Another long run, another series of life’s lessons learnt. It was a run of fun moments, silly moments, tough “suck it up” moments and “enjoy the moment” moments. To expect an ultra race of any kind to be a smooth journey would be naïve as it’s the very nature of their uncertainty that draws us to them. The realisation that anything can happen on the day that humbles us. The unexpected obstacles we overcome during our quest that make our finish, our success, so meaningful. Its what we take with us, what makes us better people and equips us to handle life’s challenges. Its what makes us “Ultra Runners”.
The days leading up to the race were somewhat different from previous years. In the past I found myself becoming withdrawn before an ultra, happy in the solitude of my own fears and doubts and motivations and dreams. This year I had little time alone but found the sharing of those same fears, doubts, motivations and dreams with the many runners around me comforting. Despite all of our differences the union of an ultra demonstrates how similar we are. We are not individuals, we run as one.
I had agreed with the coach to use Two Oceans as a training run in my preparation for the Comrades Marathon. I had many mixed emotions around this. A part of me wanted to try to defend my title, to relive the amazing experience I had in 2015. A part of me didn’t want to disappoint those who expected me to win by not giving my best. A part of me was nervous about just running 56km and making it to the end! I agreed with Lindsey to run at an easy pace until about 30minutes (or 8kms) to the end and then run a fast finish or a “FF” (which can be modified to many different far more descriptive ways of describing running a hard 8km at the end of an ultra). I was confident this would give me a top 10 finish.
I’m not a huge fan of insanely early pre-race mornings and tend to delay getting up to the very last minute so I changed quickly before heading off to the Tsogo Sun hotel where an area had been arranged for the elite athletes. (This is the real reason why the elites outperform the rest of the field – because of this special treatment at the start). I ate a banana and laughed at someone’s idea that I should go for a warm up jog. (It’s an ultra, I had 48km to warm up before my FF).
Suddenly we were rushed off to the start line and, with it being a chilly morning, I delayed taking off my jacket until the very last minute. The excitement was building! I could feel the nerves, the passion of the thousands lined up. I was scared – 56km’s – “This is madness! But… there is nowhere else I would rather be than in this madhouse”. Shoshaloza; the national anthem; the fish horn; and the cannon and we were off. I felt as though I was going too fast in the rush of adrenaline. I expected a sub 4 min first km. “I will slow down just now” I thought. Imagine my disappointment when my Garmin portrayed a 4:20km. “This is going to be a long day” I reflected and committed to just run on feel and ignore the splits.
A few km’s later I was surprised to join a group of ladies. Usually we get spread out but around 7 women were in this group. I had a good chat to Yolande Mclean and shared some laughs with Kerry – Anne Marshall. Both incredible athletes and amazing people. But there was something that was really bothering me. My shirt felt immensely uncomfortable. It was a new shirt and I was cursing the design because it kept creeping up and digging into my neck. In the past I always considered myself of reasonable intelligence but this moment slammed me right down into stupid. Around 10km’s later a realization, a loud exclamation from me of “Oh Sh*t, I put my shirt on backwards”, and an eruption of laughter from the pack I was running with. I stopped on the side of the route and turned my shirt around. When I rejoined the group the laughter continued and with great humility I accepted that I was the joke. (Added to list of embarrassing moments).
At some point I suddenly noticed how far into the race we were. We had already passed the half marathon mark and had reached the start of Chapman’s Peak. Those initial km’s with such a great bunch of runners had flown by but as we climbed Chapman’s the group started to thin out. Charne Bosman had moved ahead of the pack looking very strong and Colleen and I were running side by side. One of the highlights of my race happened next when, after a simultaneous glance at the view, Colleen and I exchanged our feelings of happiness and gratitude that we were able to live this moment. Colleen being the current SA marathon record holder and my KPMG teammate is a huge role model for me and it was so special to be able share the love of running and the beauty of the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon with her.
After Chapman’s Peak the group had dispersed and the running was solo but the crowds were fantastic and the km’s were flying by. I reached the marathon mark around 3 minutes slower then last year but I was feeling very comfortable and actually starting to look forward to my FF. I had also received information that the lead by Tanith Maxwell was huge and I knew it was unlikely that I would catch her.
48kms came and I started running hard, the legs felt strong and I still had the mental energy to push hard. The crowd feedback was that the gap was closing and working out the average at which the gap was closing per km I realized that I had a chance of winning. I pushed harder. With around two kays to go I saw Tanith. I pushed harder. I passed Tanith and pushed harder. My heart rate was maxing at 193bpm and I let out a couple of grunts and groans. The cyclist who was accompanying me looked concerned that I may collapse and die but I kept pushing. I remembered the year before, that amazing feeling of crossing the line. I also remembered how, in my fear of being passed at the end, I forgot to enjoy the crowds on the finishing straight. As I ran onto the field I took a glance over my shoulder and saw that no-one was within sight. I slowed down, I heard the crowds, I lived the moment.