Monday, 24 March 2014

Race report: Weskus Marathon 42.2km - 15 March 2014

Aaaaah the beauty of the West Coast. This magical coastline is undoubtedly the most underrated area of South Africa but let's keep it that way to preserve it's unspoiled beauty. The Langebaan Country Estate Weskus Marathon ( happens in March every year and is often forgotten by Western Cape runners as it is so close to 2 Oceans. Last year it was too late to be a qualifier for the Ultra and even though it was a qualifier this year, many runners prefer to break their knees at Red Hill or fight the heat at Peninsula leaving those of left who were either too lazy, too busy or too injured in Jan and Feb to use this as our last chance to qualify. All I was really expecting to get out of this run was an entry into 2 Oceans but was very pleasantly surprised with so much more.

The race starts at Tzaarsbank which is a beautiful little beach inside the West Coast National Park.  It is a point to point race and, because the park is closed to public traffic on the day, you have to rely on the organised buses to get to the start. The trip there was slow as the fastest the bus could go was at the 40kmph speed limit of the National Park and the morning mist meant it was even slower. I managed to catch a bit of a nap in between sips of my 32GI pre-race drink. Just over an hour later we reached our starting point. It was already 6h20am so I assumed we were kicking off at 7am (once again bad pre-race research) and I went off into the bush to commence a 40 minute warm-up routine. Just as I was getting going with the hip swings I heard the announcement that the last bus had arrived and we were starting in 4 minutes. It turns out the scheduled start time was 6h30am so I quickly dropped off my tog bag in the bakkie and squeezed into the front third of the runners.

We started as the sun was coming up and we were treated to an incredible sunrise over the lagoon. The pace was quite quick at the beginning but the smaller field meant it wasn’t long until I could settle into my stride. This being only my third marathon ever, I did a fair amount of research before the race on pacing strategies. The general consensus is to run the first half as slow as possible and then try and get an even or negative split for the second half. I purposely didn’t take my watch with me, instead opting for my phone, as I decided to only check my time at pre-determined intervals so I could see how I was doing against my goals. My life has changed since I realised that 42 is divisible by 7 meaning I can split my time goals into multiples of 7. I like to split my races into thirds so it would be 3 portions of 14 minutes this time.

The first 14km is mostly flat with a few little hills to keep it interesting. I much prefer an undulating course as completely flat gets really tedious. I kept myself from going out too fast and was content letting people pass me early on as my goal was to catch them in the last 5km when I would be flying in like Lusapho April. I finished the first 14km in just under 72min which was a bit slower than I had planned.

Sun, sea and fynbos
From 14km to 21km it is gently downhill with more amazing scenery where at any point you are either running alongside the Atlantic Ocean or the lagoon. The downhill helped me speed up a bit and I got to the halfway point in 1h48. I go into every race with 3 goal times: the time I tell people I am going for (4 hours), the time I tell myself I am going for (3h45) and the time I am actually going for (3h30). My first half marathon time of 1h48 meant I was well inside the pace for 3h45 and if I had a good second half, I could even get close to 3h30. At this point I was feeling strong and confident and thought that I was done holding back and could really turn on the pace. At 24km however, things changed drastically unbeknown to me. At the time I thought I was starting to run faster however my splits show that my pace changed from around 5min/km to around 5m30/km. It is really strange because physically I didn’t feel any different so I have come up with 2 possible explanations for this: I ate for the first time at 18km and then the second time at 23km so the additional energy spent digesting may have slowed me down; or the first 23 km I was trying to run slowly and it was only when I ‘sped up’ that I slowed down so maybe my technique is better when I am trying to hold back. Of course there is the outlier reason that due to an injury and sickness I was underprepared for the race and my body was fatigued at this point but I doubt that is correct. The slower pace meant that I did the second 14km in just under 74 minutes despite doing the first 7km of it in 36 minutes.

Tried to keep up with these Edgemead chaps but they were too strong
This left me some work to do in the final chapter.  The course continued with more of the same although it is never boring. The hills do get a bit more pronounced from between 30 and 36km however they are still gentle by trail running standards. At 37km we exited the park and faced the biggest challenge of the day, the infamous ‘Black Mamba’ hill. It is about a 2km hill that gradually steepens as you ascend it. You are helped along however by the friendly locals who, with typical small town hospitality, come out in their numbers to support, one of whom I think had his own version of a ‘black mamba’ in his plastic cup…he was quite vocal. I attacked the hill and was happy that after 38km I could get up without walking…Constantia Nek I am coming for you. This put a spring in my step and a misread sign at the top which meant I thought I only had 1 km left. I turned on the gas and gave it all I had only to find at the end of that km, another sign saying I still had another 2km. By now I was pretty poked and let the 55 year old lady from Durbanville who I was duelling with carry on. I shuffled along for the last 2km and came in just over my goal time of 3h45 with a slower last third in 78 minutes.

