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MELBOURNE MARATHON 2018 – THE CALM BEFORE EVERYTHING HAPPENS

It’s that time of year again, two weeks after the Grand Final the streets of Melbourne become the playground/battlefield for those going the whole 42km for the 41st year. Sure there are more prestigious races around the world, there are races worth more financially and get more exposure in this country, but nothing will come close to beating what is my hometown event which is the longest major marathon in Australia.

Unlike last year where my entire training was derailed by persistent calf injuries, training was going fantastically this year until a slight mishap before the Twlight Bay run 3 weeks ago. Sometimes when you’re looking out for something and concentrating hard to avoid one hazard, another comes sneaking up to bite you. Tripping on an elevated part of a footpath when you’re just about halfway through a long training run isn’t ideal, particularly when the scars on the right knee are still visible if not healed. The one consolation from that tumble was that structurally nothing appears to be damaged, and I’m still able to run effectively. The 1:57 half at the Twilight Bay run (Click here for the pre race video) was a confidence booster, and could have been even better if not for a slight stumble over a speed bump inside the last 3km just before the last drink station.

This year is the 6th time I’ll be towing the start line for Melbourne which is some sense of accomplishment. Never did I think that I would be doing this once when I started running these types of events in 2012, yet I probably would be lost without making the pilgrimage every October. The course has had slight alterations through those 6 years, notably finishing outside the MCG in the year that I recorded my one (and to this day, only) sub 4 hour marathon in 2014. This year the big concern revolves around construction work around the 35km marker, and based on some photos I saw the road marathon may have some trail elements thrown in, unless a last minute change to the course is thrust upon us (which I hope can be avoided).

Race planning remains the same as what I had planned early in September (Details about a third of the way down this page), although last night’s Comrades announcements have put a little extra pressure on nailing a time. Instead of a sub 5 hour marathon being the qualifying marker, the time to get in for South Africa in June next year is now a sub 4:50, which to be honest was easier than I and many others thought it may have been (some suggested 4 hours, I was more worried about a reduction to 4:30 or a Boston style elimination where the slowest Q times miss out). At least I can stick to the plan knowing that a sub 4:20 run will still get me into the F troop in Durban instead of the G group. Knowing that I have a second chance just 14 days later in Auckland will relax any nerves, if not give me an excuse if things don’t go my way.

Pleasingly it looks as though the weather will be playing ball this year. Early forecasts of a wet Sunday have given way to fine conditions, if not a little warm with the maximum temperature scheduled to be in the mid 20’s. It won’t really have that much of an effect on my hydration plan, in that the first drink station I’ll be looking for will be the one approaching the athletics stadium on Albert Park, taking every second stop until the second personal drink station. Naturally I’ll be sipping on something prior to the start to make sure I’m fuelled up as much as I can be without needing a toilet break which has cost me time in at least 3 events in the last 12 months (twice at Melbourne last year, 2 stops at the Canberra Ultra and a long 10 minute stop at Port Macquarie). The wind should be manageable so long as I’m with a group, even if there’s not likely to be a repeat of the 2016 conditions that made getting a time almost impossible (I reckon it cost me 10 minutes).

The plan for tomorrow will depend a little on what time I wake up. Hopefully I’ll be awake about 6:30 in time to get a tram to Parkville to do their parkrun, just to get some excess energy out of the system and to keep up the record of having one officially recorded time at the parkruns I’ve done in the past (PROOF IF REQUIRED). I should be at the MCG for bib collection about 9AM after a brief stop to pick up 2 bottles of Lucozade for my personal drinks. Then I’ll get a bite to eat and maybe put on a few bets before chilling in the afternoon. Last meal should be around 5PM (a pizza), and hopefully I’ll be asleep around 10PM with alarms set from 3:30 in the morning.

I guess that’s all for now, if you’re at the start line on Sunday look out for the usual zinc on the nose hanging around the 4:00 pace runners.

