The race is not always to the swift…

“Ag man look at this, it’s disgusting! How’s a person supposed to read this?” Andries said, pointing to a note someone had made on the patient’s ICU chart, “And you guys are always giving me a hard time about my handwriting!” “No Andries,” I replied “When you’ve made notes we have to pass the file around in order to get some sort of a consensus on what it is you wrote.” “Nonsense man, when did this happen??” He asked looking shocked. “Every single time you make notes for a patient” I said, and at this point I could no longer keep a straight face and I may have broken into a giggle. “Ag piss off man!” He said when he realized I was having him on.

Andries is quite a character, somewhat of a legend actually in PE circles. When he was with in ICU with us I found working with this guy like trying to run alongside a fast moving train. He seems to have an endless supply of energy, doing everything at a 110%. If one didn’t know him one might describe him as brash. “Listen here, I don’t care I’m a surgeon I just want to cut!” He once said when I asked him about a patient’s electrolytes. That is obviously not the case, he does care very much about his patients. I used to hear stories about this guy before I came to Livingstone hospital. During my community service year at Dora hospital an intern once told me a story about how once when he was on call in surgical admissions he telephoned Andries for some advice. “Where are your seniors?” Andries asked. The two registrars both happened to be in theatre, operating. “Agg no man!!” Andries replied, uttering a few choice expletives. He proceeded to go to the hospital and on a day when he was not on call and should have been at home, he saw every single patient in surgical admissions with the intern and wrote out a plan for them, much to the junior doctor’s surprise and relief!

Then there’s Jonathan or Jon as we know him. Originally from Kwazulu Natal, schooled in Cape Town and now here in Port Elizabeth for the last 4 years or so, he is the archetypical coastal boy I suppose. His main interest like me, is internal medicine. He is quite literally one of the most intelligent people I have ever met. Insight, and lateral thinking are what come to mind when I try to describe him. He says things on the ward round that give the impression that he is thinking further than what has been presented about the patient. All of this is tempered by the fact that when dealing with Jon one on one I have found that it is always good to have one’s guard up, if only ever so slightly. This is because there is always a small possibility that Jon might be taking the piss.

He once walked into the doctor’s tea room and told Sashelin that there were three patients on their way down to ICU right at that moment, two of them medical and one surgical. They had been discussed telephonically earlier and needed to be admitted. Sashelin is another one of the doctors in ICU, he was on call that day. Jon delivered this message in the afternoon, just as the rest of us were getting ready to call it a day, leaving Sash on his own for the night call. Three ICU admissions all one right after the other is quite a bit of work for one doctor to have to get through on their own. One generally hopes to have that many over the whole night maybe, along with having to look after all the other patients already there.

“What the…?! Tell me a bit more about the cases?” Sash said, a little bit worried. Grinning Jon said “Had you a little worried there eh!”

Also, Jon has two accents: most of the time he sounds like himself, the coastal laid-back ZA boy, but every now and then when he is excited or wants to emphasize something he breaks out into what he thinks is a black African accent. Asides from being incredibly inappropriate it is a little funny at times, in doses. He’s a good guy though, we get along. In between work we’ve had a few good convo’s about the meaning and purpose of life, rugby and other such deep topics.

Sashelin is another character all together. Everything about this guy just screams linear and organized. Including the way he presents patients on the ward round and his approach to answering questions from consultants. He is also a budding surgeon. When he and Andries aren’t arguing about some or other surgical topic they can be found giggling (yes giggling) about something that is only clear to the two of them. Their respective personalities offset each other. Andries will typically storm into a room and exclaim “I just saw this patient,” and he’ll scrunch up his face “Absolute chaos, complete disaster!” While Sash is more calculating.

As one would expect from a perfectionist Sach thinks that anything that any other doctor does is below par. “They did what?…Slacking!” He’ll say while shaking his head disapprovingly. “You’re a slacker!” He’ll say to Andries, “Ja, jou bastard!” Andries will return.

I have mentioned before that I find it hard to (that is to say I don’t) write when I’m not inspired. This translates to not wanting to write when I’m unhappy. So I am much more likely to share the good bits about my Eastern Cape experience than I am to divulge on the times that are not so good.

I have been going through somewhat of a lull at work. I spent about four months working in ICU full time, and the last two months in the renal unit, while still doing my calls in the ICU. It has been quite an experience. My brain is constantly racing, or flailing I should say. Much more appropriate.

