The Sanlam Cape Town Marathon … oh, the utter humiliation …

Sooo … yesterday was the Cape Town Marathon. The one that was to be my PB. The one that was supposed to be my qualifier for the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon. The one that had to be run a mere five minutes faster than my Rome Marathon. And, since I had stood at the Roman portaloos for about five minutes, all I had to do yesterday was keep moving and my qualifying race time was in the bag.

But why should things ever be so simple?

The run was a disaster.

To start with, I almost missed the race altogether. If it wasn’t for the fact that the Significant Other was also running, and had set his own alarm, I might still have been sleeping way after the start gun had been fired. I had conscientiously set my alarm for 5:15 and 5:30 am – just in case I dozed off after switching off the first alarm. Then I checked again that the alarms were definitely set and then switched off the light to sleep the sleep of one who was fully prepared for the next day’s race. All my running gear was freshly washed and set out. My permanent license number was sewn (not pinned!) to the back and front of my club vest and my race number was perfectly centred and neatly pinned to the front and back. My sachets of GU, in salted caramel flavour, were tucked into my FlipBelt, along with my iPod (for just in case) and a R100 note (for just in case).

The only flaw in this meticulous preparation was that I had set the alarm for Saturday instead of Sunday. So I was still blissfully snoozing when the Significant Other’s alarm went off. Chaos followed, as everyone needs the bathroom before a big race. This is also the time that people stay in the bathroom for longer, which would make sense, since there’s so much less time available.

An incorrectly set alarm was to be the least of my race day worries. I had made an error or two and I was going to pay dearly for it.

Error number one was a real rookie error. You know that thing that they say about not trying anything new on race day? Ja. Well.

So there I was, on my last long-ish training run one evening, when I thought to myself that my running shoes were feeling a bit worn. You know what’s coming, right? Yep. I needed new shoes, I figured. Now, had I just found the time to go and buy the shoes the very next day, things might have worked out differently. But, of course, life is busy and time to wander around shops buying new running shoes is in short supply. So on Friday, when I went to collect my race number, I decided to replace my trusty Nike Flyknit 3.0s with a fresher model.

Now, I have to stress just how much love my Nike Flyknit 3.0 running shoes. I don’t just love them. I LOVE them. They are like running in socks, but with soles and good, firm, but not restrictive, support. They just mold to your foot. They fit snugly, so there’s no sliding about inside your shoes and no chance of blisters – ever. They’re kind of barefoot running but still with some cushioning. They are the best running or walking shoes I have ever had. The best thing about them is that they don’t have a hard strip across the tip, so you don’t end up with bruised and blackened toenails. These shoes are the way all running shoes should be made. They are just wonderful.

And they look good on your feet. Because they’re molded, they don’t look like gaudily coloured boats, the way other running shoes do. They’re like pixie shoes. Magic pixie shoes.

I walked the New York Marathon in a pair of Nike Free 5.0 and started running in those as well. I like the minimalist style and so, when it was time to get a pair of running shoes, I stuck to the range but went for the lower profile and bought the Flyknit 3.0. I ran the Rome Marathon in my first pair and then bought my second pair a few months ago. They were exactly the same and, because they have no hard bits anywhere, there’s no worry about new shoes causing chafing or discomfort of any kind. You could quite easily buy a new pair of Nike Flyknit 3.0 on the morning of a race and run in them as if you had been running in them forever.

My first pair of Nike Flyknit 3.0 running shoes ... the start of a love affair.

My first pair of Nike Flyknit 3.0 running shoes … the start of a love affair.

Except, of course, running shoe manufacturers must always, always mess with a good thing. (Why?!) So my wonderful shoes have been refashioned. They have a looser weave, a wider opening, a broader toe and a looser heel lockdown. So, basically, it’s not the same shoe at all. A very detailed and informative Nike Flyknit 3.0 2015 review rates its similarity to its predecessor at 87%. This figure is based on cushioning (100%), stability (84% – lower level of heel lockdown due to looser upper fit), price (100%), upper fit (74%), construction (85%) and weight (95%).

