Ultra marathon

Two Oceans Race Report

By: Spencer-Rae Kerr

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It’s a chilly morning and still dark. Somehow, by fluke, we got a last minute Air BnB booking for a flat right by the start, so I do not have to cater for any travel time. I listen from my bed as the commentator reprimands the 21k runners for dawdling. “Come on 21’s; you are losing time!”, he repeats desperately. Either everyone is on a go-slow, or the traffic was terrible this morning. The 21k runners are let off in their seeding batches at 10-minute intervals.

The Ultra starts at 6:40. I walk out of the building at 6:35 and along the pedestrian walkway. Metal barricades separate me from a densely packed group of runners who are brimming with nervous energy. I’m in E batch, and I’m in no rush because all I need to do is to get to the end of the barricade and onto the road behind the other runners. I’m imagining the commentator reprimanding me, “come on 56’s, you are losing time!” but he doesn’t, and I am not, because the 56km runners all start at the same time and I know it’s going to take a while to get going. I get to where I need to be and think over my strategy. I remind myself not to go out too fast – 56km is a long way!

The gun goes off, and we begin. Those nearer to the front, anyway. After a short while, there are hints of movement, but I am right at the back so mostly I just wait. Suddenly we are in herd mode – shuffling, bumping, pushing, falling. Slowly at first, then faster.

Strikes on Chapman’s peak mean the route is different this year and that we will run over Ou Kaapse Weg instead of Chappies. I’m sad because it’s my first Two Oceans, and I am missing one of the most iconic features of the race. It’s more ‘One Ocean One Mountain’ this year. But I’m grateful to be running regardless, and the reserve is beautiful.

We are picking up momentum now as we run down Main Road.  There is a slight drizzle, and it’s quite refreshing. It’s perfect weather for a PB, but today won’t be one of mine. We cruise through Wynberg and Plumstead, and I have to keep reminding myself not to go too fast. The road is straight for a long time, and we run past clusters of locals who cheer us on from the roadside. Some volunteers hand us sachets of water and Powerade. There are a few older folk on their stoeps, with Afrikaans pop music blaring in the background. It’s pretty early to be drinking, but that doesn’t seem to bother them, and they raise their glasses to us as we run past.

After about 17km, we wind around the corner onto a coastal section of road, and Muizenburg beach comes into sight. The rain has cleared a bit, and it’s a beautiful day. Longboarders hustle in the crowded surf as I bump into runners on the narrow street. I’m daydreaming now about surfing back at home, where the water is not so cold.

We hug the coastline and enjoy the ocean breeze as we wind around Trappies Kop and through Kalk Bay. Some musicians serenade us from their garage as we run past. They are carelessly playing their guitars and singing, and it’s a great distraction. A little further along I become aware of the houses built up against the hillside. A lady is dancing on the second floor of her home. Two Oceans spectators sit with drinks in hand on chairs on the balcony’s of neighbouring houses. Everyone is in a great mood! I can’t help but smile. This is South Africa at its best!

We run past some sea-facing shops at Fishhoek. Someone is playing a Beatenberg song from a PA system that has been set up on the roadside. At about 22km, we turn inland onto the M65. We wind through Sun Valley and prepare to face our demons. Ou Kaapse Weg is just ahead!

Up we go, first fast, then slow. The chatter dies down. It’s time to ‘dig deep’. Some runners have backpacks with Bluetooth speakers and shamelessly blast their favourite tracks to themselves and anyone else who will listen. The buses clog the road, and I get reprimanded by officials when I move outside of the beacons to try and overtake them. The camber only gets worse the higher up we go, and my legs burn.

We are in the nature reserve now, and there are no more water sachets. We get cups here instead, and there are large troughs to throw them into after we have used them. Suddenly everyone is a conservationist!  Amazingly, almost every single person complies, and I wonder why we can’t adopt the same attitude for the entire race, or any other road race.

Near the top of Ou Kaapse Weg, a lady shouts, “it’s just around the corner”, I reply that “it’s a very long corner” because it doesn’t look like we are going to be around anything any time soon. Eventually, we do crest the hill, and I take a few moments to take in the view and check in with myself before meandering down the other side.

