The Two Oceans Marathon was already a week ago.. Every time I think I’m getting the hang of this run/travel/writing thing, I find myself 5 days behind. It’s partly because I’m trying to do too much all the time and partly because when life is at it’s best, it flies by faster…

I’m going to write a few things about what happened just before the race and during too. What happened after was a few days of bliss in South Africa and maybe that can wait for the book, along with so many other details from this trip.

In the days leading up to the Two Oceans, we stayed with Vickie Francis. Vickie is my running buddy Chip’s aunty. I met her briefly at Comrades last year, now I have had the honour of staying in her home in Cape Town. She was also preparing for the race, looking to complete her 10th Two Oceans, which is an extraordinary effort for anyone. She claimed that this would be her last, but with the friends she has around her, I honestly wonder if that’s true…

Arriving in Cape Town for me, is as close to going home as I think I’ll get on this trip. CT is one of the prettiest cities in the world, not simply for its graceful looks, but as much for its character and the personality of its wonderfully diverse people. The weather was 23C when we arrived, and it was the first time I’d seen Table Mountain without its cloth – the wispy cloud that often envelopes the top. It still felt like Summer, even though the season was well past due to leave. I’d been travelling for 30 hours to get there and a run through the streets was the first thing I did, to shake myself back into life. It was lovely.

That night, Vickie got home and we met with her partner Joe. He’s a cardiologist and a helluva runner. He was aiming for his 15th Two Oceans (I’m pretty sure I have that right). He’d also run some 16 Comrades (89.3km run), planning to do number 17 that same year.

We chatted and listened to their stories of the race, along with a number of other fantastic yarns they had about all the other spectacular races they’d done around the country. When you listen to them both chat about the extraordinary feats they had achieved in past months and years, you’d be forgiven for mistaking them for career ultra runners. But it just seems that way in South Africa. Everyone runs ultra marathons and huge trail runs. It’s just part of the culture. I’m intensely jealous of their courage and discipline to put those kinds of kms together on such a regular basis. It makes me want to move to South Africa to have some of that ability rub off.

That’s one of the many reasons I’d like to live in South Africa for 6 months. The attitude there is absolutely amazing. It’s like everyone is on happy pills all the time, being friendly to each other and strangers, excited about the upcoming Soccer World Cup. If people catch your accent, they often say, “Welcome to Cape Town, enjoy your stay!” And it’s heartfelt! Maybe it’s because of the terrible reputation the country had with its apartheid laws, many years ago, but you can sense that as the transition to a culture of equality continues, people want you to know that this is a safe and happy place.

And it truly is… They still have a lot of problems, but they sure are working them out. You also still need to remain on your guard out when you’re driving at night or walking about, but I’ve felt the same way in London, I wouldn’t call the place particularly unsafe.

I got up early the morning after arriving and went for a mid-dawn run with Joe. He brought his border collie and we ran through the streets of Bishopscourt and higher up, towards Kirstenbosch. As we ran, he told me stories about heading off to Antartica for a season while at Uni, and ditching school to travel around the world as well. He’d led a very rich life and I hope one day my own stories will stack up. As we ran along one road, edging up a hill toward the back of Table Mountain, Joe motioned to his right and said, “that’s where Wilbur Smith lives.” Ha! Awesome, it was like a Hollywood tour. I pointed up and said “Mate, I’m just happy to be under the Southern Cross again.” Even in the waning darkness, the cross and its pointers were beacons in the night.

The next day, Easter Friday, we went and picked up our numbers. The Expo was a hive of activity and I enjoyed being amongst it. We even went down and helped Vickie and her lovely daughter Camilla as they volunteered at the International Run, which ran for 5kms through the city, to allow the touring participants to see a little of the city. We bumped into Abby and her friend Paula there. They were from the Wimbledon Windmilers club and I’d chatted to Abby briefly on the plane coming into Cape Town. It was cool to see them and Abby was pumped for the big one coming up.

