My 8th Two Oceans FullSizeRenderUltra was on the list, and I felt great. The preparation so far went very good. No injuries, perfect race weight, good mindset. I had covered some 740 km since the 1st of Jan 2016 – and I already trained well in December of 2015.

International Friendship Run with friends

For my wife and me the Two Oceans traditionally starts by taking part at the International Friendship Run on Good Friday, the day before race day. A nice gathering of a few hundred international runners, trotting around the V&A Waterfront for 6 km. Very easy, relaxed and exactly the right thing to do before the race.

Unfortunately the Two Oceans organisation is making it extremely hard for South African runners to take part in this run. It’s very international, with the exception of local runners, and that’s a shame.

We met a group of Dutch runners which got infected by the Two Oceans bug by two Dutch athletes Ed and Marco which took part in the 2015 Oceans and got well known for their initiative of swapping running shirts. Ed and Marco were so impressed by Two Oceans, they started speaking about it after their return and came back with a group of 8 folks. Great work! Their trip was organized by the always smiling and organizational super talent Julia Shepherd from Beyond the Finish.

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Picture perfect weather at the start of the International Friendship Run – what a difference a day makes…

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Very international with a group of Dutch Runners, a few Germans and actually one South African – at the finish of the International Friendship Run

Nutrition for the race

The food for the race got prepared the day before race day.

You can find on this picture:

  • 7 small packs of home made, date based energy bites/bars
  • 7 small packs of pizza (leftover from the pre-race dinner)
  • 1/2 of a banana, to be eaten at the start
  • 300 ml of post race recovery drink (banana, blueberries, flaxseeds, almonds, salt, protein powder) to be consumed right after the race
  • 1/2 l of water for the start area and the first few km, to stay away from the water tables at the beginning of the race

The food is usually a bit more than I am about to eat. I never know beforehand if I prefer more of the pizza or the energy bites, so I rather have a selection. They are not that heavy, carrying them around is not an issue.

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Weather

The weather forecast got worse every day. The predictions were light rain in the early hours, getting dry at around 8 o’clock the latest.

When we woke up at 3:15 am  it started drizzling, when we sat on our Vespa Motorbike, it started raining, on the way it started pouring, when we arrived at the start it was changing from light rain to heavy rain every few minutes.

Not too pleasant…

The half marathon runners (starting in batches at 5:50, 6:00 and 6:10) got quite wet, while we Ultra runners could still look for some cover util our race was due to start at 6:30. I found a nice spot in the starting pen, that was a bit protected from the rain. Eventually at maybe 6:10am the rain stopped.

That was the last rain we saw. Due to the cloud cover if was still warm (17 °C at home at 4:00 am), during the race the sun came out for a while, until the clouds returned. In some sections it was very windy and I had to carry or hold onto my cap.

By and large the weather was a bit challenging, but still better than a heat wave or the 2012 rain fight.

Strategy

Although my main goal for 2016 is a 8:30 finish at Comrades, after my first sub 9 finish in 2015 on the up run, the timing of this years Two Oceans was favorable for me to also have an eye on a nice race. The races are more than two months apart, giving me the opportunity to recover from Oceans. Sometimes it’s only 7 weeks, which means you have no time for recovery in between. This year it was favorable for two great races.

Therefore I wanted to get my second Sainsbury medal after 2011, which you receive if you finish in less than 5 hours. (A sub 4 gives you a silver medal, a sub 6 = bronze and a sub 7 = blue, while 7h and 1 second = nothing).

You don’t get to a sub 5 (or any other challenging result) because of your great performance on the day. You get it during the hundreds or thousands of km you ran to be prepared for the race.

You can look at my 2016 training schedule here.

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My pace chart: left the km, middle: the time, right: the pace for the different sections

In contrast to the official pace charts you can get from Two Oceans and in the race magazine, my chart take the two hills Chapmans Peak and Constantia Nek into account.

The following chart shows the elevation change and the pace (min/km) I ran.

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Two Oceans Ultra (56 km) elevation and pace (min/km) chart of my sub 5h finish

On Chapmans Peak you can run a decent average pace due to the very mild incline and the downhill section in between.

On Constantia Nek the final two km are quite tough. That’s where I did a few (maybe 4) short walking breaks of 50 – 70m, just to give the mind and body some sort of relief.

You can see that for the last 10 km (Constantia Nek is a 46.2 km, with 9.8 km to go on an undulated, rather downhill route) my pace was impacted by the race. Otherwise I could have run it at a 5:00 – 5:20 pace, but I was not able to run really fast even when there was a straight downhill section.