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TWILIGHT BAY RUN 2018 – PRE EVENT RANT

 

Just a little video I made to pass the time as I made my way towards the start of the Twilight Bay Run on 22 September. Report on that and other training for Melbourne and Auckland to come.

 

 

TRAINING UPDATE: SLIGHT SETBACK WHICH WON’T SET ME BACK

This weekend is the weekend of the Twilight Bay Run, a nice event in itself that for me is merely a long training run in race conditions. Always a different event with the afternoon start time being unusual for an Australian road event, the aim is more time on the feet and to clock in around the 2 hour marker. If I can replicate the race plan that I want for Melbourne (56/58 + 6) I’ll feel that at least the training that I’ve done is on track. I won’t be overly disappointed if it doesn’t happen, but that will mean that the next 10 days before easing off will have to be at an increased intensity.

In all honesty I don’t think I’ve covered as many kilometres as I have done in the last couple of weeks. I’ve been mixing up how I’ve been training in some ways, looking for blocs of effort on some days while looking for a comfortable tempo in others. The last fortnight has seen me go past 40km for the week which was substantially more than I’ve managed in past pre-Melbourne campaigns, even managing to complete runs on consecutive days for the first time in a long time. At least the motivation to get out and do the mileage is at a good level.

Frustratingly it’s distance that has thus far eluded me. I managed last week to plough through 16km in about 91 minutes last Wednesday which was actually a good feeling if I had this week’s half marathon in mind, but it left me wanting to get through more. I know I need to find a way to get a couple of runs beyond 20km other than Saturday night in the bank, knowing I can keep going for more than 2 hours continuously will only help realise the game plan for October 14.

Which brings me onto Tuesday morning, the 18th of September 2018. The plan was to keep going for a 2 hour session, throwing in the odd uphill to keep honest. What wasn’t anticipated to start with was an ultra rare rain shower, which made me rethink the choice of footwear. Having purchased and had delivered my race shoes for Melbourne, Auckland and Hobart last week, I was hoping to get a good long session to end the “bedding in” process, but not wanting to expose them in wet conditions I decided to use the pair I had been using for Comrades 2018 amongst others. Things were going smoothly despite the wet weather (rain isn’t an excuse when it comes to training, I embrace running in the wet and could very well happen on race day) even if the pace was a little sluggish compared to what I had wanted.

About 12km in, I made a left hand turn onto a footpath adjoining a busy road close to the CBD. The path had a section that wasn’t entirely level, and I hit that at the so called wrong angle. Before I knew it I was on the deck not quite in agony but I was certainly stunned. I knew I was in shock but also felt that I had lost plenty of skin on my right knee (the one which ISN’T the one being strapped), and I was fortunate that a nearby service station would at least provide me with a chance to clean myself up. I’m not sure how much blood I did lose, but I was fortunate that the main abrasion happened below the kneecap and not on the kneecap itself. It should mean that I’ll be able to bandage it up and continue the training program, with one more run scheduled before Saturday. With the run on Tuesday falling short of what I wanted, I’ll try to get the 20km run in on the Wednesday although keeping Saturday in mind I’ll be satisfied with anything relatively close.

After Saturday, I’ll be looking to recover well on Sunday even if I haven’t decided if it will be a recovery jog or swim at this stage (it may even be both). I’m eyeing off doing a hard day on the Tuesday before a pair of back to back days culminating in my last substantial run on the public holiday Monday where I’m seeking to run at the tempo I want on race day for 2:30. Once I’ve done that I’ll taper off with nothing over 10km until October 14, then recover for a fortnight for Auckland.

 

THE ROAD AHEAD – FROM NOW UNTIL COMRADES 2019

Usually at this time of year I’d be taking great delight in announcing another attempt at a Comrades Marathon medal, but given there is a delay in the entry procedure actually entering the race won’t be possible for a while. That said the qualifying period has opened and is basically unchanged and at this stage there may be 4 chances for me to post the required sub 5 hour marathon time (or sub 6:00 50km race) to nail the spot down. The following can be seen as my future long term plan that I intend to take so I can get on the start line in June outside the Durban Town Hall.

