Thursday, June 30, 2016

Comrades Back-to-Back

Comrades is the World's Oldest Ultra Marathon.  2016 was the 91st running.

Comrades is also the World's Largest Ultra Marathon.  20,000 people attempting to run the 56 mile course in under 12 hours.

Last year I ran Comrades for the first time.  That race report is here, along with the history of the race and why it alternates between the 'Up' run from Durban to Pietermaritzburg, and the 'Down' run from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.  I won't repeat that here.

As I'd said in that last race report, this is probably the 'best' race I've run, and I truly believe it's one race that every runner should experience at least once.  Yes - it's a long bloody way for most of us to get to - but it's worth it.  Do it.  You won't regret it.

Don't take my word for it - this site of top global running races calls it 'The Race Every Runner Should Run' - with the following opinion.

A handful of races boast a singular cachet among runners. The Boston Marathon is one. So too is the Badwater Ultramarathon, the 135-mile rite of summer that starts and ends at the lowest and highest points in the continental U.S, respectively. Others on the list include Athens, New York City and the Western States 100.

But the Comrades Marathon, South Africa’s annual showcase of athletic endurance and national pride run between Durban and Pietermaritzburg, stands alone in both its accessibility for and enduring impact on the everyday runner.

Damned right.

Comrades offers a 'back-to-back' medal for running consecutive races, and I'd also heard that to 'truly run Comrades', you needed to run it in both directions.  I'd decided to run it pretty much as soon as I crossed the finish line last year.

2015 was an 'Up' run, so this year was to be a 'Down' run.  The name 'Down' run is misleading though.  There's an awful lot of 'Up' too.  5,500 feet of climbing to be precise, with 7,500 of descent to destroy your legs while you're at it, mostly towards the end.

Due to the logistics of the start-line and finish stadiums, the Down run is a little longer than the Up.  Perhaps a mile.  90K compared to 88K.

I'd seen this image before hand - it doesn't do justice to how hilly the course it.  Note, the scale on the right is in meters.

Durban is a large western-like city on the coast of the Indian Ocean.  Pietermaritzburg is a smaller, more provisional town in land.  I'd decided to stay in Durban so I'd be close to the finish, but this meant an early start and a 60 mile bus ride to the start on race morning.

A few days before the race, we did the 'route tour' as I'd done the previous year.  This is something that I'd HIGHLY recommend.  If, like me, you've predominantly run road marathons - seeing the course will give you pause.  Likely far hillier than any road race you've run.

This time on the tour we had Bruce Fordyce as our guide.  Bruce won the race 9 times and is a South Africa sports hero.  This a photo of us in Durban outside the cricket group where the race finishes.

As Bruce pointed out continuously through the day - there's a lot of 'Up' in the 'Down run'.  No shit.

In my first run in 2015 I'd been nervous about running that far.  My previous longest run had been 33 miles, so getting to the finish was a big part of the goal.  While my marathon time of under 3 hours suggested I might be able to get a 'Silver' medal awarded for running the 56 miles in under 7:30 hours, I'd held back a little.  I was happy to run under 9 hours to get the next medal - the 'Bill Rowan'.  Get to the finish in one piece.

This year there were no such reservations.  Silver was my stated goal.  I knew I was on the cusp, and knew that I had a shot - albeit probably a long one given my lack of ultra experience.  Still, I planned to go out and put myself in position for it, and hoped to hang on.

Race Day

Alarm went off at 1:50am.  ONE FIFTY AM !!!  I'd left Denver less than 5 days before, where this would have been 4:50pm on Saturday afternoon.  Talk about a confused body clock.

I tried to do my normal pre-race routine.  Some cereal, a cup of tea - hoping to relax and 'take care of business', but my body refused to cooperate.  "It's not morning yet you idiot"...

The buses to the start left at 3am, so reluctantly I packed up to go, hoping to make use of the 'facilities' at the start.  That concern was soon forgotten as I couldn't find my bus ticket that I'd bought at the expo.  No ticket could be purchased on the bus, and no matter how much I searched, I couldn't find it.

With the time now past 3am, and the last bus at 3:30am, there was nothing to do but get in the bus line and hope.  Fortunately I was able to plead my case with the lady letting people on the buses and I got on.  Not exactly the relaxed morning I was hoping for so far.  It was about to get worse.

Traffic into Pietermaritzburg was slow going and I'm pretty sure our bus driver missed the  'buses only' exit specially cordoned off by the police to get runners to the start quickly.  We sat in a traffic jam not moving as the clock ticked down and the line of traffic stretching into the distance was at a standstill.

The race starts at 5:30am, but at 5:15am they take down the barriers between the waves, so if you haven't reached your designated area by that point - you start at the back.  20,000 people in front of you.  Not the kind of start I was looking for with a time goal in mind.

The time was now 5am and according to the person in the seat in front checking google maps, we were still 2 KMs from the start and not moving.

I, along with a few others, made the decision that running to the start would be quicker.  What was an extra 2 Ks in a day of many more ?...  Let's call it a warm-up.  Running 8 min / miles, dodging between people, cars and buses, I just made it to the start area before 5:15am.  Many others were not as lucky.

No chance to visit the facilities though - and frankly with all the stress that morning - it wouldn't have mattered anyway.  Just get to your starting batch and see how the day goes.

Last year I'd started in the front 'A' batch, but this year I'd been injured and hadn't been able to run the sub 3 required to get me there, so I was in 'B'.  Fortunately I got right up to the front of 'B' and when the barriers came down, I was mixed with the back of A.  Good to know for the future.

It was warm in the pack and I was sweating pretty badly.  My right ankle was also hurting a little.  I'd gotten Posterior Tibial Tendonitis at the end of March and had had to skip Boston to try and help it to heal in time for Comrades.  I'd packed a special compression support, hoping not to need it - but I sat down and put that on before the race started.

Then the signing started.

Truly an amazing experience and one of the highlights of the day.  Once again I took a camera along to capture it.  If you only watch a snippet of the video - jump to 1:35 in.  Shosholoza.  The hairs on my neck stand up every time I listen.  You HAVE to experience this at least once....  :)  There's nothing like this at any marathon major, and you'll get flash backs to this moment for the rest of your life when you hear that song again.

Then the cockerel sound and the gun.  Start the garmin.  Time to go.  In the official race start photo, I was just visible between someone's raised fingers !!

I was across the line in about 30 seconds, which is important.  Comrades is gun time only, so the medal you receive, and your official time, is based on that.  Just 30 seconds lost.

Up ahead I saw Elissa.  Someone I'd met through facebook and who I knew was also shooting for a sub 7:30 time for silver.  I also knew from her previous race results that she had a much better shot at getting it that me...  Despite that I chased her down and we ran together.

I got flash backs of the course from last year where I was running into town looking for the finish.  This year we had 90 KMs to go until we got to experience that again.

I'm posting my splits in miles as that's how my mind works.  56 miles to the finish line.  I knew to get a sub 7:30 hour time, I needed to average a little over 8 min/miles.  I also realized the first half had a lot more up-hill than the second, so I expected there to be some slower miles.  Just take what the course gives you.

