Anyone can train. It sometimes takes great courage and wisdom not to train.
Every year, on the morning before the Comrades marathon up run, I gaze down from my hotel window at the spectacular Durban beachfront. It’s always fun to watch surfers catching Indian Ocean waves as they roll in and tourists lying on brightly collared towels on the sand while basking in the winter sun.
Often there are dolphins leaping and frolicking in the breakers. And frustratingly, every year there are Comrades runners tearing up and down the esplanade. I am forced to restrain myself from wrenching my window open and bellowing loudly at them, “What do you think you are doing? You have 90 ferociously hilly kilometres to run tomorrow. You should be lying on your beds watching television with your feet up, not dashing up and down the promenade showing off your skinny legs and fancy new racing flats."
Then I just turn away in frustration, realising nothing I could do or say will stop those runners leaving some of their hard-earned Comrades fitness on that hard concrete promenade. Either they firmly believe they are squeezing a last ounce of fitness into their legs, or they are just checking that they really do feel ready to race. Both are futile endeavours.
By their very nature, Comrades runners are hard working and motivated. And of course they are, at times, incredibly brave in the way they overcome pain when running marathons. But sometimes they need to display greater courage by forcing themselves not to train.
It was the late Piet Vorster, winner of the 1979 Comrades, who once confided to me, “Perhaps the hardest thing to do when training for the Comrades marathon is not to train. We runners are often too frightened to rest.”
Well the time to rest has come. Or, to be more precise, it is time for the Comrades training taper to begin.
For me, the magic day this year is May 20th. I believe that, from that Monday onwards, it is time for Comrades runners to drastically cut back their training schedules. As a reward, I would always take a complete break on 'my magic marathon Monday taper'.
As someone who trained every day, and often twice a day, I would find myself aimlessly wondering what to do with my time that day. But it was a signal to myself that the gradual glide path to Comrades had begun.
I preferred a protracted three weeks taper and I used to cut up to a quarter of my training load each week, until the final week before race day when I ran very little. So I slashed my weekly mileage from 160 km per week, to 120, then 80 and, finally, about 25 kilometres.
If I were running this year’s Comrades - and as I detail in my Comrades marathon ebooks - this is what my final week of training would look like:
Monday 10 km. Easy pace.
Tuesday 8 km. Easy pace.
Wednesday 5 km. Easy jog wearing Comrades shoes and club colours
Sunday 87 kilometres!!!
I have deliberately highlighted the 87 kilometres of the Comrades itself ,just to emphasise the enormity of the challenge. There is nothing any Comrades runner can do to get any fitter in the last 7 days. However, there is plenty they can do to damage their chances of a good run, such as sprinting up and down the Durban beachfront.
I recommend running one or two more weekend runs of between 20- 25 kilometres, but nothing longer. The other training days of the week should be easy running days, increasingly getting shorter and easier.
I know that there will be those who are panicking that they are short of long runs (“I was injured in March" or "I was lazy in April”), but I cannot over-emphasise that it is now too late to make up for lost training. What is gone is gone and cannot or should not be retrieved. Even defending champions, Ann Ashworth and Bongmusa Mthembu, will have gaps in their ideal training schedules.
It is time to discard the past few months training and focus on June 9th. There is still time to run a couple of quality sessions to sharpen up and peak for race day. I suggest a club time trial or two, or even a parkrun each Saturday. Essentially, however, it’s over. It’s now a matter of waiting impatiently for race day. I think there are now just over 20 sleeps to go. Before we can blink, it will be one sleep to go.
During the last couple of weeks I used to prepare my mind for the great journey. I imagined the start with its stirring music and ritual ceremony. I saw myself running up Polly Shortts and rounding each of its deceptive bends. I quite enjoyed watching videos of past races and listening to stirring music.
I chose a theme song each year. Pachelbel’s Canon in D inspired me once, Van Morrison’s “Into The Mystic" on another occasion. If I were running this year, it would be Bruce Springsteen’s latest single “Hello Sunshine”.
I relished the feeling of impatience and the urge to "get this thing done”. I also enjoyed feeling slightly sluggish and almost lethargic as the enforced rest left me missing my endorphin high. It worked well for me.
I believe the key to a great Comrades is to arrive at the starting line with fresh, strong, rested legs and champing at the bit to run. A proper pre-race taper guarantees this.
With thanks to The Citizen, South Africa.
Comrades Marathon 2019 update: I will be hosting a Comrades Route Tour on the Friday before Comrades. I think there are a few places left, though not that many. And we can always swap war stories of our own on my annual Comrades After Party on Monday after Comrades.
Please book on the above links. More detailed information will be sent to attendees this week.
THE '86 AND '88
CONQUERING THE UP
TACKLING A DOWN RUN
The must-have books for everyone who wants to run - or win - ultra-marathons.
"My new eBooks are not an update of my old bestseller, but a new duo full of old wisdom. And some new ideas."
ONLY AVAILABLE HERE, AT BRUCEFORDYCE.COM