Getting the finishers medal in Perth was about the only thing that went right, but it does represent a 3rd finish over that distance in Perth and a 14th overall

In the last week of August, on the day that Comrades Qualifying officially began, I actually ran the Perth City to Surf marathon for the 3rd time, but the lack of training through injuries and the substantially hillier course that I had encountered in previous years meant that I finished mere minutes outside what would have been enough to qualify me at the back of the pack. Given that it wasn’t my major aim for the year and that it was a mere training run for what’s to come it wasn’t as disappointing as it was on face value, but I was annoyed when I entered the finish chute to look up at the clock and see a 5 as the first digit.

 

SEPTEMBER 22: Twilight Bay Run, Wynnum, Half Marathon

I try to get to this event every second year and the work schedule has once again been kind enough to get me here, even though the idea of running this a week after Sydney/Adelaide (whose City-Bay now has a half marathon distance) is still very much in future plans. As usual it will be a little hectic making sure the transport isn’t delayed and that I can easily make it to the start precinct well before the 5PM start time. The hope is to finish well under 2 hours, looking to run 55 minutes/10km pace (5:30kms) reasonably consistently.

 

OCTOBER 14: Melbourne Marathon, Melbourne, Full Marathon

First priority should really be to finish the event for the 6th time, but this is the event that I’ve earmarked as THE event to get the qualifying time in. The last couple of years I’ve managed to get in about the 4:30 mark despite injury (last year it was persistent calf issues, the year before it was conjunctivitis a week before the event which didn’t go away until the 12 hours before the start), but I’m aiming to run 4 solid 10km blocs to ensure I have a decent buffer to get the sub 4:20 run to qualify for the F start zone. That said I have at this stage have at least Plans A, B and C to combat this puzzle.

PLAN A
The initial plan is to look to run reasonably consistent yet slower splits through each 10km phase. The early 55 minute first 10km split is attainable given the pace in the first 7km until hitting the Albert Park lake section of the course is usually quick and that I’m planning nutrition wise to be skipping the drink stations until about the 8km marker. Again if anyone for some reason intends to plan nutritionally in that manner training to run that far without a drink is a must. The splits at 20 and 30 kilometres will depend largely on the wind, in 2016 very strong winds basically put paid to a number of runners getting a quick time, although it had no impact on qualification. Splits 3 and 4 will probably also see me utilise the personal drink stations so searching for the right table may take a little longer. The 4th split also sees a few rises through the botanical gardens on tiring legs so some may think it’s conservative. I’ll probably take it relatively easy on approach to the MCG and will generally take my time unless the time is either approaching or well and truly achieved within the ground.

PLAN B

This is a slightly slower plan and may be adapted with Plan A in some regards, particularly with splits 3 and 4 anticipating some walking thrown in.

 

PLAN C

If I can’t remember what times I’m looking for, there’s always the trusty pace groups to count on. Last year I was able to comfortably go with the 4:10 pace group until an unscheduled pit stop approaching the second personal drink station so in theory there’s no reason not to be able to go with them again. In the past I’ve been guilty of attaching myself to groups that have run too fast for what I’m looking for so I have to be careful to actually read what group I’m going with and especially not to panic if I’m losing contact with a group.

OCTOBER 19: COMRADES ENTRY OPENS

Confirmed in the last few hours, the entries will open for the big C on this date and will probably sell like hotcakes unlike the previous UP run 2 years ago where I was able to enter 6 weeks after entries opened. Financially I have enough to cover entry and the airfares which won’t be booked until January given I’m waiting to see what options I have. The initial thought is to leave Australia on the Sunday rather than in midweek to spend a couple of days in Cape Town before commuting to KZN (Kwa-Zulu Natal) on the Wednesday, but whether that’s a viable option financially and from what airport I depart from will need to be determined.

