Posted in COMRADES ADVICE

COMRADES IS ONLY 7 LITTLE RUNS

Many top runners believe that the way to tackle Comrades is to break it up into smaller and more reasonable pieces (or Little Runs) rather than try to tackle one enormous distance of the better part of 90km. That’s enough to destroy even the strongest of us and that’s before we have even started running!

How does one break up Comrades though? Here are the easy to follow steps:

  1. Comrades organisers have 7 cut–off points on the route (including the finish and each has the time of day by which you need to be there.

  1. Use these 7 sections of the route given by Comrades to work out each of your “7 Little Runs”

  1. Calculate the distance of each “Little Run” from cut-off point to cut off point.

  1. Calculate the time that you need to reach each cut-off point. This is not the time needed to run each Little Run but the time by which you need to be at the next cut-off point – or end of the Little Run.

  1. Study the route from the description of the route posted to this website about November every year.

  1. The organisers have put up a large board warning of the upcoming cut-off point which is usually about 1km ahead of the point.

  1. You now know the distance of each Little Run and the time by which you need to have completed it.

  1. Now you can start to prepare your own time schedule (some call it a pacing chart) of where you need to be at what time of day to reach your goal.

  1. It is imperative that you plan your day. A realistic time schedule helps to avoid wasting time (which is easy to do) if you know that you need to be at the end of the section you are on, at a certain time.
Posted in COMRADES ADVICE

10 TIPS FOR THE 9-12 HOUR RUNNER

  1. It’s not just the distance on the road that you need in training. You also need to know the route. The detailed description of the route is posted to this website around November each year

 

  1. Carefully plan how you want to run your day. One of the best ways is to draw up your time schedule of where you want to be at what time of day knowing at you must be at the finish before 17h30. What about breaking your Comrades into 7 Little Runs rather than having to face one huge challenge of almost 90 kms.

 

  1. Comrades gives you 12 hours as a maximum to get from the start to the finish so it’s up to you to manage yourself to make correct use of that or whatever other time you’re aiming for. You can’t manage time. You can only manage yourself to use that time correctly.

 

  1. There’s a knack to the walking you are probably going to have to do on Comrades day. Remember that aimless walking wastes time so when you need to walk, just walk 100 paces at a brisk pace, then run 200 paces. Walk 100 paces then run 200 paces and carry on until you have finished your need to walk.

 

  1. Whatever you do, don’t waste time at refreshment stations. Take your drink and walk briskly through the station. Remember that if you waste just 1 minute at half the refreshment stations on the road, you will have lost over 20 minutes from your day

 

  1. Don’t waste time by stopping during the day unless you absolutely have to – and most times you don’t have to. Remember that every step you take in the direction of the finish is one less step that you have to take.

 

  1. Unless there is no possible way to avoid it, don’t get into a rescue bus. The pain of doing that stays with you a lot longer than the pain of getting from the start to the finish.

 

  1. Look after yourself over the first 25km – both Up & Down Run.  If you don’t pace yourself properly there, you stand a good chance of messing up your entire race.

 

  1. Remember that Comrades is 90% from the neck up. Just when you think you can’t carry on, remember that in most cases you can.

 

  1. Enjoy your day. That’s why you’re there and here’s what awaits you.

Comrades Bronze Medal

 

Posted in COMRADES ADVICE

TEAM ASHWORTH COACHING

When entries opened for Comrades 2020 there was a crazy rush like we’ve never seen before and a complete sell-out of entries in under 3 days so now begins the hardest part of it all for the runners and that’s to get to that start-line in Pietermaritzburg on the 14th of June later this year.

For many – and there are a huge number of novices – this is going to be a new experience and sadly, many will get things completely wrong come Comrades day and they’ll have a long hot day out on the road and that could have been avoided had they trained correctly – but how does one do this?

Ask 5 different coaches or would-be coaches and you’ll probably get 5 different answers. One will tell you to do this and another will tell you to do that. One of the biggest secrets when you get yourself a coach is that these people generally know what they are doing (although I have come across a couple who don’t have a clue) so that being the case, when you think you’ve found the right coach, whatever you do – stick with that coach.

Jumping around from coach to coach is a disaster and won’t help you at all in the same way that taking advice from a dozen different people will have the same disastrous effect.

With more and more runners wanting to be able to tell the world that their running is improving, the demand for coaches to help runners get to that point, is increasing and no longer is it just the top or elite runners who are enlisting the services of a coach but the “ordinary” runner who is wanting to improve his or her time and doesn’t know how to go about this, is turning to coaches for help.

One of the latest coaches at the disposal of runners is “Team Ashworth Coaching”.   The name Ashworth is not an unknown one in the world of South African running and Ann Ashworth, winner on the 2018 Comrades is half the “Ashworth” part of this new coaching team.

Team Ashworth

Whilst Ann has been involved in coaching the runners in her club “Team Massmart” since the establishment of the club some two years ago, we’ve seen a huge improvement from many of the ladies who run for Massmart and that’s where Ann will continue to focus, it is husband, David, who has given up his job as a teacher to coach fulltime.

David has been coaching for a couple of years on a low key basis and has had success with some of those he’s coached but his credentials need to be known. A green number runner at Comrades (he got his green number in 2019) with a best Comrades time of 6:24 in 2018 and a best marathon time of 2:31, David certainly knows what he’s talking about.

David Ashworth gets his Green Number from the late Jackie Mekler

 

I sat down with David Ashworth to find out more about the new “Team Ashworth Coaching”.

DJ:      Whilst you call yourselves “Team Ashworth Coaching”, as I understand it, you’ll be doing most of the coaching of runners needing a coach whilst Ann continues to focus mainly on the ladies of “Team Massmart” and her career as an advocate with very little in the way of general coaching?

DA:     Because Ann is very involved in her work as an advocate and administration of Team Massmart, I have taken over as the official coach of Team Massmart, coaching a number of the ladies there. I am fortunate to be working with an amazing team of elite ladies such as Lizzy Ramadamitja, the first black South African female to achieve a gold medal in 9 years at last year’s Two Oceans Marathon.

Ann & David at the finish line of Comrades and both under 6:30

 

DJ:      Will she be involved with the elite ladies at Massmart?

 

DA:     There are basically three categories of athletes at Massmart. You’ve got the “Elites” the “Sub-Elites” and the “Development” athletes who can’t afford to get into running seriously and those are coached at no cost to them. That’s where Ann gives back to running in a big way. She doesn’t go out and get athletes who are already performing or poach from existing clubs, but instead, goes out and finds talented athletes who do not have the means to take their running to the next level. Ann recently took on 10 ordinary athletes who do not have the means or support to reach their dream of running the Comrades marathon.