Upper fit! I gave it not a moment’s thought. The higher collar around the ankle meant that by 30 km my right ankle was in agony. It felt as if I had sprained it. After the race I couldn’t work out why I had this big purple bruise on my ankle bone. I thought, fatigued as I was, I must have kicked it myself, maybe a few times over. I could think of no other reason. Until I put the shoes on again and realised that the collar was pressing right on the ankle bone.

The difference seems minimal but the higher fit around the ankle (Flyknit on the right) caused agony after 30 km, while the looser fit had me weeping for my worn-out old shoes by 14 km.

The difference seems minimal but the higher fit around the ankle (Flyknit on the right) caused agony after 30 km, while the looser fit had me weeping for my worn-out old shoes by 14 km.

And can I mention the colour? My first pair was a lovely sea green colour. The next one, less wonderful, in grey with pink flashes. This pair? Hot pink with orange. Now, I have nothing against pink but I do like to have some options. Have you noticed how all women’s sports gear is pink?

My Nike Flyknit 3.0 collection. The first pair - great colour, perfect fit, bliss on the feet. The neatest, cutest, lightest running shoes ever. The second pair, still great, still the world's most awesome shoes, but, according to sportswear manufacturers, girls love to run in pink. But colour doesn't hurt your legs and feet, so we don't care too much about that. And then the latest pair ... things will never be the same again. Why mess with a great shoe?!

My Nike Flyknit 3.0 collection. The first pair – great colour, perfect fit, bliss on the feet. The neatest, cutest, lightest running shoes ever. The second pair, still great, still the world’s most awesome shoes, but, according to sportswear manufacturers, girls love to run in pink. But colour doesn’t hurt your legs and feet, so we don’t care too much about that. And then the latest pair … things will never be the same again. Why mess with a great shoe?!

Anyway, moving away from colour and back to the bits that make an actual difference to your running.

In the shops (I went to two) the shoes were branded as a ‘low mileage’ shoes. They do not recommend that you run further than 10 km in them. I figured the manufacturers were just playing it safe. They were simply telling the customer to gradually increase their mileage – something they always say when selling minimalist shoes.

So … by 10 km my feet and legs were aching. My arches were sore, the backs of my calves, my thighs and by butt were sore and fatigued. I figured I might be hungry, so I slowed down to fish for my GU.

Because the other error that I had made, I think, was that I hadn’t fuelled up properly the day before. I had decided that I was going to stick with a liquid diet, soup, mash and smoothies only, and have my last meal twelve hours before the start of the race. I wanted no gut problems on the day. There would be no sweating and squeezing of the butt cheeks while looking for a portapotty, and no doing the gingerbread man across the finish line. And the morning before the race I had only a carb drink, not the hearty breakfast that some recommend – there were to be no solids sitting in the upper gut as the start gun went off. Solids that would be jiggled about and that would work their way through the intestine and end up causing all sorts of discomfort two hours into the run. With so much worry about having stuff in my gut, I ended up having nothing in it at all.

So there I was, trying to right my nutritional deficit while on the run, hoping against hope that it would also right the pain in my legs and the pain that was starting to creep along my back, shoulders and neck. But the FlipBelt, though neater, more attractive and much cooler than a nerdy fanny pack, can be impossible to get into. Eventually, after frantically feeling all over the tight spandex belt, trying to worm my fingers into a slit somewhere around its circumference, I eventually had to just stop so that I could see what I was doing. I found the GU and I took a tactical walk to suck the icky sweet stuff down. The first member of my training group caught up with me, passed me, and disappeared into the crowd. I knew I wouldn’t see her again.

