LSD – COME BACK ALL IS FORGIVEN

In recent years, whilst the top runners have stuck with the concept of Long Slow Distance (LSD) – and slow is releative to your race speed – as part of their training for races especially like Comrades, however, the idea of spending hours out on the road for the “ordinary” runner, the runner who is going to get home between 9 and 12 hours simply doesn’t appeal and even at peak Comrades training time you’ll find many of the “ordinary” runners taking part in half marathon races rather than LSD and those who claim to do LSD are running 20 -25km and claiming that’s LSD.

The result is that LSD training has lost a lot of ground in recent years.  I was talking to a coach very recently who said that LSD should be present in every runner’s training whether fast or slow.  He went on to say that the latest research into polarised training (also known as 80/20 training) is that 80% is at extremely slow pace and 20% at maximal. It can’t make you slower  as was the original thinking. What it does is it saves you from being tired on the fast stuff all the time – these are the words of a coach and not my words and I stress once again that I am not a coach.

He went on to say that the “easy” runs that most follow are not easy enough and have a negative effect so to the average runner the message is clear. Get out there for Long Slow Distance and you’ll feel the difference.  OK! So you don’t get a medal at the end of it but it makes life so much easier in the longer term.

I’m delighted to see that almost every coach I hear talking and many clubs that organise club runs, are putting in long runs which are generally gentle and enjoyable and are not intended to be races.  

When I last wrote about LSD, I spoke to a couple of top runners. Bruce Fordyce said that a long slow training run should be about an hour slower than would been a race over the same distance.

Bruce Fordyce in one of his 9 wins

This doesn’t really work too well if you are a 4:30 marathon person. An hour longer and it’s going to be a long day but I would think this would work well for anyone who is a 3:30 marathon runner and faster.

2018 women’s winner Ann Ashworth, when I asked her about long slow training runs felt that it can be measured if the running is at “conversation speed”. 

This means that whilst you are out there on the road with others on a training run, you should be able to hold a comfortable conversation with your fellow runners.  If you can’t do that then you are in effect running at race speed.  This also works well if you are genuinely running at training pace and not race pace – some might say that in their opinion it’s the same thing.

So that takes care of the “slow” part of LSD but how far is the “long” part of  Long Slow distance?  I think this depends to a very large degree on what you’re training for.  If it’s a half marathon and that’s your limit there isn’t really any LSD involved in your training.  If you read the autobiography of that great Comrades man, the late Jackie Mekler, his idea of a long training run (and it probably wasn’t that slow as he was a top runner) was to go out on a Sunday morning and do the better part of 100km training runs.  

Jackie Mekler wearing his famous race number 9

I had the privilege of running many times with Dave Bagshaw in long slow runs and on those runs, Dave did run slowly and quite a few of those runs were with the Ian Jardine group I mention later and we did around 4 hours for our 32kms every week..  If you’re not sure who Dave Bagshaw is, he was the second man after Arthur Newton 40 years earlier, to win three Comrades in three successive years and most of that was on LSD.

Dave Bagshaw coming in to win his first Comrades in 1969

Incidentally, after Dave Bagshaw did his “hat trick” of wins only three more male runners have achieved that and just three female runners have done it.  You’ll find the details in my article titled COMRADES – “THE HAT TRICK CLUB”

If Comrades is what you have in mind, take the advice of your coach (if you have one) or of your club.  What generally happens is that many people start to look at qualifying for Comrades in November with races like the Kaapsehoop Marathon which many will tell you is not tough or the Soweto Marathon which,  whilst it is without doubt a great experience to take in the streets of South Africa’s biggest “township” is a very tough (and hot) race so be prepared. Almost certain that it’s unlikely to be your fastest marathon time.

Many people will tell you that Comrades training starts proper in March although many will have been running regularly at distances of 30kms before then but in March the distances slowly start to increase as you head towards April and that’s the big distance month.  I remember that the year I ran my best Comrades (it was only 8:29 which is not spectacular if you normally run silver or faster) during April I did about three runs of 50km or more and ended it up with a very long run over the first weekend of May.

