Let me preface this Race Route Review (RRR) by sharing with you that Border Athletics (BORA) runners are the ones who insisted that I look at the Two Oceans 56km Ultra Marathon (TOM) route profile and use my own experience of running the race to write a RRR. I write RRRs for our local races as an attempt to help our runners to have a plan on race day. Interestingly, their request came at right time because running TOM without a plan is like cooking without eating…ooopppssss…..Is it eating without cooking? As one author said a long time ago that “Always plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.” Those words motivated me to take up the challenge and do my first ever RRR of an international race.
It’s been two full years since we have experienced The Most Beautiful Marathon in the world, TOM. We have been starving for it, we do not even care how they treat us as they prepare for TOM 2022, we are here in Cape Town because we love them. Why do they call it Two Oceans? The reason is that it passes both oceans surrounding the South African shoreline – the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. Coincidentally, TOM is a race of two halves – easy first half and a challenging second half. The first half begins at 23m above sea level and ends at 30m – the highest point on this section is 76m at 3.3kms. The second half begins at 31m above sea level and ends at 89m at University of Cape Town (UCT) – the highest point on this section is 228m at 47.4kms (Constantia Neck) and the second highest is 198m at 32.4kms (Chapmans Peak). The lowest you can go in the second half is 6m above sea level at 40.4kms (Hout Bay). Having given that elevation statistics, I feel like stopping the RRR here and ask runners the following question: Now that you have that information at your disposal, what do you think you need to do? Whatever answer I would get, that would be a plan that TOM requires. However, let me give you a blow-by-blow, KM-by-KM of what to expect and do on the route.
1. Start to 3.3kms – The first 3.3kms of TOM is an invisible climb in the dark and it needs to be treated with respect. With the staggered start that will be implemented, its going to be very difficult to start easy, force yourself to start easy in the dark.
2. 3.3kms to 12.3kms – This is the easiest section of the whole race, it’s still dark, you are still fresh and a 9km descend begins at 74m to 4m above sea level. Any easy section at TOM, you will be required to increase your pace in order to make up/bank some time that you will lose on the climbs/hills. For example, if I will be driving the sub 5hour bus, our average finish pace is 5:20/km, on this area the bus will move at the speed of 4:50-5:05 to bank some time that we will lose on the climbs. Make up some time here but do not be explosive!
3. 12.3kms to 21.1kms – The descend ends and the route becomes flat, you probably have some time iĺn your bank, the pace will need to be reduced and maintained for another 9kms. For example, my sub 5hour bus would need to play around 5:00-5:10/km. If you are struggling to maintain a steady pace on this section, reduce it and find something comfortable – if you are already working hard here, you are in for a long day, find a manageable pace and maintain it. Another challenging aspect on this section would be the windy conditions, it is important that you stick to your plan and judge your pace effectively.
4. 21.1kms to 28kms (Halfway) – The 21.1kms in the main road leads us to the ocean at Muizenberg, there you can look forward to great views of the sea and great spectator support. We get to the half marathon mark at Fish Hoek and, from there, you will leave the sea – leaving the sea means you will have to climb some ‘speed humps’ from 21.1kms to 24.1kms. In this section, after running for a long time, the sub 5hour bus will take its first big walk and have a breather – I would propose runners to do so as they leave the ocean behind. From 24.1kms to 28kms, the route goes down and becomes flat, you can bank some time here but do not be explosive. Furthermore, on this area, it is here that you need to get your mind ready because you are about to encounter the first big hill called Chapmans Peak.
5. Halfway to 34.5kms – Chapmans Peak is the iconic section of the race and its also one of the most beautiful section of road anywhere in the world – you are privileged to be running here with many other runners, don’t forget to absorb that beauty even as you tackle the challenges. The climb begins at 29kms, its 4.5kms long but it’s not that steep, if you go fast here, you may pay later for that sin. Also, do not be deceived by Lil Chappies at 31.2kms to 34.5kms, you will descend after Lil Chappies and Chapmans Peak begins at 32.6kms and ends at 34.5kms. Run and Walk strategy needs to be implemented here – the sub 5hour bus will run and walk this one.
6. 34.5kms to 39kms – The 4km descend from Chapmans Peak is one of the most enjoyable and beautiful sections of the route because of the views. Additionally, this descend is the most dangerous section of race if not respected – you need to hold back on this area and protect those quadriceps. Drop those arms and shorten those strides, there will be a temptation to go to fast, DO NOT! If you go too fast here, you race will end exactly at Hout Bay because it becomes flat there and with damaged quadriceps, you won’t move. Take it easy but make a minute or two for your bank. After losing a minute or two at Chapmans Peak, the sub 5hour bus will play around 5:05-5:10/km, hold back, drop those arms and shorten the strides.
7. 39kms to 42.2kms (Marathon) – For me, Hout Bay is one of the major milestones of the TOM race because it gives you an indication on how you behaved in a marathon. If you started too fast, flew down Chapmans Peak, your legs will be SHOCKED on this flat section and as such you will be unable to move. If you remain disciplined on your marathon, you should be able to generate your expected race average pace. For example, the sub 5hour would work towards a 5:15/km 3km split as we prepare for Constantia Neck.
8. 42.2kms to 47.4kms – The climb to Constantia Neck will be gradual for 2kms where you will be exposed to the sun, it will start to get tough here, fight hard, you are not far from the finish. The steepest section of the whole race comes at 44kms, the last 2kms to the summit has the steepest gradient of the race. The majority of us will run and walk this one, lets do it with pride and with some time in the bank.
9. 47.5kms to 50kms – After Constantia Neck, you will get a descend to the 49th km mark. Having lost some time on the last hill, it’s time to make a few seconds here. Whilst enjoying your downhill, booooom, 1km climb to the 50th km mark welcomes you without notice, puuush, you are not far from UCT, kuboooo!
10. 50kms to 56kms – After the 50th km mark, you will experience a 3km descend to the 53rd km mark – it is hoped that when you arrive here, you will not be chasing time but enjoying your race because you will be having some time in your bank. At this stage, the sub 5hour bus should be 5mins ahead of schedule and moving at 5:45/km and in some instances 6:00/km. The last 3kms has two speed humps, a 600m one (known as Chet’s Hill) at 53.4kms and a 400m one at 55.4kms to UCT. Once you reach the UCT lawns, suck it in, you have Conquered the Current, WELL DONE!
Written by Mkhululi Jack