Friday, 24 February 2017

Pirates Half Marathon - Joburg's Toughest Half

Sunday 19 February it was time again for the yearly Pirates Half Marathon which is known as Johannesburg's toughest half marathon. I've never done this race before and the Wednesday before the race I decided I am going to enter. This was also the last day for online entries.

I collected my race number on the Saturday before the race and I was quite surprised that it was only a timing chip/paper that you had to put in your shoe laces and that no race numbers were issued.


However, you had to go in on a certain website (instructions as per the below picture) to enter your details according to your chip number so that your details are linked with the chip. I don't think many runners knew that because when the final results were released there were a lot of "unknown" results.

It was a nice early start for me and I left my house around 4:20 on Sunday morning to avoid peak time race traffic. I got to the start just before 5am with about an hour to spare before the start of the race. I met some of my fellow club members and we gathered at our club tent waiting for the time to pass to go to the start. (you can actually see me at the bottom right corner at the white club tents - it's me with the red back-pack on my back.)
Then we gathered at the start in the main street at the Pirates Club. It was a large race with around 4000 entries. I heard afterwards the hosting club were not quite prepared for the large number of on-the-day entries and apparently they ran out of timing chips. This however is unverified. The race started about ten minutes late, but this was probably due to the late entries issue.
The race start off with a short straight section then a downhill up to around the 1km mark. Then you start climbing the first of 3 hills. This first hill, the smallest of the three,  is around 2 km' s long with an ascent of almost 100m. It has got a sneaky bit in the middle where you think you've reached the top and it flattens out a bit, just to realise there are still another 600m or so to go before the top.
The next section of the race is downhill to around the 5km mark with a small bump that takes you to the 6 km from where you start climbing all the way up to the 10 km mark with the most difficult section between the 9 km and 10 km markers where it was just impossible (for me) to run. This was also my slowest km of the race at 10:24 per km.  
After this mean hill there is a bit of relief with a downhill where you can catch your breath before the final climb starts at around 12.5 km and lasts for around a kilometre which will take you to the highest point in the race at around 13.5 km.

This is also the point where "King and Queen of the Mountain" are determined and when you get to the top there is a lot of support and encouragement from the supporters and people that live in the area. There's also a much deserved water point with ice cold Coke which is welcomed at that point in the race.
From there it is mostly downhill to the finish except for a few small inclines which can be tough on tired legs. The marshals did a really good job as well as JMPD which was present at most of the large intersections and I am not aware of any incidents with impatient taxi drivers as per my previous post.
There's also a long straight section which was also challenging for me as you need to work all the way on these straight sections. When you hit the 20km mark there is a small hill that lasts only for around 400 meters but I remembered at this point I was really tired and just wanted to finish and I ran one lamp post and walked between the next until I reached the grass section just before you turned onto the field at the club where the below sight awaited you.
I finished the race in a time of 2:37:41 which is slow at an average pace of 7:28 per km. I expected this and never really expected a PB, but it was really tough and I struggled towards the end, even on the descents.
I am very happy with the medal with the very accurate description of "Over the Mountain" on it. And the skull on it - well it depends how you want to interpret this - It is the sign of the Pirates road running club and it can also mean what will happen to you if you do this race.  

Overall a very good well organised race which I enjoyed and I will definitely be back. It surely tests your fitness and your mental strength but the views from the top of Northcliff hill is really worth the suffering.
Photo Credit
I generally don't run with my phone to take pics during a race but I have found all of these excellent images from Terence "ActionMan" Vrugtman on the Pirates Facebook page.
All credit goes to him as he is also a runner and a trail runner who normally runs the entire race that he is photographing.
You can see some of his work at the following links and you can follow him on social media as below:

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