Sometimes bronze is the medal with the brightest lustre. Or perhaps the less gifted runners in a race are correct - the greatest reward is simply participating. I think it was Bridgitte Hartley’s bronze medal celebration on the podium at the London 2012 Olympic Games that first had me thinking about the relative happiness and fulfilment of the three medallists who share the podium at any major championships or indeed at any sporting competition. (Bridgitte Hartley, for those who don’t know, is our much-loved sprint canoeist, whose bronze medal in the Olympic canoe K-1 500 metres race in 2012 came as a delightful surprise to South African sports fans, and perhaps even to herself.) At the event medal ceremony Hartley was bubbling with excitement, in stark contrast to the sombre looking gold and silver medallists from Hungary and Ukraine. I think she may even have shed a tear as she leapt into the air and waved enthusiastically at her cheering teammates. Clearly Hartley’s medal was the highlight of her career, and she was going to savour every moment of her success. Of course, what I discuss in these few lines is a huge generalisation, and there are massive and many exceptions to my argument, but I do believe that it is quite often true that the three medallists on a podium convey the same emotions as those who shared the 2012 Olympic women’s K-1 podium that day. I have an extensive collection of athletics books and articles and while brushing off the dust, and browsing through a few of these old athletics magazines, I was struck by a striking photograph of the finish of the 1972 Olympic men’s 1500 metres final. In the photograph Finland’s Pekka Vasala has his arms raised in salute and triumph as he realises he has just won the gold medal. A short stride behind Vasala, the defending champion, Kipchoge Keino, looks angry and disappointed in second place, but New Zealand’s Rod Dixon is celebrating, shouting excitedly, almost like Brigitte Hartley. He still has 5 strides to take to the finish line, but he knows that he is the bronze medallist. Few photos sum up the attitudes of the three medallists in a major competition better than this one. I can also speak from personal experience. While I have never achieved the lofty status of being an Olympic athlete, (Brigitte is there any chance I trade a Comrades medal or two for your Olympic bronze?) In my time I have stood on all three steps of the Comrades marathon podium, and as the years have passed, I’ve had time to contemplate and observe the impact those three steps can make on the contentment and satisfaction of three athletes. Gold medallists are obviously both proud and delighted to have won but there is occasionally an aura of solemnity and disquiet about them as if they have suddenly realised that being the champion brings with it a level of responsibility and pressure and delivers the nagging question: “Ok I’ve achieved my dream, (After many months, possibly years of intense training and preparation) What now? What do I do now with the rest of my life? Do I try and defend my title? Will I become a target for others in my sport? How else can I find a sense of purpose in my life? I remember running for the Transvaal B team in the South African 10km. championships in Bloemfontein many years ago. At that race the pressures and public expectations of being a Comrades champion were driven home to me. From the start to the finish that race was a high intensity battle and exhausting sprint for me. It took me five kilometres to catch Zola Budd, the ladies champion. I recall being delighted with my time, which was a shade over 31 minutes. I had run that time in the high altitude, rarified Free State air. I think I finished in 25th place. As I stood at the finish, bent over, trying not to be sick and gasping for air a very disappointed young lad asked me in a concerned voice “Oom, hoekom het jy so swak gehardloop?” (Sir, why did you run so badly ?) I understood his thinking; If I could win a 90 kilometre ultra a 10km race should be no problem. To my young fan my performance was nothing short of disastrous. I would be lying if I tried to argue that I didn’t enjoy being an former Comrades champion. Indeed, it is a singular honour. However, I have learnt over the years that victory is not the panacea for all one’s problems. Indeed, in many cases, they can be exacerbated. The very witty and wise Oscar Wilde may have been addressing champion athletes when he penned the words “Sometimes when the Gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers “ Silver medallists are often the least happy of the select three. They can appear both uneasy and dejected on the podium. They often look lost in thought while standing on the podium as if pondering about what might have been. And isn’t it interesting that of the three metals, silver is the one that tarnishes rapidly and must be regularly polished to make it gleam and shine. The very act of polishing is a constant reminder of “What might have been”. The current ladies Comrades champion and up run record holder, Gerda Steyn, once remarked; “silver sucks, hey Bruce.” I understood what her disdainful remark meant. Both Gerda and I had finished second in the Comrades before we were fortunate enough to win the Comrades the following year. I can still recall those 365 days of angst, and how very few days passed that year without my thinking about the 2 minute gap that separated me from Alan Robb, the winner. “If I had just believed in myself more, if I had not let him get so far ahead at halfway, if, if only…. A newspaper article written at that time taunted me, “So often the nearly man, when will Bruce learn to win?” The pain of losing gold and having to settle for silver is nowhere better illustrated than at the 1973 Comrades marathon where Gordon Baker was passed by Dave Levick two kilometres from the finish line. In those days Baker was known as the “nearly man “. Despite a string of top 10, and agonisingly close, top three finishes in the famous ultra, he had never won the race. In 1973 he surged into the lead a handful of kilometres from the Durban finish line. Baker’s seconds gave him a last drink, and urged him on “Enjoy it Gordon, you’re going to win.” Baker could hardly believe his good fortune. His dream was about to come true. He was approaching the finish stadium and was busy preparing his victory speech when the dream was shattered. He enjoyed the lead for half a kilometre before the flying Levick caught him. Dave Levick understood the pain of almost winning. He had finished second two years earlier. As he passed Baker he is purported to have gently tapped him on the shoulder and muttered, “I’m sorry Gordon” Baker was so crestfallen that he lost almost 4 minutes in the final approach to the stadium. Years later Gordon Baker was sitting astride the Comrades marathon lead motorbike driving ahead of me as I lead the race. When I faltered on one of the final hills he spun around on his seat and urged me on; “Please don’t slow down Bruce” he shouted, “I can’t bear to watch you surrender the lead.” And then there are the bronze medallists, the Bridgitte Hartleys of the sporting World, who often appear the most delighted of the three receiving their medals on the victory podium. Critical thinker and psychologist Gad Saad has argued that Logic and economics tell us that silver is more valuable than bronze and yet in many instances on the podium bronze is the more treasured of the two metals. I agree with him. On the last day of the Tokyo Olympics Botswana’s 4X 400 metre relay team beautifully illustrated the joy of a bronze medal podium finish when they celebrated their 3rd place by waving their vibrant blue national flag and embracing each other on the finish line. The Botswana team included 35 year old Isaac Makwala who seemed so overwhelmed by his bronze medal that for a while he sat with his head bowed. My third place in the 1979 Comrades marathon remains one of my favourite races. It was a race full of happy memories. That day I would have sold my soul for a finish in the top, and to my utter joy I finished on the podium. A friend who was watching in the stadium that day described my final few hundred metres of running as a giant beaming smile on legs. The night after the race I pinned the medal to my bedside table so that it would be the first thing I saw when I opened my eyes in the morning. From time to time, I still glance at that shining deep bronze medal and smile. If ever proof were needed about the value of a bronze medal for any athlete, then we need do no more than study the reaction of those runners who have placed 4th in a major competition. (Fourth position has to be the most agonising and disappointing finishing position.) The great South African sprinter, Akani Simbine has finished 5th and 4th in the last two Olympic 100 metres finals. He is now more than ever determined to correct this at the next Olympics. I am sure he would treasure a bronze medal. But there is actually a 4th step on the podium. It is a legendary step and it is an honourable step and that is the one that is often most treasured. That step honours the finisher, the participant who along with millions of others competes for the “ordinary finisher’s medal”. This is the least glamorous medal and yet is desired by more athletes than any other. This medal is awarded to those who conquer the greatest opponent of all, themselves. These are the runners who, despite not having chosen their parents correctly, triumph by overcoming their genetic limitations. The achievement of overcoming their human frailties is as significant as standing alone on the top step of the podium. No wonder so many of these ordinary participants finish races with tears of joy on their cheeks and with their arms held aloft. And no wonder the most dramatic moments of most races are not those when the winners break the tape but when the crowds scream and cheer and urge the last competitors home before the final, dreadful cut-off gun is fired. These are the most revered athletes of all and there is no medal, gold, silver, or bronze nor step on the podium that sufficiently honours their courage and tenacity.
I am sure that I am not alone in this wish, but when this whole Covid-19 “pandemic” nightmare is over (and hopefully that is very soon) there are some words and phrases I hope never to hear or speak again. These words include, “social- distancing”, “wear a mask”, “vaccine”, “sanitiser”, “pandemic,” “stay safe” “lockdown” “Covid protocols” “Ivermectin“ and,” for the greater good”. I hope also to see some phrases (more…)
A lesson from SpaceIt was May 5th 1961, and astronaut Alan Shephard had been sitting in his capsule Freedom 7 on top of a Mercury-Redstone 3 rocket for 4 hours. His mission was to become the first American in space and only the second astronaut to make this hazardous flight. (Russia’s Yuri Gagarin had beaten him to the “first man in space” honour a few weeks before.) Shephard’s mission in space was only supposed to have lasted a little over 15 minutes but several delays had led to him waiting a few hours for lift-off and also to his becoming increasingly frustrated. Several morning cups of coffee and orange juice had already resulted in Shephard having to urinate inside his spacesuit. Shephard was impatient to fly. He was the one in danger and he was ready. He took little comfort in the knowledge that every piece of his spacecraft had “been built by the lowest bidder “Nevertheless, he was prepared to fly. Several small irritating problems had led to mission control repeatedly delaying the launch. He knew mission control was ready. He was ready, and so he finally demanded “c’mon, let’s light this candle.” (more…)
In Roman times a victorious general, returning from a successful battle or campaign, was often awarded a celebratory parade through the streets of Rome in front of an adoring Roman citizenry. This parade was called a Triumph and was accompanied by all sorts of pomp and ceremony. The conquering general rode a gold bedecked chariot pulled by (more…)
There was a bleak morning in mid -April this year when I thought my spirit could not sink any lower. It was an inky black dawn, and a watery sun was still an hour away from rising. I was circling our small garden for the umpteenth time and it had started raining. The lockdown blues were getting (more…)
“F**k you, Nobby Clark,” Bernie Liebman’s gruff voice seems to echo across the decades as I feel a slight twinge in my ankle while running Covid-19 lockdown laps of my garden. I’ve lost count of the number of laps I’ve run but my shoes are wearing a giant brown tattoo on a carpet of green lawn, and my ankle is (more…)
A road disappears into the distance. Is this what Covid-19 will be, asks Bruce Fordyce, 9 x Comarades Marathon winner? An undending marathon?A road disappears into the distance. Is this what Covid-19 will be, asks Bruce Fordyce, 9 x Comarades Marathon winner? An undending marathon? Perhaps one of the most perplexing characteristics (more…)
Inchanga Hill teeming with Comrades Marathon runners, most of whom are shuffling, says Bruce Fordyce, 9 x Comrades Marathon winner.Inchanga Hill teeming with Comrades Marathon runners, most of whom are (more…)
A beautiful stretch of the Two Oceans Marathon, which makes an idea long training run.A beautiful stretch of the Two Oceans Marathon, which makes an idea long training run. Image thanks to twooceansmarathon.org.za Obviously I wrote this article before the #Covid19 pandemic forced the (more…)
Cosmos flowers on the side of the road are a message to runners, according to Bruce Fordyce, legendary Comrades Marathon champion.Cosmos flowers on the side of the road are a message to runners, according to Bruce Fordyce, legendary Comrades Marathon champion. When the Cosmos starts blooming, (more…)
For most Comrades Marathon runners, the down run has always been the more popular of the two Comrades challenges. Every down-run year, the entries are snapped up faster, more novices take the plunge and runners dream of achieving faster times and winning shinier medals. Perhaps it is no surprise that the very first (more…)
Esha Mansingh and Bruce Fordyce, ultramarathon legend, after they rang the bell at Wanderers Cricket Ground, South Africa.Esha Mansingh and Bruce Fordyce, ultramarathon legend, after they rang the bell at Wanderers Cricket Ground, South Africa. Yes, Esha and I successfully rang the bell to start the (more…)
When Bruce Fordyce met a lone Cape Buffalo bull while out on a training run, it set him to thinking about long-distance running.When Bruce Fordyce met a lone Cape Buffalo bull while out on a training run, it set him to thinking about long-distance running. There’s a rough red dust path (more…)
What it takes to start running, Bruce Fordyce.What it takes to start running, Bruce Fordyce. Kamogelo is a shoeshine man at O.R. Tambo airport. He has a flashing smile, a deft touch with shoe polish and an engaging smile. While he polished and wiped my shoes, he talked of his homesickness for his hometown of Mahikeng and for his (more…)
Essential recovery time after an ultra or marathon - advice from Bruce Fordyce.Essential recovery time after an ultra or marathon - advice from Bruce Fordyce. One of the most popular topics of conversation after this year’s Comrades marathon was post-race recovery. “How soon can I get back on the road?" and “How long does it take to recover from the Comrades?" were two of the most popular questions. In fact, the topic resulted in (more…)
Edward Mothibi (left) and Bongmusa Mthembu shoulder to shoulder on Little Pollies. My overwhelming impression of this year’s Comrades marathon was that it was an almost perfect day on which to run 87 hilly kilometres. (Well, certainly in the early part of the day.) Race morning was slightly chilly and, in places, there was a cool mist hanging in the dips and valleys. Some spectators reported (more…)
Thumbs-up to all the runners running Comrades tomorrow! Comrades up run 1981. I am convinced that, as a nation, our favourite national sport is not football. Nor is it rugby or cricket. Our favourite national sport is a sport called littering. Our habit of simply (more…)
The Comrades marathon is a race deep and rich in tradition. Some of these traditions are historic: the green numbers, the different medals and the leading male runner carrying the mayoral baton. Many are stirring and motivating: Chariots of Fire and Shohsoloza being played at the start. Some are landmark: Arthur’s Seat and The Wall of Honour. Some are seemingly brutal and cruel: the cut-off points along the route and the final cut-off gun. Some are quite strange and (more…)
