Approaching the blue carpet, the finish line in sight- I glanced quickly at my stopwatch, 2:34.38. A warm wave of emotions shot to the surface. A personal best and my first SA Marathon title. The words of my coach at breakfast played over and over in my mind. “You will run your personal best today by 45 seconds. I know it. You are going to kill it over that second half”
He was spot on with his prediction. What made this moment so special was sharing my success with mentor Elana Meyer. As I crossed the finish line, the crowd cheering, Elana was the first person to run to me and embrace me. Elana is one of the biggest contributors to my improved performances over the last 3 years. She helped make this possible by being at my side constantly through the tough battles with injuries and the heady heights of celebrations, she is a constant source of advice and motivation. I am truly thankful to have her in my life. Photo Credits: Mo Bassa
Competing at the Cape Town Marathon as a Gold Label athlete was a dream come true. Having worked on the event for the last 2 years I was immensely proud of what the race had achieved over a short time. It was thus important to not only compete in an IAAF Gold label race at home but to do well. This experience showed me that if you choose to learn from your disappointments, and always do your best, you will grow wiser, stronger and become a better person. That is was what happened to me at the Cape Town Marathon. I was determined not make the same mistake as I did in Vienna. There I hit the wall because I was impatient. Now in this moment of Joy, all those hours in the gym, early morning runs and hard tempo runs was so worth it. But above all I learned to be patient, to pace myself and run according to a well-defined plan. A marathon is quite unlike any other event. It requires military precision and preparation to strategize over such a long distance and a variety of terrains. It not only requires skill and ability, but crucially the experience that comes from competing.
My previous marathon best of 2:35.22 was run in Valencia at the end of last year. I struggled over this distance. I had no option but to accept the challenge to master the marathon. My coach and I developed a gruelling program. It involved hours in the gym to build strength. An increase in mileage and intensity. Monitoring my iron and magnesium levels to ensure my no nutritional deficiencies would hamper me. The incorporation of speed and rhythm drills to improve my efficiency. A training camp at altitude to ensure the body could cope in an oxygen depleted environment. A close selection of training partners that would do tempo runs and hard training sessions with me. And meticulous planning of my racing schedule to ensure I didn’t over race. Meticulous planning is required to yield the desired results. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. The word fail does not exist in my vocabulary.
Key to running a successful marathon is lining up injury free and full of energy. My preparation came to a halt with 60 days to go. I had picked up a knee injury. After a week with no improvement I began panic, realizing the impact this would have on my marathon.
In an elite athlete’s mind any break in training is seen as going backwards. Undoing all the strenuous preparation and starting at an imaginary “day zero”. The worst news for any runner is to take a days rest. When my physio gave me a day off I was reluctant but thought, “ah it’s just one day, I can handle no running for one day”. Then comes days 2 and you enjoy sleeping in but later in the day you start itching to go for a run but convince yourself to rather not take the risk. By day 3 you can no longer restrain yourself. Imagine my disappointment when I was told to rest for two weeks!
This was especially painful as I had to withdraw from SA half marathon champs. I was distraught as I felt I had a good chance of running a great time. I had to compose myself and focus on my rehab to try and salvage the situation. That meant I had to do rehab exercises every single day until the knee pain subsided- that took another 2 weeks.
At this point, my coach regrouped and revised our plan. We decided that it would be best for me to go on a high-altitude training camp. Dullstroom was perfect as it was situated in South Africa with and altitude of just over 2000m above sea level. The timing was perfect as I needed to focus solely on preparing for the marathon.
I spent 3 weeks there with my training partner, where we were grinding out tough sessions but obviously approaching it very sensitively as my knee was still painful. On some of the hill and speed sessions I was limited in terms of speed and movement and had to cut them out completely. The tempo long runs and longer type marathon specific sessions over those 3 weeks were crucial as they compensated for the reduced training time. Over the 3 weeks I managed to complete 3 productive weeks of training, clocking mileages of 160km, 183km and 166km’s. I returned to Cape Town with renewed optimism and eager to race.
The week building up to Cape Town Marathon was extraordinary. Interacting with people of all ages, gender, nationality, and races about their expectations and goals for race-day was inspirational. I just wanted to get to the starting line and race. I realised had been preparing for this day for months, years even, and if I look at it more holistically possibly my entire life had been geared towards this event. The nerves began to leave a hollow feeling in my stomach. The weight of expectation began to focus my mind intensely. My mouth began to dry out and shivers would follow up my spine. My body was naturally preparing itself for action. I knew how to handle it. To remain calm and collected I practiced my mental skills. I promised myself that I would do my best but that I wouldn’t let the pressure get to me. I know that I run well when I enjoy myself, and not when I am stressed about achieving a specific result.