OCTOBER 28: AUCKLAND MARATHON, NEW ZEALAND, FULL MARATHON

It’s funny how people get addicted to running marathons so much that 2 weeks after running in the goal race they decide to tow another starting line in a country that they’ve never set foot in (kind of easy when you’ve only taken a step in 3 countries, and Singapore doesn’t really count as I was transiting through the airport). Just how the run will go is something I can’t answer properly but a finish inside 5 hours is something that I can use as a baseline.

Getting there has at least been taken care of, and all done without needing to apply for a day off work to do so (unless I get hurt like I did on the Gold Coast but I don’t exactly want to be thinking that way now do I!). The plan will be to finish work close to midday on the Friday after starting at 4AM, although I may even try to negotiate an earlier start time closer to the date. Then it’s basically straight into the shower before dashing to the airport. The 2 hour gap between domestic and international flight is a little tight considering there’s a decent distance between terminals in Brisbane (something I’m going to experience for the first time as my international flights have departed Perth and Melbourne), but I should be in NZ’s best known city around midnight. I also intend to be back in Brisbane at 6:30 Queensland time (daylight savings would have started by then) on the Sunday Night, so I have to be organised with my gear to head straight from finish line to airport via the motel where I’m sure they’ll accommodate a request to mind my clothing.

 

18 NOVEMBER: POINT TO PINNACLE, HOBART, HALF MARATHON

Another year, another trip up Mt Wellington for enjoyment more than anything. Simple plan is to run to the base of the mountain, then converse with walkers on the way past as I make my way to the top. Hopefully the weather will actually be a little colder, as strange as it sounds given it is Hobart, than it was last year when I had to roll up the long sleeves. This will be finish number 5 for me should I make it to the top, which isn’t something to be sneezed at given many locals are either one and done to cross it off the bucket list, or find this challenge (make no mistake, this isn’t an average local fun run) too physically demanding.

 

20-27 JANUARY 2019: TRAINING WEEK IN BRISBANE

Again if all goes to plan in terms of getting an entry and staying sound, I’ll be spending this week concentrating on building a good base to train for the big race, and not just Comrades. Training itself will likely start on January 1 or 2 depending on work arrangements. Hopefully this year I’ll be able to do the planned lap of Mt Coot-tha on Australia Day!

 

24 FEBRUARY 2019: RACE, LOCATION AND DISTANCE TO BE DETERMINED

There are two options on this date, and confirmation of where I’ll be on this weekend will come later this month. Should a ballot result fall my way the plan is to be on the start line for the Tokyo Marathon, one of the 6 majors in Marathon running and in my opinion the easiest for me in terms of affordability and in being successful in the ballot. Based on my assumption that 30000 spots are available and 330000 entered, a 1 in 11 chance of success is a better chance than having a crack at London or New York who have more applicants for more places.

If the ballot doesn’t go my way, then I’m hopeful of returning to Wangaratta to do either the half or even their full marathons as a training run for Comrades.

APRIL 2019: CANBERRA ULTRA MARATHON, CANBERRA, 50km

Have a suspicion the date will be the week before Easter next year which would make this the 14th of April, but confirmation of this won’t come for a while yet given this year wasn’t done until December. Training run under race conditions will be the plan, although bettering the 5:39 from this year will also be on the agenda. If I can get somewhere near 5:00 it would be amazing and improve my start position should I have not done so already. Of course this all assumes that I won’t be needing to use this race to qualify.

 

Other events may be added (Port Macquarie in March is a possibility, plus there’s the local Rocky River Run in May as a final major training run just to name a couple) and deleted as the time draws closer to the big day….

