September 2015, my first Sanlam Cape Town Marathon

Everything I did post Comrades 2015 was geared towards preparing for the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon, my goal being to run sub 2hrs 48mins. I have fond memories of racing in the Cape and I broke the sub 2hr 30min barrier in 1987 for the first time ever at the Peninsula Marathon many years ago and I have 16 Two Oceans Voyages with a PB of 3hr 21min achieved in 1994.

Conditions on race day were great, I arrived nice and early at the start in Greenpoint and did a few strides and drank some water in an area provided to the elite and international athletes. I felt a bit out of place with these speedsters but privileged to be in their company. I walked calmly across to the start with these athletes and took my place a few rows back from the front of the field so as not to get crushed in the very fast start that was sure to happen. I felt a little nervous as 2 weeks prior to the race I was forced to take a course of antibiotics for a bad case of sinusitis which made me feel a little “green”. I took a week off to recover from that and had a decent week training with 3 rest days  leading up to race day.

Shortly after the white pigeons were released and our National Anthem sung, we were sent on our way by the starters gun. I settled into sub 4 min pace from the first km and went through the first 5km in 19:19, I felt comfortable and when I took my second 5km split at 19:41 I realised, that if I stayed focused and concentrated all the way, my goal would be within my reach. I always run my own race and although I was aiming for a podium finish in my age group, I still stuck to my race strategy and only when I got news at 33km that I had moved into 3rd place did I put my head down and work hard to hold onto my position. At around 36km I was joined by 2 strong running VOB runners and I decided to stick with them to the end, keeping an eye on our pace to make sure we stayed under 4 min/km.

I looked up ahead at 41km and to my amazement a SANDF runner with the distinctive red “50” displayed on his vest appeared before me! I dropped my 2 VOB mates and took off after the new target and possibly 2nd position in my age category. I pushed hard for a few hundred meters and my fellow age grouper responded well, he passed me and I tucked in and made sure he didn’t open a gap. About 500 meters into the final km he faltered and I went past him and ran hard until I hit the track, glancing back to make sure he was not within striking distance.

I crossed the finish line in 2:46:54, a minute quicker than planned and my fastest marathon in a few years. A race official immediately came up to me and congratulated me on my 3rd place in my age category! The information I received at 33km was incorrect and I had in fact managed to snatch 3rd place at the death.

All round it was a great day and the organisers need to be congratulated on putting on a world class event, the expo and registration, refreshment stations and everything that makes a race like this a success was on the button!

I am going to do a relay event from Villiers to Pietermaritzburg in October to raise funds for St Vincents School for the deaf, please support me in this worthwhile cause, to find out how go to http://www.stvincentschool.org.za/ and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ELBextremechallenge

Take it easy, see you at the races …..

Rest, more rest, then some speed ….

So the month of June was a proper REST month, my highest weekly mileage of 60 km being 4 weeks after Comrades with my longest run being 15 km. Rest and recovery being so vital to enjoying your running during the second half of the year.

If you are struggling with your running and feeling “flat” or carrying a niggle that you took into or developed during  Comrades  2015, then the best advice I can offer is to back off and don’t force the issue. Many runners make the mistake of trying to run through injuries and more often than not the injury gets way worse than it would have been had a more conservative approach been taken, medical or specialist treatment combined with rest will always produce the best possible outcome.

Hopefully, you have all bounced back from Comrades feeling strong and excited about the goals you have set for yourself for the months that lay ahead. For the next few months us ultra-junkies need to get the bounce back in our stride, something that we tend to lose with the high mileage months that form part of our build up to running an 89km race! Speed work in the form of intervals, fartlek, time trials and strides should now feature regularly in our training with a sprinkling of hill sprints thrown in for good measure. Short & fast, not too steep or too long, 100 meters. The benefit of doing these short hill repeats is to recruit fast muscle twitch fibres which in turn improves our ability to race faster.

My goal for the remainder of 2015 is to race a few half marathons aiming to dip under 80 minutes before I tackle the Cape Town Marathon on 20 September where I would like to break 2 hours 48 minutes. So, I was pleasantly surprised to be selected to represent KZN at the SA Half Marathon Champs on the 25th July in Port Elizabeth. The 21.1 km event is the only distance that I hadn’t represented KZN in at SA Championship road running events, so I was understandably excited at the opportunity offered to me. June was low key as I mentioned, so I only had 3 weeks to try sharpen up a bit and aim for a decent time with stiff opposition in the Masters Category.