 

 DJ:      What qualifies you as a coach? There are some that I know of who simply set themselves up and don’t actually know what they are doing despite telling the world that they do.

 

 DA:     I’ve learnt from a number of top coaches over the years and I’ve learnt a lot of different coaching styles from them, people like Andrew Bosch, Lungile Bikwani, John Hamlett, Lindsey Parry and Neville Beeton and then as far as the academic side of it is concerned, I’ve done ASA Level 1 coaching, Sports Science Institute: Training essentials and programme design for endurance running, Sports Science Institute: Cycling Science – The essentials of cycling physiology and coaching,

Also, as part of my B.Ed Degree studies, I sub-majored in Physical Education. This included training, coaching, and physiology,

and I’ve done a lot of research and a lot of reading on coaching and coaching methods so I’ve covered a fair amount of coaching training.

 

DJ:      From the things you’ve picked up from these various coaches and courses, have you developed your own coaching methods and do you stick with that for all your athletes?

DA:     There isn’t one coaching method for everyone so it follows then that, it differs for every athlete. Training must fit into the lifestyle of that particular runner. Some athletes do better on high mileage whilst others do better on low mileage so we have to factor this in when designing a programme. An athlete should stick with one coach for some time so that as a team, they can find out what works and what does not work for them. Simply put, there’s no “one size fits all” and each athlete gets a unique plan.

 

DJ:      Let’s assume I come to you with a marathon time of 4 hours, or a Comrades time of 10:15 so I am really towards the back of the field and I would really like to improve on that. Firstly would you take that sort of person and secondly, what do you think a runner of that calibre could get to? I would think that a sub 3 hour marathon is pretty much out of the question as is a silver at Comrades. How do you establish a person’s limit?

 

 

DA:     To answer your first question; I assist athletes who have only started running, all the way up to elite level. Second, you’ve got to be realistic about what that person wants to achieve and you can only do that over a period of time. There isn’t a set pattern for everybody so it’s a case of looking carefully at individual performances and guiding that person to their reach their goal. A coach should not place a limit on an athlete, however, realistic goal setting in collaboration with the athlete to reign in an over-enthusiastic expectation is sometimes necessary. A 4-hour marathoner can achieve a sub-3 time. Many factors must be considered: age, weight, how long they have been running, and so much more will all contribute to their potential ability.

 

 DJ:      I remember that when I ran my best Comrades in 1975, it was 8:29 and to this day I firmly believe that 8 hours was my limit. What would you have done to get me – perhaps – to 8 the hours that I so desperately wanted but never achieved?

 

 DA:     I would have looked at your existing training programme to establish what, if any, periodization there was. I would look at how you progressively build up the mileage and see what Comrades-specific training sessions were incorporated (keep in mind that the ‘up’ and the ‘down’ runs are completely different races). I’d also look at your recovery – the key to a successful training strategy is having sufficient rest and recovery.

 

 DJ:      So I want to run Comrades this year. I have already qualified at Kaapsehoop and I did 3:55 which is Batch D at the start and that’s not too bad but I do want to get to Batch C where I would really like to be and out of the masses at the start? Do you work on my speed or my strength and endurance to get me to Batch C?

 

DA:     I would focus on both speed and endurance. I would also prefer to do the qualifying marathon on a flat course rather than a downhill course like Kaapsehoop. I think it’s not great to use a downhill route for a fast time because of the damage you do to your muscles and joints. I would also exercise caution against putting too much emphasis on racing too close to Comrades. You may find that you run a pretty good time in a situation where you are relaxed and not trying to run so hard.

 

DJ:      It’s no secret that I am a big exponent of LSD (Long Slow Distance) and whilst I may not have been the fastest runner back then I always had plenty of reserve for that dreaded second half and I firmly believe that came from my LSD. You views on LSD?

 

DA:     LSD should be present in every runner’s training. The latest research by Dr. Stephen Seiler reveals that polarized training carries huge benefits in one’s training. Polarized training is similar to 80/20 training in which 80% of running is done at extremely low effort and only 20% at maximal. It won’t make you a slow runner as people are lead to believe. What it does is it saves you from being fatigued on the fast and hard training sessions.

The basic concept has been followed by the Kenyans, cross-country skiers, rowers etc. It’s VERY difficult for the average runner to train this way. The ‘easy’ runs that most follow are not easy enough and have a huge negative effect on the body. They’re not fast enough to get the benefit of a speed session, but are too slow for a quality session. It is a kind of no-man’s land. So, to answer your question… I know that most get it completely wrong.

 

DJ:      Explain what you mean by that because you seem to have two differing views on the subject where you say “It’s VERY difficult for the average runner to train this way. The ‘easy’ runs that most follow are not easy enough and have a huge negative effect on the body. It’s not fast enough and is too slow for a quality session” so what is the best speed at which to train and do you work on that with your runners?

 

DA:     What I mean by that is that it’s very easy to run too fast when we’re supposed to be running easy. When you look at the way your body is responding in terms of where your heart rate is compared to where your heart rate should be. You should be running at a speed where you could be running the whole day at that speed. All heart rate zones and paces are based off percentages of the runner’s threshold values, which are tested at regular intervals.

 

 

So there you have it if you’re looking for a coach to help you get to the finish on “the big day” in mid-June in the best possible shape, take a look at the Team Ashworth Coaching website at www.teamashworth.co.za and you’ll get all the information you need as well as different coaching options and costs.

Train well – and see you in Durban and don’t forget the other part of your training where you focus on getting to know the route for the Down Run. That’s essential. You’ll find that on COMRADES DOWN RUN ROUTE 2020   

 

 

           

JANUARY 2020

Posted in COMRADES ADVICE

HOW LONG & WHAT SPEED IS LSD? :

It’s important to understand that this article is not aimed at the people who are in line for a gold or even a silver medal at Comrades.  I have said many times that never having been in those exalted positions, I am not qualified to comment on or give advice to those runners.

 

I have just read a very good article written by Bruce Fordyce about the fact that April is the most crucial training month for Comrades and I totally agree. 

FORDYCEBruce on the way to one of his wins

 

I dug out my own logbook from days gone by and every April was my big distance month – and it paid off.  The year I ran my best – and remember that my best was only 8:29 (so hardly a threat to the winner), I did two runs over 60km and one over 50 in April and then another of just under 60km in the first weekend of May.  I have always been a firm believer in LSD.

