This past weekend I ran the Old Mutual Two Oceans Ultra Marathon. It was 56 km and the biggest race I have ever entered. (Both in numbers and in distance! The marathon I ran had about 700 participants and 500 finishers. This ultra had 11 000 entrants!) I’ve only been running semi-seriously for a short while now so it was probably a bit ambitious too.
Well, I finished it, but not before the cut-off time of seven hours. It was a bit of a disappointment but I had 14 km during which to prepare myself for the inevitability.
In the months leading up to OMTOM, I had many nightmares. I dreamed that I overslept, that my running shoes broke during the race, and that I got lost on Chapman’s Peak.
I never dreamed that I didn’t finish within cut-off. I guess partially because seven hours honestly seemed like enough time, but also because finishing in cut-off was not the important bit. It was entering it, getting there, doing it, finishing in any time whatsoever.
I must admit that I vastly underestimated OMTOM. My first marathon was actually pretty easy, and I though, “Hey, maybe I’ve finally got the hang of this running thing.” So, I may have been a little over-confident.
I thought I started at a slow enough pace, but obviously not (remember that the furthest I had ever run before was 42.2 km). But I struggled from the beginning, as if I just couldn’t get my head in the game. Part of it may have been the fact that I had to get up at 03h00, but honestly I think it was more a long-standing lack of sleep (I had five calls in thirteen days leading up to the race, which was probably a bad idea). I also don’t think I carbo-loaded enough.
The route was – well, it was tough. It’s an absolutely gorgeous route, but I mean, those hills are just something else.
I’ve never been a runner that cramps, but I started cramping at about 21.1 km. It was some kind of fresh hell. I made the 28 km cut-off in time, but I was worried about my time so I decided not to stop at the physiotherapy tent (maybe I should have).
About 6 km before the 42.2 km cut-off my sister, boyfriend, and friends were waiting for me. What a relief to see them! I stopped for a minute to hug my sister and get some encouragement. I cried a little. Then I felt energised so I carried on.
I made the 42.2 km cut-off in time too. By this time I had seen some seasoned runners step out of the race and onto a sweeper-bus, and I was so tempted. I had promised myself I’d go to the physio-tent at this mark but there were none!
I wanted to call my family and tell them I had done up to the marathon-mark and didn’t think I could carry on. I was in such pain – my feet, my glutes, my lower back, my neck – everything was on fire, and my motivation at an all-time low.
But I was worried they’d say it’s okay, they’d come fetch me – so I knew I wanted to finish it. I had come all the way to Cape Town, and it’s not like I was seriously injured.
I was, however, struggling to maintain my body-heat, and I was walking a lot at this point. I wasn’t the only one. The weather really was pretty good for an ultra in terms of temperature, but the wind wasn’t helping (thanks, Cape Town).
I reached 46 km with 01h10 to go. I could still make it before cut-off, but I was already telling myself it’s okay if I didn’t make it. I just wanted to finish. With 5 km to go, I had thirty minutes left, and I was feeling worse by the minute. I COULD make it, but in that state, I knew I wouldn’t. I wasn’t about to push myself into an injury.
That last 5 km ended up taking me an hour to complete. Mentally I was finished, and physically not much better.
The support along the road was so fantastic. I’m just a short girl with lumo socks and close to zero natural athletic ability, but the spectators cheered us on as though we were Olympic athletes – as though us finishing were a reflection upon them, too.
One of my favourites was a random woman shouting, “You go girl! I’m going to tell your mother I saw you!”
And one man, when the same sweeper vehicle asked me a second time if I wanted to get in, said, “She said no! Let her finish.”
And then the many who cheered, “We’ll see you next year.”
So I got to the end, with a “bus” of a few others who decided to finish even though officially we would be written up as non-finishers. So what. We know we did it.
Along the way I met some cool people. Some non-finishers had blue numbers (they’d completed ten or more ultras) and some were seeded A and B, so it became clear that sometimes, you just have a bad race.
My supporters met me at the end and piled me with hoodies and blankets. I think my hypothalamus had just given up on maintaining my body temperature. I finally got some physiotherapy although, shame, by this point the damage was done.
I’m actually quite okay now. I have a pretty painful extensor tendinopathy of one foot, so I don’t think I’ll be running for at least a week or probably more. But I have a plan: I need to see a biokineticist so that we can fix my form. I need to work on core stability and I need some strength training. And I need to do some speed work and get stronger on hills.
For a long time I only did things I was good at. I’ve never been a natural athlete but doing something that requires a concerted effort has been so good for me. I don’t regret it. You can’t be good at everything; and just because you’re not good at something, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.
I may never have the ability to run OMTOM in under four hours (a gold medal), but I intend to finish it within cutoff, probably more than once.
Provided I can get leave from work, I’ll be back next year.