Vickie and Joe had been in touch with their contacts and organised an interview with the Weekend Argus, a big paper in the Western Cape. I chatted to the girl and tried to talk about why I was doing all of this. Camilla had earlier asked me if I got sick of answering the same questions, but I told her it was quite refreshing as I was able to see it from their perspective, which often reminded me how fantastic this journey really is.

It sounds a little strange, but I’m not sure that my answers are always the same. To be honest, there are a hundred reasons why I’m doing this and I usually talk about the ones that the person I’m chatting to would most identify with. It most always comes back to the reasons that keep me motivated though, which is to, firstly, challenge all my beliefs and, secondly, to finally do something really good in the world – ie. raise money and awareness for UNICEF and children in need.

Later on, I wanted to do some more exercise. Vickie scolded me for wanting to go for a run or swim, asking me “if I knew I had a big race the following day??” I said I understood, but I needed to keep moving my body. I was anxious about the race and wanted to use up some nervous energy. It was quite fun to be mothered though! Her friend Deana, a wonderfully giving woman, took me down to Newlands pool. It was a local outdoor pool and when I went inside, I started laughing immediately. There was hardly anyone using the facilities, except for a big family of ducks swimming about in the middle! I went over to the life-guard and asked him what the deal was. He said they would move for me as I swam laps.. I asked if there was any chlorine in the pool and he grinned, assuring me it was fine.

I do love ducks, so I didn’t let it worry me too much. I swam for an hour and enjoyed being in such a beautiful climate, with the hills looming over the pool. I walked home after and there was a lot of excitement as pasta was being prepared for a pre-race feast. Deana stole Daz and I away and we drove down to Hout’s Bay and Chapmans Peak to watch the sunset. It was breathtaking… The reds and oranges became vastly deeper as the shadows drew across the peaks at the base of Africa, fusing to the horizon and melting into the edge of the world..

We had a great home cooked spaghetti bolognaise, with Vickie, Deana, Joe, Camilla and her mate Kempe. Both Camilla and Kempe were running the half.  They’re both really fun girls, who shared my passion for a good balance of partying and staying fit! There was a bit of chatter about strategy, but mostly you could just feel that familiar shared buzz… part fear and anxiety, part mouth watering anticipation. I was truly happy to be sharing the feelings with someone, rather than just being holed up in a hostel waiting for the inevitable.

We were all up early. 5am wake up call to get to the marathon start. We were to kick off at 6:25am. I like getting going early. I was sure it was going to get hot, so I wanted to be able to run cool for as long as possible. My stomach felt funny, but I just tipped it as nerves. Bundling into the car, we headed to Joe’s to pick him up. Already there were people all over the streets. Joe had even started walking down when we got to him. He was ready for action, you could tell.

In the car, I started to feel worse. We got near the start and I found a toilet. Yeah… I was in trouble. Ok. Nevermind. Here now.

Getting down to the crowd was when it got good. It took me straight back to the Comrades Marathon. I looked out for people that I knew, but everyone seemed separated and it looked like I’d kick off alone. The excitement was palpable. People were chattering in Swahili, Africaans, English and a variety of other languages. The South Africans are a pretty verbose people, so there was quite a bit of back slapping and loud welcomes too. So many of these runners come every year to participate in this wonderfully organised event and together they readied themselves for another fierce battle with their old foe – the long road and the mountains. I loved the camaraderie. It made you feel part of something much bigger than your own run.

I tried to be excited too, but I was already worried. 56km is a long way to run, so you need to have your mental game right before you tackle such an event. Mine was already wavering… I didn’t have the same level of engagement with the people around me. I wanted to get going. I smiled at the people encouraging each other, but it felt pretty hollow. This was not going to be a fun race for me.

The South African national anthem rang out. Many people started to sing around me, some just hummed. A fine misty rain was falling as we stood under street lamps, waiting for the sun to rise and the fun to begin. It was a beautiful thing to be a part of. The anthem finished and Chariots of Fire began.