But what exactly is LSD?  It stands for Long Slow Distance and not the stuff that was freely available at Woodstock in 1969!  So what is “Long” and what speed is “Slow”? 

A lot of runners these days regard a 20km or a 25km as LSD and sometimes even as little as 15km!  I don’t think that’s LSD and neither do some of the runners who should know about these things.  In his article to which I referred at the start, Bruce Fordyce says that a “long run” should be between 40 and 70km.  I asked Bruce what he considers as being the speed that an average “slower runner” should be doing in a race that is being treated as a training run and we fully understand that many Comrades runners take part in races during April and May for a variety of very valid reasons.  Bruce tells me that he thinks those runs should be an hour slower than race pace and then it’s a training run and as Bruce says “It’s about time on your feet in April”. So if you are a 4 hour runner for the marathon, do the 42kms in close to 5 hours. 

If you’re a 4:45 runner in a marathon, it would be difficult to slow down by an hour in a race over a distance of 42km so listen then, to the advice from Ann Ashworth the 2018 Women’s Comrades Champ, about the speed she suggests for a good training speed in April.

ANN FINISH LINEAnn Ashworth breaking the tape to win the women’s 2018 Comrades

 

She told me that she tells her athletes to “run at conversational speed, in other words they must be able to hold a normal conversation throughout the run”.  This is great advice because it covers any runner at any speed ability. What Ann is saying is that if you are battling to talk in normal conversation terms, you are running too fast for a training run!

Ann tells me that she thinks the right thing is about 3 (or maybe even 4) runs of 50km to 60km in a Comrades build up in April.

When I think back the “conversational runs” were pretty much the way I ran in all my long training runs. They were considerably slower than my race pace, we didn’t bother with the time it took us and the group I was running with, chatted, laughed and joked the entire way. Some of the jokes had been told before but we laughed again anyway!  I remember doing training runs on the Comrades route from Pietermaritzburg to Pinetown which is around 65km and taking around 8 hours to do them depending on seconding stops and that sort of thing.

We certainly weren’t in any hurry but you have no idea what a boost those long runs gave me. It meant firstly that my legs could do that distance so they were taken care of for Comrades day because I have always said that if your legs can do 60 or 65kms they can certainly do the 87km needed for Comrades this year.

It also gave me a huge mental boost knowing that I could do the distance without any stress and I could go into Comrades knowing that barring any major problem I would have no trouble getting to the finish in the 11 hours we had available back then and if I did have a major problem as happened in 1976, I still had time.  1976 was a shocker for me with severe cramp from before half way but I still managed 10:06.

It’s important to remember that I was never a top runner in my Comrades running years but I started 14 of them and finished 14 of them and didn’t need medical attention at the finish of any of them, and that included the 1971 Comrades that we’re told was the longest Comrades of them all where I finished in under 10 hours despite the fact that I was forced to walk the last 20 km because I had ITB in the days before we knew what ITB was!  That walk of the last 20km wasn’t a physical thing at all.  It couldn’t be because my knee was wrecked.  The LSD training kicked in when the “90% of Comrades is above the neck” part had to take over.  On that day in 1971 it certainly did.

A short while ago, I read a training tip by Comrades coach Lindsey Parry where he advised that if you have Comrades in mind that you shouldn’t be racing any marathons or ultras from now to Comrades and there are a few of both categories on the calendar.

LINDSEY PARRYComrades coach Lindsey Parry

 

What he said was “No more racing. This applies to marathons and ultras. They should not be raced and you don’t want to be chasing seeding in your peak training block. For those who need to qualify, you should aim to run at the minimum possible effort to qualify and use the race as a training run.”   Sadly many runners will ignore that very sound advice.

So what is LSD during the month of April that is so important to get into your legs and to spend time on your feet?

I think that depends to a large degree on individual runners and the times you are able to run in Comrades but one thing I do know is that LSD is not 15km or 20km or even 25km as some runners think.  Don’t think that running three or four half marathons in April and nothing much more is going to make your Comrades day easier. I don’t believe it will.  It may get you to the finish but it will in all probability also get you a visit to the medical tent at the finish.  In chatting to the man who heads the medical facilities at Comrades, Jeremy Boulter, he tells me that the majority of those needing attention in the medical facilities at the end, finish in the last two hours of the race and in most cases are undertrained.

I’ve been on the road in recent years and seen the looks on the faces of the runners in the “Rescue Busses”.  They might have avoided the medical tent at the finish but they have also avoided that precious Comrades medal and in many cases (not all I agree) that’s as a result of inadequate training.

In the article that Bruce wrote and to which I referred at the start he says the thinking behind long runs, is that they build the stamina, endurance and strength that is so essential for Comrades and I agree with him.  I doubt that you can do that on 20km or 25km runs alone.  In my running days I did the long training runs to build my stamina, endurance and strength – both physical and mental and it worked – 14 times!

The important thing to understand is that we don’t all have the ability of a gold medallist or even a silver medallist if we are the average runner and that one should therefore, aim to do whatever is within your ability for your own LSD runs.  I know that when I was running long runs at the weekend, I would never do more than one long run over a weekend.  I knew my limitations.  Some people have said that had I done two long runs over the same weekend, my times would have been a lot better but I don’t think so.  I wasn’t built to do that sort of running and I’m not convinced that back to back runs over a weekend for the average runner is a great idea anyway, but that’s my opinion.

So bottom line is that April is the biggest distance month in the build up to Comrades. It’s not a good idea to race any marathon or ultra but instead treat them as training runs. 

So if you’re wanting a good day on the 9th of June, listen to what Bruce Fordyce says about training runs when he says it’s all about time on your feet. Listen to what Lindsey Parry says that you shouldn’t chase a PB or better seeding in April.  Listen to what Ann Ashworth says when she says that your training runs should be at a pace where you can hold the conversation with your fellow runners throughout the run.

It’s not too late to get those long runs in for Comrades. Do them this month and you won’t regret it. Most people running Comrades this year have a 42km under their belt already as a qualifier so to run three or four long runs in April shouldn’t be a problem.

 

 

APRIL 2019

Posted in COMRADES ADVICE

RESPECT COMRADES. IT’S FUN BUT NO JOKE :

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

Posted in COMRADES ADVICE

COMRADES DOWN RUN ROUTE

I have written this description of the Down Run route as I have seen it after having been done from many years of running the Down Run and also having trained on the course of the Down Run over many years.  The only section which is new to me is the last section from Tollgate to the Moses Mabida Stadium which was run for the first time in 2018.