Why the 2016 Sainsbury Medal is special

As mentioned, at Two Oceans you can get a Gold, Silver, Sainsbury, Bronze and Blue medal. If you look at the names of the medals, what do you recognize? The one in the middle is somehow different. It sounds like a real name.

And in fact, it is a name. It’s the only medal at Two Oceans named after a person, in this case “Mr. Two Oceans” Chat Sainsbury. Chat has been a runner (31 Two Ocean Ultras, even if he started late at the age of 35), race director, organizer, mentor, advisor for Two Oceans over the last three decades.

The Sainsbury medal was introduced in 2006. And ironically Chat never got one.

Now, this makes the medal special already.

But 2016 turned out to be the first Two Oceans without Chat. He died after his fight with Cancer a few weeks before the race, aged 73.

You know about my charity engagement in the field of Cancer due to my collaboration with Pink Drive (you can donate also this year using this Comrades Donation Link) at Comrades. Everybody battling with cancer or supporting a relative during this journey holds a very special place in my heart. I never met Chat, but I wanted to get this medal so much to honor him for his work for the most beautiful marathon in the world. The marathon which turned me from an occasional once a year half marathon runner to an all year ultra runner. And secondly I ran it for the people affected by cancer. And the people who know me well know for whom I ran it the most.

I always say, the most crucial part for such a race is not your legs but your mind.

This year I did run it with my heart. (Why are my eyes sweating while I write this?)

Anyway, the sub 5 was not about the time. It was about so much more.

First 28 km

The first half went very well. I started in the “C” batch, which means that it took me about 15 seconds to cross the start line after the gun went. I was right at the front of that batch and did not struggle to get into a rhythm, since I could run free and at a pace I chose. I did not have to go through packed groups of slower runners.

I always try to hold myself back during the first 3 km, to give my body the chance to warm up. As you can see in the elevation chart, the first 3 km are also a bit uphill, and if you start with too much confidence, you pay for it later.

The top of the first hill was reached much easier than I expected it, and it was downhill from there for about 20 km. Fantastic to get some time in the bank.

A few km into the race I met a friend, Alex, who wanted to conquer his first Two Oceans ultra in sub 5. We stayed together for about 10 km or so, until I went ahead.

My goal of a 4h 55min finish requires a 5:14 min/km average pace. With the two hills in the second half I always want to have some time to play with. My goal was to run a little bit faster than 5:00 min/km on those first 20 km. And it worked perfectly. I ran between 4:45 an 4:55 min/km. This worked so well, I kept up this pace until km 26. Fantastic.

I was in line with my plan and 2 min faster at half way point than in 2011 (my first Sub 5h).

Second 28 km

The first uphill section to Chapmans Peak is often seen as a first challenge. But it’s actually very nice to run. Look at the elevation chart. It’s not very steep, it has a nice downhill section, and it is one of the most beautiful sceneries on this planet you can run in.

I reached the top of Chappies at 33.5 km again according to plan.

Going down towards Hout Bay I held myself back and ran a moderate 4:55 min/km average. I still felt really strong.

My nutrition strategy worked fantastic as well. Quite the opposite to my 2015 Two Oceans, where a funny tummy was causing a lot of difficulties for me.

I started eating after 10 km, and every 5 km thereafter. I changed between Pizza and Date bars. Before Chappies I ate one of the potatoes offered along the route, I also consumed one salt tablet after some 20 km. After 40 km I got some salt from a lovely elderly lady along the route. My drinking habit is also very standard in the meantime: For the first 10 km only water occasionally, after that a mixture of Coke and water or Powerade and water, but never too much of sugarwater.

The weather turned out to be interestingly challenging. It was overcast most of the time, sometimes the sun came through and therefore I felt it was quite warm. At every water station I used one water sachet to spray it into my face and over my body. Therefore I was soaked, as if I would have ran in the pouring rain 🙂 But it helped to keep my body at a pleasant temperature.

I did not run with sunglasses this year, because I did not expect to see the sun. This turned out to be quite useful – because spraying water into the face while wearing glasses is not so great.

I also met club mate Prieur du Plessis, a very strong runner. We were overtaking each other a few times, but eventually he went ahead. It was nice to have some company from the club during the run.

Experience and area knowledge pays off

Constantia Nek

The last 2.5 km of Constantia Nek are the toughest climb in this race. If you want to run a sub 5h, you don’t have too much time to waste here. But if you are aiming for a very tight sub 5 like me, you also mustn’t kill yourself either.