JUNE 9 2019: COMRADES MARATHON, SOUTH AFRICA, DURBAN TO PIETERMARITZBURG

COMRADES 2018 – FROM HALF WAY TO NOWHERE

Having crossed the Drummond timing mat in a good time, I knew that there was an uphill section immediately after that a lot of fellow Comrades would walk, knowing that this would likely be the most substantial uphill section of the second half of the course. Having 25 minutes or so up the sleeve would also help facilitate this strategy, for having to rush now would have lead to physical strain taking a toll later on. Plus it would also give time to appreciate the famed “Arthur’s Seat” where tradition and legend dictates that runners would either lay a flower or doff their cap at a part of the course where a former winner named Arthur Newton would take a rest and smoke his pipe. By saying “Good Morning Arthur” as you passed, the legend goes that you would have a good second half of the race.

Unlike Arthur’s Seat, running past the Wall of Honour was a non negotiable. Sure it is good to stop and see all the former winners given their place in immortality with their plaque screwed onto the retaining wall, and it can be a collectors item when you finish one, for finishers can also purchase their own spot. But that sort of thing can be seen on tours rather than be admired on race day, and it’s just another feature to pass as the journey continues.

Having negotiated the section that on an up run I managed to pick up pace on, I thought it would be reasonably simple to maintain the pace and coast to the finish. Regrettably the legs decided to think otherwise. Sure the mind was willing but by the time the next cut off mark approached I was only really able to run in spurts. Having passed the next marker at Winston Park at 7:41, the legs suddenly just gave up as I rounded a left hand corner. At that stage quitting wasn’t an option, but moving let alone jogging or running became a task almost beyond the capabilities. I sat on an armco fence watching a couple of pace buses easily go past, not wanting to get in their way, before finding someone else in the same predicament. At that point I felt as though if I had to call it quits, I didn’t want to do it on the side of a freeway, so the next resolution was to walk to a place called Kloof and probably cease from there.

Walking with another battler at least didn’t make me feel that I was the loneliest person on a lonely journey, so we kept on walking. As we were about to pass Kearnsney College the sweeper car, the car signified where the last runner needed to be if finishing was going to be a reality, passed by. Despite this I felt as though we needed to walk onward at least to acknowledge the people who had been out roadside all day (and probably some of the night as well) just to cheer us on. Plus the miracle man in me had what was probably delusions of being able to sprint down Fields Hill to get to the second last cut off, even if I knew it would have been impossible in my condition at that time of the day to run splits that those who finished in the top 10 would be proud of.

The final stop came with just on 24 kilometres to go as I felt the need to actually take my chances and stop at a porta loo (I say take my chances because there was every chance sanitary conditions weren’t going to be average let alone good). By that stage the time I needed to be at the cut off had likely elapsed (I had no idea of what the actual time was as by this stage I was alone on the road), and being 3km from that marker unrewarded walking for half an hour didn’t appeal to either myself or the race organisers who probably would have liked to open the roads back to the public. There was no other choice, I stopped at a drinks station which was the 9th last, and ended up taking a seat on a mini bus.

Emotions took over fairly quickly after finding a spot to sit alongside a few others who didn’t make it. There have been races where I’ve had to abandon due to injury where frustration rather than emotion took over, I had even bailed last year but didn’t feel sad knowing that I had to give everything to make it that far. Yet this time the tears started flowing knowing the preparation, as interrupted and far from ideal as it had been, was amounting to nothing save for memories of getting so close to the goal but yet so far. Having being ferried to another bus waiting at the cut off, I found a seat at the front of the bus (a rarity on big buses given a back seat is my preference), and I cried yet again, even if some consoling words came from a man sitting across the aisle who wasn’t going to add to his 17 finishes this year.

We were dropped off at an exit leading into a tunnel where successful runners were strewn all over the bowels of Moses Mabhida Stadium looking for bags, water and cups of soup with medals dangling around their necks. Sadly all I could do was trudge past them back onto the field for a photo opportunity, then climb the stairs to find the internationals section where at least I could sit and watch the final hour or so as the runners came in. Unlike last year, where I knew I had nothing more to give and treated it as a big adventure, this year it took me ages to pull myself together amongst a group of Aussie ladies who had managed a finish as they waited for their partners (in training or in life) to cross that line. For a while I was very concerned about the traffic after the finish line being so great that some runners may be denied a finish because they find their passage to the line blocked. At least by the time the finishing gun went off those that made it were able to make it, and a number of those were just trudging into the stadium knowing they wouldn’t be getting a medal, although I’m sure they would say it was worth the pain and struggle.

