IS COMRADES TOUGH? YES IT ISN’T.

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January 5, 2016 by DAVE JACK

It’s January and time to start thinking seriously about running Comrades and how you intend to train to get there. Right?

It seems this is not the case at all and I know that this particular blog will probably land me in hot water with a lot of people many of whom will probably say “The silly old goat can only think of the old days” and perhaps that’s quite right but the “silly old goat” started 14 Comrades, finished 14 Comrades at a time when we didn’t have the luxury of a 12 hour time limit. We also didn’t have the luxury of a refreshment station every few Kms and had to rely on personal seconds who almost always were stuck in traffic jams and we went some fairly long distances without anything to drink. The “silly old goats” also didn’t have the fancy equipment available today and our shoes were the ordinary “takkie” or sandshoe used on tennis courts and we drank “corpse reviver” (described in other posts) and didn’t have the modern food supplements.

I’ve always felt that getting ready for Comrades and running it is pretty much like anything else one has to do in life from writing exams to preparing for a board meeting or running a company. Do it properly and prepare properly and when you get to the actual event itself, it’s not actually that bad.

I am not for one moment knocking the modern runner. Far from it as it was those inferior shoes being worn, added to a childhood back injury, that stopped my running altogether whilst I was training to run my 15th Comrades. I am however concerned that it appears that runners on average today, are slower than they were some 30 to 40 years ago and let me stress that I can’t talk for the winners or even the silver medalists.  I have never been one of those but I certainly know how to run a Bill Rowan so that puts me in the top half of the field.

The bulk of the tail-enders came in during the last hour when we had an 11 hour time limit and now that it’s 12 hours we still have that.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not for a moment suggesting that the time limit should go back to 11 hours because it’s the 12 hour time limit that has resulted in more people striving to get that medal that is so very precious but it does seem that people have slowed down to finish in under 12 hours now rather than aim for the 11 hours they would have been required to do previously.

So what is the problem or is it even a problem at all?   What is it that’s causing this seemingly slower running?

Why is it that runners are doing a qualifying marathon of 42km in the required 5 hours (it used to be 4:30) but can’t get to the half way which is some 3km further than the marathon distance in the extra time of over an hour allotted to them by Comrades? Why is it, that they will run an ultra of, say, 50km in under 6 hours but 6 hours 15 is not enough time to do the 45km to half way in Comrades?

I was sitting down to write this and came across a quotation by Rich Simmonds, a professional speaker and self-styled “rule breaker and change maker” (I love those sorts of people) who said “Understand what everyone else is doing, but don’t do what everyone else is doing” and it occurred to me that what Rich says applies equally to Comrades.

I have seen the looks on the faces of those who can’t make the cut off times along the route and who fail to get to the finish in under the required 12 hours. That pain of not finishing Comrades stays with those folk until they are able to go back and beat it. I know one runner who talks equally of the one she didn’t finish as much as of the one she did. It must hurt not to be able to finish Comrades. It must hurt badly.

I can’t imagine how awful it must feel to have to get into one of the runners’ rescue busses and have a thick black line drawn through your race number.  The runner I know who had that happen, tried to describe it to me and it must have been horrible. To have that DNF alongside your name never goes away.

I believe that training methods and the mental approach are the main problems facing the modern runner.

Let me also, once again, say that I am not a coach and certainly not one of the official Comrades coaches but I am also not some sanctimonious “old timer” saying “we did it much better then” but I firmly believe that there are problems and that the problems are not the result of what happens on Comrades day. I think the problems are the result of the way runners prepare themselves in the five months from January to Comrades.

Week after week you’ll find the same runners in races “treating them as a training run”.  I honestly don’t believe that it’s possible to run a race as a training run because in the vast majority of instances you will run faster than you would a training run. Carry on doing that for months on end and get to the start of Comrades tired – or injured. 

I have runners saying to me all the time that at the beginning of May they are exhausted.  Good grief!  At the beginning of May runners should be feeling on top of the world and ready for the taper that is going to get them that unbelievably precious medal.

The other thing that has been cast aside now by so many ordinary runners is LSD.  The pure joy of getting together with a bunch of mates to go out on a long run on either Saturday or Sunday and “tea room hop” to get cold drinks is largely a thing of the past.

About now I can hear coaches saying “here he goes again” but the point is it works, and again I stress that I can’t talk for the top runners.  I heard of one runner prior to the 2015 Comrades who was running in a race almost every weekend.  When I was told about her, my reaction was that I thought, as a novice, she would be lucky to get home in under 11:45. I was wrong. She did 11:40!

The ordinary runner is busy with hill repeats and speed work during the week and races at the weekend.  Why?  I am the proud owner of 14 Comrades medals, all under 11 hours and two of them under 9 hours, and never once did I do hill repeats or speed work.

I had a road race called Comrades to run so I trained for that by running on the road. I had a long way to run on Comrades day so I built my leg strength and stamina by doing LSD – and it worked. As I became fitter my speeds automatically improved and that included hill speeds. Was I wrong?  My stats don’t say so.

My focus was Comrades so I studied the route and my times to be at various places. I never went near a gym. I know one runner who has a coach who puts her through rigorous gym sessions to the point where her legs are like jelly. Come Comrades day and it’s “an all fall down”. Her half marathon times are brilliant. Her Comrades times – very ordinary.

The runner who is capable of a best of 4 hours in a marathon, runs a race in 4:15 and says “I did it as a training run”.  That’s not a training run.  It’s just 15 minutes off your best!

If a top runner runs in a race as a “training run” he’ll do around 3 hours for a marathon when he’s actually capable of around 2:20. That’s a “training run”.

In the old days (here he goes again I hear the cry) we used to say that if you RAN IN A RACE you shouldn’t go near another race for 1 day for each mile of the race. In other words a marathon in old language is 26 miles so run a marathon but don’t do any other race of any distance for 26 days. That doesn’t mean don’t run for those 26 days after a marathon. It means don’t run IN ANOTHER RACE for 26 days after a marathon.

20 days for a 32km and 14 days between running a half marathon and any other race. That’s going to basically give you one race a month from January to Comrades.

It works and it’s not the ramblings of “a silly old goat”.

Remember when your mates tell you that I’m crazy what Rich Simmonds says.

“Understand what everyone else is doing, but don’t do what everyone else is doing”

One little bit of advice though. Don’t take advice from everyone in sight – and that includes me – because all that does is leads to confusion and you get to the start full of a dozen different opinions and – DISASTER!

Comrades isn’t tough. It’s the training to get that medal that’s tough.

Do that properly, both on and off the road, and Comrades is a great day. A fun day and boy does it feel good to get home ahead of your mates who ran in races every weekend and in two time trials a week!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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