I’ve heard some runners saying that they regard 15 or 20kms as LSD.  It really isn’t  because by April your long mid-week runs are often that distance.  

Another mistake that many “would be” Comrades runners make is that during that crucial month of April they are running in half marathons as their long training runs.  If you’re running 20kms to get to the start of the half marathon and then the half marathon, that’s probably great but the half marathon itself is not going to be what you need on the second Sunday in June.  Remember that on that day you have 90kms to do and even if by some kind of miracle your legs are happy with short run training (even if it’s a race), there’s a good chance that somewhere around 60kms your head will start to tell your legs that its had enough.

If that happens, you’re in for a very long and probably painful last 30kms and 30kms after you’ve already done 60, is fairly heavy going

Some people enjoy the “camaraderie” in a race but try  spending the better part of anything up to 6 or 7 hours with a group of good mates whilst out on a long training run. It’s amazingly good fun and makes running very enjoyable.  I have many very fond memories of the days when I ran 32km every Sunday with the famous blind runner of the 1950s and 1960s, Ian Jardine and his group on part of the Comrades route.  We started at the top of Botha’s Hill and ran to what is now Inchanga Caravan Park and back and that was until the beginning of March when after that it was increased week by week. 

LSD became part of my life for many years and I ran my best of 8:29 using the same method of training and my distances grew each Sunday as I felt myself getting stronger and stronger.

I mentioned training over the Comrades route as often as I could for my first 8 Comrades but I was fortunate to have lived near the route and got to know it extremely well and I also think that’s important and for that reason, I publish my detailed route description every year in the hopes that it will assist those who don’t have the good fortune to be able to train on the route itself.

In my first Comrades in 1968, I eventually reached the finish in 10:25 in around position 320 – something of a change from the position you would find yourself in today with a time of 10:25! 

Coming in to finish my first Comrades in 10:25. Alone on the track!

One of the things of which I am still proud today were my splits for that first Comrades and I put that down firmly to LSD. First half 5:10 and second half 5:15. Whilst 10:25 can’t be regarded as a spectacular time by any stretch of the imagination, when I look at the way some runners today who battle to get to the finish in 12 hours really struggle, that 10:25 was OK.

Incidentally even my best run when I did my 8:29, my splits were pretty even because I had the strength to maintain my speed and for that I thank my LSD training.  I have always believed that is the key to Comrades. Get stronger both physically and mentally and that’s what I firmly believe LSD will do for you but you must do it properly.

One thing that is very difficult though, is to try to do LSD on your own.  I ran many long runs of up to 50kms on my own and it’s not easy.  I found that having friends around me and even if we heard the same jokes every weekend and laughed at those jokes every weekend, it was that, that made my running so very enjoyable.

Then of course, there’s the other aspect of it.  It’s a lot cheaper to do a long training run with friends using either shops or service stations to buy your drinks (or if you are fortunate enough to get your life partner to get out of bed and do the seconding) than it is to run in races every weekend that some people do.

Over the last couple of years, a few women runners I know have said that from a security point of view they would rather be in a race with lots of people around them than on a training run with just a few others.  I fully understand their concern and it’s for that reason that I say “hats off” to those clubs that are organising long and seconded  training runs over weekends.  It’s a huge job to do that and if your club is one of those doing that, support them. They deserve the accolades. 

Get to understand the importance and the role of LSD and then go and thoroughly enjoy yourself doing them.

October 2019

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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

COMRADES 2018 – ANN ASHWORTH, WHO IS SHE? :

COMRADES 2018 – ANN ASHWORTH, WHO IS SHE?I was privileged to have been part of the seconding team of this year’s Comrades women’s winner, Ann Ashworth, and once I had got myself to the finish in time to see her cross the line, I made my way to the VIP lounge where I saw several of my running friends from many years ago.  When they found out where I had been earlier in the day, I was asked “But who the heck is Ann Ashworth?”

