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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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”
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.
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.
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.