I have tried to keep the distances as close as possible to official race distances but with ever changing road conditions this is almost impossible but the distances I have shown are very close to the actual official distances and are certainly close enough to enable any reasonably trained runner to complete the race comfortably.

START TO TOP OF POLLY SHORTS (About 5kms)

There’s a change to the way you leave Pietermaritzburg this year and this came about in 2018 and you’ll be reverting to the route that runners in the 60’s used to leave at the start of the Down Run.

From the start at the Pietermaritzburg City Hall it’s along Chief Albert Luthuli Street towards Durban then along Alan Paton Avenue where you run past the university and then contraflow onto the N3 national freeway.  From there, you will glide off right onto the Market Road on ramp and then left onto the slip road to CB Downes Road and then follow the traditional Comrades route towards Polly Shortts and onwards to Durban.

Climb fairly gently from the start out of Pietermaritzburg

DOWN RUN START

DANGERS

In the dark although there are street lights. Everybody around you is fired up with adrenalin and the excitement of finally getting to Comrades.

The race leaders start far too fast and as a result pull the entire field with them starting too fast

 

TOP OF POLLY SHORTS TO THE BOTTOM OF POLLY’S (About 2kms)

Steep downhill

DANGERS

Usually totally dark and huge numbers of runners. Many removing the black plastic bags they were wearing for warmth at the start (not actually allowed as these have been banned by the organisers) and discarding them in the road. Danger of tripping.

At the bottom of Polly’s there are speed bumps and the danger of tripping.

 

BOTTOM OF POLLYS TO UMLAAS ROAD (Highest point between Pmb & Dbn) (About 12kms)

Gentle climb of about 1km from bottom of Polly’s to Ashburton Store.

Then down “Little Polly’s” to the “Tumble Inn”. I remember in days gone by it wasn’t unusual to find locals who had dragged a doubled bed out to the edge of the road to cheer the runners from the comfort of their bed whilst sipping champagne but snuggled up in bed.

From Tumble Inn bridge steady climb all the way to Umlaas Road. The worst part the last 1km before crossing under the Highway at the Lion Park turnoff. After the bridge a gentle climb to Umlaas Road.

DANGERS

Still fairly dark over the entire stretch to the bridge under the Highway. This is where you USUALLY cross the first timing mat and get to the first cut off point so it’s also once you have crossed the first timing mat that family and friends can start tracking you from the Comrades app.

Once again the dark and adrenalin of the runners causes running too fast on the climb from Tumble Inn

  

UMLAAS ROAD TO CAMPERDOWN (About 4kms)

Fairly gentle with a nasty but short hill not long after leaving Umlaas Road as you go under the highway.

The first of the fairly big crowds of spectators at Camperdown. Usually a number of toilets available.

DANGERS

Nothing of any consequence other than the nasty little climb mentioned above.

CAMPERDOWN

 

CAMPERDOWN TO CATO RIDGE (About 4km)

After leaving Camperdown with a very slight and hardly noticeable climb of about 400m there is a dip and then a short but fairly steep climb to a sharp right turn across the bridge that crosses the N3

After the bridge a gentle run alongside the N3 to Cato Ridge. Through the village under the N3 again and a right turn and in this area is the second cut off point.

DANGERS

Potholes coming into Cato Ridge and not seeing them and stepping into one could badly twist an ankle and there are also a speed bump or two.

 

CATO RIDGE TO INCHANGA CARAVAN PARK (About 11km)

Climb out of Cato Ridge on a deceptively long although not too steep section. This takes you onto the start of “Harrison Flats” that really is flat until you reach a downhill that takes you to the Inchanga Caravan Park.

DANGERS

Nothing but Harrison Flats is pretty boring and the first time you ask yourself what you’re doing here!  Reassure yourself that you are not that far from Drummond and half way!

 

INCHANGA CARAVAN PARK TO BOTTOM OF INCHANGA (About 3kms)

A gentle downhill from the caravan park to the bottom of Inchanga. You will recognise the start of Inchanga by a small store on the left of the road with a view of the Valley of 1000 Hills

DANGERS

First bit of tiredness creeping in. Pretending to stop and look at the scenery. Don’t stop to admire the Valley of 1000 Hills! If you travelled the route in the days before the race it hasn’t changed!    And if you haven’t seen it already – here it is so you don’t have to stop to look at it again!

cropped-valley-of-1000-hills

 

INCHANGA (About 1.5kms)

The first of the really big hills on the Down Run. Two ways to handle the hill. Either get behind a runner of your speed and watch his/her heels whilst they pull you up to the top of Inchanga.

If there is no runner at your speed around you, you can walk 200 paces and run 100 paces and continue on that basis until you reach the top.

DANGERS

Many of the runners around you will be walking aimlessly towards the top. Control your climb up Inchanga and anywhere else you walk and you won’t lose time. It is very easy to be hooked into the aimless walking where runners are together and talking negatively about how stupid they are. In most cases these are the same runners who were carried away in the first 20kms.

 

TOP OF INCHANGA TO DRUMMOND (About 1.5kms)

Down Inchanga and into Drummond and the official half way lies ahead. Not long after the start of the run down Inchanga you see Drummond. When you reach the bottom of Inchanga the road levels out for a very short while and then you climb up to the official half way.

 halfway-sign

DANGERS

The most dangerous part of running down Inchanga is the desire to go too fast to get to half way.  Remember that you already have a full marathon in your legs and you don’t want to punish them more than is necessary.

Big crowds are usually in Drummond and as the climb to the half way starts, ignore them.  Head down and find a pair of shoes in front of you to study. One of the biggest dangers here is the desire (tiring legs) to soak up the atmosphere and walk or even stop for a while.

 

DRUMMOND TO THE BOTTOM OF ALVERSTONE (About 3kms)

As you leave Drummond you climb a hill that has no real name although many runners have given it a name that can’t be used in polite company!  It’s nasty. It’s really nasty. There is simply no other way to describe it.  Be careful of it as very few people even talk about it. At the top of that climb is Arthur’s Seat and legend has it that Arthur Newton (5 times winner in the twenties) sits in that seat every year on Comrades Day. Here is your opportunity to stop for about a minute to put some flowers you have picked onto Arthur’s Seat and give him a hearty “Morning Arthur” and legend continues that if you do that Arthur will look after you to the finish.

 arthurs-seat

A short “dip” brings you to the Wall of Honour where runners’ names are erected giving the names and race numbers of Comrades runners both past and present, many of whom have gone to that great ultra-marathon in the sky. Don’t stop to read the names on the Wall of Honour. That is just an excuse to waste time.