Too. Much. Information... Image obtained online from rainnamail. files.wordpress.com

Too. Much. Information… Image obtained online from rainnamail. files.wordpress.com

It is quite something to be in a ward round or sit in in a discussion where after every few beats I’m thinking “Wait, what was that? Wow is that what we think it is, ok… but what does that actually mean, and how on earth did we get to a point where we’re considering a diagnosis of..? Man I’ve gotta read that up (picture scrunched up face emoji). So as I mentioned before I made lists, of topics. EVERY. DAY. It was crazy. I tried to keep that up. The list is as long as my arm right now (and I have long arms!) I can’t honestly quite say how far I am with that…

It’s one thing to look up something but quite another to know it. I very much doubt that I’m the first medic to wish that I could read something once and know it (If only!) You have to see a case, discuss it, go read up about it, see that same case again then see another similar case again later, be reminded of what you read, have the discipline to go back and read it again. This may be over a period of a couple of weeks, months, maybe even years and then, only then can it maybe be said that you know a few things about said condition, maybe… And even then there’s knowing something and there’s knowing it, with all the nuances that it can’t go without. I say it’s advanced HIV and the response is “Stage it, three or four? then I know exactly what we’re talking about…” I say it’s nephrotic syndrome. “No, it’s renal dysfunction with nephrotic range proteinuria, not quite the same thing…”

'Don't over-think it' just doesn't apply here... Image from clipartof.com

‘Don’t over-think it’ just doesn’t apply here… Image from clipartof.com

Herein lies my little conundrum. I have been comparing myself and my level of knowledge (or lack thereof) with the guys that I’ve mentioned above and others like them. We’re all roughly about the same age but they all have at least a couple of years on me in the profession. Sash and Andries have both recently written and passed their surgical intermediate exams and are well on their way to becoming surgeons. Jon has worked in the renal unit where I am currently and in ICU previously and he has just started a masters research degree in anticipation for starting as a registrar some time soon. I finished my year of community service just a few months ago. The difference in experience, and my lack of it, goes a long way towards explaining my sense of inadequacy.

“The first 2 months you’ll feel like you have no idea what is happening, then the next two months you’ll think you know what’s happening but the truth is you’ll have no idea what you’re doing and the next two months you’ll carry on, you’ll feel much more comfortable and you will know exactly what it is that you don’t know…” This was my buddy Gareth breaking down the phases one goes through when starting in a new place of work. “It’ll take you like three days to get into it…” one of the consultants said before I started. “You’ll be fine in about three months…” another doctor had assured me. I had admitted to feeling a little nervous before starting in ICU. Take all of those estimates, average them out and add in the ‘slow learner’ factor and the fact that my learning curve in ICU was truncated after four months and you might get an idea of my slight sense of disorientation and not-knowing. “You don’t have to know everything bru, you just need to have an approach.” Jon said once…

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I read somewhere that to live a creative life we must lose our fear of being wrong. In the art form that is medicine however we prefer to be as exact as possible. Given what is at stake most medics would prefer to get as little wrong as possible. This comes with time. With time there is more learning. With time there is experience. I can say with absolute certainty that I am a better doctor today than I was about six months ago when I first arrived at Livingstone hospital but even so I am far, very far from the finished product. The further one goes in the profession the less we can be forgiven for not knowing. The buck stops at the specialist really. Ideally once they have spoken there should no longer be any need for continued discussion about the diagnosis right? Yes, and no. The time factor still plays a role I think: The difference in experience and exposure between the specialist physician who qualified a short while ago one who qualified a few years ago (and continued to learn-it must be added) means that there really will always be some room for a question or two.

This is acute kidney injury secondary to new onset sepsis. It will resolve with the systemic infection. A week or so of antibiotics. Me thinking last week while we were going around seeing the renal in-patients with the consultant. I smiled and claimed a personal victory (however small it may have been) when the consultant looked up from perusing through the file and voiced out loud almost exactly what I’d been thinking. There is something very satisfying about nailing a diagnosis. “The patient was on Tenofovir though,” (a nephrotoxic antiretroviral) I hadn’t picked that up. But the creatinine levels had been normal before the infection…

We each of us run our own race. Some will fly out of the blocks and we may not even see them along the route because they’re so far ahead. They may have been blessed by nature with the right combination of traits that make them really fast, or they may have had a look at a route map before setting off making them better prepared. Others may find the course a little more challenging, what with the hills and other obstacles (those that are part of the route and others that we make for ourselvesπŸ˜‹) Some of these strugglers will learn along the route, gaining momentum as they go, gathering pace. A marathon I have found-is all the more enjoyable once one ‘finds a rythm’ so to speak.