Out of Pietermaritzburg, you start rising up heading for the infamous Polly Shorts.

Mile 1:   8:15 /mi
Mile 2:   8:12 /mi

It was a gradual uphill, nothing too taxing.  Another guy showed up who Elissa knew, and she introduced me.  Greg from Boulder, with a number of friends in common.  A small world indeed.  Greg and I were to run together for the next 20 K or so.

Going up to Polly Shorts it was getting a little colder.  Low 40s at the coolest.  Many people had gloves, sweat pants and hats on.  I was just relishing the chance to run in pleasant temperatures before it warmed up later.

Mile 3:  8:20 /mi
Mile 4: 7:58 /mi
Mile 5:  8:26 /mi

It was still dark.  There were street lights, so light was never an issue, although you did need to keep an eye out for pot-holes and discarded items on the road.  Heading up to Polly's Elissa pulled away and we didn't see her again until the finish (she made silver by 30 seconds - very impressive).

Over the top of Pollys and then plunging down to the bottom.  The last of the brutal climbs on the 'Up run'.  Now I was just trying not to destroy my quads with 50 miles of running still to go.

"How do you like your shirt ?" came a voice from behind.  It was David Ross, the UK 'ambassador' for Comrades.  He'd helped design the shirt I was running in.  A few pleasantries, and then David pushed on.  He'd run a number of sub 7:30 times for the silver medal previously, so I knew better than to try and stick with him (he also made silver).

Mile 6: 7:59 /mi

At the bottom of Polly's we ran into Patrick - the US ambassador for Comrades.  I knew he was hoping for a silver too, although it was going to be a stretch for him as it was for me.  Patrick wanted to walk some of the hills to save energy, so as we headed up Little Pollys we wished him luck and pushed on.

Mile 7:  8:08 /mi

I'd started with a bottle, and was drinking a 'bag' of water at each aid station (although I did notice that aid stations seemed to be further apart early in the race than I'd remembered from last year).  Couple that with not having used a bathroom since before 3am, I realized I needed to pee.  I mentioned it to Greg, and he felt the same - so off to the side of the road we went.  As I'd been told the previous year - don't go into the porto pottys, they can be pretty bad.  Just pull over and use the bushes.  So we did.

Mile 8:  8:10 /m
Mile 9:  8:33 /mi

I was purposely running on the right hand side of the road.  As with most roads I trained on, there was a slight camber down to the side of the road so the rain would flow off.  My PTT injury always seemed to feel better with the camber that direction, so I sought out that side of the road as much as I could.

Mile 10:  8:49 /mi
Mile 11: 8:09 /mi
Mile 12:  8:06 /mi

Nothing remarkable about this section.  The road was mostly uphill after we'd gotten past Polly Shorts and Little Pollys.

I was doing my best to not go too fast on the downs to try and conserve quads.  The second half of the race had a lot of downhill, and I'd heard stories of people reduced to walking on the down hill because their legs were too destroyed to run.

Up towards Umlass Road, the high point of the course, knowing that Krista was going to be there - planning ahead - pulled down arm sleeves so she could recognize me by the flags, although it was far too hot to wear them down.  Note to self - don't bother to wear arm sleeves again !!

I mentioned to Greg that my quads were feeling pretty heavy, and he said he felt the same.  And still a long way to go.

On the course tour Bruce had pointed out where he thought our spectators would be.  Except they weren't.  I looked ahead through the crowds, trying to see the banner for 'Complete Marathon Tours' - the company we were using to help shuttle around our spectators.

Peering at the large crowds, I finally saw the banner and stopped for a quick hello.

Now some downhill finally.

Mile 13:  7:50 /mi

Half marathon done, still 43 miles to go.

Mile 14:  7:21 /mi

I remembered advice in a blog I'd read.  Take it easy to Umlass, float down to the half way at Drummond, but don't use up too much energy.

The miles were easier now though.

Mile 15:  7:51 /mi
Mile 16:  7:38 /mi

Back to undulating roads.  It would be this way until 33 miles in and the top of Botha's Hill.  That's where the 'down' really started.

Mile 17:  7:58 /mi
Mile 18:  7:49 /mi
Mile 19:  7:59 /mi
Mile 20:  7:52 /mi

I pulled ahead of Greg at some point here and was running solo.

But you are never alone running Comrades.  Throughout the race you're running with people, talking with people, asking them how they'd done before and learning from their experiences.  Truly everyone is a Comrade.

Now climbing Inchanga.  Much easier than running it the other way.

Mile 21:  8:18 /mi
Mile 22:  7:51 /mi
Mile 23:  7:32 /mi
Mile 24:  7:51 /mi
Mile 25:  7:52 /mi
Mile 26:  8:46 /mi

Through the marathon distance of 42.2 KM in 3:31, although that includes about 2500 feet of climbing for the 'Down run'. Equivalent to running the St George Marathon backwards.

Time to evaluate how things are going.  How are you feeling ?  Pretty good !  I can definitely keep going like this.  Try not to think that I still have 30 miles to go.

Mile 27:  8:05 /mi
Mile 28:  7:46 /mi

Coming up to the half way point of the race in Drummond and crossed a timing mat with banners.

Through the half at about 3:47, very much where I'd hoped to be.  The second half was meant to be 'easier' than the first, given it had a lot more downhill.  Well - 'easier' if you still have quads left.  I figured if I was feeling good, I could hopefully maintain the pace and if necessary pick it up to squeak under 7:30.

I remembered the course from the previous year - the Valley of 1000 hills.  I knew Arthurs seat was coming up so I took a video and made sure to pay my respects.

And then onto the Wall of Honour, paying tribute to runners who'd come before.

This video also gives you an idea of the heat and sunny sky without clouds...

While I was going for silver - I wasn’t checking splits at all, wanting to go purely by feel.  I used the Comrades predictor app on my fenix 3 which took account of my current pace, average pace so far, the topology etc all into account and predicted the finish time.  I'd use it the previous year for the 'Up' run and it had been remarkably accurate.  That prediction was constantly hovering around 7:30, so I figured running by feel was working.

Only once did I check my pace band, right around this point on the race as we crossed a bridge.  I was 4 minutes quicker than the time I needed, although I later heard that the pacing band wasn’t very even

Still - I was exactly where I wanted to be and feeling pretty good.

I was now at  Inchanga and knew that the next 10K would be a grind, so I had to to just push on and not get disheartened by the hills

Mile 29:  8:36 /mi

Now we're starting to climb up Botha's Hill.  The 3rd of the 'Big 5' hills.

Mile 30:  8:47 /mi
Mile 31:  8:18 /mi
Mile 32:  8:28 /mi
Mile 33:  8:25 /mi

And over the top - now it's downhill.

Mile 34:  7:49 /mi

Ouchie.  Wait - we're climbing again, I thought it was all downhill ?

Mile 35:  8:57 /mi
Mile 36:  8:21 /mi

Despite the downs, I'm only running mid 8:30s.  My quads aren't letting me go faster.  Fields Hill is screaming downhill, but with close to 20 miles to go, I was half reluctant, and half incapable of running any faster.