Bruce Fordyce, Comrades marathon training, pre-Comrades training taper.Bruce Fordyce, Comrades marathon training, pre-Comrades training taper. Anyone can train. It sometimes takes great courage and wisdom not to train. Every year, on the morning before the Comrades marathon up run, I gaze down from my hotel window at the spectacular (more…)
LETTER TO JIM WALMSLEY Congratulations Jim Walmsley on setting a new World record for 50 miles at the Hoka One One race, and for running with such courage and dignity. I would be lying if I said the news of your success didn’t cause a slight wrench in my heart and a dull sense of regret that lasted some time. Suddenly I was no longer the World record holder for (more…)
Photo by Tikkho Maciel on Unsplash The ultramarathon season is now in full swing and runners from all over the country, indeed the World, are busy running long distances in training and in races. Many novices will be venturing into 'no man’s land' for the first time; that vast, scary void that lies beyond 42 kilometres. Here in South Africa, (more…)
Bruce Fordyce is about to run his last Two Oceans on it's 50th anniversary.Bruce Fordyce is about to run his last Two Oceans on it's 50th anniversary. A glorious view on the 2018 Two Oceans marathon. I would be lying if I said that the last-minute news of the route change at the Two Oceans is anything but calamitous. It's disastrous news, and so sad for all those who dreamt of celebrating the 50th race by revelling in the beautiful views from the top of Chapman's Peak. (more…)
The cracks on the road on the infamous hill are deeply etched into the tar. Years of weathering have deepened them into vivid lines that scar the road. Long ago on a bend in the road someone painted the word “sweethoogte” ( sweat heights) in now faded enamel paint. In autumn the sun sets low and intense over the hill, bathing everything in an ethereal orange glow. The ghostly quality is enhanced by the (more…)
The mornings are cooler, the leaves have started to fall, it’s dark for longer during the morning training runs, the country-road cosmos flowers are in full bloom and everyone is tired. Now it’s time for Comrades runners to contemplate those long training runs that are a very important part of every training programme. By now Comrades runners will be all too familiar with the regular grind of (more…)
An excerpt from one of my original training diaries. Exam time during my senior school and university days meant constructing detailed swotting schedules so that, in this otherwise anxious time, I could draw some comfort from the appearance that I had a plan. As swot leave started, the very first task was to sit down and create the plan. My schedules were neatly and painstakingly drawn up on (more…)
We older South African runners miss the Korkie 56 km ultramarathon. Organised by Germiston Callies club, and named after the great Pieter Korkie, this race was the second oldest ultramarathon in South Africa. Over the years the route changed but essentially it started in Pretoria and finished in Germiston. Its flat and slightly uphill route resulted in it being known as the “slow poison marathon “, but it was the perfect training run for the Comrades. We Gauteng based runners valued it highly and the Korkie was an essential part of every training progamme. It was a run that left a runner tired and slightly drained but with very little (more…)
Not many people are aware that Gordon Ramsay is a seasoned marathon runner. Yes, that’s Gordon Ramsay of Hell’s Kitchen fame, the legendary chef decorated with 17 Michelin star awards, and famous for his extremely colourful language. I met Gordon properly at the starting line of the London marathon a few years ago and we ran side by side for a few kilometres in the early stages. Of course, he is a fascinating running companion and in a wonderful conversation, about cooking, chefs, and marathons I was delighted to learn (more…)
The irrational fear that runners hold for the Comrades up run has even become an international concern I noticed last week, when as a guest of the Tata Mumbai Marathon I found myself addressing a throng of eager but worried runners at a Comrades Marathon talk in the bustling race Expo. The audience in front of me was bubbling with enthusiasm and curiosity for our great race. The crowd consisted of runners who (more…)
It is an old habit at this time of the year for many of us to make New Year’s resolutions which are designed to discard undesired behaviours in order to accomplish a goal. Most New Year’s resolutions are dominated by health choices. “I’m going to join a gym”, “I’m going to give up smoking” are two of the more common resolutions. But sadly, (more…)
What connects the USA, a world record holding ultramarathoner, and Nelson Mandela? The answer is parkrun, of course. Our special guest at parkrun USA last weekend made his name for being very fast, over very long distances. But nowadays he’s especially proud of overseeing the world’s slowest (more…)
There’s something about the half marathon distance that I’ve begun to enjoy more and more in recent times. Perhaps that’s because I’ve grown older and slower, or perhaps it’s because my dodgy right knee is making racing decisions for me; but whatever the reason the half marathon is now my favourite racing distance. I love the fact that (more…)
Today has brought back so many memories of the great man – my Twitter feed has been flooded with images of Madiba at different stages of his life along with friends, fellow athletes, politicians and so the list goes on. Some of us were fortunate enough to meet Nelson Mandela and none of us will ever forget the experience. He had the ability to engrave himself indelibly in our memories. Perhaps this was because (more…)
This year’s Comrades marathon certainly has claims to be one of the best ever. The 2018 race certainly had many spectacular highlights and the race seems to be attracting rave reviews days after the race. Of course, there were disappointed runners and there were many who struggled, but the consensus was that (more…)
I am sure that for 729 days of a two- year cycle, Pinetown in Kwazulu Natal is a wonderful town but for one day, that day, every two years when the Comrades is run down to Durban Pinetown can be hell for the thousands of Comrades runners who pass through the town. When the runners reach Pinetown on Sunday morning they will have run 70 kilometres of some of the most brutal terrain that can be found in any marathon or ultra-marathon in the World. Leg muscles nicely tenderised After (more…)
I once really angered some of my KwaZulu Natal (KZN) Comrades rivals by declaring, in a press interview, that I couldn’t really rate the chances of any running rival who lived and trained at low altitude, in intense heat and soaring humidity. I had just been asked who I thought would be my major opponents in that year’s Comrades marathon and when I failed to mention a single KZN runner the KZN press leapt on me. The next day the KZN newspapers loudly declared; “Fordyce Writes off Natal Comrades Challenge “ Needless to say, I was not (more…)
Photograph with thanks to Rocky Road Runners It was cold and bright on Tuesday morning here in Johannesburg as I drove to meet a few running friends for a gentle 10 kilometre run. The morning was very autumnal and hinted of a winter waiting in the wings. I drove past large groups of brightly coloured runners streaming along chatting excitedly. I was overcome with FOMO because I understood the herculean task those runners were tackling. They were all running their long 60 kilometre training run in preparation for the Comrades marathon. I had stumbled upon (more…)
“Wisely and slow, they stumble that run fast.” Friar Lawrence, Romeo And Juliet Shakespeare William Shakespeare might have made a good Comrades coach because his words perfectly sum up the correct approach to the Comrades marathon. Every single Comrades training run requires wise thinking and careful planning and none more so than the long run. Every Comrades runner knows what the “long run” means. It’s that extra long (more…)
There is something about the city of Johannesburg at this time of the year. It’s quieter and there is a stillness in the air, as if the city is drawing breath after a long hot summer. There is a slight hint of autumn in the morning. Crisp brown leaves are gathering in clumps in the drains and gutters. The summer cuckoos have fallen silent. The first 30 minutes of my morning 10 kilometre run are run in darkness.I can feel the pent-up excitement, and the message hanging in the air. It’s time! Spread the word; It’s time to start training hard for the Comrades marathon. It’s time to write the detailed training programmes. It’s time to (more…)
With “only” 129 or less sleeps until Comrades day an injured running friend of mine is already writing off her chances of running the Natal classic this year. “Bruce the problem is “I’ve already lost the whole of January,” she complained bitterly to me, “This is a nightmare, I’m doomed.” I had to wearily reassure her that far from being a catastrophic disaster, her injury interrupted January would probably guarantee her a very successful Comrades race in June. At the risk of sounding like a stuck record, every year, in January, I (more…)
I miss my old student flat in Braamfontein. It was perched high on a ramshackle block shockingly misnamed “Highway Mansions”. There was an old mattress on the floor, surrounded by piles of worn running shoes which were scattered alongside a bookcase holding some important running literature. This reading material included well-thumbed copies of (more…)
I suppose the anniversary might have slipped my mind. After all, I'm very busy building parkrun South Africa. As I write this, I am sitting in a café in the Northern Cape Karoo desert, having just participated in the launch of the Vredendal parkrun. I was reminded of the anniversary because of a wonderful piece about tomorrow’s race written by Geoff Burns, a world-class US ultra runner. His article popped up on my social media feed and, of course, I had to read it. Tomorrow, ultra-marathoners from around the US will line up on the (more…)
South Africa is renowned for its amazing races both on the road and the trails. Of course, its two most famous races are the two ultra-marathons, The Old Mutual Two Oceans and the Comrades marathon. But South Africa also has a host of wonderful events that are not as well-known but are “bucket list material.” Three of these events that spring to mind, and that I have run, are the Knysna forest race, the East London Surfers race, and the Skukuza half marathon in the Kruger National Park. But now there is another addition to the bucket list family. The (more…)
The recent amazing successes of tennis maestro Roger Federer have had the sporting world excitedly looking at the benefits of a prolonged break from intense competition. His success has coined the expression “career resurgence”. After losing to Milos Raonic in the 2016 Wimbledon semi-finals and a 5 year hiatus since his last win in a major tournament, Federer announced he was taking a 6 month break to regather and to help a niggling knee problem recover. His return to tennis 6 months later has been nothing short of breath-taking as he has won both the 2017 Australian Open and Wimbledon titles. As I write this he is looking sharp in the early rounds of the US Open. Federer’s successes have inspired his rival and friend Novak Djokovic to also announce his intention to take a break for a while after a run of poor form and a struggle with an injury. It seems that the new in-words could well become “prolonged rest and career resurgence”. There are a few examples of similar prolonged rest successes from the world of long distance running. The great Portuguese distance runner Carlos Lopes staged remarkable career resurgence in the early 1980s after a lengthy absence from the sport. Lopes won the world Cross country championships in 1976 and in the same year finished second in the Olympic 10000 metres. His career was then blighted by a series of injuries and it was not until the early 1980s that he was able to return to winning form. Amazingly Lopes’ greatest achievements still lay ahead of him. In 1984 He won his second World Cross country title, ran the second fastest 10000 metres ever, and then followed it up with his greatest triumph; the Olympic marathon gold medal at the Los Angeles Olympics. At 37 he was the oldest winner of the marathon. For good measure the following year he won his third World Cross country title and broke the world record for the marathon. Lopes break was enforced, but this was not the case with South Africa’s 1995 Comrades marathon champion, Shaun Meiklejohn. Shaun ran 20 Comrades marathons in a row and all in very fast times. In addition to his 1995 win he also earned 10 top ten gold medals. He then retired after the 2002 Comrades marathon. For 7 years he didn’t run a step and put on a great deal of weight and became a classic couch potato. But then driven by his poor physical condition and a longing to run again, Shaun came out of retirement. He started training hard again. His results were extraordinary. He convincingly won his age group category (Over 50) in nearly every race he ran and simply annihilated all the rest of us greying, balding plodders. It seems his long lay-off gave him the edge against the rest of us in both training and racing. We have all understood that rest is as important as training in any distance runners training programme but for as long as I can remember we have understood “rest” to be an easy day, or one or two days break from training. We could even tolerate the idea of a very lazy month after a major effort. But now it seems that retirement is the new elixir of success. After a few years of intense training and racing it now seems the best solution to a long career is to hide the running shoes away for many months, or even a couple of years and only dig them out from the back of the cupboard when they are covered in dust and several generations of spiders have bred in them. As a great fan of “rest” I can now understand the benefits of this plan. The body has a chance to recover on a massive scale and the mind can recuperate and recapture the joy of the sport. A major problem for me would be my love for a simple run. I cannot imagine not running a step for a month yet alone 6 months or a few years. I cannot imagine not communing with nature, not laughing with my friends, not feeling my lungs burn on a steep hill or watching the sun rise. That’s probably the reason I will never win another major race no matter what the age category! Roger Federer image via Queen of Tickets
