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SYDNEY HALF 2019 – GLORIFIED TRAINING RUN?

Right now the whole training process revolves around Melbourne which at the time of writing is a mere 4 weeks away. To break up the monotonous nature of running local streets alone either early in the morning or late in the afternoon, I usually enter a half marathon in September to keep up race mileage. Usually this involves alternating between a small half marathon in Brisbane’s bay side suburb of Wynnum (which for this year was postponed for 12 months, organisational issues) or head to Sydney to run across the Harbour Bridge then go another 19km.

Work schedules this year made Sydney the option, where I had some demons to overcome. When last I ran in Sydney in 2017, a calf injury suffered playing football in July hadn’t recovered fully. Everything was fine until the end of the warm up when the familiar twinge emerged, and I lasted all of 9km, then spent the next 4 hours wrapped in space blankets waiting for the support vehicle to take me from the course. It wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for given I needed kilometres in the lead in to Melbourne.

This year I faced a similar scenario. Sure the injuries were manageable where I’ve been only sore in the lower quad and upper calf but I still needed to get through this event thanks to disjointed training post Perth. Inability to stay awake or wake up early following work has seen me battle to find what can be seen as necessary training runs for Melbourne, let alone Sydney. Add this to my theory that race kilometres are worth probably 1.3 times a training kilometre (originally I was thinking closer to 1.5 but doing a half marathon isn’t exactly equating to 31.6km) and this week suddenly transformed from “glorified training run” to “glorified VITAL training run”.

Truth be told I’m not a fan of being in Sydney any longer than I needed to be (I’m not going to rant about it on this forum) so it was a relief just to get in and out of the expo quickly, find my motel room to chill in overnight, and have everything ready to rumble before a decent night’s sleep. Well maybe not a decent night as The Ashes kept me awake until after midnight, not ideal if I wanted to get up before 4AM to make the train crossing the harbour. Originally I was going to skip this but a combination of a 4AM work start on the Monday and a desire to get out to the airport quicker (futile as it turned out to be thanks to replacement buses that took ages to organise) saw me revert to inner city digs.

Wearing my 2019 Comrades shirt (only the second time I’ve worn a Comrades shirt for a race, the 2016 model got a spin for the 2018 Rocky River Run) I didn’t get to Milson’s Point (literally just on the other side of the harbour) until about 5:10AM. Having abbreviated my warm up in the wake of what happened in 2017 and having experienced 3 Comrades starts where it’s impossible to warm up without ceding more time prior to race start, the calf at least passed the first test. It was a risk to leave it without strapping relying on Voltaren (a cream as opposed to a heat rub, does the same job) to last the distance. The main reason for no strapping was that I wouldn’t have had an instrument to cut the length needed without having to surrender in at airport security. For Melbourne when I’ll be near certain to check baggage in it won’t be an issue. I was able to acquire rigid strapping tape for the right knee as its easier to tear off parts required.

For the first 15km it was a largely uneventful run, slightly quicker than a normal training run given I was going at a quicker race pace than normal to make up the minutes getting to the 2 hour pacers. In hindsight I probably should have carried the old phone that I used as a camera in South Africa to capture going over the bridge, which is an encouragement to go faster in light of the first kilometre of the course being substantially narrower (why wouldn’t it when it goes from 2 car lanes wide to 7). I caught up with the pace runners heading down towards the “injury point”, passing them in time to see the leaders flash by in the opposite direction. With the space narrow due to construction works, I was slightly miffed that some runners would be so impatient to wander across to the return side of the road, fearing their impulsiveness would cost a lead runner a fast time (not saying they would have gone 58 minutes like that Kenyan did in Copenhagen but still) but staying silent was the best option, I didn’t want to break my concentration. I settled into a decent rhythm if not pace heading through Pyrmont just as I started hearing one the pace runners picking up the pace a little.

Not too bad for what was in reality a training run.