It was also getting hotter, probably mid 70s air temperature but warmer on the road.  My tempe foot pod plotted this for the changing temps during the day.

Mile 37:  8:37 /mi
Mile 38:  8:25 /mi
Mile 39:  8:09 /mi
Mile 40:  8:46 /mi

I could tell I was starting to tire, but the predictor app still had me on target.

Mile 41:  8:29 /mi

I knew we were coming up to Kloof, the next 'spectator spot' for our 'Complete Marathon Tour' package.  I asked people around me how far Kloof was, but no one could help.  People come from far and wide to run this race, including South Africans.

Finally I saw the banner and again stopped briefly.  I told Krista I was starting to tire and wasn't sure if I'd make it.  Need to learn to banish those thoughts from my mind and suck it up !

Then into the Green Mile.  A loud mile with bands and crowds to try and pep up the runners when things are starting to hurt.

Mile 42:  8:28 /mi

Despite slowing, with 21K to go - 13.1 miles - I worked out I had 1 hour and 45 minutes in hand to get that silver.  Surely you can run a 1:45 half marathon Richard ?  Especially when it's net downhill.

Turned out I couldn't get anywhere close....

Mile 43:  8:56 /mi

Things were hurting and we hit yet another up hill.  I'd run 70K without having walked a step, but then we went under a road and turned immediately up the on-ramp.  Ugh - that's steep.  No real decision making - I stopped and walked.  This was the start of Cowie's Hill and my undoing.

Mile 44:  9:52 /mi

My predicted finish time was slipping away - my predictor app was predicting 7:35, then 7:40.  I realized I wasn’t getting a silver, so mentally left myself relax and walked a lot more.  If I couldn't get silver, the next medal was sub 9 hours for Bill Rowan.  I knew I easily had that, so why hurt yourself more than you need ?  This is where I need to improve.  Learn to suck it up and push through that pain and those doubts.  Walking is the easy way out.  This is where the mental part comes to the fore.

Mile 45:  11:18 /mi
Mile 46:  10:05 /mi
Mile 47:  9:33 /mi

Through this point I was running, then would walk a little, then run again.  I'd bargain with myself - run to those flags, and then you can walk.  It was getting harder and harder to start up running again after each walk break.

Just 8 miles left.  You have an 8 mile loop at home.  You've got this.  Calculating I could walk all the way to the finish and still get the Bill Rowan.  Stop that.  Start running !!

Mile 48:  10:43 /mi
Mile 49:  9:28 /mi

Down over the 'Durban Boundary'

Mile 50:  12:12 /mi
Mile 51:  16:51 /mi

16:51 ??  That's less than 4 mph.

I was parched.  The sun was out and hot, the blacktop of the roads radiated heat.  I knew I was de-hydrated.  At one aid station, instead of taking water, I took 2 bags of orange power-aid.  Suddenly I started feel better.  The stomach was heavy - as it was all day - hardly surprising given the lack of poop action (!!) - but I was able to run again.  Another note to myself - you still need to figure out nutrition.  You got a lift from the carbs in the drinks.  You should have been drinking these sooner !!

Mile 52:  11:01 /mi

Mile 53:  11:01 /mi

Consistent in my slowness !!  This was the last little climb up to Berea - over the top - and it's a gradual downhill to the finish.

Suddenly a woman overtook me and said 'Are you Richard' as she passed ?  I was walking and she kept running.  It was Vicky, a woman from the UK who'd signed up last minute to the race and who I'd 'met' through one of the Comrades facebook groups.  I knew she was a 3 hour marathoner, but she'd said she was taking it easy at Comrades.

Determined not to let her get away, I started running.  Half a mile later Vicky was walking and as I ran past her I told her to push on.  She did, and I knew she was running just behind me and that helped motivate me to keep going too.  Afterwards we both thanked each other for the push.  I'm sure I finished a good 5 minutes earlier because of this.  Which also shows me that I could run, despite the pain.  Should have started this earlier !

Mile 54:  8:44 /mi

Heading down into Durban now.  Running with 2 guys approaching the last mile in wide city streets with big crowds.  All 3 of us bitching about how badly we were hurting and how we'd never run the race again.

Then I thought about the finish, knowing we'd run into a big cricket stadium with crowds and get a lap of honour.  I told them that we we're about to get our reward for the pain, and they both agreed.

I pushed on and left them behind.

Mile 55:  8:31 /mi

So you can run 8:30s eh ?  Just takes a bit of motivation and determination.

I ran past the Hilton hotel and headed the short distance towards the stadium.  Barriers up along the road with large crowds cheering.

Once again I took out my video camera and decided to record the run in.

If you want to experience the last 500 yards of the Comrades down run, heading into Kingsmead Stadium - here's your chance !!  :)

Otherwise - here are some photos...

Into the stadium, running round an in-field loop they had created with crowds on both sides.

Mile 56:  8:59 /mi

And finally over the line.  8 hours, 10 mins, 56 seconds on the gun.

And 2 medals.  My Bill Rowan for finishing in under 9 hours, and the back-to-back medal for running the race 2 years in a row.

Far slower than the 7 hours 30 I was aiming for, but I had no real regrets.  I'd put myself in position to get it, but at the end of the day wasn't good enough.

Two female friends both got silver medals - and both run predominantly on the trails.  I'm starting to think that trails - particularly hilly trails - build the type of strength that is harder to come by purely training on the roads.  If I come back and run this again, I want to get out and run more trails in preparation.  Once again, and despite best intentions, I wasn't prepared for those hills.  Particularly the downhill.  This is applicable for both the Up and Down runs.  Both have significant climbing and descent.

I need to learn to get mentally stronger.  Hang on for longer when it's hurting.  Ignore that voice telling me to stop.  That's the one big lesson for me here.  I was capable of holding it together and running faster those last 10 miles, but once the silver medal was gone, I let myself take it easy.  That's my only real regret - not knuckling down and running a sub 8 hour time.  Maybe next time...

Although I did get one record that I hope never to achieve again.  56 miles and no poop !!

Repeating myself, but this race is amazing.  It's long, it's hard, and it's going to hurt, but to experience the journey with all the fellow runners, with knowledgable crowds, finishing in a stadium - this is hard to replicate.  Still the best race I've run.

South Africa is an amazing country.  So many things to do and see while you're there.  After the race we headed to Cape Town for some R&R.

I'm pretty sure my Comrades career is not over.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Comrades. The Ultimate Human Race.

Race reports are inherently self-centered.

"Hey people - read all about me and my run" !

So for those of you, and I wouldn't blame you, who don't really want to read this all - here's the recap in a paragraph.

