Crossing the finish line

Cape Community Newspapers editor Chantel Erfort and running coach Nicola Johnston at the finish line of the Old Mutual Two Oceans half marathon.

Cue Chariots of Fire. Cue Eye of Tiger. Cue huge applause and gratitude for the hundreds – possibly thousands – of supporters who came out in the early morning hours to support the more than
29000 Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon (OMTOM) runners who took over the roads of the southern suburbs on Saturday.

Of course this year’s OMTOM was not without its drama and tragedy. First, there was the last minute re-routing of the 56km ultra marathon late on Thursday night due to the threats of protest along the Hout Bay stretch of the route, ruling out the Chapman’s Peak climb. It was a double-edged sword – a victory for the activists campaigning for land and housing rights in the area, but a blow to local businesses – particularly tourism-related – who were expecting a flood of visitors to the area this weekend.

For runners it meant the inclusion of route sections they may not have included during their training runs. With the route being diverted over Ou Kaapse Weg the ultra runners would have had to tackle sections with a greater elevation gain than Chapman’s Peak Drive.

There was also the late announcement – and ultimate cancellation – of the relay, the latter being due to the exclusion of the Hout Bay section of the ultra route. As a compromise, relay entrants were allocated half marathon entries.

And then there was the upset expressed on social media afterward – complaints about organisers running out of medals, and ultra runners bemoaning the shortage of water, including along parts of the route that followed steep climbs.

The greatest tragedy, of course, was the death of a 35-year-old half marathon participant, who organisers said, had been an avid runner participating in his fourth half marathon.

My heart goes out to this runner’s family.

And while many runners are publishing celebratory posts on social media, I’m certain that they also have those close to the deceased runner, in their hearts. While I’ve only been running for a very short time, it has been my experience that this fraternity is a tight-knit one – which was certainly illustrated along the route on Saturday.

It was just after 5am – and long before the autumn sunrise – that I made my way to the start line in Newlands. My start – at 6am – was in the D Pen where I managed to find my big brother and we set off together as the gun blasted through the early morning quiet. Strangers offered high-fives and arms stretched out to runners who stumbled in the start line congestion.

I started strong, finishing my first 10km within the first hour – and seeing a number of friends along the route, including one of our OptiFit teammates who had had to drop out of the programme due to an injury. And then came the notorious Southern Cross Drive (SXD). A punishing 2.5km climb from Parish Road, Constantia, to Rhodes Drive, SXD is easily one of the toughest parts of the 21.1km route.

I hopped on the “2.15 bus” (a group of runners paced to finish the run in under 2 hours and 15 minutes) before picking up the speed down (and up) back along the M3 to UCT.

It was on SXD that I heard a supporter blasting Eye of the Tiger on a portable sound system.

It had to happen.

As I made my way past Kirstenbosch, a cheerleader shouted “Girl, your smile will carry you across the finish line” and with just more than 3km to the end, I spotted a colleague in a bright yellow wig on the side of the road. “Chanteeeeeeellll,” she yelled. And I let that carry me around the corner as we tackled the last climb – up what has come to be known as “Chet’s hill”, named in honour of long-time, late OMTOM race director Chet Sainsbury.

On the UCT rugby fields, despite the cold and rain, thousands of supporters welcomed the runners over the finish line. And with this, the finish line of my series of Learning to Run columns, I’d like to thank every reader who sent me an email, or called the office to wish me well. I truly appreciate it.

Till the next race.