I was delighted when I was asked this question because this meant that we had successfully sheltered Ann from too much media attention and this had allowed Ann to get on with her race preparation unhindered.

The question though as to who she is still needed to be answered.  Once things had settled down a bit a few days after Comrades I sat down with Ann, a good friend, to ask her what the rest of the media hadn’t already asked since Ann’s brilliant win on the 10th of June.

ANN ON THE ROAD

I knew Ann was from Howick in the KZN Midlands but is that where she was born?

AA:     I was born in Harare, Zimbabwe, then moved to the Eastern Cape for a few years, spent a year in what was then known as Zululand and then, when I was four, moved to MerrIvale, which is now considered a suburb of Howick.  I grew up in Howick, did all my junior preschool, junior school and high school in Howick and then completely my first year of university in Bloemfontein.  While I was in Bloem, my Dad got very ill and I decided that I didn’t want to be so far away or in Bloemfontein and so moved back home to Howick and did my law degree in Pietermaritzburg.  I then only moved to Johannesburg when I got my first job as a candidate attorney.

 

DJ:      Now when you went to varsity, had you already decided that law was the way you wanted to go and that was the way you studied?

AA:     No, when I did my year in Bloemfontein, I actually thought I was going to do Sports Physiotherapy.  I thought that that was a good way to keep in touch with sport and be active and just stay healthy.  I also thought that was quite a nice career option and my parents were quite in favour of that because it’s easily transportable. You know, you can move anywhere in the world and take your physiotherapy skills with you and at that stage there was a lot of movement, a lot of people were still emigrating, it was still quite uncertain and so they thought that was a good option.  But six months into physiotherapy, I knew that it wasn’t for me.  I didn’t like how medical it seemed to be.  Not that I wasn’t interested in the human body, but it was just….. it was very little sports physio and a whole lot of rehab and medical physio as part of the training, and I didn’t enjoy it at all… and so then decided to study law after that.   Law had always been my second option to physiotherapy, so when physiotherapy was off the table, we then went back to law.

 

DJ:      Had you by this time, in school maybe or in varsity, already developed an interest in sport generally – general sport?

AA:     Well I’m an only child and so only children tend to do a lot of sport as a way to meet and interact with other people – because you don’t have siblings to play with and so I did do sport at school.  I did hockey, I did water polo quite badly because I’m too small to play water polo.  I swam a lot.  I was swimming up to four hours a day in the summer months and really training quite seriously as a swimmer.  Swimming was definitely my best-performing sport at school and then really just did cross-country in the off-season to keep fit for swimming and same with track.  Track was the only sport offered in the third term at my school, so everybody did track and I was okay.  I really only came into my own in the second half of high school, so from standard eight, nine and ten…..

 

DJ:      Are you talking about athletics now?

AA:     …….and cross country.  Senior High was really when I started to realise that, look okay, I actually can run, but that’s relatively speaking, because I grew up in Natal and Natal was always on the back-foot in terms of athletics and cross-country.  I mean when we came up here to compete against Transvaal schools,  you know, Natal was always last, so I didn’t really take my running seriously at all.  It really was just something else that I did when I wasn’t swimming.

 

DJ:      Why do you think that is in terms of the Natal schools?  Do you think that something like Comrades hurts athletics in schools?

AA:     I don’t think so.  I think that the weather has a lot to do with it.  Because it’s so hot and humid in KZN, our terms are not aligned with the rest of South Africa, so we swim….  In Natal, you swim in the first and fourth term, you then do cross-country in the second term and track in the third term, whereas in the Northern Provinces your track is year round and we’re only running on a term, maybe two terms worth of training and fitness, whereas the Northern Provinces are doing it all the time.  Perhaps the Northern Provinces aren’t as good as Natal in terms of your water polo or your swimming or things like that, but I think it has a lot to do with the climate.  I cannot imagine running any kind of long-distance in Natal in February.  I mean it’s too hot.

