Now that the Two Oceans dust has settled, and the postmortems of the great race have been completed it is time to take stock and make plans for the Comrades marathon in August.
When the Comrades marathon association first announced that the race would be run on August 28th there were howls of protest from some quarters. (We all understand that change often makes people uncomfortable. Try changing a runner’s familiar training route if you want to see an adverse reaction to change) But the rationale for the August date was more than adequately explained in the letter the C.M.A. posted.
• The Comrades race date has changed many times in the past. Unlike the Boston marathon (Patriots Day-18th April) or the Two Oceans marathon (Easter) there is no traditional date for the Comrades.
• There will be more daylight for the race when it is held in early spring. This makes life easier for exhausted runners struggling to the finish line and for volunteers trying to set up and clean up after the race.
• Despite the understandable fears expressed about the KwaZulu-Natal heat the C.M.A. have consulted their weather experts and have been informed that daytime temperatures are only marginally warmer in August than in June. June is not always cool and mild. The furnace-like conditions of the 2013 up run spring immediately to mind. That year hundreds of runners found themselves struggling and the medical facilities were almost overrun as Berg wind conditions wreaked havoc.
But now there is no more time for discussion. The arguments are over. The Comrades will be run on 28th August. How do Comrades runners approach this new challenge? Firstly, they must adjust their calendars. August 28th is now the new mid -June race date, and May is now the new March and is the start of the important hard training phase. Most of us understand that it is only possible to sustain intense, committed and hard training for about 8-10 weeks. Any longer and injury and sickness loom and motivation starts to wane. Those who started training seriously in January and February and who produced some excellent results back then are not necessarly to be envied.
Infected with that dreadful virus “desperatelykeentitis” they launched themselves out of the starting blocks far too soon. (Unless of course they were aiming for a fast run at the Totalsports Two Oceans marathon in which case they need to recover, retreat, regroup and try to lose a little fitness and gain a little weight before next month’s second major push to Comrades.) It is an exciting bonus that the new Comrades date has made it possible to race both major South African ultra- marathons hard. In the past there was simply not enough time to race the Two Oceans and then race the Comrades a scant few weeks later and do justice to both. I am aware that some notable runners achieved remarkable doubles in the past, but the double was a high-risk gamble. I’m not much of a gambler.
The perfect Comrades training programme is all about timing and the understanding that success at the Comrades Marathon does not necessarily go to the runner who trains the hardest but rather to the runner who trains the wisest. For that reason I have always argued that the time to start this intense training in the past was at the beginning of March, 8-10 weeks before race day, allowing 3 weeks for a steady pre-race taper and rest. Now the same applies to the new race date. It is just that the calendar has shifted. The principles remain set in stone. The hard training grind must now start in May, ideally the middle of May, but I understand runners are champing at the bit to get started, especially after hearing the news that the CMA have agreed to enlarge the race field to 20000 so let’s kick off on the 1st May.
This does not mean that runners should have been idly twiddling their thumbs and relaxing these last few months. They need to have been running consistently and building a solid running base or foundation from which to launch their specific Comrades training. My base used to consist of steady months of 100 to 120 kms per week. Then when the time was right, I would then surge to 160 -200 kms per week. If this seems excessive, please understand that some of my running rivals, and other top competitors, ran as much as 240 kms a week. Hopefully every aspiring Comrades runner will bring a training base, a solid foundation to the critical three-month slog. The aim here is to build the endurance and strength required for the Comrades and then in the last few weeks to add speed and stamina, and then taper and finally rest for race day. Of course only a few athletes can manage 160 to 200 kilometres a week but what will be required from the beginning of next month is a consistent blend of L.S.D. (Long, slow distance runs) hilly runs, some speedwork or faster running and of course, some rest. When pushed into a corner with the frequently and urgently asked question “What is the least amount of training I can get away with and still finish the Comrades?” I answer, I believe a handful of weeks of the Comrades distance (90Kms each 7 days) seems about right.
For every Comrades runner there will be setbacks. I am not a negative thinker but rather a pragmatic one. When runners are training hard sickness and injury lurk in the shadows of every long run and every hill session. The physiotherapists are licking their lips. This is a wonderful time for business. They understand that no one has a perfect training build up, not even champions. Every Comrades runner will have to confront setbacks from time to time.
It is going to be made even tougher for runners who live in the South African Highveld and in colder parts of the southern hemisphere. The key training months are all winter months. It will be dark, and it will be cold. I remember some bitterly cold July days last year where my poor dog bumped his nose on the ice in his dog’s bowl, and where our fingers went numb despite the gloves we wore. At times icy winds cut through us. I must admit there were some early mornings where I sought comfort under my duvet rather than venturing out into the cold to run. But none of us were training for the Comrades then. Our North American and European counterparts must be chuckling at us. For too many years they have had to prepare for Comrades through bitter winters. But prepare they did, so Comrades runners will just have to harden up like they did, and grin and bear it.
But here we go. The great adventure has begun There are about 112 sleeps ahead of us. Before Comrades runners have even noticed it will be race morning and Max Trimborn’s dawn cockerel crow will be echoing outside the Pietermaritzburg city hall.
Join Bruce Fordyce Comrades bus route tour 26th August. Tickets available here!
Join The Bruce Fordyce Comrades after party 29th August! Tickets available here!
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