The sunrise I viewed on the morning of Friday 30th June was not a particularly spectacular sunrise. In fact it was a sort of weak, typically Johannesburg, watery mid-winter sunrise, but for me it was possibly the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen. You see it was, I realised, a sunrise I might never have seen. A few minutes earlier I had come close to losing my life and for the next few moments everything was richly enhanced and seemingly important business matters became trivial. My morning had started as thousands have started for me over the decades, with a run. With time my morning 10 kilometre run, once run so quickly and smoothly and now run at a dodgy-kneed shuffle, has become something of a routine and a ritual and I set my day by that first hour on the road. I particularly love the winter mornings. I relish the bracing cold and the icy stars in an inky sky but most importantly I enjoy the time on my own with my thoughts and with no distractions. I was about halfway through my run grinding my way up a short sharp hill lost in those thoughts when a car approached me, driving very slowly. The car’s headlights were bright so I couldn’t see it properly but it edged over towards me, almost timidly, as a car will do when the occupants are lost and need directions and are loathe to intrude. I walked over to the passenger side window to see if I could help and then froze in disbelief. It’s amazing how one’s eyes can look nowhere else except at the end of a barrel when a gun is pointed at you but I stared at two barrels so I may have gone temporarily squint or cross-eyed. My brain became instantly super-alert and crystal clear. Time was frozen and an incident that probably lasted less than a minute seemed to pass in slow motion. Sadly the first thought that occurred to me was “you’ve always known this time would come and now it has arrived” The thought seems so sad because for most South Africans that is the harsh reality. Dangerous, violent crime has impacted or will impact on all of us and it’s not a question of “if” but rather of “when” What followed was not pretty. While one thug stood back with a gun levelled at my chest the other piled into me his face a twisted mask of pain. He kicked and beat me across the road shouting “ I’m going to shoot you, I want to shoot you” In my fantasies, Bruce the hero lashes back at evil dropping the bad man with an uppercut to the jaw. He then pulverises the ugly sidekick, but pathetically, in real life I lost the fight in the first 30 seconds of the first round. In an instant I was on my back in prickly shrubbery with my running shoes being torn from my feet and my watch ripped off my wrist. I was puzzled at why one thin cotton glove was ripped off my hand but the other left companionless. Next the gangsters tugged at my shorts hoping to find a cell phone in my pocket. All they could find was a gate-opener. Aware that there was a CCTV camera on a wall nearby I remember wondering if the camera was recording grainy images of my lily-white left buttock. I also remember thinking that my attackers were making extremely only lean pickings from me as I am very “old school”, and my watch was a simple plastic two function R150 timer and my shoes had run close to 1000 kilometres and smelt richly of ripe gorgonzola. “Stand-up, stand up” one of them ordered me, but in my one act of defiance I refused to prise myself from the shrubbery. I feared that the discovery of the gate opener in my pocket had convinced them to take me on a drive to my house to look for richer pickings. I could see my family asleep in their beds and refused to move. I shouted back at them “Well done you two just beat up a 61 year old man. You must be very proud of yourselves.” At that they jumped in their car and sped off. It was all so quick that I was reminded of days when I have gone snorkelling at the edge of a coral reef and watched the predator pelagic fish diving in to the shallows to grab a struggling reef fish and the darting out into the dark ocean again. There followed vaguely comical scenes as I tried to walk home in my socks. I shuffle-glided across the rough tar leaping up every now and again when my feet encountered a sharp stones or a pieces of road debris. I chuckled to myself that with my strange gait and my one glove I must have looked like an elderly rocker trying to copy Michael Jackson’s moonwalk. I arrived home dishevelled and slightly shocked and of course my family was desperately upset and concerned for me. I was advised I needed to seek counselling and to visit a therapist but after a while, as I calmed down, I decided the best therapy I could treat myself to was to simply run, or more importantly complete the run I had embarked on that morning. My coach had expected me to run 10 kilometres that morning and I had only completed half that distance when I was attacked. My coach can get very grumpy when there are interruptions to my training. ( I am my grumpy coach! ) So I set off and continued my run and it was then that I experienced that beautiful sunrise, the one I realised I might never have seen again. This blog has made use of the first person pronouns “I” and “my” far too frequently for my liking but I really decided to write it for all of us who run and walk and cycle in South Africa. We are all victims or potential victims. It is outrageous that we are daily subjected to such danger. We should be able to enjoy our sport and leisure activities with impunity. Ours are the most innocent and joyful of experiences and yet daily we are in danger of being assaulted, robbed, intimidated, raped and even killed. I must admit that immediately after my incident I became an instant ardent proponent of the death penalty. In fact I would have vehemently encouraged a judge to sentence my attackers to be hanged drawn and quartered. But my anger soon shifted. It shifted to those who are really to blame for the lawlessness in our country. I cast the blame for the harrowing ordeals so many of us face squarely at the feet of our leaders, those at the very top of government. When there is a paucity of leadership coupled to blatant contempt for law and order and for the constitution that contempt quickly filters down to all levels of society. When the common criminal sees our leaders steeped in corruption and brazenly stealing they must think. “ us too thanks, and it isn’t it wonderful that we are unlikely to be caught.” I have refused to lock myself away. I have refused to give in to fear. Three days after my attack I ran the same route at exactly the same time. I’ve been running it for 25 years and I’m not stopping now. I’m not completely recovered from what happened and I still start away uneasy at the approach of a car in the dark night but I love our sport and I love this country and the incredible life it has given me. The least I can do is to soldier on and encourage others to do the same. I hope you enjoyed reading this post. For more insights into the running world join below for direct emails Cartoon by Alistair Findlay
For the first time in 40 years I watched the Comrades Marathon from a different perspective - from the VIP stand on the side. It was a sight I will never forget. The endless stream of runners who poured excitedly past us has to be seen to be believed. 20,000 runners is a huge army, and the flow of cheering and singing runners went on for ages. After watching the start and rubbing shoulders with lots of past winners, sponsors and Comrades dignitaries, my wife Gill and I drove to Drummond to assist at a seconding table for Complete Marathons at the top of Inchanga. Drummond was buzzing with spectators and club volunteers busy erecting tables and gazebos, and starting their braais. All the while, as spectators sipped hot coffee, we could see and hear the progress of the race on portable televisions and radios. I bumped into 4-time Comrades Marathon champion, Alan Robb, and his wife, Marietjie. Alan was quick to remark that it was probably the first time we had been together at Drummond and were not frantically racing each other! I wonder how many Comrades runners know that the race may have been in danger of being stopped outright this year. Inchanga was a thick pall of smoke in the early morning, with blazing bush fires crackling alongside the very road the runners were going to have to climb. There was some amazing work done by fire-fighters and emergency personnel on the slopes of the famous hill to ensure the race went ahead without incident. I'm sure even the most exhausted runner could not have failed to notice the acrid smell of wood-smoke on the summit of Inchanga. The summit of Inchanga (the 4th major climb on the up Comrades) is an excellent vantage point for watching the race falling into place. The men's race featured a lead pack of most of the major contenders, all keying off each other. I noticed Bongmusa Mthembu and Ludwick Mamabolo looking particularly strong and alert. When Camille Herron came past, I have to admit I thought she had thrown away her chances. In my opinion, leading the Comrades Marathon from very early on is an extremely foolhardy way to run the race. It puts massive pressure on the leader and forces her to be 'the hunted' for the entire race. I always preferred to be the hunter. My plan was always to take the lead as late as possible in the race and then work hard to establish an unassailable cushion. Camille appeared to be going all out to win it from as early as possible. She came past me with her ungainly running style charging like a praying mantis thrashing through the air. I gave her very little chance of holding her lead even though it was over 6 minutes. How wrong I was. And when I think back on my memory of those few seconds as she passed me, I recall thinking that her running style may have looked bizarre, but that she was devouring the ground very quickly. Gill and I helped at the Complete Marathons seconding table for a while, then walked down Inchanga to Drummond to drive to the finish. That walk down the famous hill will remain indelibly etched in my mind. For the first time, I was witness to the true spirit of Comrades as a spectator. Thousands of runners streamed past us heading for Pietermaritzburg. They still had a full marathon to run, yet most were still in good spirits, determined to push on no matter what. There were many who stopped to pose for selfies with me and still more who shouted greetings or shook my hand. “Bruce, just don’t tell us it’s all downhill from here,” one runner joked. I’m not a fan of the new finish at Scottsville. The distance may be a bit shorter, but there is a nasty sting in the tail with the last climb onto the grass. However, my biggest gripe is that the spectators and runners are too far removed from each other. The runners run down the horse-racing straight and the spectators are inadvertently kept far back by safety rails and barriers. I know the old finish was busting at the seams and there were capacity constraints, but I loved its intimacy and the close contact it offered with spectators. When I ran my last up Comrades back in 2011, I finished to an explosion of noise and cheering. I felt I could almost touch the clapping spectators. Distance robs the race of some of its magic. For example, the dramatic last-minute finish was lost for many of us at this year’s race. This was another tough year. While not as gruesome as the 2013 up run it seems many runners struggled and finished in times far slower than they had hoped. Indeed, champion Bongmusa Mthembu’s winning time was on the slow side (However, a win is a win !) and, throughout the field, there were many disappointed finishers. I understand there were more visitors to the hospital tent this year than in ‘normal years’. We had been warned to expect rain, but it stayed away. Instead, it was warmer and dryer than we had anticipated, and this contributed to the race being a struggle from early on. My congratulations go to everyone who ran. You can proudly boast “I ran the 2017 up run.” At every Comrades Marathon there is an abiding memory or a special moment. This year that moment has to go to the lady’s champion, the delightful Camille Herron. She had us all in a complete state of anxiety when she stopped in the finishing straight underneath what she supposed was the finish line. Unfortunately, she had stopped under the spectator bridge and still had a few metres to run. The screaming from the spectators rose to a desperate crescendo as she nonchalantly waved and blew kisses. Camille will forever be in debt to the runner who grabbed her by the arm and guided her to the real finish line. Congratulations, Camille. We look forward to welcoming you to next year’s race.
Bruce Fordyce 2017 Comrades Marathon winner's trophyBruce Fordyce 2017 Comrades Marathon winner's trophy So there is just 'one sleep' to go until the start of the 2017 up Comrades Marathon. And I wonder who will be holding this winner's trophy tomorrow. It's been a long time since I have, but it brought back memories. Unfortunately, for most Comrades runners it won't be much of a sleep tonight. Pent-up nerves, a strange hotel bed and constant worry about the great journey that lies ahead will prevent many of you from sleeping properly. Sleep will come in fits and starts, and pop-eyed eyeballs will refuse to stop seeing, even under tightly-closed eyelids. “Have I done enough training? Am I absolutely certain those shoes on the floor are the correct choice for the race? What if it rains tomorrow? Why can’t I sleep? How fast should I start tomorrow morning?” Tomorrow, some - if not all - will sound mighty familiar. So, let me remove one worry from the list of nightmares that might haunt a Comrades Marathon runner’s last sleep. There is only one successful way to start the race and that is: very slowly and very cautiously. By the way, it is also the way to run the entire race. The first 42 kilometres of the up run equate to the hardest standard marathon most runners will ever run. Yet you will still have further than another marathon to run, climbing the brutal Inchanga and Polly Shortts hills in the process. So, slowly and gently is the only way to go. Ideally, you should try for 'even splits' (both halves at around the same time/pace). However, only a handful of runners will actually be able to achieve this. That being said, starting slowly will get you as close as possible to even splits. Those starting in the slower qualifying batches, F, G and H, will have no choice but to start at a snail's pace. They will be hemmed in on all sides. If you are one of those, it is important to do your best not to fight through the thick crowds of runners. Just let the mass of other competitors slowly unwind. Running should feel very easy at the start and conversation and humour should be a steady part of the early stages. Whenever I ran the Comrades, I wrote an important message in indelible ink on my wrists so I would see it as I was running. I wrote “Have Fun!” It is so important to have fun; to enjoy the Comrades experience as much as possible. Especially if you're a novice. Do your best to absorb and delight in every moment. This is a once-in-a-lifetime moment for you. Never again will you be a Comrades novice! Run the race from one landmark to another and, essentially, ignore the distance markers that are numbered and placed in reverse order. After all, what does "67 kilometres to go" mean? It just means its far. Ridiculously far. The litmus test of what sort of Comrades you are going to experience will come on the mighty Field’s Hill. If you are still chatting to other runners and cracking the odd joke, you're in for a happy day. If you're struggling and labouring up Field’s Hill, it might be wise for youto borrow a cell phone from a spectator and warn your loved ones they may be waiting much longer than planned. It is wise to walk early and often. The great hill Inchanga, just after halfway (Drummond), is a good place to start. Walking in short bursts worked well for Caroline Wöstmann two years ago, and there is no reason that strategy shouldn’t work for you as well. Every Comrades runner would do well to remember this Golden Rule; When at first you get the urge to surge, don’t . Later, when the urge to surge returns, don’t. Remember this rule, and you will likely have a good run. If you have been cautious in the first half, then the possibility of 'even splits' becomes real. There is a lovely downhill sweep from the top of Inchanga to the inspiring Enthembeni School for the Disabled. Take heart from the disabled children who scream encouragement and urge runners on to Harrison Flats, Cato Ridge and Camperdown. You'll need it, because just outside Camperdown is a tricky hill waiting to break your spirit. It's steep and it's long (750 excruciating metres). It has no name, but just after you summit this Camperdown hill with no name, you pass the '21 km. (13 miles) to go' board and the finish becomes a reality. Two major obstacles remain: Little Pollies (Ashburton) and the most famous hill in the Comrades Marathon, Polly Shortts itself. Most runners will walk up both these hills. Except, perhaps, when they spot the television camera on Polly Shortts, and realise that millions may be watching them. This thought will drive many to attempt a shuffle/jog up at least part of the monster. If the dreaded cramps strike at this stage, do your very best to keep moving. Instead of stopping, I suggest you change your running or walking style. Taking shorter steps, or running pigeon-toed, or duck-footed can help. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, topping for a rub or to try and push a lamp-post over can invite total seizure. So, above all, keep going. The finish in Scottsville beckons. It has been 5 years since I last ran the Comrades and, truth be told, I don’t really miss running the great race .As a past winner, the whole Comrades weekend can turn into a bit of an ego trip and is so much fun, especially when you know don’t have to push your body at some point. However, I know I will miss the Comrades desperately on Monday morning. On Monday morning, thousands of Comrades runners will be limping. They will be struggling to descend stairs and shuffling like penguins. But the Comrades limp is a limp of pride, a shuffle of honour. The time run doesn't matter; a 5½-hour runner limps just as much as an 11-hour runner. Both are proud, both are smiling (actually, grinning) inside. On Monday morning I won’t be limping and I will wish so much that I had run the great race after all. If you'd like to come and share you 'war stories' after the race, join us at the (in)famous 'Bruce Fordyce After Party' on Monday 5 June. It's always fun. Hope to see you there! This is an edited version of an article that appeared in the Citizen newspaper, South Africa.
