It was hot as balls, but I survived!
My first alarm went off at 1:50am and by 2am we were in the car and on the road. We arrived at the race site by 5, giving us just enough time to check in at registration, use the restroom and get ourselves prepared. My host mom gave me a big, warm hug and we wished each other good luck [she was running the 5k]. The gun went off at precisely 5:30 and away I ran!
The SuperSpar marathon in Bela Bela was a race of contrasts. The first 20km or so was pretty flat and I was feeling good about it. It would be quite misleading to any runners that hadn’t already studied the course map for elevation gains. I was constantly checking my posture and making sure my alignment was good. I knew that if I was kind to my body in the first half, it would be kind to me in the second half.
I was making good time strutting along the streets of Bela Bela, drinking water whenever it was available with an occasional cup of Coke. I never drink soda- I detest it- but when that’s the only option, I had no choice. I knew that my body could not survive on coke and water alone, and was wondering when the heck I’d find some real sustenance. Alas! An aid station that had banana chunks! I slowed my pace to grab some snackies, inhaled the banana chunk and washed it down with a gulp of Coke. Just then, Bassjackers EDCLV 2014 came up on my playlist and almost instantly my feet pick up faster, my body felt lighter and my stride easier. I love these moments in running, I live for these moments where everything in the universe aligns perfectly and the race doesn’t feel like a race but rather a Saturday walk in the park.
I tried not to get too cocky though, I knew the real race began in the second half, where I’d face over 200m elevation gain in less than 2km of distance. I knew that hitting a sub-5 hour marathon would mean I’d need to hit the halfway mark no later than 2 hours in, giving myself the remaining 3 hours to climb some hills. I was making good time, and was super happy when I hit the halfway mark by 1:45. The halfway point was disappointingly anticlimactic, there wasn’t even an aid station, just a marker saying “21.1km”. At this point I could ease up on the gas just a bit, I had 3:15 allowance to cross the finish line, which may seem like a lot of time but the African summer sun had been high in the sky since 5:30, and I still had 8 or 9 hills to climb.
I came running around a corner and that’s where I finally saw it, the first daunting hill. I gasped, this was not going to be fun. Luckily an aid tent was right at the base of it and I decided to bust out a sports gel I had stashed in my shorts pocket. I gulped it down along with a sachet of water and began the monstrous ascent up the first hill. I have mixed feelings about sports gels. I appreciate the consolidation of so many nutrients in 1 pocket sized packet, but I loathe the stomach cramps I get while my body tries to break apart the sticky, gooey glob. As I was taking my time up this hill, I was wincing and gasping verbally because my stomach was turning and it hurt. I forced myself to jog through the pain, but that was an unpleasant 2km or so.
I got atop of the first major hill and knew the rest of the course would be a roller-coaster of hill after hill after hill. By this point I had gotten in the habit of grabbing two water sachets at every aid station. The first one I would drink, and the second one I would squirt all over my body in an attempt to cool down. Also by this point the aid stations had water-misters for us.
There were tons of motivational signs set up along the race course, and I always smiled when I passed by them. They said things like-
“With every up there is a down”
“Enjoy the down”
“Remember why you started this”
By 27km I hit the last switchback on the hills and knew I would be doubling back all the way up and down to the first hill. For a bit I had been pacing a pack of 4 guys, 1 guy had set a cadence for his group by tapping a small tambourine against his leg. I stayed close enough behind that I could hear the chime over my headphones, and keeping this pace was helping me a lot. We didn’t stay together through the end, but there was a solid stretch of distance where that consistent chiming pulled me through the hills.
I saw the 30km mark and I still had 1:45 allowance left. I slowed my roll and just tried to enjoy the ride. It was hot, I was tired, but I had plenty of time left on the clock and didn’t feel the need to push myself any more than I really had to. My only concern was finishing under 5 hours, and I was on pace to do so. Eventually I passed the 32km mark, then 35km, and so on. I ran when I wanted to, walked when I wanted to, and stopped to chat with people at the aid stations. All the while I was checking my watch and making sure I was pacing myself appropriately. By 37km I decided to just run the final 5km and finish feeling good. We had come down the final hill a little ways back, and now we were on flat ground once again, I thought this final stretch would be a piece of cake. The only problem I faced was that my body was dyyiinnggg for some salt, but all that was available was soda and candy. I pushed past the cramping, but I would have given anything for some salted potatoes. I passed an aid station that had Simbas (similar to Cheetos) but I didn’t have enough saliva to chew them, so I just sucked the powder off and spit them out as I ran.
Then, I could see the finish line! Finally! It’s an exhilarating feeling to run with your eyes closed. It’s pretty stimulating. I did this for a minute or so as I approached the finish line. I opened my eyes as I came around the last bend and it was a straight shot into victory! This is exactly what I wanted, a sub-5 so I could qualify to run Comrades next year. Exact finishing time- 4:57:14. I don’t think my time was particularly impressive but I did what I set out to do, and I was incredibly humbled by the fact that the 1st place finisher had a time of 2:32:39 – he finished in like half my time! Gheez!
Personal victories for this race:
-Did not need to use my knee braces or my inhaler
-Finished without any blisters!
It’s the little things… 🙂