The PE City Marathon (down on the south coast of South Africa in the city of Port Elizabeth) is a race with some very good memories. In 2011 after a good season of training I travelled down there with Kirsten and Lindsey where I recorded my current marathon PB of 2:58:46. Kirsten had also recorded a PB so we proceeded to celebrate very hard, but luckily this a running blog so I won’t go into the details of the post-race celebrations.
This year I again travelled down with Kirsten and Lindsey, but with a very different target. With an important 100-km race coming up in January the PE City Marathon would form part of a full training week prior to starting my taper. I had completed the RAC Tough One the previous Sunday (read my race report here) and had completed a full training week. I tend to vary my rest day between Monday and Friday but had planned my rest for Friday on that week so that I would run the marathon off slightly rested legs, and it avoided me having to squeeze in a workout on the day I travelled to PE.
As per last year Kirsten and I would be staying with a mate in PE. Chris had been unable to run last year due to injury but was running this year after getting in some decent training. Earlier in the year Chris had discussed targeting a sub-3:20 marathon and I had offered to pace him since it was around the pace that I wanted to run. However as the race drew nearer he decided that he hadn’t managed quite enough training and decided to target a slower sub-3:30 time instead. He then suggested that I could run with another friend, Jane, who would be targeting a sub-3:20. The night before the race while chatting at Chris’ house it came up that he didn’t have a running watch, so I offered him mine since I would be running with Jane anyway.
On race morning after a couple of kilometres warming up we headed to the start line, and Kirsten muscled his way to the front with the quick runners. I stood around looking for someone I recognised until I spotted Chris waving me over. Beside him was Jane and we started discussing the race plan. It turned out that her running watch was sitting in her house broken and waiting to be repaired, so after kindly lending mine out the previous night we were left without a watch between us. Luckily another friend of Jane was also targeting a sub-3:20 and was wearing a watch. Davera has been 11th female home at Comrades on three occasions and has a marathon PB of 2:48, but luckily for us she was running her first marathon since having a child earlier in the year.
The very first race I completed in South Africa was the Tough One in 2010. I had flown out for three weeks in November to meet people and see the place before moving out in January. I had already signed up for Two Oceans and Comrades, and had run the Portland 3 Bays Marathon in Australia at the end of October. The route was meant to be tough but I had always been quite good at hills. It seemed like a great way to start my running in South Africa. I had under-estimated the effect that Johannesburg’s mile-high elevation would have on my running, despite the fact that the weekend prior to the race I had gone out for a solo long run and had ended up walking part of the way home. I went out at a decent pace, felt good early, but really struggled for the last 10 km to cross the line in 2:55.
In 2011 the race had a new route but I was unable to run as I was tapering for the Port Elizabeth City Marathon the following week. However a couple of weeks prior to the race Kirsten and I had set out to run the route as a training run, and had run a comfortable 2:40 with a couple of petrol station stops for hydration. A year living at altitude with some very good training had certainly made a difference. On race day I helped at the water table run by the Morningside running club, handing out water sachets to the thousands of runners that went past.
This year I was again running the PE City Marathon but since I was not targeting a fast time I was not tapering and was able to officially attempt Tough One for my second time. The race would once again use the new route as run in 2011. It had been a good training year and we had started including a training route named the Mini Tough One into our training program. Featuring some of the main climbs from the old Tough One route the Mini Tough One had started out as a 25 km route, but with a few variations and additions over its numerous iterations it had reached as far as 31 km, almost negating the “Mini”. The Tough One race awards a silver medal for completing a sub-2:30, making it a particularly easy silver, but it sounded like a good target for me so I decided to target a time just under 2:30. Similar to City2City (read my race report here) Campbell was not in shape to join me for the entire way but decided to start off with me and then slow down.
Golden Gate Challenge was the first stage race that I have completed. Based on my current focus towards off-road ultra running a number of people have asked whether I would consider Marathon de Sables (a 6-day, 243 km race through the Sahara Desert in Morocco) or the 4 Deserts series (featuring races in the Atacama, Gobi or Sahara Deserts, plus the desert that is Antartica), or any of the many other stage races that exist. My answer at the moment is that they do not attract my focus away from the non-stop single stage events that are currently on my bucket list. When I get closer to completing my running bucket list things might change, but not for now.