The next day I somehow pulled myself together for an after party at a Durban beach front restaurant where it was actually fairly relaxed. Sitting next to another runner’s young kid may have helped, and it probably made me realise that running and finishing this race was what I wanted to do more than anything else. It was a nice way to spend a few hours, even if I didn’t have the stomach to overly celebrate or to dance up a storm like one Canadian lass.

So the obvious question is will I come back in 2019? My answer is a definite yes for I have a lot of unfinished business for the Up run, plus the fact I have enough funds to be able to make the trip even though I don’t normally book airfares for another 4 months (January). Again the journey to the start line will be different compared to other years, and in time I’ll be able to share exactly what the plan of attack is, after all the entries that normally open on the first of September haven’t opened and may not for another month. Still the qualifying period has started so the road back to Durban has begun already.

COMRADES 2018 – START GUN TO DRUMMOND

For those that have experienced mass start events everyone knows that the further back you are, the longer it takes to cross the actual start time although 99% of the time you get told chip time is all that counts for you. This was the 1% that wasn’t, for taking several minutes to cross the start line is a given for those a fair way back in the pack. This year it was an agonising 9 minutes of walking in a pack, standing in a pack, and trying to avoid tripping over items that were intended to keep people warm prior to the start before the race began in earnest. Of course this was something that a runner cannot stress about even though it means trying to make up 10 minutes across the day.

The start for the down run is so much different to the start for the up run. Last year the first kilometre in the city streets lead to the motorway where despite a pause the field were able to fan out about 35 runners wide with high quality (for that part of the world) lighting leading to a relatively simple start. The down run through Pietermaritzburg had lower quality lighting in the first couple of kilometres before it basically became zero a few kilometres later, and the roads were so narrow plenty took to the grass in order to find some clear running room or like I did after about 5 minutes active time to have an unscheduled early pit stop.

Passing this means Polly Shortts has been successfully negotiated. It’s probably more satisfying on an up run so I can’t wait to actually find out.

Unlike the up run, and given I didn’t make it that far last year I am assuming the tales of the difficulty of the climb are true, going up Polly Shortts, the first of the major climbs was relatively straightforward. Knowing how long the day was and not wanting to spend all the energy before 7AM, I decided to walk much of the climb before trotting off over the top with the legs, body and mind all in good condition. The early pace was steady due to the compression of the field on narrower roads. Compared to last year by the time I reached the first cut off point at Lion Park (nearly 16km into the journey) I was still conscious of trying to find my own space without slowing dramatically to hold anyone up.

What may have helped was my nutrition strategy involving carrying a bottle of Energade (a sports drink) in one hand and a bottle of Lucozade (not in the original planning but once I was delighted to find some in the supermarket on Saturday) in the other. For those worried about the rule of not trying anything before race day, Lucozade is something I usually have in Melbourne where personal drinks stations for everyone are available. I was comfortable with drinking the product during a run, so I felt there wasn’t a problem with using it during a big race that Comrades is. The Energade lasted well over 20km before I reached for the Lucozade, with another runner happy to accept my empty bottle for his own use once I had no use for it. In fact in the first 35km the only thing I took from aid stations was food, with a portion of banana at one station and a number of bits of orange at a few others.