The tortoise wins this one we all know that, but what if these two characters were each running their own race? Image from quoteinvestigator.com

The tortoise wins this one we all know that, but what if these two characters were each running their own race? Image from quoteinvestigator.com

We each of us run our own race. At the road races I am one of that crowd that starts out fast. I lose pace the further I go, and I have to fight to finish with a nice time. In life however (at work-in medicine more specifically) I have found the converse to be true, a typically slow start with a slow but sure upward trajectory.

It is probably not entirely correct to liken running to a career as a medical doctor but hey each to their own-frame of reference. I love my job, and I love my running so here goes: It took me over four years of road running to figure out what I had to do to get my body to a level where I could do a sub-4 hour marathon and along with that a sub-5 hour 50km race. Once I had done that it changed the whole game for me, I broke 3hrs 40mins just the other day, but more on that later… I have come to understand that it is going to take me longer than four years to get to a point where it is being said that the buck stops by Pascal, he’s the go-to physician in these parts, no need for a second opinion.

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Same old brain, same old heart…

Down and around on Sparrow drive, left onto Villiers, right onto 14th, right onto Water rd, all the way down untill it turns a sharp right into 5th, then left onto Prospect rd, right into 4th, left into Fordyce, right into 1st then left into Heugh rd. It eventually becomes Walmer Boulevard drive and I have to decide between taking a right onto Forest Hill rd which will take me past the airport then back toward home for what ends up being a 16km run. Alternatively I could keep going on Walmer Boulevard and eventually turn right onto Humewood road and run along the beach front into Summerstrand for what ends up being a 24 or 25km run. Either way I usually end up back on Villiers pushing along the last 3 or 4km, a very slight uphill to the end of my run.

I live in Walmer now, still in Port Elizabeth. It is July and effectively the 3rd month of a new year for me. So new beginnings, new running routes, new legs (kinda feels like that 😌). Same old heart…

It takes me a little over an hour and a half to run a half-marathon (1hr 35mins is the best I’ve ever done). By contrast it took about a year and a half of studying before I felt ready to write the College of Medicine Part 1 exam (Primaries). It wasn’t a full on effort for that entire period of time. I made the decision to start preparing a year and a half ago. Deciding is one thing, executing is another thing altogether, but I did translate mentation into action, albeit intermittently at first. I spent the first two months of 2014 (the end of my time as an intern) studying like my life depended on it. The renal and endocrine chapters of Ganong’s Review of Medical Physiology were put away with aplomb. I then ran out of steam and seemingly motivation. I did continued, though at a more measured pace. I was on and off over the next few months, days and weeks went by when I was very studious, and other days and weeks passed when I was less so. I finished my internship at end of April 2014 came down here to Port Elizabeth for my year of community service. I continued to study intermittently. In about November of last year I pressured myself into making a decision about when to actually sit for this exam. ‘When I’m ready’ was no longer adequate. A definite time line would also serve to put me under a bit of pressure. After the new year I became a little more consistent, measuring my time more and more by what the amount of reading I had or hadn’t done.

On 31 April in the early afternoon I walked out of the medical ward at Dora Nginza hospital for the last time, having completed my one year of community service. I have now done my ‘Zuma years’ as some would say. I no longer owe the government anything in the way of being fully recognized as a medical practitioner. Nice I suppose, and following that, if I wanted to tomorrow I could open my own private practice. Naturally I’ll do nothing of the sort. No I have a much less comfortable, far less glamorous future in mind. Picture a medical registrarship, long hours and an unreasonable work load at Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital. Picture having ample time to read but way too much material to have to cover and master. Picture HIV and TB, and more HIV and TB. Picture me being able to conjure up obscure spot diagnoses in response to a long convoluted set of signs and symptoms blurted out by a fellow medic on a grand ward round. Picture that. That’s my kind of life.

