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First Two Oceans in two years – a dream for runners

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Capetonian Sarah Silber exceeded her expectations by coming 19th out of 1 010 women in the Two Oceans ultra-marathon (56km) in her hometown on 17 April this year.

“My goal was to come in the top 20 or 25, but I was doubtful after hearing how many elite ladies there would be at the race,” she says.

Her time of four hours and 16 minutes, an average pace of four and a half minutes per kilometre, meant that she finished just 45 minutes behind Olympian and reigning Comrades Marathon champion Gerda Steyn, the first woman to cross the finish line in this year’s edition, thus claiming a hat-trick of victories in what is known as the world’s most beautiful marathon.

Silber entered this year’s race as part of her training for her first Comrades in August. “I’ve missed races so much. We have hardly had any since the start of COVID-19,” she says. “Two Oceans is a big event on the running calendar, and I would have had a serious case of FOMO [fear of missing out] if I didn’t enter.”

She has run several marathons, her most recent being the Cape Peninsula Marathon, in which she placed fifth and ran a personal best time of two hours, 59 minutes.

Her time in this year’s Two Oceans was 33 minutes better than her previous participation in the race, in 2019.

Silber follows a training programme which involves a combination of speed sessions, long runs, and time trials.

“I increased my mileage quite a bit in the weeks leading up to the race, and then went into taper mode in the last two weeks,” she says. “The week before the race is always very important for any runner. Doing too much can really jeopardise your performance, and it’s crucial to make sure you rest and eat properly during that time.

“There was so much excitement at the start about being able to line up for the Two Oceans for the first time in two years,” says Silber.

It was an amazing experience, especially the support along the route. While ascending Chapman’s Peak, the runners were treated to magical views of the coastline.

When they ran up Constantia Nek, “every little shuffle was met with a round of applause”, says Silber.

By the time the runners reached Kirstenbosch gate, they started sprinting on the downhill because they knew the finish line was near. “That finish-line feeling is indescribable,” she says.

For two other Capetonians, Dean Horwitz and Mark Rodgers, running in the 2022 Two Oceans seemed like a pipe dream two years ago, yet they completed the half marathon (21km).

Horwitz, a freelance social-media manager, has gone from barely being able to walk 5km two years ago to finishing in the top 50% of all runners who completed the half marathon.

“I started running in March 2020, right at the beginning of lockdown,” he says. “It was basically like either I sit around and do nothing, or just start doing something, and I decided to give running a try. I started running in my parking garage. As the lockdown eased, I moved to running on the promenade here in Cape Town, and I fell in love with running. I slowly built up the distance.”

Rodgers, in his first-ever half marathon, finished just less than 20 minutes behind Horwitz, achieving his goal of finishing within two hours, 45 minutes.

“For about 40 years, I didn’t think I could run,” says Rodgers, a financial manager of a non-governmental organisation which deals with childcare in Africa. “I didn’t enjoy running. In fact, the last race I did was in 1999.”

Had Rodgers not joined Spartan Harriers sporting club at the end of 2019, enrolling in its 12-week running programme for beginners, he wouldn’t have been used to putting on his running shoes let alone entering the Two Oceans.

“I never thought I could run a race,” he says. “I thought you had to be an athlete to run a half marathon. But I soon realised it’s not about the race. It’s the training for the race that’s much more important.”

Rodgers played sport at school but was never a top sportsman.

“I always thought that people who ran marathons were sports jocks, but that’s actually not true,” he says. “Some people started only five or six years ago but became top runners five years later. You just need to dedicate some time to it.”

For a while after COVID-19 arrived, Rodgers didn’t run. “But six months ago, I re-joined the club and then suddenly, I was in the Two Oceans training programme. We ran every Tuesday and Thursday evening and on Saturday morning for 12 weeks.”

Having completed Two Oceans, he aims to enter more races and get more people into running. “The bug has bitten. I’m enjoying it. On the run, you meet like-minded people from all walks of life.”

Horwitz, meanwhile, always tries to run with different people to make the experience fun. “Last year, I did six half marathons with one other person every time,” he says.

About a year after taking up the sport, Horwitz roped in ultra-marathon runner Nic de Beer as his coach. “A friend of mine’s husband was friends with him,” he says. “He gives me a weekly training programme. It was quite a weird experience in the beginning to follow this programme. I didn’t really know what was going on or what I was doing. But once I started trusting the process, that’s kind of when it all kicked into place. He basically took me from running 10km to a half marathon in six months.”

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