"I'd rather be seen on my bicycle than on a park run" - Quote from the dark side

Friday, 20 May 2011

Five Hills For Friday

This year’s Comrades Marathon is an up run and as I promised in my previous post, here is a short description of what lies ahead for the runners. I’ve added a few random photos of the race again.

I borrowed most of the description from the Comrades Marathon Website.

Route Description the 'up run'

The start for the up run is at sea level in the centre of the harbor city of Durban, and finishes in Pietermaritzburg at an altitude of 650m (2133ft). On the way runners encounter 5 major hills, popularly known as the “Big Five” which are briefly described in the following narrative, interspersed with other landmarks and points of interest.

Almost directly from the start outside the Durban Post Office, the ascent to Pietermaritzburg begins with a steady climb up Berea Road to the summit at Tollgate, where today there is neither toll nor gate. After a brief descent another climb takes the runners to 45th Cutting, so named after the British 45th Regiment of Foot (Sherwood Foresters)  who constructed the cutting while stationed in Natal from 1843 to 1859. The first of the “Big Five” Cowies Hill is the next landmark of note.

Coming up from Durban, Cowies is encountered approximately 14km (8.7miles) from the start and is a moderately difficult climb rising about 137m (449.5ft) in the space of 1.5 km (1 mile). Although this does not sound too difficult an obstacle so early in the race, the preceding 14 km is a relentless ascent, to an altitude of nearly 300m (984ft) at Westville, which warrants its inclusion in the “Big Five”.

After the descent from Cowies Hill and the easy flat section of Pinetown's Old Main Road, this hill is approximately 22km (13.7miles) from Durban and rises some 213m (699ft) over a distance of 3km (1.9miles). It offers a foretaste of things to come.

After breasting the crest of Field’s Hill some respite is offered by an undulating but reasonably flat section to the village of Hillcrest. After a short descent from Hillcrest, Botha’s Hill offers another challenge with a somewhat lesser altitude rise of some ± 150m (492ft), and covering a distance of 2.4km (1.5miles), but is nevertheless taxing. At the top of this hill lies a landmark well known to all veteran Comrades runners in the form of the boys of Kearsney College who have gathered in numbers outside the famous school’s gates since the beginning of Comrade’s long history, providing much appreciated support to the weary runners. Their vociferous and enthusiastic support together with refreshments and any other assistance needed has helped lift the flagging spirit of many a runner and encapsulates the school motto Carpe Diem.

In the 7km (4.3miles) stretch from the top of Botha’s to the halfway mark, there is a fairly steep but short descent known as Alverstone, which is recognisable by the radio and TV transmitting mast clearly visible on the left.

At the end of the flat section after the sharp descent, runners encounter the Wall of Honour on the right hand side of the road, overlooking the Valley of 1000 Hills. This wall was created as a permanent landmark to honour the achievements of runners who have completed the epic journey between the two cities.

Just round the corner, through the cutting is Arthur’s Seat…a niche cut into the cutting wall, which legend tells us was the spot where the famous Arthur Newton, 5 times winner of the 1920’s, used to sit for a breather while out running. Today runners are urged to pay homage to Mr. Newton with a greeting and a flower, which legend has it, ensures a great second half of the race. Some believe he sits there every year, watching the runners go by.

Not far beyond this lies Drummond, which marks halfway, and is immediately followed by the fourth “Big Five” hill, Inchanga.

Immediately after reaching the welcome milestone of the halfway mark, runners are confronted with this monster. It winds relentlessly for 2,5km (1.6miles) and also rises some 150m (492ft) in altitude, but at this stage of the race seems far more difficult than the preceding hills.

The descent of some 2km (1.2miles) is more gentle and is a welcome relief. The bottom of the Inchanga descent is marked by Mayats Store on the right.

The route now follows a generally flat and slightly undulating landscape through the tiny villages of Cato Ridge and Camperdown and passing the Ethembeni School for Handicapped Children who line the route with enthusiastic support for the runners. Harrison Flats lies just before Cato Ridge and is an uninspiring flat section of approx 2.5km (1.6miles), which to the leg-weary runner seems endless.

Approximately 19km (11.8miles) from Pietermaritzburg is the highest point on the route (870m/2854ft) at a point known as Umlaas Road. This point is unremarkable as is not reached by any noticeable hill, and is largely unnoticed by most runners. A landmark is a concrete water tower which is visible on the other side of the freeway which passes near the route on the right at that point.

