How to tackle the down Comrades marathon, particularly for novices.
No one sleeps well the night before the Comrades marathon. And tonight, Saturday night the 27th August will be no exception, as thousands of Comrades runners try counting sheep while their nerves are jangling, and the butterflies in their stomach are more like angry swarms of bees. It won’t help that they will be sleeping in strange beds, with different pillows, while being continually disturbed by runners in the neighbouring rooms who keep flushing the loo and switching their lights on and off as they prepare their running gear for race morning.(more…)
Through the bedlam and chaos, the screaming spectators, the over- enthusiastic pats on the back and the thick acrid braai smoke I could see the Caltex garage to my left, and ahead, not too far away, the summit of 45th Cutting.
My legs were heavy wooden planks and it seemed sharp knives were stabbing at my quadriceps muscles, but I was running strongly and purposefully and nothing was going to force me stop.
The TV truck was ploughing a path for me through the wall of spectators. I was running the final stages of the 1986 down Comrades and I was leading, not by much, things were still very tight, but I was pulling away.
And then an overwhelming sense of déjà vu overwhelmed me. I had been here before I had played out this scene before.
I recalled that I had rehearsed this moment many times before, occasionally in my training runs on the Comrades route where I felt the pull and steepness of the road past that garage and again in my final drive over the route two days before race day.
There I had made a mental note of the number of lampposts I would have to run past to the summit of 45th Cutting.
Most importantly however I had rehearsed this critical moment repeatedly in my mind, over and over, when on different training runs, I had fantasised where it would happen and what it would feel like to take the lead in the Comrades marathon.
Every Comrades runner must now understand that the hard training has been done, the physical side of the preparation for the Comrades is over. It is impossible to get any fitter.
It is now time to sharpen the mind, to gird the loins for the battle ahead. Some of that mental preparation has already been done.
For weeks, no months, Comrades runners have been telling themselves they will be running a brutal 90 kilometre race at the end of August.
Without knowing it they are now psychologically prepared to do battle. Now it is time to sharpen that resolve.
This can be achieved brilliantly by :
- 1 running on the route itself. Three weeks ago, I travelled to Durban with a group of runners who ran 30 kilometres of the Comrades route each day for 3 days. They all reported that this journey was invaluable. They learnt so much. We were not alone in this learning experience. While we were exploring the route in one third segments each day, dozens of groups of runners trotted past us, all running on the famous road. We were witnessing dress rehearsals on a grand scale. Many runners argue that they don’t want to know what is coming. They prefer to remain in blissful ignorance. I think this is foolish. Understanding the geography and the terrain of race is vital for a successful run.
- If runners are simply unable to travel to KZN to run the route I thoroughly recommend driving it a couple of days before the race. The drive is an invaluable scouting mission. I recommend driving the whole route from the Pietermaritzburg City Hall to the finish at Moses Mabidha stadium. (There are numerous route tours which runners can join. I conduct one. The link to my route tour). In the same way that the run creates respect , the route tour reinforces how monstrous the down Comrades is. Travelling along the route with excited and laughing runners, but particularly novices, is an illuminating experience. At the start of the drive everyone chats keenly and jovially. There are plenty of photographs taken at the bottom of Polly Shortts and at Arthur’s seat but then the mood rapidly becomes sombre as the unnamed hills roll by and the seemingly endless journey unwinds. At the conclusion of the journey everyone is silent and sober. Many runners are busy adjusting their running schedules and ETA’s. No one is planning a faster race.
- This is a positive state of mind for the race. A scared Comrades runner is a realistic Comrades runner, a realistic runner is a successful Comrades runner. A realistic runner starts the race cautiously and picks the pace up later. These runners become bolder and more determined as the race unfolds.
- Every runner should try and get hold of some videos of past races. It is deeply inspiring watching Gerda Steyn making running up Polly Shortts look effortless or Bongmusa Mthembu powering his way through Pinetown. But more importantly it is the spectacle of ordinary runners battling to the finish, air punching and raising their arms aloft that is so compelling.
- Music is also motivating and should be a part of every Comrades runner’s arsenal. I suggest that runners choose an inspiring theme song.Any music that stirs the soul will work (I chose a theme song every year that I ran and my theme song became the goose bump anthem for that year’s Comrades, so Van Morrison’s “ Into the Mystic “will always remind me of the 1981 Comrades, and Pachelbel Canon in D the 1983 Comrades.)
- And finally in the next few days while out on a dark cold morning run, I suggest that runners let their minds wonder and get lost in fantasy and take them to 45th Cutting or Cowie’s Hill and that they picture themselves running steadily, one foot in front of another, towards the top so that on race day they will realise that they have been there before as I did in 1986.
