March 27, 2017 by DAVE JACK
CMA General Manager, Chris Fisher unveiled the 2017 campaign in August last year saying, that the 2016 campaign ‘Izokuthoba – It Will Humble You’ was a great success and that this year Comrades wanted to come up with a campaign that described the inclusive nature of the biggest and oldest ultra-marathon in the world.
He went on to say ‘A very definitive feature of our race is that it takes not only the commitment and dedication of thousands of people to stage the race, it also demands an enormous amount of discipline and determination from our runners. We debated long and hard and eventually came up with a phrase with a double meaning: ‘It Takes All of You – Zinikele’.
I thought long and hard before I sat and wrote this blog because the question I’m asking is mainly in response to the comment made by Chris Fisher about the discipline and determination from the runners and then the comments made by other people about runners in Comrades and things I have seen on the road during the race.
Make no mistake though, the performance of a man like David Gatebe who ran the better part of 89kms at 3 min & 33 seconds per km average last year took the most amazing discipline and determination.
I’m not talking about the chaps up at the front or even the gold and silver medalists. I’m talking about the boys and girls much further back in the field in the last two hours before the final gun.
I think back to the days when we didn’t have the luxury of a 12 hour time limit and we had to be home in under 11 hours. Were we better runners in those days? I honestly don’t believe we were. So what was it then that made it possible for us to get home in under 11 hours?
I think it was the determination and discipline that Chris Fisher was talking about when he announced the slogan for the 2017 Comrades – “It takes all of you – Zinikele”. What we did do back then was that we gave it our all irrespective of where in the field we were.
I think of what Dr Jeremy Boulter, the Comrades Medical doctor said to me in a recent blog about a huge number of the patients he sees in the medical tent after Comrades being those suffering from exhaustion as a result of being undertrained. The question I ask then is whether they have given as much determination and discipline to their Comrades preparation as they should have given? They obviously haven’t if they are under trained as Dr Boulter suggests.
I see runners doing what they refer to as LSD of 25km runs at the end of March and wondering why their legs give in on them on Comrades day at around 50km when they haven’t taught their legs to run any decent distances and I think of what Comrades coach Lindsey Parry said to me when I chatted to him for my blog with him when he said “You can’t train yourself to run for a long time without running for a long time.”
I’m not for a minute saying we had all the answers back in the day but we taught our legs to run for a long time and we taught them to be able to run at least 60km (often more) on the basis that if they could run 60km they could run 90km and we did at least 2 runs of 60km.
There are still clubs that organise long club runs of 60km and in many cases the runners who do those club runs are those who suffer least on Comrades day.
The big distance month, if one is running Comrades, has traditionally always been April yet we see many slower runners doing runs of half marathons as Comrades training in April and getting little benefit from that at all as Comrades preparation.
A young man I know is planning to run his first Comrades this year and he is really not putting in the work on the road that he should be and he said to me recently that he is amazed that I had the discipline to do what I did when I was running all those years ago. He still has time to fix the situation and I hope he does because if he doesn’t, the 4th of June is going to be sore even though he is fit and strong otherwise.
He told me that the last bit of his qualifier was sore but I don’t know if he’s figured that come Comrades day he has two qualifiers to do and then a little bit more but at this stage he is not training his legs to go any further than 32km in training now that his qualifier is behind him at the beginning of March!
The reason runners do the shorter stuff especially in April is because it’s a lot easier to do that than to go out and do a couple of 50km or longer training runs plus you get a medal for the 21km race! People look at me a little strangely when I tell them that in my book there is only one medal that really counts!
These are very often the same people Dr Boulter is seeing in the medical tent at the end of Comrades suffering from exhaustion from undertraining. We often hear runners saying that time is their problem. They just don’t have the time to train as we used to train 30 years ago. That I can’t answer because I am not running now so I don’t know but during the week it’s about an hour a day for a couple of days during the week. The long runs during the weekend is the real hard work.
I will certainly buy into the safety argument particularly for lady runners and the reason that they run so many races but that doesn’t answer the question as to why they run so hard in races week after week, something that coach Lindsey Parry also doesn’t understand because I agree with him when he says that one tends to run faster than one should in a race.
Then on top of that, the other thing we see is runners going out and hammering themselves in every short run and a couple of time trials a week that they do until they take everything they can out of themselves and until they have nothing left and then it’s all fall down time as they become more and more tired instead of getting stronger and they get to the Comrades start exhausted.
Remember that if you are looking for real pain, there is nothing to beat the pain of watching a race official in a rescue bus in Comrades take a thick black pen and put a cross through your race number. That pain stays for a very long time they tell me.
If it’s your intention to run Comrades do yourself a favour. Get out there and train properly. Get your legs used to running long distances get them used to running long distances slowly because that’s what they’ll be doing at Comrades. Get them used to walking fast because that’s what they’ll be doing at Comrades and sure it’ll hurt. It’ll hurt a lot but it’ll only hurt for one day and then not even for one full day. It’ll only be for a few hours because you will have trained your legs to do at least 5 hours of pain free work so the most pain you can have is less than 7 hours and if you can’t handle 7 hours of pain then it’s easier not to go.
In fact if you train properly you won’t have to worry about it being as long as 7 hours. It’ll be a lot less and the reward is worth every minute of the little bit of pain you have.
I ran my first Comrades in 1968 and the thrill of it is as vivid as though it happened yesterday. The pain of that day? I don’t even remember if there was any! I was disciplined and determined. Any pain that might have been there has long been forgotten. It was forgotten as I crossed the finish line.
So remember what Chris Fisher said “It takes all of you – Zinikele”. It’s certainly worth training hard for a few months if you can still remember the benefits as clearly as I do 49 years later!
And you still have time for 2017.