Kloof Nek Classic Half Marathon

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Training for Rome Marathon (for real this time)

Week 2 of 10: Day 12

56 days to go

So, still basking in the afterglow of yesterday’s run, I decided to do it all again today. Kind of like a Hollywood movie: they make one good one, and then they have to make a sequel – and we all know the sequel is never as good as the original.

Anyway. I did another run this morning. But not just a run. A race. And not a 10 km race or even a 15 km race. No. Oh no. No, this morning I would run a half marathon. 21.1 km on tired legs.

And what half marathon did I decide was a good idea to do?

Oh, just the Kloof Nek Classic. A race that starts on an uphill, then continues uphill, turns a corner and goes uphill some more. Then you run downhill a little bit, but it doesn’t really feel as if you’re going downhill. Then it becomes such a steep downhill that you have to put the brakes on anyway, unless you’re keen to injure yourself before your trip to Rome.

Kloof Nek Classic route profile (Sourced from http://www.wpa.org.za)

Kloof Nek Classic route profile


Kloof Nek Classic route (Sourced from http://www.wpa.org.za)

Kloof Nek Classic route (sourced from http://www.wpa.org.za)

And then you get to Signal Hill … but I’m getting ahead of myself.

So after the run yesterday, we decided to go shoe shopping. It’s time. My Nike Free 5.0’s are pretty tired. They did the New York Marathon in 2013 and they have tried bravely to support my new running interest this last year. And Ashleigh has discovered that her shin splints might have something to do with the kind of shoes she’s wearing.

Off we went to Kotov’s Corner, owned by Vladimir Kotov, a charismatic and enthusiastic fellow, winner of three Comrades Marathons (2000, 2002 and 2004). He came fourth with a 2:12:05 marathon time in the 1980 Olympic Games, when he represented Russia. So he’s a bit of a celebrity, really.

More personal service would be hard to find. I wouldn’t want to be trying to buy something from him on a busy morning, because he really gives his full attention to each person who needs his advice, and he makes every effort to make sure you leave with the running shoes that are right for you. And it seems to me that some people take advantage of his generous nature.

I left with a pair of Saucony Kinvara 5. I didn’t waste much time deciding on them. I tried them on. They felt good. I bought them.

Saucony Kinvara 5

Saucony Kinvara 5

Ashleigh tried on numerous pairs, and trotted up and down on the path outside the shop so that they could check her running style and her pronation. She settled on a pair that weren’t in stock in her size, so we’ll have to go back next week, whhen the pair he’s ordered for her arrives. But she maintained that she felt no pain in her shins at all when she had them on, so it’s worth spending the money on another pair of shoes, rather than yet more physio.

Then we thought we should go and look at some more shoes, and I needed another sports bra. We walked into Sportsmans Warehouse and that is where I saw them … the Nike Free 3.0 Flyknit. I put them on. I loved them. I bought them.

Nike Free 3.0 Flyknit

Nike Free 3.0 Flyknit

So now I have two new pairs of running shoes. It all sounds a bit excessive. And it is. Really it is, given my level of running at this stage. But I had the box of shoes hugged to my chest and my credit card handed over before I could blink.

I’ve been leaning towards minimalist shoes for ages; the theory just makes sense to me. Maybe the theory resonates with me because I grew up walking barefoot most of the time, and I had no injuries wearing my previous Nike Frees – not even a blister and not even a blackened toenail. I’ve had two pairs of Nike Free 5.0, albeit as a walker, and I like their flexibility and how light they feel on your feet. No, they don’t give much support, and they’re not going to correct your pronation or your fallen arches, but minimalist shoes aren’t meant to do that. They sure do work your arches, though.

So this morning I put on my new shoes, my new socks and my new bra – because, of course it’s always a good idea to do a long race wearing all new gear for the first time – and headed out to do a half marathon. I probably need my head read.

The intention was to walk it, just to get time on my legs. According to my 10-week marathon programme I should have run 19 km yesterday, which of course I didn’t do, as I did an 11 km training run. So this wasn’t meant to be a race. Rather a slow and easy training run/walk.