As Comrades runners leave behind them the screaming crowds and the thick, acrid pall of braai smoke blanketing the village of Camperdown, you will encounter 3 unnamed hills. The first two hardly warrant a mention, as they are really just bumps rather than hills (Although, after running for almost 70 kilometres (43½ miles), many runners will walk up these two 'bumps'). The third hill, however, is vicious. It rises steeply for about 750 metres and, if it were found in any other race in the World, it would be called Coronary Thrombosis Heights, or Seared Lungs Mountain. Amazingly, it has no name. A third of the way up, a lone tree casts a thin shadow in the blazing afternoon sun. Runners lie prostrate in its shade; others trudge wearily up its steep gradient. This hill breaks the spirit of so many runners, simply because they aren’t prepared for it. It suddenly leaps at you as a nasty shock. Every Comrades runner prepares for the famous Comrades climbs. For months they have been psyching themselves up to tackle the Big 5 - the legendary Cowie’s Hill, Fields Hill, Botha’s Hill, Inchanga, and Polly Shortts. They will also have been warned of the climb up the Berea and Little Pollies, the precursor to the most famous hill in Comrades. But it is the unnamed, unpleasant surprises that break spirits and humble the bravest runners. I wonder how many Comrades runners fully appreciate the relentless intensity of the first half of the up run? How many actually realise that, for most Comrades runners, the hardest 42 km. marathon they will ever run will be the first 42 km of the up Comrades. And so, the one, final act of Comrades Marathon preparation I thoroughly recommend - for every runner - is a drive over the 86.7 km (53.9 miles) of the route you will race on the day. Even those who have run several Comrades Marathons should undertake this important pilgrimage. Yes, even experienced runners have not tackled the up run for two years. In that time, the brain forgets huge chunks of the race and the distance concertinas in the mind. How many experienced runners will round a bend in Comrades and quietly curse, “Oh no, not that bit!”? Besides that, there is a different finish this year. After you summit Polly Shortts, the 2017 Comrades Marathon route has changed and you will head for the new Scottsville finish, which is all unknown territory. I’m not even running Comrades this year, and I intend to drive the entire route. Granted, I'll be leading a Comrades Marathon route tour, but I’m commentating for television and I feel I do a better job if I know exactly where the runners are as I speak. Even if you don't join a formal Comrades route tours like mine, I suggest a simple drive along the route can have the desired effect. Normally, it’s tricky following the route, particularly as it winds its way out of the confines of the city of Durban. However, in the days before the race, the road between Durban and Pietermaritzburg is holding its breath for the morning of June 4th. So the route is helpfully and liberally marked with gold-and-black route posters. These assist the struggling Comrades map reader enormously. TV camera scaffolding and taped-off running club seconding areas will further add to the sense of reality. The purpose of the drive is twofold. Firstly, it informs and prepares you for what lies ahead. More importantly, it will terrify you. And 'terrified' is the best state of mind in which to start the race. I remember leading a route tour full of excited foreign runners a few years ago. As our bus headed off along the route they were all abuzz with excitement. Occasionally one would ask me; “What’s the name of this hill, Bruce?” They would all chuckle when I replied, “This one isn’t steep or long enough to warrant a name, guys.” From their reaction, I knew my audience did not agree these hills should remain anonymous. Gradually, as the journey unfolded and we travelled the length of the brutal course, the conversation died and each runner appeared to be lost in his or her most private thoughts. When the journey ended, a few runners had adjusted their finishing time and some looked ashen and weary. I was not concerned for them. I knew they would line up two mornings later, scared and cautious. The Comrades starting line welcomes scared runners. Those are the runners who start cautiously and conserve as much early energy as possible. They make their way prudently up those famous hills. Scared Comrades runners understand that it is not a race for the bold and brave. The Comrades Marathon rewards the timid, and it is the meek that inherit good runs and fast times. It is the meek who get close to running “even splits” at Comrades. The brave and the bold start well and look good for the first couple of hours, but they generally crash and burn somewhere on the lonely, bleak stretch known as Harrison Flats. Perhaps I’m belabouring the point a little too much. However, since the training is now almost completed, I cannot think of any better advice for you at this stage than to insist you drive the route before race day. With or without me. P.S. I'm offering a limited number of discounted route tour tickets for Friday 2 June to those who sign up before the end of May 2017. It's your chance to get almost 50% off the price! And, of course, there's my 'Bruce Fordyce After Party'. Monday 5 June, always fun. Full of war stories from the race. Hope to see you there! Article appearing with thanks to the Citizen newspaper, South Africa.
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
Now is the time to run hills while training. You will be grateful for having done this when you're running the mountains on race day. As some of you may know, Amby Burfoot, editor-in-chief of the famous Runner’s World magazine, interviewed me for his magazine a number of years ago. He was visiting Durban in order to run the Comrades marathon; and to gather material for a couple of articles about the race, as well as its history and traditions. I need to point out that, in his younger days, Amby was a very fine distance runner and his glittering C.V. includes a Boston Marathon win (1968). He was running that year’s Comrades because, in his own words, “No serious distance runner’s C.V. is complete until he or she has run the Comrades at least once.” As with this year’s Comrades Marathon, the year Amby chose to run was also an 'up' run. While interviewing me, Amby also asked for a little advice about the challenge that lay ahead of him. He was particularly interested and slightly concerned about the very famous Polly Shortts hill, which is the last great barrier guarding the finish of the Comrades in Pietermaritzburg. I remember comforting him with these words, “Don’t worry about Polly Shortts, Amby. You will walk up it, and the walk will be a welcome relief.” When he composed his outstanding article a few weeks later, Amby wrote that my comment irritated him slightly. He wrote, “I had the distinct impression that Bruce didn’t know who he was talking to. Didn’t he know that I am Amby Burfoot, Boston Marathon winner, and that champions don’t walk on hills?” His article continued, “And Bruce was, indeed, wrong. I was walking long before I reached Polly Shortts!” In those humorous words lies the challenge of the 'up' Comrades. It is brutal. For almost every runner tackling this year’s Comrades, the first 42 kilometres will be the hardest and hilliest 42 kilometres they will ever run. Yet they will still have to toil on for another 45 kilometres. On the way they will summit 5 famous Comrades hills, ( I’m deliberately using mountaineering terminology here): Cowie’s Hill, Field’s Hill, Botha’s Hill, Inchanga and Polly Shortts are the famous Comrades peaks But there are many unnamed climbs that would be nicknamed 'Cardiac Arrest Heights' or 'Coronary Thrombosis Cliff' if they were found in any other race. (I daren’t mention the 3rd hill outside Camperdown). No wonder Amby was walking long before Polly Shortts. No wonder dozens were walking with him. And there is no wondering whether hundreds will do so again this year, because they will. So what’s to be done about the hills in the 'up' Comrades, apart from joking about them as Amby did? First of all we can train as much as possible on hilly routes. We should look for hills and embrace them as part of our training. We need to run long, steady climbs and short lung-burning ascents. In short, we need to be able to run similar hills to those in the 'up' Comrades. When I ran my first Comrades way back in 1977, I lived in residence at Wits University, Johannesburg. Wits is surrounded by hills. My first home was in Brixton, very close to the university. My next two homes were in the same area. I simply did not want to change my hilly environment. If I had invested one Rand for every occasion I have run I have run up the famous Jan Smuts Avenue, that climbs through in Parktown, Westcliff and Forest Town, I would be a wealthy man today. Those Comrades hopefuls who live in the flatter parts of the world need to go to extraordinary lengths to find hills. In Swakopmund, Namibia, my friend Kirsty Brits and her fellow Swakopmund Striders drive for 45 minutes to the stark and beautiful Goanikontes hills and valleys to find hills on which to train. Secondly, we can run specific hill-training sessions. I have written many times about the famous Sweethoogte (Sweat Heights) hill I trained on in preparation for Comrades. I have run hundreds of sprint repetitions up this vicious 410-metre monster, but the hill has always rewarded me for my dedication by helping me to climb the Comrades monsters. Those sessions were simple, but brutal. A 5-kilometre warm up was followed by 5 - 8 sprints up the hill with a jog back down to recover. Not much distance was covered in the session, but very important fitness and strength barriers were broken. As I started the climb up Polly Shortts in the 1987 Comrades marathon with the great Hosea Tjale breathing down my neck, I remember urging myself on with the thought, “You’ve sprinted up Sweethooghte so many times in preparation for this moment. You know that you’re ready.” If we prepare properly for the hills we will meet in the 'up' Comrades Marathon, they should have no fears for us. In fact, we should welcome them on race day, not fear them. There is no greater sense of achievement than that which comes with a successful run in an 'up' Comrades. And it’s no coincidence that Amby Burfoot has only two medals on display on his mantelpiece at his home. One is his 1968 Boston winner's medal. The other, his Comrades bronze medal. With thanks to Citizen newspaper, South Africa.
Comrades winners: Bruce Fordyce, Ellie Greenwood, Ludwick Mamabola, Bongmusa Mthembu and Nick Bester. Sometimes you bump into people in the oddest of places. Last Sunday I was standing in the queue for the loo at a garage shortly before the start of the Sarens marathon when I felt a tap on my shoulder. There was no mistaking the beaming smile looking at me. It was Ludwick Modibe Mamabolo. The always smiling, always positive Ludwick is most famous in South Africa for his win in the 2012 Comrades marathon, as well as 6 top-ten finishes and 3 second places. Nothing appears to deflate Ludwick’s enthusiasm. He was still smiling and cracking jokes when, in his one disappointing Comrades Marathon, he was forced to abandon the 2015 race. Clearly, he felt the queue at the garage was no place to stop joking and he teased me loudly to the general mirth of the others in the queue. ”Hey everyone, did you know that Bruce’s best Comrades time is one second slower than mine?” I’m afraid it’s true. Ludwick ran 5:24:05 last year and I ran 5:24:06 in 1986. Before I could reply that at least I won my race in 1986, whereas Ludwick finished second, he was posing for selfies with other runners and dishing out training tips. Someone asked him what time he was hoping to run that morning in the Sarens marathon. “No, this is just a training run for me, “ he replied. “A nice long, slow run.” Someone else remarked, “And these long runs are the best for preparing you for your big race, aren’t they Ludwick?” And then came a pearl of wisdom from the runner who could well win his second Comrades this year. “No, the best, and the most important, training run is the one you dislike the most.” I immediately had goose bumps, and not just from the predawn chill. I knew exactly what he meant. We all have sessions we hate, the ones we try to avoid, and the ones that make us nervous just thinking about them. They are inevitably the sessions that have the greatest benefits and help us reach that next level of excellence. Speedwork sessions on the track were the ones I loathed the most. In fact, I found all quality sessions very tough, both mentally and physically. But there was something about the track that filled me with nervous fear; the white lane lines curling around on the grass or tartan, the sight of runners donning spikes, the stopwatches clicking. All these warned me of the pain ahead. So much so that, these days, I cannot contemplate running another track training session in my life. But they worked. Oh yes, those timed track sessions - the ones I hated the most - transformed me from a good Comrades silver medallist to a gold medallist almost instantly. A thousand metres run 4 or 5 times was my key session. A warm up jog, some strides and then I was ready to sprint around the track for 2½ laps, averaging 2 minutes 50 – 55 seconds. I would walk 200 metres to recover, and then surge again. I know most Comrades runners would feel the same as I did in the eighties. Ultra-runners aren’t afraid to run 40, 50, 60 kilometre training runs, but a short-distance race or searing track session? No thank you! Of course, we need the long runs and I discussed that (LSD) in my last column, but the greatest breakthroughs come from quality work. Quality sessions don’t have to be run on the track. Not everyone can find a track, and track work can be boring, at the best of times, and boring and painful, at the worst. It is more fun and less boring to run hill sessions with friends or short-distance time trials and races with club mates. Whatever you do, the key to success is to run them honestly and hard. Unfortunately, they have to hurt a bit. If you finish a session gasping for air and with your hands on your knees it means it was a productive session. And now is the time. As we head towards the month of April, it’s a good time to knuckle down and start some quality work. It doesn’t have to be brutal. Ease into it gently and gradually increase the intensity, but make sure these sessions become regular weekly commitments. The results can be very exciting. That elusive P.B. or medal may well become a reality. I know quality training paid dividends for me when I won my first up run Comrades 36 years ago. Now I just need to catch Ludwick in another loo queue and ask him about his best Comrades up run time. I believe my time may be slightly faster than his... certainly by more than one second! With thanks to Citizen newspaper, South Africa.