The km-marks on the following picture are not totally correct. The top of Constantia is at km 46.2. But anyway. The figures show the incline / km. The two steepest sections have an incline of 6% and almost 8% respectively. That is a climb! My few, short walk breaks did help.

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Constantia Nek climb (km figure is about 500m off the real distance)

 

Last 10 km

Reaching Constantia Nek is always, always an emotional moment. Lots of people, great encouragement and the mental relieve of having conquered this crucial climb.

But it’s not all downhill from here. Well, in general it is, but it’s not too easy to run with all the bends, short climbs, breaking bends.

At km 50 I tried to eat another piece of pizza, and when I put it in my mouth I realized, that it won’t work. But I knew my nutrition was spot on up to that point, so I was not concerned.

I carried on, trying to run fast.

65+ age category winner

At maybe 5 km to go I passed the leader of the 65+ year age category. I’m 20 years younger and only a few minutes faster as these guys. I wish I get that old and can perform at that level when I am old.

So if your obese, smoking and drinking doctor ever tells you, that running is bad, tell him about those guys. The first, Brian Chamberlain, finished in 5h 06 min and the second, Tony Abrahamson, in 5h 08 min. Both are 66 years of age, Brian finished his 10th Two Oceans Ultra (he won in 1977 and 1978) and Tony, drumroll please, his 41st. Yes. 41 Two Oceans Ultra at the age of 65, he startet 1971 and ran every Oceans since 1980. Any questions?

Finishing

The kms went by and after the final, short steep incline I was so focused, that I did not see or hear friends of mine along the route cheering at me. I just wanted to get to the finish line 🙂 Sorry Julia and Silke!

I entered the finish area and was even so lucky to see my wife amongst thousands of spectators at the finish line. She ran the half marathon and was waiting for me.

The first person to congratulate me was Lisa Nevitt from Runner’s World SA, followed by friend and marketing manager of Two Oceans Stefanie Schulzen.

I was over the moon when I received the medal. All the work paid off. What a great feeling.

I finished in 4h 55min 53 seconds. That’s 1min 53 sec slower than my PB, but who cares about that 🙂

First beer after the Ultra

I went straight to the gazebo of my running club Atlantic Athletic Club to be welcomed by my wife, who ran her PB on her half marathon, Julia, Cat and Sean Robson, Prieur and Ian.

I quickly changed clothes, drank my recovery drink (banana, blue berries, flaxseed, hemp protein, salt) and got the best thing after an Ultra: The first ice cold beer. Thanks Sean for having a selection of three different beer brands available. Awesome.

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One of the most beautiful medals in my collection – the 2016 Sainsbury Sub 5h Two Oceans Ultra Medal

We stayed for a while, saying congrats to all the other running friends, many with PBs, like Andrew smashing the 6h mark or the Dutch group which became friends.

Tog bag organisation issues

Then we had to pick up my tog bag which was unfortunately a huge let down by the Two Oceans organisation: We had to wait in the cold for more than 30 minutes, which was still ok compared to the 60 minutes my wife waited in the cold right after her half marathon to get her warm clothes. This is totally unacceptable! Especially for all the Ultra runners in the queue who just finished, totally exhausted and shivering. My wife got a cold from her wait and I’m sure she was not the only one. OMTOM, please get this in order – it always worked like a charm the previous years!

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My second recovery drink, freshly made at home, with banana, blueberries, mango, protein powder, nut butter, flaxseed and some more healthy stuff

Back at home I had a refreshing shower and another refreshing recovery drink.

Achilles

My right achilles heel was a bit irritated. It started at km 8 and was like a little pressure I felt all along the way. But it never got worse, it was never painful, just irritated. At home I notice a little red swollen area.

What I can say now (I write this post 1 week after the race): I took a 1 week running break to let my achilles heel heal. The first 2h trail run after 1 week was fine, no pain at all. I trust I can go back into training mode for Comrades now 🙂 And probably the break was a good thing!

Massage

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Why do I have to run for 56 km to allow myself a nice massage? I don’t know…

The day after the race always means: Sleep out and go for a good massage at Mount Nelson. After the 90 min I thought I could stay there for another 90 minutes. Thanks Keyla. Funny enough: the most painful part of my body were… my shoulders…

After the massage I went into the sauna, followed by a few minutes in the ice cold outdoor plunge pool of the Spa. Cold but extremely rejuvenating.

My race on Garmin connect

If you like to get all (my) data from the race, here you can access the records of Garmin Fenix 3. You won’t find heart rate information – I ran without the HR-strap.

Thank you very much for making it this far and I hope you enjoyed this post about my second Sainsbury Sub 5h Two Oceans Ultra Marathon.

Please leave a comment below…