It was the morning before the Comrades marathon in 2019 and I was gazing out of the 15th floor window of my room in a Durban beach front hotel when I witnessed an astonishing sight.
No, it wasn’t the brightly billowing spinnakers of 100 international racing yachts nor was it the conning tower of a nuclear submarine surfacing off the bluff.
It wasn’t a breaching whale, and the famous sardine run where black clouds of fish are accompanied by plummeting gannets and leaping dolphins was only anticipated the following week.
No this was a more amazing spectacle. This was the sight of dozens of Comrades runners committing athletic suicide on the esplanade below me. (more…)
Chondromalacia patella, Iliotibial- band friction syndrome, stress fracture, upper respiratory tract infection.
This horrendous list of chronic conditions sums up the traps and mine-fields that await runners as they train intensely through this critical phase of their Comrades Marathon preparation.
They lurk like camouflaged aliens waiting to leap at dedicated runners, waiting to destroy inspiring running dreams.
And unfortunately, many runners are going to confront these vicious enemies, and other nasty allies of theirs, in the next few weeks. Sadly, many runners will become injured or sick in this very critical training time.
We know that statistically 65% of those runners who will not (more…)
Perched on a tall wooden scaffold near the summit of Cowie’s Hill on August 28th, an eagle-eyed camera will be filming the progress of thousands of Comrades marathon runners as they battle their way towards the finish of the race in Durban. It’s a particularly sadistic location for a camera because it will catch the runners at their weakest moments. They will have run over 70 kilometres of hills as they struggle up “Cowies”, including the bone jarring descents of Botha’s Hill, and Field’s Hill, and then they will have toiled through the sweaty humidity of Pinetown. Most will have boasted to loved ones, friends and family that they (more…)
Every weekend, while training for the Comrades marathon, the Comrades King, the late, great Wally Hayward, would leave his house in Germiston very early in the morning and run all the way to Pretoria’s Fountains Valley.
After what Wally described as “a refreshing dip and a wash in the fountains” He would run all the way back to his home in Germiston. The round trip was in excess of 100 kilometres. In Wally’s opinion this weekly long run was an essential part of his Comrades training programme.
“But I’m sure that nowadays you youngsters run much further than that on your long runs.” He enquired when we chatted about how training had evolved over the years. (more…)
As we started the quadriceps pummeling descent of Field’s Hill in the 2012 “down” Comrades marathon. Zola Budd-Pieterse turned to me and muttered “ Jissie dis ver”. “How much further do we still have to run?”
Zola and I had been running together for the at least an hour. Earlier in the day I had been about to pass her, when in a rare moment of genius, it dawned on me (more…)
The niggle in my lower left leg began to irritate me two or three days before the Two Oceans half marathon that I was hoping to run on Easter Saturday. At first, I chose to ignore it, but the pain persisted and when I attempted a gentle three kilometre jog the day before the race the pain became sharper and more intense.
At that point my sensible, wise running angel sat on my shoulder and (more…)
Photo credit Tim Graham/Getty ImagesAs Comrades runners start the hard winter training grind culminating on race day on August 28th many of them are still wrestling with exactly what type of training they should be doing on a daily and weekly basis. Should they be running hills? Should they include speed sessions? How many long runs should they complete? and how many kilometres should they run each week and, each month? At this critical time of the Comrades marathon preparation, I am asked these questions on an almost daily basis. These questions are not as simple to answer as they might appear to be. The problem is that rather like running shoes there is no “one size suits all” answer. So much depends on what each race runner’s goal is. Is he or she hoping for a top 10 finish, a silver medal or 12 hours, Vic Clapham medal? It also depends on how much time they have at their disposal to train. How much time can they steal from work and family and social commitments. Finally, and most importantly it depends on how wisely they selected their parents! In other words what type of genetic advantage or disadvantage they bring to the task. (more…)
Coaches Bruce, Iain and Frank with athletes Jeannie (recently won Gauteng 21km championship gold Vet women) and Wayne.Back in the 1970s when I started running, I had not heard of the concept of a running coach for anyone other than for a handful of elite Olympic athletes. In fact, when I first decided to lace up some running shoe (priced at R4.50 a pair) I think the word “coach” was more familiar to me as a rather posh word for a bus or railway carriage. I’m sure my running companions of that era felt the same. I joke, of course, but the two best known coaches at that time were already from a bygone era. (more…)
Now that the dust has settled and Comrades runners all over the World are coming to terms with the idea of an August/early spring date for our beloved race let’s look at how some things are going to change, how much about Comrades will never quite be the same again and how some aspects of Comrades will always remain the same. The most exciting news of course, is that we are going to have a Comrades marathon in which to participate, to enjoy watching, and to savour. After two years in the lockdown wilderness our beloved Comrades is back. I have a feeling that the 2022 Comrades marathon (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…)
“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
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