I once asked well-known mega-distance runner, Eleanor Robinson, how she trained for a 24-hour, a 1,000 or a 6-day race. Logic told me that if I was running 160 – 220 kilometres a week in preparation for the 90-kilometre Comrades, she must surely try and run double or even three times that distance for the insane mega races she ran. Her answer was really illuminating;
“I don’t really train at all, Bruce,“ she replied. “The distances I race are so ridiculous, the best approach is not to train at all. The best way to prepare for an ultra is to be really well rested.”
Eleanor Robinson was a major force in ultra-mega running back in the 1980s. She retired with a persistent foot injury 15 years ago, but there is still great wisdom in what Eleanor had to say back then. When an epic journey lies ahead of us, it’s best to be well rested before we embark on that journey. And, in 3 weeks’ time, an epic journey lies ahead for 18,000 Comrades Marathon runners.
I know Comrades runners are obsessed with completing their last long runs. (Several groups and clubs ran 60 km training runs this weekend). I also know there will be many who are stressing over lost training and interrupted schedules. However, the intense training time for Comrades is almost at an end.
Lost training cannot be recovered, and runners should remind themselves that even the elite Comrades gold medallists suffer from training schedule hiccups. I believe there is perhaps one more week of hard work ahead, and then it is time for Comrades runners to start the great, steep training glide down to race day.
Remember, at this stage, there is very little runners can do to get fitter. But there is so much they can do to over-egg the pudding. I would suggest a last 20 to 25 kilometre run next weekend as a last long run and a short distance race or time trial, just to check fitness and readiness to race, on the 4th.
Looking back at my old training diaries I see that after the first week or 10 days of May 1983 I slashed my weekly training mileage drastically, dropping from 180 kilometres a week to 120 kilometres, then 80 kilometres and, finally, a few easy runs in the week before the race. Obviously this is the training schedule of someone hoping to win the race, but the principle remains the same for every runner at Comrades; tapering for race day is an essential ingredient in preparing for the Comrades.
This is my last training week for May 1983, a pattern that varied little for over a decade;
- Sunday – steady 15 – 20 km
- Monday – easy 8 km
- Tuesday – easy 5 km
- Thursday – no run
- Friday – no run (took a very good look at the route instead)
- Saturday – no run
- Sunday – Comrades marathon 1st in 5:30:12
Rather like Eleanor Robinson, I always believed that the best last-minute preparation for a brutal ultra-marathon like the Comrades was no preparation at all. By the Saturday morning I was always keen to get started and champing at the bit to run. I liked that feeling of believing I was slightly overweight and under-trained for the race.
That’s the condition I recommend for every Comrades hopeful. Get to the starting line in Durban,’ in just under a month’s time, feeling slightly under-trained, slightly overweight and very excited to run… and a great result is on the cards.
With thanks to the Citizen newspaper, South Africa.
P.S. If you are running Comrades this year and would like to take a good look at the route before race day, you’re welcome to join my route tour on Friday 2 June. You’ll find all the info here.
And the, of course, there’s my ‘Bruce Fordyce After Party’. Always fun. Hope to see you there!
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