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

 

 

 

 

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COMRADES MEDICAL BOSS – DR JEREMY BOULTER


Virtually every runner in Comrades is aware of the medical facilities offered by the organisers and they know about the Medical Tent at the finish and most know that it is the biggest temporary medical facility in a the world outside of a war, disaster or conflict zone. 

Most runners also know that it’s that it’s the one place they don’t want to visit on Comrades day. The one place they don’t want to go anywhere near when they finish their gruelling journey over the almost 90km between Kwa Zulu-Natal’s two cities and especially they don’t want to be brought into the facility by ambulance from the road before they even reach the finish.

In fact they would prefer it if they leave the end of Comrades with no knowledge at all of what the inside of the Medical Tent looks like.

The Comrades medical facilities, as much as the runners would prefer to avoid going anywhere near them, form a very important part of the world’s greatest ultra road race and without the facilities offered there would be tragedy. It’s really that simple.

The man who has been responsible for overseeing in medical facilities for many years is Dr Jeremy Boulter who has been part of the medical team for the last 38 years – 2017 will be his 39th year, and that is some going.

I had the opportunity to chat to Jeremy and I asked him about his involvement in Comrades and more specifically with the medical facilities and I started off by asking him how it all started and whether he had in fact been a runner.

jeremy-boulter

DJ:      How did you first get involved in the medical tent facilities to begin with way back in 1979 and had you in fact been a runner and sort of drifted into the job in the medical facility because you were a doctor?

JB       No, I had never been a distance runner. At tea time one morning in May 1979, when I was an Intern at Edendale Hospital, Dr. John Godlonton asked me if I would like to help him in the medical tent at the finish of Comrades. My reply was “yes, what do I have to do?” “Oh, just put up a couple of drips on dehydrated runners” was his reply. So began an association with The Ultimate Human Race which has lasted 38 years.

 

DJ:      It was a fairly small operation back then when you compare it to what we have now. What did you have to cater for the runners at the end of the seventies?          

JB:      Let’s go back to the very beginning.

In 1976 Dr. John Godlonton, a Paediatrician at Edendale Hospital in Pietermaritzburg, heard of an acquaintance who had been admitted to hospital in a state of dehydration and Renal Failure after running the Comrades. He realised that if the runner had received fluid via a drip immediately after the race, he would almost certainly have avoided being admitted to hospital. He approached the then organising committee with a proposal to set up a Medical facility at the finish to treat those runners in need of fluid after the race. This was accepted, and so the Comrades Medical Facility was born.

In 1977 Dr.John, as he was to become known by all associated with the race organisation, set up “shop” in the change rooms at the finish at the Jan Smuts stadium, now known as the Harry Gwala stadium. As far as I know, he worked alone that year, and treated about 5 runners with intra-venous fluid.

Details are a bit sketchy, partly because of the passage of time, but mainly because the medical tent, and the number of patients we had, was so unremarkable, especially when compared to the present. The tent was a 3x3m army mess tent, of the type where there was a gap between sides and roof. We had 4 camping stretchers, one trestle table for supplies, and another for belongings and refreshments.

John was present all day, but the rest of us worked in pairs in 2 hour shifts. There were six of us, all young doctors working at Edendale Hospital.

I worked two shifts and treated one patient! Our medical equipment consisted of a blood pressure cuff and drips. The intra-venous fluids were “donated” by the Edendale Hospital pharmacy. All patients who came into the tent were treated with intra-venous fluids, as the thinking in those days was that they had to dehydrated, we had not heard of over-hydration then. John’s wife, Mary was our “caterer”. She arrived with a basket containing a flask of hot water for tea or coffee, and some rolls for lunch!

To my knowledge, having a Medical Tent at the finish of a race was unique to Comrades at the time. Now it is a requirement stipulated in the rules, as laid down by ASA, at all athletics events.

