Comrades held its launch for the 91st race on 29 May 2016 under the banner “Izokuthoba – It Will Humble You” and people who have never run this amazing event could be forgiven for thinking that the banner for the 2016 race is rather silly.
I have even had a few runners say to me that they have something of a problem with the banner. “I have never been humbled by Comrades” they say, and then you remind them about “that race” or “those races”. They were humbled.
The most brilliant strategist I have ever known when it comes to Comrades has to be Bruce Fordyce and even he, I would suggest, has been humbled by that strip of tarmac between KZN’s two cities.
In one of his last runs he battled to get a silver medal and missed the cut off by something like 34 seconds. Was he humbled?
From a personal point of view, I ran my best of 8:29 in 1975 and I knew that with the right homework and approach to the race I could dip under 8 hours. I went into the race in 1976 fitter than I have ever been and hit cramp at around 32kms from the start. By halfway at Drummond I had lost 10 minutes from my 8 hour schedule and started thinking that I would probably have to settle for much the same time as I had run the year before when I did my best.
It wasn’t long before 9 hours seemed like a very respectable time and I would have to be content with that because the cramp simply wouldn’t ease. Then it was 9:30 and eventually I crossed the finish line in 10:06.
If that’s not being humbled from my initial plans and thinking, I don’t know what is? I wanted to break 8 hours but it took me longer to run the second half than it took Alan Robb who won that year, to do the entire race!
Alan Robb himself, I think, was humbled a few years later when he was favourite to win in 1979 and to notch up his fourth successive win. He finished 5th! I think he was humbled.
I am very proud of the fact that I finished that race in 1976 even though I was humbled and in talking to a top runner who was, in my opinion, himself humbled some years prior to my experience said he felt proud of his achievement in the particular year and didn’t feel humbled – but whilst entitled to feel proud, I believe he was humbled because what he thought and knew was going to happen didn’t in fact happen. Comrades had the upper hand.
If a person has never run Comrades they can be forgiven for thinking that a road race could possibly humble anyone but then they have never run it and they have never had their dreams lying in tatters on the road between Pietermaritzburg and Durban. They have never had aches in muscles they never knew existed and they have never experienced the 60 minutes that make up each hour fly past in what seems to be about half that time.
It’s been said that running is best described as an individualistic expression that depends mainly on one’s mental outlook, and when it comes to Comrades the most powerful thing you can have is a strong mental outlook. Sadly though, the vast majority of people go into Comrades not realising that 90% of that 90km is firmly between the ears and if you look back over the years, you will find thousands of cases where runners have been humbled by Comrades.
I have mentioned three top runners who I believe have been humbled by Comrades and I could make a very long list of others but it’s not the top runners alone who are humbled by the race. This works its way right through the field to the very last person home.
In most cases the story is similar to mine in 1976. They are convinced they can do a certain time and as the distance and the day progresses so does the time they are looking at, get longer.
I hear from runners all the time who say they ran a half marathon in 1:45 or a marathon in 3:30 yet they came adrift in Comrades and they can’t understand why that happened. They can’t understand why they can’t convert those shorter distance times to a meaningful Comrades time.
Don’t get me wrong when I say “meaningful” Comrades time because just to finish the race is an achievement.
In many instances the inability to convert those shorter distance times is because they have trained for shorter distances and suddenly come Comrades Day they find they are faced with virtually double their longest run prior to that. I have also said that Comrades is about 90% between the ears and 10% in the legs and having run enough of them – for me – good ones and shockers, I stick with that.
Many modern runners seem to believe that the more races in which they run, the more they are prepared to for Comrades and the fitter they are. I am happy to argue this “until the cows come home” as I am a firm believer in Long Slow Distance (LSD) in training and I have said this in previous blogs on “The Marathon”.
So when Comrades say “Izokuthoba – It Will Humble You”, are they saying be afraid. Be very afraid?
I don’t for one moment believe that’s what they are saying at all. I believe they are saying that every runner should approach the race with respect. Every runner should do the training to run 90kms and every runner should do the “off road preparation” they need with pacing schedules that suit them.
Only by studying the route and by training properly can a runner have a pacing schedule for Comrades to suit them. A schedule printed in some booklet and prepared by somebody they have never even seen is an invitation to be humbled.
If I had R10 for every time I have heard people who know Comrades say “Don’t run in too many races in the five months before Comrades” I would be able to take myself off on a very pleasant holiday but yet runners are out there week after week running in races and during the week in club time trials. The result? They get to Comrades either very tired or nursing an injury or have run their immune systems to the flu.
Approach Comrades with respect. Train for 90kms and not for 50kms. Get your speed comfortable. Study the route over and over but DON’T look at the route profile. The route profile is enough to make the toughest runner go whimpering off into hiding. Set your own pacing schedule at the beginning of May. Don’t try anything new after the beginning of April.
Do all those things and Comrades is yours but even if you go through the day perfectly you will probably get to the finished humbled.
One definition of “humbled” I have seen, reads “Feeling the positive effects of humility” and that’s the way I felt when I ran my best one – and every other one I ran.
“Izokuthoba – It Will Humble You”