I've run some of the largest and best supported races in the world.  I've run the 6 World Majors.  Many of my friends will consider that Boston, with it's traditions and knowledgable crowds, is the greatest race.  Others perhaps New York, or London. In the past I may have agreed,  But not anymore.  Comrades is bigger, and better.  If you have a running bucket list - put this race on it.  Somehow, someway, get yourself to South Africa and run it.  It's long, it's hot, it's hard, there are undoubtably going to be times it will suck - but from the singing of Shozaloza at the start, to the finish with a lap of a cricket stadium, and all the miles, support and camaraderie in between - it's a frigging amazing experience !  I promise you you won't regret it.  I ran it this year.  I plan to run it next year.  I suspect that may not be the last time either.

And now more about me and my Comrades experience….

History and Tradition

The Comrades Marathon is the world's oldest, and largest ultra-marathon race.

It's run over a distance of approximately 90 km / 56 miles between the costal city of Durban, and the capital of the Kwazulu-Natal Province of South Africa, Pietermaritzburg.

The direction of the race alternates each year between the 'up' run starting from Durban and the 'down' run starting from Pietermaritzburg.

The race was the idea of World War I veteran Vic Clapham, to commemorate the South African soldiers killed during the war. Clapham wanted the memorial to be a unique test of the physical endurance of the entrants. The constitution of the race states that one of its primary aims is to  celebrate mankind's spirit over adversity.

Comrades is a HUGE deal in South Africa.  Perhaps the biggest sporting event of the year.  People will watch all 12 hours of the race on television.  There's as much support for the runners struggling to keep on target for the very strict 12 hour cut off as there is for the elites at the front.

It's a right of passage.  Many many South Africans have run it at some point in their lives.  Often several times.

In other countries running a marathon is seen as a big achievement.

In South Africa a marathon is merely run to get a qualifying time for Comrades.

"So you run marathons ?  That's cute."

As a result - South Africans know the race.  Support the race.  Have pride in the race.

Similar to the people in New England supporting the Boston Marathon.  Except this isn't just a state - its the whole country.  It's the Boston marathon on steroids (sorry Alberto / Galen - too soon ?)

National heroes have been created, perhaps none bigger than Bruce Fordyce, who won the race 9 times.  Read more about him here - and later.

The race has many traditions, one being the way the race ends abruptly at 12 hours exactly after the starting gun.  Anyone not across the finish line at that second - and literally at that second - will be prevented from finishing, won’t receive a medal, and won’t be counted in the list of finishers.  People can run Comrades in 12 hours and 1 second - and have no official record. Brutal.

There are 6 different medals available, all based on gun time.

The first 10 men and women receive a ‘Gold’ medal - partially made with gold.  This is South Africa after all.

Then anyone else who finishes below 6 hours (a very very small number), will receive a ‘Wally Hayward’ medal.

A ‘Silver’ medal is given for those finishing between 6 hours, and 7 hours and 30 mins.

A ’Bill Rowan’ for finishing between 7:30 and 9 hours.

A ‘Bronze’ medal for 9-11 hours, and

A ‘Vic Clapham’ for anyone finishing between 11 and 12 hours.

And again - nothing for finishing at 12 hours and 1 second…

Training ?

Comrades had been on my bucket list for a while.  But 55 miles ?  That seems like a bloody long way.   I'm not a beardy running ultra freak.  I run marathons.  Better yet - I run half marathons... I don't know if I can actually run that far.

Still, after finishing the world majors, I needed something else.  Something different.

2015 was to be 90th running of Comrades.   That's a nice round number.  And it was going to be an 'Up' run.  On a work trip to Cape Town in 2012, some of the guys in the office had joked that 'the down run didn't really count'.  Ridiculous, as it is also very tough - but still - in the back of my mind I figured if I was going to go all that way - I needed to run the up run.

I didn't really follow a specific training plan for Comrades.  I wanted to run a good Boston in April.  Comrades was 6 weeks later.  So I trained for Boston, and added a little more mileage.  I didn't do any specific hill training - how hard could these hills be ?

Quite hard as I found out.  More on that later.

But I had put in about 1350 miles between January 1st and the end of May.  I'd read that 1,000 miles was the magic number - so I felt reasonably confident.

Like most big races, Comrades has a seeded start.  'Batches' instead of 'Corals', but the same concept.  But unlike other big races - Comrades is timed only on gun time - so the starting position was even more important.  In December I ran California International Marathon in 2.55 to get myself into the 'A' Batch.


Fast forward.  I landed in Durban on the Thursday afternoon.  The race was on Sunday.  8 hour time difference, and back to back overnight red eye flights.  Not ideal, but I preferred to do it that way so I could spend more time after the race in South Africa, than nervously before.

First impressions - it's hot here !  This would be a great place for a beach vacation.  Less so for a long uphill run.  As one of my facebook friends helpfully pointed out - 'What do you expect - you're running in Africa'.....

At least we were forecasted to get a 'cool down' to the low 80s for race day on Sunday...

On the Thursday night we went to an International Runners 'Meet and Greet', where I was lucky enough to meet Bruce Fordyce and he autographed a street sign for me (the other signature was Bernard Gomersall, the English winner of the race from 1965 and all around great bloke).

Fordyce still holds the official record for the 'Up-Run'.  5 hours, 27 mins, 42 seconds.

Think about that for a second.

That's quicker than back-to-back sub 2.40 hour marathons, with 5,500 foot of climbing !!!!  (55 miles remember).

The guy was a beast.

Friday we hit the expo.  The relative strength of the US Dollar compared to the Rand, meant that you could get more for your money.  So I got more...

Saturday we'd made the decision to take a bus tour of the route.  We were in 2 minds.  On the one hand it would be good to get an idea of what we were getting into.  On the other hand - maybe ignorance was bliss ?

In hindsight I'd recommend it.  But it certainly scared the crap out of me.  I think this was a good thing though.  It meant any naive ideas I'd had for a silver medal (sub 7:30) went out the window.  With temperatures forecast to be hot, with no cloud cover, and the course hillier than I'd expected - my goal was firmed up.  I decided that I'd be very happy with a Bill Rowan medal.  Sub 9 hours.

Race Morning

Comrades starts early.  5:30am.  It's suggested you're in your batch by 5am.  Work backwards - breakfast, taking care of 'business' and getting to the start - my alarm went off at 3:15am.  1:15pm in the afternoon according to my confused body clock.  Once again I thanked the inventor of ambien.

We left the hotel and caught a taxi to the start.  Even at 4:45am the batches were packed, with many people sitting down.  I said goodbye to my friends, and then made my way into the 'A' batch.  I sat on the curb near the back and waited.

At 5:10am they suddenly let down the barriers between other corrals and the runners from the lower batches surged forward.  I quickly jumped up and got in place so that I didn't end up too far back.

We were packed in like sardines.

With 10 minutes to go before the start, the singing started.  Firstly the South African National Anthem, and then Shozaloza.  This was one of the parts of the whole Comrades 'experience' that I'd been looking forwards to the most.  I'd seen haunting renditions from previous years and had learned the words.  The singing started, the crowd joined in.  I wasn't disappointed.  Truly something unique in running.  I had a small video camera and recorded it:

The final music was the Charriots of Fire theme.  We anxiously looked at the clock as it ticked close to 5:30am.  Then the cockerel sounded, or at least the recording of Max Trimborn, who in 1948 was so nervous at the start, that he cupped his hands and made the cockerel sound.  For years he was asked to do the same for future races, and now a recording of him is played.   Another tradition.

