Two Oceans Ultra

Wow!  Did I drop the ball or what?  I had intentions of writing while in Cape Town but unfortunately, I just couldn’t seem to plant myself in front of the computer and get ‘er done!  I am a little overwhelmed at the task of writing about the whirl wind of exciting events in the past month.  I’ll try to stick to my running activities and what I learned through them.

I was pleased to quickly recover from my jet lag upon arriving in Cape Town.  The morning after arriving, Emily and I headed out for a lovely hilly run on one of my old routes.  It was sunny and warm and it felt so good to move our bodies after our long journey.  I think my body is getting better at traveling—no sickness, no insane jet lag, just exhaustion that can easily be treated with sleep and healthy foods.

The week leading up to the Two Oceans ultra-marathon was packed full of excitement—day trips around the Cape, reuniting with friends, and meetings to discuss my project.  We kicked off the race weekend with registration on Thursday and then the International Friendship Run on Friday morning.

The Friendship run was pretty amazing.  80 different countries were represented.  When taking photos with the American flag, we were approached by an older American couple from Tennessee.  Their excitement and joy for running came through their thick southern drawls.  Bright eyed, in their late 60’s, they gave us an overview of their impressive running history.  They were both tobacco smoking, fried chicken eatin’ southern folk.  She’d never ran before and he’d only ran because he was forced to by the military.  One day, one of her friends began running and she saw what an effect it had on her health.  Her friend lost weight, felt better, and was happier.  She  decided to give it a go. She started with a mile a day.  When she realized she could easily run a mile, she thought, “why not 2 miles?”  They both quit smoking—cold turkey—and gradually found themselves running longer and longer.  They decided to do a marathon…and then another one…and another one…until one day they were marathon running machines!

They once ran 9 marathons in 9 days—and this was recent, not as youngsters.  They would be joining me the ultra-marathon the next day—34 miles—and then flying to London for the London Marathon a few days later.  Then they were going to go home and crash.  Except they weren’t.  They were going home in a couple weeks to take part in a 50 mile trail run.  Lord, let me never use age as an excuse to be unhealthy!  What an inspiration and a testament to what our minds and bodies are capable of!

That night it was early to bed after I suckered shoulder rubs out of everyone I could.   We woke early and I went through all my race morning rituals—oatmeal, a shower, gear up, and breathe.  Alex walked us to the start, which is just a kilometer from his house.  I handed Emily off to my friend Garth, who was also running the half marathon, and had my ritual 1,000 pre-race trips to the toilet, before joining the other runners in my seeding group.

Pre-race, before we went our separate ways.

The morning was cool but I was pleased it wasn’t raining yet (big showers were expected).  I sang the South African anthem looked around at the rainbow of people in my presence—all their for one reason—to run.  And run we did.

The gun went off and we shuffled down Main Road towards the coast.  I was chatting with a South African woman about my age when we came over a hill and saw a rainbow arching over the mountains ahead of us.  We both sighed at the beauty just before the rain began to fall.  A few moments later, we were all soaked and doing what looked like some funky jive as we hopped and skipped over and around puddles on the potholed road.

I was so busy trying to keep my feet somewhat dry and talking to other runners that I didn’t realize I’d passed right through several seaside towns and was in Kalk Bay, where the course turns away from the Indian Ocean and heads over the Cape to the Atlantic.  I was getting close to where my friends were to meet me with a banana and reloads for my fuel belt.  Aside from the fact I was feeling great and enjoying the run, having friends along the course really encouraged me.

Two Oceans is called the World’s Most Beautiful Marathon…and it is stunning but I think what makes is the World’s Most Beautiful is not just the breath taking scenery, but the people who run it and the spectators that come out to support.  Every word of encouragement from the spectators made me smile.  Every goofy dance party or other silly shenanigans along the course made me laugh out loud.  I’m telling you, its nearly impossible to be grumpy with your pain when you are surrounded by people who have come out early on a Saturday morning to stand in the rain and let you know they believe in you.

I met my friends just before the base of Chapman’s Peak—the first major climb.  I took a few moments to enjoy my banana and tell them thank you and then, with a war cry, I was back to the battle.

I worked my way up Chapman’s Peak with a couple—one of them American and the other South African.  We discussed what songs where stuck in our head and we all belted out Bon Jovi’s “Living on Prayer” when I told them that’s what I had been singing.  I crested that beast of a beauty with a smile and relaxed into the 3 mile descent into Hout Bay.  Soaking in each moment and reminding myself to enjoy every breath, every step.  It was the first time in a race where I thought, “I never want this to end…”

It was still raining when I ran through the lively Hout Bay and crossed the marathon mark (26.2 miles) 4 minutes ahead of the time I had passed that point in 2010.  “Boom,” I thought, “One more big climb, then its all out guts and glory for the rest of the race.”  I pulled into my core, focused on all things positive, beautiful, and joyful and began the steep, killer of a climb up Constantia Nek.

As I climbed, I thought about this, “This pain will pass. Embrace it.  Use it.  It’s supposed to hurt a little at this point. You’re supposed to be tired.”  When I accept the pain and exhaustion while at the same time, believing that it is only temporary, it allows me to move forward with strength and hope.  I respectfully conquered Constantia Nek and might as well have flown down the next series of hills.

At this point, my fuel belt was beginning to annoy me and I was happy to see my friends standing in the rain.  It was like a little extra treat as I hadn’t expected them to make it to this point due to road closures.  They were shouting, “Keep Going!  Don’t stop!”  Without slowing, I removed my fuel belt and slid it on the pavement to their feet.  They laughed and cheered as I flew towards the finish line.

My secret weapon has always been my strong finish.  Even in the 400 meter dash, I would surprise others with my ability to run a negative split (a faster second half).  I think I thrive on the exhaustion and pain.  Its in these moments that I am able to see things most clearly—I gather up my courage and go.  In ultra marathons, the second half happens to be much longer than in the 400.  It takes a little more focus.

I ran like this the rest of the race.  As I came onto the extremely muddy field and ran through the finish shoot, I could hear my friends cheering me in.  I heard someone shout, “RUN GIRL!” and knew without seeing that it was Emily.  I was all smiles and focus as I tried not to slip in the muck and crossed the finish line.

I’m the little one in the coming up behind! Move over boys!

I realized during the race that I hadn’t told my friends where to meet me in the chaos at the finish line.  To my amazement, they were all waiting for me when I came out of the finishers area and I was greeted by high-fives, hugs, and a warm towel.  Sigh. My friends rock.

My support crew–minus Alex who was taking the photo. Such wonderful friends.  Yes, they look a bit like eskimos.  South Africans don’t like the “cold”.

They took me home, where Emily, having already cleaned up from her race (which she ran beautifully I hear) ran me a hot bath and served me tea and toast with peanut butter in the tub!  Amazing.

I finished the race in 5:08—about 9 minutes faster than my previous time.  I was completely shocked with myself having improved my time.  I was expecting a much slower time as I didn’t feel as fit as I was in 2010.  I think a combination of experience and increased mental strength helped me through.

The next day, we spent Easter with my friend Jonty’s family.  His brother told me about a half marathon he was doing on May 1.  In the past, the last thing I feel like doing the day after a long race is sign up for another one…but the current me recovers quickly, physically and mentally, from tough runs.  I signed up for the race that night!  More on this another day!

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