WALL OF HONOUR

After the Wall of Honour a flat stretch takes you to the bottom of Alverston Hill.

DANGERS

Without doubt it’s the climb out of Drummond. As I said above – IT’S NASTY. The only other minor danger is spending too much time greeting Arthur or stopping to take in the splendour of the Valley of 1000 Hills. Now is not the time for scenery.

 

ALVERSTON (About 1km)

Alverston is not actually as bad as people make it out to be.  As you start Alverston, there is a little climb, a slight level and then another little climb to the first corner. After that first right hand turn there’s a steady climb to the top. If it’s too tough to run the whole way do the run and walk to the top. Remember 200 paces run and then 100 paces walk and repeat to the top.

DANGERS

If you take care of that first 200 metres or so the hill is yours. Go at it too hard you are in trouble.

  

TOP OF ALVERSTON TO BOTTOM OF BOTHA’S HILL (About 5kms)

From the top of Alverston all the way through the village of Botha’s Hill it’s fairly undulating.   Not far after the top of Alverston you will see “Phezulu”, a well-known tourist attraction, on your left. About 1km after that is a little climb – again with no name – that wouldn’t be too bad if you didn’t have about 50kms in your legs. After that it’s a gentle downhill to the bottom of Botha’s Hill.

DANGERS

Nothing except that little climb after Phezulu

 

BOTHA’S HILL (About 1km)

The next real climb on the Down Run. Not that long but your legs are starting to get tired and you may need to do the “walk & run”.

DANGERS

Nothing other than the hill itself and the pretence that you need to stop and gaze over the Valley of 1000 Hills towards Inanda Dam.  You DON’T need to do that!

 valley-of-1000-hills

 

DURBAN SIDE OF BOTHA’S HILL (About 2kms)

Fairly steep downhill for about 2kms. Just after the top look out for the pupils from Kearsney College sitting cheering runners. They’re there every year.

DANGERS

Temptation to run too fast down Botha’s can cause trouble further on. In fact too fast down any hill to the finish can generally cause damage to your legs from here on.

 

BOTTOM OF BOTHA’S HILL TO HILLCREST (About 2kms)

When you get to the bottom of Botha’s Hill you will see some shops on your right and you are on a gentle down road – then you hit it!!!!!       It has no name and has been called many not too pleasant names. Nasty nasty climb into Hillcrest. Not too long though.

bothas-hill-village

DANGERS

That little hill with no name into Hillcrest really is very nasty so be careful of it. It’s probably a walk and run hill.

 

HILLCREST TO KLOOF (About 6kms)

All the way from Hillcrest to Kloof is fairly easy and gentle and almost all slightly downhill although not really noticeable. As you go through Kloof there are lots and lots of spectators who have been there all day. They cheered the leaders and they’ll cheer you. Enjoy the vibe.

DANGERS

Nothing

 

KLOOF TO PINETOWN (About 2.5kms)

Kloof behind you and you have 2.5kms down Fields Hill to Pinetown. In the distance you will get your first distant view of Durban and that’s a great encouragement.

DANGERS

You will find runners walking down Fields Hill. Again these are the runners who started too fast. Of course your legs are sore. They are supposed to be. You have done just over 60kms.  Be careful not to run too fast down Field’s Hill. If you looked after the way you started, your legs will be just fine.

 

 THROUGH PINETOWN (About 3kms)

Bottom of Field’s Hill and you are into Pinetown and all the way to the bottom of Cowies Hill just three little “bumps” to worry about. The first as you come off Field’s Hill over a rail bridge. The second as you climb up a little rise to the “cross roads” in the centre of Pinetown and the third half way along Josiah Gumede Road (previously the Old Main Road) under a subway. Only about 100metres.

DANGERS

Nothing

 

COWIES HILL (About 2kms)

At the end of Josiah Gumede Road (previously the Old Main Road) you meet Cowies Hill. Another of the big climbs. Nothing much you can do but it’s not much more than 2km long. Walk and run may be needed. At the top of Cowies, a good view over Pinetown. Don’t stop to look at it. Then it’s down the Durban side of Cowies Hill and virtually into Westville. Bottom of Cowies Hill and you have 15kms to go.

Now for the first time you can start using the distance marker boards. Count them down from 15kms to the finish.

DANGERS

Just Cowies but once again protect those legs by not running too fast on the downhill side of the hill.

cowies hill

 

THE M13 THROUGH WESTVILLE TO 45TH CUTTING (About 7kms)

You are now onto what used to be the main highway to Durban before the “bypass” was built. Just after the shops in Westville, there is a nasty climb (no name) of about nearly 2kms and then after that it is all virtually downhill until you get to 45th Cutting. The climb up 45th Cutting is fairly tough and may need to be “walk and run”

45TH CUTTING

DANGERS

The climb from Westville on the M13 up 45th Cutting.

 

THE TOP OF 45TH CUTTING TO TOLLGATE (About 3Kms)

The climb to the top of 45th Cutting is tough because your legs are seriously tired now and it’s your head that’s doing all the work from here to get you home.  After you get to the top of 45th Cutting it’s downhill until the highway. A nasty little climb of a couple of hundred metres takes you onto the highway and a gentle downhill until you climb up to go under the Tollgate Bridge. The climb to go under Tollgate Bridge is not long but your legs are tired.

DANGERS

Nothing

 

TOLLGATE TO MOSES MABIDA STADIUM ( 7Kms)

You follow the N3 under the Tollgate Bridge an then take the new fly-over into David Webster Street (M13 to the M4)  which becomes Bram Fischer Road. From there, you turn left into Samora Machel Road and past the old finish venue at Kingsmead Cricket Stadium then on to until that road becomes Masabalala Yengwa Avenue.

You then run contraflow in Masabalala Yengwa Avenue and cross to the north bound lane at Battery Beach Road. You then take the pathway to the left between the bollards, pass the Virgin Active Gym and turn left into the tunnel before Nino’s and onto the field to the Finish Line at the Moses Mabida Stadium and it’s all over!

MOSES MABIDA

One of the main reasons for the move to the Moses Mabida Stadium was to align with the requirements of the Events Act as per the Safety at Sports and Recreational Events Act 2010.

