Monthly Archives: October 2012

Race Report: The Retto Prologue

When I first read about the Otter Trail as the most famous hiking trail in South Africa I decided that I would need to find the time to hike it. Then I found out that the trail was 40 km long and only permitted 12 people to commence hiking each day, stopping at prescribed huts each night without any possibility for variation, and thereby completing the length of the trail over 5 days. The trail follows a picturesque section of coastline with numerous river and beach crossings, and plenty of climbing in between, but the thought of averaging only 8 km per day seemed way too slow.

Then I heard about the Otter Run, a once in a year opportunity to run the length of the trail in just one day, and I was sold. There are actually two separate events held over a four-day period: the Otter Run allows an 8-hour cutoff and provides various medals for completing the run within 4.5, 5, 6, 7 or 8 hours while the Otter Challenge extends the cutoff to 11 hours but only provides medals for completing the run in 8 or 11 hours. After some careful consideration and time predictions I decided that the Otter Run was the event for me. I added my name to a priority list and signed up the very day that entries opened.

The Otter Trail is a point-to-point trail starting in Storms River and finishing in Nature’s Valley. The Otter Run had been held on three occasions prior to this year following that exact route but this year the organisers were given permission to run the route in reverse. Starting in Nature’s Valley and finishing in Storms River this year’s race was named the Retto.

The race allows 220 competitors onto the trail, and the competitors start in seeding batches. In order to determine seeding batches a prologue is held on the day prior to the race. The prologue is a 4.5 km run with a similar profile to the race (i.e. big climbing and big descents), and can be completed at any time during the day. The male competitors with the 24 fastest times in the prologue would form the first group named the Abangeni (the challengers) and would set off first, with only competitors in this batch being eligible for podium positions. After a four minute delay batches of 4 competitors would set off in 30-second intervals. The female competitors with the 8 fastest times in the prologue would form their own Abangeni and would set off together, with their batch slotting in based on the prologue time of the fastest female.

On the morning prior to the race I flew into the city of George and caught a shuttle to Storms River, where the race village was set up and the prologue was taking place. I arrived and registered, proved that I had brought all of the mandatory gear and had my trail shoes cleaned to ensure they weren’t carrying any spores or seeds. By that time it was late morning, so with the temperature starting to heat up I decided that I would have lunch and then complete my prologue around 3PM once the hottest part of the day was past. I sat down for lunch with a couple of other runners that had caught the shuttle with me, and we were able to keep up to speed on prologue results as they were posted on social networks. I had decided that I wanted to attempt to qualify for the Abangeni, and not wanting to run too hard the day before the race predicted that a time around 24 minutes would hopefully be sufficient. After lunch I went to my accommodation, changed into my running gear, and at 3PM headed out for a warmup jog to the start of the prologue.

I climbed a long set of stairs to the start of the prologue, was explained the rules by one of the marshalls and set off. I was feeling good on the run and was comfortable that I was on target for my 24-minute target. The prologue course was entirely forested, running between the trees on soft dirt tracks while avoiding rocks, roots and branches. It is my favourite type of trail and I was having a great time of it. Then at the bottom of a descent I took a turn in the path, continued a short way and saw a tree in my way. Looking further on the path seemed to almost disappear and I started to doubt whether I was on the right path. I ran back 10-20 metres and the path looked clear at that point so I returned to the fallen tree and climbed over it only to realise that there was no way this could be the correct path. I retraced my steps even further back and found that I had indeed taken a wrong turn. I was back on track but had lost possibly 90 seconds to 2 minutes. I continued to push the pace down the final descent and eventually crossed the line with a time of 25:40.

Retto Prologue
Retto Prologue

I had missed my target but as it turned out I still would have missed the Abangeni. I had underestimated the strength of the field in the race, with the slowest qualifying time for the Abangeni turning out to be 23:20. The fastest time recorded was incredibly quick at under 20 minutes. With my lost time I ended up in the 9th batch behind the male Abangeni and two batches behind the female Abangeni. But the race timing is based on net time so I knew that I still had an opportunity to greatly improve my position.

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God's Window

Race Report: God’s Window Half Marathon

The first weekend in November looked like being a very difficult race selection decision: on one side was the Golden Gate Half Marathon in the picturesque area of Clarens while on the other side was the God’s Window Half Marathon running alongside the scenic Blyde River Canyon and its famed God’s Window lookout point. Fortunately I discovered a 3-day trail race through the Golden Gate Highlands National Park during the last weekend in November, and could therefore run both areas of the country just 3 weeks apart.

Therefore I found myself on the first Friday in November driving 4.5 hours from Joburg to the small town of Graskop with Fiona, who had decided that a half marathon with a difficulty rating of 4 out of 5 was a good way to restart some serious training. We met other friends Lindsey and Hayley (who had driven down separately with their 4-month old daughter Ella) in Graskop and went for dinner at a Portuguese restaurant, including what I would like to claim as a couple of nice glasses of wine (but was unfortunately fairly cheap and extremely average). During dinner I discussed plans for the race with Lindsey, and stated that I planned to run a time of 1:40.

