When security concerns in Mozambique forced me to change my travel plans, I headed through to South Africa a couple of weeks earlier than I had planned and decided to arrange my time around some good running.
It turned out that I would arrive in Johannesburg a couple of days prior to the Mielie Marathon, which I had run and reported on last year. In my race report last year I provided a glimpse on the social aspect of our trip, mentioning the group that travelled down, as well as the beers enjoyed the night prior to the race. I didn’t however touch on the larger celebrations enjoyed the following night, which helped to make the thought of a return trip most welcome.
This year Campbell was unable to join for the trip to Welkom for the race, but Lindsey, Kirsten, Justin and I were back for a repeat. Lindsey was targeting a PB, Justin was targeting a sub-3:00 to secure his A-seed for Comrades, Kirsten was starting out with Justin, and I would pace another member of our running club from Fourways named Peter, who was targeting a sub-3:30.
When the gun went off I pulled alongside Peter, and set forward a pacing plan. I explained that we would set out at a pace of 5:00 min/km, then run the middle section at 5:00 min/km, and then finish up at 5:00 min/km. Since that would actually result in a 3:31 we did need to scrape off one minute over the 42 km. Then we started executing on that plan.
Including water stops, ascents, descents, headwinds and tailwinds, we ran every kilometre between 4:50 and 5:09. I had started us off slightly behind pace for the first few kilometres and we were around 20 seconds behind 5:00 min/km pace after 6 km. But we had gained back that time by the 14 km mark, and then we started working on that minute we needed to gain. We crossed the halfway mark in around 1:45:05, needing the barest of negative splits to achieve a perfectly executed race.
It is possibly pertinent to mention that Welkom had been undergoing a bit of a heatwave for the days leading up to the race, as well as on race day. The temperature at the gun was somewhere around 18 degrees Celsius, and by the time I crossed the finish line it was close to tipping 30 degrees. I don’t know how much a factor the heat was for Peter, and how much was other factors, but the use of “I crossed the finish line” was intentional.
Approaching the aid station at the 36 km mark we were perfectly on pace. A couple of kilometres earlier I had pointed out that all we had remaining was an 8 km time trial, an event that our running club hosts each Thursday, and all that was required was a time just under 40 minutes. But as we neared the aid station Peter mentioned that his sugar levels were low, and he felt the need to walk. We agreed to split, and as I left I reminded him that he still was in good position for a sub-3:40, all important as a C-seeding for Comrades.
Left to myself I slightly picked up the pace for the final kilometres and crossed the line in 3:28:44. Peter managed to make it home under 3:40. For the rest of the crew that had joined me, Lindsey managed a new PB and some prize money in the 35+ age category, Kirsten ran in comfortably behind him for some prize money in the open category, and Justin easily secured his A-seeding for Comrades.
All in all it was a good race day, and we had good reason to celebrate.