This blog was written from my own experience as a finisher in Comrades in times between 8:29 and 10:43 in a collection of runs over 14 years. What I am saying here has certainly worked for me to get me home in that time range and without any great degree of discomfort.
In saying that Comrades is 90% from the neck up I am assuming that the reader who is running Comrades has trained physically and properly and has taught his or her legs how to run at least 60Kms on at least one but preferably two or even more occasions in the four month build up to Comrades. If the Comrades runner who is the reader of this blog has done that, then Comrades generally becomes 10% physical provided he or she doesn’t go into Comrades either sick or injured.
I had a chat to 2016 women’s winner, Charne Bosman, who agrees with me that the mental side of things is massive and is certainly as high as 80% to 90% come Comrades day, again provided you have done the physical training and you are not sick.
I also asked my good friend and winner of the 1966 Comrades, Tommy Malone what he thought about the importance of the mental preparation is for Comrades and his answer was simple. He said
“A strong mind can carry a weak body but a weak mind gets you nowhere”
So having spoken to both Charne and Tommy I want to talk to readers about the mental training that needs to be done from now – the middle of April – up to Comrades in preparation for the big day – the part of your Comrades that happens from the neck up!
Your mental training is not something that is done over a period of one day. It is something you need to do for the better part of the remaining time from now until race day. It’s that important. Many of your top runners are getting assistance from sports psychologists so important do they regard the mental side of things and those top runners are not only your potential winners so that makes you stop and think!
When I was preparing for my first Comrades way back in the dark ages under the watchful eye of that wonderful old man, the late Ian Jardine, he told me that 90% of my Comrades was going to be from the neck up and that if my legs could run 60km they could run 90km and that the rest was going to be up to my head to get me through. I believed him and I worked towards Comrades on that basis every time I ran.
I have been blessed by having always been very strong mentally when it came to Comrades day and never once did I ever give thought to stopping during the race or not finishing even on the three occasions when I was taking a bit of strain. It was my mental strength that carried me through on those runs.
So let’s get onto this mental thing I’m talking about and it starts quite a while before Comrades day I discovered.
Very recently, and remember that I last ran Comrades exactly 30 years ago in 1987, I woke up for some reason at around 5am and couldn’t go back to sleep. It was pitch dark outside and I started thinking back to those far off days when I was training for Comrades and here we are in mid-April, the most important of all months for Comrades training.
About 6 or so weeks of serious training to go and at 5 in the morning the alarm goes off and it’s time to get up and get out onto the road on a weekday to do that run. It’s cold if you live in places like Pietermaritzburg or Gauteng. It’s still dark and very often those weekday runs are done alone and you have just about had enough – but you are too far in to call it a day and pull out of the whole thing. Too fit to give up now but yet you still have around six more weeks of this to go.
The weekends are not the problem whether you are doing a long run with your mates or an organised club run or race. That’s different. It’s those mid-week runs. Can’t not do them. They are simply too important to miss and if you’re amongst the working class it’s a 5am start to get onto the road.
This is where the head has to begin to do its work and we are still the better part of 6 weeks of serious training away from Comrades! It would be so easy to just turn over and sleep for another hour, especially if you are not meeting anybody to run with but you know deep down that if you do that today, it could happen tomorrow and if it happens again tomorrow it could also happen the next day and the next and all the work you have put in since January will slowly start to disappear out the window so after this argument with yourself you get up, get dressed and get out onto the road into the dark and cold.
Once out on the road the guilt hits you big time that you almost cheated yourself out of your run this morning and so this internal war rages on for the last 6 or so weeks on those cold dark mornings when, all alone, you force yourself to get out there.
So now you’ve in all likelihood taught your legs to run at least 50 plus kms so come Comrades day and by fighting yourself to get out of bed on those cold dark mornings you have also started to sort out the mental side of things – but it doesn’t end there. In fact that’s just the beginning.
Those fortunate folk who live in and around Durban and Pietermaritzburg or anywhere in between will almost certainly have done some training on the route but if you are from anywhere else and you are perhaps one of the huge number of novices this year who have never even seen the route you need to start doing some more training of that part of you that makes up the 90% required on Comrades day to carry you through and you need to start that training NOW!
