Trembling Two Oceans
I just told someone I ran 56km on Saturday. When you say it out loud, it really does sound the height of lunacy. Comrades may be South Africa’s oldest, longest ultra marathon, but the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon is tough (and far) enough for me.
After crossing the line on Saturday I had to fight back the tears. Relief and elation have never been so closely entwined. There was even cheeky acknowledgement from the Runner’s World editor, who was on the mic at the finish line, chirping “well done, David. You finally finished something.”
After eight Two Oceans Half Marathons, I was talked into entering the Ultra. After all, you can’t call yourself a runner in South Africa unless you’ve done one of the two biggies.
People tell you it’s an emotional roller coaster, but you never really believe them. You nod appreciatively at their experienced advice, all the while saying in the back of your mind “how hard can it be”.
Well, let me tell you. The Two Oceans Ultra is hard on the body, but it’s your mind that takes the more brutal beating.
In all honesty, my taper probably started a week too early with a riotous five days of wedding celebrations in the Drakensberg, but I never expected my legs to fold like a pack of soggy cards at the 28km mark on Saturday. Twenty-eight kilometres done with 28km to go. That’s a long time to be counting down to the finish line.
At 30km my running partner left me in search of our treasured sub six-hour finish, a time he missed by a mere five seconds. Perhaps he should have eaten the secret salmon the night before.
By 35km in I was almost in tears at the thought of running another half marathon distance just to get to the finish. The rain helped in that regard, because no one could tell if I was crying or just sopping wet as I inched up Constantia Nek.
Running alone, the battle was all in the mind for the second half of the race. I knew I was fit, but the pain in my leg was excruciating. And the emergency bailout busses at certain points along the route looked lovingly warm and inviting.
Thankfully I could see inside the steamy windows. The miserable faces of soaked and defeated runners was all the encouragement I needed to push on. I didn’t want to look like that for the rest of the weekend. I’m a known “non-finisher” of endurance events too, so hobbling over the line would at least put to rest some suspicions regarding my competitive temperament.
But man, what a struggle. And all after feeling so strong and fresh in my training, and over the first half of the race. But this is where the unheralded heroes of the Two Oceans come to the fore.
It’s no secret that Saturday was wet beyond belief. On the Kalk Bay section of the route runners were more than ankle deep in puddles, with at least 10% of the field needing to be recovered by scuba divers.
You’d have been drier if you jumped straight into a swimming pool. And yet the lunatic supporters and refreshment table volunteers were still out in the pouring rain, cheering on random runners and dishing out advice, encouragement and the odd apple ice-lolly. That’s dedication. And bucket loads of loopiness.
There’s a moment in a race like this when you forget about finishing, or times you expected to achieve, and it all comes down to fighting with yourself, giving up internally and then reigniting the fires. I can’t. I can. I can’t. I can. That’s the rhythm you run to.
For the last 14km there was an internal war raging in my mind, with casualties piling up on both sides. But you look around and see strangers willing you on, like emergency Red Cross helpers, waiting to ferry you to safety. And then with 4km to go, you see your grinning friend, who’s been standing in the rain all morning waiting to cheer you on, and you have to hold back the emotion because you’re so chuffed he’s there to talk you through 300m and send you off with an encouraging bum tap (and news of your beloved Stormers win). Against all advice, your fiancé also appears at the finish with a hug and a smile. And it’s game over.
Again? Never. Maybe. Probably. Of course. Why not? Most definitely.
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