The gun went off and we trundled through the streets into the dawn. Heading toward the beaches of Muizenberg, the road was lined with supporters. The great thing about wearing an orange number is that it shows that you’re an International runner. The locals have all been told to welcome the internationals, but I believe everyone truly encourages this welcome from the heart. South Africans are very hospitable and I personally rate Capetonians as the most hospitable people I have ever met.

Your name is also printed in large font on you bib, which is an even greater reason for participants and supporters to engage with you. Every couple of kms you’d get a:

“Hey Tristan, how’s it?!”

“You’re looking good Tristan!”

“Hey Boethe, whereabouts are you from?”

Sharon and Christina were some of the first to talk to me. Sharon asked if I wanted my picture taken, as often happens when I’m filming myself on the run. I’m glad they did, because I needed to focus on something other than my stomach cramps. They’re runners from a big club in Johannesburg. They were stoked that I came from Melbourne, as they worked for the Aussie juice bar company, Boost Juice. They’d trained in Melbourne and loved the city. We chatted and I pointed out what I was doing. They were pumped for me! It was cool to get a buzz from talking with them. They’d both done the run before and even a Comrades or two between them! Seems everyone is an ultra runner in South Africa.

Actually, the club thing is pretty interesting and probably the cause of such a strong running presence in South Africa. Joe was telling me that most of the big events required you to be part of a running club to participate. He said it forced runners to have more of the right training, but also promoted the clubs, which inevitably created and supported these big events. I’d never heard of that before, but it made a lot of sense. It was a good symbiosis of clubs and events. And you always run better and enjoy it more when you’re part of a club I think. It’s great motivation to meet up with mates for a run.

As I left them, the mountains near Muizenberg rose up in front of us. The town is squeezed in between the lower mountain range and the beach. It’s absolutely beautiful looking both ways. The sun was creeping above the buildings to our left and morning began to heat up. It was pretty deceptive actually, because it had been a brisk morning with rain, but now the heat was evaporating the early shower, making it humid.

I chatted to a number of other runners briefly. They asked where I was from and told me about their families in Australia. A lot of white South Africans moved to Perth and beyond in the transition from apartheid. It wasn’t because they resented the change, just that things got pretty ugly for a while there. I remember living in the UK in ‘98-99 and meeting a lot of SAFAs who were trying to move away permanently to escape an uncertain and potentially unsafe future. How things had changed!? Now this was a place that I’d happily move to and raise a family. There were still problems, but the country had strengthened in its mission to become an equal and united nation, with the upcoming Football World Cup galvanising those efforts to prove their progress on a world stage.

As I struggled again, passing through Fish Hoek and the halfway mark, I was buoyed by the crowds. We’d just passed the turn off to Cape Point (the base of The Cape of Good Hope) and were now progressing over to the Western side of the cape – essentially passing from the Indian Ocean side to the Atlantic Ocean. It’s not entirely true that we’re running on the Indian Ocean at any stage, as the magic line is further South East at Cape Agulhas. But the idea is as inspiring as the scenery, so I think it’s the perfect name for this marathon.

I began to speak to Juli. She was a very strong runner, who ran up next to me for a chat. She said that everyone had been told to be nice to the Internationals, but she was also a genuinely a friendly person. She’d also nailed this run in the past and smashed a Comrades too. She was training for round 2 at Comrades 2010 and has since asked me to come join in! If only I could return to participate in that glorious race. She was not from Cape Town originally, but had embraced the culture there, even taking up surfing. She was great company.

From there I moved over to chat to Hansie. I always loved that name, as my brother and I would always use it when we impersonated Germans. Hansie was a local guy though and proudly wore the yellow bib of a runner chasing his 10th Two Oceans medallion. We chatted and he said he was due for a walking break, which I must say was very welcome at that point.