 

DJ:      Yet they do.

AA:     It’s crazy.  I definitely don’t think school children should be doing it.

 

DJ:      When you were running track in school, what were you doing?  800 & 1500?

AA:     800, 1500, 3000.

 

DJ:      As much as that?

AA:     Ja.  We could only do 3000 as a senior, so for standard 6 and 7 (now Grade 8 and 9), we could only do 800 and 1500 and then when I was a senior in high school, we could do the 3000.   My school only had one race for the 3000.  Boys and girls of all ages and shapes and sizes in one race, so I mean (chuckling) it wasn’t very serious.  I did come up to Pretoria every February.  There’s a Menlopark Athletics Meet, where they invite schools from the Midlands and I sometimes I won those races, but really, I didn’t take it seriously at all.  Ja and then I did do SA Cross Country Champs for four out of five years, so you know I was running…

 

DJ:      Did you feature there?

AA:     No.  Top twenty maybe, you know, it just wasn’t my priority.  I just wasn’t fast enough …. And I wasn’t serious about my training, I really just did it to keep fit, but you know, I wasn’t super-competitive.

 

DJ:      When did that start?

AA:     In matric I actually got a partial Sports Scholarship to Bloemfontein to do my physiotherapy and then as part of that scholarship, had to join, obviously the Kovsie Track Group.  That group was super-serious compared to the easy-going English girl from Natal. There were a lot of very serious Afrikaans girls, who thrashed me, quite frankly and I thought, “Shu, I’ve really got to do something about this.  I can’t be here on a Sports Scholarship and not be performing.”, but I actually cracked under the pressure.  I became severely Anorexic.   My studies and my running went completely off the rails.  My life generally was a bit of a train-wreck and as I got more and more Anorexic, my running performance got worse and worse, to the point that I stopped running altogether.  I didn’t take up running again until after my Dad died.  My Dad died in September 2007 and about a month later I signed up for Two Oceans and for me that was the way I was going to honour my Father’s memory, because he had always thought that I should do long-distance road-running.

 

DJ:      Now it was he who actually introduced you to Comrades when you were very little.

AA:     Ja, so my… well both parents.   My parents used to watch Comrades on the TV all day and so it became a family tradition.  There was nothing else on our diary for that day.  We’d all sit around in our pyjamas and watch Comrades and if it was an Up-Run, we would go out on to the route and we would be anywhere from Cato Ridge to the Finish.  The last year that Bruce Fordyce won was an Up-Run and my Dad and I were actually walking up Polly Shortts.  My Mom was also on Polly Shortts, but we weren’t together at that particular moment, when Bruce came past us and I turned to my Dad and I said one day “I also want to run this race” and he said like, “Ja, you go.  You must do it.” and it’s something that just never left me.  Every time that we watched Comrades whilst growing up I always thought like,   “Ja, one day I’m going to run this race” and it really was just a natural step and Two Oceans is a lot less further than Comrades, so that seemed like the first race that I should enter.

 

DJ:      Now when you said that to him, you must have been what…. Six?

AA:     Six, ja six.

 

DJ:      And that was it.  Decision made.   No changing.

AA:     Ja, everyone knows once I’ve set my mind to something, it’s not going to change.

 

DJ:      Even from the age of six?

AA:     Ja, I always knew.  There was no question in my mind.  I was always going to run Comrades.

 

DJ:      You’d made your decision that you were going to run Comrades, yet you only ran your first one, probably when you were what….. 26, 27, 28?

AA:     26 I think, – 2008 – which is 24.

 

DJ:      Which is actually fairly late having decided to run it at the age of 6?

