Updated: Mar 13, 2019
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 the very popular Rand Athletic Club 60 Km. but it didn’t really matter which organised club run it was because I knew too that all over South Africa and around the World, sometime this week, or last, thousands of runners were completing the same important Comrades training session. I tried to block the feeling of envy but around the next bend the sight of a table surrounded by an expectant crowd of helpers broke my resistance.
I was not envious of the effort and pain these runners would still have to endure (When I saw them they had completed only a third of their journey) I was jealous of where they stood in the long exciting journey to running our great race. The Long run is the pinnacle. It is the summit of Everest. Now the descent to race day can start. The descent will still be long, tough and perilous but the end of all those months of training and dreaming is in sight and the pre- race taper is just around the corner. I believe there should be perhaps one more long run in the region of 30- 40 kilometres but the last of the ultra- long training runs should now be behind runners. The taper is something to be eagerly anticipated.
I know there are coaches and runners who do not like the concept of tapering. Some of these runners will train very hard right up to the penultimate day. I have heard of some running as far as 50 kilometres in the last week before the race. I only have two responses; the first is that a conservative and protracted training taper to race day worked extremely well for me; the second is that I believe the only way to cope with the 90 brutal kilometres of the down Comrades is with fresh strong legs that have no traces of muscle damage. Only rest can heal the muscle damage from weeks of hard training. Just contemplating coping with the bone-jarring descent of Fields Hill with muscle damaged legs makes me wince.
I recommend maintaining a hard training programme for about two more weeks. At the end of the second week it would be appropriate to run that last 30- 40 kilometre training run I mentioned earlier.
Then I believe it will be time to start a 3 week taper to race day. Each runner will know how much to cut back but as an example I used to slash about a quarter or third of my training load off each week. I used to run 10 weeks of 160-200 kilometres a week, then I would cut that to 120 kilometres for the first week of my taper and then run 80 kilometres in the second week. At the same time I sharpened up by running some faster quality, track, hill and time trial sessions. This helped to bring me to a racing peak on race day.
But it is the last week before race day where I believe tapering is so important. I don’t believe it is possible to get too much rest, especially when running the down run with its brutal descents.
My last week’s training programme remained unchanged for over a decade:
Monday 10 kilometres- gentle pace
Tuesday 8 kilometres -gentle pace
Wednesday 5kilometres- gentle pace
Sunday 90 kilometres flat out! ( 3.35- 3.40 per kilometre)
The long 3 week taper with a very easy last week always left me champing at the bit and excited to race hard. It worked for me. I’m convinced it would work well for most runners.
With thanks to The Citizen newspaper, South Africa.
I will be leading a 'Comrades Marathon Route Tour' on Friday 8 June, leaving from the Hilton Hotel at 8 am. I will also be hosting the ' Bruce Fordyce After Party' at California Dreaming on Monday 11 June. More details will be available on my website later this week.
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TACKLING A DOWN RUN
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