The last 5 kilometres weren’t exactly to plan, but then again when has any race or training run for that matter gone to plan? It started around Darling Harbour when a swig of my Powerade (I carried that bottle for most of the run, stopping only at a single drink station late for half a cup of water) saw me start a coughing fit that lasted a few seconds. That meant that the pace group went by whilst I took a few seconds to regain composure. After the following drink station just prior to the 17km marker, I had to stop a couple of times for a systems check of sorts as both my right hamstring and calf were starting to show signs of manageable pain. With Melbourne in mind, any thoughts of sprinting any part of the remainder of the course were thrown out the window and I basically casually trotted around Circular Quay and onto the Opera House finish. The time that was always irrelevant to me ended up being close to 2:02, which for a training run was decent enough pace. Even more of a bonus was that my motel had an 11AM check out time, so I was able to make it back to watch the finish of the marathon on TV rather than hang around on the course. As I had not utilised gear drop which apparently wasn’t going to be available to collect prior to 12PM for some ridiculous reason, there really wasn’t much point hanging around with a 3PM flight to catch.

One thing that is for sure is that perhaps one day I will take on the full course if I’m feeling overly adventurous and the spacing is just right to take on Perth’s City to Surf, then Sydney, then Melbourne and finally Auckland all in the one year. Maybe that sounds ridiculously ambitious for someone who will target one race should I need to qualify for future races, but that is perhaps a long term goal to strive for. Certainly a return to Sydney to be involved in this event is likely next year, pending work arrangements as I’m not likely to request leave in order to travel to and from Sydney prior to and after the weekend. As for this year, there’s now just 3 more stops to mark off beginning with Melbourne in a month, followed by another run up Mt Wellington in November and the big ticket item in Singapore a fortnight later.

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COMRADES 2020 – EXTREMELY EARLY PLANNING

One thing I learned from my days studying (as it turned out unsuccessfully) to be a primary school teacher was that planning was everything. The fact that I couldn’t get my head around the formalities of planning to satisfy what lecturers and tutors were looking for probably played a part in me finding employment in the mail service. Yet for big ticket items such as overseas marathons and ultras, the planning for these begins so early it’s almost impossible for the common person to comprehend what I’m trying to do.

I’m not necessarily talking about physical and mental preparation. Sure I have an idea of when formal training will begin and when I’ll be considering increasing distances and weekly goals, but just how I’m going to do this can still wait until closer to January (I know it’s recommended that I shouldn’t train so specifically for Comrades until late February/early March but many will be looking for qualifiers at that time, something that I already have and in a few weeks will be looking to obtain a better seeding if things go to plan). This planning will revolve around what events I would like to do to build up towards finally achieving what I want, how to get there and other logistics. I guess the inspiration also comes from having to finalise leave requests for 2020, so the timing of this entry can be seen as fitting. This can also be seen as some sort of tentative schedule/to do list leading up to June 14 next year.

OCTOBER 2019

– Race Entry procedure to be released on October 2. At this stage anticipating costs to be similar to previous years so finances continually being secured to pay the entry fee.
– Melbourne Marathon October 13, looking for a sub 4:20 run to elevate myself into the F Pen (the 4:23 in Perth on Day 2 of qualifying at this stage gets me into G Pen)

NOVEMBER 2019

– Not part of the Comrades preparations as such, but doing Point to Pinnacle again in Hobart on November 17
– Running in the Singapore Marathon on November 30 (yes it’s a Saturday Night race as opposed to a Sunday Morning race). Part of this is to have a little fun and explore new places, in this case a country where I’ve not set foot outside the airport before. Part of this is to display the national colours (at least unofficially) with the intention of wearing this on C-Day. Part of it is to perhaps try to get sub 4:20 although conditions like Cairns this year and the legs may turn this into a fun event rather than something more serious.

JANUARY 2020

– Formal training to begin January 1, after basically a month off running post Singapore Marathon (to update on that race, all I need to do is book a flight home, just have to decide how I’m getting back into Australia and when I’m required to work on December 2)
– Training week in Brisbane from January 27 to February 1. Accommodation costs to be paid January 23. A week of leave has been requested for that week
– Flights to South Africa to be booked in that week, finances are being secured for this as we speak. At this stage the plan is to spend June 7-9 in Darwin to relax before heading to South Africa. Room in South Africa also tentatively booked from June 10-16. Looking at a minimum $A1700 for this purpose but prices could reduce or increase pending world events and flight availability

FEBRUARY 2020

– Basically a training month. At this point Wangaratta is a possibility pending finances and work commitments as I’m not anticipating seeking time off for travel purposes.