The first concern came when I discarded with my warm weather gear close to the 20km mark. I’m sure someone on the side of the road is finding a good use for my $7 K-Mart gloves and my 6 year old royal blue UniQlo jumper, for I’m sure without them I wouldn’t have had as comfortable of a time before it was warm enough to run in just the singlet with Australian flag patches sewn on. The issue came when removing the jumper and seeing the front bib, and more importantly my “ticket” to retrieve my bag in the international compound at Moses Mabhida becoming unattached. One pin was then used to secure the bag ticket, with another pin being repositioned to keep the bib intact without flapping around. Perhaps next year prior to the race I may use a little sticky tape to help prevent the bib from coming off the pin, for paper bibs seen easier to rip than the thin cardboard type bibs we use here.

Can’t believe kids are happy to be in photos with me, taken 2 days before the race at the Ethambeni School

Back to the run and the next section was very kind to me without being overly quick. I was comfortably running with one of the 11:30 pace buses and knowing plenty of buses were behind time wasn’t an issue. A mental demon of sorts was passed at the next station at Cato Ridge, not because my race last year ended there (it was well before Cato), but because that was where I realised how tough Comrades is when a fellow bailer on the back seat of the bus needed medical attention and an ambulance before the big bus even got moving. There was no time to dwell on it though as the bus ploughed on and I either ran with it, ran in front of it or kept it well in sight. Before I knew it we were running through Ethambemi School with all the kids who performed so fantastically on Friday lining the road. If I had the time to do so I may have given a “Hi-5” to the kids on both sides of the road, but I’m sure the kids on the left hand side of the road weren’t overly upset that I could only acknowledge those to my right. Unlike Friday there was no time to stop for photos, as Inchanga and where my race ended in 2017 approached.

Perhaps it was there where everything started to go slightly pear shaped. Physically everything was still great, the legs were showing no signs of wear or fatigue and the mind was relaxed knowing the halfway point was coming up. I then made a slight error of looking behind me as the climb of Inchanga started noticing the car with the clock on top of it approaching. Expecting to see a time closer to about 5:15 or even 5:30, I was shocked to see that the clock had only just passed the 5 hour mark, and it was at that time where I had a feeling that even though I had conserved plenty of gas I had perhaps gone out too quickly and backing off before Drummond would be a sound strategy. After all there was plenty of time left in the bank, and I knew after the ceremonial half way mark Drummond indicated (the actual mid point was just under a kilometre up the road) there would be what I regarded as a difficult unnamed climb past the famed Arthur’s Seat and the Wall of Honour to negotiate.

Just a couple of the kids waiting on the side of the road for runners to pass through the Ethambeni School, picture taken the Friday prior to the run.

Still the form was good approaching the arch signifying cut off point number 3, where I tried to wow the crowd by singing (badly) Bon Jovi’s Livin on a Prayer up to the first chorus. Some in the crowd and a few of the volunteers liked by, as by that stage I was starting to stop at drink stations for sips of Coke. I crossed the marker in a tick over 5:45 which gave me ample time to steadily go through the second half of the event. Little did I know at that stage that my thoughts of going out a little too hard would come back to bite me.

 

TO BE CONCLUDED…..

COMRADES 2018: BUILDING UP TO THE START

Having successfully negotiated the expo and having set alarms to ensure an early wake up on Friday, it was time for another course tour to confirm final plans for the Sunday. It seemed a longer tour than the previous year, not the least because the tour started in Pietermaritzburg necessitating a 90 minute bus ride to Comrades House, but probably because I was on the later buses departing at 8:45 rather than the earlier time for last year. The highlights were the same, with the visit to the Ethambemi School proving popular as usual. It would have been nice to actually drive on the road to the finish upon returning to Durban but I suppose traffic control may have prevented this and being stuck in Durban traffic is about as inviting as dodging it as a pedestrian. At least the pizza on the beach still tasted like a pizza, even if I’ll never get used to crust less pizza.