But how do you do that? You start by studying the route. Over and over. Get to know the landmarks. Get to know the various points where you need to be at what times and get to know them well and break up your race according to those landmarks so that your head can handle chunks of distances you have run before. With this, Comrades has actually helped you and most people haven’t even realised it.
In all my Comrades I never ran more than about 20Km at any one time. I never concerned myself with anything beyond the 20Km with which I was busy at any one time and when I had completed that bit, it was gone forever and I didn’t worry about it again. I then focused on the next “chunk” however long it might have been, but it too, was never very long.
In other words your first “chunk” can be to the first cut off point in Pinetown and Comrades have kindly told you what the latest time is you have to be there. Don’t worry about running time. Worry about what time of day it must be.
You have to be there at 10 past 8 at the latest and it’s about 19Km. You’ve run that distance in 2:40 before and probably many times so that’s not a problem so train your brain to understand that it’s the longest run of the day and even if it takes you 9 minutes to get across the start line it’s not a problem.
If you have done your homework properly you will know that it’s about 19Km to the first cut off and that’s all. You shouldn’t be worrying about it on the day. All you need to worry about is where that point is and what time of day you need to be there. When you get there forget about what you’ve done and focus on your next run. Pinetown to Winston Park. That’s not far either. Don’t worry about anything else. When people around you are talking about Inchanga and Polly’s – let them but don’t join the conversation. It has nothing to do with you. It isn’t part of your run from Pinetown to Winston Park. Field’s Hill is at that time.
See how much of this is from the neck up? If you don’t get this right that 9 minutes to get across the start line is going to be playing on your mind all of the 87Km that you shouldn’t be thinking about anyway!
Don’t whatever you do, stand at the start in Durban and think to yourself that you have 87Km to cover. That will just do your head in. It’s more than the best of us can handle!
And remember that Comrades have kindly stuck up huge boards telling you where the cut offs are and you can get those off their website and that’s what you spend the day doing. Here’s an example of what the boards look like.
Run a collection of 7 short runs (not races) from cut off to cut off for the day. You simply have to train your brain to know where they are and to recognise them and to know when you have to be there.
What you’ll probably find when you do your schedule (or pacing chart as some prefer to call it) and use it and no other because you have done it to suit you and give yourself a 15 minute time range to get to each cut off point. In other words say that you want to be at the first one between that time and that time (those times 15 minutes apart).
Remember it’s time of day and not overall running time that interests you. The reason for that is that you don’t want to have to start adding and subtracting when you are starting to get tired later on. The number of people I see wearing watches that can almost make scrambled eggs on toast is mind blowing. What for?
By the time you have done the better part of 65Km you need everything your brain has to offer to help you to get to the end and not to start trying to work out how many minutes per Km you did for the last 7.2753Kms! Who cares? I promise you that by the time you get to 65Km you are certainly not going to care.
So how do you learn where these landmarks are? Simple. Comrades tell you firstly on their website where they are and then “on the day” they put up huge big boards that you can’t miss so you know that you are at the end of one little run and time to start your next little run and time to forget about everything you have already done.
Go to my blog entitled “Up Run Route Description” and it’s all there in as much detail as I have been able to provide as well as any known dangers for the section you are looking at. Incidentally Comrades are going to be publishing my route description in the Comrades brochure you get at Comrades Expo and which has been endorsed by 4 time winner Alan Robb. Unfortunately for those who don’t see this blog it’s going to be a little like cramming for the finals but you have an advantage. Use it and your day will be a lot easier.
So there you have it. The work between now and Comrades is to “train the brain” to get it to do 90% of the work on Comrades day.
Fight it when it tells you to ignore the alarm on those cold dark mornings. Those runs have to be done no matter how hard they might be to do. You have put in the work since January to get to where you are now. Don’t waste it now.
Study the route over and over and find out where the cut off points are and how far it is between them and at what time (time of day) you have to be there. You’ll thank me for this after the race when you realise you didn’t have to try to work out Kms per minute.
Then go out and enjoy the fact that you only have to run about 7 little runs during the day and that the longest is just under 20Km and the shortest is shorter than your average club time trial.
Now how easy is that, but you have to do the mental training and you have to start doing it now!