Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Sani Stagger 2014

It is so great to have a wife who whenever I suggest something says yes! To celebrate our anniversary we normally do something different like Kaapsehoop Marathon in 2011 when we took our Moms to a cute little cottage ,left them there  for the day as a we sauntered  down to Nelspruit to qualify for Two Oceans 2012. A race we never did because we went to Nepal instead.

Sani Pass is a beautiful drive which we did as a tour on our first anniversary when we stayed at Sani Pass Hotel and on our own for our 10th when we stayed at Fairways. So logic said we needed to do the Sani Stagger Marathon for our 20th!!! We decided to try and get Fairways and if that Timeshare came through we would try and get into the race. Well the Timeshare came through with a beautiful Chalet on the 14th Fairway looking at the Rhino- a 3030m peak. The day entries opened I was online and could not get onto the site for about 15 minutes.Eventually I got entered only to be thrown out again when I tried to get Liz in. The race has 230 places for the 21 which is just the down part of the race and 500 for the marathon, eventually I got Liz in as well, numbers 13 and 24!! Previous winners get the low numbers so we must have been near the front..  Later I heard the 21 sold out on day 2 but the marathon only got to 407 entries.

How do you train for a marathon that gains 1500m of elevation in 21ks only to turn around and go back down? I had visions of doing specific hill training but nothing materialized, we did a few fast 21s as well as a hardish SABS 42 where I did a good first half but struggled for pace on the second lap and Liz struggled with nausea and puking. This was 6 weeks before Sani so it had to help. 2 weeks before we set off to do a 25-30k route from home only to be caught in a major storm at 16ks where we were at our furthest from home. Liz and Shane got cold and managed to get a lift home, determined Dave however completed his walk, I had never actually trained in the rain and actually quite enjoyed it. Needless to say Liz and Shane got colds! We would normally have done the 32k tough one the week before Sani but went to the Natal Midlands to celebrate Nikkis 50th- normally stay with Nikki and Myles before Comrades.We managed to do a 20k on the Saturday but Liz was still not feeling good and on Sunday it rained before we could set off on a training wun.  Liz went to the doctor on Monday but managed to get better without taking antibiotics... that was a relief for me....
Liz needed some new running shoes and the place I go to had some trail shoes on real special, so I got her some. Seeing the previous rain and forecast of more we expected wet conditions on Sani. Her shoes seemed pretty good she decided to use them for Sani, having walked in some mud in the Midlands I decided to get some for myself, being US14 I unfortunately do not get sale shoes. I managed 20ks in the shoes before the race. The forecast looked too good to be true, rain up to the race and once again after the race..Would it hold true?

We had a good drive down, about 7 hours to Underberg to get our race packs, then on to Fairways, as we arrived it started raining, managed to unpack without too much getting wet! What an amazing location! 
As we were getting up at 4AM we had a early dinner, broccoli and humus which is our usual and some ostrich sausage and Bok Choi with Sweet potatoes. We had some biltong and dry wors on the way down so guess we had enough protein. It rained throughout Friday night... we both decided to wear our first ascent base layers under our running vests. This was a good idea as it kept us warm, and prevented sun burn... It rained on our way to the start.. As we parked on a flat field of mud I seriously hoped to be able to get out when done.... The rain stopped, we still could not see the mountain for mist.

One thing I really like about small races is you get to cross the start line just after the gun. We met the one other Midrand Striders member- Peter Bosch en route to the start, he was number 11, also very eager to do this race. Every race needs a plan no matter how faulty it may be..

I like splitting up any race into segments, normally marathons are 7/14 k segments , I guessed that would not work here so decided on
16ks in 1:55  - the so called flat section
next 10ks in 1:55  - the really steep up and down
and final 16ks in 1:55 the so called flat section
This would give me 5:45 which I though would be an excellent time. So what for Liz, I thought she should be roughly 20 minutes quicker per section. 
Well the so called flat section on most races in Gauteng would rate a 4 out of 5. I guess I missed a trick here. A problem with all the rain was that any section of the dirt road that was flat was either mud or a pool of water--- Liz and I were most grateful for our trail shoes!!