The trip down to PE was interesting to say the least. The cost to fly our team down was too expensive so we were driven down by bus, leaving at 18:30 on the Thursday evening with race day being on Saturday. Our anticipated time of arrival was meant to be Friday morning around 8 am. Unfortunately our bus experienced problems about 20 kms before King Williams Town. After limping along for an hour we ground to a halt only 5 kms further down the road. A 22 seater Sprinter arrived another hour later and we took off for PE, the driver seemingly trying to make up for lost time. I put my head between my knees and said a silent prayer that we would arrive safely in PE in one piece.

Rain was forecast for the weekend in PE, lots of rain with the prospect of snow in other high lying areas around the country. Our managers presented us with our race numbers and briefed us on the course details on Saturday evening, we all had rested well during the day so we were pretty much ready to go. It had rained quite a bit during the evening and when we got up at 5 am it was pouring and didn’t look like letting up. Team Manager Norrie Williamson had told us that we had to jog the 3 km to the start as part of our “warm-up”, that didn’t appeal to anyone, arriving at the start “wet & warm” only to be freezing cold waiting for the gun to fire. Miraculously the rain stopped suddenly and the race was run in near perfect conditions, only to resume after the event and flood PE properly.

The race was run up and down the beachfront so it was flat as a pancake and some good times were run, I managed 81:29 which was pretty close to what I managed at the Deloittes Half just before Comrades, the ultra probably still “in my legs” but more than happy with my time, the winning time for the 50+ age group was 75:16 and there was 7 athletes in front of me!

Plans for August include regular speed and hill work culminating with the Mandela Half Marathon at the end of the month, not a fast course but run in my own back yard and which provide a good indicator on how my preparation is coming along for the Cape Town Marathon.

Train smart and don’t forget to listen to your body for tell tale signs that you may be overdoing things, when in doubt, REST!

Comrades 2015, and going forward …..

Comrades 2015 will always be remembered as a “good one” for many reasons. As usual, the race organisers managed to stage a magnificent event, before, during and after. It must take a superhuman effort, pretty much like running from Durban to Pietermaritzburg and back again, and more often than not, these efforts are taken for granted and the CMA and their team of volunteers don’t get the recognition they deserve. Congratulations and all the very best for 2016, after 90 years you guys are certainly building on a strong foundation and keeping the Comrades Marathon and all its traditions not only the biggest, but the best Ultra Marathon in the world.

Personally, I went into the race confident that I had a good build up but nervous what the extra distance would do to my time. Strange as it may seem, I still feel that I have a couple of “good” Comrades left in me and that a 6:45 was on the cards even with the extra distance.

I had an early wake up alarm set for 3 am, surprisingly from a very deep sleep down in Durban. I tucked into a pre-race snack of toasted rye bread with a banana sliced up on top, washed down with a cup of coffee. I took my time getting into my race kit, ensuring that everything was fitting perfectly and that I had vaseline in all the right spots! My Adidas Super Nova Glide 7 being the most important item in my kit, and successfully tested over the Two Oceans route earlier in the year.

By 4:30 am I had finished sipping on 500 ml of 32Gi Endure and felt ready to head to the start. Julie dropped me near the start and I made my way to Durban City Hall. I had an elite seeding which allowed me to warm up in the city hall with all the race favourites and previous winners of Comrades. I felt pretty relaxed but excited that the big day had arrived at last and eager to things going.

The atmosphere was electric as anyone that has lined up for this race will testify, the singing of Shosholoza and the SA National Anthem has your goosebumps standing at attention, and then the gun is fired and we were on our way.

A good start means not being tripped and hitting your stop watch first time, so I guess I had a good start. I settled into a comfortable pace and concentrated hard on not getting too excited and carried away by the runners around me and going too fast. I saw Vladimir Kotov and Stuart McColl, two of the main contenders in the Masters category, early on in the race but also knowing that I always ran my own race and concentrated on my own strengths and that I had no control over their race, the athlete that ran to the best of their ability would win on the day.

I always break Comrades down into smaller “chunks”, 10 km being easier to digest at a time than the daunting prospect of 87.72 km. My times for each split were so close to being perfect and my time at various landmarks also just what I was looking for. I was running the uphills comfortably passing Kotov at Alverstone and felt strong going out of each of the “big climbs” heading towards Inchanga, keeping a close eye on my heart rate ensuring that I kept that under 145 bpm.

I went through Drummond in under 3:18 (position 268) which was almost the same as my time on the 2014 down run, wondering if I had gone out too quickly, it didn’t feel like I had but the second half would reveal if I had. I climbed Inchanga really well and it is now that some of the early pacesetters start crashing from an over enthusiastic start, the first marathon of this ultra is tough with so many hills to climb, but the second marathon is just as tough having already been softened up by the first one!

