Opiki School Country Half Marathon – 17 April 2011

After a week of wonderful, wind-free evenings and perfect weather, it started to rain the day before this event, coupled with some wind. As we got up on the Sunday morning, it was pouring, with a nasty wind, and it took all the motivation I had left in me to get up, get dressed and drive to Opiki, all along thinking that I will just check out the scene and bail before we even start.

As we drove the 30 odd kilometers to the start, it was raining most of the way. I could for the life of me not see myself going through yet another wet run, especially since I’m still battling to salvage what is left of my constantly wet shoes with a pong you can smell miles away. Worst is, they’re fairly new shoes! They didn’t have more than 30km on them before the pong appeared. I figure it must be the material that was used to manufacture them, or something? I am not known to have smelly feet …

However, as we drove past the school counting cars (on one hand!) and wondering what to do (it was still raining), Gerry decided to park while we thought about it some more. Having entered for the T42, which is in three weeks time, we knew that we needed the exercise. And to do it on your own, is even harder. Eventually Gerry got out and went to enter for us. By then, the rain had stopped and the dark clouds were just hanging there – waiting for us sods to be out in the countryside before it’s next attack.

With a number 53 on my hand, we made our way to the start in the road in front of the entrance to the school grounds. A couple of other participants were also standing around and we couldn’t help but wondering how many of them had entered for the 21km run and who would do the 10km, 5km or 2km run or walking events.

The school principal, Bede Gilmore, took the honors of briefing us, before setting us off with a “ready, steady, go!”. In the first couple of hundred metres it was actually possible to count everybody, and it seemed that we were about 25 runners in the 21.1km event. A few walkers also entered the half marathon, but the remaining few participants did the 10, 5 or 2km events respectively.

As we were trotting along, it dawned on me that we haven’t done much training over the last 5 to 6 weeks. Marathons really do take their toll. You taper the week before, rest the week after and before you know it, up comes another nice looking marathon three weeks later. The result being, taper, run 42.2km, rest, think about training, give it up for a bad job, taper, run 42.2km, rest, and so it goes. Needless to say, I battled though the run.

Fortunately the rain stayed away (the sun even came out for a wee bit) and we could enjoy the lovely surroundings between farmlands and cattle grazing in the green green pastures. After a kilometre or so we turned off onto a dirt road for a bit whereafter we crossed a beautiful green patch of soggy wet grass and mud. And that was it for off-road running. The remainder or the run was on sealed farm roads.

Neither Gerry nor I have a watch and as is often the case with NZ races, there were also no distance markers. Waterspots can be anything from 2km to 7km apart, so it is also not an option to pace yourself according to evenly spaced water tables at 3km intervals, as is the case with most SA races. I couldn’t help but think about Ken who measures every run with his GPS, knowing exactly where he is and in what time, and wonder what he would think about all this :). I’m actually starting to really enjoy this seemingly haphazard approach to races. And believe me – the NZ races are well organised. There’s nothing haphazard about them. You just need to toughen up a bit and look after yourself. SA runners really are very spoiled (or maybe not?) with distance markers and water & Coke tables every 3kms.

The course is very flat with some long stretches of road in front of you. One kid (I’d guess he’s around 12 years old)* remarked to his mother (?) early on in the race that “this is one long road”. But that wasn’t the only long straight road. After every turn you could spot a runner miles off in the distance making another 90 degree turn left of right.

At the end of one such a stretch, a very friendly, chirpy marshal exclaimed “I’m half way” holding up a sign reading halfway in his one hand, while handing out water with the other. And that was our distance marker for the event. For the rest, you follow the green signs (arrows drawn on green paper indicating when to turn left or right) not knowing how far you’ve come or for how long you’ve been going (in our case).

While we were still spared from the rain, the wind suddenly started to pick up and was getting worse as we progressed. I tried to run in Gerry’s slipstream at times, but that was just as hard with the wind pulling and plucking at my clothes and nearly blowing me off my feet. And so we were faced with a headwind of about 70km/h for the second half of the run, making running very difficult. At times I was completely out of breath from the wind blowing in my nose and mouth at the same time, having to stop in my tracks trying to catch my breath.

We completed the run in 2:20, despite a couple of forced walk breaks because of the wind (and unfitness on my side). We caught up with some of the 10km walkers in the last three to four kilometers. Spot prizes, linked to your entry number, were given out at the end and I got an aluminum water/fuel bottle.

A wonderful run in wonderful surroundings – not to be missed. Thanks to the organisers and sponsors for putting together such a awesome race. Barnyard flavors all around which made me think about the Irene Lantern night run ;-), but a well organised stunning event. Definitely something to put on the calendar for next year, especially at only $20 per person.

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