How not to run your qualifier
I recently ran what was supposed to be my qualifier for Comrades at Kaapsehoop in Mpumalanga. It was supposed to be pie and cake – afterall the route profile I had received beforehand showed that the race was all downhill and most (sensible) people had travelled to Nelspruit to qualify there rather than do the unthinkable and try to qualify at Soweto. Who does that!?
The day itself was great, it had rained the night before and the start of the race was fantastic and cool. A later learned that before the start, the deck at one of the restaurants where some runners had been registering and waiting in the morning collapsed leaving a few runners hurt. Fortunately, it seems most if not all were able to run. The race however did claim a victim. Someone whom I did not know, suffered a heart attack and died not far from the finish which is incredibly sad.
My first ten kilometres went by well but a little slower than I had wanted but only by 5minutes. At that point, I was of course still able to do mental arithmetic and wasn’t too worried because I knew I could make up those 5minutes and be at halfway on target. Or what I thought was my target. I had forgotten my pace charts on my desk at work but thought that I had more or less memorised where I needed to be at the major milestones (10km, 21km and finish) but as it turns out what I had memorised was itself off by 5minutes. One can see how this story is unfolding.
Thankfully, my footpod died at about 12km into the race, else this story would now be a horror story. I am embarrassed to say this but the thing had never been calibrated in over 4years (I don’t use it that often) – and after having calibrated it this week, manual in hand, I wonder if it was even ever properly calibrated in the first place. At about 15km into the race I realised that my pace was way off and feedback from my footpod had been as accurate as a politician in parliament. So for next 20km I set off with some intent and by the time there were 11km to go, I had an hour in which to make a sub 4:40 which would have been very acceptable and doable considering the route profile promised a nice freewheel into Nelspruit. Of course that was all a lie! The route had been changed to finish at the stadium and so the last 7 or so kilometres were like……the road to hell….complete with the temperature and scenery.
I picked up a ‘friend’ along the way which was a welcome relief having run nearly 30km all on my own. His exile stories were delightful and I soon forgot I was fighting cramping quads. But. I will shortly be compiling a rule book for long distance running, and a top rule will surely be: Do not make friends with people you have caught. People who catch you on the road, by all means, yes. But people you have caught, no! No matter how interesting they may be, if you catch someone that means that person is already struggling and running a slower pace than you. Leave them alone!
Okay, I don’t really mean this. My point is, I think it is important to stick to your pace plan, particularly if you are using a race to qualify and not just out for your LSD.
But what happened is that my friend really wasn’t strong enough at that point and in hindsight I don’t think he had set himself any targets for this race. Based on some of the things he said in the 8km we ran together I now also think he was one of the people who got injured when the deck collapsed and I don’t think his mind was on race by the time he’d even lined up for it. Of course at that point, you (well, me) would be ‘running poles’, running 3light poles and walking one but my dear friend could barely run one pole let alone 3 and with the surprisingly hilly last few km’s our (well, my) sub 4:40 very quickly slipped through our fingers and we were going to have to settle for a tight sub 5.
To our surprise, after running 2km past what we’d been told was the last water table (which was not the last water table), we found out there were another 3km to go. We assumed (another point for the rule book!) that the last water table had been the 3km to go mark and we thought we had 1more km to go – I mean we could see the stadium and we could hear the public address system. Did we freak out!!! The writing was on the wall when with 2km to go, I realised that we had ten minutes left – that’s 5minutes per kilometre!! Boy did I run my guts out. Clearly the people of Nelspruit are proud of their Soccer World Cup white elephant, oops I mean stadium, because, really was it necessary to make us run all the way round the bloody thing. I heard some people from a local running club say, ‘that lady is not going to make it’ and I hated them for it, but I appreciated the reality check and I was not going to go down like a wimp. In crazy degree heat and furnace like humidity, I ran those last two kilometres in 5:30min and suffered the torture of hearing the gun go off as I run down the tunnel into the stadium. That, is a feeling I do not wish on my worst enemy.
5:01:10 was the time on my watch and bless the organisers as they felt sorry enough for me (or pity) to give me a medal anyhow.
In many ways I am glad that things turned out this way because it taught me a lot of things about race strategy. I would much rather experience what I did when I did, rather than had it been at Comrades itself or Two Oceans. For one, I know I need to not only focus on my endurance but my speed and have started incorporating hills into my regime. They really aren’t bad at all.
Then of course there are small things like making sure you don’t have equipment failure if you rely on equipment to set your pacing.
As it turns out, the organisers adjusted the times and my official time has me scraping in under official cut-off. It does take off the pressure of qualifying for Comrades although I’d obviously like to improve my time for seeding purposes next year.
In all, this has all been a fun(ny) experience and I’m kinda glad if not amused it unfolded the way it did.