Then the gun.   I was only 30 yards back from the start line, although those first few yards were slow going.  We were so packed together if felt like we were moving as a single mass forwards.  Across the line and starting the garmin.  Whoops - rookie mistake.  Comrades is gun time.  I should have started the watch at the gun.

We ran through a wide mostly dark city street, with small crowds cheering.  I tried to take in the experience.  Bloody hell - this is Comrades !  People were flying past me on all sides.  I desparately tried to go slowly, and truly thought I was, although my first kilometer split perhaps suggests otherwise.

Throughout this write up, I'm inserting videos.  A lot more interesting than my ramblings….  This one shows the first few hundred yards as we worked out way through the dark Durban streets.

There are no mile markers in Comrades - everything is in kilometers.  Rather than counting up, the kilometers count down, which is a little daunting at first, but as the race wears on the numbers start to appear more manageable.

To run a Sub 7:30 hour time, I knew that was a sub 5:08 average min / km pace (8:15 min/miles).  For a 9 hour time, it was 6:08 (9:50 min/mile).  I'd already ruled out the sub 7:30 time, so decided I'd look to run something in between.  Be comfortably under 9 hours, but not push it too hard and risk blowing up.  So my K splits *should* be in the 5:15 - 6:15 range, with a few over for the harder hill sections.

1 KM  - 4:09 pace.

Ahhh.  That's sub 3 hour marathon pace.  Maybe a little quicker than intended.  Dial it back a bit.

While Africans are by far the biggest contingent of runners, there are hundreds of international runners too.  I'd joined both the US, and UK and Ireland Comrades Facebook groups prior to the race, which provided valuable advice, as well as details on numerous social events during the weekend.  Both groups had created unique race shirts, which were very noticeable.  Within the first few hundred yards of the race I found 3 English guys wearing their shirts and ran with them.  They were all thinking of attempting a silver medal, but weren't sure with the warmer temperatures.  We all mentioned how we were already sweating quite badly.  The English typically lie by the pool in this weather - not run a long way.  Unless the police are involved.  I saw these guys afterwards - none had gotten their silver medal.

I started with a water bottle as I have done in most marathons, but drinking it quickly as I could feel myself losing fluids.

We hit the highway and immediately started going uphill, up to Berea.

A little down, then up again to the Durban Boundary.  The 'Up' run starts off going up pretty much immediately.

In Africa most westerners go on Safari looking for the ‘big 5’.  At Comrades - the big 5 are not what you’re seeking out….  the ‘Big 5′ as they are affectionately known - are the 5 main hills - namely Cowies Hill, Fields Hill, Bothas Hill, Inchanga and the famous Polly Shortts.

I'd studied the profile map before running.  I can tell you this doesn't do the hills justice….  Not even close.

As ultra runner Ian Sharman said after running it 'Not training for hills because it’s a road race will cause you significant issues – the course is significantly harder per mile than a typical road marathon.'   

Thanks Ian.  Wish I'd read that earlier in the year.

My strava post-race plot gives a better idea of the 5 main hills:

Another tradition with Comrades are the bib numbers, which you have to wear on the front and back.  Below the actual bib number is your name, the batch letter you're in, and also the number of comrades that the person has completed previously.  You can quickly see the experience and qualifying batch of everyone running around you.  You also know what to call them when you start a conversation...

The bibs are also different colours.  Blue for an international runner.  Green for someone who has run 10 or more Comrades.  Once you had a green number - that's yours for life.  No one would ever wear that number again, and you had your own special edition line of clothing and area at the start and finish of the race.

I'd been told to look out for the 'yellow' numbers.  Those were the people who had run 9 Comrades previously, and were going for the prestigious 10th and the green number.  Those were people who had the experience to know what they were doing, but were also very determined not to mess it up.  If you could find a yellow number running at your pace - you should stick with them and hang on.

2 - 5:08
3 - 5:25
4 - 5:48
5 - 4:57
6 - 5:21
7 - 5:49
8 - 4:46
9 - 5:17
10 - 5:24

Running with another English guy now.  He’s looking for a Bill Rowan too.  Notice the easy to spot shirts the British were wearing...

10K in.  Take salt caps and a gel.

You’re told not to think of the whole distance to go - which is difficult - since they count down the Ks from the beginning so you see every K.  I try and break it into 10k chunks.  So just 8 x 10Ks then 8+ more after that.

So we've run 1 of 9 chunks.

Somewhere around here the sun comes up.

Then up more to the first of the ‘Big 5’ Cowie’s hill.

Through Pinetown - where, due to road works, they’d added an extra 800 meters to the course - making it the longest Up Run on record.  Despite this - the finish cut-off remained the same.  Later in the day, watching the 12 hour runners desperately trying to make the final cut-off, I realized that many would have made it but for this extra distance.

11 - 5:28
12 - 5:43
13 - 5:03
14 - 5:07
15 - 5:22
16 - 5:47
17 - 4:52
18 - 4:57
19 - 5:06
20 - 5:12

Aid stations at Comrades are fantastic.  They're probably every 2 KMs, and they hand out bags of water, and sports drinks.  With the warm temperature, I quickly got into the habit of grabbing 3 water bags.  With your teeth, you tear the top corner - and can then squeeze out the water.  Much easier than the plastic cups of most marathons.  I'd pour the first bag over myself for cooling, and then run with the other 2, one in each hand for cooling, and drink before the next aid station.

Each aid station was run by a club, or company, and had different themes with enthusiastic volunteers.  This video from one of the aid stations gives an idea of what they're like.

20K - two more salt caps.  Another gel.

Brief respite - then up again to Fields Hill.   2nd of big 5.  The English guy is dropping back.  I look around and he says, "don’t worry - I’m right behind you" - but then don’t see him again.

There's a pretty severe camber on the road which makes the hill harder, so I get to the center of the road to try and minimize it.  The sun is now high and bright, and this is the biggest hill of the race.

Fortunately it's early enough that it's not too taxing.  Despite advice to walk parts of all the big hills, I've managed to run every step so far.  Or maybe that's not so fortunate...

I ran with headphones but never put them on.  There's no need.  There's support nearly the whole way, and it's easy to strike up a conversation with the people around you.

At this point I was running with a South African with the yellow bib - going for his 10th run.  He gave me some history of the race and the towns we were running through.

Again - South Africans are rightly, very proud of this race - and you'll feel that the whole way, from the support, to other runners seeing that you're an international visitor and wanting to make sure you're okay and help you through if needed.

Through Kloof

Through Winston Park.  Splits slowing for Fields Hill.

21 - 5:11
22 - 5:39
23 - 6:09
24 - 6:27
25 - 6:01
26 - 5:22
27 - 5:20
28 - 5:20
29 - 5:38
30 - 5:18

30K.  2 salt caps and another gel.  The gels aren’t sitting well.  So much for thinking I can get through an ultra just taking gels.  I start to throw up.  Not good.

