When I ran the 56 km Two Oceans Ultra Marathon last year I promised myself to be back for what is known as the most beautiful Marathon in the world. I also promised myself to one day run the Two Oceans 24 km Trail Run that always takes place on Good Friday, the day before regular Two Oceans Marathon. So when I set my alarm clock for the day when registration started, I was hoping to get maybe one spot in one of the two races. But surprisingly I got both. And just like that I randomly signed up to run the Two Oceans Marathon Double of 80km in just 30 hours.
At that time I had never run a distance that far. The previous Two Oceans Marathon was my longest road race so far. And the only other event, where I came close to that mileage was World’s Toughest Mudder, a 24 hour obstacle race, where I ran 50 official miles.
Training for the Two Oceans Marathon Double
Training for an Ultra Marathon alone can be quite hard and exhausting. But what about training for the Two Oceans Marathon Double? I had decided a few months earlier to run 12 Marathons in 12 months for a good cause in 2018. And so I came up with a fairly sensible training plan for three months leading up to the race weekend. Basically I tried to run an average of 50 km each week, with one long run on the weekend, and one interval or speed session mid week. I ran three full marathons in preparation for the event, which were Disney Marathon, Dubai Marathon and Tel Aviv Marathon. My total mileage leading up to the Two Oceans Marathon Double was not as much as other people would train, just around 500 km. But I also did a lot of cross training like spinning and strength training.
The only thing I could not properly practice was actually running on the trails. Winter was quite harsh where I lived, and we actually had snow until the week I took off for South Africa. I still felt strong because of the intense leg days in the gym. But still I had some doubts if I could run 80 km and finish the Two Oceans Marathon Double.
The week before the race I tapered intensively by going on a Safari in the Kruger National Park. This really forced myself to not run at all (so I would not get eaten by lions) and to properly rest my legs. I felt really good, and the only thing I was scared of was twisting an ankle or injuring myself and not being able to continue the race.
The weather gods don’t like me
One of my main motivations for running the trail race was the gorgeous views that I expected from Devil’s Peak. But on race day the weather was rainy, foggy and windy. I had hoped that it would clear up, but it continues to rain all morning. The forrest trails were really muddy, which I generally like.
However the rocks on the mountain were really slippery, and that caused me to further slow down. Better safe than sorry I thought. In addition to that, the constant rain made the whole day a bit miserable. I was completely soaked through, even though I was wearing a waterproof rain jacket.
The worst point was at the beginning of the steep downhill. A lot of people took that slippery downhill very, very slowly, which caused delays and quite a traffic jam. I had to wait for around 10-15 minutes in the rain, and I was freezing heavily. Also my phone died because it got wet in the rain. Nevertheless I made it down there safely and across the famous finish line.
Post race recovery gone wrong
After running 4.5 hours in the rain I was obviously a bit cold. Unfortunately I did not bring any spare dry clothes to put on, so I had to take an Uber ride home in my wet gear. After a hot but quick shower (no long showers in drought stricken Cape Town) I went to have lunch with my friends, and afterwards for a walk around the neighborhood and a sunset picture up Table Mountain. I felt good, my legs felt good and I was not worried about the 56km the following day.
Little did I know that I actually screwed up my recovery with that attitude. After being wet and cold for such a long time, and not sleeping or resting afterwards my immune system was not working properly. I had a pretty open window for all kinds of viruses and germs. And so I found myself a few hours later, in the middle of the night running to the bathroom in hourly intervals because I had contracted a tummy flu. But it was not only me, it was our whole flat of 4 girls that contracted the flu.
And so after a night of tummy cramps and nearly no sleep I felt pretty miserable. When we arrived at the start line, I immediately lined up for the porta-potties. And because I did not know what else to do I took two imodium tablets. This is actually not a good idea on race day, as they elevate your heart rate and core temperature.
And once the race started, I could really feel that. My legs were really heavy and would not move despite the slight downhill course. My heart rate and core temperature went up and I felt really exhausted. Every step was extremely hard. Luckily I had Veronika running with me who pushed my pace a little bit. But she was worried, that we would not make it. And if I am completely honest, I was worried to. I was really worried that my goal of finished the Two Oceans Marathon Double was slipping away.
But I knew that once I reached the bottom of Chapman’s Peak Drive just after the half way mark everything would feel easier from there. Because I wanted to enjoy the fantastic views on the uphill and I could just fly down on the downhills.
Climb up and fly down
When we reached the half way mark I also started to always pour water over my head to cool my body down. They offered us potatoes, and just like last year I did not eat them as I was feeling a bit nauseous. I knew that the next part would involve some power walking up hill, but that my legs were not fully recovered. So I took it slow. Veronika was a bit faster than me, and so we decided to split up and meet again on the other side.
Was most of the route on Chapman’s Peak was in the shade, and it was quite windy, I was able to cool my body down quite a bit. When I reached Chapman’s Peak I was relieved because I could feel my energy coming back. Maybe this was due to cooling my body down, maybe the gels that I’ve had, or the fantastic views. But I basically flew downhill afterwards, just as I had hoped. At the bottom of the hill shortly before Hout Bay I bumped into Veronika again. She was at that point suffering from tummy cramps that had started shortly after the half way mark. Together we continued on this fairly flat section of the course. While Veronika was pushing me in the first half of the race, I was now definitely pushing her a bit more. She was clearly not feeling well and was scared to not finish the race in time.
Securing the Two Oceans Marathon Double
But when we hit the Marathon mark after around 4 hours and 50 minutes I was absolutely sure that we would finish the race.It meant we had only 14 km to go until the finish line, and we had over 2 hours time to complete them. Also in the previous year, I had reached that mark only 5 to 10 minutes earlier, which made me feel quite confident.
On the final climb of Constantia’s Neck Veronika and I split up again. She was again stronger on the uphill and continued in front of me. When I reached the top she was clearly out of sight. But on the downhill I caught up with her right after the bottom. We now had only 3 km to go and a 50 minute time buffer. Veronika was now feeling really unwell, and the upcoming heat made the situation only worse. So we decided to just walk the final last bit to the finish line. We had no time goal, and only wanted to finish within the cut off time of 7 hours. Risking a heat stroke and collapsing did not seem reasonable but walking did.
When we reached the University Grounds and the famous finish line area we of course started running again. The masses were incredible, and when we crossed the finish line we were smiling. I gave Veronika a big hug and thanked her. We both knew that without each other we would not have made it through. I would have given up on the first half of the course, and she definitely on the second.
Despite having some major doubts about being able to finish the Two Oceans Marathon Double, I made it. IT was tough, but worth it. And I am definitely coming back! It is the world’s most beautiful Marathon after all.