AA       Ja, you know I always had this idea in my mind that you didn’t really start running Comrades ‘til you were 30, like 30 was a nice round number.  So when I got to 30, that’s when I’d run Comrades and so I didn’t really think about it.  I just sort of thought,  “Ja, ja, I’ll get there in the future.”, but when I started working as a Candidate Attorney in Jo’burg, my boss – or my immediate Supervisor – was a guy by the name of Anton Roets, he was a complete Comrades fanatic.  He had done nine at that stage and he invited me to go for a couple of runs and like….. he’s your boss and he wants you to go for a run with him, so you go and we would do like 5 k’s around Illovo together and then I joined up with his running club and you know, I’d go and run a half-marathon with his group of mates and you know, it was quite sociable and he said to me, “Ann, I think you need to enter Comrades”, but he didn’t think I was going to be serious about it.  He was like,  “Come and run Comrades.  Let’s be sociable.” and I’d met a lot of his friends in the running club which was a club called,  “The Legends” and it was a nice group of guys and I thought,  “Ja, okay that’s nice and sociable….”

 

DJ:      Now were you running other races at that stage?

AA:     Not even so much.  I mean I’d do like a marathon, but nothing more than that…… but not even lots of marathons, like maybe two marathons a year, like Slowmag and Soweto.

 

DJ:      Socially?

AA:     Socially, completely socially.  I actually ran my first Soweto Marathon in 2007 and that’s how it started I think.  I ran Soweto as a fund-raiser, to raise money for an orphanage just outside of Johannesburg and basically I just asked people to me money per kilometer over 42 kilometers.   It was after Soweto that Anton said like,  “Well you’ve run a qualifying Marathon now, you might as well sign up for Comrades.” and that’s really what got me in.  I ran Comrades the next year.  I think I trained four days a week and maybe did…… I think I did two or three long runs, but really socially.   I mean, I think I actually ran a long run with The Legends and our long run of 60 k’s ended up taking me far longer than I actually took to run Comrades, like it was really slow and then ran Comrades and I finished on 8:01, which for a first Comrades is not bad.  I was first Novice ……

 

DJ:      But somebody had to realise that there was something there if you did 8:01 in your first Comrades?

AA:     No, well….. so ja, I mean I did an 8:01 and I was First Novice and I won my age group and then Bruce Fordyce came to the “aches and pains” party or another Comrades-related function for our club and everybody there, all my mates at the club were like “Oh this is Ann.  She did the best out of the club.” and he said,  “Well what did you run?”  I said, “8:01” and he looked at me and I was like expecting him to be like “Oh well done, that’s great.” because that’s all anyone had said about my 8:01 and then Bruce looked at me and said, “Well, what went wrong?” and I said,  “What do you mean what went wrong, that’s a great time!” and he was like,  “No-one runs at 8:01.  You should be running a 7:59…. at least.” and I was like,   “Okay….fine….  Let me try and now break 8 hours”.  

Around about the same time I had asked another coach to help me and he was terrible, so terrible that I ended up not running Comrades the next year (2009), because the guy totally tanked my running.  For some reason he thought that I should focus on half-marathons, even though I told him I wanted to do Comrades, but by the time we parted ways I was completely under-cooked to do a Comrades.  So after the 2009 Comrades which I missed I messaged Bruce and I said,  “Well, you know, you said that you thought that I could run under 8 hours.  Why don’t you coach me and get me under 8 hours?”

At that stage he hadn’t coached anybody and he said,  “Look I don’t do coaching.  I don’t do this.  This is not what I do.” and I said,  “Ag, come on, let’s just try.” and he said,  “Okay three months to Cape Town Marathon. I’ll try and get you under 3 and a half hours.  

 Like literally, I was running like 3.45, for a marathon and he said,  “Three months training.  Let’s see if we can get you under 3 and a half hours and if it works out, then I’ll continue to coach you and if it doesn’t, we go our separate ways.”  So I said, “Okay, deal.” 