However the Golden Gate Challenge did give me a new perspective on completing a multi-day race, particularly if you do plan to race rather than just finish. The challenge becomes about pacing yourself over a number of days, anticipating how well you will recover from day to day, and determining the best strategy to adopt. By the time you reach the final day it becomes irrelevant who you beat across the line, as you are only racing against the clock. After two days the race leader board looked as below, with Wayne holding a 3-minute lead over Gerhard, then a large 18-minute gap back to Ben in 3rd place, a further 7 minutes back to me, and my gap over 5th place was over 12 minutes. After a tough first day Wandisile had won on day 2 and climbed up to 8th place overall.
BEN DE KLERK
ADRIAN LAZAR ADLER
With the time differences as they stood at the start of day 3, there was still a battle on for the overall win but Ben looked secure in 3rd place and I was comfortable that I could hold my 4th place. This was particularly the case with day 3 being the shortest route of 17 km. Day 3 started before sunrise and featured a 400 metre ascent so that we could experience sunrise from the top of the mountain. From there it was predominantly downhill back to the campsite. Due to the pre-sunrise start we would take off with headlights but the climbing would be mainly on paved roads. After hot pre-race breakfasts for the first two days, the earlier start meant that we could instead look forward to a champagne breakfast, but only once we crossed the finish line.
In case the title didn’t give it away, this race report covers the 2nd day of the Golden Gate Challenge, a 3-day trail race through the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. Check out my day 1 race report if you haven’t already.
I had arrived at the Golden Gate Challenge with the intention of viewing a part of the country I had not yet visited and just enjoying the running. But by the end of first day I found myself sitting in 4th position. That left me with a new intention of viewing a part of the country I had not yet visited, enjoying the running, and defending my position. That definitely changed my outlook for day 2.
This year was the second running of the Golden Gate Challenge, and similar to last year the second day would run through an area of the park called Little Serengeti where the public are not generally allowed. Last year the second day had required a 2-hour bus trip around to the far side of the park in order to complete a point-to-point run. This year the race organiser Heidi had put together a new route that allowed us to complete a loop that started and finished at the campsite, saving us the bus trip.
While standing at the start line the race announcer was warning of cold temperatures at the top of the climb so I decided to start off in my waterproof jacket. As we started I stuck to the front group and the first kilometre took us down the road before turning off onto trail. Heidi had promised us a tough start and had actually indicated that we would surely hate her for the first 6 km. Once we hit the trail we began to gradually ascend, and for a couple of kilometres we were running in the opposite direction along a section of trail that had featured towards the end of the first day. Then we turned off the hiking trail and started following a course put together specifically for the race. Rather than the well-worn and relatively smooth hiking trail we were now faced with tall grass that had been trimmed down to ankle-deep grass, and lots of orange markers to follow. After a couple of ups and downs we descended a steep hill over very uneven grass-covered ground that was extremely technical and treacherous for the ankles. We then crossed a stream and the real uphill began.
The reason why last year had involved a bus trip was mainly due to the fact that a mountain separated the campsite from the Little Serengeti area of the park. Therefore the only way to start from the campsite was to run over the mountain, and since the focus of the day was to run through Little Serengeti we couldn’t afford to waste too many kilometres winding around for an easy way over. Heidi had come up with a unique solution to that problem: run straight up the mountain. Rather than zig-zagging up the climb with switchbacks, the long grass had been cut back and orange route markers had been laid out to head directly up the very steep climb.
My first marathon for 2012 was in a small town named Ottosdal in the North West Province of South Africa at the end of January. We had already planned another travelling race in February when we would travel to Pietermaritzburg for the Maritzburg Marathon. On the way home from Ottosdal, as we sat down having breakfast after a wonderful race and nearing the end of a great weekend we started discussing other options for travelling races. We had a fairly full race calendar until Comrades Marathon in June so we started considering races towards the end of the year. One race that was mentioned and seemed extremely interesting was the Golden Gate Half Marathon, which runs out of the town of Clarens in the Free State during October.
