May 31, 2018 by DAVE JACK
I was going to publish this tomorrow on the 1st of June then I thought I owed it to myself to publish it on the 31st of May 2018 instead, exactly 50 years to the day since I ran my first Comrades.
Well it’s just a little over a week to go and its Comrades day, 9 days in fact. That magical, joyful, amazing and never to be forgotten day when thousands of runners make their way over much of the “old road” from Pietermaritzburg to Durban and the new finish at the Moses Mabhida Stadium, a stone’s throw from the sea.
EINA LEGS AND TIREDNESS
If you’re expecting to be on the road between 10 and 12 hours it’s reasonable to expect two things to happen to you on Comrades day.
You’re going to have sore, stiff legs and you’re going to be tired, possibly very tired.
The solution to these two problems, in your mind, whilst you’re out there on the road after you’ve done the better part of 60km will be that the sooner you can stop the sooner the pain in your legs will stop and the sooner you will be able to sit down or better still lie down. This is good thinking but how do you achieve it?
I can think of only two ways. First is to stop and to stop right now and get into a bailer bus. Trouble is that a DNF lives with you for a very long time. In fact it lives with you for years and within about 15 minutes of getting into that bus the regrets start and you’ll wish you hadn’t stopped, but by then, it’s too late.
As you get into the bus, the officials take your race number and put a huge big black cross through it and that’s you done until next year.
The second way is to get to the finish as soon as you can because then you’ll be able to sit down or better still, to lie down AND you’ll have a medal.
The great thing about Comrades is that these thoughts usually only start to creep in when you are well over half way if you have trained properly and in most cases, runners will have done either a long club run of around 60km or an ultra of anywhere between 50km and 56km so this is not unchartered territory that you’re in at this stage.
The problem though, is that many runners haven’t done the mental preparation that is now needed to get them from the 60km point to the 90km point at the finish and so the trouble usually starts around here.
You start to feel tired and that’s normal. With each step you feel more tired and then you think your legs are starting to complain about what’s being done to them and unfortunately runners listen when the body starts complaining about being tired so silly things start to happen like aimless walking and all this at a crucial time when the mental part of the training is most needed.
Remember that we always say that Comrades is 90% from the neck up and that if your legs can do 60km they can do 90km, the rest is in your head and now is when all that needs to start coming together. Now is when you need that total focus and concentration no matter how much the legs are hurting and no matter how tired you are.
The reality is that at this point you don’t actually need to worry about your legs at all if you have done a couple of runs of around 60km. The legs are just fine and they’ve done what you needed them to do so they’ll get you to the finish so forget about them.
You have a much bigger job at hand and that is to get to the finish and at this stage nothing else matters!
Now you need a huge amount of concentration if you’re going to get to the finish in reasonable shape and that’s where the mental preparation which you have hopefully done now kicks in.
Comrades is tough and that’s why it needs that concentration if you’re going to rely on the 90% from the neck up. This is the time when the 10% from the neck down doesn’t matter. As I said, it’s done its job getting you this far and it will get you to the finish if you’ve done the training.
Trouble is that very often runners haven’t prepared well enough for the 90% needed from the neck up on Comrades day so they start wasting time and the more time they waste, the longer they’re on the road and the longer they’re on the road, the longer the pain in their legs lasts and the longer the tiredness lasts and the more they become aware of it when they shouldn’t actually be aware of it at all if the focus is firmly on the finish and nothing else.
It’s a vicious circle.
You have about a week left so the running is virtually over and whatever runs you have left are really only to keep the legs going and they are not really going to do anything to make you any fitter but if you haven’t already done so, there is still work to do before race day.
Plan your race day strategy. That’s crucial and the race day schedule I talk about next is probably the most important part of your build up to Comrades other than what you’ve done on the road already.
You can tell me that I am talking rubbish if you like but this is the absolute truth.
TIME SCHEDULE/PACING CHART
One of the most important things you need with you on Comrades Day is your time schedule or as some like to call it, pacing chart. I’m always staggered to find out how many people go into Comrades without any sort of plan at all and simply “hang in and see what the day brings”. This is madness.
Even going on holiday requires a certain amount of planning but for some reason some runners seem to think that all they need to do is to pitch up at the start of Comrades and run towards the finish and hope for the best.
Many runners intend collecting one of the several “pacing charts” on offer at Expo and while this is OK for some people, what bothers me about these is that they were drawn up by people who have never met you and who know nothing about you or your running and whilst they do work for many people, I still believe that the only person who can really plan your race for you – is you.
So that is your most important job between now and race day. Sit down quietly and draw up your schedule and if my previous blog where I tell you to break up your day into seven little runs will help you, then use that.
Plan your entire day section by section taking into account your ability and the terrain of a certain section. Use the route description I did recently in conjunction with the “Seven Little Runs”. Remember that the section from Drummond to Hillcrest is one of the tough sections and you have done the better part of 45km before you even get to it. Plan your entire day based on what YOU can do.
The other thing that has grown in popularity in recent years are the “busses” where you run to various times following a certain runner or two. I don’t know anything about these so I can’t comment on them.
