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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

New York Marathon 2010

Organising a 42km race for about 45 000 people is a logistical nightmare that I do not wish to manage. I would rather run the race, on a cold winter morning in New York, thank you very much.

For starters, all the 45 000 runners need to be bussed to the start at Staten Island from around 5 to 7 in the morning. They all catch busses at a few designated stations in the city (as indicated on their bibs). They are all divided into waves, colours and corals and they should all get breakfast. They enter the island very early in the morning, layered in t-shirts, coats, vests and gloves that they toss away before the start. Assuming each runner has 3 items of clothing to toss, we talking well over 100 000 pieces. They all go to charity, so that is comforting. The race has three starts (or waves) and therefore three starting ceremonies about half an hour apart. Each wave has three different starting points (green, blue and orange) but the routes merge into one a few kilometers into the race. Then there are distance markers in both kilometers and miles, not forgetting chip readers almost every kilometer or every mile. Then there is bag drop and a bag collection points as well as the finish at Central Park. Supporters are asked to add about 45 minutes to a runners finish time to estimate the time they will exit the park. So picture the many marshals shouting every few metres to “move forward”, “don’t stop”, “keep on moving”, to stop serious pile-ups from forming. And all this is just race day.

I thought the route was fair – it had enough downs and ups – with the hills concentrated more towards the second half of the race. At least that is how it felt but I am afraid my sports watch tells me there was equal distribution of the ascents and the descents, hence the “flat”. The mega support along the way matched the “American super-size everything” that we have come to accept, and so did the “Gatoraaaade?”.

So my beef was really just the cold. Arriving at around six in the morning in the island, surrounded by water if I may add, while waiting to start the race at 10H40 was an experience. I fortunately spotted a generator that was used to power one of the flood lights at the blue camp, so I was kept a little warm until the sun came up. The finish at Central Park is also cold, so runners are provided with foil but I am afraid that hardly helps, especially against the wet t-shirt soaked in sweat.
Overall great experience and like I have said before, in the US, the marathon is big. So prepare to be showered with mega praises before and after the marathon.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Comrades tools galore

The closer we get to the Comrades Marathon race day, the more I receive in my inbox, the most exciting and useful material or tools, developed by runners to assist others to complete the race within the cut-ff time. If anyone ever doubted the enormity of what Comrades Marathon represents to runners and supporters alike, then these “tools” should be enough to convert even the most doubtful.

To name a few (and there are many more):
· “A comrades marathon training programme for idiots and heroes” – Word document with practical advise and funny anecdotes. It is also useful from a motivation point of view, especially for novice runners
· “Comrades 2010- By Denis Kennedy” – Word document with practical advice, from a few days before the big day, right through to the finish line
· “BARRY HOLLAND's down” - A Word document that describes the route in detail – divided into 5 sections – and showing the elevation and highlighting the Big 5 hills
· “Comrades Packing List” – exactly as it says
· “Comrades pacing chart down run” – an excel spreadsheet that lets you input your desired finish time and then calculates your pace and elapsed time after every 5 kms
· Coach Norrie’s down run audio – a kilometer by kilometer description of the route. The audio includes practical advise around how to handle hills, congestion at the start, etc.

These in addition to the detailed information supplied by the Comrades Marathon Association through their website.

Comrades Marathon is in a league of its own – I doubt there is any race in the world that comes close in terms of the “tools” developed, strategies recommended, audios recorded and stories told.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Enter the American

A number of elite Americans (men and women) are coming to run the Comrades Marathon this year – potentially making this year an interesting race in terms of strategy, endurance and team work!

Like Alberto Salazar, the American who won Comrades in 1994, the Americans have made it clear they are coming this year for podium finishes. John Cox (one of the American team members), said on the site: “Having a U.S. sweep would be the dream. And I think it's totally possible And I think with our whole group going, we have a really good shot at getting the stars and stripes on the podium. You never know what's going to happen. I would love to have both Mike (Wardian) and me up there. And it's not some pie in the sky; we definitely have a real shot. We have a proven group of Americans who are going over there to do this. I'm the least proven in the ultras, but I'm coming off a PR in December at the marathon, and I'm running as good as I have in my life. And knowing that I ran the 50-mile back when I was 22 helps my confidence a lot. “.

This is a guy with a 50km American record of 2:47 and a marathon PB of 2:13. Running a marathon in under 2:20 puts him up there with the best of ultra athletes. Except he is not highly experienced in ultra distance and he will be competing with athletes that have done the course before.

John refers to Mike Wardian, a highly experienced ultra distance athlete but who is considered a bit on the slow side given his marathon PB of 2:21. Runners World magazine describes him as running “very far, very fast and very often” after racing 44 times in 2009, completing 8 ultras and 10 marathons in the process. Tell that to any South African coach with elite athletes running the Comrades and they will not believe that - especially because Mike is full-time employed and has a family. He might have competed ultramarathon trail runs that are more punishing, but that much running puts him at a disadvantage. Comrades Marathon is a long, tough race.
In October 2009 at the International Association of Ultrarunners' 50km Trophy Final, he came third (ran bronze) after Lucas Nonyana who took the gold. They ran together for most of the race, and it so happens they will probably be together in the leading group this time around again. No doubt he will also be running with Mokgadi, who came 7th at the same race.

On the ladies side, Kami Semick has also entered the race. She took gold at the International Association of Ultrarunners' 50km Trophy Final where Lesley Train took bronze. She is a solid contender and she is in good form. Like Wardian, she also tends to run a lot, and according to, she has won all the ultra-distance trail races she competed in last year. Compare her races to the two per year that the Russian twins run, and then see their how different their approaches are in terms of running.

The Americans elites are running Comrades this year, not so much for the prize money, but mostly for the glory and for humanitarian reasons. They are all raising money for the Starfish Foundation that assists communities that are devastated by HIV/Aids, thanks to their sponsor North Face. Nikki Kimball, another elite ladies contender, completes the North Face- sponsored athletes doing the Comrades.

Are we likely to see a significant increase in elite international runners from the US and from Europe coming to run Comrades? Unfortunately the answer is No. The prize money is a huge deterrent and it is too far to travel. The most they will do is run it once for charity and as a tick in the box. They respect the race and see it as a “superbowl of ultra road running” but they cannot afford to do it more than once.


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