I think someone with one of the toughest jobs in Comrades, particularly in the modern era where so much is done electronically and where you don’t ever come face to face with the people to whom you are actually engaging, must be that of the Comrades coach, Lindsey Parry who has dozens, or hundreds or thousands of runners, would be runners and medallists all of whom are relying on what he says to get them to that precious medal and if they fail – and sadly many of them will – they will, without hesitation blame the man whose training programme they followed – or whose training programme they claim to have followed.
I say “claim to have followed” because I have met many runners who tell me they are following the Comrades coach’s programme and then tell me how much they veer off it and do their own thing.
I sat down over a very pleasant cup of coffee and had a chat with Lindsey Parry to find out more about what makes him tick in what must alternate between a highly rewarding and a highly frustrating job.
DJ: Not only are you a coach but you are also an above average runner and from a running family. Tell us a bit about that.
LP: My Dad (now a proud grandfather) won three gold medals at Comrades between 1971 and 1974 with a best time of 5:52 and whilst I haven’t run that sort of time I have finished five Comrades ranging from 10:36 to 7:11. My marathon PB is 2:45:51 and I am working hard to get that down and I would like to get to 2:42 or even a sub 2:40. I am quietly thinking about Chicago in October to have a go at the 2:40. In terms of Comrades I would love to be able to get under 7 hours.
DJ: When did you discover your passion for coaching and when did you first get involved with Comrades?
LP: I started at Rhodes University at 19 and was running but I suffered a lot with injuries so I gave up running and instead became social convenor of the athletics club at Rhodes. I studied sports science a lot and started working with a guy I met at Rhodes who wanted to run Comrades and eventually got him to Two Oceans, Comrades and the Washie 100 Miler. After varsity I was a licensed Biokineticist in private practice but soon found that I had more coaching clients than I had biokinetics clients so decided that coaching was where I wanted to be. I first got involved with Comrades 10 years ago and in fact 2016 is my “green number” year as official Comrades coach.
DJ: One of your most successful coaching stories is Caroline Wostmann. She started running because she couldn’t lose weight and now she’s Two Oceans and Comrades champion. Tell us your involvement in that.
LP: I first got involved with Caroline just after she won gold at Comrades in 2014 and it was her ambition to win Comrades. I thought she could do it and the first thing we had to do was to get her marathon time down from the 2:55 so we started off with a very focussed marathon training programme. That was successful and we got her time down to where it is now at 2:44. When we got to that I thought we had a chance at challenging for a win but even I didn’t think it would be as quick as 2016 but she is one very determined lady.
DJ: It must be very difficult doing training programmes for people you have never met or seen and who are on different levels because it’s almost guaranteed that many of them will say they are following you and then don’t. Then they fail and you are to blame.
LP: Coaching is full of success stories and not so successful stories so I don’t think too much about it. I know that after 10 years of doing it that it’s the best advice I can give and there are many runners who have been successful if they follow the advice I give.
DJ: A thorny one. You know that I firmly believe in LSD because it worked for me and I’ve seen it work for hundreds of others over many years. Today though, it seems to have lost favour, particularly with the slower runner. Your views on LSD?
LP: It’s an important part of Comrades preparation. LSD is about getting your head ready to spend that amount of time on your feet. You can’t train yourself to run for a long time without running for a long time. I feel that runners should, between early March and late April, run at least three runs of 42km PLUS. Those shouldn’t necessarily be in races because I feel people are doing too many races and whilst there is the advantage of the refreshment stations and people around you, the downside is that you always tend to go faster than you should when you run in a race.
DJ: Do you think that the “ordinary runner” is taking part in too many races between January and Comrades if they have Comrades in mind?
LP: Yes. In my opinion the average runners take part in races too often. The idea of running easy in a race as a training run is good in principle BUT often leads to athletes pushing too hard too often. My opinion then is that if you stick strictly to a pre race plan that is EASY and can genuinely be considered a training effort, then run as many races as you like but that doesn’t happen too often.
DJ: What are your future hopes and dreams as a coach? As an athlete you have already told us – but as a coach?
LP: I would love to be able to say that I had coached the winner of both the men’s race and the women’s race at Comrades in the same year and of course to have coached any winner of a medal at the Olympics.
DJ: Do you only coach the so-called elite runners or will you individually coach any runner?
LP: I will happily individually coach any runner irrespective of their speed and they need only go to my website at www.coachparry.com to get all the details as well as the costs involved for the individual coaching.
There is a man with a tough job but one piece of advice that I can give you is simply this. If you are going to follow Lindsey’s training programme there is a pretty good chance he will see you through to that medal you want but only if you follow his programme and don’t chop and change between programmes and put your own programme in between.
No two people have exactly the same outlook when it comes to preparing for Comrades so the important thing is to stick to the advice of just one person and remember that if you just intend finishing around 10 to 11 hours remember that Lindsey has been there so he has a pretty good idea what he’s talking about.