"It's time for Long Slow Distance Comrades Marathon training", says Bruce Fordyce."It's time for Long Slow Distance Comrades Marathon training", says Bruce Fordyce. Before you panic, rest assured I’m not referring to L.S.D (Lysergic acid), made famous by Timothy Leary and a generation of spaced-out hippies, nor to the Beatles psychedelic song, “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds”. Rather, I'm talking about the training principle of Long Slow Distance (long, slow-paced runs) and the only 'high' part of it will be the high mileage logged in training diaries. LSD was made famous by US runner and writer, Joe Henderson; although Tim Noakes (The Lore of Running) believes the father of ultra-running, Arthur Newton, was the first exponent of the practice. Long, slow distance training builds the foundations of every successful training programme. Plenty of long, slow training runs develop strength and endurance in runners. We are entering the mad season in the Comrades build up. Now is the most critical training time, and everywhere Comrades runners are obsessed with distance, more distance, long runs and even longer runs. As we move through March and into April, these long training runs will stretch from 30 km (a little under 20 miles) to 42 km (26 miles), to 50 km (31 miles), 60 km (37 miles) and beyond. Yes, mileage should now start to climb precipitously. By the end of April, and in early May, many Comrades runners will determinedly join their club mates on a variety of different club long runs- which can be up to 70 km (43.5 miles) in one very long weekend morning. Last weekend I enjoyed a nostalgic run and visit back at the Cape Gate Vaal marathon. The Vaal was the first marathon I ever ran back in 1977 and, two years later, the first I won. I was amazed to see runners completing the race and setting off, some at an alarmingly fast pace to run a few more kilometres. Some runners are becoming distance and speed obsessed. Back In 1977, our Comrades long-run build up consisted of the Germiston 25 km Nite Race in January, the Springs Striders 32 km in February, the Vaal Marathon in March and the Pieter Korkie 56 km in April. Finally, in May, we ran our final long run in the shape of a club-organised long run, where we travelled as far as our tired aching legs allowed us. Those were the only runs we scheduled on our journey to the Comrades, and we all conquered the old 11-hour cut-off gun, with a bunch of us earning silver medals. The class of 2017 are running far too many long runs and, worryingly, they are running them far too quickly. Whenever we youngsters felt the urge to 'go' on these long runs back in the 1970’s, the veterans - who we greatly admired and who were trying to mentor us - quickly reined us in. “LSD, Fordyce. LSD. You’re going to be out there for a long time on race day, Fordyce. Get used to the feeling.” And those gnarled, deeply-tanned old veterans were correct. These long runs should be run very slowly, with the emphasis being on time spent on the legs, not on time or distance covered. I have never forgotten the wisdom they imparted and, to this day, I time every long training run I embark on from the moment I get out of bed and stand upright. As you'll read in my 'up run' eBook, my watch continues to tick away as I stop for drinks or to tie a lace. It runs as I stand chatting at the end of a run. Finally when I sit down, hours later, I look with interest at how long I stood upright and am unconcerned about the distance I have run. It may help to think of a slower Comrades runner starting in 'H batch' on June 4th. That runner will stand for up to an hour in the Comrades starting area before Max Trimborn’s cockerel crow, and will then run, shuffle and walk for 12 hours. He or she will remain in a vertical position for nearly 13 hours. It’s a terrifying thought. Building that remarkable endurance is the purpose of the long training run. The necessary speed and stamina is created later in other training sessions, and will be the subject of a later column. (Though you can read about it now, if you'd rather not wait). The litmus test of whether the long run has been run slowly enough is whether or not the runner is able to run an easy 10 km (about 6 miles) the following morning. If a rest is necessary and a couple of training days have to be missed, the long run was too hard, too fast and too damaging. The best way to ensure long runs are run sufficiently slowly is to always run at a conversational pace. It should always be possible to chat to fellow runners while running or, better still, to jog along slowly while humming “Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds”. With thanks to Citizen newspaper, South Africa.
The sun never stops rising on dedicated runners training for the Comrades Marathon. My good friend Spencer Farrar sent me a photograph of himself lolling on a beach in Hawaii. He had just completed a 20 km run and was relaxing by the sea, with his Comrades marathon peak cap strategically placed between his feet. His message was, “See you at Comrades, Bruce.” The message had me marvelling that the Comrades marathon truly is a global event. All over the world, runners are busy preparing themselves for their date with destiny on June 4th. They are training in the New Zealand fjords and the Australian outback, in the foothills of the Himalayas and across the South African veld, in the historic cities of Europe and, for one lucky Marine, the beaches of Hawaii. It’s the beginning of March; spring in the North, autumn in the South, and the serious season has begun. It truly is Comrades Marathon time now, and the key word is 'consistency'. From now on training should be regular, frequent and consistent. Of course, rest days are always advised from time to time, but the secret to Comrades success is to become a 'streaker'. No, I don't mean those people who run naked through the streets, but rather runners who have an uninterrupted streak of running days. No matter what, they run every single day. The strict rules of streaking are that a runner must run at least one mile (1.6 km) in every 24-hour period. Some runners have unbroken streaks that last many months or even years. The ultimate, King of streaking was England’s Ron Hill, who ran at least a mile from 20 December 1964 to 30 January 2017 ( 52 years and 39 days). In that time he was also one of the World’s leading distance runners, winning Commonwealth and European marathon titles and breaking the record at the 1970 Boston marathon. Hill was also a three-time Olympian. Only illness and the deep, nagging concern of a loving family finally ended his streak last month. Now, I’m not expecting any Comrades hopeful to be as fanatical as Ron Hill... but I am encouraging every Comrades runner to think like Ron Hill for the next 8 - 10 weeks. No matter what has happened before, now is the time to get deadly serious about training. It doesn’t matter if you had a lazy January or an injury dented your training mileage in February. What matters is that every runner trains consistently through the two critical Comrades training months of March and April (and the first 10 days of May). Gold and silver medal hopefuls need to be training twice a day at times. Other runners as regularly as possible. For those who persist with the question, “What is the least I can do to finish the Comrades under 12 hours?”, my answer is always the same: “That depends on how cleverly you selected your parents.” I chose my parents wisely, so my genetics allow me to get away with less training than those whose genetics are less favourable. However, when pressed I like to say that a runner needs consistent weeks of 60 - 70 km (40 - 45 miles), with at least 3 weeks where the full Comrades distance of 90 km (56 miles) is covered during each of those 7-day periods. Yes, that means for the next two months tiredness will be a constant companion. Early nights will be essential. You will become a social bore. Training will become a daily ritual and routine. However, you don’t have to be another Ron Hill. Rest and recovery are important and you are the best judge of that. Some runners take a weekly break (Mondays are most popular); others are flexible and rest when they feel unduly tired and irritable, or sore and stiff. No matter when you decide to rest, if at all, the important thing to remember is that it's now time to join our fellow Comrades hopefuls around the World in starting to train seriously. The journey to the Comrades has begun No matter when you decide to rest, if at all, the important thing to remember is that the time to join our fellow Comrades hopefuls around the World in starting to train seriously is now. The journey to the Comrades has begun. With thanks to Citizen newspaper, South Africa.
Halfway through running the Dischem half-marathon a week or so ago, I found myself eavesdropping on the conversation of two runners who were toiling away just in front of me. “It’s the up run this year, Boet”, the one runner grunted. “I know, China”, His sweaty companion replied. “And I’m scared. I hate hills, and I’m terrified of Polly Shortts.” I had to interrupt and try to allay their fears. You see, I’m a great fan of the Comrades Marathon up run. My first Comrades (way back in 1977) was up, and so was my first win. I asked them why they disliked the prospect of the up run so much. “All those hills,” was the reply, as expected. "We’re going to struggle on all those monsters. Fields Hill, Inchanga and, of course, Polly Shortts.” Bruce Fordyce's favourite Comrades Marathon - the up run.Bruce Fordyce's favourite Comrades Marathon - the up run. So I did my best to calm them down. I didn’t mention that the first 42 kilometres of the up run (a marathon on its own) will be the hardest standard marathon they will ever run. Nor did I say that, in my opinion, Ashburton Hill (Little Pollies) is far tougher than Polly Shortts. I preferred to emphasise that the up run is far less painful than the down, and that it shows who the best runners are; while the down run identifies the masochists among us. The Comrades post-race limp is proof of how less damaging the up run is. After the up run, runners limp for about 4 or 5 days. After the down run, the limp can last more than a week and flights of stairs are absolutely impossible to negotiate. To entertain them, I told them of my conversation of a few years ago with the great Amby Burfoot. Amby was the Editor-in-Chief of Runner’s World magazine. More importantly, he won the Boston Marathon in 1968. He decided his running C.V. was incomplete without a Comrades Marathon medal, so he travelled to Durban to run an up Comrades. He asked me about the dreaded Polly Shortts (Boston has its own 'Heartbreak Hill'). I told him not to be worried about Pollies because, when he reached it on race day, he would find it a welcome stroll and he would be reduced to walking by the time he reached the famous hill. In an article he later wrote for Runners World, he said he assumed I was unfamiliar with his running C.V. “I’m Amby Burfoot.” he thought. “I won the 1968 Comrades Marathon and I don’t walk up hills. Bruce is wrong; I won’t walk up Polly Shortts. “And Bruce was, indeed, wrong. I was walking long before I got to Polly Shortts!“ I told the two worried runners that if they train correctly - by running on hilly courses and by running a weekly hill-training session ( a subject for a later blog) - they should have nothing to fear. Too many runners convince themselves they are weak on the hills. Proper hill training should instil a lot of confidence in runners. The key is to get fit enough to be able to run slowly or shuffle up the big hills while taking occasional walking breaks. The slower running, and the walking breaks, makes the up run a long, relatively enjoyable experience. As far as I am concerned, this is infinitely preferable to the jolting agony of the steep descents of the last quarter of the down run. I always tell Comrades novices that If you only intend to run one Comrades, the up run is the one to do. You need to be able to boast that you have journeyed up the most famous hills on the Comrades course, even if that journey was at a slow 'Amby Burfoot' walking pace. Yes, the up run is generally a little slower than the down. So those who are borderline finishers need to ensure some of their walks are brisk ones. But the wonderful news about this year’s up run is that it is the shortest for ages. In fact, at 86.7 km (53.87 miles), some disgruntled old timers are demanding that finishers receive only half a medal. Published with kind permission of The Citizen newspaper. http://bit.ly/2jwgXol
My first blog for 2017 was going to discuss a cautious start to Comrades training. Then the words of a song I hadn't heard in years popped into my mind… and it became about a different ultra-marathon altogether. She’s Leaving Home “Sunday morning at 5 o’clock As the day begins Silently closing her bedroom door Leaving the note that she hoped would say more She goes downstairs to the kitchen Clutching her handkerchief Quietly turning the backdoor key Stepping outside, she is free.” With apologies to Lennon and McCartney and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club band. I knew well in advance that my 'child' would be leaving me. The warnings had been taunting me on a regular basis on social media: 'Your child is going; she needs to move on. On November 26th she’s packing her bags and going to live with someone else. You’ll look back fondly and with love, but she has to expand her horizons.' I would be lying if I said I wasn’t sad or that I hoped the day, which just happened to be 27 November 2016, would never arrive. You see, she had come to me on a baking hot morning, on a hilly road in Stellenbosch. I had to fight many other suitors to make her mine, and the cost was enormous. Almost catastrophic. In fact, afterwards I lay prostrate on a hospital bed with an intravenous drip dangling from my arm. Bruce Fordyce wins 100 km ultra at world-record pace. 1989.Bruce Fordyce wins 100 km ultra at world-record pace. 1989. On that day, 4th February 1989, I became the new SA and, briefly, World Record holder for 100 km - 6:25:07. The price exacted for this record was that, as a runner, I was never quite the same again. Somewhere, out on the glinting road that wove its way among the vineyards and strawberry fields of Stellenbosch, the zip and spring I used to have in my step - and the fighting spirit deep in my brain - were left melting and sizzling on the hot tar. Somewhere, in the boxing ring of harsh ultra-marathon competition, my brain decided, "I can’t do this again.” I was content with that thought. I had finally made my mark on the world stage and proved I could perform in other arenas; not just on the road between Pietermaritzburg and Durban. The world record was taken from me a few months later, but this South African baby stayed with me for 27 years. And, as each year passed and my record survived assaults from some remarkable South African athletes, I became prouder and prouder and fonder and fonder of my child. Before I become too big-headed and tiresome about holding a record for over a quarter of a century, let me point out that 100 km (a little over 62 miles) is not a distance we South Africans race often. We treasure our own two magnificent ultra-events, and believe the Two Oceans and Comrades marathons tower over any other. I can honestly say I wouldn’t trade a single Comrades win for a World Championship title. Nevertheless, it felt good to see my name alongside those of our track and field athletes in the annual South African athletics statistics booklet, even if it was on the last page at the very end, almost as if it were an afterthought. So, when I heard that a team of top South African ultra-runners were entering the World 100 km Championships in Spain in November 2016, I had an inkling my record’s days were numbered. Bongmusa Mthembu ( Comrades 2014), Ludwick Mamabolo (Comrades 2012), Gift Kelehe (Comrades 2015), David Gatebe (Comrades 2016) among others in the team were simply too talented. Even on a bad day, at least one of them was destined to annihilate my time while running on the fast Spanish course. When the dust had settled and I had had time to digest the fact I was no longer the record holder, I recalled a conversation I had had with Wally Hayward, the greatest Comrades runner of all time. I took some comfort from it. “Remember Bruce,” he once cautioned me “We keep titles, but we only borrow records. Sooner or later someone will take your record from you. “I thought I was fast when I broke 6 hours in the 1953 Comrades,” he continued "but now you lot are running half an hour faster.” I now also realise another thing the great man was telling me. If the record keeps improving, and is passed on from one runner to the next, it means the sport is alive and well. It's flourishing. If it stagnates for too long, it means there is apathy. No-one is interested. No-one cares. I mean, does anyone really want to be the reigning world record holder for consuming the most “Mother in law's hell fire vindaloo curry samosas in an hour”? There aren’t too many challengers for that one. But now I've lost this record, there is excitement and interest being shown once more about an important South African record. And that's a good thing. Even the casual observer could not have failed to notice that in Spain, this past November, our top runners were at best extremely naive in their tactics, at worst foolhardy. They started far too fast and raced each other, in some cases, into oblivion. The 50 km split was over-ambitious, and not only meant the individual title was not won, but that the current world record was clearly under no threat. I hope our runners challenge for the title again next year, and that they take this year's experience with them. Working with a sensible race plan, any one of a dozen talented South African runners could break the world record. Certainly they should break Bongmusa’s SA record. And they’re too good not to retain the team gold medals. Finally, I would like to congratulate Bongmusa Mthembu on breaking my record. Like the father of the bride, I am more than proud to have handed my child on to a great runner like you. Enjoy your time with her. The chances are it may only be for a brief time, so make the most of it. P.S. Bongmusa, I stand open to correction, but I believe that not only are you the SA record holder, but also the African continental record holder for 100 km. Just think about that Addis Ababa and Nairobi. You don’t quite own every African distance record! Image of me winning the 100 km ultra, run in Stellenbosch area in 1989, taken by Andre van den Berg. Used with thanks.