MARCH 2020

– Doing an event on weekend of 7/8 March. At this point looking at Port Macquarie (Treble Breakwall Buster) for the 3rd time, but still outside chance of heading to Orange to run either a half or full marathon.
– Requested a week of long service leave for the following week, partially for travel reasons (difficult to get home from Port Macquarie or Orange on the Monday in time for work) and partially for a training week. Possibility that this could be in Melbourne

APRIL 2020

– April 4/5 is the date given for Canberra. Change in organisers may mean I’ll need to be wary of a price increase. Accommodation booked in Canberra for that weekend, likely to request a day of leave for travel purposes
– Easter weekend (week after Canberra) again in Melbourne. Looking to run on Saturday and Sunday around town.
– Still awaiting confirmation of whether Cairns will take place again in 2020 (was run the weekend after ANZAC Day in 2019), if not I’ll be likely running a half marathon on the Gold Coast on April 26 to enable me to return home that evening.

MAY 2020

– Wings for Life World Run again confirmed on first weekend of May (May 3, Sunday Night). Considering option of whether to run the Puffing Billy race that morning or just travelling to Melbourne that morning, staying one night and returning home on the 4th (a public holiday in Queensland)
– Likely to keep a weekend in late May free in order to have a training run in Brisbane with other South East Queensland based runners. For someone like myself who often trains alone at home this is as good an opportunity to run in a group training run. This year the run was on May 18, some 3 weeks away from Comrades. So far it’s a little too early to predict when this run will happen.
– There has been a report suggesting that the Rocky River Run (my local event) would revert to a late May date rather than the late June date (a week before Gold Coast Marathon) that was used in 2019. No confirmation yet but pending work arrangements should the date revert to May I’ll definitely be running either the half marathon or 10km event as a final training run. If not I’ll treat this day as a normal training run.

JUNE 2020

– With the race a week later than normal (June 14), looking to travel within Australia rather than overseas early with an anticipated departure date of Tuesday June 9. At this point I’m looking to head to Darwin for a couple of days to relax, depending on flight availability.
– Booked Durban accommodation for June 10-16, this time on South Beach as opposed to North Beach (just a few hundred metres extra to travel for the expo, the North Beach parkrun and other activities, but located on the beach front so security and safety isn’t a great concern.

 

There will be additions and subtractions as plans are refined, confirmed or otherwise, and at this stage it’s not going to be overly stressful given there are still a number of months remaining before the training starts, let alone the business of getting off the mark at the 4th attempt becomes reality. For now the focus is on the half marathon in Sydney this Sunday which I’m using as training for Melbourne. It would be nice to get a sub 2 Hour time but time this weekend isn’t everything. It’s all about getting through the distance in reasonable shape knowing this will obviously help for the bigger challenges ahead.

 

PERTH CITY TO SURF – BACK IN THE SADDLE WITH A BANG

Been a while since I’ve touched base here, basically because I’ve been regrouping after the Comrades experience (it was NOT a disaster or a tragedy this year) and planning for the rest of the year has been going on in earnest. As usual the first item on the agenda was going to be the Gold Coast Marathon but a calf injury playing footy (what else) and being required at work reasonably early the next morning meant I had to downgrade to the half, which I wobbled through in a tick over 2:30. Certainly far from the time I had envisioned but given I was still unsure over whether I was going to run a few hours before start time it was just a case of get through this and move on.

Attention then turned to the usual next marathon on the hit list, being the Perth City to Surf. Whilst the main race is over a hilly 12km course, and others do the half or are happy to get through a 4km effort, guys like me would be toeing the line on the marathon start line for the 5th time in 6 visits (2017 was a half marathon entry due to injury). It was arguably the biggest field that I had been a part of in those 5 years, with just over 600 starters when normally fields of 350 have been common.