Through Inanda. and then Hillcrest

Up to Botha’s Hill.  The 3rd of the ‘Big 5’.  The sun was now fully out.

Past Kearney College - a private school where the kids in Uniform were out to cheer us.  High-fiving as we go.

31 - 5:39
32 - 5:24
33 - 5:21
34 - 5:32
35 - 5:14
36 - 5:56
37 - 6:18
38 - 5:23
39 - 5:36
40 - 5:13

40K.  There's no way I can do another gel.  Very fortunately I'd stumbled across a company at the expo selling the 'Race Food Bar’.  I tried them and they seemed very bland, so I bought a box, and just before leaving my hotel room - I put 3 bars in the pockets of my shorts.  I decided to try one of those.  Almost immediately I got an energy lift, so I decided to take one of these every 10K, until I reached 60K.  I remembered that the company had an aid station soon after 60K, so I hoped to get more bars then.

They say not to do anything new for raceday - but in hindsight - this was an incredible bit of luck.

Through 41K and I still haven't walked a step.  I decide I'm going to make it past the marathon distance (42K) before walking, but then almost immediately hit another incline and decide that's stupid.  I walk for the first time.

Certainly not the last.

42.1 K at about 3 hours and 50 mins.

I’ve run a marathon and still have almost 30 miles to go.  A bit daunting.

Wall of Honor and Arthur’s Seat.  Arthur Newton was the first winner of comrades, and supposedly he stopped to rest at this spot.  Tradition goes now that you must put a flower or some grass at the seat, or you’ll have a terrible second half.  Apparently Arthur is a bit of a vindictive bastard.

Nearly everyone was running past, seemingly not noticing it - but I knew it was coming and had grabbed some grass fronds and placed it on the seat and touched the plaque (as the video shows…)

We were now into the Valley of 1000 Hills.  Here the road basically undulates continuously as we continued on our way to Pietermaritzburg.

Into Drummond and then the Halfway point

On the bus tour the day before we'd visited the Ethembeni School in Inchanga.  The School provides Education and Care for 270 Zulu speaking children age 5 to 18.  Many of the kids are disabled, but all were out on the side of the road to support the runners.  This is definitely a memorable spot - high-fiving the kids as we went.

Then onto the next of the big 5.  Inchanga.  This one was tough, partly because of my nutrition issues and with the hot temperatures.  I tried to bargain with myself - 'run to the 3rd telephone pole, then walk to the next one' - then repeat.

41 - 6:44
42 - 5:42
43 - 5:21
44 - 5:23
45 - 5:04
46 - 6:02
47 - 6:49
48 - 6:01
49 - 5:17
50 - 5:15

50K.  Another race food bar.

Past Harrison Flats.  Which seemed a bit ironic.  Nothing is Flat on this course.  It's either up or down - there was no flat !!

It was a hot day with no clouds, as this video shows.

I ran with a garmin temperature monitor on my shoe which provides a good idea of the temperatures we were feeling.  From the chart below you can see the warmth packed in at the start, then the mid 60 degree temperatures as we rose out of Durban, but as the sun came out and the day warmed up, the second half of the race was in the 80s and 90s.

It was a little more desolate at this stage.  Realizing this, the organizers put the 'Green Mile' at the 34K to go mark.  A section with large crowds and pumping music.  I at least tried to look happy for the photograph…

I've now run further than I've ever run before, and still 20 miles to go.

Through Cato Ridge @ 60K and took my final race food bar.

51 - 6:47
52 - 5:41
53 - 5:51
54 - 5:38
55 - 6:32
56 - 5:27
57 - 5:29
58 - 5:21
59 - 6:27
60 - 5:33

At 63K I run through the 'Race Food' sponsored aid-station and was able to get 3 more bars.  That should hopefully get me to the end.

Aid stations also had boiled potatoes.  I probably should have tried these, but I didn't.  I was able to acquire several sets of jelly babies through.  The problem was chewing them with a dry mouth.

61 - 6:52
62 - 6:29
63 - 6:42
64 - 6:52
65 - 5:46
66 - 7:32
67 - 6:34
68 - 5:28
69 - 5:52
70 - 5:45

Mentally the 60-70K point was the hardest of the race for me.  I was tired, hot, and my stomach didn't feel great - and it still seemed such a long way to go.  I knew I had plenty in hand for the Bill Rowan, so let myself slow.  I do remember around 68K I realized that it was 'just' a half-marathon to go, and that mentally gave me the kick to get back in the groove.  You can probably tell that in my voice in the next video clip - I was a lot more 'chipper'.

Then into Camperdown and past the Umlaas Road cut off, then up to the Highest Point of the course with the Water Tower on the hill.

Though Lion Park and starting to wonder about the infamous Polly Shorts hill.  Before Polly Shorts is 'Little Polly'.  If Little Polly was on the Boston course - it would probably combine all the newton hills.  Here it's given a demeaning name.

It's definitely not a 'Little' hill.  Many people were walking it, but somehow I looked ahead and kept going.  I made it a game to myself to run to the next pole, and then realized I was more than halfway up, so I kept going.  I wanted to be able to say I'd run up Little Polly, so I did.

Through the Town of Ashburton

Then I started wondering if I could run up Polly Shorts.  The 5th and final of the big 5.  To put it into perspective - even Bruce Fordyce on his record breaking run, walked sections of Polly Shorts.  Bruce was once asked if you could run all the way up it, and he replied - ‘you will walk on Polly Shorts’.  Bah - what does Bruce know - maybe I can run all the way up this one too ?

Then I came to Polly Shorts and quickly decided that was a stupid idea.  I walked / ran it.  More phone pole bargains to not lose too much time.

71 - 5:33
72 - 6:04
73 - 6:15
74 - 7:28
75 - 5:37
76 - 5:17
77 - 5:50
78 - 6:30
79 - 5:47
80 - 7:36

Once over Polly Shorts you're told that it's 'All downhill’ to Pietermaritzburg.

Except it's not.

There were two hills in the last 7K, that don't warrant a mention on the Comrades course - but they're as big as any hill in any of the majors.  By this point you just roll your eyes, curse a little, and run on.

So if you're reading this ahead of running the up run.  Don't be fooled by those liars !  :)

Running into Pietermaritzburg with large crowds at the side of the road, many out for the day grilling their BBQs, with the smoke often drifting over the road.  The smell of the food wasn't necessarily what my stomach needed at that point, but the end was in sight.  At least figuratively.

3K to go.  That’s just 2 miles.

The KMs were ticking down slowly, but I was very much under control.

Finally - there was 1K to go.

I saw a clock ticking past 8:27:30 and knew I was still 800+ meters to go and that the sub 8:30 wasn’t going to happen, so I got out my video camera and decided to enjoy it and record the run-in.

If you want to get a feel for the last 4 minutes of Comrades - here's your chance.

Into the tree lined finish area that felt like Aleah Drive at Kona - or at least what I imagined it to feel like.

I could hear the crowds and announcer in the Oval Cricket ground used for the finish.

