Training).

I ran / walked my way to a PW 4:40, worse than any of my IM marathons, and my fledgling 4:19 in NYC in 2003. Apart from the grandmas running by in the last 8 miles, my favourite moment was when an old guy came past, popped into a pub on the route, bought himself a pint and then ran off into the distance, pint in hand. Since I was walking at this stage and it was way too painful to run I just had to smile to myself.

It was just the wake up call I needed.

A few days later I signed up for Two Oceans Ultra with my mate Huw who went a rather more respectable 2:57 in Portsmouth. I had already organised to spend Jan thru Mar in Cape Town (which is nice), and out there in the sun and the incredible scenery I slowly won back the love of exercise.

I also had something that was sorely lacking in Portsmouth: The Fear. Two Oceans is 56k, quite a way longer than I've ever run, and it goes over 2 pretty big climbs: Chapman's Peak and Constantia Nek, the second and hardest of which is after the marathon point in the race.

Starting from what felt like ground zero I knew I had plenty of work to do.

By the time Huw came out in late March I felt confident I could finish the race and hopefully not disgrace myself too much.

Race day was electric - you have to give it to the saffers, they don't do things by halves - over 9,000 people had signed up for this race! Each of them had to have a recent qualifying marathon in sub 5 hours (no marathons in SA have a longer cutoff than 5 hours), and probably a fair percentage of them were using this ultra as a training race for the real daddy later in the year, the 89k Comrades.

Some guy blew a fish horn, the SA national anthem was sung with obvious pride and a cannon sent us on our merry way.

Pretty much the first half of the race is flat or gentle descent, but as mentioned The Fear meant there were no heroics at this stage. I came through 10k in about 45 I think, which was on course for my sub 5 goal (Sainsbury medal).

Soon after the heavens opened and Two Oceans became Three Oceans. A few millimeters of rain were forecast but I don't think anyone predicted the rainfall that did greet us that day, and indeed continued on and off for 3 days. As we ran through Kalk Bay I remember vainly trying to dodge rivers of water on the road - in seconds everything was soaked.

But I'm British - never mind all the warm weather acclimatisation I'd done over the preceding months, when push comes to shove and it comes to a run race, give me a rainy day any day. Loads of people said the conditions were tough, but for me 35C would have been tough - a little water was no problem.

Soon enough we were going over Chappies, and I still held what I had in reserve, just hoping I wouldn't blow up. Coming down off Chappies lots of people will tell you not to fly down as it can trash the legs and cause big issues for Constantia Nek to come, but I ignored all that and caught a bunch of people on the way down. I noted as in Utah, that my flat and downhill speed is comparatively better than other runners at a similar level, and my uphill speed is comparatively worse.

Then there was the gradual ascent out of Hout Bay before the ominous Nek. I could feel it by this stage, after all a fair amount of distance had been covered and soon enough the marathon point came up. I was happy to go through in 3:19. Now I knew I was looking good for the sub 5, and also my dream time of beating the ignominious Portsmouth 4:40.

My conservative pacing had worked well, and it meant that I was gradually catching people throughout the race - excellent for morale. Of course the odd person did come past me, but there weren't too many of them.

And then the brutal climb up the Nek started in earnest. Thankfully I've cycled it many times, so I know all the corners and how long it is, as well as where it steepens. This was when I began to work hard, and the heart rate climbed as fast as the gradient.

I still felt strong hitting the top of the climb (with welcome support from friends in the pouring rain) and then had a bit of a respite as the slope leveled off. There's still about 9k of the run left at this point and although there's plenty of downhill, there's also a couple of evil little hills and a highly cambered road to deal with.

But I dug in and focused on catching people in front. At 52k I passed Zola Budd (now Pieterse) and said what I hope were some encouraging words. Yes she was wearing shoes. I only hoped I could keep ahead of her (as it happened I beat her by about 30 seconds - my claim to fame!).

Coming to the water logged finish I was delighted to see I was going to duck under 4:30, with a 4:29 finish, which seemed to me a fitting way to put to bed the demons of Portsmouth. Thankfully I also didn't leave the Welsh Whippet Huw waiting too long - he had completed in an awesome 4:08 (he went through the marathon in 3:04!).

A few minutes after finishing my legs hurt like hell, but it was all worth it. I have the excitement back and I have big plans both for 2012 and 2013. That will have to wait for another post.


  1. Ultra - yay! You can't beat The Fear to get you going!

  2. Power Houston!! We knew you never left but were only regrouping. Great report. Looking forward to your next adventures.

  3. @Marino: we must never lose The Fear! And now I've done my first ultra, I'm sure they'll be others in future..

    @RobbyRicc: cheers mate. Best of luck for IMSA - can't wait to follow online and check out your report