I had a week-long holiday of sorts at the beginning of May. I spent the first weekend in Johannesburg with my girl, Meryl. We set up house so to speak, at a cool little backpackers on Doris Street in Kensington for 4 days. We spent the days studying believe it or not, she for her midyear exams, the first of which was the following week, and I continued to slog through Ganong’s. I then went across to Centurion, Pretoria to spend a couple of days at my parents’ house.

10 May, 8.05am. I was up. Much earlier than I normally like to be out of bed on a Sunday morning. There were church bells ringing (literally) not too far away, the sun was out and beating down hard. If Long street was a person he, or she (we’ll settle on ‘she’) would be elderly, not frail but hardened and somewhat jaded, with that seen-it-all thousand yard stare. On this particular morning she looked calm, expectant. Breathing easy after the shenanigans that she’d played host to the previous night. I was standing on the corner of Long street and Longmarket street waiting for an Uber. The car pulled up and I jumped in.

Long street, Cape Town

Long street, Cape Town

Grote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town

Grote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town

I had been in Cape Town since the previous Thursday evening for a refresher course for the Primaries organized by the University of Cape Town (UCT) department of medicine at Grote Schuur hospital. A friendly summarized version of ‘everything medical physiology’ with a sprinkling of pharmacology, microbiology, statistics and some other need-to -know stuff. All squeezed into 3 days of back to back two-hour lectures. What we do for kicks eh! 😌

#geekmode

#geekmode

Difficult thing to get used to again, sitting in a lecture hall and having to maintain concentration. It took me right back to medical school, dosing off every now and then, not due to lack of interest but just sheer inability to pay attention for such long stretches of time. “Let’s hope something something sticks…” Dale had said on Friday morning as the first lecture had started. He and Alex, my Dora-mates and fellow Witsies had made the trip down too.

Seagull. Harbour.  V n A Waterfront, Cape Town

Seagull. Harbour. V n A Waterfront, Cape Town

Caught a little bit of comedy on one of the nights

Caught a bit of comedy on one night

Back in Port Elizabeth after that weekend I started a new job, in the ICU at Livingstone Hospital (LVH). It has been a continuous, seemingly non-ending learning curve this last month or two, and I’m really enjoying it, surprisingly. While being quite challenging, working in the critical care unit at LVH has not been as scary as I had thought it would be before transferring across.

It is a high pressure environment with a neat set of rules and regulations. If A happens then we must respond with B. If C happens then the patient must receive D, if X then Y etc… Protocols. Know what to do, how to do it and when it is appropriate to do so. Not so intimidating when looking at it like that but the thing to do obviously, is to determine why or how X happened isn’t it? That is the real art of what we do as medics. The lady is in low output heart failure, she has a valvular lesion. She has had it for many years, so what is different now that has caused her to tip over, caused her to decompensate…? There is a lobar pneumonia and she is in sepsis. What is the offending organism? What is the appropriate antibiotic? If we decide to initiate… Can we wean her off the inotropes? Get her well enough to get off the ventilator? The gentleman in bed 5. Severe pancreatitis, most likely due to years of excessive alcohol. Now a couple of days post-op, and in respiratory distress, tachycardic. Septic markers inconclusive. Antibiotics? Nope. No real temperature spikes, blood cultures haven’t yielded anything. Is there a fungal infection, maybe…

I’m only a few weeks in and am admittedly a slow learner. The goal is to get to a place where one understands rather than just knows the protocol, why do we do B when A happens, and Y when X etc… I have the rest of the year more or less, to get comfortable and to get better. I am definitely enjoying myself and who knows, perhaps I’ll become an intensivist one day after I deal with this minor detail of qualifying as a physician that is :-P. Oh and while we’re on the subject of my current situation, regarding Eazy in the EC: ‘One year in the Eastern Cape’ has turned into two…

In between all of this new learning at work I continued plugging away at the material for the Primaries. I finally got down to doing some statistics (my favorite! 😦 ) Research is how medicine and hence patient care moves forward these days. One can’t be a medic and not have at least a basic understanding of statistics, to my chagrin.

