COMRADES – RESPECT IT. IT’S FUN BUT NO JOKE

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November 8, 2018 by DAVE JACK

So your Comrades entry for 2019 is in and you’ve had confirmation from the organisers that they’ve received it – so now what? 

Easy.  All you now have to do is to run a qualifier before the beginning of May and pitch up at the start of Comrades on the 9th of June, but is it really that simple?

With the right approach, I think it is, and I honestly think that the right approach is not hard to achieve.

During the last couple of years I’ve asked myself the question, more than once, whether my relationship with the Comrades Marathon is a passion or an obsession.  I don’t really know what the answer is because the two words are pretty closely related except that one of them conjures up thoughts that are not quite as nice as the other but look at the dictionary and you will find that the word “emotion” features in both definitions so I guess it doesn’t matter too much which it is.

Suffice to say that I have a pretty deep feeling about that strip of tarmac between KZN’s two cities and I am not able to explain it but ridicule the race or don’t treat it with the respect it deserves and I won’t treat you with the sympathy you would perhaps like if you run it and come horribly “unstuck” during the race. This isn’t something new. I’ve felt this way going back as long as I can remember to my very early days to when I first started running Comrades.

Go into Comrades with no respect for the race, come undone and suffer badly and it’s your problem and you’ll get no sympathy from me and I was sitting thinking about the way I feel about people who take part in the race and who, especially in their first run, don’t take it seriously.  It doesn’t often happen to people who have run it more than once. Those people have learnt that Comrades deserves respect and they give it the respect it deserves.

I have often heard novices say they are really scared and my reaction is always that they shouldn’t be scared of Comrades but if they are properly prepared both physically and mentally for Comrades they need to respect it but not fear it. To my mind there’s a very big difference.

I have never feared Comrades but I have certainly respected it.  I have run it 14 times, finished it within the time limit all 14 times and respected it every time and I believe that’s how I was able – even when I suffered badly – to finish the race and to go home with my Comrades medal every time a ran.

Some people regard it as something of a giggle when they enter and right up to the start and even into the race and perhaps even as far as the first 30km or so and until they start to hurt just that little bit when the first of the hills starts to “talk” to them and there is a tiny change of opinion. Comrades has put people into hospital and ICU with such things as renal failure and which sadly in some cases has even claimed the lives of runners who have gone into Comrades perhaps not as prepared as they should be because they think they know better.

In days gone by when we were asked where Comrades started the answer was always “at the 60km mark because anyone can run that. It’s the rest of it that’s the problem” and that’s always been and still is the case.  I was driving between Durban and Pietermaritzburg recently and when I got to Cato Ridge I had visions of my own Comrades days of getting there and remembering what it felt like to be there and that sometimes that feeling of despair knowing there was still over 25km to go and that I was tired but at the same time I was fit and had trained for this.

I heard recently about one entrant who had a longest run of a qualifying marathon in a time of around 4:14 which she considered made her a fast runner and as a result she intended starting Comrades fairly fast. She had no intention of studying the route or listening to anyone talking about the dangers of the first 25km of the Up Run or the first 20km of the Down Run because she felt she didn’t need to do this.  She also saw no need to run any other long runs in preparation for Comrades. She had done a 42Km run and done it quickly!   Somebody should have mentioned to her that a 4:14 marathon isn’t exactly quick and that it’s pretty average and slightly slower that 6 minutes per km!

Unless she is Supergirl in disguise, that particular lady was going to be in for a very long and painful day on Comrades day if she is able to make it past the 60km mark which seemed doubtful.  I had a problem feeling sorry for her. That sort of arrogance didn’t deserve any sort of sympathy.  The problem however is that she could have become a negative statistic that Comrades really doesn’t need. I have no idea whether she finished that year or not.

I have often heard people say “If Comrades was easy then everyone would do it” but not everyone does it because it’s not easy.  Speak to cyclists and many will tell you that they stick to cycling because it’s easier than running.  I am an avid Twitter follower and there was a Tweet I really enjoyed by someone I don’t know that appeared that read

“Running is stupidly hard.  It’s worth doing once in a while to remind oneself how good an idea the bicycle is”

He said it – not me!

I know one young lady who, a couple of years ago claimed to be very fit and I think she was, so she entered for, and completed, the Iron Man in Port Elizabeth.   I’m told that this event is very tough and you are quite something if you can complete it.

About six weeks later she took part in Comrades. She ended up in ICU in hospital for 4 days with renal failure.  No problem with Iron Man. Comrades put her into ICU.

Comrades is not a joke and it should never be treated as a joke.  I have seen some very sick people at the finish of Comrades.

The Comrades doctor told me that the majority of the people treated in the medical tent at the finish of the race suffer from exhaustion as a result of under training yet we see runners year after year treating this race as something of a joke.

The wakeup call on Comrades day I would imagine, is when you realise that after your qualifier distance, you are only at around half way, and you have the same distance to do again and then a little bit more all on the same day.  Sure you need to be mentally strong but if you are physically weak for distance running from not training properly, then your mental strength has nothing with which to work.

In 2016, the Comrades banner was “Comrades – It Will Humble You” and there are thousands of us who have been humbled by this race and who have prepared properly and it’s still happened.  

