Since training for my first Comrades in 2011 Wednesday has been used as my long weekday run. During the training for that first Comrades I would complete an 18 km run during many of the weeks between February and April.
It was only after Comrades that I started training with my current training partners: Kirsten, Lindsey and Campbell. It was in September 2011 that I was introduced to the “Bryanston Half”, a training run starting and ending at Kirsten’s house. The Bryanston Half is a 21 km training route that includes 360 metres of ascent (and equivalent descent), and is considered as containing three phases separated by water stops. The first phase is almost exclusively flat or downhill, finishing at our first water stop. The second phase starts with a short, steep climb nicknamed Heartbreak Hill, is followed by a variation of ups and downs, and finishes with the longest climb of the phase to the second water stop. The third phase includes a tough early climb, followed by a long and fast gradual descent, and finishes with a very steep and tough climb of over 2 km.
The parents of Lindsey, one of my training mates, live in the city of Welkom in the Free State. Every year Lindsey heads out to visit his parents and run the local Mielie Marathon in mid-January. This year our training group all decided to travel out there with Lindsey to check out a new race and enjoy a weekend away. In addition to the four regular members of our training group we were also travelling with Justin, an American who also runs at our club, who has started joining us for some training runs and was targeting a sub-3:00 marathon to secure an A-seed for this year’s Comrades Marathon.
So on Friday 18th January three cars left Joburg for the 2.5 hour drive to Welkom. The first car to arrive in Welkom contained Campbell, his wife Jolene and their 2-month old son Daniel. The second car contained the three single men for the weekend: myself, Kirsten and Justin (whose wife and 2 children stayed in Joburg). The final car contained Lindsey, Hayley and their 6-month old daughter Ella. All nine visitors were staying together at the house of Lindsey’s parents, so the weekend was planned to be cosy but festive. Upon arriving in Welkom we divided and conquered, with one car heading to buy some alcohol for the weekend while my car went to arrange race entries. As a small city race only involving approximately 100 runners, we decided that the inclusion of an Australian and an American promoted it to an international event and promptly decided to rename the race to the Corn Marathon (since mielie is a local term for corn).
The Dis-Chem Half Marathon is the first half marathon in Johannesburg for the year, and it is a large event that easily reaches its 6000 entrant limit. With a 100-km race planned for the first weekend of the year I had marked off a 2-week rest period on my training plan for recovery, and therefore had not entered the race. However with my race at Narrabeen turning into a 50-km run (as per my race report here) I was back into training just 4 days later. I was interested in running at the Dis-Chem Half Marathon since it has a big field and a great vibe at the end but entries were well and truly sold out.
My initial thought was to drive to the race and run my own training run along a different course so that I could join in the festivities after the race. But on the Friday before the race I was able to arrange an entry from a friend at another running club as they knew someone who was unable to run. As part of the entry process you provide a target time that is used to seed all entrants. As a result I ended up standing behind the start line of the Dis-Chem Half Marathon with thousands of people in front of me from my position as an E-seeded entrant (with only F-seeded runners further back), and my race bib contained my race number and name in clear bold capital letters. My name for this particular race happened to be SUSAN.
The race started and we stood still for a while. Then eventually we started to walk. Then we started to run. Then we slowed to a walk. Then we started to run. Then we slowed to a walk. And then we finally managed to run all the way across the start line and only 21.1 km remained. I was unsure how my legs had recovered from the race the previous week so I planned to set out on pace to run a 1:40 and then speed up if my legs were feeling good.
The Australian Ultra Runners Association (AURA) is the body that maintains Australian rankings and records for ultramarathon events, and seeks to promote the growth of the sport in the country. While looking through their website last year I came across lists that they maintain of the fastest times recorded by Australian runners over a number of distance- and time-based events. That gave me an idea to attempt a fast 100 km road race to see how high up the list I could get.
I had a look at event options and found a flat 100 km race just north of Sydney during the period when I would be back in Australia during the holiday period. The catch was that it was a circuit race, like many of the ultramarathon races that are held. As an improvement over some races that can have circuits as short as 400 metres, the Narrabeen All-Nighter takes place on a 3.33 km circuit following a path alongside Narrabeen Lake. The event had previously comprised both 100-km and 12-hour races but due to numbers they only ran the 12-hour race in 2013, however they would be able to provide me with an official 100-km time. As a summer event the race avoids the heat of the day by starting at 8:00 PM (just before sunset) on the first Saturday night of the year and continues for 12 hours (finishing after sunrise), thereby giving the race its name. The total number of entrants for the event was 70, with 58 individual competitors and 6 teams of 2.
I ended up setting myself a target of 8 hours for 100 km, requiring that I run at an average pace of 4:48 min/km. I had initially considered options for starting out slower and running a slight negative split, but in the end decided on attempting a perfectly even paced race. Therefore I would need to run each of the thirty 3.33 km laps in 16 minutes. Or as I decided to think about it: run a 48-minute 10 km, and then repeat (9 more times).
I flew into Sydney on Friday and popped into an office store to purchase myself a folding table as the race director was unsure whether there would be sufficient table space for those runners who were self-crewing. After staying overnight in central Sydney I caught a bus around lunchtime on Saturday for the 25 km trip north. I checked into my accommodation in Narrabeen and rested for the afternoon. At 7:00 PM I set out for the 1.5 km walk to the start line, carrying my folding table and pulling along a rolling case with my supplies. Upon arrival I collected my race number and neatly set up my table with my nutrition so that I could grab supplies without requiring a complete stop.
After a couple of delays due to a late conclusion of the race briefing and then a problem with the computer for the timing chips the race started at 8:20 PM. Knowing that my intended pace would put me near the lead of the 12-hour race I started from the very front but was surprised by how many people ran out in front of me on the first lap. I glanced at my watch a number of times early in the first lap to judge my pace so that I could fall into my target pace. I completed my first lap in 16:06 and fell into a comfortable rhythm so that I could continue running without monitoring my pace.