Saturday was probably a little more stressful than it should have been. Waking up early enough for the North Beach Parkrun was a relief, but forgetting the timing barcode to officially record the time was a pain in the backside, although I probably should have gone somewhere on the Friday afternoon post tour to print some. Unofficially I was able to record a solid enough run to give a little confidence heading into the Sunday. From there it was straight to the supermarket afterwards to get some supplies for Sunday, even if the bananas were too green to eat. It was a thrill to discover some Lucozade in the store, for this was a product I had plenty of experience with during runs. I thought I had everything pegged in terms of what I needed and thought it was time to settle back to watch some Rugby.

The lingering thought of something being wrong with my chip purchased on Thursday however consumed me to the extent where I had to dash back to the expo just to make sure it was in working order. Relief came when that confirmation came, but then the stress returned when I discovered I forgot to purchase sunscreen that morning and I only had the zinc cream in the bag. So another supermarket trip came after I also thought I didn’t have any pins to attach the bibs (plural intended) to the race top, and the stress was amplified when I couldn’t find any safety pins in the establishment I went to. It was only when I returned and tipped the contents of the envelope with race bib onto the coffee table in my hotel room that I was able to breathe easy as 8 pins dropped out.

With the entire kit and the accessories laid out and pictorially immortalised, the remainder of the day went smoothly. At least the 2 plates of chicken pasta went down nicely and I was even able to do something I’m sure many runners were stressing over on Saturday Night, both get some sleep and respond to the second of 15 alarms I had set. It was a relief to spend a little time lying in bed before having to get organised about 12:30AM on the Sunday Morning, some 5 hours before go time. There was time for a pre race shower, a shaving of the sides of the face to help with the application and removal of zinc cream, get the kit on (and slip warm clothing over the top), wander downstairs for what’s probably the earliest breakfast known to man for 1AM is generally time for kebabs and cold pizza rather than yoghurt and rice bubbles, then after a quick toilet stop it was time to wander through the streets of Durban to catch the bus to destiny. It was then where it got a little confronting, for I hadn’t gone more than 200 metres when I saw a guy on the ground being restrained at gunpoint by a member of the constabulary. Not exactly what you want to see when you need to be as relaxed as possible given the stresses of what lay ahead. Yet for some reason I was a little shocked that it took that long for me to see this, so I guess staying in a secure location beach side rather than inner city or elsewhere has advantages.

Pietermartizburg Town Hall, starting location for the Comrades Down Runs

Excuses are something that I now try to avoid, but if I felt as though I needed one what happened next may have given me an out should things have gone pear shaped. Figuring that getting to Pietermaritzburg early was a key to success and that getting on a later bus may have caused an overly rushed preparation, it was a relief to get on the 2nd bus to depart Durban at 1:50 AM. It was a case of “What The?” when the bus arrived at 3AM having had to negotiate minimal traffic on the route. Being early to things like this is something I aspire to, but having to wait for so long in cold if not freezing conditions (it felt colder than the 8 degrees forecast) actually could have been a hindrance rather than a calming influence. The zinc was applied at about 3:30 AM, and I waited until 4AM to hand my bag over for transportation and to find a seat in the G starting pen….and I waited…..and waited……and waited as I listened to some lass tell us it was her last crack at her elusive 10th finish which would give her a coveted Green Number (if you finish 10 of these, or finish in the top 10 on 5 occasions, or win the race 3 times or more, your number is given to you for eternity and you run with a green race bib. Internationals with less than 10 run with a blue bib).

Come 5AM and the runners had started to fill the pens with many more trying to get to the start as the roads to PMB started to become congested. The time had come to stand up to find a position not too close to the gutter and not too close to the head of the pen. With no Australians in sight (a miracle considering about 150 of us started) I managed to integrate with a few of the locals as the buzz grew and the start time approached. Before we knew it, the time had approached 5:20, which was enough time to play the National Anthem (one day I’ll nail the pronunciation of the Afrikaans section), the traditional tear jerking hymn Shoshaloza, the mind focusing Chariots of Fire, and the recording of a man imitating a cock crowing twice. A brief moment of silence came over close to 20000 runners, before BANG….

 

TO BE CONTINUED