The Pick n Pay Marathon is one of the bigger marathons in Joburg. Falling the day after Campbell’s birthday run at the Bronkhorstspruit 32 km, I entered to run the half marathon. As the end to a big week of training, and a faster-than-planned race the previous day I agreed to run with Kirsten at an easy pace.
We set off with Lindsey and Justin, who were running the marathon together, but we split up early in the race as we negotiated the huge number of people in the early going and Kirsten stopped to adjust one of his shoes. After crossing the N3 highway we started the first climb of the race and the crowd opened up enough for us to start setting our own pace. We fell into a comfortable pace and at the early kilometre markers I noted that for the second time in two days the markers were incorrect. Checking with Kirsten our watches agreed that the kilometre markers were falling 700 metres too far. At an average pace of 6:00 min/km that many people will run that inaccuracy in the distance markers would equate to people without GPS watches thinking that they were around 3.5 minutes behind schedule.
Every Wednesday morning my training group currently runs the route known as the Four Peaks Challenge and previously we ran our former route, the Bryanston Half. Both of these routes share the last 8 km section in common.
As we run this last section we almost always pass a woman running the opposite direction to us. She is possibly aged in her 50’s, with long blonde hair, and she is always wearing a pair of shorts and a casual singlet that would fit in very well on the outdoor deck at a pub during summer. Despite looking very little like a runner, every time we pass this particular woman she is running down the same hill as we run up. In over a year of running the two routes we have seen her out there almost every time we are there.
Last week as I climbed up the hill I looked ahead to see her walking down the hill. She had her left arm in a cast from upper arm to wrist, and was obviously unable to run. Therefore she was out for a walk instead. As we passed each other, I greeted her with a “Good Morning” and she responded with a few words to communicate that her arm had been broken when she was hit by a car. But importantly she was still out and exercising.
This morning we ran the Four Peaks Challenge, and once again I past her walking down the hill. A broken arm hasn’t stopped her from training. What is your excuse?
For the past few years the Bronkhorstspruit 32 km has been Campbell’s birthday run. Falling within the week of his birthday, it is a social event where we go down to run the 32 km race, and then stay around at the sports ground where the race finishes to enjoy some drinks and a braai (barbecue for the non-South Africans). This year was no exception.
After arriving at Campbell’s so that we could drive to the race together, when Kirsten (who is very punctual) hadn’t arrived a few minutes after the agreed time I called him up only to wake him. He had set his alarm with more than enough time to get ready, and had therefore decided that he could hit the snooze button. The next thing he knew I was calling him to find out where he was. We decided to travel in two cars and would meet at the start. Campbell and I travelled down together, drove onto the field and set up our gazebo on the corner of the finishing straight.
When Kirsten arrived we headed down to the start line, and very shortly after that the race started. Kirsten, Campbell and I started from the middle of the pack and slowly made our way through the crowd. A couple of times Kirsten looked back at me and Campbell as if we were dawdling, but my watch was showing respectable paces just over 4:30 min/km. The early kilometres took us out of town and went past quickly. Around 6 km into the race I noticed my watch automatically lap for the kilometre when we were still a few hundred metres from the kilometre marker. We all checked our watches at the marker and all watches agreed that the marker was approximately 300-400 metres far. It is not uncommon for individual markers in a race to be put down in the wrong, or even for a series of markers to be incorrect before correcting later so we weren’t too fussed.
We continued along maintaining a pace between 4:30-4:40 min/km, and on one of the climbs I noticed that Campbell was breathing quite heavily beside me. I jokingly asked Kirsten whether we should get Campbell to tell us a joke. The early part of the route featured some gentle but relatively long climbs followed by gentle descents rather than featuring any steep hills. At around 12 km as we climbed a hill Campbell suggested that if we took it easy to the top he would join us for the descent, and then let us go ahead at the next climb.
In my last Training Route post I covered the Bryanston Half in the first part of what I will name the Wednesday trilogy. Now for the sequel.