Out into the Oval - do a two thirds counter-clockwise loop around the out-field.

Crowds cheering.

Past the international runners area.

Into the finish straight - and over the line.  Finally it was over.

81 - 8:57
82 - 5:30
83 - 5:25
84 - 5:34
85 - 5:22
86 - 5:06
87 - 5:47
88 - 5:39
89 - 4:06

I’d run 55 miles and gotten the Bill Rowan medal that I'd set out for.

The distance - while daunting before hand (I'd only ever run further than marathon distance once, and that was 34 miles) - was manageable.  Could I have prepared better for this race ?  Absolutely - but I don't think that detracted from the day.

Other than the stomach issues from the gels, I'd never really been in trouble.  Backing off and running for a sub 9 hour time had meant the race was a lot more 'pleasant' for me.  Unless you're sure you can make a faster medal time - I'd recommend this approach.  At least as a rookie when you're probably underestimating how hilly the course is.

If you want to see it on Strava - here's the link.

The medals at Comrades are likely the smallest you'll ever be given.  In 2015 they were larger than previous years, but the inner ring of the Bill Rowan is still about the size of a US Quarter coin.

But that doesn't matter.  The smallest in size, but the largest in terms of memories and experience.

Comrades offers a 'back-to-back' medal for running the Up and Down in consecutive years (doesn't matter which order you run them).  But you can only get it once - and it has to be the year after your first run.  I couldn't go back in 2020 and 2021 for instance and get it.  Great marketing by Comrades !  So I'm planning on going back in 2016 for the down run, and the back-to-back medal.

(UPDATE - this is the race report from the 'Down run' in 2016)

Now that I've seen the course, and realize how serious those hills are - I've already made this my goal for 2016.  Forget Boston - that can be a training run, or warm-up race.  I'm concentrating on Comrades.  My marathon time suggests that a Silver Medal will be a stretch, but if training goes well, and the weather is cooler - it's a possibility.

So that's going to be my ultimate goal next year for the Ultimate Human Race.

As I mentioned at the start - this is definitely the 'best' race I've done.  Sure, that's subjective - but based on the overall challenge, the history, the crowds, the experience, the camaraderie, the course, and everything else - it stands above all others for me.

But don't take my word for it.  Ellie Greenwood said

'It is billed as ‘The Ultimate Human Race,’ a tagline which seems like little more than a slick marketing slogan, until you complete the 89k journey on foot along with 16,000 other runners and realize that this 90-year-old event really does live up to the hype.'

Or trail runner Scott Dunlap, who said

'it's like finding out there was a place on the other side of the world that holds the true roots of your sport'.

You have to go run this !  But don't wait too long.  I suspect you'll want to run it again.  And remember you need to run it 10 times to get your green number…

Post Race

I staggered into the International Runners Area and collapsed in the shade drinking sports drinks for an hour before I felt good enough to recover my tog bag and get some food.

Another aspect of Comrades is that nearly all the finishers wait until the end in the stadium - cheering in the people ahead of the 12 hour cut off and gun.  It was heartbreaking seeing people finish right after the gun - knowing what they’d gone through - and that in a normal year with the 800 less yards, knowing they’d have finished with a good 5+ minutes to spare and got a medal and official time.

Some statistics.

74.1% of the 22373 entries started the race and 78% of those who started finished, with around 3570 dropping out or failing to meet the various cut off times along the route.

Despite the second largest entry ever the total number of finishers fell 1337 short of the 2010 Guinness record of 14343 finishers.  I've got to assume the warm temperatures, and the extra 800 meters we had to run, were partly responsible.

Lessons Learned (this is really just for me for next year !)

- Don't rely on gels - you can't stomach them for that long a race

- Practice solid food.  The 'Race Food' brand was a great find, and are small enough to be able to carry. Experiment with others.

- Hydration at Comrades is very good.  Instead of purely water, perhaps try mixing in some of the sports drink bags as you go to help carb levels (in lieu of the gels)

- You really can get 2nd and 3rd winds !  At 50K, 60K, 70K and 80K - you were looking at walking - with that race food, you seemed to get a lift each time.  Again - nutrition nutrition nutrition.  A huge part of an ultra.

- Think about walking on some of the earlier hills, and consuming the solid food as you do it.  Easier to chew / swallow while you're walking, and conserve energy for later when it gets harder.

- The bib numbers are huge - so if you print a race shirt - make sure you have room to fit the bib on it too

- There is no need to run with music.  If someone feels they really have to have it - pack some earbuds in a pocket, but the crowds and the camaraderie all the way through - you'd miss out on too much

- Wearing a hat helped a lot.  Having a buff was less useful.  Too hot to wear it

- Packing food and gels into your shorts makes them extra heavy - especially when weighed down later when damp after throwing water over yourself.  Make sure you TIE THEM UP properly…  you spent half the race trying to pull them up...

- Starting with a water bottle was helpful to avoid the first crowded aid stop.

- Do take a gatorade bottle again (from US).   A baggy t-shirt in lieu of the banned trash sacks helped for the 'portable porto potty' trick.  You're in the batch a good 30 mins before the start.

- Take a ruck-sack, or bigger bag - that you can use to check as a tog bag.  Put water, more food, and perhaps a hoodie in there too for post race.

- If you use the comrades app on your watch - realize it's not accounting for the extra distance that you'll invariably run, so add a few mins to the predicted finish time.

- For people tracking - if no link on Comrades site - go to YouTube and type 'Comrades Marathon' in search

- If you need to pee in the last 30K and are close to a cut-off - then maybe hold off and don't lose that minute....

- Wow.  This really is the Ultimate Human Race.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Tokyo and the World Majors...

In 2012, after running Berlin, I completed the World Marathon Majors. Nice !

A check on the bucket list of life.

The accomplishment was short-lived.

3 weeks later 'they' added Tokyo as the 6th Major.

Uncheck that box….

Registration for the 2013 Tokyo Marathon was already full, so I had to wait until 2014.

Tokyo has a lottery to get in, but with it now being a major - and Japan being running crazy - there were supposedly going to be half a million entries for the 30,000 slots.  Not good odds, so I chose the Marathon Tours option and essentially bought my way in.

United Airlines had recently started a direct flight to Tokyo from Denver on the dreamliner, and I was lucky enough to have the airmiles to get me there.

I'd had a good training cycle - I was probably in better shape than when I'd run my PR at St George, but I was a little worried about the impact of the jet-lag.  I wasn't planning on spending a lot of time in Tokyo - getting in the Thursday night, run the race on the Sunday, back in Denver by the Monday lunch-time.  Less than 4 days in Japan, with a 9 hour time difference.

I was traveling solo, although had several friends who were going to run it too and were staying in the same hotel.  They'd also be completing the Majors.

I arrived late on the Thursday evening and went to a Marathon Tours meet and greet.

The next day we had a tour of Tokyo.

I decided to add a little extra protein to my diet….

Then through the expo, which was very loud, but otherwise similar to those at the other majors.  Over-priced gear and runners buying it up like it was the last clothing on earth….