I took my time about the GU, feeling reluctant to start running again – my legs were aching and tired but felt okay while I was walking. I got going again. Passed a water table that had run out of water at 12 km and, just a few hundred metres further, got passed by some sweet young things from the running group, gleefully running their first marathon. I watched their ponytails swish as the crowd parted before them and then closed behind them. I never saw them again, either.

The five-hour bus followed and headed off into the distance. I’ll catch them a bit later, I lied to myself.

And that might have been error number three. I think I probably went out too fast. But not so fast that I should feel so terrible so early on in the race. I think I would inevitably have slowed down to a snail’s pace later on but by the first half of the marathon I should have been feeling fine at my just-sub-seven minutes/km pace.

At 14 km I knew things were irreconcilably bad. The five and a half hour bus caught up with me, stopped right next to me, did some arm waves, cheered, walked a few paces, did some more arm waves and set off at a nice leisurely running pace again. And I couldn’t stay with them! I was too sore and too tired already, at only 14 km.

‘Fetch me,’ I texted my daughter.

‘I’m trading in my club vest for a Springbok jersey,’ I texted my running group.

My trapezius were in agony and I was brewing a headache. I don’t know why I felt such stiffness and aching there – I have pretty good posture and run upright, so it wasn’t from hunching. I pulled my bra straps off my shoulders, thinking that maybe they were too tight and were pulling. Just then the cameraman snapped me … walking, with my bra straps hanging over my muscleless arms. Nice. Elegant. Great.

I walk-jogged my way around Rondebosch Common, walked through the 21,1 km mark, where some wonderful woman sprayed some magic potion from a can onto my neck, and I realised, officially, that I had missed my chance of a sub-five hour marathon. I was ten minutes out – too much to make up. But I was going to try. I did. I tried. And every time I ran, the backs of my legs and my butt ached so much I had to walk. I would tell myself that I could run the next kilometer but a few hundred metres down the road I would have to walk again. I tried to walk at a decent pace, like in the old days when people preferred to run next to me rather than walk at my pace, but even that effort flagged in the end.

There was nothing to be done. I was going to have to tough this out. Make it through the next however many hours it was going to take me to get across the finish line. I hoped that the Significant Other was having a good run. He had his sights set on a 4:15. He had trained well and was running better than ever before. He had this thing in the bag.

As it turns out, he didn’t either. The course, marketed as ‘fast and flat’ wasn’t really that fast or that flat. There were no hills to speak of, but there was a slight gradient for most of the way. You wouldn’t notice it at first. The road looked flat but then you would realize that your legs were feeling too fatigued for a flat road, and then you would notice the sneaky little gradient.

But I finished. I didn’t bail. I didn’t get fetched by Firstborn Daughter. I didn’t get swept. I finished. I longed for my old shoes. I fantasied about them. All I wanted were my old shoes. I ate all sorts of stuff held out by kind supporters along the way, hoping that by eating I could dig up some energy, find some power. But, really, eating just gave me something to think about, something to take my mind off my aching legs, the endless road, the dreadfully embarrassing time that I was going to be logging. I think I gained about five kilos munching on all the chips and chocolates held out to me by enthusiastic, cheering, kind, wonderful, absolutely lovely people whom I just absolutely loved more than anyone in the world ever.

Just near the 38 km mark a woman asked me how far I had run. I pointed to the sign up ahead. ’38 km,’ I said. ‘Another 4,2 to go!’ She wished me well and then … honestly, was this necessary, I asked myself … she started running along the pavement. She obviously needed to get somewhere in a hurry; it wasn’t as if she was trying to keep up with me. But she was keeping up with me! Carrying some extra weight, a jacket, her handbag and some other bags, dressed in long black pants, a long-sleeved shirt and some kind of kitten-heeled, slip-on, strappy sandals that click-clacked on the pavement as she ran, she managed to stay level with me! I wanted to ask her to please stop doing that! Maybe to just go away. But that would have been rude and so I didn’t and I did eventually outrun her. Or maybe she just stopped running.

