Updated: Mar 13, 2019

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 rise early in the morning to run, and to run afternoon runs that become early evening runs. It’s time to become prima Donnas and to get very grumpy, to become paranoid about germs and to wake up in the morning more tired than when you went to bed the night before. A few weeks ago, in this column, I tried to curb the enthusiasm of Comrades runners, arguing that it wasn’t yet time to get serious about training for the great race. I argued that the Comrades was too far away in the distant future and those who were throwing themselves into hard training because the New year had started didn’t understand the basic rules of training and peaking. I am delighted that I gave some hope to a New Zealand runner who wrote that she had given up all hope of running this year’s race because an injury had forced her to miss all her training in January. I reassured her that by building up slowly and getting down to the really hard work at the end of February she would probably have a very successful Comrades 2018.

Well to be strictly correct Comrades training proper started yesterday - That’s the first of March.

We old timers always had our anti-flu vaccination a couple of days before the great push at the end of February, to shake off any side effects of the jab, and then it was “head down and train very hard for about 10 weeks. (By the way I’m not running the Comrades this year and I’m still having an anti- flu shot. (Apparently there are some nasty bugs out there waiting to pounce on us this winter).The next 2 ½ months need to be relentless, a constant grind of steady consistent training. At the end of this intense training regime there is the reward to anticipate of a two to three weeks taper to race day. Now each week should contain a mix of steady runs, speedwork, time trials, hill sessions and a long slow run in the 30-60 kilometre range. Potential silver and gold medallists will find themselves training twice a day. Oh, and I nearly forgot runners can plan for one a rest day each week. (Although I must confess my hard training weeks never included a rest day.

Most runners will want to run some of the major races that are advertised in the SA race calendar at this time of the year. The Old Mutual Two Oceans 56km race is particularly popular. It is possible to race both the OMTOM and the Comrades this year, although it‘s not ideal. Easter Saturday falls at the end of March and with the Comrades set for the 10th June there is probably enough time to race the 56kms. of the OMTOM recover and train hard again for the Comrades and just get away with the gamble. I would prefer not to take the chance but to “run” the ultras such as OMTOM, Bergville-Ladysmith, Om-die-Dam 50km. Loskop and others as training runs, but importantly, not to race them.

That difference, between running and racing, is a distinction some runners are unable to make. And there is something about a sense of occasion and a starters gun that gets some runner’s competitive juices flowing. If you are one of those runners and your primary goal is the Comrades I recommend avoiding ultra-marathon races.

Now it is important not to lose focus. The Comrades must remain the major goal and every other race must be secondary. The Comrades marathon is a selfish race and rewards those who “ put all their eggs in one basket” Even family, friends , social and work affairs will have to take a back seat. To avoid awkward confrontations and explanations warn your significant others that weekend nights are likely to be early and dull. (There are important early morning long weekend runs to complete). Warn your boss and work colleagues that you may well often fall asleep at your desk and you will sprint away spraying disinfectant in clouds if one of them dares sneeze.

Yes indeed it is time to train hard for the Comrades, the long tough journey has begun. , avoid children with faces like glazed doughnuts!

With thanks to The Citizen newspaper, South Africa.





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