2016 has not been a good year for old rockers like me. Three great music icons have died and a great void has been left behind. I still shake my head in disbelief at the thought that David Bowie, Prince and Leonard Cohen are gone. The sense of loss is profound for few reasons. First of all, these great icons aren’t supposed to slip away. They’re immortal, or at least their music is. They have no business being normal. Secondly, there is that awful realisation that from these three creative giants there will be no more masterpieces penned, no more songs to marvel at or albums to treasure. Now there are just the “best of” compilations to anticipate. But probably the greatest shock of their passing - certainly for those of us born in the 50s and 60s - is the stark reminder of our own impending mortality. The Afrikaans expression, “Nou kap hulle die bome in my deel van die woud“ sums up that humbling, numbing feeling best. (Now they are chopping down the trees in my part of the woods.) We runners don’t need the deaths of our heroes to remind us of our human frailty. Quietly, and almost without warning, a day arrives when we realise that that p.b. is always going to be our p.b. We are slowing, and not only is Father Time catching us, but we aren’t catching too many youngsters anymore. The funny thing is we don’t feel any slower. The effort is still there, the legs feel as if they are ticking over at the same rate, but unfortunately the stopwatch doesn’t lie. We are getting slower. Strangely enough, it was at a moment of victory that I was struck by a blinding moment of clarity about the ageing, slowing down process. As I won the 1990 Comrades, I realised my days were numbered. I had won, but in my slowest winning time (5:40) and, for most of the race, I had felt sluggish and heavy; not nearly as in control of the outcome as I had wanted. At that moment, I knew I would not win another Comrades marathon. A couple of years later my good running friend, John Burgess, summed up the feeling of the great glide path of one’s running life really well. It was at the end of an 8 km time trial we had just run. As he sat on the pavement in pouring rain, breathing heavily, he gasped “ China, I don’t mind hurting. In fact, I don’t mind hurting a lot. But at the end of the race I want to see a good time winking at me from my watch, not this rubbish I am staring at now.” I felt inclined to agree with him that day and for a few months I toyed with the idea of permanent retirement from the sport I loved so much. But I didn’t want to let it go. Like so many of us, I just love running too much. It is in my blood. Now it has been part of my life for almost half a century and I cannot imagine a life without it. A few days later I happened to bump into Derek Marcisz while running on the Durban Esplanade. Derek is an old running friend and rival of mine (Derek’s marathon p.b. is 2:17:17 and mine is 2:17:18). Derek told me he regarded his running as a long book he was busy reading. The first chapter was all about those heady, halcyon days when we flew around race routes and set ridiculous times, and were almost immortal. He told me he is very proud of that chapter, but it was over. He had closed the last page of that exciting adventure and was starting the next chapter. It's the one in which us older runners are set to enjoy our running as much we possibly can. We tone down the serious nature of running as we have known it and learn to enjoy more sunrises. We have more fun trying to jump puddles and crunching over autumn leaves. We also thrive on more laughter, and more companionship out on the road. And it's actually remarkably easy to achieve. We don't stop running. We simply reduce our mileage. Do we really have to run 5 marathons a year? Is that 30 km training run really going to be enjoyable? Probably not. Then do we really have to do 30 km? I have learnt to love the half marathon and the race over shorter distances. When the competitive juices flow - and trust me, they still do - I love to run a hard 5 km parkrun, racing the other balding, grey-haired men rather than the young speedsters. And I still enjoy seeing that I was first in my age group (who knew turning 60 would have such advantages!). During training I avoid running hard down very steep downhills wherever possible, and I am never afraid to cut a run short. Occasionally I like to walk. I listen to my body and take days off when a potential injury is niggling or I feel I am getting sick. I still get up when it's dark and go for a morning run. I still do my gym sessions. I still plan to run another Comrades. But I treat running as a journey and not a race. And sometimes, as I run, I hum my favourite songs from the three great rockers who have left us. They may have gone, but their music lingers on. As I paid my own personal tribute to Leonard Cohen by listening to my favourites this weekend, I realised that it in't so different for those of us who still love to run. Even though our faster competitive days may be behind us, we're still runners... and it's a passion that will last for a lifetime.
Bruce Fordyce's view after running the Katse Dam Highlands Trout MarathonBruce Fordyce's view after running the Katse Dam Highlands Trout Marathon Increasingly, there are claims about which marathon is the toughest in the world. In fact, there are almost as many claims as there are marathons. If we accept that a marathon is 42 kilometres in length - and exclude all ultra-marathons - then the field is narrowed. But the argument is still unnecessary... because 'the toughest' is a subjective opinion. Last weekend, I ran one of the toughest marathons I have ever run; if not the toughest. The Katse Dam Highlands Trout Mountain Challenge. If you haven't heard about it, I wouldn't be at at all surprised. It's a race that's hardly known. BUT it is one every serious runner should place high on their bucket list of essential races. After this year’s race, I heard other runners comment, “life-changing”, “a never-to-be-forgotten experience” and “a permanent addition to my annual racing calendar’. No-one who ran had a bad experience, and yet it has so many elements that should make it 'unforgettable' - for all the wrong reasons. First of all, it is run over brutal hills. These are not like hills you may encounter in a normal race. These are towering monsters that climb straight into the pale blue Lesotho sky, and are sometimes many kilometres in length. You will encounter your first major climb after just 7 kilometres of running. Then, a steep bone-jarring descent will take you to a quaint bridge that crosses a small river below the towering Katse Dam wall. Take a good look at that wall. That's where you're going. You will have to climb straight back up 3 shockingly steep kilometres of winding, tortuous road. Even those who boast afterwards, "I didn’t walk a step", are only fooling themselves. Running on this hill cannot be more than just a short shuffle with plenty of gasping. I proudly thought I was running the climb quite well this year, until a Basotho shepherd in white gumboots, and with a blanket thrown casually over his shoulder, walked past me whistling to his goats. And that is just the first of a series of gigantic hills that greet you at regular intervals, all made tougher by the thin air of 2,000-2,500 metres above sea level. The air is thin and pure, clean and very dry. Sounds great. And it is. But it makes the tough going even tougher. So if you start gasping and panting as you cope with exercising at this altitude, you will not be alone. Thankfully, all this is forgotten as the sheer beauty of the surroundings help to take even more of your breath away. The rolling Maloti Mountains, topped with bright white snow, drop down to the sparkling blue waters of the Katse Dam. The tar road becomes a dirt track, which winds past picturesque villages full of cheering spectators and laughing children. Angora goats scatter for cover, while above White-Necked Ravens and Jackal Buzzards wheel in the sky. I’m a keen birder and, while I didn’t spot the endangered Lammergeier (Bearded Vulture) on this occasion, I did 'tick' the endemics: Drakensberg Rockjumper and Ground Woodpecker. Only in this harsh mountain kingdom would one find a woodpecker that doesn’t live in trees (perhaps because there are very few of them) and a Vulture that lives only on bone marrow and fragments. Runners are also in for another treat. Where the sky meets the water, you will pass several trout-growing cages, where large trout are farmed in the deep, cold waters of the dam. These giant trout weigh several kilograms and are all destined for the Japanese sushi market. But we runners were fortunate to be able to buy a few to take home. 40 minutes in a 150° C oven creates a perfect meal for 6 hungry runners. And it is the trout, or rather the management of the trout-growing industry at Katse, that have brought into being this iconic marathon weekend in a magnificent part of Lesotho. The trout business has created desperately-needed employment in the area. One worker feeds up to 10 people here, and the marathon is both a celebration and an annual gathering to bring management, workers, runners and the villagers together for one unique weekend. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the days before the race, when teams of volunteers get together to plan the race. I enjoy being part of the team that measures the route and marks the course. No fancy boards and signs for us. We use white lime to write out the numbers the afternoon before the race, and keep our fingers crossed that the mountain wind doesn’t blow. On the day of the race, runners pass several drinks tables manned by enthusiastically cheering villagers and, because the route is an out-and-back run, the same enthusiastic villagers are there to cheer even louder on the return journey. For South African runners, The Katse Highlands Mountain challenge ranks alongside the Skukuza Kruger half marathon, The Knysna marathon and the Mont-aux-Sources race as essential bucket-list races. For those runners who intend to visit Southern Africa one day, it's worth considering this hidden running treasure. I believe it stands stands alongside the world-famous Comrades and Two Oceans marathons. This year we ran in ideal weather conditions. But it was what happened the next day that made the entire weekend perfect. We woke to a winter wonderland of snow falling in the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho. Perhaps you'll be as lucky when we see you there next year.
The Skukuza half marathon is one of South Africa’s most iconic races. Every August, 1,000 lucky participants run through the Kruger National Park in a unique bushveld experience. Heavily-armed rangers are posted every few hundred metres along the course. However, one cannot help but be continually alert, and the thought that one of Africa’s big 5 could be lurking behind any bush en route can be intimidating. It's a real threat. A few years ago, the race was suddenly changed from a 21 to a 14 kilometre, because a pride of lions had decided to sleep in the middle of the dirt road on which we were supposed to run. And this year, the rangers resorted to using a helicopter to keep an irritated black rhino away from us runners. I was delighted to be joined by Jonathan, my son, who ran his first half marathon at Skukuza. We ran together for a while before he said he had to go (but it could have been because he was so keen to watch the game between the Lions and the Hurricanes once he'd finished!) It was a proud moment for me when I saw his distinctive blue shirt far ahead on one long, straight stretch. It was clear he was going well, as he'd put considerable distance on me in a relatively short time. Bruce Fordyce with his son, Jonathan, after Skukuza Marathon, Kruger National Park.Bruce Fordyce with his son, Jonathan, after Skukuza Marathon, Kruger National Park. He eventually ended up just pipping me. I felt like a very proud father indeed when I reached the finish line - a mere 10 minutes later - and saw him with his own finisher's medal around his neck. We plan to run the full London Marathon together next year in April, and the Skukuza is a major stepping stone in the preparation for that. Despite that 'short' 10-minutes gap between Jonathan and my finishes, I'm happy to say this year's run was a whole lot better than last year's. In 2015, Skukuza was my first long marathon after being told my knee was so bad I’d never run again. As you may have guessed, I was determined to prove them wrong; but, in the weeks before 2015's race, I was nervous enough about my chances that I learnt all the cut-off places off by heart. Just in case. At the time, the Skukuza half marathon was a very important race for me. I knew that if I could run 21 km on a tough course like Kruger's Skukuza, I could finish Two Oceans, which was my ultimate goal then. I'm happy to say I finished miles inside the cut-off times. However, I ran with a really noticeable limp. This year I was about 10 or 12 minutes faster on exactly same course. Even more encouraging was that some of the other runners I met along the way remarked on the difference in how I was running. This time, they couldn’t see I had a problem - apart from being old and slow! There was one more memorable event before we left Skukuza. The following day, my family and I were delighted to attend a function at the Kruger’s Park’s K9 (canine) watchdog training centre near the Phabeni Gate. Along with a group of other donors, we handed over sizable donations before meeting some of these incredible dogs and their handlers. The donation we handed over came from a dedicated group of fellow parkrunners from around the world. We were also treated to an amazing display of the K9s' trackers skills, along with many stories of their courage under fire. As we all know, rhinos are being decimated Africa-wide for their horns, and the Kruger Park has been under siege. The teams of rangers in the park are literally waging a war, and are doing an incredible job. “These dogs have noses like hoovers.” we were told. “They just scent the air and sprint off after the poachers, with us following as quickly as we can.” Having helped to apprehend dozens of poachers, it’s clear that the tracker dogs are potent weapons. It was an inspiring thought to realise that we had contributed to the training of these special dogs, dedicated to tracking and pursuing rhino poachers. We left the function full of optimism and quite proud of our small contribution. It will not be our last.