At the end of the last post I discussed the original and “easy” versions of the Bryanston Half, a challenging 21 km training route. The obvious progression for a group of runners that were (and still are) continuing to push new boundaries was to create a “hard” Bryanston Half. After Kirsten had planned and plotted the easy route I decided to make my mark on the hard route and straight away went to work mapping out a proposal.
I already had in mind a key feature for the new route and it involved the removal of the relatively flat run along the river once we reached the low point of the course, and swapped Heartbreak Hill with a replacement climb that was worthy of being called “hard”. Heartbreak Hill had one major flaw as a short and steep hill, and that was the fact that it is short. The replacement was achieved by reaching the river, crossing it, and then running straight up the other side in a continuous climb of over 4 km.
I replaced the gradual and winding descent that marked the first phase of the original Bryanston Half route with the most direct option down to the river, and that allowed for those flat and downhill kilometres to be replaced by climbs. It was obvious that the 2 km climbing finish of the original route needed to be maintained so the start and end of the route were finalised. I had wanted to include the tough climb from the easy Bryanston Half route but could not find a way to fit it in within a 21 km route. Therefore I left it out and sent a proposed route through to Kirsten for review.
Kirsten promptly responded with his feedback. The left-out hill must be included, and there was no need to feel limited by a distance of 21 km. The unlocking of the distance opened up some great possibilities and the route started to take shape. I added in the left-out hill but replaced an out-and-back section at the top with a new loop that had the benefit of adding in yet another climb. Kirsten and I ended up agreeing on a route with all of the climbs we wanted to include within a training route of 24 km. It was Kirsten that gave the route its name, the Four Peaks Challenge, after its four notable climbs. The route now featured only a single water stop at the halfway mark.
After missing my target at Narrabeen (race report here) I decided that I needed another goal race in the early part of the year to have a nearby focus for my training. I decided to target a half marathon since it is a distance that requires minimal recovery time, and my existing PB was run at a pace only barely faster than my marathon PB. My PB of 1:28:11 dated back to November 2011, and was a firm (but not flat out) half marathon run as a confidence booster prior to the PE City Marathon where I set my marathon PB. The last time I had run a flat out half marathon was back in August 2009, when I had broken the 90-minute barrier for the first time. Simply improving on my PB was never going to be difficult so I decided to set myself a more challenging target: I wanted to complete the half marathon at a pace better than 4:00 min/km, requiring a finishing time inside 1:24:24.
Looking at my training plan I started by picking the weekend that could best fit a fast half marathon, deciding upon the first weekend of February. I then looked at the available options for that weekend, and had two choices: the McCarthy Half Marathon in Pretoria on the Saturday or the Alberton City Half Marathon to the south of Joburg on the Sunday. The Alberton area is known for its lack of hills, and the race was written up as being fast and flat. But in the end I decided to run McCarthy, which involves more climbing but has a big turnout and a good vibe at the finish. Last year we had run McCarthy and then hung around until 1PM before leaving the park where the race finished. I discussed my plans with Kirsten and he agreed to come onboard to run with me on race day.
Two weeks prior to the race I went out to run a sub-32 minute 8 km time trial to build some confidence and test out my racing flats, which had not been out of the cupboard since the first half of last year. I completed the time trial in 31:15, and although I had needed to push quite hard to complete it I had run it faster than the target pace for my half marathon. Deciding to take the attempt quite seriously I opted to taper for the 5 days prior to race day. I had however run over 140 km the previous week and my legs weren’t feeling as fresh as I had hoped leading up to race day. I was fairly confident that I could achieve my target but I knew I couldn’t take it for granted and I knew it wouldn’t be easy.
On race day I drove through to the race early with Kirsten, we picked up our race numbers and then set off for a warmup of around 2.5 kilometres. We edged our way close to the start line and ended up with only 3-4 rows of people in front of us when the gun went off. We set off and I started squeezing through gaps and running around people. Despite our proximity to the start line I encountered more people to overtake than made sense, and realised that a considerable number of people had obviously started off to the side of the course in front of the start line and were merging in front of us. But after a few hundred metres we had cleared the traffic and started to settle into pace. We completed the first kilometre in 3:59 and were perfectly on target.