Updated: Mar 13, 2019

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 repeat my advice ad nauseum. We now accept that a runner can only train very hard for about 8-10 weeks. (Tim Noakes “The lore of Running”) This means that the critical intense training period for the Comrades marathon starts at the beginning of March. Allowing for a two to three week gradual taper to race day it ends about three quarters of the way through May. This has been proven to be the correct advice countless times and yet for some obscure reason thousands of Comrades runners, scattered all over the World start frantically flogging themselves as soon as the New Year starts. It’s as if they are all trying to re-invent the wheel by defying sensible, seasoned advice and it seems as if they’re all determined to see who can be first to invite injury and illness to ruin their 2018 Comrades marathons. I had to remind my distraught friend that the Comrades marathon is half a year, and two seasons away. The race is about as distant from us as the planet Pluto is to Earth. Here, where I live in Johannesburg I have always used the seasons as a guide as to when I should be training flat out for the Comrades. It’s the correct time for hard training when I’m running on dark mornings and the sun is setting early during my evening runs. It should be cold with a hint of winter in the air and the roads should be strewn with crisp dry autumn leaves. At the moment it’s hot and sultry in Johannesburg. Its swimming pool weather. It is very definitely not “comrades time”. That time will come but we’ve a few weeks to go still.

I was reminded about how important it is to time the start of the hard training phase accurately on Monday at the incredibly poignant funeral of Piet Vorster, the 1979 Comrades champion. Piet was a popular champion, a gentleman, and a great human being. In my eulogy to Piet I emphasised that we past winners are honoured that his name is engraved on our trophy, the Comrades winner’s trophy. But Piet was also a wise runner who knew how to bring himself to peak fitness at exactly the right time. I finished 5 minutes behind Piet in 3rd place in 1979 and I remember chatting excitedly to him afterwards at the prize giving. I still remember his wise words;

“Success in the Comrades goes not to the runner who trains the hardest but to the runner who trains the cleverest, and part of training cleverly is to know when to start training.”

These were wise words that I never forgot in my ambition to have my own name engraved on the winner’s trophy.

I have been appalled to learn that there are some runners who are already running 6 hour training sessions and running well over 150 kilometres a week. (some are striving to run even more each week) This just makes no sense at all. Unless your goal is a great run in the Old Mutual Two Oceans or the Om-Die-Dam 50 km or some other April event this is pointless training.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that Comrades runners can sit back and relax for the next month. At this stage runners need their training to be ticking over, they need to be building a base and a consistent foundation from which to launch their hard training phase. In my competitive days I used to regularly run training weeks of 100-120 kilometres but at the beginning of March I would increase this to 160-200 kilometres a week for those important 8-10 weeks before the pre- race taper. I must have been doing something correctly because for over a decade I appeared to have got it right on race day.

It helped it helped that I chose my parents with great care and have the correct genetics for running fast ultra-marathons. But we are all facing the same challenge on race day even if we do have different genetic advantages or disadvantages. So Piet Vorster’s wise advice applies to us all, regardless of ability.

At this stage, in late January, I think a good week of training should include one long run of up to a half marathon in distance, a couple of steady runs, one fast time trial or 5kilometre parkrun and a rest day. (Yes there is that irritating qualifying marathon which has to be run but that should be the last run of that length for a few weeks.

So the message to my injured friend and those running 6 hour single training sessions. Its not too late, it’s far too early to get serious about the Comrades marathon.

With thanks to The Citizen newspaper, South Africa.





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