I have always loved watching the Olympic Games and this last week has been no exception. I find myself fascinated by sports in which I would not normally have much interest. Today, I sat glued to the television broadcasts of weightlifting and fencing. However, my interest really peaks in the second half of the Olympic programme, when the athletics begin. For obvious reasons, the men’s and women’s marathons are my favourite events. Not only because of the world class distance racing on show, but also because of the great history and tradition of the event. I find names like Abebe Bikila, Joanie Benoit, Carlos Lopes and our own Josia Thugwane truly inspirational. Frank Shorter, 3 years after he won the Munich Olympics marathon gold medal.Frank Shorter, 3 years after he won the Munich Olympics marathon gold medal. However, perhaps the most important marathon runner of all time - not just for me, but for every runner, jogger and shuffler who ever laced on a pair of running shoes - is Frank Shorter, pictured here with Steve Prefontaine. The cold facts are that the USA’s Frank Shorter won the 1972 Olympic marathon in Munich. 4 years later he won a silver medal in Montreal. But it was his Munich win 44 years ago that is widely acknowledged to have been so important. Essentially, Frank Shorter is credited with starting the running boom. Shorter‘s win in the marathon came as a complete surprise to a nation that hardly knew what a marathon was. Then, at an Olympics where the Americans were busy losing at some of their traditionally strong events, Shorter’s win was some compensation. The US surrendered their dominance in the men’s 100 and 200-metre sprints and, to rub salt into their wounds, their sprinters lost to Valery Borzov, a Russian. They lost at the pole vault and, worse than all of those, they lost the basketball in hugely controversial circumstances. Yes, to the Russians. That blow may have been worse than appearing to lose the Cold War! An unexpected gold medal in this ‘strange’ event called a marathon came as a welcome relief to US sports fans. Afterwards, the fact that Shorter was an articulate law student at Yale helped to propel the event into the minds of ordinary Americans. But nothing promoted the marathon more than the brilliant television commentary of Erich Segal, who had taught Shorter at Yale. (Yes, Erich Segal who wrote “Love Story” and penned the famous words “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”). Millions of Americans listened to Segal and Jim Mackay’s description of the challenges , the joys and the triumphs of running a marathon. And Segal, a 2:56 marathoner and 20-time finisher of the Boston marathon himself, promoted running as no-one before him had ever done. The rest is now history. Hundreds of Americans started running; then thousands, and then millions. Soon the world followed, and the sight of people running became commonplace. The running boom had arrived. In South Africa, the craze for running started about 5 years or so after Shorter’s epic win. It also came with a little madness – because, of course, every year we stage this extraordinary event called the Comrades marathon. Running is here to stay and, personally, is the most important part of almost every day of my life. Often, as I run I say a few words of thanks to Frank Shorter and the Olympic marathon for having such a positive effect on the lives of millions, possibly billions, of people. Photo of Steve Prefontaine and Frank Shorter sit in the infield of Hayward Fiels, Eugene, Oregon, waiting for the 5,000m event to begin on 29 May 1975. Taken by Geoff Parks.
For many Comrades runners, the second half of the year presents a motivational challenge. It is often hard to get fired up about running when there isn’t a race waiting, especially one as all-consuming as the Comrades. However, the time to start thinking about real training again is rapidly approaching. Within the next week, I suggest you start setting some new goals and considering what your regular training schedule is going to be all about. The good news is there are several ways to get excited about running, racing and training in the second half of the year. Firstly, I used to begin motivating myself by deciding that every running step I was taking was geared to running a faster, better Comrades the next year. That meant that while I wasn’t really intensely focused on the Comrades nearly 10 months away, I was still running with the Comrades in mind. Comrades marathoners generally have lots of strength and endurance, but they are relatively slow and lack speed. So I always turned the second half of the year into fun ‘dash and crash’ speed work. I did this by running less distance, fewer long runs and perhaps just one marathon. (I’ll write a bit more about that in another blog. I will also explore it, in-depth, in my upcoming eBook - Tackling the Comrades Up Run.) I worked on my speed by regularly racing short distance races. I would run 5, 8, 10 and 15 kilometre races nearly every week. And I set myself the task of getting faster at all these distances. Finally, when I was able to race below 30 minutes for 10 kilometres, I knew I was getting somewhere. While a 29-minute 10 kilometre pace is not going to scare anyone in Nairobi, it is still fast for an ultra-runner. More importantly, it meant that my cruising speed at Comrades could be raised to the 3:35 - 3:40 per-kilometre pace that was necessary to win the race. I am well aware that winning the Comrades is something only a few achieve. Even if you're a runner who didn't make the cut-off and your goal is simply to earn that precious Comrades medal, your cruising speed should be 8 minutes per kilometre. But you have to maintain that pace for 90 hilly kilometres. So my training advice for the next 6 months remains the same. Focus on shorter, faster runs and it will help you improve your Comrades. No matter where you are in the pack. The other techniques I used to help myself develop greater speed was by racing on the track, and by running lots of short, sharp hills. I only ever recommend track racing for a handful of elite runners, but everyone can benefit from running hills. Bruce Fordyce on Sweethoogte Hill, training to improve his Comrades pace.Bruce Fordyce on Sweethoogte Hill, training to improve his Comrades pace. My favourite hill in Johannesburg, which is where I live, was the famous Sweethoogte hill. (Aptly translates from Afrikaans to Sweat Heights. And, yes, that's me training on it.) My definition of a short, sharp hill is a steep, 400-metre climb that should be run at a steady, hard pace. Run between 8 to 5 repetitions, and concentrate on form and controlled breathing. Jog back down the hill to recover. Following a training regime like this in the latter half of 2016 will definitely help you improve your time. And, who knows, maybe even take you into the Bill Rowan, silver or gold-medal bracket. And, for those of you who are more concerned about getting that precious finisher's medal, no matter the time, this advice will help make the journey less stressful. Last and certainly not least - in fact, I'd even say most importantly - I did my best to keep my running enjoyable and fun. Manage to do that and, when the time arrives to get more serious, you will be rested and enthusiastic. And that’s half the battle won.
Forty years ago I gave myself the greatest gift I ever could. I set off on a run. It wasn’t for long. I ran for precisely 10 minutes around the Wits University rugby fields, and I ran at night so no-one would see me. Looking back at my training log, I wrote, “Ran for 10 minutes around the university rugby fields. Quite tough, Coughed and spluttered a bit.” But I returned the next night, and the next, starting an odyssey that profoundly changed my life for the better. I also continued to make entries in that diary, which is something I still do. Now, as I look back at a journey that has covered nearly half the distance to the moon and includes hundreds of marathons, I can at last grasp the importance of those first, faltering steps. It doesn't usually take long for us to understand why running is so important to us. We feel the health benefits and watch the reading on the bathroom scales plummet. We love to travel to races, exploring our country, and the world. We enjoy great, enduring friendships. We are reminded of our hunter-gatherer roots as we run through the seasons, listening for the first cuckoo of spring and watching the autumn swallows gather. We splash through puddles and watch our frosty breath hanging in white puffs behind us. We run through countless glowing sunrises and fiery sunsets. We understand that you don’t have to be number one to be a winner. Every time we tighten the laces on our shoes and set off to live a lifetime in one run, we win. We learn that we control our own destiny and nothing is written until we write it. It is no coincidence that I mark this anniversary today. That first short run of mine was my attempt to control my life in the wake of the terrible events in Soweto two days before. On 16 June 1976, having learnt of the nightmare unfolding in Soweto, we Wits students had naively set off on our own march, in solidarity with the Soweto youngsters. We didn’t get very far. On the old Queen Elizabeth Bridge we were set upon by thugs from the SA Railway Police. The brutality and vicious hatred I experienced from them that day left me feeling numb and helpless. I was a lost victim. My first running steps were an attempt to restore order in my life and to be a master of my own fate. The decision to start running gives all of us a feeling of control and a sense of purpose. While running, particularly when the going gets tough, we are constantly given the greatest gift - meeting a person we learn to respect and admire. A meeting with ourselves. Bruce Fordyce and Don Ritchie, both ultra-marathon record-holders.Bruce Fordyce and Don Ritchie, both ultra-marathon record-holders. Someone who's been where I have, and more, is Don Ritchie. He started running a decade before me and has won dozens of major ultra-marathons and holds 11 ultra-marathon world records. We enjoyed swapping stories while at his home in Lossiemouth, Aberdeenshire Scotland, earlier this month. #Thebenefitsofrunning #DonRitchie #BruceFordyceonrunning
During the recent 2016 Comrades I spent my time in the SABC commentary box, with Helen Lucre and Arnaud Malherbe. We had an excellent view of the finish line – the studio is positioned above it, so we never had to peer around a keen spectator to see what was happening. We also had five different screens, sourced from cameras in tracker vehicles following the leaders, as well as at key positions on the Comrades route. And am I glad we did! Bruce Fordyce commentating at 2016 Comrades Marathon for SABC, with Helen Lucre and Arnaud Malherbe.Bruce Fordyce commentating at 2016 Comrades Marathon for SABC, with Helen Lucre and Arnaud Malherbe. This 2016 Comrades ‘down’ run was easily one of the most dramatic I have ever watched. The speed and strength of winner David Gatebe was a delight to observe. He was in total control from the moment he struck for home, and his six push-ups on the finish line showed he had more to give. I remember thinking that if he continued with form like this, he may well win again next year. If so, he would be the first South African men’s repeat winner for some years. Stephen Muzhingi from Zimbabwe and Russia's Leonid Shvetsov were the last male repeat winners. Vladimir Kotov won three times, but only ever the ‘up’ run. Was the pounding of the down run too much for his legs? Perhaps he illustrates what I say repeatedly: a Comrades runner needs both strength and speed. Hence my gym programme, created by former Mr Universe, Reg Park, and Tim Noakes, reputed sports scientist. Many other notable men have won the Comrades four or five times, but not for quite some time. There's Alan Robb with four wins, whom I found to be an incredibly worthy opponent. Before that, we have to go back to the 1960s. Jackie Mekler may have taken a decade to win his five, but his first was with a comfortable 45 minutes to spare. Wally Hayward went even better. There was 20 years between his first and second win, but he went on to take five victories. I believe his greatest performances were when he ran the Comrades in his eighties. Hardy Ballington, who won the Comrades for the fifth time in 1947, after being interrupted by World War II, dominated much of the 1930s. Arthur Newton, also a 5-time winner, is considered to be the father of modern ultra-marathon running . Most interestingly, the closest anyone’s come to my record of nine wins is a woman, Elena Nurgalieva. Elena has won 8 times and, once the ban on Russian athletes is lifted, could still win another. Her twin sister, Olyesa, has won two. So, between them, they have 10 amazing Comrades titles. This year, the women’s race was extremely dramatic. Both Caroline Wöstmann and Charne Bosman displayed incredible courage. Caroline, winner of the 2016 Two Oceans Marathon and last year’s Comrades winner in the woman’s class, fought hard to achieve her first consecutive win. However, Charne proved too strong for her, and achieved a well-deserved victory. That being said, Caroline proved that if you show courage and grace in defeat, you are looked upon as a winner as well. After the race, I was extremely gratified to be told by Charne that she constantly referred to my book when she wanted to fine tune her training for the Comrades. I find a great deal of pleasure in helping others achieve their best (which is why I created this website), and being told that I'd made a difference to someone like Charne was fantastic. However, perhaps my finest moments in the commentary box came as I observed the throngs of happy, but ordinary, Comrades runners crossing the finish line. Of course, no-one who finishes the Comrades is “ordinary”, but it was the slower runners who seemed to epitomise the Comrades spirit. Cheers echoed into the Durban sky as the 10, 11 and 12-hour buses thundered home. It was a celebration and a confirmation that, at its best, the human spirit is indefatigable. Since that heady day, my focus has mostly been on parkrun, the creation of Paul Sinton-Hewitt and which I head up in South Africa. It is the perfect place for a passionate runner like myself. Not that it's the only thing I do. I have also just been a featured speaker at the Festival of Ultra-Running in Wiltshire. No surprise, my topic was the Comrades marathon, and I know there were many in the audience who are now determined to run it in the future. Interestingly, I felt very much like a sprinter in the company of some of the other speakers. Having never run further than 100 km, I was fascinated to meet those who had. Emma Timmis, who ran across Africa from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. Aleks Kashefi, who ran unaided from Lands End to John ‘O Groats in the UK. Mimi Anderson, who has run back-to-back Comrades and will run from Los Angeles to New York in September. We ultra-runners are an extraordinary group of people. So, for those who plan to tackle next year's Up Comrades, my advice is to keep in mind that the weeks after an ultra are very much a rest phase. The build-up to Comrades only starts gradually in about October, but really only gets serious in February next year. In the meantime, focus on planning which races you will run in the next few months. Use this time to decide upon your all-important qualifying race and plan accordingly. Finally, if any of you get the chance, please try and watch some of this year’s Comrades marathon. It truly was inspirational. Image used with kind permission of Ellie Greenwood.
