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

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