We’d only walked a few meters when we saw Deana and Dazzler on the side of the road! They were at about 27kms, just before the hills began. I was happy to see them and Daz was decked out in a South African montage, with flag, mask and Nelson Mandela t-shirt. I said hi and moved on to see Deana. She asked how I was and I replied that I wasn’t feeling too good.

“Nonsense!”, she said. “You’re feeling great and going well. You can run all the way and you’re going to get a great time!”

Ha! Ok… It wasn’t the hug I was expecting, but it was probably more of what I needed. I stepped back into the flow of runners and faced the facts. This run was gonna end one of two ways – finished or unconscious. Time to switch on and get through this.

We hit the first hills. And boy, were they doozies! Slow steep inclines that led up along the cliffs above Nord Hoek beach. I was not all that committed, so I just kept running and walking for about 1km. Then, slowly as I crept higher, the view of Nord Hoek beach came into sight. It was simply breathtaking. Even better, it was paintaking! This is what I was here for, the most gorgeous views I’d ever taken in on a run. There were surfers on the waves and horses trotting along the beach. I forgot my stomach, pulled out my camera and started filming – “Can you see what I see?? This is where I’m running today… unbelievable!”

The road curved around and headed down again, but it wasn’t long before you could see the stream of runners ahead climbing again. It was tough stuff, but every time I felt tired, I just looked out to my left…. Just…. Just stunning..

I wish I could show you with my words. I can only say that my camera, as good as it is for a little shooter, was no match for this display of environmental wonder. You’ll just have to head over and be a part of it yourself.

I chatted to a couple more runners. Ryan was a top fella, who’d injured himself training for this run and the upcoming Comrades. For an injured guy, he looked pretty damn unstoppable. We chatted and kept each other’s spirits up, even if only briefly.

The music was blaring and the kids were dancing at all of the drinks stops. As we crested Chapman’s Peak, the crowd lining the road were going crazy. I welcomed it, needing to snap out of my lagging motivation. Not much further along, they were handing out ice-creams! Haha. I wish I could have stomached one.

But as I started to head down toward Hout’s Bay, I felt better. The first big challenge had been thrown at me and I’d succeeded in getting over the top. Clouds had whipped up over the mountains and a light rain was coming down the side of the cliffs. I smiled as I looked up. I was cooling down and getting through it. I hit another toilet and though I didn’t necessarily feel less sick, I knew I’d be able to hold out.

I made it to the marathon mark. At 42kms I was wishing it was just a regular distance race. I coulda handled that nicely. I’d swung back a bit, trying to take on too many Powerades to keep my salts up. I’d never stopped at so many drink stations in all my life. I started to gag and throw up a little. It was mostly just liquid, so probably excessive hydration. It made me dizzy for a few minutes though and I slowed to a trot.

We passed a large township and the people out the front were giving great support. The kids can’t have known what was going on, but they jumped about cheering anyway. It was a race for everyone. Not long after, the hills began again. This was the road up to Constantia.

Signs began to appear on the trees by the road. Old Mutual was some sort of bank and long time sponsor of the race. They put placards up with messages like:

“Run Forrest Run”

“Pain is temporary, Glory is forever!”

They made me laugh, but weren’t particularly helpful. Haha.

This last hill was the long slog. With only about 10kms to go, it slowed most people down to a walk. I, on the other hand, began to pick up speed. I still had to walk a little here and there, but I wasn’t completely knocked out. I knew somewhere, not too far ahead of me, Joe would be running with his son, James. I wanted to run with someone I knew for a while, so I booted on a bit to see if I could catch up. I’d resigned myself to the fact that I would be closer to 5:30 hours than my original 5 hour target.

I passed more and more runners. People were spent, some even drifting off to the side of the road, stretch weary limbs. I plowed on and finally saw the top of the hill. I promised myself I would stop till I was over the top.. Little did I know that this was the turning point for me. Once I’d filled that promise not to stop, I didn’t want to stop again. I kept firing along, picking up speed on the downhill.