We run past Pollsmoor Prison and a few water tables. At 40km we are in Tokai Forest. They’ve made some cool temporary water pipe contraptions to fill cups from, and I am enjoying the shade from all the trees. It’s a gradual, pleasant climb and then a steady flattish section through Fir Grove and Sillery.

At 46 km, just 10km before the end, we are reminded of the torment of Ou Kaapse Weg. We begin climbing up Southern Cross Drive towards Rhodes drive, and my legs are burning again. Most people are walking now and I turn away as a lady to my left bends over to be ill. I’m telling myself it’s “just two park runs to go”, and I keep running. That is if you could call it running. In reality, I am just ‘Madiba-shuffling’ up a hill at a rate slightly faster than the walkers. Exhausted, we reach Rhodes Drive and are presented with a short descent to recover on. People are holding signs that say things like, ‘you are running better than the government’. I enjoy this, because I know that I am not running well, and still that sign is true.

A few more ups and downs and we descend onto the UCT field. I use the last bit of my energy to speed up. I want to finish strong. I’ve had fun, but I am ready to sink a couple of cokes and pass out on a patch of grass somewhere. I am tired, and my body hurts, but I am in high spirits! Two Oceans did not disappoint. I will be back for you Chappies.

The Running Race!

By: Sandy Mullins

There is nothing quite like the homosapien species called the “athlete”! There are sub species in this category who hit the pavements, roads, and earthy terrain to “move it, move it”, namely the walker, runner and cyclist. They will get up at a ridiculous time – before the birds have decided to open their beaks, and lace up, leave the comfort of Duvet Street and move at a considerable pace along the streets and byways for a few hours, clicking up the kilometres (which is then beeped on the watch to the computer and downloaded to  record the mileage and rake up points!).

The beauty about the athlete is that it knows no boundaries. The love of the sport unites young and old, the doctor, the baker, the candlestick maker, and total strangers greet each other in passing, because they recognise the dedication and the unvoiced respect for what they are achieving. I remember running on the beachfront one morning with one of my race T-shirts on. A guy running in the opposite direction in a similar shirt smiled at me and the telepathy was – “I know what you went through to earn that T!”  

The bonds that are built along the road is strong. You might not know each other from a bar of soap, yet you can talk the same language. You share the pain, the anguish of injury or sickness, but delight in the achievements and goals reached, however great or small. Its not generally a selfish sport. What one gleans from one, is passed on to another to encourage and build and to see personal bests achieved. Its thanks to the selfless input of those in the know that has got me to places I would never have dreamt possible.

It is not necessarily a glamorous pastime. One sees each other at the worst, still with sleep in one’s eyes, hair amok, moods subdued or grumpy.  Not everyone looks like a super model in running gear. And when the need to go to the loo arises on the road… well put it this way, we would never dream that the bush could be such heaven! Its funny when you see runners in the mall all dressed for the day, how you almost don’t recognise them!

Seconders rate extremely high on my respect list. They get up with us to cart us around, provide for our needs on the way, and give us the rebuke or encouragement we need to get us going again. And don’t forget all the photos they take of us to record our amazing feats! Many have pulled me through some of the toughest challenges in my running career. Again total strangers come to the rescue. Comrades 2016, I was coming down Fields Hill having lost my electrolyte potions along the way, and the inevitable cramps kicked in – both calves. I looked like a ballerina on points – gone wrong! Two lovely spectators came running up and asked how they could help. I leant on one while the other helped undo the spasms. I really thought my race was over. Thanks to them I hobbled down towards Pinetown. Just then another runner doing his 9th came along side me and gave me a packet of the same electrolytes I had been taking. He told me to take two every half hour and then carried on his way to his green number. I tried to remember his name on his vest but to this day, I will never know who he is, but he saved my race and I was able to complete the challenge. Comradeship at its best. It is humbling.

So to all these crazy characters who make this world an interesting, better place – I salute you! Keep moving forward and run the race that is set before us – this is a paradigm of life!

Rejoicing in the exhilaration of climbing up two summits in 46 days

By: David Mohale

Few weeks ago, I wrote a long post on Facebook about the parallels between a PhD journey and running the Comrades Marathon. For me personally, there are so many parallels. Notably, I did not register for the two voluntarily. My former supervisor at Wits University submitted my Masters’ dissertation at Unisa. The rest is history. I joined Stella AC either in late August or early September. Our own legendary Pat Freeman coaxed me to register for Comrades Marathon as a precaution. By that time, numbers were fast approaching 20000. At the time we had this conversation, I had not even run my first marathon. Again, the rest is history.