I was 2:11 to 16 ks and started worrying about the 3:45 cut off at the top. Not knowing how long the up would take I did no really have an idea of a good turn around time.. At least there was no mud after about 10ks and as the sun came out it got hotter. Gradually the mist at the top of the escarpment lifted and we could see most of the road to the top.. Being as determined as I am I started pushing the pace a bit, at the 14k mark I heard the lead runners had summitted , at about 16 they came past me.. Amazing strong runners, most of whom are top 20 in Comrades quality athletes. The 21 starts 2:30 after we do so we see them coming down en-mass. I guessed that Liz would be coming down with the bark markers of the 21 and did not want to miss her. She had taken biltong, dates and preserved ginger to try and combat her nausea, I hoped it worked! I just munched dates on the way up, they are easy to digest and full of nutrients. I  carried an energy bar which I was to share with her. I was in my last k when I saw Peter come hurtling down followed closely by Liz. She was looking good and feeling ok, did not want the energy bar, she made the top in 3:10 and I made it in 3:20, not a bad time I guess , The top looked pretty innocuous, almost a disappointment. The last 3ks to the top took 41 minutes. Not bad under the circumstances.

 Turn around , yes we are in the clouds!!

  now to get down... This was the view at about the 22k mark on the way back down.

How fast can one go back down? Boy its steep, Each time your foot lands its like 30cm below your other foot. You feel like you are hurtling down  passing all those who were with you in your own struggle up, recognising faces, trying to encourage some. Gradually realising that some would miss the cutoff.. Getting in to the realisation that its down hill now... also realising how much the  going up took out of the body. At 24ks I crossed a stream and stood on stone that rolled, I twisted my left ankle did not feel to good for a step or two then on we went. At 25ks I met up with a runner doing his 3rd race from Estcourt, he wanted to do 6:15 I said I wanted to 5:50! At the 26k mark I was on 3:46 so actually faster than my estimate of 3:50, just to keep it up.  At 27ks a car was coming down behind me and I need to move to the right, the road is very stony and as I changed lanes I stood on a stone and twisted my right ankle, same again pain did not last long so determined too concentrate more, slow down a bit and make sure I finished. Believe me any uphill on the down was hard.. I kept on trying to guess my finish time , my GPS said the course was a bit long so I had to build that into the equation as well.. At 38ks I knew I had to go sub 7:30 per k to break 6 hours, every k marker I achieved my goal. The last km measured 1.2km ( a benefit of an out an back race) I knew I was tight. I made it in 5:59:59 seconds on my watch, official time of 5:59:52 in position 194 of 407 starters. 
Job Done...
Liz and Peter finished in 5:34, if Liz had done her 4:45 that seemed like a good plan at the time she would have been 7th lady overall, and not 7th Vet as she ended up. I guess it is a toughie!!

The rest of Saturday I watched Arsenal beat West Brom , I am not sure if my calf muscles were cheering for Arsenal but they were jumping around a bit. I also had a quad on my right leg that cramped along with pretty tight hamstrings.  We celebrated with a good bottle of Red , a 1999 Le Bonheur Prima that we found in the Midlands last week, and had our first good sleep for a few nights.            
No cramping during the night so that was good. We decided to do a cycle as recovery, my Glutes were both pretty sore and my hamstrings were not sure about the cycle, Liz's Quads were pounded on the downhill so she was tender. We managed a 16k cycle which was good on the legs, we also did an easy walk around  the golf course. On Monday we set off to Sani Spoors for more cycling, great 10ks along the river  with lots of bridges then a good 2km climb followed by our first experience on rocks, these got a bit much , then we discovered a bridge, later we discovered we should not have crossed the river, but we did, cycled round some mealie fields, then through a muddy field, and decided to abandon the trail and follow a dirt track back. A good 26ks on the bike and we were beginning to feel better. A cheese tasting followed by a walk on the golf course... 

Tuesday we did a mtb route at the resort  followed by an extended trip to a nearby resort. 22ks done. I then felt up to 9 holes on the golf course,  I guess Liz my lucky charm should always join me, Probably played as well as I have for a long time. Today we hiked to Sleeping beauty cave and feel that our legs are back to normal so tomorrow we will go up the Rhino, a beautiful peak that we always try and climb when we stay here..    see Comrades 2013 for our last ascent