Towards the end of May and through most of June my life seemed to become ever more streamlined. Simplified if you will. Life became work, eat study, study, study, sleep. In that order, in ever repeating cycles. I went through an eerily familiar phase towards the end of June. Everything other than what I was supposed to be studying became interesting. On numerous occasions as I was about to sit down at my desk I would think “What was that thing they said on the radio earlier? Lemme google that, I can’t believe Kanye West would…” or I’d realise that I hadn’t been on Instagram for a little while and before I knew it I’d have spent a whole half-hour of my life perusing through images some pretty, and inspiring but mostly bland pointless and entirely non-contributing to my ambitioned future life as a specialist physician… Then I would eventually sit to study and I’d be quite productive for a while until I would think: “What if they ask a question about this…?” I would fret, and quickly look through my notes again, or “What if there’s question on this…?” and I would stop what I was reading and have a quick look at that too. All these questions about these little things. These little molecules, ligands and receptors, these pathways. “My brain is tired, my backside is sore, my back is aching… ” “My everything is everything!” I said to Meryl over the phone one night (insert sad, self-indulgent emoji) “Maybe I should stop studying and download a movie…” There’s a good way to spend this precious time!

This is not dissimilar to my pre-exam behavior back when I was at medical school. In fact the mental merri-go-round, emotions and sense of subdued-yet-bubbling-over stress I was going through felt exactly like it did when I was a hapless student. “That exam is quite soon isn’t it, you look so calm” my colleagues would say. It is most definitely just a look. People also said that about me at medical school, alas it is very different to what I’m going through on the inside. The older I get, I realise the more I still stay the same. “I wish I could redo the last year and a half with a different brain!” I found myself saying to a friend.

I still ran, but only about twice a week and when I did run I seemed to be squeezing it in between the studying. I’d get home from work and put in a couple of hours at the desk and get out onto the road quite late, knowing full well that it would be dark by the time I got back if I covered 15 or 16km as I felt I had to. I felt sluggish, barely ever able to push myself very far under 5min/km pace. Healthy body, healthy mind, a teacher once told me back in high school. But when the mind is preoccupied the body can but to follow suit.

On Saturday 20 June I ran the Heartbreak Hill 21.1km, organized by Charlo running club. 1hr 44mins and a few seconds. Not a time to rave about but I was coasting mostly. I didn’t hang around after the race, briefly said hello and cheers to some of my running club mates who I hadn’t seen in what seemed like for ever, and promptly went back home and kept at the books. On the following Wednesday myself, Dale and three other aspiring physicians sat in a classroom upstairs from the library at LVH and each of us worked our way through the 150 questions on physiology mostly, some statistics, some microbiology and pharmacology. I walked outta there at 12h02pm having handed in my completed paper, after using every single one of my allotted 180 minutes.

That afternoon I was to the airport to pick up Meryl. It had been 6 long weeks since I last saw her and she looked gorgeous!

That was last week. The Grahamstown arts festival kicked off yesterday. There’s a marathon on next weekend. I’m not in very good physical shape at the moment but I’m gona give it a go

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To speed or not to speed

Cape Town is pretty. I mean like air-brushed pretty. Pretty like you would see on a postcard, or on the pages of a magazine. You almost forget that you’re in Africa, almost. The faces look like the faces of the people that you know, see meet and greet in the Eastern Cape just a few hours drive away. The accents are the same too… Well no, not quite. Everything in Cape Town the capital of the ‘Republic of the Western Cape’ while being no different to the rest of South Africa (SA), has a certain sterility about it. That is if you look no deeper than the surface. Even the way the service in restaurants is really slow is almost charming…

Anyway it’s really pretty and nowhere in my opinion is it more so than when seen from atop one of the numerous viewpoints on Table Mountain or from any other place that allows you to take in Cape Town along with it’s most famous landmark.

Me. Table Mountain...

Me. Table Mountain…

Late Friday afternoon on Easter weekend Meryl and I were at Signal Hill, one of Cape Town’s better known view points. Signal Hill overlooks the Sea Point area to the East and Cape Town’s Green Point stadium to the North. Roughly in between those two, one can also see Robben Island, the critical piece of South African political history that it is, in the distance. We did the walk from there up to Lion’s Head on one end of Table Mountain. We had first done this little hike in October last year and absolutely loved it. Walking away from Signal hill towards ‘the mountain’ one has a view of the city of Cape Town to the left and on the right beyond Sea Point the ocean with the sun slowly setting. It is the stuff that moments are made of. Beautiful, and well worth doing more than once. Hiking. We were hiking and I was due to run the longest race of my life the next day. “I’m sure you’ll be fine,” my girlfriend said. Sure, this could be like a little warm up…

Meryl and I. Sea Point in the background

Meryl and I. Sea Point in the background

Looking back at Signal Hill. Sea Point on the left, and Cape Town city on the right