Race Day. It’s 6:35. I am on the starting line. The weather is perfect. The sun is rising and it is still. The gun goes off at 6:40. There’s is a rush of runners sprinting past. I look around for female runners and join a group of 15 ladies. My plan is to run conservatively over the first half increasing my pace over the 2nd half of the race. My intention is to run my own race.
Running along the Atlantic seaboard I focus on taking deep breaths of the sea air. This calms and relaxes me. I direct my attention away from the pack to my surroundings. I pass 10km in 36:44. The pace quickens up the steep incline in Long Street as stronger runners test the strength of the group. I stick to my pace splits and let the ladies go. It is too soon to begin pushing hard, it makes the second half really difficult. I know I will see some of them later on.
The stretch from Woodstock to Newlands is filled with cheering supporters. It was fantastic to see so many people coming out to encourage the runners. Their support was welcome as we encountered a strong headwind that blew the bottles off the water-station tables, causing my pace to drop for some 3km’s. I passed halfway on target in 77:46 and began to catch the female runners who had surged at 10km. Rondebosch Common was filled with supporters who helped life my spirits which had sagged over the previous two kilometres. I felt energized and shifted my focus to the 33km mark where I knew I would get my “super powers” to take me to the finish line.
I overtook two female runners moving into the top ten, this was a massive psychological boost. But the best was yet to come. Spectator Zone at 33km was where my home-supporters were stationed. They did not disappoint. As I approached the supporter zone at the 33km mark, I smiled as I as I could sense the excitement of my very own hometown crowd. They were my inspiration to deliver a big performance. When they saw me, they started chanting my name “Nola! Nola! Nola”! My heart was in my throat. I was overwhelmed when I saw some of my family members, and heard my friends cheering. I realised all these people had made sacrifices and put in an incredible effort just to support me. I was overwhelmed. I simply couldn’t let them down. My dreams were now their dreams and their dreams mine. After passing them I ran with a renewed purpose and determination. I was going to run a Personal Best. At 35km I was on track for a 2:33.
With 4km to go, my legs began to ache. I needed to be strong, to grit my teeth and push through the pain. My mental toughness kicked in and I reminded myself of all the preparation, all the training, the injuries overcome, and all my supporters hopes. The last 3km was tough as we ran up Strand Street and over the Buitenchracht Bridge, but I pushed through. With 1km to go I knew the PB was in the bag. I sprinted for the line- haha! It might not like looked like a sprint, but to me it sure felt like one!
It was a magical experience indeed. I must thank the organizers for hosting a World Class Event.
The event showcased the unique beauty and powerful spirit of Cape Town. The route was fast and spectacular. Spectators brought the GEES and created lively atmosphere. I feel proud to be a South African and to have been an ambassador for this event. I can honestly say that of all my marathons this is my favourite. There is magic in running a marathon on home soil.
Through the event’s run4change program I was able to raise valuable funds on Givengain for Endurocad’s “Getourgirls2Gold” Program . I was committed to raising R10 000 to give girls from disadvantaged backgrounds and opportunity to attend the Endurocad Girls Only Camps. I am very thankful to everyone who donated to this cause and for my sponsors assistance. As much as my sporting achievement on the day was a proud moment for me, so too was reaching my fundraising goal. It gave me even greater pleasure knowing that I have contributed to making a difference. I hope that by sharing my experiences, I hope I can be an inspiration to all the current young runners: NEVER GIVE UP ON YOUR DREAMS.
During my preparation, there were tough times and many sacrifices. But I really think that the struggle is what ultimately makes it real, exciting, and makes the good times even more special. I am really passionate about the sport of running. And I hope that as I progress in my career I can be an inspiration to all runners and fans of the sport.
Picture Credits: Mo Bassa
I would like to thank my TEAM. Those who have always believed in me. It is really a privilege to have so much support. Their commitment to assisting me has helped me gain advancements in my training, stay motivated, and injury free. This is only the beginning for me. I am confident that I can go faster, and I know this will come at the right time. I trust Gods plan for my life and I believe in his perfect timing. Now my focus is on preparing for Osaka Marathon at the end of January 2019.
Keep running. Stay injury free and follow your dreams.