As October drew nearer I started to look at planning and found that on the same weekend as the Golden Gate Half Marathon was the God’s Window Half Marathon, running from the town of Graskop in Mpumalanga towards the famous God’s Window lookout. That caused a bit of a quandary as both races seemed interesting, and more importantly both were in parts of the country that I was yet to visit. Luckily the answer to the problem turned out to be fairly simple when I found out that taking place just 3 weeks after the clashing half marathons was a 3-day trail race called the Golden Gate Challenge. Unlike the Golden Gate Half Marathon, which runs on the roads around Clarens and doesn’t enter the national park, the Golden Gate Challenge involves three days of trails within the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. Therefore on the first weekend in October I travelled to the town of Graskop to run the God’s Window Half Marathon, as per my race report here.
On the fourth and final weekend of October I drove out to the Free State with Kirsten in order to camp and run within the national park. The weather forecast for the weekend indicated that we should expect to get very wet, with rain expected on all three days. After arriving and checking in to both the race and our tented accommodation we made our way to the large dining tent for the day 1 pre-race briefing and our dinner. As we sat there a very heavy rain fell outside and we negotiated the increasingly muddy floor of the tent in order to secure our food. However we were there to have a good weekend so Kirsten and I enjoyed a bottle of red wine with our meal before making our way back to our small dome tents, hoping that they would prove to be truly waterproof. Waking up a few times during the night I was able to confirm that the downpour did continue but fortunately the tent held up well.
Almost two months ago I wrote about my Retto Prologue. That blog covers details of the race and my motivation for running it. It may be Well overdue but here is my write-up for the race that took place the following day. I watched the recorded footage of the race on SuperSport (a South African satellite television sports provider) last week and I managed a fraction of a second of airtime as I descended a hill just behind one of the leading ladies, but you will need to read on to find out who…
Race morning started off with a bus trip from our accommodation at Storm’s River to Natures Valley. It was a chilly morning as we waited on the beach for the staggered start to begin so I stood around in my waterproof to keep warm until it was time for me to move into the corral. Setting off with the other three guys in my batch I started out at a fairly brisk pace along the beach and soon was running on my own with some of the earlier seeding batches visible in front of me. Within 500 metres of the start we forded a tributary to wet our feet for the first occasion of the day and then left the beach for the first major climb of the day. Upon reaching the top of the first hill the course followed along the top of the cliff for the longest flat section of the race, and it provided an introduction to the stunning scenery to follow.
I gradually overtook people as I ran and decided to count off the females that I passed as a way to track progress through the field. After more than 5 km along the top of the cliff we commenced our descent to Andre Hut, where hikers stop for their final night. From Andre Hut there was a steep climb, followed by a short cliff-top section, and then another steep descent. From there we continued along beaches and sections of beach-side forest until we reached the famed Bloukrans crossing.
During one of the beach-side sections of trail I was jumping a log across the path when I grazed the top of my foot along a branch only to hear the snap of plastic that I instinctively knew was the sound of my foot pod disconnecting. Sure enough I looked down to find that the foot pod clip was still under the laces but no pod was attached. I decided to give myself a minute to look for it. I started searching the path and brush around the log but soon realised that I was not going to find it. By the time I lost the pod I had overtaken five of the females ahead of me, but one slowed down just enough to ask if everything was alright as I searched. I confirmed that I was fine, gave up the search and took off behind her. The additional problem was that while I normally switch off the auto-pause functionality on my watch during races, I had forgotten to do so on this occasion. Since my foot pod (or lack thereof) now indicated that I was not moving my watch had therefore paused. As I took off along a stretch of technical single track I had the additional complexity of stopping my watch, reconfiguring it to disable auto-pause, and then restarting it. But I was on the move again and heading towards Bloukrans.
As the major river crossing along the route Bloukrans can run below knee height at certain times of the year during low tide, but for the race this year it involved a 50-metre swim across water that was 2 metres deep. As we scrambled along a rocky section towards the river I overtook the fourth-placed female again, reached the water’s edge and quickly jumped in. A line was stretched out across the river so I pulled myself across hand over hand until I could stand and wade out to the shore on the other side. Then, as followed most of the river crossings along the route, we faced another steep climb. During the climb I overtook the third-placed female and soon found myself behind the two leading females: Krissy Moehl and Landie Greyling.