Looking back at Signal Hill. Sea Point on the left, and Cape Town city on the right

When I first started running (about 4 years ago) it was all about how fast I could go, I was trying to get my times down with every race I did. My personal best times over 10, 15 and 21.1km are were all done during that first year or so of running. I ran all my races at about 4min 30secs per kilometer. A year or 2 later I ambitioned to run longer races, and my thinking and therefore race strategy was that I should run slower in order to preserve myself over the longer distance. As of March of this year I had run 4 marathons and 2 ultra-marathons using that same race plan, usually giving me finishing time that averaged out to about 6mins/km.

I always crossed the finish line at the end of these long races with a slight but nonetheless distinct feeling of dissatisfaction looking at my finishing time. 4hrs 11mins was my best effort over 42km, and a little over 5 hours for the two 50km races I had done. Over the last little while I have become a little more confident about keeping up a good pace over a long distance. My recent 30km race in Uitenhage and a couple of 32km races also at a good fast pace over the last couple of years has me thinking that it would be ok to forgo the conservative approach for the marathon.

South Africa has two world renowned ultra marathons, the 87km long Comrades Ultra marathon, run from Pietermaritzburg to Durban and vice versa on alternate years and the scenic 56km Two Oceans ultra marathon in Cape Town. The latest edition of the latter was run on Easter Saturday 04 April, and I along with 11 000 other runners was lined up at the starting line on Main Road just outside the University of Cape Town (UCT) at about 6am that morning.

Pre-race zone

Pre-race zone

The starter’s gun went off at 6.30am. I had qualified with a 4hours 38min marathon earlier in the year so I was at the back of that large field.”E doesn’t stand for elite?!” Said Barbara with a mischievous grin on her face. She and I and a handful of others from Crusaders, our running club in Port Elizabeth, were at the back of the large field. More like ‘E’ for everybody, we all laughed. We had a couple of runners further forward in the starting field, in C and D, I think.

Crusaders peeps, from left to right: Mushroom Charles, Christine, Shaun, Barbara, an yours truly

Crusaders peeps, from left to right: Mushroom Charles, Christine, Shaun, Barbara, and yours truly

Starting toward the back of such a big crowd means that one literally walks, or shuffles forward at the beginning of the race as everyone is bunched together initially, and quite frustratingly there is a delay before one actually crosses the start line. As soon as I could I moved myself to the left side of the bunch where I could run a little more freely on the pavement. I made good time in this manner, moving back onto the road a few kilometers into the race when runners were more spread out. ‘Spread out’ is overstating it a little, the sheer number of runners present on that day meant that throughout the 56km there were always many other runners immediately around. I have never run in such a busy congested race before.

Speed in road running is relative. My personal best time over 10km is 42 minutes. The average elite runner might do that kind of pace on a slow run, when they are actively trying to hold back. For a little perspective: runners at that level zip along at approximately 3mins/km, with the best of them able to maintain that pace over 30, 40, 50+ kilometers. Super-human stuff! Also, runners are different. I caught up to Rose, one of our club captains at about 13km. She is over 50 years old and one of the best runners at our club and in PE. She builds up pace slowly, eventually settling at about 5min 30secs/km. She is able to keep going at that pace for hours, literally. She can’t do what I can do over 10 or 21.1km, but as of yet I have never bested her in anything longer than the half-marathon. On this day I managed to stay with her until about 45km, she ahead sometimes, and me leading at other times.

From just after 25km there was an steep incline called Ou Kaapse weg (Afrikaans for Old Cape Road) added to the Two Oceans route at the last minute the previous week due to fires and the risk of rock slides on Chapman’s Peak, the usual route. It is a gradual climb from just above sea level to about 300m above sea level (ASL) just before 35km. The news of the change had runners in absolute hysterics in anticipation that it would make the overall Ultra marathon more difficult as Ou Kaapse Weg is steeper than the Chapman’s Peak climb (see: How to Run Ou Kaapse Weg – Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon | News24 – http://www.news24.com/MyNews24/How-to-Run-Ou-Kaapse-Weg-Old-Mutual-Two-Oceans-Marathon-20150330) My strong suspicion is that the reactions had more to do with having to miss out on running up the beautiful, scenic Chapman’s Peak. Anyone who has ever been a tourist in Cape Town will attest to the fact it is one of Cape Town’s treasures.

