It was the morning before the Comrades marathon in 2019 and I was gazing out of the 15th floor window of my room in a Durban beach front hotel when I witnessed an astonishing sight.
No, it wasn’t the brightly billowing spinnakers of 100 international racing yachts nor was it the conning tower of a nuclear submarine surfacing off the bluff.
It wasn’t a breaching whale, and the famous sardine run where black clouds of fish are accompanied by plummeting gannets and leaping dolphins was only anticipated the following week.
No this was a more amazing spectacle. This was the sight of dozens of Comrades runners committing athletic suicide on the esplanade below me.
Great impis of sweating runners were charging up and down the North Beach promenade singing and waving their arms like a high-speed mobile Mexican wave. A few runners would peel off from the crowd and sprint at breakneck speed along the length of the pier.
Other smaller groups were engaging in vigorous callisthenics on the grass next to the beach. The excitement was palpable. These enthusiasts were making sure everyone knew that they were here, in Durban, to conquer the Comrades marathon the next day.
In a chronic case of mass group psychosis these runners were also loudly broadcasting the fact that they had never heard of the three magic words “pre-race taper.”
They were advertising the fact that the Comrades was about to conquer them.
As Comrades runners commence training in the first week of August, they can feel immensely relieved that the really hard work is behind them.
Most will have run their club 60 km run or be about to. Nearly all will be tired, heavy-legged and grumpy giving meaning to the explicit Afrikaans adjective, gatvol!
From now on no Comrades runner should consider running a long slow run of further than 35 kms. (And that definitely includes those who missed some training because of injury or illness.
I discussed this athletic crime of “making up for lost training “in an earlier blog)
The emphasis now should be on resting tired, overtrained legs, on building strength, and on sharpening up for race day. This particular skill is better known as peaking for race day.
If in doubt I recommend you answer some key questions.
“Should I run 15kms today or 10kms?” My advice – run 8 kms
“My training mates are running a last 40 km. on Sunday. They have promised it will be slow and gentle. Should I join them?”
My advice, run a slow, gentle 20km on your own.
During this endgame many runners are understandably still overwhelmed by the urge to try to do something to get fitter.
And there is something they can do. They can take the strong, fit, battle-hardened runner that they have built and sharpen it for race day. They can achieve this by running some faster, shorter runs or races, and some short steep hill repeats, to sharpen up, and to reassure themselves that they are ready.
The process is a little like taking a solid strong blunt blade of a knife and honing it on a whetstone until it is razor-sharp.
The sensation of growing and accumulating fitness will be accelerated by reducing bulk mileage.
From Monday 8th August I recommend slashing great swathes and chunks off your training mileage.
As an example, I used to run 160-220 kms per week for 3 months while training for Comrades.
With three weeks to go to race day I would drastically reduce this training workload to run 100km a week and with 2 weeks remaining I would run 70-80kms.
I peppered that schedule with plenty of faster and more intense runs such as time trials, cross country races, track work and hillsprints ( If we had had parkruns in my day I would have run a couple of speedy parkruns.)
But it was the last week of my training schedule that prepared me best to race 90 kilometres.
It’s almost a paradox, but in order to meet that challenge I hardy ran at all.
I hope the last entry in my training plan (“90 mountainous, brutal, exhausting kilometres”) drives the point home.
- Sunday 15kms steady pace
- Monday 10kms easy pace
- Tuesday 8kms easy pace
- Wednesday 5kms very easy pace
- Thursday no run
- Friday no run
- Saturday no run
- Sunday 90 mountainous, brutal, exhausting kilometres.
The best way to prepare for battle in the last few days is not to run at all and to spend as little time as possible on the legs.
An extended rest creates legs that are strong and champing at the bit to race Comrades.
“Rest” includes avoiding spending hours at the pre- race expo collecting numbers and browsing through all the stands and stalls seductively touting their wares.
It also includes avoiding strolling around for ages looking for a suitable carbo-loading restaurant that isn’t fully booked.
But whatever runners do and at the risk off overstating the point, here my plea.
“Please don’t join the ranks of the boastful runners making exhibitions of themselves on the beachfront on the morning of 27th August. “
This blog is published by kind permission of The Citizen Newspaper.
Join the Bruce Fordyce Comrades Route Tour on 26th August 2022! Tickets available here!
Join the Bruce Fordyce Comrades After Party on 29th August 2022! Tickets available here!
If you would like a personalised training program for Comrades or any other distance please see www.fordycefusion.com for more information.
Join the Bruce Fordyce Comrades After Party on 10th June 2024! Tickets available here!
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