Total distance of the Down Run Comrades Marathon is 90,184km.  It’s almost exactly the same as the 2018 Down Run that used the Moses Mabida Stadium as the finish for the first time.

 

December 2019

 

 

 

Posted in COMRADES ADVICE

COMRADES IS 90% FROM THE NECK UP :

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.

CHARNE BOSMAN (2)

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”

TOMMY MALONE 1966 FINISH

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.

CUT OFF BANNER

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!

 

April 2017

20151130_163928

 

Posted in COMRADES ADVICE

MAY I HELP YOU AT COMRADES? :

I suppose with the title of this blog I’ll have coaches up and down the country in a terrible state wondering what exactly I’m trying to do by getting into their territory but they needn’t worry at all because I’ve said before, I am not a coach so I won’t say anything about coaching other than just one thing and it’s this. When you decide on a coach, and it doesn’t matter who it is, please stick with the training program offered by that coach and don’t whatever you do jump around from coach to coach because that is a recipe for disaster and probable failure come the big day.

What I’m wanting to do in this blog is to give a few little tips that helped me on the day and leading up to the day when I was running and had nothing at all to do with the way I trained and if you think they may have some merit, please feel free to try them but please do so well before Comrades – as in two months before Comrades – and if they work for you keep doing them until they become part of your normal routine.

Some of them you can only do a day or so before Comrades as in my first suggestion so let’s see what we have.

My thanks to Comrades Marathon for the use of the photographs taken from the Comrades website and as always for their help with my blogs.

EXPO

Before we even get to the start line, we have to go to Expo. This is basically a no option exercise if we are registered to collect our numbers in Durban. It’s exciting with an amazing atmosphere and you can feel and smell Comrades. There are things to see. People to meet. Celebs to bump into and a massive number of products that the manufacturers will tell you will help you get to the finish easier.

expo

Don’t be tempted. Your main purpose for going to Expo is to get your registration done and to have a quick walk around (try to make it a maximum of an hour) and a quick look and to get out of there and to get off your feet and to go and rest.

TRYING NEW THINGS

You don’t want to try anything you have never tried before. The last new thing you tried should have been at least six weeks before Comrades.

Other runners will tell you about “magic potions” they have discovered a week or so before the race that are “guaranteed to get you to the finish at least an hour faster than you planned. THEY WON’T – SO DON’T TRY THEM.

You don’t want to try any new magic “muti” that is on offer at Expo. By all means take them and use them in your training for NEXT year but not for this year. Don’t buy new shoes at Expo and wear them the next day at Comrades. People do this believe it or not. You should know by mid-April which shoes (and any other clothes) you’ll be wearing on the big day.

THE BIG DAY ARRIVES

Finally the big day arrives, you get to the start and you are convinced that you are the only person there who hasn’t done enough training. Every other runner is so incredibly confident. Jumping around shouting to their mates, singing, dancing and generally having a great time.

Eventually the cock crow and the gun and you slowly start to move forward and you look at your watch and by the time you cross the start line it’s already 7 minutes since the gun fired. Got to make that up – and fast. Everybody around you is taking off like a bullet to do the same.

DON’T DO IT. You’ll make up that 7 minutes easily and long before you get to half way and those who tear off will be broken before they reach halfway.

DOWN RUN START

They forget that the first 25km is tough. It’s very, very tough. You climb out of Durban in a steady climb all the way to Kloof which is at the top of Field’s Hill just the other side of Pinetown and many of those who tried to make up those 7 minutes will be broken by the time they get there.

Not you though. You left the start at the nice gentle pace without any panic because you knew exactly what you have to do because you’re only running 20km anyway and you’ve done that plenty of times before.

BREAK UP THE ROUTE

It’s crucial that you study the route and get to know it really well and then break it up into chunks of no more than say, the first 20km from the start and then after that 10km chunks to the top of Polly’s and then the last bit of only 7Km.

Then learn where those landmarks are so that on race day you know that the first 20km is not an issue because you’ve done that dozens of times. When you get there, then chuck that away. It’s done. It’s gone. The next 10km is all you have to worry about. Nothing beyond that. You can run that. You have done it plenty of times. You can do it so why not today?

Forget about trying to work them out from your watch. By 2pm that’ll do your head in but landmarks won’t. Oh, here’s Umlaas Road. I recognize that. It’s the highest point between Durban and ‘Maritzburg and it’s only 2 o’clock – cool!

Don’t even worry about anything beyond that. When you get there, throw that away and then the next 10km and so you go and you don’t run anything further than that first 20km during the entire day and how many times have you run 20km in training?

REMEMBER I TOLD YOU COMRADES IS 90% IN THE HEAD. THIS IS A MAJOR PART OF IT – AND IT REALLY DOES WORK BUT YOU MUST STUDY THE ROUTE AND YOU MUST TRAIN YOUR HEAD.

WALKING

Virtually everyone in Comrades walks during the course of the day but the secret is not whether you walk or when you walk but HOW you walk. Make no mistake, Comrades is a hard day’s work (with apologies to the Beatles) and you will be very tired and you will be very sore and if you are frightened of being either sore or tired then it’s perhaps best if you don’t bother.

That said if you accept that you are going to be tired and sore then you may as well go the “whole hog” and work really hard. In other words when you walk, don’t aimlessly saunter along the road. That wastes very valuable time. Walk with purpose and determination and hurt properly.

Of course it’ll hurt to do that – but it’ll also save you the better part of 30 minutes or even more. Walk like that on hills, through refreshment stations and in fact anywhere you have to walk.

There comes a point where you can’t hurt any worse!

This is part of the mental part of Comrades and remember that 90% of Comrades is mental work. This is the mental work they talk about!

WALKING AND DRINKING

I have often been criticized for telling people to take their drinks at a refreshment station and keep walking and don’t waste time by stopping to drink. I am told that the drink – especially if it is in a paper cup will splash up your nose if you try and drink whilst running.

refreshments

Not if you drink it through a straw it won’t. I used to carry a 15cm plastic tube held under my watch strap at one end and by an elastic band at the other end. Get to a refreshment station, pick up the drinking cup, squeeze the top almost shut, insert your drinking tube and drink while running! NO splash back up your nose and probably about a minute saved. Only a minute! Yes but a minute at 20 refreshment stations is 20 minutes at the end!