 So I trained with Bruce for three months, then a 3.27 at Cape Town and was thrilled.  I thought,  “Wooh, under 3 and a half hours, that’s amazing!” and then entered Comrades and Bruce then trained me for that Comrades and I ran my first silver medal in 2010.  After that I was hooked.  Then I was like,  “Silver medal…..”

ANN AND BRUCE

Bruce encouraging Ann during Comrades 2018 whilst seconding her

 DJ:      That was your second Comrades?

AA:     That was then, yes, my second Comrades and now that I’d had a taste of that silver, now I thought, “Shu, now we’re going to work hard.”  So it’s been quite a long journey…..

 

DJ:      …..to here….

AA:     Ja.  (laughter)

 

DJ:      How many left?

AA:     I said I would never do more than 10.

 

DJ:      ….and you’ve done 7”

AA:     7 – Ja, so I’ve got three left

 

DJ:      Moving away from that altogether, when you started getting serious about Comrades and training and all that sort of thing, you obviously needed a training partner, so you went and married one.

 AA:     (Laughter)

 

 DJ:      How did you meet?

 AA:     So during the time that Bruce was coaching me and I ran my silver, I was running for the Nedbank Running Club.  At the end of that year there was a prize-giving at the running club.  David was the top-performing male runner at Comrades and I was then the top performing female at Comrades and so we attended that prize-giving separately.  I took a boyfriend that I was dating at the time and David came alone and Gill Fordyce introduced us and she was like “David, this is Ann.  She was the best female athlete” and “This is David.   He was the best male athlete” and immediately I was like, “Now that’s cool.  Like… now I might have somebody that I could run with.  

So we became quite friendly and for me, I was like “No, I just want someone to run with, I’m not really interested.  I’ve got a boyfriend.  I don’t need another boyfriend” and so we went for coffee a couple of times and ja, David just pursued me relentlessly and …..

 

 DJ:      And the rest as they say?

 AA:     Ja, the rest is history, ja.   Well his side of the story is that, he met me at the dinner and thought,  “What the heck is Ann doing with that stupid guy?”  (laughter).   But ja, after a couple of coffee chats, I actually then found out that I had a scholarship to go to London and I was open with David and I said,  “Look, you know, we can’t really be dating because I’m going to London for a year.” and David’s attitude was “That’s fine, I’ll come with you.”  and so within three months of dating, David came with me to London for a while and then came back and we did a six month long-distance relationship, where we ate dinner every night together over Skype.  I would make my dinner and he would have his dinner and then we’d Skype eating dinner together, which was very romantic and then about two weeks after I got back, after finishing my studies, David proposed and I said “Yes” and that’s where we are, six years later.

 

DJ:      Now when people ask “Who the heck is Ann Ashworth”, we know

AA:     Now you know all about me…..
ANN FINISH LINE

21 June 2018

 

2018 MY VERY SPECIAL COMRADES

I have written about the fact that I’ll be attending my 60th Comrades in 2018 and I have spoken about it and I have also written and spoken about the fact that it’s the 50th anniversary of my first running of Comrades in 1968.

SELFI have often told the story of how as a 9 year old boy I stood at the side of the road in Pinetown and watched the Comrades Marathon for the first time and was immediately captivated by it and I turned to my father who had taken me to watch the race and said to him “when I’m big I’m going to run this” and I have said over and over that I don’t know why I said this to him or what prompted me to say this. Whatever it was it proved to be something that was to define the path of my life in so many ways over the years since then, both in business and personally.

In 2017 I met one of our top women runners, Ann Ashworth, and I discovered that she has almost the exact same story as mine. Her father took her to watch the race when she was very young, younger than I had been when I saw my first Comrades and obviously many years after my experience, and she stood at the side of the road and as the runners came past she turned to her Dad and said “when I’m big I’m going to run this”. Comrades has had also had huge impact on her life.