 

DJ:      Then with the retirement of the Dr John who was in charge before you, you then took over the running of the entire operation in 1996 and you have watched it grow dramatically over the years you have been in charge and it’s been in your time that the fields have consistently been over 12,000 which has meant bigger staff needed by you and you were in charge in the millennium year with the biggest ever field at around 20,000.

comrades-bollywood-ho-down-020

JB:       Over the years the tent grew in size as the number of Comrades runners grew, and thus patients, increased. We moved from somewhere in the centre of the field to the side, adjacent to the track just before the final straight. We were able to sit outside our tent and watch the runners coming past us. It became a game amongst the doctors to watch these athletes as they struggled past in varying states of exhaustion, to predict who would be coming to visit us in the Tent. We were seldom wrong! Then we were moved to an area behind the stadium, as we had become too big and took up too much space inside it.

Sometime in those early years, our “Medical I.T.” section was born. This was a system to inform the public which runners were in our tent. It consisted of a blackboard at the entrance to the tent, on which the patients’ race numbers were written in chalk. When discharged, the number was simply rubbed out. A far cry from our current set up, where we have laptops linked to the information tent and the main Comrades data base!

We have also introduced a mini laboratory into the tent. This enables us to have vital blood parameters of our patients, such as blood Sodium levels, available within a few minutes, which have a direct bearing on the treatment.

 

DJ:      How do you know the numbers you need in terms of specialists and doctors, nurses, etc. You told me previously that you have a three bed ICU section in the medical ten. Is that just a guess and a hope that it’ll be enough or do you look at different requirements on the Up Run versus the Down Run?

JB: The staffing of the tent has grown year by year as the size of the field has increased. We treat between 2 and 4% of the field, so I know roughly how many patients we’re likely to have and so how many beds and doctors we will need. We currently have about 40-45 Interns, 20 Medical Officers, 8-10 Specialists and about 20 nurses working in the tent, as well as the mini-lab and admin staff.

The ICU size is essentially governed by availability of space and essential equipment. Is it enough? It has to be!!! Whether up or down, our preparation is the same, and there is not really any difference in patient numbers or the type of problems we see.

 

DJ:      Are you responsible for the medical staff who are out on the road as well and are you in touch with them? So in other words if there’s a runner who is in trouble and is picked up by one of the ambulances do they contact you for instruction based on what they find?

JB:      Yes, I am responsible for everything Medical to do with Comrades. We have a medical JOC adjacent to the tent, which is in control of, and in contact with, all the ambulances, rapid response cars and personnel out on the route. I can communicate via radio or cell phone with them if necessary.

 

DJ:      Is there a team making the decisions when you have a seriously ill runner or does that all fall on your shoulders alone as to whether this case is hospital or worse – ICU or not and that one can be treated in the facilities you have and discharged.

JB:      Yes. The specialists are each allocated an area of the tent for which they are in charge, and they make all necessary decisions for their section. Obviously if there is a complicated case, then other specialists and I will be involved in the consultation and decision making.

 

DJ:      I’m going to put you a bit on the spot now. How much of what you see in the medical tent do you think is caused by inadequate training where the runner has simply not done enough?

JB:      I think the level of training plays a part in the “state of exhaustion” of our patients, but not so much in the “medical problems”. Let me explain. Everyone is going to be really tired and sore after running 87km! The degree of suffering will be directly related to the amount of training and fitness of the runner. However, the serious cases we see are almost invariably due to runners taking part when they are unwell, or have been ill shortly before the race, have been inadequately hydrated or [probably the most serious] have taken medication [eg analgesics and anti-inflammatories] during the run.

 

DJ:      Where in the field in terms of time, do most of your customers to the medical tent come from?

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JB:      80% of the field finishes in the last 2 hours, and that’s when we get hectic! We quite often get runners coming into the tent up to 2 hours after the final gun!

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So there you have it. Should you have the misfortune of ending up in the medical tent you can rest easy knowing that you are in good hands with Dr Jeremy Boulter and his team of around 85 trained medical staff ranging from specialists to nursing sisters with an ICU section and ambulances out on the road.

My biggest wish is that on the 4th of June you don’t get to meet any of these really nice people.

 

February 2017.