Polly Shorts
This is the ultimate in heartbreak hills. It lies in wait 80km (50miles) away from Durban and is often the make or break point for even the top contenders.  The climb is 1.8km (1.1miles) in length with the summit at an altitude of 737m (2418ft), a rise of nearly 100m (328ft) and while this is 133m (436ft) less than the highest point on the course, it is a formidable obstacle to any runner with two back-to-back standard marathons behind him.

Polly shorts is the last of the “Big Five” hills on the up run. Don’t be fooled though, there are many nameless hills between the five big ones. Never under estimate the route of the Comrades. The finish of the up run is nearly a kilometer higher than the start.

So it is nearly time for me to take on this challenge. A week from now I'll be in Durban already. In the mean time I'm keeping myself sane with some short taper runs.

Have a super weekend everyone!


BabyWeightMyFatAss said...

Have a great weekend too! I can't wait to hear your story!

Karen said...

I can't wait to hear all about it! Have a great time.

Anne said...

Wow! I am more than impressed that you will be doing this. Those are crazy hills! I look forward to hearing all about, because I know you'll do great :)

Marlene said...

WOW this race is no joke. I know all of your training will pay off next weekend. Rest up, fuel up, get ready!

Christina said...

I had no idea it was so challenging. It is not for the faint-hearted, that's for sure.

Julie said...

I love the wall of honour! How interesting. Can't wait to hear your report on this one, for sure!

Lauren said...

I would be nervous as heck coming into this race. I really love that wall, and also the tradition of placing a flower at the resting place of Arthur Newton. I've never run a race with any sort of traditions. Love it! Best of luck!

Abby said...

Whew! My quads hurt just reading about it... though I think I agree with you - the "up" year sounds a little bit better than the "down year." I'm not sure my IT bands would survive a downhill ultra.

Good luck!

The Green Girl said...

Thank you so much for sharing, Johann. I love the Wall of Honour.

I am so excited for you. Best of luck to you!

Kate said...

Some of those hill pictures are amazing. I mean, from the profile it looks beyond tough...but when you can actually SEE the steepness of the hill in a picture...wow!

Good luck, Johann! Can't wait to hear all about it!

Char said...

I take my hat off to anyone who attempts that race - particularly in the Up direction. It sounds incredibly daunting. Good luck with this last week of tapering.

Andre said...

Hi brother ! We will be with you all the way ! Good luck and good running!

Vera said...

Oh my goodness Johann!! I hope the year I decide to do this is a downhill year. This looks brutal but if there is any 1 person I know who can do it - it's YOU! Can't wait for the race recap! Good luck!

ajh said...

Great post. Those hills look majorly tough! Good luck. Been thinking about you.

juanitagf said...

WOW! That is a lot of hills! Anyone who even trains for this must have great dedication!

Average A said...

What an exciting challenge! After doing Comrades, when you come run San Francisco, it's going to be a piece of cake!!

Have a great weekend!

Amy said...

Very intimidating to read about all those hills - although I know you are up to it, Johann. Enjoy your last week of taper!

Jennifer said...

So exciting Johann! And scary too. You are crazy but at the same time what an amazing journey. Someday if I get to run this race I think I'll start with a "down" year! Cheers and have a great last taper week!

Staci said...

I am so excited and reading your report is so exciting - I can't believe I'll be doing all those hills in a weeks time! I know I wont remember the details, I plan on taking each hill as it comes. Hope to see you there!

Stacey (aka UltraPrincess) said...

Have a great time at your race!!! Good luck :-)

Giorgio said...

What a hard up hill! The fourth photo shows that runners were walking!!!
I hope you have a great time, Johann!

HappyTrails said...

That looks epic - have a very relaxing and rejuvenating week leading up to this Johann!!!

Anne said...

Thanks for the advice Johann...no worries, I'll stick to the plan :) No marathon for me just yet!

Black Knight said...

Enjoy the tapering time, taking this week easy because after you need all your strength.
Those hills look scary, particularly the first one (I mean the first pic).
Interesting post to learn about an unknown world of running for me: the ultra.

Ewa said...

Just looking at the pictures of those hills make my legs tired. Wow.
Thank you for this post. What an amazing race this is.
I read this and your previous post and I totally envy you. But instead of sitting here and reading blogs I should be training, right?
Good luck Johann.

Kate said...

An "Up Run". That sounds crazy. You will do great. Wishing you the absolute BEST. :)