I don’t know how many people have a similar story to the two of us but I certainly know many people who have thrown themselves into this race and given so much to it.  People who have their Comrades numbers as their car registration numbers or part of their email addresses for example as I have.  Just a small example but that sort of thing but at the risk of boring you to tears please allow me to tell you my story again.

After having not missed being at a Comrades since watching that race which Gerald Walsh won in 1956, on the 31st of May 1968 as a 21 year old young man I lined up at the start of the Comrades Marathon in Durban as a first time runner and 10 hours and 25 minutes later I crossed the finish line in Pietermaritzburg to earn the first of my 14 Comrades medals.

The strange thing is whilst I’ll be celebrating the 50th anniversary of my first Comrades, I don’t remember much about that day. I only remember about half a dozen or so bits of what happened during the day. I remember a few things that happened before I trotted down into Drummond and looked at my watch (an ordinary wristwatch) and it was 8 minutes past 11 and thinking that was OK and that if I could repeat that for the second half to Pietermaritzburg I’d be fine in terms of the 11 hours we had in those days.

I remember stopping about 200 metres before I got to Enthembeni School to listen to the radio – no TV sets back then – that a spectator had as Jackie Mekler – in my opinion one of the greatest Comrades runners – came in to the finish for his 5th win, a touch after 12 noon and thinking that I could only hurt for another 5 hours because then it would be 5pm and I would either be at the finish or I would have to stop because I would have run out of time and I had done 6 hours already so I and the pain were over half way.

Then I remember very little more until I reached Polly’s.  Going up Polly’s that first Comrades of mine is crystal clear to this day. I knew how I was going to do that. I had planned that over and over before race day.  200 paces run. 100 paces walk. 200 paces run. 100 paces walk. 200 paces run. 100 paces walk and so on whether I was tired or not that’s what I was going to do and that’s what I did and soon the top was there.

POLLYS 1968The result was that Polly’s, and in fact no hill on Comrades or any other race, was ever a problem because that’s the way I handled them all and I’ve often spoken about controlled walking many times over the years.  It’s as simple as that.

Does it hurt? Of course it hurts but it helps to get the pain over much quicker!  Remember the old adage?  If it didn’t hurt everyone would do it!

Back to that first Comrades and I remember nothing more until I came into the grounds of Collegians Club where we finished in those days. I don’t remember hearing any announcer and I don’t remember if there was one. Then suddenly it was all over and the watches had stopped at 10:25.  

4:25pm on the 31st of May 1968 and I had finished Comrades!

I was alone on the track. No other runners.  Just me.  We weren’t given our medals on the day as happens now. We had to attend a “Medal Parade” a few weeks later where they were presented to us or they were posted if runners couldn’t get to the Medal Parade.  The medals were engraved with our name and time.

COMRADES FINISH 1968

I did 5 hours and 8 minutes for the first half and 5 hours 17 minutes for the second half.  Still very proud of that split although I still have no idea what the distance of each half was.  I didn’t care and I still don’t! 

I had trained for four and a half months from absolute scratch to get there but I was very strong mentally because I had given lots of attention to that side of things as well as the physical side and the way I went up Polly’s was proof of that.

So the 10th of June 2018 I’ll be 71 and I’ll be attending my 60th Comrades and at the same time celebrating the 50th anniversary of that first run in 1968.  I find it hard to believe that its 50 years ago but it is and so much water has flowed under that bridge since then but there are two things that have stayed in the same place.

Durban and Pietermaritzburg!

The start and finish may have been moved around a bit but Durban and Pietermaritzburg are still where they’ve always been! The distance may have changed a bit over different years but the race is always between those two cities and they’re where they’ve always been! 

I have often been asked what distances I ran in my various Comrades.  I have no idea how far any of them were.  The distance made not one scrap of difference to me nor should it to anyone running Comrades.  I’ve asked a couple of winners if they knew what distance they ran and those I asked also didn’t know. I was told to get to the start before 6am and run to the finish before 5pm as it was in those days – so I did!