In training for this and other events like Melbourne in October, I’ve discovered I’ve been able to show just a little more speed and maintain this for longer than I have been for a while. Perhaps the healthier body has a lot to do with it, not so much the weight but the lack of muscle aches and strains! Anyway this was perhaps the catalyst for how I began this day. Normally the start would be relatively sedate even if the first couple of kilometres were going to be frantic as the pack sweeps me up. Today for some reason it swept me up for 11km prior to the 4 hour pace group sweeping me up and spitting me out behind. It wasn’t exactly the strategy I was aiming for despite knowing I needed to bank time to compensate for virtually walking up the majority of the hills. The hope was to keep a steady tempo in order to save some legs to perhaps attack some of the hills rather than play the conservative game.

Once the 4 hour group left me in my wake I was able to keep them in sight for the next few kilometres which mentally can see a runner go one of two ways. Some may see this as frustration particularly if they’re caught in a good old fashioned “No Man’s Land”; too far behind the main group but too far ahead of the next pack. For me it was a good thing knowing my plan was at least working to a degree, knowing that I was always going to drop some time and with the group nearby it obviously meant I was on target to run a decent time. In some years past I may have been able to stay in front a little further in years where the hills didn’t really kick in until King’s Park and the course continued to stay relatively close to the Swan River, but in the last few years the course changed to incorporate hills around bowls clubs and golf courses in the Dalkeith region.

Got through the half way marker in the Uni WA Campus just on the 2 hour mark which is always a good mental goal. Certainly for Melbourne getting here at this time is almost a necessity if I want to achieve a time as fast if not faster than this. I ended up spending a minute or so making an unscheduled pit stop even though I was busting for a few kilometres, before hitting King’s Park where it was a case of walk up the bulk of the hills and make up time rolling down. By this time I was also calculating the time I needed to make the Comrades 2020 qualifying standard, as the qualification period had kicked off on the 24th of August (and because I’m still considered a novice despite 3 DNF’s, I am now required to qualify before entering to get one of 7000 reserved slots for Novices) even if the entry period is supposedly beginning later than it did last year. Checking almost every kilometre may border on the slightly obsessive, but it was reassuring to know that I felt I had (as an example) about 2 hours to complete the last 14 kilometres on terrain not overly dissimilar to Sydney’s City2Surf even if on tiring legs.

It’s always a killer part of the course when climbing the hill on Underwood Avenue. The good news was that we weren’t alone with the 12km walkers on the other side of the road taking their time to negotiate the climb, but for marathon runners this type of climb can dispirit a runner chasing a quick time. Hence the game plan to bank minutes at the start of the run knowing that climbing will take longer than normal. Unlike in previous years however, I was able to run most of the ensuring Perry Lakes Drive before another planned walk up the last major climb on Oceanic Drive. Once you’re over the last climb, I tend to look to the left knowing that I’m seeing finishers from various distances walking back towards where they parked rather than heading to the shuttle buses. I know then that I can easily roll to the finish, and my legs were in a decent enough condition that for once I didn’t slow to walking speed in the final finishing chute.

Unlike Auckland last year where I was feeling rather jubilant, the finish saw a smile of contentment rather than being overjoyed, disappointed or any other emotion in between. For once I may have even allowed myself to grin my way over the finish line almost waiting for the gantry to tick over to the 4:24 marker, which when chip time was taken into account saw my finish time of 4:23:18 be a new personal course record (beating the 4:25:12 from 2016), the fastest time I had run over the marathon distance since Gold Coast 2016 (4:20:00) and more importantly saw me run fast enough for another “G” group Comrades Qualifier (the standards are as per 2019, minimum standard being 4:49:59). Surprisingly my legs felt in decent condition, which made the wait for a post race massage bearable unlike last year when by the time I arrived just about everyone had packed up and gone home. It also feels pretty good to be able to walk after a marathon with a view to returning to training during the week rather than having to use a whole week to recover, although I can still err on the side of caution should I feel the need.

Only 4 races are now left on the dance card for this year. Next on the agenda is the half marathon in Sydney in mid September, a race where there’s some unfinished business given my DNF in 2017 due to calf issues. Given that this is a training run rather than a race run I’m not going to be looking for a specific time, although a sub 1:55 would be nice. Then it’s onto Melbourne in mid October, back to Hobart for another climb up Mt.Wellington where this year I’ll actually record some footage during the run (although going live will have to wait, don’t think I’ll have sufficient data at that stage to pull it off), and the finish this year is late November in Singapore where the entry will be lodged sometime this week.