I was happy enough with my time but I know that if I had been able to train better I could have come closer the 3h30, at least I now know what goal to shoot for. My first marathon I did in 5h20 (Knysna 2011) and my second marathon I did in 4h06 (Peninsula 2013) which means that if this trend continues, I should break 3 hours next time!

Weskus is an exceptionally well organised and beautiful marathon and one I will definitely do again even if I don’t need it for a qualifier. It has everything you could want in a road race: scenery, a few challenges, lack of cars, plenty of water tables (some even stocked with snacks) and of course some incredible organisers and volunteers who drive around picking up after the dirty roadies who still drop their empty water sachets all over the course. Definitely my favourite road marathon and I looking forward to being back again.

I usually place inside the top 33% of the field. My goal is to consistently place in the top 25%. 

Distance:    42.2km
Time:         3:45:37 (1h14 behind winner)
Position:      156/916 (17%...I am very happy with this. 2 minutes faster and I would have been top 15% and a sub 3h30 would have got me into the top 10%)

Male:     137/655
If I was a Female:   20/261

Monday, 10 March 2014

Training log - 17.02 - 09.03 - Miles and Moving

The man-made beauty of Century City
An up-down-up three weeks have passed and as I head towards my qualifying marathon this coming weekend, and the crunch time training period leading up to 2 Oceans, I am in a position where I have no idea what to expect. My goal for the year was to enter every race feeling adequately prepared. Whilst I have had a tough time so far with injuries and sickness, I still think I have done more training than I had last year, or at least better quality training so hopefully I will be fine.

Week 1
A decent week as I did my last runs in Century City and for the first time, started to feel some pace in my legs since the ankle injury.

Mon 17.02 – Run Century City
A good start to the week with an early morning jog on a shortened Century City route.

Tues 18.02 – CrossFit

Wed 19.02 – Run Century City
A good run for, what I didn’t know at the time, would be my last run in Century City. This place has been fun to run in, mainly because there are no cars to battle. The scenery is nice in a man-made sense but I need some hills man…the mountains are calling and I must go. I put on a decent pace and was happy to average under 5min/km for the first time in weeks.

Thurs 20.02 – Rest

Fri 21.02 – Rest

Sat 22.02 – Run – Chappies (nearly died twice)
The lead Argus riders
We were fortunate enough to house-sit for the Leo Pride in Noordhoek for the weekend and I was pumped all week for a run on possibly the most beautiful road in the universe, Chapman’s Peak. I had not been back to the Peak since 2 Oceans last year when I felt quite comfortable on the way up but really struggled on the way down so it would be interesting to gauge my current fitness levels and my hill strength after mainly running on flats so far this year. My limbs were aching when I woke up but I put it down to the 2 glasses of red wine and not sleeping much the night before due to excitement of the pending jog.

I felt really good on the way up despite running in the gutter the whole way, this due to every bicyclist in the world also deciding to come to Chappies this morning. It was during this run that I came to the conclusion that not all bicyclists are idiots…only 1 third of them. I have generally been of the opinion that cars hate pedestrians, pedestrians hate cars but both cars and pedestrians hate bicyclists. This is not entirely accurate however as after experiencing wave after wave of bicycling schools bolting past me, I was able to determine that the proportion of those pedaling on the road can be split as follows:
  1.            1 third are genuine sportsmen who have been doing this for years, they follow the rules of the road, greet when you ride past, maintain 1.5m from pedestrians and cars and are generally there because they are somewhat competitive – if you put these people in cars, they would be the ones keeping to the speed limit and not drinking more than 2 beers when driving;
  2.            Another third are made up of complete novices doing Argus for the first time, you can spot them as they are usually wearing baggy shorts instead of tights and sit bolt upright on their bikes, they are more hesitant on the road and prefer to keep looking straight ahead, best to keep out of there way and let them do their thing – if these were car drivers they would have a massive ‘L’ on their back windscreen;
  3.           The last third are made up of the full-on weekend warriors, these guys only cycle in groups of 7 or more, are usually wearing kit with a corporate logo on it and generally ride 3 abreast either to enable them to speak to their boychie alongside them, or on their cell phone (so that they can do important business),  these guys are generally out of shape having picked up cycling at the age of 42 when they realized that years of pub-lunches give you heart problems (despite what people interpret Tim Noakes as saying), if you put them in a car they would be taxis and audi owners.