Don’t allow time to control you on Comrades Day. You must control time and your time schedule or pacing chart if you prefer, is the tool with which to do that.
WASTING TIME ON RACE DAY
I mentioned a couple of ways last month that can cost you a lot of time during Comrades, time that you can never get back. I wrote about time wasted at refreshment stations and physio stations. Bear in mind there are around 44 refreshment stations on the route and if you waste just 1 minute at half of those that’s more or less 25 minutes gone but the reality of the situation is that most people waste more than a minute at each station at which they stop.
In most cases the slower runner can waste as much as an hour or more on Comrades day when you add it all up and as the tiredness I spoke about is allowed to take over the stops get longer. You will get tired. We all get tired but don’t let that tiredness control you.
When it controls you that’s when you start to get into real trouble. You look for reasons to stop and believe me reasons to stop for 10 minutes here and 10 minutes there are very easy to find. Trouble is they all add up. The problem though is that whilst those minutes add up, the organiser’s official clock doesn’t stop when you do. It keeps ticking away!
I hear runners every year complaining about how long it takes them to get across the start line because they’re in the last batch. The reality is that the runners in the last batch take just under 9 minutes (that’s the official time from the race organisers) to get across the start line and then they often waste about an hour or more after that on the road so it’s often not the start that’s the problem.
Aimless walking is my personal favourite way of time wasting. You have to walk. Almost everyone from the gold medallists down has to walk at some stage but what costs valuable time is aimless walking. Aimless walking is where a runner virtually looks as though they are out on a Sunday afternoon stroll in the park.
Tiredness is probably the biggest cause of aimless walking and I mentioned this earlier but you can beat this with correct mental training and it’s not too late for that.
Concentrate on the way in which you are walking as an important part of your mental preparation. Take 200 steps of running then 100 steps of walking. Then 200 steps of running then 100 steps of walking. Then 200 steps of running and so you carry on and that applies whether you are on a hill (especially on a hill) or on level ground and you have to walk. Do that and you’ll pass literally hundreds of “aimless walkers”.
I mentioned this to a silver medallist who said to me “you have to be joking if you think I’m going to do that”. Silver medallists generally don’t need to worry about this! They don’t have time to waste time!
Walk with purpose and determination if you must walk and make it worthwhile because the pain will have gone later on and by the following day so will the tiredness!
Remember that the purpose for which you are out there is to get to the finish as soon as possible so that an official can give you a medal and you can go home and celebrate the following day wearing a finishers’ T. shirt and brag that you finished the Comrades Marathon!
EXPO IS AMAZING
Expo is amazing. The vibe is amazing but as I heard Bruce Fordyce telling a group recently, be very careful of walking the entire distance of Comrades around Expo in the days before the race. You see runners walking around and around and around for hours on end and to do this they use the same legs and feet they are going to be using to get them from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.
The time you spend at Expo also largely depends on the day you go there. The day furthest away from race day itself you can spend a bit more time there but even then, don’t overdo it but if you can only get there on the Saturday, collect your “goodie bag” and get out of there and go back to wherever you’re staying and rest as soon as you can.
If you can get there on the Thursday, the opening day of Expo, you can afford yourself the luxury of spending a little longer there because you have Friday and Saturday to rest those legs. Friday, a little less time and Saturday as I’ve said as little time as possible.
NOTHING NEW ON COMRADES DAY
One very important rule that dozens of runners break is don’t try anything new on Comrades day that you have never tried and tested before. There will be stuff on offer on the road at refreshment stations that you have never used previously. Comrades day is not the time to see if something new works for you.
One of the things that’s available at refreshment stations and in large quantities are potatoes and many runners use them all the time on training runs and in races when they are available. Then again, many runners have never eaten them during either a race or on a training run and suddenly on Comrades day they think it’s a great idea to stuff potatoes down their throats. Then they wonder why it is that after a few kms they feel awful and start throwing up.
Stick to what you’re used to doing. If you start your day with a certain breakfast before a long run, do the same on Comrades day. If you don’t eat breakfast before a long run, don’t change things on Comrades day.
IMPORTANT SLEEP NIGHT
In the week before Comrades, get as much sleep as you can but the most important night to sleep will be the Friday night before Comrades (remember Comrades is on the Sunday) because on the Saturday night you will get very little sleep.
Apart from your nerves being shattered in most cases, the race starts at 5:30 on the Sunday morning so your day is going to start when the alarm goes off at around 2 or 3am. If you are staying in Durban and you need to travel to Pietermaritzburg, the alarm may need to go off even earlier. The road to Pietermaritzburg is going to be busy and there is a Toll Plaza on the N3 just outside Pinetown and even if all the gates are open there is a fair chance of a traffic snarl so be aware of that.
Wherever it is you are staying, make sure you study the access roads in and around the City Hall in Pietermaritzburg so that you know how to get in and out of the city.
SUNDAY 10TH OF JUNE
Have yourselves a fantastic day. That’s what it’s supposed to be! See you at Moses Mabhida!