COMRADES RACE DAY 2019: ULMAAS ROAD TO THE PREMATURE END

Umlaas Road had come and gone, and I was able to trot underneath the highway for what seemed like the 37th time that afternoon. In reality it didn’t happen too much given we generally ran adjacent to the highway somehow ignoring just how congested the traffic was. At the time it was still all positive thoughts thinking that if we can continue to make up some time rolling down the hills that I remember climbing a year earlier, and if I can try to minimise walking on the flat sections wherever possible I’d be able to at least get over Polly Shortts and head to the finish, even if it meant getting the biggest cheers of the day which are reserved for those who aren’t lucky enough to beat the final gun.

I do remember passing another aid station to take on board what had become the hydration strategy since the halfway mark. Basically I would take a cup of either Coke or Fanta (except for a couple of stations where they were struggling to supply enough cups, meaning that I simply half filled one of my empty Lucozade bottles which would also act as a brief respite from forward motion), then after drinking that I would use a sachet of water to (in order)

– use a small swig to swish around the mouth to wash out the acidic taste/neutralise somewhat the sugar content
– squeeze a little on my cap to cool the head, even if conditions weren’t that hot or humid
– squirt a little down my back, then my front to cool the body
– take a small sip to swallow
– try to find an area where either a bin or other empty sachets lay to assist in the cleaning process, or even somewhere with kids in the area to let them fight over the scraps

It was around a corner not far from the station closest to the previous cutoff that there was a single bloke on the left hand side of the road, trying to urge tiring racers not to walk anymore. Given the time of day and the distance covered it probably wasn’t something I really wanted to hear knowing energy conservation was still the order of the day. There was even a part of me that wanted to punch him in the face but the consequences short (waste another couple of minutes), medium (face criminal charges for assault) and long (a regretful stain on my life) thankfully saw me wander past without a reaction.

The first sign of trouble perhaps came at the next aid station. We had just crossed over the highway again and I was preparing to roll down another hill after a left hand turn (and I was about to break into another song, think it may have been Eagle Rock) when said aid station came into view. In hindsight perhaps I could have skipped taking on board anything here and continued to roll down, but the overriding emotion was to keep taking on board fluids at this late stage of the day. It took about a third of the hill to get going again, which may have been the first sign of tiredness but having come this far it was a case of just keep going. Even thoughts of memories passing where the cutoff at the Lion Park on the down run had to be put to one side as the road continued to wind.

The sign I had hoped to see after making the last on road cutoff, alas it wasn’t quite to be

Little Polly’s came reasonably quickly as the kilometres continued to wind down. A few by this stage were spent and had stopped on the side of the road resigned to their day ending earlier than hoped. Yet I still had some visions of making the cutoff even if my mind had started to grow concerned that I may not make it past Polly’s, which as we were repeatedly warned about by tour guides, experienced runners, coaches and 9 time race winners was NOT the dreaded Polly Shortts itself. There was no chance I would be walking up either hill, and I just kept walking to the top expecting to roll down the hill to at least get on the climb up Polly’s to see what my fate was. As it turned out, the legs finally decided that could carry me no more at a trotting pace down the hills. About midway wandering down the other side of Little Polly’s, the dreaded sweep vehicle drifted by, and knowing this car would be just about on the pace required to beat cutoffs by the narrowest margin, the morale finally sunk and the heaviness of my legs became insurmountable. Being careful not to raise my arms too far above my head with an overhead power line barely 2.5 metres above the road (something that in Australia would never be allowed to happen), I ended up finding some part of barrier at the base of Polly Shortts without any energy to get myself up the hill. Mentally I was shot, physically I had nothing left to give, time wise there was probably nothing left to leak unless I found energy to run parts of the hill (which even elite runners often battle to climb). For the first and as it turned out only time of the day, the sight of a mini bus with other runners unable to make it that far was too much to resist.

