Race Report: PE City Marathon

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.

We set off behind Davera, caught up with her after a few hundred metres, and then gradually formed into a bus of 8-10 people running along at the same pace after the first couple of kilometres. There was plenty of chatter going on and we were having a nice run with a pleasant temperature, neither too hot nor too cold. The course followed a lollipop route with a 15 km stick and a 12 km loop, and while relatively flat it did include a gradual climb until reaching the highest point at around the halfway mark leading to a descent for the way home. The challenge this year was going to be the 46 km/h wind (a regular feature of PE, the windy city) that would be providing a headwind for sections of the way back.

Not long after starting the 12 km loop the group started fracturing, and we had a third lady briefly join us after catching up from behind. While chatting to her we found out that although she was not new to running it was her first ever marathon, and then she continued past us and pulled ahead. At around 19 km into the race we started the final ascent towards halfway, and Jane asked Davera how we were tracking in terms of pace. We had been running ahead of the required pace and were looking on track to pass halfway in around 1:37.

As we turned a corner a few hundred metres before halfway and started to head back towards the start in an easterly direction we were faced with a full headwind for the first time in the race. As I crossed the halfway mark with Davera and Jane we were informed that they were currently sitting in 2nd and 3rd place, meaning that the novice marathon runner ahead of us was currently in the lead while running her first ever marathon. There was a discussion between the ladies about whether they should allow a first-timer to win her first race, but Jane insisted that it would be up to Davera to catch her since she wasn’t looking to pick up the pace. When we crested the hill just after the halfway mark we were faced with the full headwind since it was no longer blocked by the hill. Jane turned to me and told me that now was the time for her to use and abuse me, and she tucked directly in behind me to receive some shelter from the wind. With Davera and the final remaining member of our group also tucking into single file I acted as the train driver pulling everyone along into the wind. I was feeling strong and enjoying the run into the wind in the same way that I enjoy hills, and had adjusted into a faster cadence. I didn’t have a watch to judge my pace so I just kept running at a firm pace while turning around periodically to check that I wasn’t loosing the group. We passed a few runners as we proceeded along and the group encouraged them to jump onto the train.

We eventually turned out of the headwind and I pulled over to the left so that we could adopt a more social running formation. We started chatting again and when Jane checked our pacing we found out that we had maintained the required pace even while running into the headwind, and had actually recorded our fastest kilometre of the race. We continued running predominantly in a southerly direction for around 6 km and were therefore not faced with a headwind for this section. As we descended towards the 32 km point Davera started to pull ahead and I hung back with Jane. We would be running the final 10 km by ourselves and without a watch but at this stage it was simply a case of pushing to the finish line.

We had a few kilometres of nice slightly downhill running along a major tree-lined road, and it felt comfortable despite the fact that we were once again facing directly into the headwind. We turned off the major road with 7 km remaining and would complete the remainder of the course along rural and small neighbourhood streets. With about 4 km to go Jane again tucked in behind me as we pushed through the headwind, and I pulled her along as we started to overtake people that had slowed dramatically towards the end of the race. We wound our way through the neighbourhood near the finish and turned into the finishing straight. There was no timer beside the finish line so we crossed having no idea of the time we had just ran. As we walked out of the finishing chute Jane spotted someone she knew, and checking the current time we calculated that we had just run a time around 3:15. Jane ended up 3rd female home with an official time of 3:14:29, and I came in 2 seconds back.

It was the first time I had seriously paced someone through a race, and it was a really enjoyable and rewarding experience. We had a great run and incredibly managed to come in more than five minutes inside the target. Just three minutes after we crossed the line Chris came in, beating his initial sub-3:20 target and smashing his revised sub-3:30 target. As it turned out he should have stuck to his original target and he could have enjoyed our wonderful company for 42.2 km of great running. Kirsten had struggled with the headwind, slowing down in the second half of the race but still recording an impressive new PB of 2:45.46.

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