After descending Inchanga quite cautiously but at close to 4 mins/km I got the news from the side of the road that there was a Master 10 minutes ahead of me! I dug deep and really concentrated hard on the second half, all my 32Gi Accelerate drinks being where I expected them, a great seconding team making my job just a little bit easier. I ran 2 of my better 10 km splits on the second half, dipping just under 45 minutes.

I enjoy the crowd support on Comrades and especially arriving in Camperdown where my family are waiting with a drink and lots of encouragement. I felt incredibly well at this point and ran the nasty “hill with no name” out of Camperdown a lot better than I have in recent years, passing one Master at the base of this hill and another within the next 2 kms. I enjoyed the drink and support at Umlaas Road and kept a steady pace down to Lion Park and all the way to Little Pollys. I even managed to run up Polly Shortts, and was greeted by a song I had chosen and that Wayne Riddin played for me to push me to the finish line, “Freaks” by Timmy Trumpets.

This was home territory to me and I recognised many locals during the last 7 kms which helped me to push as hard as I could to the finish line. I finished in 6:39 and amazingly felt strong all the way. On my 27th voyage I had managed to finish 65th overall and 1st Master for the 3rd year in a row, beyond my wildest dreams and expectations.

A huge thank you to my family, seconds, friends and sponsors for the support again this year, I certainly couldn’t have done this without your help and support.

I hope all of you that took part in Comrades had the experience of a lifetime and that you are already thinking of Comrades 2016, if you would like to share your experience please get in touch, otherwise take a well earned break and concentrate on the shorter stuff for a while, work on your speed which tends to be a weakness of us ultra distance junkies!

Take care and happy running 🙂

The Final Countdown

Ideally, April should have been our “big month”. Big in the sense that most of us would have done a few long runs on the weekends, pushing our weekly and monthly mileage up to our highest for the year. My 4 weekend long runs were 56, 30, 52 and 40 km, giving me 513 km for the month and 1752 km for the year to date. The only race I put real effort into was Two Oceans, the remainder of the month was geared towards building up the kays with a sprinkling of quality thrown in.

On the 1st May I tested the results of my training efforts out on the Deloittes 21 km from Sibaya Casino into Durban. The hard work paid off and I felt really comfortable with my 81:21, picking up a top 20 finish overall and 1st Master. I had a 9 km “warm down” planned and jogged that in just under 40 minutes, a good day at the office and great confidence booster to kick the month off with.

We are now well into the taper phase and with only two weeks to go till our big day, all the hard work has been done and our thoughts now focus not so much on what we have done, but on what are we going to do for 2 weeks. There are quite a few rest days to enjoy at this stage and with the cutting back in mileage the legs should start feeling a bit of the bounce returning. Don’t get too excited and start turning every session into a time trial, but certainly have a couple of runs during the week where you increase the tempo, being very aware that this is not the point where you would like to deal with an unexpected injury.

Us runners tend to be very unsociable at this stage of the game, very wary that the flu bug is rampant at this time of the year, so lots of invitations get politely turned down!

All our “race gear” should have been tried and tested at this point, if you are unsure about anything, socks, shoes, cap, compression clothing, etc. do it this weekend and then store it all away for the 31st, knowing that it all works and there are no uncertainties that may pop up!

Enjoy the last two weeks, work out your strategy and pace chart and most importantly start preparing yourself mentally for the huge challenge that lays ahead.

Best of running luck, you know you have done the hard work, push your limits and may you achieve the run that you deserve as you tackle the ultimate human race!

March 2015, it’s a wrap ….

Well, March came and went, not very eventful but I was well aware that a steady March was on the cards with no racing, just a sprinkling of speedwork and a couple of 30km weekend runs. 489 km for March and the year to date total reaching 1,239 km. Turns out that was just what the doctor ordered, I was probably just as nervous as the next runner at the thought of tackling Ou Kaapse Weg and the alternative route with Chapmans Peak being closed for the 2015 Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon. The “profile pic” doing the rounds on Twitter and Facebook didn’t help matters either, quite scary.

The Two Oceans silver medal is regarded as one of the toughest out there, and I have had a couple of close shaves in recent years so I was taking nothing for granted.

We flew down to Cape Town, arriving at 11 am, had lunch and went to the expo to register. A brief visit to save the legs for the next day and an early supper at my sons flat. A simple meal of roast chicken and vegetables and 500 ml of 32Gi Endure which I had been hydrating with twice a day since Thursday morning. I woke up at 4 am, had a coffee, banana and a hot cross bun. At 5:30 am I had another 500 ml of Endure and we made the short drive across to the start.

When the fish horn sounded and the gun fired to get the race under way we were on our way. I settled into a pace close to 4 mins/km which I managed to maintain throughout the race, averaging 4:09 for the 56 km and improving on my 2014 time by almost 3 minutes, my time of 3:52:40 giving me 2nd Master and 84th overall.

