Surviving the silver sprint
The Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon has a special medal for almost every type of runner, but one of the hardest to get your hands on is the highly coveted Ultra Marathon silver medal.
Amongst runners of a certain ability it’s widely known that achieving a Two Oceans Marathon silver medal is a tough task, perhaps one of the toughest tasks in ultra marathon running.
To get a silver medal at the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon, runners need to finish in a sub-four hour time. Of the 11 000 runners who started the event in 2017, just 143 finished the race under four hours.
One of those 143 runners, in fact the last of the 143, was Edgemead Running Club member Gary Brown. The four-time Ultra Marathon and five-time Half Marathon finisher was the last person to claim a silver medal in 2017, crossing the line in the nick of time at 03:59:54.
For Brown, nabbing the silver was a goal from the first time he finished his first Two Oceans Marathon in 2013. (His times prior to 2017 are not too shabby either, with just one DNF and three sub-four-and-a-half-hour finishes to his name).
“The silver medal was always something on the radar,” says Brown. “In fact, I think I’ve arrived at previous Two Oceans Marathons in better shape. It’s just that everything clicked on the day in 2017.”
Brown confirms that chasing silver is a hard target, particularly due to the race’s profile over the final 14km. “When you’re going after that sub-four time, the race - like the race for first place, I guess - really starts at the marathon mark. Obviously there is the climb up Constantia Nek to come, but then running downhill after that can be even harder.”
The ace up Brown’s sleeve this year was the sub-four pace setting bus. He stuck with the bus all the way to Constantia Nek until a “bad spell” forced him to drop back.
“At that stage I’d written the silver medal off,” says Brown. “I was in a dark place. But I got to the top and thought I’d give it everything I had to get to the finish line, even if that meant finishing one minute or one second after the target. I pushed on, and then when I turned on to Rhodes Drive I realised I might still make it.”
Energised by the distance markers showing just a few kilometres to go, Brown put his head down. “I was heaving up Rhodes Drive. I think I ran the last kilometre in 3:45. I got on to the grass and could see the clock. The crowd was cheering like mad, the commentator was doing a countdown; on the grass I was running 3:20. It was an amazing experience, close to what a rugby or soccer star must feel when they hear the roar of the crowd.”
Brown eventually crossed the line in 3:59:54, the final silver of the day. Spare a thought for poor Simon Sibisi, who came in at 4:00:13. So close.
“I didn’t know where I was,” says Brown. “I was totally broken; I couldn’t speak. My old flatmate was there. He came over to me, but it took me a while to realise who he was. I made it through the medal collection and Cokes, then saw my wife and we both had a good cry.”
The leaders of the sub-four bus on the day are under no illusion as to how hard it is to achieve the silver medal time.
“To lead the bus, training is very challenging as you need to be at least 15 percent fitter than your fellow runners in the bus that you are trying to ‘drive’. So training includes two long runs, one short run and then speed work at least twice a week,” said one of the “bus drivers” Warren Jeppe in the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon magazine ahead of the 2017 OMTOM race. His co-bus driver Richard Flint noted that both pace setters need to ensure they are both at similar fitness levels and get familiar with the pace they need to run on race day.
For Brown, the pace setting of the bus was a boon. “I must just thank the pace setters. They really got their pacing and timing spot on. There was time for banter and gees, and when the going got tough the bus got going.”
Gary Brown crossing the line seconds before the silver medal cut off.
Photo: Jetline Action Photo