Two Oceans Ultra Marathon: Race Day, Navigating the final 56km of Your Jouney

The Startline: Ready Steady…Waiting to go already

20170406_001620-1The long wait in your starting pen can feel a bit like finally getting to the front of the rollercoaster queue, the reality of what lies ahead is sending a mass migration of butterflies through your stomach, but you know you have not come this far to turn back now. 

The  most important at this point is to expend as little physical and emotional energy as possible – here are some tips:

Keep warm and dry: The mornings are quite chilly in Cape Town now. Take along an old long sleeve top you don’t mind discarding forever (someone along the route will appreciate the lucky find) or you can go with the traditional black bag.

Sit down for as long as space in your pen allows.

Don’t think about the race too much. I like to just kind of blank out and enjoy the colorful crowd gathering around me.  Try to keep emotions neutral. Poker face!

Have a bottle of energy drink with you to sip on or a light snack like a banana or food bar. You want to keep the liver glycogen topped up.

0 to 10km: Time flies by, you should not

Watch your pace! With the atmosphere, fresh legs and downhills in the first 10k, it is very easy to be swept along at a pace way faster than your plan. But what if I am feeling good you ask? Of course you are feeling good, you have trained for 56km! But…still have 46 to go! Time in the bank now is double time in the morgue later.
Even if your first 2 or 3k are a bit slow due to congestion, don’t try to make up time, just settle into goal pace and continue as per plan.  

10km to 21.1km: Establishing a rhythm

At this stage the route is still fairly flat and the legs fresh so you need to remain aware of unwittingly going faster than planned. The hype and congestion are passed and this is the time to settle down into your race pace rhythm. It is also the time if you have not yet begun, to start refueling and re-hydrating at regular intervals (again as per plan!)

21.1km to 28km: This is where the tortoise beat the hare

This is the point where the first bit of impatience is likely to set in. It is a fairly fast stretch and also not the most exciting, so the temptation (if you are feeling strong which I hope you are!) is to start pushing here. Don’t! Just remember the tortoise and the hare. Enough said. 

This is also a critical stretch for checking on your fuelling and hydration. Remember your body can only absorb small amounts at a time, so once you hit empty, it is not a matter of just filling up again. 

28km to 33km: Slow and steady

You want to be reaching halfway at approximately half of goal time minus 5 – 8 minutes. The 2nd half is slower, but run the first half too fast and the second will be very very too much slower. 

This is the point where you reach your first big climb of the day. Keep in mind that it has a fake peak at top of Little Chappies and then then real climb only starts. Once you pass under the tunnel, you are near the real top.

Aim to maintain a constant steady effort (as opposed to pace) all the way up. Think steady marching rhythm. Keep your head up and eyes looking about 10m ahead of you, focusing on maintaining a tall posture with nice open chest and steady arm drive. 

33km to 38km: Approaching the real halfway

Congratulations! You have conquered the first climb! You can now actually appreciate the view as you relax down into Hout Bay. This is the next pace caution zone! Many runners have lost their legs here never to find them again! The pace will be a little faster than your average race pace, but should not be more than around 5-10s per k faster. Feel the effort. It should still feel controlled and relatively easy but not like you are braking (relax with gravity). If you start getting that racing snake feeling, SLOW DOWN!

38km to 42.2km: Keeping it together

I see Hout Bay as the real halfway as this is where, THE GRIND, starts. It is an uninspiring slightly uphill stretch to the marathon mark. Again, resist all temptation to push and get it over with. Self-control here is critical for a great climb up to Constantia nek.

Now is when the self talk starts. I always tell athletes, your brain must tell your body what it is going to do, not the other way around.  Immediately silence every voice that says you can’t do this, give an air punch and tell your body LETS GO! WE GONNA DO THIS!

The most important is not to dwell on the negative feelings, neither to try distract yourself. Focus inwards on your breathing, your posture, your arm carry, the way your feet are striking, listen for the rhythm until you are dancing again. 

42.2km to 46km: Onwards and Upwards

Shortly after the marathon mark the infamous climb up to Constantia Nek begins. While much shorter than Chapman’s peak, the climb comes much later in the race and is significantly steeper. This is the stretch where the front runners start getting ready to make their big final moves while the rest of us mere mortals dig deep to just keep moving forwards. And that is exactly what you need to do, just keep moving forwards. The famous phrase “ONWARDS AND UPWARDS” is your mantra for conquering the climb. And just like eating an elephant, take it one bend at a time. 

Enjoy the atmosphere at the top, it is wild! But don’t linger too long, the home stretch awaits.

46km to 50km (Kirstenbosch top gate): Momentum is your friend

Gather loads of positive vibes from the run through at the nek and make use of that and the few downhill dips on Rhodes drive to gather new momentum. 

The road is quite steeply banked in places, so if possible, run as close to the edge, where it is flatter, as you can.

50km to 53km (Home stretch on the M3)

You now have just more than a Park run to go! You can do this! For real! 

A lovely downhill stretch awaits. Although at this stage you might actually be wondering if uphill is not easier. Most important, you will have great crowds to urge you along. Use the energy and keep telling your body “LET’S GO!”

53km to THE FINISH

Many refer to this stretch as the toughest as it is a bit of an uphill, but don’t let that get you down, you are half a parkrun away from UCT, your finishers medal and an ice-cold (fill in beverage of choice here). Imagine your friends and family cheering you home, the announcer saying your name, the feeling of lying down on the cool grass, whatever positive thoughts you can conjure up in your sugar depleted semi zombie state. Oh yes, keep moving forwards!


You made it! Whether you did a PB or PW, you completed a journey that over 90% of the populus will never even start. Well well done it!

Till next year – ONWARDS AND UPWARDS!

Wishing you a joy filled run

Coach Kathleen