After a pre-race meal of a muffin we walked the 600 metres from our hotel to the starting area in the local caravan park. It turned out that the race serves as the Mpumalanga provincial championships for 10 km and the half marathon, and as such the race officials were being extremely strict on enforcing rules. After paying our entry we hung around near the start and were informed numerous times that all race numbers, ASA license numbers, and age category tags must either be sown on or attached by 4 (not 1, not 2 and not 3) pins. As we stood in the starting pen we were informed one last time about the number of pins that were expected before being set loose. It was a very pleasant temperature as we set off at 7AM but the predicted maximum in the low-30’s meant that the temperature was going to quickly rise.

After exiting town the route started to noticeably climb, and despite some brief respites we predominantly ran uphill. As we climbed Lindsey pointed out that every time he thought we couldn’t climb any more we would turn a corner and glimpse more uphill. Unfortunately along many parts of the route there were trees blocking out our views into the canyon, but there were still some stunning views where they did exist. At around the 7 km mark we glimpsed what was clearly the highest point on our route and agreed that it possibly marked the turnaround point for the out-and-back route. I hadn’t paid attention to my watch at all but Lindsey pointed out that we were on track for a time around 1:46 based on even pacing, although we would be running downhill for most of the second half. The stretch from the 8 km marker was a particularly tough climb and I pulled slightly ahead of Lindsey. As I reached the top of the climb I spotted the 10 km marker at the very top and realised what that meant…

Since the turnaround point needed to be just after the 10.5 km point to make up the 21.1 km required for a half marathon we were actually required to crest the hill and continue 500 metres down the other side of the hill before turning around and re-climbing to the top. As I turned around I checked that all was well with Lindsey and knew that he would catch me quickly on the descent. I re-crested the high point of the course and soon heard the pitter-patter of feet as Lindsey pulled up alongside me. After averaging 5:00 min/km for the first half we started knocking off the downhill kilometres at just above or just below 4:30 pace. In the last couple of kilometres I started noticing the heat but soon enough we ran into town, turned into the caravan park and crossed the finish line. Despite running the entire race purely by feel our finishing time ended up less than 10 seconds inside the 1:40 I had stated the previous night.

After relaxing under the shade of tree for a while we returned to the hotel, showered and then went for a great pancake brunch and a chilled glass of white wine. In the afternoon Lindsey and I took Ella and went to see some of the local sights while the ladies relaxed at the hotel. We did receive a number of interesting looks as people tried to understand the relationship of the two guys travelling around together with a baby. As a disclaimer I will point out that the below photos are from the sightseeing trip since I did not run the race with a camera, and only the first photo was taken at a lookout along the race route.

God's Window
God’s Window

Continue reading Race Report: God’s Window Half Marathon

Race Report: City2City Marathon

For all of those non-South Africans out there let me first start by clarifying that in this country a marathon is not necessarily 42.195 km. The most famous race in the country is the Comrades Marathon at 89 km, with the picturesque Two Oceans Marathon running for 56 km, and the City2City Marathon taking runners for 50 km between the two major cities of Gauteng province. Alternating directions each year, this year’s race started in Johannesburg and finished in Pretoria, making it a down run with the finishing location lower in elevation than the start point. But the race still manages to feature some nice climbs.

Bonitas City2City 50 km Route Profile
City2City 50 km Route Profile

I had decided to target a time inside 4:10 for an average pace of 5:00 min/km. My running mate Campbell was under-trained for an ultramarathon but had agreed to attempt running with me for the first 30 kilometres. Our other running mates Kirsten and Lindsey were setting out to achieve a silver medal by running inside 3:45. It was feeling very chilly as the four of us drove to the start but by the time the gun went off it was clear that it was going to be a very warm day.

After a slow first kilometre we picked up to our target pace and the early kilometres were predominantly downhill. At the 16 km mark we reached the biggest uphill of the race, a tough 4 km climb, and agreed that we would take a 1 minute walk at the mid-point. After reaching the top of the climb we continued for another couple of kilometres before meeting up with Jolene (Campbell’s wife) and Hayley (Lindsey’s wife) waiting for us alongside the course. We stopped and greeted them for a brief chat, before returning to the task at hand and running on. We reached another tough climb at approximately the 26 km mark, and again walked for 1 minute at the halfway point. After descending down the other side of that climb we then had to face a slow, gradual uphill that would take us to the 30 km mark. We crossed the 30 km marker in a little over 2:32, putting us less than 3 minutes behind 5:00 min/km pace, and I shook Campbell’s hand for accompanying me through the challenging part of the course.

I performed some quick (or possibly not so quick after 30 km of running) mental calculations of required splits, and then told Campbell that I was still interested in breaking the 4:10 mark. He told me to continue on, and we said a farewell until the finish line. Having lost approximately 70 metres of elevation in the first 30 km, we would now proceed to loose approximately 170 further metres of elevation in the last 20 km.

Continue reading Race Report: City2City Marathon