I was waiting for the “F’Its” to come. They were 3 shorter hills, that had been named F1, F2 and F3. The locals had dubbed them the F*ck Its.  I knew I hadn’t hit them, but we were descending rapidly and I was worried I’d burn out before I hit them.

Then they popped up. One by one, I hit the base of a new rise and leaned into them, thrusting my legs down to push my body up the hill. I passed more runners again, which added to my motivation. I thought about my amazing friends back home. Cameron Blair is one of my oldest and dearest buddies. On Wednesday I’d missed his wedding to the ridiculously beautiful Katie (now Katie Blair!). I hated missing such special events in my friend’s lives. I wished them well and knew they’d be supporting me back home. This race was for them. And for their awesome little boy Seth, of course!

As I crested the last one, I began to recognise where I was. I was next to Kirstenbosch park, where Joe had taken me running a few mornings back. I was on my way home. Gotta keep pushing. The road was taking us further and further down the hill.

We turned onto the M3. This was the road I’d trained on the night I’d arrived. I knew what was ahead. Keep going, keep pushing.

I talked to a couple more runners. An Indian guy was running next to me, encouraging me along. We came to the final turn and the 55km marker. As I ran around the curve in the road, my heart began to sink. What looked like a mountain rose up in front of me. It was no more than a 25 degree incline, but it stopped me. I slowed to a walk and pulled out my camera. I was pretty stuffed, but still under 5:30. I took a last video.

Then I was off again. I ran harder. I got up the ramp and started to descend for the last time, entering the oval area in front of the University. Crowds of supporters pushed up against the fences, cheering their hearts out. I was so stoked to be finished. I pumped my arms as I crossed the line. 5:29.00 was the official time.

I saw Joe and his son James, almost immediately. They’d finished just ahead of me. I must have been close to catching them half a dozen times. They’d run the whole way together. I can’t imagine what an amazing experience that must be to run something as spectacular as the Two Oceans with your son. One day, eh? I hope my boy likes running too.

Daz was there too. He dragged me off to the massage tent and I got a little work done. It helped a bit. I’d need that ice bath again. From there we went looking for the International tent. When we found it, we found Paula and Abby, with their Windmiler friends, Mike and Judes. Mike and Abby had kicked off and ran quite a lot of the event together. They’d had their own battles in the back half of the race, and had ended only 5 minutes apart! To his dismay, Mikey had been robbed on the line, finishing in 5:00.01! You get a special medal under 5, so it was a bittersweet finish. But he was a typical Aussie and very upbeat about it all. The event was amazing, no matter how you finished.

We went outside and watched some of the other finishers ending their torment. I was lucky enough to see Vickie pass by, floating along, looking absolutely radiant as she completed her 10th. She said her parents were right on the finish line when she got there and her mother burst into tears as she made it through her challenge. It must be quite worrying to see your children enter these events, no matter how old you are. Anything could happen to them over that kind of distance. Well done Vickie! Bring on Comrades!

While standing there, I was approached by a lovely woman, who introduced herself as Maria. She was an expat Aussie, living in Singapore with her husband Michael. A friend of hers from Oz had sent her the link to my site and she’d  been following for a little while. They were a wonderful couple, running marathons all over the world. I was so happy to meet them and we took a photo so they could send it back to the friend. They offered me a place to stay in Singapore, if I ever made it that way. So amazing, I really loved it.

Deana came to take us home and on the way out, Becky and Jo stopped me. They had a similar story, having heard about me when we were in Dubai. They’d been running behind me for a while, but hadn’t wanted to disturb me in my run! Haha. They were great English girls and we met up for a couple of drinks a few nights later.

I left on an absolute high. The story was getting out there! My body was a wreck, but I’d experienced one of the greatest races of my life. And only 15 in to my tour! So many more adventures to come. So much more to see.

What a wonderful year…

Paris already complete. Another fantastic experience worth a post. I’ll have it up by Sunday night…because on Monday… the first of the Big 5… Boston…


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You’re all Champions and you know it!