Ou Kaapse Weg certainly majes the Two Oceans route a little more challenging!

Ou Kaapse Weg certainly makes the Two Oceans route a little more challenging!

Despite all the trepidation my new found bravado had me all but attacking this monster of a hill. When I arrived at the beginning of the ascent that is Ou Kaapse Weg I just kept running, refusing to give too much thought to the incline. I made what I thought was steady progress, Rose caught up to me about two or three kilometers up. Having to maintain a conversation when you’re working that hard isn’t much fun but she isn’t nearly as chatty as other runners I’ve come across. From about 30km other runners and Marshalls along the route would chirp that the end of the hill was just around the corner. This was a blatant lie, of the type that often gets told from the side of the road at road races! Three more kilometers of uphill is not ‘just around the corner’. Nothing like being given false hope when in a state of suffering that makes one lose one’s sense of humor. Best to just block out what was happening outside of my zone. Focus on the pain, much more fun!

Going up Ou Kaapse Weg

Going up Ou Kaapse Weg

Once we were finally over the top of Ou Kaapse Weg we started a three or four kilometer descent. I normally accelerate on a downhill to try and least partly make up for some of the minutes lost in pace going up the hill but I was in such pain after that particular hill that I did no such thing. My legs felt like two poles made of lead and every step I took felt like something sharp was being stabbed into the belly of each of the individual muscles in my thighs. I proceeded along, the messages from my motor cortex to my lower body were simple: put one lower limb in front of the other and just make sure we are at the very least going forward. Pace is not an issue! A couple of kilometers onwards still going downhill (unbelievably) I was in less pain, I allowed my strides to get a little longer, having had a quick look at my running app I realized that I was on track for a good marathon time. I passed 42.2km at 4hours 6minutes, better than my previous personal best. I was quite happy although the official clock had me at 4hours 12minutes due to the delay at the start. (official race time starts with the starter’s gun, I usually start my app when I go across the start line, usually resulting in a one or two minute discrepancy. Longer in this big race obviously. Irritating, but can’t be helped)

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A couple of kilometers later I seemed to run out of energy. I felt flat and all my strength seemed to leave me. I stopped to walk for the first time. I just had no fight in me anymore and the thought that there was still more than 10km left to run all but broke my spirit. At some point I was overtaken by a guy wearing a shirt that said ‘Two Oceans One God’ hec, I thought, it’s Easter weekend I should be at church on my knees not out here on the road wanting to crawl on my hands and knees! 😌

I was shuffling at about 48km when the 6 hour bus overtook me. This was a group of about twenty runners talking and encouraging other. They would stop periodically and power walk with their arms in the air, and then carry on running again. I thought I’d latch on. They pulled away from me after a little bit but I was newly galvanized and kept going. I past 50km at 5hours 7mins (app time) and I thought: surely I’ll get to 56km before 6hours? Sure, easy. Right!

I sprinted the last kilometer or so, and last little bit on the UCT rugby fields (the state of my legs at that stage means that ‘sprint’ might be somewhat too strong a word… it felt like a sprint in my head!πŸ˜‹) and I snuck in for an official finishing time of 5hours 59minutes.

The rest of this pic shows me in a collapsed heap!

The rest of this pic shows me in a collapsed heap!

I was more or less useless for the rest of that day, my legs felt like they were separate from my body and every minute spent on my feet felt just plain unnecessary. Despite all of that I realized something right there and then, or more specifically sometime during the race. I felt that I had more or less conquered the long run! After 4 years of running I had new confidence, and I no longer feared the marathon. It was a quiet victory, and it felt good.

St Francis Bay

St Francis Bay

Meryl has a friend who’s family had a house in St Francis Bay for the Easter holiday. We spent the next two days out there with them.

St Francis Bay

St Francis Bay

Very early the next Tuesday morning I was driving us back to PE. Meryl was to catch a flight back to Johannesburg and I would go on to work. I decided there and then that another ultra marathon would be fun. Sooner rather than later. Good to use the momentum from a big race.