 

I’ve missed only three races since 1956 and those were deliberate misses which I did after being at 50 races in succession and I did so because I thought that I had probably got Comrades out of my system by then. Those three were 2006, 2007 and 2008 and by the time the 2008 race came round I was going crazy because I wasn’t there and I even took myself overseas so that I didn’t feel it but it didn’t help. I sat in front of a computer all day in the UK and watched as much of the race as I could that was streamed live via the internet so whilst I regard myself as not having been there, I certainly watched as much of it as I could from 10,000kms away!

I didn’t plan that the two anniversaries (attending my 60th and the 50th anniversary of my first run) would both fall in 2018 and it was only a few years ago that I realised that they do.

Anyway I hadn’t got it out of my system after the 50 years and 2009 I was back at Comrades and have been every year since and as long as I am able to do so will continue attending.  My next target is the 2021 Comrades. 100 years since the first Comrades when Bill Rowan trotted into Durban to win in 8 hours 59 minutes. That’s only 3 years away so all being well I should make that!

My next target after that is 2025. The 100th race.  I was privileged to have run the 50th one and to have notched up my personal best time so to be at the 100th whilst only as a spectator is an important goal. 

COMRADES 1975

I have been involved in many facets of Comrades. I started as a spectator and then a second in the days before refreshment stations when runners had their own personal seconds. I’ve also served on the Comrades organising committee in what was one of the most rewarding of experiences.

BARRY VARTY GREEN NUMBERI spent 18 years on the road reporting on the race “live” into news and sports bulletins for 702 Talk Radio and for many of those same years on arrival at the finish juggled my phone and a microphone as I also handled the stadium announcing as part of that team. It was also during that time that I was asked to handle the prizegiving one year and had the honour of meeting Madiba.  Something I will never forget.

IMG_20160306_100853I brought many great runners home from that announcers’ tower at the finish and if you were to ask me to single out one or two special moments I would have to say the day in 1989 when Frith van der Merwe ran 5:54 to finish 15th overall and set a woman’s time that I think is going to take a huge effort to beat and Bruce Fordyce’s 9th win in 1990.

I doubt that we’ll ever see 9 wins from a runner again, certainly not in what’s left of my lifetime.  I’m not certain that people fully understand what a feat it is to win Comrades once let alone 9 of them. Ask all those great runners who have failed to win whilst trying to do so and there is a long list I could rattle off of really top class distance runners who tried to win but couldn’t.

I’ve often been asked what the attraction of Comrades is that has drawn me back over and over for 60 years and I really don’t know what it is.  I can easily explain the years when I ran.  I can also easily explain the years when I was working as a journalist or stadium announcer but there are many who would say that the remaining years defy logic and I would be hard pressed to argue that. In fact I would have a bit of a problem arguing why I travel to Durban year after year to attend Comrades as a spectator.

Why I sit at the side of the road on race day cheering on a bunch of runners, most of whom I don’t know and those I do know are so busy fighting their enemy “time” that they don’t want to stop and talk anyway.

I don’t know why I go year after year to Expo to look at the same exhibitors offering almost the same things and why I shake my head along with some of the other “old timers” when we see obvious novices desperate to make sure they finish, prepared to try any product on offer that they think will get them to the finish on race day when all they really need to do is to get out there and run to the finish.

I can’t answer any of those questions and I wouldn’t even attempt to do so. It is one of those mysterious things that one is simply not able to answer.  One of those things that one can try to arrive at some sort of logical answer and still not find one, so long ago I realised that there is no point in trying and that I should simply accept that when I stood at the side of the road as a 9 year old boy in 1956 and watched Comrades for the first time that something magical happened.

There’s no debate that over those 60 years I have met some of the most amazing people, some of whom have become lifelong friends but there’s more to it than just that.  There was something so much more that did so much to shape my destiny and the direction of my life in so many wonderful ways.

That being the case, why try to find an explanation?

February 2018