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Yousef Tuqan Saab’s Ultra Marathon Adventure

Last summer, I learned about the Two Oceans Ultra marathon, a 56-km race around Cape Town that touches both the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. Touted as the “most beautiful race in the world”, it’s a challenging run that takes you over two mountain peaks before finally ending on the grassy fields of the University of Cape Town.

I made a note to myself to sign up when registrations opened on October 31, and I was one of the first people to sign up. Right, that’s the easy part out the way – now, I need to get “match fit.” After running a very tough New York Marathon in November with no training two weeks after my grandmother’s death, I had really suffered through the race, and I vowed not to repeat the experience in Cape Town.

From December to March, I took on a grueling 12-week schedule that required upwards of 50km of running every week, which is no mean feat when trying to balance the demands of my job at Flip, and trying to maintain some semblance of a social and family life. My mantra – first the run, then the fun – served me well as I managed long nights of running on the weekends before heading out with my friends for the usual abuse.

While on one of my early training runs, I decided to try and raise some money for charity to help me get my inspiration on those days when I just couldn’t face putting on my shoes and pounding the pavement for two hours. I set up a webpage – www.justgiving.com/yousef – and pledged the money to SOS Children’s Villages in Botswana, which provides family homes and vocational training to over 300 children in their villages in Tlokweng and Francistown. A third village is currently underway in Serowe, which will provide a home for 120 orphaned and abandoned children.

Fast forward to March 21, the night before the race. Suddenly, the reality of the challenge dawns on me – I need to run the best race of my life for 6 and 1/2 hours in order to stay ahead of the cutoff points and finish the race. Thoughts of self-doubt swirled through my mind all night. “What if I cramp up and can’t finish? How will I face all my friends and family if I don’t make it?” A few phone calls to my girlfriend and my family helped ease my worries, but I was so scared. Early to bed, for a 4:00 start.

On the way to the race, my taxi driver says to me “I don’t understand you runners. What’s wrong with a beer and television to enjoy yourself.” It’s 4:45 am, the wind is blowing a gale outside my car, and I’m starting to think the same thing.

  • 0 km: We’re at the start, and 15,000 other runners have assembled for the race. Runner are identified by colors (white for normal runners, blue for veterans who’ve done Two Oceans more than ten times, and orange for international runners). The sight of men and women as old as my parents with blue numbers is reassuring. Surely if they can do this, so can I?
  • 5 km: We’re now well into the race, and I’ve been running a solid 6:00/km pace, my usual training speed. I’m feeling strong, and my dreaded right calf muscle hasn’t uttered a peep of protest yet.
  • 17 km: We’ve turned into St. James Bay, and the boring part of the run is over. It’s all coastal roads and forest from here on out. Still hitting my 6-minute pace.
  • 25 km: I’ve passed the first of the cutoff points, with 20 minutes to spare. Feeling strong, and thinking I just might get through this.
  • 28 KM: I’m halfway there. I’m getting out of my comfort zone now, and we’ve begun the first uphill climb, a 6km gradual run up Chapman’s Peak. Many of the runners have started to walk now, but I put my head down and keep running up that hill. Along the way, I spot a blind runner and his guide in front of me. It was so humbling to see someone with a disability to bravely conquering such a challenge. Respect.
  • 30km: we’ve coming around the bend, and the beautiful sights of Nordhoek Beach blow me away, not to mention the gale force winds pounding us on the mountain. This really is heaven.
  • 34km: I’ve reached the next cutoff point, and the top of Chapman’s Peak. Despite the mad wind blowing, I know that the worst is now behind me, and it’s time to cruise. Time to take it up a notch and make up some lost time on downhill to Hout Bay
  • 38km: Another cutoff point passed, and I’m feeling. I’ve hardly stopped running, and I’m feeling so good. Coming down into Hout Bay, the streets are bursting with well-wishers and spectators – kids cheering for their dads and eager friends who dragged themselves off their couches.
  • 42.2km: I’ve now run a marathon in 4:29. Only five minutes off my personal best, and 40 minutes faster than my New York time last November. I’m on fire, but getting tired. Only one more cutoff point left to beat at the top of Constantia Nek, and I’ve got an hour to get there. I’m well ahead of the curve.
  • 46km: I’ve reached the top of Constantia Nek, 30 minutes ahead of the cutoff, and it’s downhill all the way from here. My victory lap has officially begun. We now begin a long descent through the Tokai Forest down to Newlands.
  • 54km: The finish line is just around the corner, and I know I’m almost there. I’m running along Isaac, a true Two Oceans veteran in his 50s, who’s running his 20th Two Oceans. According to him, he used to run Two Oceans in 3:40 when he was my age.
  • 56km: At last, I’m here. When my feet touch the grass of the UCT stadium, it’s like a dream come true. I had visualized the grass of the finish line so many times in my mind that I can’t believe I’ve made it. The crowds are cheering, and I’m literally jumping and down with pleasure.

I’ve made it in 6:22:59. Thank you to everyone for your wishes, your support, and the $2,000 in charity money that I raised. On to the next challenge – the Stockholm Marathon in May!

Source – Flip Blog 😉

3 Comments

  1. I want to Run my First Marathon In 2010. I found a program by Marrius Bakken, which I found on you tube which looks pretty promising….He takes you through 100 days of training for the big race….For those interested in running their first marathon run this is the product to get….