Wednesday, March 02, 2011

This is a long one....

My latest in my running adventure was a trip down to the land of Ostriches and heat in Oudsthoorn. The Infantry School Cango Marathon was being held again, and I had heard and read such nice things about it that I wanted to try it out. Yup, it was a little bit out of town, but these races are a great way to see the country, plus, it is a completely different vibe running in another province. We are so lucky to have so many choices when it comes to well-hosted, pretty races, but it can sometimes prove quite a dilemma as to which race to choose.

At the beginning of this year my friend and I sorted through which races we would like to do and which one's we could afford to do. This Karoo race seemed to be high on the list so research was done, bus ticket was bought, much to our dismay, the cheap flights were all used up by other people (ahem!! nudge nudge!)

Three of us set off on the Thursday afternoon for our run in the sun. The bus trip down was as pleasant as a bus trip could be, but a very long drawn out seven hour journey to Bloemfontein, made us quite cranky and bleary eyed! Sneaking some shut eye in between stops, we woke up to the most spectacular scene of the Swartberg Mountain Range blanketed in the distance. The road became windier and the scenery all the more breathtaking and there were glimpses of the Scottish Highlands which flooded my memories. This country, of course, is very different from the cold green moors a world away, especially when the baboons made themselves visible. I swear one them waved at me! Okay it was very early in the morning, but what a scene to wake up to.

On alighting in Oudtshoorn we made our way to our guest lodge on foot, getting a little lost with different directions. The morning air was still very comfortable which deceived us into thinking that the temperatures would be similar to Jozi. Lunchtime showed us, that we were in fact in a semi-desert district. The sun blazed it's way through our soles and we walked back into town to refuel our tummies. The town is larger than I remembered and the army is very present with green looking new soldiers making their way with 'checkers' bags of treats and necessities through the streets, on what seemed like their first weekend off. We made friends with a local runner and he showed us the way to the army base, and even managed to drum up a lift for us. At the base, we tried to register, but we were roughly 4 hours too early and told to come back at 15h00. (In a very military manner!) This we duly did, and then tried to settle down for the night to get some sleep before our 3am wake up call.

Our shuttle arrived promptly at 4am and we made our way once more to the military base. Cars came in from all directions, and the infamous cattle trucks thundered past us, to the collection point. The great thing about this race, is that is a one way route, not a circular, or double lapper, but this meant that the start was out of town at the Cango Caves. The army supplied us a 'shuttle service' in these cattle trucks and we carefully climbed the tiny ladder into the backs of the truck. Luckily we had taken a warm top because once these soldier(or was it cowboys) drivers got going, they pushed pedal to the metal and moooooved (sorry, couldn't resist!). We all huddled together for warmth as the kays went flying by. In the crescent moonlight I noticed the mountains around and I looked up. The sky was magnificent, the stars seemed so endless and random placed, but breathtaking, and I was reminded of my younger days when we used to watch the stars on a blanket in our garden.

The lights grew brighter as we reached the start which was sheltered below the entrance to the caves and the military police waved all cars on by. Our trucked stopped and we gingerly climbed out on the skinny ladder. After the necessary queue for the toilet we met up with our other club members as well as an ex-Jozi-now-local Cape friend. It was a nice chit chat as we waited for the gun. The military men with the starting gun meant that the last truck was given only 10 seconds to get the bodies to the start and before the countdown. I watched as the 'almost' late-comers clamoured over the edges of the truck without the ladder so that they wouldn't miss the start.

The sky was lightening rapidly and we set off on exquisite routes, made all the more nicer because the first kay was downhill. We turned off for a short circular stretch to make up the distance, which meant that we could see the fast guys in action. There was also a wheelchair competitor, and 'Mr Wiki', remarked it was a perfect downhill route for the wheels!

The front runners were at this stage 5km's ahead of me, which was pretty usual, except I don't normally see them! I was running with a (flying!!!!) friend who had done this race before and she was in fine form. She has progressed so much over this past year, that she mentioned she didn't even feel the early uphills! So when I saw another uphill at about 12 km done, I took my chance for a walk and watched her get and smaller and smaller as she zoomed off on the other side of the downhill.

The tall hills meant that there was very welcome shade and coolness to the first 30km, but when the road started to level out a bit, the sun was on high power and the earth began to creak in the heat, or maybe that was me? The ostriches didn't seem to mind the heat, but galloped up and down along some of the fences as they watched us back-enders wilt by. The valley is beautiful, and I was surprised at how green and lush it looked. Some brave supporters sat in the shade of pavement trees and gave us a word of encouragement. Some eager youngsters ran along side me, and the one young chap managed to hold on for about 600 meters without saying a word. I started to smile, as I wondered how far he would run beside me, but some teens further down the road obviously intimidated him and he turned back to his small crowd.

At about 8km's to go, I noticed a familiar seconder who was waiting for someone and he had a cooler box. I asked him if he had any ice, and he said all he had was an orange 'icy'. I gleefully accepted it and I took my time chomping my way down this very welcome change of taste. I felt like a kid and it seemed to revive me a bit because I was able to pick up my pace again. By this time the town of Oudsthoorn could be seen quite clearly, but this messes with one's head, because 8km's is still a relatively long way on tired legs. So I looked for closer markers and targets and allowed the excellent support of the cheering soldiers at water points to lift my spirits. The last few water points were every 2km's and in this heat, it was a great relief. The ice cold water was so useful in cooling down a steaming head, and I heard a sizzle like a 'Spur hotrock' when I poured the water down my back!

At about 3km to go, my extremely fresh looking friend caught me, and was raring to go. She talked about chasing down a different seeding, but I didn't have the same kind of strength, so wished her on. She opted to slow down and stay with me and we took our time coming into the endlessly long stretch of grass around the final lap to the finish line. Not far behind us was our third friend, who was finishing her first qualifying marathon. So all in all a very successful race for our small group!

The bus trip back resulted in puffy feet and stiffness and soreness which had very little to do with the marathon, but more to do with the never-before-seen yoga poses that I ended up getting myself into, in an attempt to get some sleep. No matter how many seats you have to try stretch out on a bus, there is always a bit of handle, belt, plastic tray that seems to stick out and cause grievous bodily harm!

Next time, I'm taking the plane!!!

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