I will not get into the details of my post. However, it is important to try to bring the reader into my shoes. Motivation is not always innate. My greatest challenge was, therefore, to overcome the mind lethargy that resulted from my involuntary registration of these two envious summits. And this was not a stroll in the park, especially as the experienced in these two fronts tend to be boastful. I do not think they are aware so they could be forgiven.

I ran my first marathon in Vaal on the second weekend of September. Luckily, Pat Freeman had cautioned me about the effects of altitude. Had she not, I could have easily considered quitting. Be that as it may, completing the first marathon in 4:05 is apparently not bad. Soon after that I joined Stella’s Saturday long runs. I still remember that my first was 24km run to Westville. I ran with Kevin and Tawanda that day, keeping quiet while listening to their conversation, with topics ranging from their past runs, the economy and politics. I had to pretend that I was enjoying the run although it was tough for me. The second long run was 32km run up to Cowies Hill. I ran with Justin and Mark on the day and they also shared their Comrades Marathon experiences. Listening to them, I was convinced that I would not achieve the feat of completing Comrades Marathon in a lifetime.

Organisational studies emphasise the importance between organisational culture and individual behaviour. In this respect, individual attitudes and capabilities are not enough; they are a subject of the dominant climate created through formal rules and informal behaviour of its members. I am proud to say that Stella’s organisational culture is so positive that many of us, as novices, never experienced the kind of negative welcome that some novice runners would speak of elsewhere. I suppose this explains why the membership of the club seems to be on exponential growth. With the warm welcome of almost everyone at the club, the mind started to believe in the reasonable prospect of completing this ultimate human race.

From the bottom part of my heart, I wish to thank everyone at the Club for making me believe in my running capability. As I said before, running is more than just that; it somewhat epitomises what humanity should be about. This became evident on the day of the race when I woke up with an unbearable pain on my left knee. Alex Haddad helped me to forget about the pain until 25km. Later on, I caught up with Darren Smith, and they clearly looked bushed. Darren had the best words ever: “This is my 5th Comrades; it’s your first. You deserve a good time. Go and have fun”. In one of the many last short runs we did as the Club, Darren also shared tips on eating times on the day of the race. For the first time I accepted advice without a modicum of doubt and his advice worked perfectly for me. The support and words of encouragement from Stella Stars at our tables and along the road made the weight of running lighter.

In closing, the medal may be recorded in my name but I wish to dedicate it to Stella AC for being so professionally organised and for being a home for me, personally. I will forever be eternally indebted to the Club for making this personal historic feat possible. 2018 has, without a shadow of doubt, been my best year, with my graduation in Phd on 25 April and another PhD in running on 10 June 2018. It was not easy but it was done.

Mandarin Teacher and His Running Stories- The Rising Sun Chatsworth Ultra

By: Chuanwei Wang (Smile)

Joining Stella Athletic Club is probably the best decision I have made this year. Running with the club always highlights my day. That is why I make all my efforts to run with the Club.

One of the running mates Darren, who became my coach now, promised to arrange a lift to Chatsworth Marathon. Darren, Mark, Candice, Alex, Dimitri and I would be running together. Therefore, I gave up my original plan to run Durban City Marathon, which is too flat and boring. Chatsworth Marathon is famous for its numerous hills. The moment when you climb to the top of a hill, a downhill is waiting for you to conquer. Since we all had qualified for Comrades, we agreed to run Chatsworth as a training run for Comrades instead of a race.

As instructed by Coach Darren, I was up early on the morning of 22 April and battled to eat the last three toasts left in the fridge. Worrying about getting hungry at the end of the race, I grabbed another three handfuls of jungle oats and I could eat no more.We met up by Darren’s apartment after Mark fetched Dimitri and me. We all went in Alex and Candice’s car. We were off in the direction of Chatsworth, Alex driving and Mark directing.

Alex parked his car by the finish, the Chatsworth Stadium. While we were heading to the start, one Stella member was jumping and clapping his hands above his head to warm up.  I thought he was waving to us, I embarrassedly waved to him.