And then, up ahead, were two shining, smiling angels, waving their arms and cheering! I must be home or in heaven – definitely somewhere good!

‘Whoo!’ shouted my Whoo Girl. ‘Go Mom!’ My daughters were there to help me make it through the last few kays. Desperately my eyes scanned across them to see what they were carrying … no, neither of them had brought my old shoes. My magic shoes that would just turn the whole day around. They ran along with me, behind the barrier, cheering me on, telling me not to give up. I usually get a second wind in the last stretch. I usually, somehow, manage to pick up the pace and run all the way. Not today. Today was walk, walk, walk, run, walk, walk, say fuck, fuck, walk, run …

Just before the 40 km mark another wonderful, gorgeous, absolutely adorable woman cheered me on and told me that, wow, I still looked so beautiful and I was going to make it.

All I had to do was finish. Just finish. At least before dark. The clock was ticking. I was nearing the six-hour mark. And I couldn’t be asked to be bothered.

I rounded a corner and saw my coach strolling home. Everyone else had finished. All had had a great day. All had conquered. Make way for the world’s biggest loser.

‘Awesome,’ he called. No. It was not awesome. It was humiliating. I was mortified. I wanted to bury myself somewhere.

It made it to the stadium entrance, a tree-lined oasis a few hundred metres from the finish line, just as the announcer was urging us to put in a last effort. ‘If you can hear my voice, you have one minute to go for a sub-six hour, so come on …’ I had to at least make a sub-six! If I didn’t, there were people who could see me not do it. I tried to run. You can’t walk into the stadium! You can’t walk the 0,2 km of a 42,2 km race! I picked up the pace, tried to convince a sweaty and exhausted walker shuffling in to run with me. She shook her head, mustered a tiny smile, didn’t lift her red face to look up. I left her, rounded the corner and saw the finish line, the marshals and the clock up ahead. The spectators on either side were in soft focus. They seemed far away, surreal. They were waving their arms, calling out my name, shouting to me to ‘Come on! Come on!’ They really wanted me to do this. The announcer was counting down … I kept my eyes on the red numbers. They kept moving, ticking over, mercilessly ticking over too fast … and then I was over. Over the finish line with seconds to spare.

My word. It was such a massive, massive effort to do such a shocking time. I had walked the New York Marathon in six hours – walked it!

As I made it across the finish line and I slowed down to a stroll, my head started to spin. I made my way to the barrier, putting my hand out to steady myself. And then I saw the little cart being driven in my direction. Strapped to the cart was a stretcher. I stared, wide-eyed and open-mouthed … I was convinced the fellow was fetching me. I clearly looked as bad as I felt. I was ready to drop but there was no way I being wheeled off on a stretcher. I pulled myself together. He drove past me. In a daze I walked down the chute to the exit. Collected my medal. I felt no sense of pride or achievement in receiving the little bronze disk in its ziplock bag. Just utter disappointment. And dizziness. Black spots whirled before my eyes. My kids were there, smiling, laughing, saying ‘Well done!’

But it didn’t feel well done. I wasn’t even pleased that it was over.

I had failed miserably in the goal I had set myself.

I officially hold the slowest running (not walking) marathon time in the family.

But there is nothing left to do now but rest for a few days and then get back out there, train some more, get the miles in my tired legs, sign up for another marathon and run the damn thing in under five hours. Suck up. Get over it.

Whatever the pain and disappointment, there was a medal at the end. And I have a story to tell.

Whatever the pain and disappointment, there was a medal at the end. And I have a story to tell.

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2 thoughts on “The Sanlam Cape Town Marathon … oh, the utter humiliation …

  1. Sounds not much fun was had that day…
    But running races is a learning experience, always will be.
    “Never try something new” is something easily forgotten until it bites you in the a$$ hard, so take this as a learning experience, nurture those hurt muscles, know you trained a lot and choose new marathon in the near future…

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