That night out we organized a trip out to the nearby Golden Gai area with some of the other marathon tour folks.

Naturally there were margaritas…..

On Saturday I wandered around near the hotel, going up to the observation deck of the government building, but mostly chilled.

With the hotel being right next to the start, a number of elites were staying there.  Several times I ended up in elevators with African elite runners, including one time with the eventual female winner.  My swahili isn't too good - but I did manage a 'Jambo Jambo' ('hello hello') and got the same in response.

Race morning I met my friend Andrew, then wandered over to the start area.

Tokyo is a very well organized event.  However…. one thing that needs to be changed is the farce of the starting corrals.  I typically get to start fairly close to the front based on previous marathon times.  All other major races have a well organized corral systems.  In Tokyo - they do have a corral system, except the furthest forward any Westerner can be placed is the 'B' corral.  In front of that they put 5,000 Japanese runners, many of who are in costume and fairly slow runners.  This leads to a massive bottle neck the first few miles.

At the start I was standing next to an English guy who was looking to run 2.35.  He also had to start behind 5,000 fun runners in costume…

The temperature was fairly cool.  Mid 30s.  No complaints from me.  We huddled in the corrals listening to what I think was the Japanese national anthem, and then we were off.

My friend Andrew posted a video and recorded the Race Start amongst other things (the 'other' things included the Japanese style toilets in the hotel….).  See that here.

Planning ahead for the crowding and the best way to get through it, I'd made a tactical decision to start on the left side of the road.  Almost immediately after the race starts, the route takes a right turn on a wide street.  Knowing that I was behind a lot of slower runners, who would do their best to take the turn as tight as possible - I figured being on the left I'd have a little more space if I wanted to take the turn wide, albeit having to go a longer route around it.  Sure enough, I was able to run wide and probably overtake 500 runners.  4,500 left to go.

It was definitely slow going though.  Dodging and weaving through slow runners.

Tokyo, like Berlin, only has metric markers.  I'd learned that lesson in Germany and so this time had set my garmin to work in KMs.

As a guide - 4:00 min/KM would be a 2:49 marathon, and 4.15 min/KM a 3 hour marathon.

Despite the overtaking - the first KM was slow going.  I'd been prepared for this though and knew not to get too anxious.

KM 1 -- 4.38

Squeezing through, over-taking where I can.  Some of the costumed runners even walking.  This is bloody ridiculous !!

KM 2 -- 4.09

Ok - a little more space.  Things start to open up.

KM 3 -- 3.59

Easy does it.  That's sub 2.50 pace - don't try and get all of that time back too quickly.

According to the official results, I went through the first 5K in 21.21

KM 4 -- 4:04

KM 5 -- 4:06

KM 6 -- 3:54

I don't remember a whole lot from this part of the race.  I was trying to stay relaxed and looking around at the scenery.  The crowds were more boisterous than I'd expected.

KM 7 -- 3:55

KM 8 -- 4:04

KM 9 -- 4:06

I was trying to take in the sights.  We ran past the Imperial Palace.  I looked around, and most people were looking at their feet, so I yelled out to no-one in particular.  "Look - there's the Imperial Palace"….  it wasn't the kind of thing I saw on my daily runs in Denver….

KM 10 -- 4:07

That second 5K might have been a tad fast.  20.37.   A touch under 42 minutes for the 10K.

KM 11 -- 4:06

The Tokyo marathon course runs in the shape of an 'X' through the center of Tokyo, with several out and backs.  This meant that twice during the race I got to see the lead men, and later lead women, pass within 15 yards of me going in the opposite direction.  They were flying….

KM 12 -- 4:04

KM 13 -- 4:13

KM 14 -- 4:01

KM 15 -- 3:53

That 5K officially in 20.28.  The beauty of running in Ks is that I didn't have a lot to think or compare my splits too.  Just go by how I was feeling.  As in Berlin, it actually seemed a little easier with the kilometer markers going by more quickly.

KM 16 -- 3:58

KM 17 -- 3:59

KM 18 -- 3:58

KM 19 -- 4:06

KM 20 -- 4:00

20.15 official for that 5K - the fastest of the race.  40.43 for the 10K.

KM 21 -- 4:00

Through the half, feeling good.  I don't know my exact half split, but I think it was around 1.27.  I didn't want to tempt fate by thinking too far ahead, but I felt like 2.55 was definitely a realistic possibility, and if things went well - maybe even a 2.53 to beat my St George time.

KM 22 -- 3:53

KM 23 -- 4:01

KM 24 -- 4:00

KM 25 -- 4:04

20.28 for that 5K - still ticking along nicely.

KM 26 -- 4:13

KM 27 -- 4:01

KM 28 -- 4:06

Past the temple that we'd visited on the Friday tour.  Ham it up for the photographer, although I was feeling good.

KM 29 -- 4:12

KM 30 -- 3:55

20.30 for the 6th 5K.  Still feeling strong.  That's just 12K to go.

KM 31 -- 3:59

KM 32 -- 4:00

KM 33 -- 4:07

KM 34 -- 4:10

It was still fairly cool, which I was relishing.  At one point around it felt like the crowd were throwing a very light confetti on us.  Until I realized it was snow…  very light snow fell for a few minutes and was then gone.

KM 35 -- 4:20

Hmmm - first KM 'slower' than sub-3 pace.  I don't feel terrible, so just need to concentrate a little more.  Time to work.

20.52 for the 7th 5K - starting to slip a little.

The Tokyo course is pretty flat.  A bit of a downhill the first few crowded miles, then mostly flat.  Like New York, the only real uphills are over bridges.

The nasty thing is - they stick a couple of these in the last 5K.

KM 36 -- 4:07

That's better.

Unlike the other majors, Tokyo finishes in a slightly more industrial area, so crowds become more sparse the last 4 or 5 miles.  Just when you need them the most….

KM 37 -- 4:21

Uhoh.  Over the first bridge.  For the first time I'm no longer over-taking others - I'm now just trying to maintain.

KM 38 -- 4:18

KM 39 -- 4:20

KM 40 -- 4:20

21.56 for that 5K.  90 seconds slower than I'd been running through the race..  Struggling a little, although not falling apart.

KM 41 -- 4:24

Ugh - another bloody bridge.  It's definitely hurting here.

KM 42 -- 4:32

KM 42+  3:23

And through the finish, overtaking the 3 pacers for the sub 3 group - without any runners - just before the line…

2.56.11 officially.  I'd lost a couple of minutes late, but overall I was happy with the time.  Less than 3 minutes off my PR, which was on an easier course, and without 9 hours of jet lag.

After the finish line, you end up in a huge indoor convention center that you have to go through before getting to the subway or buses.  The walk is probably comparable to that through Central Park after New York, except it's inside with vendors and warmer temperatures.

Back on the bus to the hotel, I rewarded myself with fries and ice cream from McDonalds.  The first time I'd been in a McDonalds for quite some time.  Try not to think about that Richard…

Then celebrating with friends.

Let's hope they don't add a 7th major for a while….