Back in PE and back at work all I could think about was all the studying I had to do. “You must read. Read, read, read, you must dissect the material…” An old acquaintance of mine back in Wits days used to muse, mimicking one of his lecturers no doubt. Every time I go past Dale, another doctor who I work with it’s “Dude did you get anything done yesterday? I sat for the whole night going at it till I was too tired!” Or the guilt-edged “Man yesterday was a write off I was lazy, gonna have to hit it today!” Or some variation thereof from either of us on any given day. A few weeks ago Dale decided to jump on the eager bus and write these blasted Part 1 exams. He’s got good energy and it’s good to have someone to compare notes with. It took me a couple of days to get back into a rhythm, but by the weekend I was flowing again, doing two to three hour stints at my desk with short breaks in between. The story of excitable tissue with characters including the action potential in it’s various guises isn’t new or mind blowing stuff to me but absolutely everything needs to be reviewed. I keep thinking about how much of a breeze this exam would’ve been if I had written it immediately after my BSc degree, that is in an alternate universe where that sort thing is allowed: BSc, then FCP… πŸ˜–

Having given my legs a sufficient rest I did a hard, fast 18km and 21km run on Friday and Sunday respectively. I was on call twice the following week, Tuesday and Thursday and I managed fit in an 8km time trial (for the speed work) on Wednesday evening, crazy!

Come Saturday (last weekend) at 6.05am I drove into a little town called Pearston, about two and a half hours inland from PE. I was 5 minutes late for the start of a 50km race, having woken up just before 3am and driven out there (the things we do for kicks eh! 😌). The race was to be run along the R63 east towards Somerset East, another of Eastern Cape’s charming little towns.

As it turns out the race hadn’t actually started yet, lucky! So I rushed into the little town hall adjacent the main road, got my race number pinned to my chest and ran out just a few minutes after the rest of the runners (about one hundred in number) had set off. Off I went then, at exactly 4min 33secs through each of the first 2km (uncanny, I know). I felt good in that cold drizzling early morning dark as it slowly gave way to the first tentative light of the day. I caught up and overtook a bunch of runners, and crossed the 10km mark at about 49 minutes after which there was a slight but perceptible drop in pace to just over 5mins/km as we began a slow elevation from approximately 700m ASL where we were to an ultimate elevation of 1000m ASL at approximately 25km, where I was going at over 6mins/km. I crossed the halfway mark at about 2hrs 18mins and since we were at the highest point on the route I could see what was coming and as tired as I was I liked what I saw, the rest of the R63 to our destination was a windy route with several peaks, none of which had anything on the hill we had just summited. So I leaned into that initial descent hitting a fast but comfortable 5min 20sec/km, and keeping that up for the next 13 or so kilometers, surprising myself. This was uncharacteristically aggressive for me in the middle of an ultra marathon but in keeping with the new long race strategy of don’t-hold-back-just-go-for-it.

Dusk. Long road to Somerset East

Dusk. Long road to Somerset East

At 36km I stopped for the first time to walk up to and past a water point. I then kept going. All I could think about at that point was the 42km mark which I eventually crossed at 3hrs 57min, faster than I ever had before!! Just 43, 44, then 45, 46km… I said to myself. Almost there chap. At 47km there was the final little hill, the universe’s last little attempt to break your spirit if that hadn’t already been done by then. By this point I would’ve needed to stop and not run for a considerable spell to undo the good work I’d done thus far so it didn’t matter that after I dragged myself over that last hill the last couple of kilometers were quite slow, I felt fantastic. I entered the grounds of Bruintjieshoogte, the venue and host of this race and did the last lap around the rugby field in a surreal daze that I’m not quite sure how to describe, crossing the finish line at 4hours 45mins, surpassing my previous personal best by over 20 minutes.

Another ultra in the bag!

Another ultra in the bag!

I got a medal and a water bottle for my troubles and went to find a spot on the grand stand to give my legs an overdue rest. Then I was on the phone with Meryl trying to relay my excitement as I watched other runners coming in, their club members cheering them in.

I got a ride back to Pearston to get my car and made my way back to Port Elizabeth. I was buzzing for the rest of that day, and the next for that matter. Odd thing, being excited, happy and tired and sore all at the same time.

Sunday morning came and the realities of self-inflicted goals and commitments returned and I plonked my backside down in front of Ganong’s chapter 9: Vision. Each rod and cone photoreceptor is divided into an outer and inner segment… This is my #beastmode morphing into my #geekmode I thought as I hunched forward…

Meryl and I on top of Lion's Head, overlooking Cape Town after sunset...

Meryl and I on top of Lion’s Head, overlooking Cape Town after sunset…

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