The start was simply decorated. My friends in China are always fussy about how casual the start is in South Africa. A banner with the name of race was hung up by a machine, no year printed. The Chatsworth Athletic Club probably reuses the banner for years, which is environmentally friendly and should be encouraged. So far, not many participants had arrived. A bunch of Stella members were gathered for a group photo.

2018-04-27-PHOTO-00000042.jpgThe South African Anthem was played and sung at around 5:20am. At 5:30am the start siren went off, and everyone immediately began to run. Many ran so fast. “If you go first, you lost.” Remembering what Coach Darren told me, I just stuck with  him. The first part of the route went through the residential areas of Chatsworth, but there wasn’t lots of crowd support as it was described in the event description.

The sun started to come up around 6:30am when we were running a downhill. Amazed by the view, I took out my phone, trying to take a rising sun photo. “Smiley, really?” I heard a sound from behind. I recognised  it as the voice of Nana from Stella. I knew what she meant is that I shouldn’t take photos while I am running.  Embarrassed, I put my phone into my waist bag and kept running. By the next downhill, I saw the sun rising above the horizon. I was thinking that the marathon is called “Rising Sun Chatsworth Freedom Marathon”,  how can it be done without a photo of the rising sun? Hence, I couldn’t help taking out my phone again and stood still for a second to take a quality photo of the rising sun.

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Coach Darren, Mark, Candice, Alex, Dimitri and I were running together. Dimitri was ahead of us from time to time, and finally out of our sight. The rest of us slowed down the pace if there was a big hill and picked up some pace afterwards. The ones who went ahead would slow down to wait for those who were left behind. “Whoop whoop” is often shouted, which I was told that it means here comes the hill.

The sun was climbing higher and higher. We drank water or coke at every water table to avoid dehydration. Salted potatoes and oranges were served as well. Candice and I both could not have salted things when we were running.

At around 28kms, Mark felt it was very hard to pick up his pace if he waited too long. Candice thought it should be fine if Coach Darren and Alex were running together. Therefore, the three of us ran at our pace, leaving Coach Darren and Alex behind us.

2018-04-27-PHOTO-00000044.jpgA special treat for the ultra marathon is to run through the scenic Silverglen Nature Reserve. At the beginning of the reserve, an uphill with about 75 degrees slowed down every runner. Nobody ran up to the top of the hill. The rest of the route in the reserve is relatively easy with lots of downhills. A snake was spotted by Mark and Candice in the reserve. We were running at an easy pace so that I got a chance for sightseeing and taking photos.

2018-04-27-PHOTO-000000512018-04-27-PHOTO-00000048When we went on to the hilly highway from the reserve, Mark dropped his pace. Candice and I were running a little bit ahead of Mark. I invited Candice to push ourselves for the last three kilometres. She said she would definitely push herself but after me and she asked me to go by myself. Feeling lots of energy left, I picked up my pace and started to sprint.

At the 51km sign, a marshal saw me running fast and said “It is like your last kilometre in a 10km race!”  I passed everyone in front of me and managed to move my way into the Chatsworth stadium. Crowds were lined up by the two sides of the entrance and shouting for every runner. Getting excited by seeing the track and field ground which I used to race at for years when I was still in university in China, I pushed myself even harder to cross the finish line. Everyone by the finish line was cheering for me. A warm welcome was given by a lady from Stella who finished her 21k.

Later Candice, Mark, Coach Darren and Alex arrived successively. Another group photo was taken afterwards for some Stella finishers.

2018-04-27-PHOTO-00000046.jpgI felt that Chatsworth Ultra Marathon was the easiest race I had ever done due to easy pace. However, some thought that it was the toughest race and even harder than Comrades. Completing the ultra marathon did make me happy and gave me a certain amount of confidence, a distance that is closer to Comrades.

Many thanks to Coach Darren, Mark, Candice and Alex for their companionship, guidance and encouragement. The next training run before Comrades will be the 55km route tester on 5 May. I am looking forward to running with my mates again.

“I run not because I want to live longer, but because I want to live life to the fullest. ” says Haruki Murakami, a Japanese writer and runner, and I agree with that.

Smile has written a longer version of this article in Chinese.

You can read that article on his own blog here