Bruce Fordyce on Pinetown Old Main Road, just past St. John's Road Bridge... 19 km to go to complete the Comrades Marathon.Bruce Fordyce on Pinetown Old Main Road, just past St. John's Road Bridge... 19 km to go to complete the Comrades Marathon. What is it about Pinetown that makes it such a gruelling part of the down Comrades marathon? Perhaps it is its position, lying in a deep bowl in sub-tropical KZN, 70 grueling kilometres after the start. (It certainly doesn’t help that it lies at the foot of the bone-jarring descent of Fields Hill and that, with shattered legs, runners have still to struggle up three major hills - Cowie’s, 45th Cutting, and Tollgate.) Perhaps it is the din of the cheering crowds and baring Vuvuzelas that irritate instead of encourage. Whatever it is, in the din and heat and humidity of Pinetown, thousands of Comrades marathon runners find themselves swearing and muttering quietly to the road, to themselves and to other runners, “What am I doing here? This is insane. Never ever again. Never ever, ever again.” Though surrounded by hundreds of other runners and encouraged by throngs of spectators, I know Pinetown is where each runner will never have felt so alone. I've been there; and this is where you have to confront yourself and decide whether to give up or battle on. What you end up deciding is your decision and yours alone. However, my advice is simple: remember that thousands of fellow Comrades runners have reached that same barrier and have have struggled on, rather than throw in the towel. It is very tempting to drop out and seek relief in the entourage of pick-up vehicles where beguiling helpers seem to beckon like Ulysses’ sirens. Or to rest - just for a moment - under the shade of a spectator's umbrella. When measured against the subsequent guilt and disappointment you will probably feel, it is actually easier to keep on going. The relief is merely physical, but your feelings about it can last a lifetime. Try to remember the words of Eric Liddell, the runner from the famous movie, Chariots of Fire, ”And where does the power come from to see the race to its end? From within.” Do your best not to think about the last 20 kilometres of the race, but on the next landmark. It can be daunting to ponder on the challenge of still having to run nearly half a marathon, especially for those for whom a half marathon was an enormous challenge in January this year. So break the race into 'chewable chunks'. Get the Pinetown flats behind you, then climb Cowie’s Hill. Next it’s the steep drop down to the dual carriageway and, at Cowie’s Hill, there are just 10 kilometres to go. Suddenly the challenge becomes a simple morning run, and your spirits will lift. The impossible will seem eminently possible. Focus on the 91-year history and tradition of this great race. This is not your qualifying marathon in some obscure dorpie. This is not your Sunday training run. This is the greatest ultra-marathon in the World, and this is your opportunity to write your own paragraph in the next chapter of the epic. Join a bus or small group of determined runners, eat a bit, drink something. Keep yourself busy. Chat to another runner and wave at spectators. If you spot a television camera, start running steadily and challenge yourself to look strong for the viewers (after all there are a few million of them). Above all, don’t allow yourself to slip into quiet, depressed contemplation. A quiet runner is a runner thinking about stopping. A talking, waving runner is too busy to consider stopping. Before you know it, you will be running down the concrete canyon on Durban’s Berea with just 4 kilometres to go. Then prepare yourself for the highlight of your Comrades - no matter how many you run: the last lap around Kingsmead cricket ground. There, you will change your mind about that 'never, ever, ever again' vow you made earlier. As you circle that ground, blowing kisses, air-punching or waving furiously, remind yourself that, in Pinetown, you met a hero, and someone you now deeply admire. You met yourself. Adapted with kind permission of The Citizen newspaper. Image taken by Gill Fordyce. Bruce Fordyce, with two fellow runners, on Pinetown Old Main Road, just past St. John's Road Bridge... 19 km to go to complete the Comrades Marathon. #BruceFordyceComrades #ComradesMarathon
I thought I knew every nook and cranny, every crack in the tar along the 90-kilometre Comrades route. After all, I've run it 30 times, and walked and driven over the route on many more occasions. But last week I discovered I was in for a surprise. I was being filmed on the Comrades marathon route by a team creating a 3D video of some of the Comrades landmarks in preparation for the Comrades Expo. It was a fascinating experience... and a surprising one. There was so much I had forgotten! With less than 3 weeks to go before the race, it was a timely reminder as to why it is so important for every Comrades runner to explore the route before they run it - no matter how much of a veteran they are. For a start, it has been two years since Comrades runners last ran down to Kingsmead in Durban. Even the sharpest minds will have forgotten key points along the way. For example, I had forgotten about the long climb up from Ashburton Village to Umlaas Road. It may come early in the race, but it is made tougher by the fact that you have to squint into the rising sun. Ichanga Hill on the Comrades route.Ichanga Hill on the Comrades route. The long slog up the back of Inchanga had concertinaed in my mind. It is over 3 km in length and has two or three deceptive bends that suddenly popped up to remind me why so many Comrades novices are convinced they are running the up run rather than the down journey to Durban. Likewise, the short-but-nasty steep climb up the N3 off-ramp to Tollgate had somehow escaped my memory. I can’t imagine why, as the last time I tackled the down run Zola Budd and I shuffled up that hill together and used some very choice language to push ourselves to the top. There are, of course, some runners who prefer to plunge into the unknown. My good friend, Jo, running her first Comrades says she prefers to know nothing; to start blind and tackle each obstacle when confronted. I guess she must be one of those who turn their heads and avert their eyes when the nurse approaches with the hypodermic syringe. I’m the opposite. I don’t like nasty surprises. I like to know what lies ahead. It is impossible to strategise and 'go to war' without knowing the terrain. This is particularly important with the Comrades, because it is such a long race - so it is best run using landmarks rather than kilometres. Furthermore, unlike most road races, the Comrades is measured in descending kilometres and can be extremely difficult to calculate as a result. What does 75 kilometres to go mean? Very little, except that there is still an enormous distance to run. I believe it is far better to know that the landmarks of Cato Ridge and Camperdown are now conquered and Inchanga Hill lies ahead. Each year I have run the Comrades marathon, I have drawn much strength from knowing that I am steadily conquering the famous barriers. However, perhaps the greatest benefit of a course inspection is the state of mind it creates in runners. Two years ago I guided a party of foreign visitors over the 90-odd kilometres of the down run. As we set off on our journey, they were chattering and laughing, bubbling with excitement like a bunch of children on a school outing. By the time we had driven through hot, sticky Pinetown, they were silent and withdrawn, each seemingly alone with his or her thoughts. Just driving over the Comrades route is tiring. And then there are the hills. As one tourist explained to me, “We became quiet not because we saw the infamous climbs such as Inchanga, Cowies Hill and 45th Cutting, but because of the dozens of unnamed hills. We couldn’t believe a hill that would be called“Coronary Thrombosis” or “Lactic Acid Heights” if it were part of any other race could possibly have no name.” I explained to him that a worried, even a frightened, Comrades runner is usually a successful Comrades finisher. Scared runners run cautiously and control their enthusiasm. Going on a Comrades Route Tour tends to knock the bravado out of one and, on the Comrades down run, fortune favours the timid, not the brave. You can find out more about the Comrades Route Tours I host with Complete Marathons here. Article adapted from and by courtesy of The Citizen newspaper. Image of Ichanga Hill by Zweli Gwala - http://bit.ly/1ZVYCLO
It all started on a bleak morning over a year ago, when three senior doctors broke the news to me that my knee injury was so severe I would need a knee replacement. Even worse, they told me I would never run again. I was a broken-hearted spectator as my friends trained for, and ran, the 2015 Two Oceans. However, there was one thing for which the doctors hadn’t accounted. They didn’t realise how stubborn we runners are. Watching the runner's finish, I vowed I would run in 2016. I visited biokineticists, physiotherapists, and every specialist I could think of and find. I walked for 2 hours every day, right through Johannesburg’s winter, no matter how bitter it was and how much I limped. I took my first faltering running steps in September. The rest, as they say, is history. Full of doubt and trepidation, I lined up with 11,000 other Two Oceans runners on Easter Saturday morning. I received plenty of encouragement along the way, especially from two lovely West Coast Striders’ ladies. This was my 31st Two Oceans, and as I reached each landmark it was like greeting an old friend again. To my surprise, I reached Fish Hoek in just over two hours, several minutes faster than I'd anticipated. When I summited Chapman's Peak, I punched the air. I am not ashamed to say I finished in tears. I was over 3 hours slower than the time I ran in my first Two Oceans over 30 years ago, but no single run has ever been more important to me. We runners only fully appreciate how important running is to us when it is taken away. Right now, my immediate goal is to keep on running. My long term goal is next year’s Two Oceans. (Don’t tell my family!) Image of Bruce Fordyce on Chapmans Peak is used with the kind permission of Shawn Benjamin Photography incorporating Ark Images - www.arkimages.com
FORDYCE DIARIES THE 1986 COMRADES MARATHON TACKLING A DOWN RUN The must-have book for everyone who wants to run - or win - ultra-marathons. "My new eBook is not an update of my old book, but a new book full of old wisdom. And some new ideas." ONLY AVAILABLE HERE, AT BRUCE FORDYCE.COM
FORDYCE DIARIES THE 1986 COMRADES MARATHON TACKLING A DOWN RUN The must-have book for everyone who wants to run - or win - ultra-marathons. "My new eBook is not an update of my old book, but a new book full of old wisdom. And some new ideas." ONLY AVAILABLE HERE, AT BRUCE FORDYCE.COM
All the training you’ve done is about to come to fruition. In four short weeks it will be Race Day. But, will you be ready? That is the question every athlete asks themselves, sometimes more than once a day. And you’ll only know, for sure, on the day itself. If you train correctly in these last four weeks, you will at least have peace of mind. The great Wally Hayward, pictured with me above, once told me he prepared for the Comrades by running from his home in Germiston to the Pretoria Fountains twice a week. After a quick wash in the fountain, he’d run home. That’s about 100 km (60 miles), which is a very long run indeed. But, some years later, he confided that he believed he’d done himself a disservice by placing so much emphasis on those runs. “Those runs were good for my head,” he muttered, “but not much good for my legs.” It was interesting to hear Wally say this. After all, it’s more in line with what I’ve been advocating and utilising in my training for most of my Comrades career. So, here’s what I suggest you do in May. - Complete your last long run (by that I mean a run of around 40 km / 25 miles) this last weekend of April. - Bring back the focus you had in February - quality training. By that I mean track work, Fartlek, the odd time trial, parkrun, short-distance races (10 km / 6 miles or less) and, most importantly, hill work. - Train carefully to avoid injury. - From 10 May, start to reduce your mileage even further. - Complete a ‘final dress rehearsal’ (or three) utilising all the running gear you plan to use on the day. - However, make sure you take it easy during these ‘dress rehearsals’, i.e. leave race pace for the Comrades itself. - Old favourites only on Race Day. You will bitterly regret any new gear you use at the last minute. - Ensure you run minimal distance in the last week. For example: Monday – 10 km / 6 miles Tuesday – 8 km / 5 miles Wednesday – 5 km / 3 miles Thursday – No run at all Friday – Again, no run Saturday – No running, and you'll be raring to go the next morning Sunday – The Comrades Marathon - Use the downtime on Thursday, Friday and Saturday wisely. Drive over the course, or join a route tour. You could always join me on mine, (link to page) either on the Friday or the Saturday. Even if you’ve done it before, it's vital to refresh your memory! - Visit the Expo by all means, but pay attention to the amount of walking around you do. No point in ‘walking’ the Marathon on Friday! - Watch videos of the race, and choose a theme song to inspire you when the going gets tough. (Chariots of Fire doesn’t count). In 1981 I chose Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” and in ’82 Pachelbel’s Canon in D. - Remember, for most of the 60 kays of the down run, it feels like you're running an up run. The ‘down’ part of the down run starts at Kearsney College in Botha’s Hill Village. Keeping this in mind will help you mentally. - Novices, enjoy this, your first Comrades. Savour the hours on the road, absorb the memories, treasure the friendships. The come and share your war stories with us afterwards. (LINK TO AFTER PARTY) - There’s nothing wrong with being worried and cautious on the day. In fact, that is exactly the correct frame of mind to be in at the start of the Comrades. - After 70 kays of Comrades you will meet a person you greatly admire - yourself. - You may have read everything there is to read (even my book) LINK, and trained in the most ideal way, but nothing will prepare you for how you feel when you become a Comrades finisher. You become a different person; you now know you can do anything. - You will have a terrible limp for at least 5 days after Comrades and getting down the stairs will be excruciating. But you will be a filled with pride. Spending time with those who've run the Comrades is one of the pleasures of my life. But during those five days it almost breaks my heart. I'm not limping, and it means I didn't run! - At some stage during the race or at the finish, you will vow 'never ever again'. But somewhere between an hour and a week after the race is over you will change your mind. I wish you all the best in the 2016 Comrades Marathon. I will be there, knowing what you are going through and cheering you on all the way. #ComradesMarathon #Comradestraining #MayComradestraining #BruceFordyceComrades #FordyceDiaries
One look at my training diaries and you'll see my distances increased dramatically. As they should. However, the first week of 1986 took me to Mala Mala, a stunning game park in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, for a speaking engagement. This meant I ran fewer kilometres… but I more than made up for it the following week. It’s important to note that speed work and long runs should never mix. Speed work is still essential. But not in long runs, where the emphasis should be on the time spent on your legs. As I wrote that, it reminded me of a conversation I had with the runner who most deserved to win Comrades, but didn’t. Hosea (Hoss) Tjale won every major ultra in South Africa, including the Two Oceans, which I have never won. He came so very close many times. In fact, in the 1986 race he broke the incredibly difficult 5½ hour barrier, and still only finished third. Hoss and I had a number of great battles, but I felt that the combination of my speed over the shorter distances and my hill-climbing ability gave me the one slight edge I had over Hoss. If you take my 5 or 8 km times, they were always a little bit quicker than his. However, if you were to speak to Hoss, a nickname we gave him based on a character in the old TV-series Bonanza, he’d probably argue that the difference between us was that he started cramping with 10 kilometres to go and my cramping only started at 5 kilometres to go. Cramping is one of the most worrying issues for Comrades Marathon runners, and it’s something I will definitely discuss later in my diaries. Image of Bruce Fordyce and Hosea Tjale used with the kind permission of Tom Cottrell. #Comradestraining