Good morning/afternoon sports fans. Yet another slightly longer gap between posts. Not me being lazy this time, just no real races of note to report on, and nobody wants to hear ‘I ran x miles on Monday followed by swimming x miles on Tuesday etc etc’ – people only read to hear about me making a twat out of myself! Don’t worry; there’ll be plenty of that in this post.
After running a 17:42 on New Year’s Day at Hove Prom parkrun, signs were promising that I was finally beginning the transformation from donkey to thoroughbred racehorse. Things have gone backwards since then, but I am doing a lot of cycling which seems to have resulted in being able to go faster on a tiny computer screen in my spare room, overlooked by the latest load of drying washing.
I slogged my way through the absolute mudbath that was the South of England cross country in January, vowing for the 4th time ‘never again’. Someone remind me when entries open for next year.
However, there has always been light (and a huge dollop of heat) at the end of the winter tunnel, as this year we’d decided to escape in February and seek out some sunshine. Cape Town was somewhere we’d always wanted to go, so after booking (and re-booking following the collapse of Thomas Cook) way back last summer, we found ourselves boarding our overnight flight to South Africa.
Our holidays never usually do take the conventional format, and within 4 hours of touching down and off the back of about 47 minutes sleep, we had already hiked up to the top of Lion’s Head and enjoyed the views of Table Mountain and the city of Cape Town.
I realise I keep saying ‘we’, assuming avid readers know who my long suffering partner actually is. If you’ve read most of my many, many other posts, you’ll know I’m referring to ‘Chief wearer of the trousers’ Katie Lysons.
Thankfully, parkrun has found it’s way to African shores, and in a complete coincidence that involved no planning whatsoever, in the preceding weeks before travelling we managed to ensure we’d visited every parkun beginning with the letter’s A-Y, leaving a short train/flight/drive to Zandvlei to finish off the alphabet. To reiterate, this was complete chance, and definitely didn’t involve any kind of intricate planning or effort.
With storm Ciara kicking off back at home, we arrived at the lake venue in 25 degree heat with no more than a breath of wind. No complaints here. Well, none until I was about 2 miles in, shedding enough sweat to fill up half the lake we were running around, trying hopelessly to chase Mo Farah and his mate who’d put about 30 seconds into me in the first 400m.
I ended up finishing in a mildly annoying 19:01, which in classic Spraggins fashion, was the 26th fastest ever time over the 180 running’s of this event, but only good enough for 5th on the day! The most pleasing part of the day was watching Katie continue her comeback with a ‘run walk’ approach around the course, ensuring we both left Africa as ‘alphabeteers’. What legends.
The week in between parkruns was spent gallivanting around the Eastern Cape, with highlights including me being lowered into crocodile infested waters in the relative ‘safety’ of a metal cage, swimming with seals in the Indian Ocean and numerous hikes up many hills with countless stunning views.
Obviously priority number one was ensuring we were close enough to another parkrun the following Saturday morning, and picking one which caused mass hilarity any time either one of us tried to pronounce it was an added bonus. Zero research was conducted on the course or terrain in the build up, which proved as always, to be a bit of an error.
Taking place on Outeniquasbosch wildlife village, the warm up provided views of Zebra, Springbok, but thankfully no Lions. Being Valentines weekend, the dress code was red, so Katie wore her red vest, and I wore her other, matching red vest. What a pair.
Before getting started, it was clear this was going to be ‘some’ climbing, with not an inch of flat ground in sight, and the locals describing the course with phrases such as ‘hill #3’ or ‘hill #5’. In an amusing turn of events two runners took the definition of ‘false start’ to new extremes, jogging away before the 5,4,3,2,1 countdown had even started!
Having learnt and taken pointers from my African friends last week, I set off like a scalded cat, initially hitting the front before being passed into 2nd as we climbed up the first lump. As always, in the heat of the moment, all thoughts of the following days half marathon were forgotten, and in my head, this small, friendly, local parkrun was probably ‘the real race’ anyway. Muggins.
By the time we hit the bottom of the second hill I’d pulled alongside the leader, and rather miraculously, he seemed even more knackered than I was! Game on. I managed to slowly create a gap and from here it was a case of playing my least favourite game of ‘don’t take a wrong turn and cluck it up’.
Objective just about achieved (I’m not really sure what it was in the first place), but I ended up 1st finisher in 19:52, which was near enough a flat out effort on a course that had just under 500ft of elevation. After scooping myself off the floor I watched Katie cruise in 6th overall and first female.
Cape Peninsula Half Marathon
So, on to the main course of the weekend, with a hard, hilly 5km followed immediately by a 4 hour drive to Cape Town probably not the way Eluid Kipchoge would taper for a race, but YOLO and all that when you’re on your holibobs. We went straight to collect race numbers, before cracking open a beer and having an al fresco dinner on the balcony and grabbing an early night with a 4:45AM alarm for breakfast.
Relatively short drive to the race start in Bergvleit, and after saying goodbye to KL and going our separate ways I made some mates in the starting area, having a good natter before the real business of running loomed large. In true Spraggins style I’d decided to run with my newly acquired Go Pro and attempt to get some footage of me suffering like a dog.