I stuck to my favourite shoe for the race, the Adidas Supernova Glide 7, running in a brand new pair which I received on Thursday, walked in on Friday and raced in on Saturday. They were super responsive, comfortable and supportive especially on the tricky “cambered” sections on route. I ran on water only for the first 18 km then took a 32Gi Accelerate tab every 4 km thereafter. At 28 km I took a 32Gi G-Shot and proceeded to run up Ou Kaapse Weg really well, concentrating and working really hard with an eye on my Polar Heart Rate Monitor – I must have passed at least 30 runners going up and felt strong at the top. I went through the 42 km mark in 2:53 and did the last 14 km in a shade under one hour, another G-Shot at 46 km ensured a strong finish on the undulating home stretch!

We flew back home early on Sunday morning to enjoy a family Easter lunch and then headed off to Ballito on Monday for a recovery training week and some relaxation on the beach, sneaking in 105 km for the week.

April is going to be a crucial training month with no “racing” for me, the focus being increased mileage (mainly as a result of a long weekend run) and a bit of quality (speed and hills) – try to stay clear of “sick people” (flu), if it means being anti-social, some runners will do anything to have a injury/illness free April, so do what you got to do and all the very best with your training!

2015 Well on it’s way!

2014 is a distant memory and with two and a half months down in 2015 the tone has been set for my Comrades preparation.

The Meiklejohn family enjoyed a well deserved holiday doing a road trip to Cape Town, I managed to sneak a run in most days enjoying the change of scenery in Grahamstown, Port Elizabeth, Knysna, Rondebosch, including a couple of Parkruns to try keep the tempo up. The holiday was rounded off with a week in Ballito to recover from all the driving. I was pleasantly surprised to log 4,039 km’s for the 2014 year, no really big weeks, just consistent running.

I kicked off 2015 with the normal season opener, the Ronnie Davel 16km race, run through the streets of Hilton but predominately in the surrounding forests. My time of 66:44 was good enough to win the masters category and finish just outside the top 10 overall. More importantly my time was only 10 seconds slower than 2014.

I chose not to race again in January and finished the month on 405 km. In February I had a steady to hard effort at the NOSA Hillcrest 21km where I managed 84:45 and 2nd master. A week later I was off to East London for my 3rd appearance in the Discovery Surfers Marathon, a 17km race on beach sand, rocks, tar roads and a few river crossings to add to the fun! The wind was howling so much that the organizers cancelled the surf ski part of the event as a safety precaution, having lost a paddler in similar conditions a few weeks prior to the event. It was tough especially with the headwind but the party atmosphere more than made up for it afterwards.

With 345 km done in February and 750 km for the year to date, I felt I was sufficiently prepared to tackle the revived Durban City Marathon with 4 mins/km as my goal, given my lack of speedwork it was always going to be tough. Conditions were not ideal, a flat and humid course was a great test of character but I stuck to my plan and grafted a 2:48:48 out and was more than satisfied with my result, 1st Master and 38th overall.

My plan most years is to prepare for a hard marathon late February, then a steady Two Oceans, steady training in April with increased mileage and then a taper in May leading up to Comrades. The volume and intensity definitely not as intense as when I was running competitively, the emphasis now being on consistency and uninterrupted training.

Train sensibly over the next couple of months, listening out for tell tale signs of injury or illness, when in doubt back off rather than force the issue, a conservative approach will always produce a better result at Comrades especially if it means you avoid a serious injury or setback in your preparation.

Take care and happy running

October news

Well October has come and gone and I must admit it wasn’t great, a bit disappointing after a fairly consistent September. One thing I have always tried to do is “tick over”, so although October wasn’t great it won’t take much to get some form back. A hectic month at work, family commitments and a touch of sinusitis put the brakes on a bit but I never stopped running altogether. I will kick November off with the Save Orion 21km on the 9th and assess my condition after that, at this stage I am probably looking at racing a marathon in late February next year, followed by Two Oceans and then my Comrades build up. Any other races in between these will be geared towards my performance at these key events.

I have been enjoying running in my Adidas shoes for the past 2 years, the Super Nova Glide being my shoe of choice at Comrades 2013 and 2014. I am enjoying the Glide Boost at the moment and waiting for an arrival of the new Energy Boost ESM to “test drive”.

A great bit of advice for this time of the year is to stay active, don’t be too stressed about getting huge mileage in but rather work on sharpening up over the shorter distances, and take it easy at the Christmas parties.

Take it easy and train smarter not harder, before we know it we will be saying happy New Year and talking about Comrades 2015.