But I figured I would try to run up Kloof Nek – 3 km of uphill – without walking. And then I wanted to run past the Cableway, at least to the turnaround on Tafelberg Road. And then it was mostly downhill until Signal Hill, which is when I knew I would start to feel the pain.

We arrive at Camps Bay High, which is the start of the race, and I need the toilet. I have to go. I simply can’t run the race without going to the toilet. But I also need a temporary license. And it’s almost time for the start of the race. My husband goes off to get my license and I go to the ladies’ toilets where, as is always the case, there is a queue snaking out the door. The women seem to have no sense of urgency and linger behind the closed doors of the cubicles. I stare at the colourful doors, willing them to pee, flush and leave. But the doors remain closed for ages. I don’t know what the hell the women are doing in there, but the queue barely moves. The minutes tick by and I get no closer to one of the doors. Do I skip the toilet visit and run? I can’t. I have to go. After what seems like an age, I am finally near the doors, too close to give up now, but the race is about to start. The women in the queue are finally getting edgy. Fat lot of good that does now.

At last I get out of the ladies’ bathrooms and rush to where I am supposed to meet my husband. The start gun had already gone and, to my dismay, I see thousands of runners leaving the field and running along the road. They must have been running for about three minutes already. Only the back markers are still on the field, and even they are almost heading onto the road. He shoves my license at me and darts off – he was hoping to make a good time and I have just ruined it for him.

I run onto the field and try to catch up with the pram pushers and the slow walkers while fumbling with safety pins and my uncooperative, flapping license number. I’m always so particular about getting it pinned on straight, and here I am just stabbing pins through my vest any old how.

And there they go ... the back end of the thousands of runners already on the road, while I'm still trying to get across the start line.

And there they go … the back end of the thousands of runners already on the road, while I’m still trying to get across the start line.

And then, finally, I am across the start line and heading out onto Lower Kloof Road. The road rises steeply right from the start, and people are already beginning to walk. I get my head down and keep going. I’m going to run this thing. Today I am running all the way to the top. I have never run the whole stretch before, but I’m doing it today. I dodge runners who suddenly stop in front of me and and weave around walkers who are running out of steam and beginning to walk even more slowly. And I make it. I make it all the way to the top, where Lower Kloof meets Kloof Nek, without walking. My coach would be proud! I’m feeling proud!

Then it’s across Kloof Nek and then a steep climb up to where Tafelberg makes a U-bend to follow the contour of Table Mountain. I look up at the mountain and take a moment to feel a little bit good about myself. I’m still running. I have walked this road many times but this morning I am running. When I ran along that road in November, I had to throw up at 5 km – in full view of my coach … oh the shame! There is no sign of chucking this morning. I’m feeling good. I’m smiling. I’m feeling tall and I’m not looking for beacons to talk myself towards. Instead, I take in the view of the city far below me, the buildings glowing in the morning light. A soft layer of mist obscures part of the city and the tops of the cranes in the harbour peek out above it.

Table Mountain - this time I'm running past it, not walking the dog and not walking because I can't run.

Table Mountain – this time I’m running past it, not walking the dog and not walking because I can’t run.

To distract myself from potential pain I start looking at the faces of the guys running towards me. They have reached the turnaround point and are getting to indulge in the pleasure of a downhill stretch. I look out for my husband and his running partner. It’s always good to see a familiar face in the crowd. I spot them and wave enthusiastically. ‘Look! I’m running!’ I want to shout. But I don’t.

I look out over the city and I think that soon I will be running the streets of Rome. I run my own race. When people pass me, I think ‘Did they run 11 km yesterday? Probably not. Are they going to Rome to run a marathon? Probably not.’

The downhill is bliss. And then there’s the Signal Hill. Uphill. Oh my word. It was like running into a brick wall. It’s a short incline, but steep. On the map it looks about 45 degrees. The crowd around me immediately slows down. Everyone is walking. I walk a few paces and decide that I’m going to try to run this little hill too. I push on, and I do it. I shuffle slowly, so slowly, but I do it. I pass one walker after another. I have my head down, I’m breathing hard, my mouth is hanging open and I must look a sight, and I’m sure some of them are laughing at me, but I keep going. And I make it to the top. The road levels out slightly, and only for a short distance.