The first chasers
After making this analysis, I realized that this split is quite comparable to the split of drivers on the road which made me realize that the problem is not with the drivers or with the bicyclists, it is with the people in general. Bad drivers make bad cyclists and so, until South Africans change their poor driving habits there will continue to be accidents and conflict between cars and bicycles. Anyway, it was this last third that was causing me to run in the gutter because, despite the fact that I was running on the yellow line where they can’t ride without getting a puncture, they still needed more space.

I made it up and over Chappies with no problem but on the way back I started struggling. I had a similar feeling as my first marathon in Knysna where my pre-race meal of Oysters, Tobasco and contaminated water did not agree with me. I felt weak and completely lost my appetite and couldn't take in fuel so I had to run/walk the last 5km. I thought of phoning to get picked up but then my stubbornity kicked in and I thought, I can’t DNF a training run! What if this happens when I do my 100-miler one day? I made it home and then spent the rest of the weekend either on the couch or in the bathroom…the stomach bug had returned.


The Peloton madness

Sun 23.02 – Stomach bug induced rest

Week total

Week 2

Mon 24.02 – Sat 01.03
This week I was down with the stomach bug for the first half of the week and then the second half of the week was too busy packing up our flat as we prepped for our move. We were finally all moved in by Sunday and I headed out for my first run in Hout Bay.

Sun 02.03 – Run Hout Bay
A short little jog around the block in the rain. I had so much fun and realized that I actually way prefer running in cold weather.

Week total

Week 3

My biggest mileage week of the year so far and it felt great.

Some of the crew going all out in 14.1
Mon 03.03 – CrossFit – 14.1
On a whim I decided to enter the CrossFit open. Workouts get released every Thursday night and we have until Monday night to submit our scores. It is a big deal for me as I don’t often do the workouts on the recommended weights i.e. I usually scale them down. My goal for this is really just to attempt each workout. This workout was not too bad, being ground to overheads on a light weight interspersed with double unders. I went at a decent pace the first 5 min but then my shoulders were finished after that. Most interesting was how much I struggled with high-intensity work which shows how much I need to do more interval training. I was really proud of the other TAGG athletes who all put in really good scores.

14.1 – 10 min AMRAP
30 Double unders
15 Ground to overhead of 34kg

My score -147
My position - T1010/1471 = 68.66%

TAGG leaderboard after Week 1

Tues 04.03 – Run – Hout Bay to TAGG
A good morning run, although I will remember to take the headlamp next time. The distance from our new place to gym is perfect for mid-week morning jog.

Wed 05.03 – Run – Hout Bay
Hout Bay sun welcoming us to the hood
I worked out a nice little route around the block then up Chappies as far as the toll booth and back again. Unfortunately my phone GPS didn’t work so I realized I would have to do it again the next day to get the distance.
0:56:00 (estimated)

Thurs 06.03 – Run – Hout Bay
Same route as the day before and although I picked up the mileage this week, the legs felt strong.

Fri 07.03 - Rest

Sat 08.03 – Run – Long slow distance
With a week to go to my qualifying marathon I needed to get over 30km, if anything just for confidence. I left home and went over Suikerbossie past Llandudno. After dodging 3 million bicyclists I took a right up Camps Bay drive which I discovered is seriously long. Then to Signal Hill and back and down Kloof Nek. I developed quite a bad stitch on the downhill which I am hoping was just because I am not used to running with a backpack and is not a sign of a stitch habit. After going through Bantry Bay and down to Sea Point pool I made it back to TAGG. It was a good morning out, not particularly fast but I felt I could go further which means I should finish next week.

Sun 09.03 – Rest
After watching the lead Argus guys coming through (and taking those pics above where I was ranting about bicyclists) we headed out to the winelands to taste their juice. Probably not the best pre-race nutrition but definitely good for the soul.

Week total

In other news, the mileage covered over this period means I have passed over 250km for the year so far so I am an 8th of the way to my goal (although I am already almost a quarter way through the year) and I have hit the 24 hours mark so I have spent over a day running this year so far.