I clearly remember the 1976 Comrades and I was probably fitter than I had ever been.  I had run my best ever in 1975 and I was aiming to do even better in 1976. It was a Down Run and I was on schedule at Cato Ridge at around the 30km mark but by the far end of Harrison Flats, just a few kilometres further I felt a niggle in the muscle at the top of my right knee that definitely shouldn’t have been there.

I wasn’t too worried about it, but by the time I got to Drummond I had decided to adjust my finish time by an hour that would still give me a comfortable 9 hours although the muscle was getting worse.

Alan Robb won his first Comrades that year and I ran the second half quite a bit slower than Alan had run the entire race because of that muscle at the top of my knee and that in the year I was aiming for my best ever Comrades.

I understand fully what the 2016 Comrades banner read “Comrades – It Will Humble You”.  It certainly humbled me in 1976.  I was over two hours slower than the time I knew I could run and the time I had set out to run all because of a muscle at the top of my knee.

The question I ask myself then is how am I supposed to feel about these people who have no respect for this thing which is something that for me is such a passion and for which I and so many others who have run that road many times have such respect?

If you’re reading this and you’re going to be running your first Comrades this year and fear is starting to build up as you read, please don’t let fear be there. I have said to many runners and particularly to many novice runners that they shouldn’t fear Comrades but they should certainly respect it.  That they should respect it whether it’s their first Comrades, their 10th Comrades or their 20th.

I have taken people to see Comrades as spectators.  People who have never seen the race before and the reaction has been amazing but usually along the lines of “how do they do it”?

It doesn’t matter how many times one has run it, one should always respect it because Comrades is bigger than any of us and it deserves our respect.

 

November 2018

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7 thoughts on “COMRADES – RESPECT IT. IT’S FUN BUT NO JOKE

  1. Stuart Mann says:

    Lovely article Dave. Comrades is definitely a race that deserves respect no matter how many times you’ve done it!

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    • DAVE JACK says:

      Thank you Stuart. It saddens me when runners treat Comrades as a joke and they don’t give it the respect it deserves because when seasoned Comrades runners see this, we know what is going to happen to many runners who don’t respect this race. As I’ve said many times, I don’t believe that anyone needs to fear Comrades if the proper training, both physically and mentally have been done, but I also believe that Comrades needs to be respected ALWAYS and we both know runners with Green Numbers, Double and Triple Green who still respect it irrespective of how many times they have run it. Many years ago I read an article that said Comrades was the great leveler when you have to cover almost 90kms on foot within a certain time and where your wealth, your job, the car you drive and where you live mean nothing. On Comrades day everyone is equal.

      Regards

      Dave

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  2. Tony tripp says:

    In my day, I am 72 so I am entitled to say this, every runner respected the Comrades and so did the spectators. They would say after you finished, “Hell, man, you finished the Comrades, I could not run down the street.”
    I suppose you do respect it when you understand the history, for even in the apartheid days, runners did encourage women and those of colour who were running the comrades unofficially. Even when all the different races could run the race, it was way ahead of the pollies.
    But the Comrades is tough, however if you have trained for it both physically and mentally you should be able to finish no matter where you live. As has been noted, find longish hills where you live and do some training on it. And follow Dave’s advice. And if you do not finish within the time limit, simply return next year for you will be more aware of what you need to do after speaking to the many runners during the race. This happened in my time, some who misjudged the Comrades on their first attempt came back better prepared.
    I was cold and calculating and had worked out how much energy I required to finish the first half, then onwards to the second half. But that was then. Tony Tripp.

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    • DAVE JACK says:

      Hi Tony

      Thank you for your comments. What I’m saying to Comrades runners and, to my mind, it doesn’t matter whether you have run 20 or 30 or whether you are about to run your first Comrades, don’t go into the race with no respect for what lies ahead. If you do that, there’s a very good chance you could be in for a very long and painful day. I have always said that I don’t believe anyone needs to fear Comrades but whatever you do, you must respect it. It’s bigger than any of us.

      Regards

      Dave

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  3. Tony tripp says:

    Dave,
    In my day I never came across any one who did not respect the Comrades, we treated it with awe. So what I learnt from the race has enabled me to deal with the difficult periods we all have in life, and to achieve my subjective goals. And what you may find unusual is that while running the race, I found it akin to a mystical experience. Maybe I had the space, for at its peak, all we had was a thousand runners on the road at one time, which is different today. Cheers Tony.

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    • DAVE JACK says:

      Hi Tony. Remember that I am from the same time period as you are and in our day we had just a handful of road races and Comrades was the “big Daddy” of them all and whilst not all runners took part in Comrades, those of us who did, treated it with the utmost respect. Things have changed in recent years with a very full calendar and whilst Comrades and a few other distance races are attracting very big numbers and entries are selling out very quickly (Comrades 2019 closed with 25,000 entries just 6 days after opening) a fairly big number of novices particularly, don’t know what lies ahead of them and as a result go into Comrades under trained. The results of under training are well known and it’s for that reason that I have appealed especially to the novices – and I believe that for 2019 which is an Up Run – to remember that if they ran their first Comrades last year on the Down Run the two are so different that in effect, they are still novices and need to treat the race with respect or potentially have a long and somewhat unpleasant day.

      Regards

      Dave

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  4. Tony tripp says:

    Dave,
    What I forgot to mention was this, all our training and racing was aimed towards running the “Comrades” that was the big event for us then. But like everything in life, time changes a original concept and it grows like a acorn into a tree Cheers Tony.

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