The reality of a third straight DNF had hit, although certainly not as hard last year. As it turned out, it may have even been a futile exercise in terms of making the cutoff to actually make it up the climb. The foursome in the bus had a good view as runners who wouldn’t make the cutoff being 800m away from the mat with just 3 minutes remaining tried to find something to run up the hill that the vast majority couldn’t. In some ways sympathy was the word that was probably shared both ways as we felt for those on the climb that we knew wouldn’t make it, and they I’m sure felt for those who couldn’t quite make it as far as they did knowing we had all left everything out on the course. I even jokingly mentioned that perhaps next year I would be in commentary rather than on the road, but there’s still unfinished business from the last DOWN run to attend to plus I doubt South African audiences would understand an Australian accent all that well!

 

TO BE CONCLUDED (we promise the next part is the last bit)…..

COMRADES 2019 RACE DAY: SECOND HALF TO UMLAAS ROAD

So the halfway marker had come upon us, and unlike last time we had a little time up our sleeves. Unfortunately the planning had become unstuck, and instead of approaching the marker like I had anticipated on Friday…..

….I ended up being thankful that I was able to spot someone at the end of the barriers with the magic spray. If nobody was present there was a chance that the race would have ended for me then and there, but at least with the spray I felt as though I could get to the physio table opposite which my 2017 campaign came to a screeching halt. To get there however I would need to climb the famous Inchanga, which in Tour de France parlance would be like climbing one of those famed mountains in the Alps prior to d’Huez (of which the Comrades equivalent in terms of fame would be Polly Shortts, even though the profile of Inchanga or even Botha’s Hill would have been a closer physical match).

The intention in tackling Inchanga was always to walk almost if not all of the climb. The 20 minutes I had in hand at the mid point would have at least given me comfort in that this plan wouldn’t cost me all that much, and the knee issues kind of sealed that plan. Others around me who were probably in better physical shape had the same idea, save for the lead 12:00 pace bus that would run/walk up the hill. At least that was until I saw the main driver pull off the side of the road and hand his flag to another driver. Perhaps that was part of the pacing plan, to hand over to a new driver having sacrificed his race up to that point much like the domestique does up the Alps and Pyrenees. Their changeover was pretty quick, and the bus was soon on their way without me wanting to hold them up too much.

Soon enough the physio table came into sight, but any chance of me getting a look were dashed. The line for the table (which was the 3rd of what was supposed to be 8 spots) was enormous meaning I would be just wasting time that would either be better spent running on or bailing at the exact spot I had 2 years ago. By that time however, the feeling in the knee had come good with the spray having done the intended job, and I was at least able to perform a rolling jog to get enough momentum down the hills. GOODBYE PHYSIO TABLE, GOODBYE DEMON SPOT FOREVER (for now every time I pass you it will just be now another little speck of road to pass), HELLO CATO RIDGE (well hopefully).

Before I knew it, emerging on the side of the road were the kids from the Ethembeni School, who once again despite their impairments performed another delightful show for us overseas runners on the Friday.

Today the task was to just touch their hands to make their day. After all like much of the spectator crowd they were waiting for runners to come through to give them support, encouragement and a gentle non physical nudge along. I was only too happy to take a short walk break to oblige to those lining the right hand side of the road, which again gave me time to recover leading into the Cato Ridge cutoff.

I’ll always remember the Cato Ridge corner from 2017 for not so nice reasons, sitting in a bailer bus on the back seat looking at another runner who was distressed and desperately needed medical attention. This year there were no such worries personally as I rolled past the timing mat having lost virtually no time, and not wanting to get onto the buses that were both waiting at said cutoff point or rolling past us with runners unable to make the distance sitting somewhat forlornly if not jealously watching us continue on.

The dullest most uneventful few kilometres of the race followed until we reached a small place called Camperdown. Usually I try to sing to myself (despite the fact my singing ability would get me on a blooper reel of shows like The Voice as opposed to the glorified karaoke rounds) during the run to try and relax the mind or even perhaps entertain others passing by. This time as we approached Camperdown I decided to substitute some words from The Choirboys song “Run to Paradise”. For those reading overseas, the original song went something like this…

