TWO OCEANS ULTRA MARATHON – THE WORLD’S MOST BEAUTIFUL (AND WINDY) MARATHON
South Africa is known to most people as home to the ‘big 5’ but for runners it is home to the ‘big 2’, that is two of the most challenging runs, Two Oceans, a 56 km ultra marathon incorporating two big climbs and Comrades, the ultimate 89km, 12 hour race.
This year I decided to take on the challenge of the former and survived to tell the tale.
The 56km Ultra marathon is in fact only one race in a running festival that is held every Easter weekend and has something for everyone, including a ‘nappy dash’ for toddlers through fun runs, trail runs and a half marathon up to the ultra 56km race which is the high light of the weekend.
For international visitors the weekend starts with the Friendship run on Good Friday, a 5km run / walk around the stunning Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. A time to line up behind the flag of your country and show true running unity. It is also a great opportunity to get muscles loose after the long flight to Cape Town. The day was fine and the run allowed fantastic views of Table Mountain without its infamous table cloth of cloud.
The rest of the day was spent getting ready for the big race and after a excellent meal in the hotel restaurant it was off to bed as the start of the race at 6:30 meant a wake up call at 4:30. Before turning in I made sure my kit was prepared as South Africa has strict rules regarding number placement on both front and back of the shirt and a timing chip secured to a shoe.
As always before a big race, anticipation woke me well before the alarm so had plenty of time to eat my pre – race breakfast of food and yoghurt and check and double check I had everything I would need. A great thing about SA races is the requirement of drinks stations at least every 3km and for this race they were every 2km and for the last 10km, every km so there was no need to carry hydration fluids. in addition they provided the water and Powerade in sachets that could be carried between drink stations.
Dressed in my ‘Tuffy’ garbage bag body warmer, provided free in the race ‘goody bag’, I set off for the starting line and joined the other 11,000 competitors in the inevitable queue for the loo. However again these were plentiful so the wait was not excessive and then it was time to enter the starting pens and after a lively rendition of the South African National Anthem we were off into the first dawn light of what I hoped would be a dry day, although high winds were forecast for later that morning.
The first 28km takes runners down the eastern side of the Cape Peninsula and is relatively flat giving time to settle into a comfortable running pace. Even at this early hour there were many people on the side of the road to cheer us on, a good distraction as iPods are banned from the race with a fine for anyone caught using one.
The wind was already getting up and the headwind proved quite a challenge but was tolerable as it meant that we would have a tail wind for the climb up Chapman’s Peak in the second half of the race.
When the course hit the coast at Muizenburg, the spectacular views made even the strong wind tolerable.
My aim was to break six hours and at 21km I was well on track for a sub 5:30 time but with the two challenging climbs of Chapman’s Peak and Constantia Nek to come in the second 1/2 of the race, I wanted all the time in hand that I could get.
At Fish Hoek the route turned inland across the peninsula and at the 28km mark gradually started climbing the 7km and 115 bends up Chapman’s Peak. By now the wind was gusting from all directions and running became rather challenging. Added to this was the fact that I became a victim of the infamous Chapman’s Peak cat’s eyes falling rather heavily on my arm which had been broken the previous year in training. However, after ensuring that the only thing that had suffered was my Skins which were now ‘Airtex’ I got back on my feet determined to finish what I had started. This was helped by a convenient refuelling station with cooked potatoes which may sound odd but were excellent fuel boosters.
The pull up Chapman’s Peak was actually not as bad a I had thought and I was soon at the top, still on time for my goal of a bronze medal.
Coming over the peak, the full force of the wind hit but this time it was a tail wind almost blowing many of us over and we literally flew down the mountain at breakneck pace. Discarded drink sachets and cups were flying everywhere in the howling wind making the task of the volunteers who were meant to be clearing up a nightmare.
The decent was quickly over and for a couple of kilometres it was relatively calm and flat with a time to take stock for the final challenge ahead – the climb up Constantia Nek. Prior to the start of the climb we ran through the settlement of Hout’s Bay and as well as the local residents turning out, there were also many children from the Township of Imizamo Yethu who eagerly waited for the runners to given them a ‘high 5’
Then the final challenge was upon us and by now my pace had slowed but a sub 6 hour finish was still possible. The many volunteers were urging us on and having names on our numbers meant we got personal encouragement was most welcome. Finally I could hear the music of the band at the top and rounding the corner, the summit was there and the knowledge that the rest of the race was mainly down hill. With 75 mins to do 10km I felt reasonably comfortable despite developing an annoying stitch. Going though 50km, the end actually started to seem a reality and the final 6 km passed in a blur. At 2km I realised I could walk the final part and still finish in under 6 hours so the final uphill stretch was tolerable especially as everyone was helping each other on.
Finally rounding the last bend the UCT rugby fields were in sight and I even managed a last sprint to the finish line. Looking at the clock I found I had made it with 12 minutes to spare and receiving my bronze medal I felt relief at finishing but also satisfaction of an ambition achieved.
After having my knee patched up by some helpful medics and a welcome cup of tea at the Penthouse Hospitality tent, I even had the energy to walk back to the hotel (although a lift was available) and on the way was planning my trip for next year. But first I had a couple of days to spend exploring the wonderful city of Cape Town
I am very grateful to Travelling Fit for organising the whole trip and I thoroughly recommend this run to anyone looking for a bigger challenge than a marathon, it is indeed one of the most beautiful and well organised races I have taken part in, even it this one was probably the windiest.