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Home >> Blog >> Dane >> From occasional runner to blue number

From occasional runner to blue number

  • Ultra Marathon
  • Blue Number Club

Are you preparing for your very first Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon (OMTOM)? Your first Half Marathon? Your first Ultra Marathon? If it will be your first, I can feel with you. I remember my first OMTOM as if it was yesterday.

On March 31 this year I’ll join you, my fellow runners, wearing a yellow number, indicating that I’m on my way to my permanent blue number for 10 OMTOM Ultra Marathon finishes. If you would have told me this 12 years ago, I would have said. "You are insane. Running a marathon is crazy, and what is an ultra marathon anyway?“

How times can change.

The 2007 marketing flyer

 It was a pure coincidence, or rather serendipity, what happened in February 2007. My wife and I, at that time living in Stuttgart, Germany, were on our second vacation to South Africa. We were at the Tourist Information in Burg Street, Cape Town, flipping through brochures, when it happened. The marketing flyer for the 2007 OMTOM Ultra Marathon got into my hands. Little did I know how much change this would bring. Funny enough, the 2007 race happened to be on my birthday, but I’m sure something bigger must have struck a chord within me.

I looked at the brochure and an inner voice told me: "One day I have to run this race.“ Until that day, I wasn’t into running. I ran the local Stuttgart half marathon once a year and considered a full marathon as crazy, unnecessary and unhealthy. And I had never heard of ultra marathons. This changed. Forever. And it changed my life. Forever.

The first marathon

After our return from the vacation OMTOM did not leave my mind. So I looked for marathon races, training programmes and eventually signed up for the Munich marathon at the end of 2007. I wanted to figure out if my body would be able to handle such a distance. It did.

The following year, and another marathon - followed by the decision to sign up for my first ultra marathon, the 2009 OMTOM. Which was another good reason to visit beautiful South Africa.

I prepared and trained religiously. I wrote a blog after every single run to hold myself accountable. I wanted to make sure I don’t pull out along the way. I started learning my lessons, like overtraining and shin-splits. But nothing could stop me from getting ready for my first OMTOM. Not even freezing temperatures in January in Germany.

The first OMTOM Ultra

I was nervous like hell when I pitched up at 5am on the 11th of April 2009. My bib said '0' races and I looked in awe at the folks around me with 12, 25 or even 32 races under their belt. I was happy, nervous, excited. And ready. I even wore a running shirt I especially prepared for the race.

It was quite an experience getting into unknown territory after the marathon mark. And I was blown away by the spectators and the atmosphere. I was hooked. Many things changed since I finished my first OMTOM in 5 hours and 23 minutes.

What running gave to me

I learned after a couple of years, that the finish times were secondary. The two most important elements running brought into my life were the people and the habit of running. I won many friends through running and blogging about my runs. I learned so many lessons from running which I can apply to my life and my business.

One of the most relevant changes since 2009 was moving to Cape Town in 2010 and to live in the most beautiful city in the world. To be honest, the race was not the main reason to move, it was rather because of how much my wife and I love this city, country and its people. But being so close to the race makes it much easier to get to the blue number. I had some fantastic races, and I had awful races.

Special races

In 2012 race day happened to be once again on my birthday. That was my opportunity for a massive birthday party without having to pay for it - and I lead the sub 6-hour bus. What an amazing experience and very, very rewarding. I trust it gave me more, than to the people I helped achieving their goal to break the 6 hour barrier. 2012 was also the year when we called it "The 4 Oceans“ due to the torrential rain. If we could only have such a rain again.

In 2013 I got an even bigger opportunity to run with blind athlete and adventurer Hein Wagner, and assist him in finishing his first Ultra Marathon. What an amazing man with such a strong vision.

I learned a lot about nutrition and tried many products and combinations of food. Currently people know me as the guy who eats pizza - during his races. Yep. Pizza. That might be another blogpost…

My food for the 2016 OMTOM (date bars and pizza for the race, banana and water for the start, special recovery drink for after the race)

I didn’t improve my times too much throughout the years. I confess I don’t do enough speed training. This makes me even more happy, owning two Sainsbury and seven ronze medals as of now.

 It’s a gift - let’s be grateful

For me personally this race, any race, is a gift. I am deeply grateful being able to run, to participate in such a wonderful event, to enjoy my life and to be able to share it with thousands of other running addicts.

My personal blog about running became quite popular and every year I receive quite a few emails asking me about race strategies for Two Oceans or Comrades, for nutrition or training advice. And I receive messages from people who followed my sub 5 and sub 6 strategies  and got the medal they were aiming for. This humbles me every single time.

In case you want to run with a bus this year, you might like to have a look at my "Pace Bus Etiquette“ post on the Two Oceans Blog.

Being nervous turns into being humble

You might be wondering if I still get nervous at the start of the race? Well, I’m not getting nervous, since I know I have completed the distance many times.

But every time I line up, I have a massive respect ahead of the race, since millions of things can happen during a race and there is nothing we can take for granted, no matter how well we prepare. I might get to the start with high expectations and a plan, but I remain humble.

Now let’s focus on the 2018 OMTOM

Don’t take your race too seriously. Enjoy it and have fun. Be grateful for being able to run it. You could be injured, sick, unable to afford it… Being there, lining up at the start, is an achievement. No matter how fast you are going, you are faster and are going further than many of the people on this planet ever will. I am grateful to Two Oceans for changing my life by being part of it.

If you are also going for your blue number this year: Good luck and congratulations. If you are going for a double or triple: My respect.

If you are going for the first time: Have fun - yes, you can do it. Just don’t stop, keep on moving towards the finish line and soak up the energy around you. This is the most beautiful marathon in the world. And if you are somewhere in the middle: Well done to you. Enjoy the race, the time, the company, the feeling of accomplishment

Let’s stay in touch

If you see me on the route - no matter if during the race or during my training runs somewhere along the Atlantic Seaboard or on the trails of Table Mountain - please say hi.

I’d be happy if you follow me on Instagram and visit my blog.

Now, tell me, what are you goals for 2018? Any question I can answer for you?

by Axel Rittershaus