Only one real aim for the race – don’t go out too hard, but instead, try and build into it to make the whole experience more enjoyable. I was on holiday after all, and had been indulging in a little too much beer and ice cream, so it never was going to be a phenomenal performance. As most other couples I’m sure also do for ‘fun’, we’d managed to clock up 100 miles of hiking over the two weeks, which would probably come back to bite me at some point.
Right, excuses over with – time for that steady start that I’ve planned. We were set on our merry way at 7am and within 27 seconds a group of Africans had established themselves at the front, a very, very long way away from me.
Mile 1 – 5:43. PB (1:15) pace. I’m nowhere near 1:15 shape. Spraggins you tool. Golden rule broken within 6 minutes, to probably no-ones surprise.
Despite all the usual warning signs, I continued to charge towards the coast, racking up a physical debt I would have no way of paying back. The route picks up the ocean in Muizenberg and heads down to Simonstown (where the penguins live). I think I know someone who’s going to be waddling by the end of this one.
Through 5km in 18:20, which when I’m in shape would be reasonable, but today it’s going to mean curtains for any kind of ‘enjoyable’ run around in the sunshine. I attempt to distract myself by filming others out on the course, which just serves to leave me even more short of breath and accelerates the slow down.
This is the first time I’ve reached mile 5 of a half marathon and thought ‘Christ, this is going to be a slog from here’ – 8 miles seemed like an awfully long way still to go. The sun was high in the sky by this point, and the standard strategy of attempting to shower in the drinking water being provided was being hampered by having to hold a Go Pro in one hand. Didn’t think that one through, did you, smart arse.
Second 5km in 20 minutes (it doesn’t take a maths degree to work out that this is much slower), and to be honest I’m surprised more people aren’t coming past me. Looking around it’s clear that I wasn’t the only one to get over-excited at the start, and there’s a few out there looking (nearly) as bad as me.
I tried to distract myself with the incredible views of the mountains and the ocean, and slowly but surely the miles ticked by. Despite being on the coast there were a few unwelcome ‘undulations’, which felt more like Mount Everest in the closing stages.
The thought of Katie back running and enjoying herself really kept me going – that and the knowledge that every extra minute I was spending on the course was probably causing blistering sunburn and it would be a good idea to get on with it and get to the finish.
Despite being in a general state of exhaustion during the closing stages, I still tried to interact with the crowd and other runners around and have a bit of fun with it. There were distance markers every kilometre which helped break the race up into smaller chunks, and by now I was just concentrating on ticking off each one of these.
In the final mile I was faced with a massive decision. For some reason my camera had turned off and wouldn’t switch back on. I knew I might squeeze under the (completely arbitrary) 1:25 barrier, but could I face coming so far, only to not record the finish and let down all 7 of my instagram followers (@flatcapspraggs). The choice was obvious.
Go Pro back online, I had fun filming the last few minutes of the race (after hauling myself up one final hill). Through the finish line in 1:25:30, 48th place and absolutely spent.
As you can see, the splits don’t make for pretty viewing. Quite possibly my worst paced race of all time, but I had fun with it, had a good hard run, and met some great people out on the course. About 10 cold cups of Coke later and I was starting to feel slightly more human again.
I headed back down the course and in what seemed like no time at all, Katie came charging towards the finish. She had again been employing a run-walk strategy to not put too much pressure on her foot, but still finished in a very respectable 1:43 (she walked for a minute after every 7 minutes of running). I won’t lie, at this point I got something in my eye which seemed to aggravate it – it was just so great to see her back out and doing what she loves most after a tough few months.
We took a bit of time lazing in the sun, chatting with some other runners, before going to check out the penguins. The rest of the day was spent drinking beer, eating some nice food and just generally relaxing (maybe with a 8 mile hike thrown in during the afternoon).
The real main event
You’d be forgiven for thinking that this was the end of the story and the excitement. You’d be gravely mistaken! It might shock some of you to learn that some things mean more to me than running and triathlon.
Two days after the race an elaborate plan had been devised. There is an ‘overnight’ hiking trail stretching 20 miles around the Cape of Good Hope, going right to the very tip of Africa. Overnight sounded too much like a challenge to us, so we rocked up at 7AM, supplies packed, ready to try and tackle it in a day.
We were rewarded with the most stunning views of both the Atlantic and Indian oceans, seeing no more than 3 people over the course of 8 hours. As we neared the end of the day (which actually turned out to be 24 miles rather than 20, due some minor navigational mishaps..), a perfect spot on top of a peak presented itself, overlooking both Cape Town one way and the tip of Africa in the opposite direction.
As I propped myself down onto one knee, an older couple wandered around the corner (the first people we’d seen for over 3 hours) – d’oh! However, I was already committed, and they twigged as to what was about to happen and very kindly paused. After a long, much-rehearsed speech (‘So, err, yeah, how about it then?’), and what seemed like an eternity of deliberation, SHE SAID YES!