June 23, 2015 by DAVE JACK
This post is not intended as a training programme. I am not a coach and certainly not one of the official Comrades coaches nor would I pretend to be and I am have simply trying to describe what many would describe as the antiquated training methods we had in the days we had only 11 hours to finish Comrades – up run or down run, it made no difference.
I also stress that this is the way that those of us who ran between 8 hours and 11 hours trained. The top chaps and winners probably had a very different approach but never having run anywhere near top times I have no idea what they did. My interest is, and always has been, the runners at the back of the field.
What prompted the writing of this blog was whilst sitting at the side of the road on Sunday 31st May 2015 to watch the 90th Comrades and to be at my 57the Comrades in the last 60 years, I found myself wondering why so many runners battle with cramp or nausea or lose time running up hills and in trouble with that monster the clock despite there being an hour longer in which to finish. Some people will immediately say that it’s because the time it takes to get across the start line because of the number of runners. In 2015 it took the runners right at the back of the field just nine minutes to get across the start line and that’s the official time given by the organisers, so that’s not where the problem lies.
Other things I hear are complaints about the heat. Heat was there back then. One newspaper report I saw said that Comrades 2015 was the longest in 40 years. It was still under 89km, the distance that people talk about as being the Comrades distance. Even the Comrades website says it’s about 90km so that’s not the problem.
So what is it then that has made runners in the last 15 years or so, slower than in years gone by?
I’ve said previously that in my opinion it all boils down to incorrect training which itself has a few different ingredients including running in too many races. I stress again that it’s my opinion and there are many who will disagree with me.
I heard before Comrades about a young lady who was running in a race every week and nothing longer than her qualifying marathon and it was just the one marathon and even before she qualified, I told the person who told me that if she finished she wouldn’t do better than around 11:45 or thereabout. At Comrades she ended up some 20 seconds better than 11:45 and I’m not a genius but she couldn’t honestly expect to have done any better with that sort of training.
Back in prehistoric days we didn’t run races all the time and I am firmly of the opinion that this causes more breakdown than it does “build up” and you end up tired come Comrades. I hear people saying that they treat races as training runs. I really don’t think that there is such a thing as a training run during a race. You will always go faster than you would do on a long training run.
This incidentally is a view shared by a lot of top runners I know.
I find it strange that every one of the runners have had to run a qualifier of at least a standard marathon so we need to assume that they have been able to run 42km in at least 5 hours, yet come Comrades day and they can’t get to halfway in Drummond which, this year, was 43.7Km and in a substantially longer time than they had in which to qualify. An extra 1.7Km further than the marathon distance and 75 minutes longer. For the record I am completely opposed to the 6:15 cut off at Drummond. If it takes that long to get to Drummond you need a negative split for a second half that that is 300 metres longer. A negative split of 5:44!
Interesting that before the 12 hour time limit the 42km qualifying time was 4:30.
So what did we do when we trained “back then”?
I referred previously and briefly to the way we trained back in the sixties and seventies and I thought it might be worth going through what we did and maybe a few people may get some benefit but again I stress that this is NOT a training programme. It is simply a description of what we did back in what many consider as “prehistoric days”.
To be a “training programme” it needs a lot more detail than I am including here.
We did a lot of LSD (Long Slow Distance), running at least 32km every weekend in January and February and then increasing it to several 40km, 50km and longer runs in March and April and the first weekend of May. In one of my better Comrades I did three runs from Pietermaritzburg to Pinetown.
I learnt my running from the late Ian Jardine. “Old Man Jardine” “middle” runner in the photo wearing the hat and the short shirt and the great exponent of LSD and in his sixties and until he reached the upper age limit to run in Comrades (in those days it was 18 to 65), he always ran sub 10 hours – and he was blind! Also note his running shoes!
Photo by courtesy of the Regent Harriers
I know that there are coaches now who don’t agree with LSD and that’s fine but what we found is that it built strength, stamina and endurance and I spent lots of Sundays running LSD with Dave Bagshaw who won in 1969, 1970 and 1971 so it worked for him, and I was not by any stretch of the imagination in his league.
Any weekend the “ordinary runner” could run with Dave Bagshaw on his LSD but during his speed sessions during the week, forget it, you just couldn’t stay with him.
Photo by courtesy of the Savages Athletic Club winners’ gallery
Cramps have been a problem for many runners in the last few years.
We used to use salt tablets whilst running we and seldom cramped. Then in the mid-seventies a supposed medical expert condemned the use of salt as it could damage kidneys or some such thing. I stopped using salt tablets immediately bowing to his “superior knowledge” and started cramping but didn’t start using salt again. My first eight Comrades, I used salt tablets and no cramp I ran my remaining six without salt and ran my slowest races and two of those with shocking cramp.
The day before Comrades this year, I met a young man who told me that he took a few sachets of table salt with him on long runs and hadn’t ever had cramp. After Comrades I asked him about cramp as I had heard about so many runners suffering. He reminded me about his salt sachets and he had no problems.
Another runner I know suffered with cramp and was able to contact her coach (the wonders of cell phones) and he immediately told her to try to find some salt and take that. She was able to find some salt, took it and end of the cramp.
I am certainly not suggesting that every runner should rush out and start using salt. I am not a coach and I’m simply telling the experiences of two runners this year. It’s probably just co-incidence!
Then my third observation is time wasting on the day. This is also not new. I remember that Don Oliver used to “preach” this at the Rockies Comrades Panel Talks every year, so wasting time has always been a major problem.
So you now have my thoughts and memories of Comrades training in days long gone. The important thing though, is that it worked!