Updated: Mar 13, 2019
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.
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.
I hope you found this post helpful!
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THE 1986 COMRADES MARATHON
TACKLING A DOWN RUN
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