CHAFING

I have spent the last several Comrades as a spectator at the side of the road at Botha’s Hill which is more or less the 39km mark on the Up Run and more or less the 50km mark on the Down Run and I am amazed by how many runners are in need of something to stop chafing when they get to us whether it’s Up or Down and it really is so easy to stop and you don’t want to be trying to stop the chafing once it’s already started.

Firstly let me say that in this case I am speaking to the men as I have no experience at all in stopping chafing for women runners.

Men generally chafe in three places. The back of the armpits, the nipples and the crotch.

Ordinary Vaseline applied generously to the armpits and crotch before the start takes care of those two areas and what I found worked very well for the nipples was waterproof plaster cut into a small piece the size of the nipple and applied to the nipple. Be careful not to get it onto the skin around the nipple as the sweat will cause the plaster to come off.

That takes care of the chafing even in the rain.

A lot of runners these days are wearing cycling type pants under their running shorts to stop chafing but I am not able to comment on whether that works or not as I have never used them.

Strangely though, as soon as I started wearing a T shirt under my vest the chafing at the back of my armpits stopped.

HILLS

There are hills in Comrades. In fact there are quite a lot of them. Some of them have names and some of them don’t but whether they have names or whether they don’t on the 4th of June you are going to have to have to get up all those hills and you are going to possibly do a fair amount of walking as you go up those hills. Remember what I said about managing your walking as you climb those hills and it will make life very much easier but many years ago as I was getting ready for my first Comrades, I was approaching a hill and a seasoned runner said to me “Take care of the bottom of a hill and the top will take care of itself”

polly-shortts

I have never forgotten those words and it is the way I climbed every hill in every Comrades and every other run and race I ever ran after that. It’s a simple statement.

Think about it. It really does work and it works well.

“Take care of the bottom of a hill and the top will take care of itself” BUT then manage your walking if you’re going to be walking on that hill.

PHYSIO STATIONS

It’s not an uncommon sight in Comrades to see a runner lying down at one of the physio stations or alongside a family member getting his or her legs rubbed in an effort to ease the pain to make the rest of the trip easier.

In most instances those leg rubs will do nothing other than waste valuable time. Possibly as much as 15 to 20 minutes and imagine if you stop three or four times during Comrades for one of these rubs that won’t help you. That’s an hour that you have wasted. Gone.

There are some genuine cases where muscles are in spasm and a physio is needed to ease those but in the vast majority of cases the rub is nothing more than muscles that are sore from the work you are asking them to do by running a fairly long distance so before you stop for a rub make sure that the stop is one that can genuinely be helped by a physio or whether it will be the waste of 15 or 20 very valuable minutes.

KEEPING WARM AND KEEPING COOL

I’m going to share with you a little trick I learnt from my running days that might work for you but it might not. A word of warning though. Whatever you do, don’t try this for the first time on Comrades day. Try it long beforehand. If it works for you that’s great. If it doesn’t work then throw it away as a waste of time.

It certainly worked for me.

I found that the early mornings were uncomfortably cool, cold even, so as a result I always started off wearing a plain T shirt (unbranded – this is important or you are breaking the rules) UNDER my club vest. I did all my long training runs in a T shirt so this was comfortable for me and at the same time it kept me warmer in the cool early morning. Then on top of that my club vest helped a bit to warm me as well.

The T shirt I wore at Comrades I started wearing in April so that by the time we got to Comrades I was perfectly comfortable in it. I didn’t buy it a few days before race day and wear it.

As it started to get warmer my T shirt started to get wetter and now it started to play another role. It started to hold water and started to cool me down. Again this didn’t bother me because I was used to wearing it on my long training runs and I was used to running in a fairly wet T shirt. The advantage during Comrades was that I kept my T shirt wet and the hotter the Comrades, the wetter I would deliberately keep my T shirt and as a result the less I felt the heat. The only slightly uncomfortable time was around 3pm when it started to cool down and my T shirt was still wet but that didn’t last too long. The advantages far outweighed that slightly uncomfortable half hour.

 

MY HAT- MY SPONGE
Usually in your “goodie bag” at Expo you are given some sort of headgear. Either a peak or a cap of some sort which bears the Comrades logo and possibly a sponsor logo. If these are not what you are used to wearing, don’t wear them. Get yourself an unbranded (it must be unbranded or you are breaking the rules) hat NOW that is comfortable and get used to it and wear that.

In my very early Comrades, I hadn’t yet learnt the value of keeping my head cool but in later years after some experimenting I found that the thing that worked best for me was the fisherman’s type “bucket hat” which could easily double up as a sponge if need be. Again I kept my hat wet and my head cool.

I also used this in even later years to carry an actual sponge. A piece of Velcro sewn onto the side of the hat and another piece of material to wrap around my sponge with a piece of Velcro that held that and also held it onto my hat so I didn’t have to bother with carrying it. I attach a photo of what I am talking about and I hope it’s clear enough to see what I am talking about.

comrades-1985

 

I hope these few tips that I have picked up over my years at Comrades may be of some use to some of you and even if one or two of you benefit I will be pleased. As I said though, if any of them, such as the T shirt under your vest is something you might try, please do it now and not on Comrades day for the first time.

Some of them may sound really silly but as I have said many times before, Comrades is not about how fast you can run on the day. It’s about how much time you don’t waste on the road on the day.

 

March 2017

 

 

 

 

Posted in COMRADES ADVICE

COMRADES DOCTOR GIVES MEDICAL ADVICE

Dr Jeremy Boulter has been responsible for the medical facilities at Comrades for many years and has been involved with the facilities for the last 38 years – 2017 will be his 39th consecutive year. I asked him how he had got involved with the Comrades medical facilities and that was the subject of my previous blog but in addition to that he gave me the article he wrote for the Pre-Race brochure for the 2014 Comrades which he tells me is as applicable today as it was three years ago and it’s certainly worth publishing on its own and given the importance of the subject here it is.

My thanks to Dr Jeremy Boulter and to Comrades Marathon Association for the use of this article.

jeremy-boulter

Comrades Marathon has focused attention on the health, fitness and responsibility of runners. The following is aimed at providing advice as to what runners can do to prevent themselves from ending up in a situation where they are in need of medical attention. It is important to remember that medical attention is retro-active, ie. we only respond when a runner is in trouble. Prevention is better than cure, and the prevention of problems is in the hands of you, the runner.

 

WHAT CAN RUNNERS DO TO PREVENT SERIOUS HEALTH PROBLEMS?

