There were a few things that made this event special: 1. It was my first Ultra Marathon, 2. A fellow PCV came with me to run her 1st 5k and so did a few of my yoga students, 3. We celebrated Cinco De Mayo afterward! I love that my students are always down for new experiences, and I especially enjoy introducing people to the world of running.
We had to wake up at 4:30am to pick up some fellow runners and make the drive in time to register before the race started at 7am. As us runners gathered at the start line outside of Nguni’s, the race director took a few minutes to give instructions. He also touched on recent events regarding the xenophobic attacks that have been happening around South Africa, and how running is not a place for discrimination, it’s where all people can participate together in sport regardless of color or ethnicity. We said a prayer, thanking the higher power for the opportunity and asking for strength and cloud cover, it was a beautiful moment to look around and see hundreds of runners all united under a common goal, independent of race.
The start gun fired off and away we ran! This course was pretty level, ebbing through some residential areas of northern Polokwane, it lacked the inspirational scenery that I usually look forward to. Also, not being able to run with music is a challenge I have had to face recently due to race guidelines, this is a psychological test that is not fun. The silver lining is the ability to make new friends and chat while running. I paced with a man named Walter who I also paced with at the MOTN marathon back in March. Seeing so many familiar faces at every event made me realize how small the world of running is. Walt is a sweet old man and he inspires me- he’s over 50 years old and still kicks ass at running marathons! He is also preparing for his first Comrades, just like me.
I reached 21km around 2:05 and hit the official halfway mark at about 2:30, at which point I allowed myself to walk a bit knowing full well I was making decent time. The second half would be hot and grueling, so I made a plan with Luvo, another runner who paced with me until the very end. The aid stations were roughly 3km apart, so we ran from station to station, allowing about a minute of walking to drink after each station. This plan seemed to work well for us and we trotted along. The last 12 km or so was pretty rough, it was really hot- the clouds that had shaded us for the first 2 hours dissipated and there was no longer protection from the sun that was beating down on us. However, we knew we were going to finish before the 6 hour cutoff time, so we restructured our plan to allow us to walk for a minute after every kilometer. For me, the final 2 kilometers of any race feel effortless – by that point I am running on shear determination and my legs glide on autopilot, carrying me across the finish line. Before the race, my friend asked me what time I was hoping to finish with – I figured a 5:40 was pretty attainable for 48 km. I ended up finishing with a 5:57…which I don’t think is particularly impressive, but I’m happy I completed the first Ultra marathon I’ve ever attempted. A couple years ago I wrote down on my Dreams List that I wanted to complete an Ultra Marathon…I am deeply thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to take on that task and cross that entry off my list.
My favorite part of this race had nothing to do with running, but with the conversations I had with other runners along the course. Luvo taught me a lot – I told him I’m preparing for my first Comrades and he said he’s preparing for his 7th. :O I took full advantage of the fact that we were running together for those last 3 hours, and I picked his brain for tips on Comrades- both preparation and the race itself. Here are some of the most significant things he shared with me: Have a pacing plan going into it. Walk the hills- especially Inchanga, and literally everyone will walk at Polly Shorts. Hydrate in the beginning, even if I feel I don’t need to. Run through the pain. And my favorite tip of all- don’t look at anyone else while running…don’t compare myself to anyone, don’t get down about myself if another runner passes me, the race has to be ran for myself, not for anyone else.
Races are a platform not only for personal growth, but for sharing with and learning from other runners as well. We share the laughs, the pains, knowledge, and victories as we cross finish lines together. We come out of the experience with new friends who were strangers a mere 6 hours beforehand. I am thoroughly enjoying becoming part of South Africa’s running community, and I cannot wait to experience the shear volume and positive energy of Comrades, coming up on May 31st.
After the race, we piled into the car to go get lunch before making the 2 hour drive back. Once we arrived home, we immediately got to work preparing our Cinco De Mayo feast with my host family and a few other Peace Corps volunteers. Thankfully people send/bring me special key items from the States- like taco seasoning and Tapatio sauce, that coupled with my new found ability to make tortillas (thank you, Peace Corps), we shared a delicious spread!