In my version however, I would make substitutions such as….
* Instead of singing “Run to Paradise” I would sing “Run to ‘Maritzburg” (slightly abbreviating the destination city of Pietermaritzburg to make the lyric fit)
* Upon reaching Camperdown, instead of “Don’t Tell Me, this is Paradise”, I would occasionally substitute the word Paradise with Camperdown, and some other times with the word ‘Maritzburg
* With the relevant marker in sight, I would also substitute what the backing band would sing (“Open Your Eyes Up”) with the words “We’re 25 K’s Out”
* If I use it again next year for the DOWN Run, I could replace “Maritzburg” with “Mabhida” in deference to the finish stadium rather than the UP Run’s finishing town

Someone who passed me thought I was going mad or something, but I’d long passed the stage of madness in my life let alone in this race. Another runner actually asked why is there a timing mat placed under the Coke sponsored big screen at the midpoint between the Cato Ridge and Umlaas Road cutoffs. It dawned on me that this was a timing mat placed in a random location in an attempt to prevent cheating (there have been cases of twin brothers doing switcheroos in and out of porta loos, and getting caught out) and shortcutting the course, not that anyone realistically could take shortcuts on this course. It also meant that for the first time I was actually a little more concerned that making the finish may not be a possibility, although getting to the next cutoff was the big priority. Umlaas Road came and went with just 7 minutes remaining before the race clock hit 9:30, leaving me 107 minutes just over 12km. Sounds easy enough, but there were a couple of rather large humps left in the road known as Polly Shortts, and before that the climb known as Little Polly’s which was slightly longer, just as steep and had caught out many a runner thinking they had already conquered Polly’s.

 

TO BE CONTINUED…..

COMRADES 2019: INTERLUDE TO THE STORY

I probably should have finished this earlier, perhaps even in South Africa. Trouble was a combination of a busy schedule and below standard wifi has delayed this until now. This is just a video documentation of how long it actually took me to get to Durban just to get to the place where this race started. This is not an exercise in excuse making or an attempt to attract sympathy, rather this is just how dedicated someone is to get to the start line.

The second half of the race report will be coming in the next couple of days (still have some editing to do in relation to this). I’m sure for many it will be worth the wait. On another side note I’m actually glad that the qualifying period for 2020 has now been confirmed, so that I can plan my assault for the remainder of 2019 leading into 2020 for the next tilt.

COMRADES 2019 RACE DAY: FIRST HALF

So the gun has been sounded, and the elite runners have all started to scatter at breakneck speeds relative to the distance of this race. Meantime many of us mere mortals who can actually see the starting gantry for once are still waiting to get underway. It’s a standing start at first, but then after a couple of minutes where the faster weekend warriors have commenced the slow methodical walk towards the line starts. Many by this time of course will have started their watches given that the time limits and cutoffs run on a Gun-to-Gun basis rather than a Mat-to-Mat system (just another near unique feature of Comrades), but panic isn’t and can’t be part of the game. Trying to make up several minutes lost waiting to cross the start line in the opening kilometres is the greatest futility exercise in running. Simply speaking there are far too many people around to get into your own rhythm without compromising wise race strategy, and those that try more often than not finish their day on the side of the road rather than crossing the finish line.

After a delay of 9 minutes which is about the normal time it takes people to cross the line in the G Group (truth be told it was a little quicker last year although I was in a better position within the pen) it was time to smile at the camera, make sure I didn’t trip over timing mats/discarded warmth garments/road furniture, and begin the long uphill trek. In the city streets of Durban that comprised the first kilometre, it wasn’t uncommon for people to utilise the footpath in order to gain running room, something I even did as I negotiated the first corner. Fortunately this year it didn’t result in the bottleneck of 2017 when virtually every backmarker came to a standstill entering the freeway to take us towards the first cut off point. Sure there were those choosing to walk that section as advised by many coaches knowing the conservative game would give them an advantage, but apart from someone who took a tumble (perhaps being squeezed for room or tripping over a “cats eye”) everyone was able to trot freely.