Firstly, it is important to appreciate that runners who collapse after they have finished a race, even if they require urgent medical attention, will almost certainly recover fully. However, those who collapse during a race are most probably suffering from a serious and potentially life threatening condition. So, what can be done to prevent this latter situation from arising?

The first thing that runners can do is to make sure that they are adequately prepared. This means that they should have done enough training. They should also do their best to ensure that they have no underlying medical problems, of which they may or may not be aware. The following is a list of questions that runners should ask themselves. If you have answered “yes” to any of these questions, it is strongly recommended that you see your doctor or a Cardiologist for a full check-up before starting the Comrades.

Has your doctor ever warned you that you have “heart issues” or that you should only be physically active or do sports under medical supervision?

  • Are you overweight or underweight?
  • Is your girth over 88 cm (for women) or 102 cm (for men)?
  • Are you over 35 and have not been physically active for a long period of time?
  • During blood pressure monitoring, have you ever recorded high blood pressure?
  • Have you ever been diagnosed with high cholesterol?
  • Do you smoke or have you smoked extensively in the past?
  • Has anyone in your direct family ever suffered from high blood pressure, calcification of the coronary blood vessels/heart attack, blood sugar disease, or stroke?
  • Do you have diabetes?
  • In the past few months, have you had the sensation of a ‘racing heart’, problems breathing, or chest pains, whether while at rest or during athletic activity?
  • Are you taking any medications for high blood pressure, heart or breathing conditions?
  • Do you ever feel dizzy or pass out, whether at rest or during physical activity?
  • Do you have any problems with your musculoskeletal system, which worsen during physical activity?
  • Remember, any of these symptoms could be indicative of a serious underlying medical problem.

 

Another important point is to prepare yourself to get used to the fluids etc. available on race day. Don’t drink a fluid during training that will not be available on race day. You may well not be able to tolerate these fluids if you are not used to them. The same applies to food.

Don’t try anything new on race day. This also includes running shoes.

Do not run if you have been sick in the 3 weeks prior to the race.

A cold is different ie the symptoms are “above the neck” with a runny nose, possibly a mild sinus type headache, and a feeling of not being 100%. BUT you don’t feel really sick.

If you do run, then be extra careful and be aware of any untoward feelings and pull out. However, if you have had a temperature, generalised aching body, chest symptoms and you feel pretty miserable then that is Flu and you should not be running. Similarly, if you have needed anti-biotics then don’t run.

Do not return to training, or run the race, after illness or injury without first being cleared to do so by your doctor.

During the race be aware of any unusual symptoms that may develop eg chest pain, dizziness, severe nausea, unusual shortness of breath, change in your running style, confusion and disorientation. If this happens, stop running and seek medical attention. It has become apparent over many years that people feel it is more important to finish the race than be concerned about their health. [Or is it a matter of pride?]

DO NOT TAKE ANY MEDICATION AT ALL, either before or during the race, especially anti – inflammatories [eg. Voltaren, cataflam etc].These are commonly called N.S.A.I.D’s. They are a class of drug which reduce pain and inflammation after an injury. However they can have serious side effects. One of these is irritation of the lining of the stomach, causing an ulcer. This will cause pain, but can result in [sometimes catastrophic] bleeding. Another serious problem is the effect on the kidneys. It has been shown that NSAID’s constrict the artery to the kidney, reducing the flow of blood through the kidney and thus reducing its ability to filter waste products. Combine this with dehydration, and Acute Renal Failure [ARF] can result. This can be fatal. There are increasing numbers of runners developing ARF after Comrades, and one of the major contributing factors to this trend is the taking of anti-inflams during the race. Renal Failure is a serious condition and can be fatal.

 

Not only NSAID’s are dangerous. It is known that Paracetamol [commonly known as Panado] can cause Liver and Kidney damage in very high doses. Evidence now shows that it can also damage Heart muscle, causing ECG changes similar to that of a heart attack. Although these effects are usually only apparent with high doses, when dehydration is present kidney function is reduced and metabolites can build up in the body, sometimes to toxic levels. This could cause heart problems as well as affect the kidney. Anti-cramp medication can also be a potential problem. It clearly states in the packaging that they should not be taken in the presence of dehydration. When this is present problems can arise. If one considers that about 45% of the runners who come into the Medical Tent after the race are dehydrated, then one can see that taking products like these could put runners at serious risk!

           

PAIN!

Pain is a sign that all is not well with the body. In my opinion, any runner who needs pain killers before the race should not be running. They are not fit enough!

Pain that develops during the race indicates that some damage has occurred. It may be of a minor nature, but could be something more serious. If the pain reaches a degree where a runner cannot continue, then he/she should stop running and climb into one of the rescue busses. DO NOT TAKE PAIN KILLERS.

           

FLUIDS.

Ensure that you take in adequate fluids. During training you will have reached an idea of how much and how often you need to drink. Approximately 500ml per hour should be adequate. However, this is just a guide. Each runner is different. Do not simply start filling up right from the start, rather drink when you are thirsty.

           

FOOD.

Make sure you take in enough food to keep up with your energy requirements. Don’t try new products on race day. If you are going to take things like Goo’s, then make sure you have used them before.

 

My appeal to runners is that they demonstrate a great degree of self-responsibility. Take care of your health. Make sure that you are adequately prepared to run Comrades. The following is a list of the basic principles every runner should adhere to.

DO drink enough.

DO eat if necessary.

DO listen to your body.

DON’T run if you are not fit enough or not properly prepared.

DON’T run if you have been sick or on anti-biotics in the three weeks   prior to the race.

DON’T take ANY medication during the race.

DON’T be afraid to bale.

Remember, the aim is to enjoy the race and finish in a reasonably healthy state. It is your body, and your responsibility to care for it! Be sensible, take note of what is happening to yourself, and make responsible decisions.

If you start running into trouble, pull out before it’s too late.

After the race it is important to make sure that you take in adequate fluid, to correct any minor level of dehydration which may be present, as well as to monitor your urine output. If you have not been passing much urine during the race it may be due to the presence of a hormone called ADH, which can be released by physical stress. If so, you will start passing large amounts of urine very soon after finishing. However, if you continue to pass very little, or none at all, late that day or night, it may be indicative of a kidney problem such as renal failure. One should then seek medical attention.

 

Rest is also important. Get over the initial stiffness and then start with some gentle jogging. Don’t get into any serious running too soon. Let your muscles and joints recover from Comrades!

Dr Jeremy Boulter

First Written in 2014