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.
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.
With a nice gradual descent I picked up the pace and started to run at 4:40-4:50 min/km pace. I was still feeling strong, the weather was nice, and another kilometre marker seemed to appear every time that I looked up. This extremely good patch lasted me for over 8 km, after which I continued to run well and feel strong but the kilometre markers stopped appear quite so close together. When I reached the marker indicating 9 km to go I had made up the 2-3 minutes and was then 5 seconds inside 5:00 min/km pace. By this point the temperature was feeling uncomfortably hot and I started carrying a water sachet to drink between the aid stations (which were 3 km apart) since my throat was feeling parched in the 15 minutes between drinks. I continued running inside the target pace on both the downhills and the occasional uphills, and with 6 km remaining I was almost 90 seconds inside target pace. I then reached one of the toughest uphill sections of the course due to being 44 km into the race, and proceeded to climb for over 1.5 km. I slowed down my pace but continued to run the entire hill, and by the top was still 60 seconds inside my target pace.
By then I was comfortable that I would achieve my target and started easing back to enjoy the last few kilometres. As I reached the marker for 2 km remaining I reflected on my time which would put me just over a minute inside my target time. It was then that I recalled the stop to chat with Jolene and Hayley, and recalled that my watch was currently setup with auto-pause configured, meaning that it will pause its timing when I come to a complete stop. I started trying to determine how long I had been stationary for but wasn’t quite sure, and started to realise that I might miss my target time. However I was still feeling fresh and had almost 2 km remaining so I decided to pick up the pace. I increased my pace to 4:30 min/km, and as I turned into sports ground where the race finished another runner decided that he would not let me overtake him. He immediately picked up his pace and the two of us picked up the pace to start a lap of the stadium. Friends from my running club cheered me around the back straight, and I gave out some high-fives as I went past. As we turned the final corner the two of us broke into a sprint (of sorts) and crossed the line in 4:08:28.
After collecting my medal I went and rested under a gazebo, and enjoyed a soft drink and a well-deserved chocolate milk. Campbell crossed the line in 4:22, a great effort based on the training he has managed over the past few months. City2City was my final ultramarathon race for the year, having completed three 50 km road races, the 89 km Comrades Marathon and the Leadville Trail 100. But I still have plenty of races remaining for the year, with a half marathon planned for next week. But more about that in a week’s time…