The city from Signal Hill, early morning (not race morning)

The city from Signal Hill, early morning (not race morning)

Again I start scanning the faces of the return runners and, at about 13 km, just at the Muslim karamat, I see my husband’s running partner and then my husband. I wave to my husband and let him know that his friend is only about a minute ahead of him. I’m still feeling bad about ruining his race. But what can I do? I can’t fix it.

And then I need to walk. The inclines get the better of me. I need to just slow it right down and walk. Ah man! And it was all going so well! I walk a while, take a slug of Coke at the water table, then run a little, then walk. I strain my eyes to see the other runners in the distance, hoping that the turnaround point had been shifted, that it’s not right at the end of the road, around the bend, out of sight, all the way at the last parking lot, where the buses go to turn around. But it is. The turnaround is at about 15 km. My legs feel tired and I’m starting to feel the foolishness of this morning’s decision.

I reach the turnaround and muster a smile at the marshals. As I start running again, I look at the exhausted people trudging along the road I have just been on, and am so grateful that I am not them. I’m heading in the direction of home – I’m not on the home stretch, and I have a long way to go, but I’m facing the right direction.

I do a little more running as the road gently slopes downwards. Very quickly, though, it starts going up again and at 16 km I feel desperate enough to need some encouragement from somewhere. Or a taxi. I text my daughter. ‘I’m at 16 km,’ I tell her, ‘and I’m about to die.’

‘No, you’re not,’ she says, ‘you’re almost done. Just a quick parkrun to go.’

Fuck. No. I’m not. 16 km is a long way away from 21,1 km, especially when there are inclines involved and your legs have stopped working. I reach 17 km, and will the 18 km marker to show itself – I need to see it! At about 17,5 km I start to run again – yes, slowly, slowly, but I am no longer walking, and this is good. I see the 18 km marker and I’m on my way home! It’s downhill now, and I know how wonderful it feels to run down that shady, winding road, catching glimpses of sea views between the tall pine trees, and seeing and watsonias, leucodendrons and other lush greenery on the mountain slopes on my right. I feel comfortable again and the smile returns to my face.

I keep it slow, though. My Achilles is hurting a bit, my neck and shoulders hurt. I’m taking a bit of strain but, mostly, I don’t want to injure myself.

It’s the last little bit to go. The final push is up the driveway into the school grounds – up the driveway! I don’t need an up, and the driveway is a bitch. And from the driveway it’s grass. Well-watered, lush green grass that would have been so much better had it been mowed. It feels like wet tar under my feet and moving my legs becomes a near-impossibility.

My husband is there. ‘You’re going to make sub-three,’ he calls to me, as if it’s something special. What he means is, ‘you’re going to make it before the cut-off.’

I try to pick up the pace. I still have to run all the way around the field, and it’s huge, and the grass is holding me back, and that little driveway killed me, and I really just want to stop now! ‘Come on!’ I growl to myself. I see the electronic clock up ahead of me, it’s red dotty numbers mocking me. It says 2:54:something. I gather the strength to pick up speed – just a last push for the last few metres to the end.

And then it’s done. It’s done! Oh my word! I finished it! Out of the corner of my sweat-filled eye I see the serious-looking, floppy-hatted marshals writing my number down. Someone else hands me a number. Someone else hands me an engraved glass – no medals at this race; we get glasses instead. I notice that I am still holding a water sachet in my hand, the one I had picked up at a water table 3 km back. I want to sit down, lie down, something other than stand up. I put my head against my husband’s shoulder and try to catch my breath. It’s rasping through my chest. But I’m done. And, oddly, I recover quite quickly.

The last 20 km training run I did, which was in October I think, from Hout Bay to Twelve Apostles and back, had me so exhausted I went to bed and stayed there for three hours afterwards. But today I feel good. I ran most of the way of a tough half marathon, I lived to tell the story, and I don’t feel as if I need to be hospitalised.

The only bugger is that I stopped my Garmin before 21.1 km, so I don’t have a half-marathon logged on Strava.

But I know I ran one.



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