April 30, 2019 by DAVE JACK
It’s the end of April so that means a few things if you’re training for Comrades. It means that you have only a touch under 6 weeks to go to the big day. For many it also means the end of the very long training runs and the start of that long awaited taper, but when I was running Comrades, it also meant the toughest time in my training.
As always, I have written this blog for those runners from 9 hours to the final cut off at 12 hours. My best was 8:29 so I am not qualified to talk on behalf of anyone faster than that.
If you run in the morning during your weekday runs, it’s dark and it’s starting to get cold and it’s so easy to switch off the alarm, turn over and go back to sleep for another hour or so and for this reason it’s a very good idea to have a training partner. It’s easy to switch off the alarm, turn over and go back to sleep if it’s only going to affect you. Not so easy if you have a training partner who is waiting for you.
What my training partner and I used to do was to set the alarm and then about 5 minutes later, whoever was the most awake would give the other a missed call to let them know that we were up and that the run was on.
A few tips for these last six weeks and this happened to me on at least two of my Comrades where I stepped into a hole on the pavement or stepped off the pavement in the wrong way because I couldn’t see the danger in the dark – and there goes a muscle. In my case, on the two occasions it happened, it brought my training to a halt for about three weeks of May and whilst I was still able to run Comrades and to finish it, I did have bad stiffness during the run. I’m not talking about cramping but good old fashioned stiffness.
Not much you can do about that and if you decide to stop for a rub anywhere along the route on race day that serves only to waste precious time. Time you can’t afford to waste and then on top of that the rub does virtually nothing to help anyway so you need to be ultra-careful where you put your feet during your training runs in the dark.
There are other dangers as well and they are cars. For that reason it’s essential that you are wearing some sort of reflective material so that car headlights will pick you up. I have lost friends who have been hit by cars whilst out training in the dark.
If you happen to do your weekday runs in the evening the wearing of something reflective is probably even more important simply because there’s a lot more traffic on the roads and you are even more difficult to see.
Whatever you do, don’t miss out on these last six weeks of running because you feel it’s too dark and too cold to get out there. Being this close to the big day, the last thing you want is to give up now.
You’ve entered, you’ve trained and you are too deeply committed to stop now so hang in.
These last six weeks were, for me anyway, the toughest part of my training for Comrades and those weekday runs were crucial for me to maintain the speed I had built up over the previous six or more months. My long runs at the weekend took care of the stamina and endurance part of things.
With six weeks to go, it also means the time to start your non road preparation for Comrades.
If you don’t live on or near the route your chances of training on the route are low and if you are a novice or you have only run one Comrades but in the opposite direction to that which you will be running this year, you need to get to know that route as well as you can.
Looking at the route profile doesn’t help you to get to know the route and for this reason, I have done a detailed description of the Up Run route for 2019 and you can get it by clicking on 2019 Up Run Route. I have done the route description based on the way I have seen the route by running it many times in Comrades and even more times in training having lived in KZN in most of my Comrades days.
What I have done is to break the route into sections and given a description of each section with details of any hills (and there are plenty of hills with no names) on the route as well as pointing out any reason to take it easy over a specific section of the route because it’s tough.
I am also at pains to warn runners about the first 25km of the Up Run. From the start to the top of Field’s Hill it’s a fairly significant climb. A lot of it is in the dark (the race starts at 5:30am remember) and the adrenalin is pumping, not only yours but also all around you.
I have also made suggestions as to how to go about your walking – and it’s virtually certain that at some point you will need to walk. What I have suggested, certainly worked for me and even took me up Polly’s without any sort of problem when I was a very raw novice. It really does work!
Polly Shortts on the Up Run
The other thing that happens is that every year in Comrades as the gun fires to start the race, there are those who literally take off at almost a sprint. They generally fade and in many cases drop out long before the finish but what happens is that the top runners can’t afford to let those “sprinters” get too far ahead “just in case” and I can give you at least two examples of where that happened and the person tipped to win had to be content with second place.
What happens is that these runners who tear off at the start pull with them the main pack runners who then start a little faster than they had wanted and then the next batch do the same – and the next – and the next – right through the field until even those in the last batch start off faster than they should have done or wanted to. So watch your pace in the early part of the race and run at the speed you have trained to run.
Climbing out of Durban towards the Tollgate Bridge
The other thing is that many runners go looking for a “timing chart” or “race schedule” before the race and these have often been drawn up for them by someone they have never met and who knows nothing about their running ability. These charts do work for many runners and I would never say don’t use them but I also maintain, and always have, that the person best qualified to draw up your time chart is you! Nobody knows your running better than you do.
The big question is – how do you go about this? I think there are two ways to go about it.
Firstly get to know the route as well as you can and secondly – and many of those who are qualified to give advice will agree – set times for the various places you want to be. If you use the actual time of day, it really does make your life less complicated on race day. You know that you have to be at certain points by certain times to avoid being taken off the road by race officials and as a result, I ran all my Comrades wearing an ordinary wrist watch.
I think one of the easiest ways to do this is by cutting Comrades up into “7 Little Runs” and you can find my suggestions on this by clicking on the link that takes you to the homepage of my website www.themarathon.net. You will see that even if you don’t know the course as well as someone who lives and trains on or near the route, Comrades organisers have helped you to establish various locations by using them as time cut off points and warning you about 1Km before you reach that cut off point.
Study the route description in conjunction with these cut off times and work out your time schedule from there.
The banner in the photo below is an example of what the Comrades Cut Off banners look like and is not to be taken as a banner for the 2019 Comrades.
Example of what a Cut Off banner looks like
Don’t, whatever you do, stand at the start in just under 6 weeks thinking that you have the better part of 87km to run. That will just “do your head in”. Break the race up into smaller sections, and in terms of my suggestion, into 7 little runs, the longest of which is just under 20km to Pinetown. The other advantage is that it allows you to focus on the section you are running and to forget about challenges some 40km or more, ahead. It also allows you to forget about what you have already done.
Both the route description and the 7 Little Runs are also on my website on www.themarathon.net. Click on this link to go there.
Another big advantage of getting to know the route is that it helps you to identify such places as Arthur’s Seat and other points of interest.
There are also other things you can start to do in the six weeks before Comrades.
Start to make a list of the things you are going to need to take with you if you have to travel to Durban. I have seen people arrive in Durban having forgotten to pack their running shoes! Put that list somewhere you are most likely to see it and add to it as you remember things. The fridge door is as good a place as any!
Don’t try to gather up everything you need to take to KZN the night before you leave for Durban.
The Comrades Expo is fantastic, but as even top runners will tell you, spend as little time as possible there. Many runners will get there as it opens in the morning and then spend hours walking around on the same legs and feet they are going to have to use to get them from Durban to Pietermaritzburg. The other thing that happens is that there are many “go faster” products available to Expo. Those are all for next year and certainly not for the race a day or two ahead.
From now until Comrades don’t do anything you haven’t done before. I have even seen some runners getting to Durban and the day or night before Comrades, tucking into a big plate of Durban curry. That will probably make you run faster but not towards the finish!
A prized Comrades bronze medal
So there you have it. Six weeks to go and still plenty of preparation ahead and if you handle everything you need to do over these last six weeks, your chances of a good day on the 9the of June will be much better.
30 APRIL 2019