There wasn’t a lot of drama in the pack before sunrise as the field steadily climbed towards the first of the major climbs in Cowie’s Hill. However some roadworks necessitated a slight change to proceedings. Without a lot of fanfare the cut off at Pinetown was removed on the Friday before the race, AFTER many of the runners had toured the course (I was with the CMA’s tour mixed in with Brits, Canadians and with a whole bus to themselves Brazilians, many other Australian’s toured with Bruce Fordyce who is the Comrades equivalent of Peter Brock, a 9 time winner). Some roadworks had substantially narrowed the course leaving organisers to perhaps take a common sense approach with the unforseen delay (I’m sure they would have banked on this area being totally clear on race day, as it turned out the passage was wider than it was on Friday and others just jumped the concrete blocks anyway searching for clear road). Every other cutoff was left unchanged but for many the early stress levels would be somewhat eliminated. I’m sure others unaware of the decision would have been left slightly confused when they expected signage denoting the approaching cut off at Pinetown only to find nothing.

After passing one of my “Demon” landmarks of where last year’s race had concluded (this will only be exorcised when I pass that point next year), it was onto the longest climb of the so called Big 5 in Field’s Hill. For most of the field it represented a chance to utilise the walk/run strategy that many a Comrades Green Number wearer had used over the years. Others such as the Bus Drivers pacing to certain times saw this as a chance to again make up time a little earlier than anticipated. It isn’t that strange in the early parts to see pace runners for a  sub-11:00 schedule leap ahead of those trying to break 10:30. It also isn’t strange to see many tacking onto buses perhaps underestimating how their race plan in conjunction with sticking with a pace bus doesn’t correlate with the driver’s. In any case, my plan wasn’t necessarily to run with a pacing bus as such, but to keep at least the 11:00 bus either behind me or in my sight knowing that I would easily negotiate a cut off point if I remain in front of several buses. That said it doesn’t guarantee much for the cut offs also apply to bus drivers, with some whole buses in the past being too slow to make cut offs eliminating a hundred or so from the race.

Last time I ran the UP run I was a little concerned that I was going too slowly as I passed the Winston Park cut off, the same cut off going the opposite direction where my momentum deserted me last year. Reaching the mark in a tick under 3:50, some 40 minutes inside the cut off, left me in a positive frame of mind. I hadn’t at that stage needed to take on board additional fluids with my first Lucozade bottle still largely untouched, the legs felt as though they had plenty to give, runners around me were as content knowing the chances to make up time were still viable, the crowds were offering their usual tremendous support…..life seemed very content as the approach to the steepest climb of the day, Botha’s Hill, began.

Again it was time to do more walking than running with the second half of the day in mind and plenty of time in the bank to prevent panic. Reaching the top was not that concerning, I was even able to chat with a couple of blokes who were having varying races (the Western Australian lad I encountered was in meltdown mode, encouraging me to keep going with my race while he tried to figure out his own predicament). Little did I know as I was about to descend towards the Wall of Honour and Arthur’s Seat that physical complications were about to compromise my efforts. As I had done in the past year or so, I had applied strapping below the knee in a bid to make what I believe to be patella tendonitis bearable (this is a self diagnosis), even if for the first time in many months I had to use K-Tape. Yet when I was going downhill I felt some pain after running for about 30 metres or so from the outside of the same strapped left knee. Forget trying to make up time on the downhill into the wall, the seat and Drummond’s halfway point as I had to do 2 years ago, I was starting to doubt whether I could make it past the halfway marker that I barely made in my other Up run attempt. At least with time on my side the knee meant I could greet Arthur somewhat properly by doffing the cap and saying “Good Morning Arthur” to see if it brought luck.

To understand more about the Wall of Honour and Arthur’s Seat, here’s something I recorded on the Friday as the tour stopped at these iconic locations.

By that stage I felt I had a couple of options. I could either succumb to the injury, leave the course and retire from the race at Drummond. I could see if there was any type of treatment available in the knowledge that there actually was a physio table located precisely where my 2017 race ended after climbing the famous Inchanga. Or I could just keep walking until the inevitable cut off arrived at Cato Ridge. In the end stopping couldn’t be an option with my split time at 5:50 being 20 minutes ahead of the cut off, and someone with old fashioned magic spray to numb the pain could help the knee issue. It did however mean that the knee brace I was wearing ended up being a calf sock of sorts, for spraying against neoprene would have been as effective as Pikachu using thunderbolt on a grass Pokemon. Yet Inchanga was next on the hit parade, and the many elevation changes that punctuated the remainder of the race remained.

 

TO BE CONTINUED…..