Completing Comrades Marathon on the 1st of June 2014 marked, for me personally, an end of a rather successful running season.
I set out to run Bronze at both Two Oceans Ultra and Comrades Marathons and that is exactly what I delivered. Bronze at both races has become my new standard and that sort of gives me the comfort that I have the extra hour to still complete the races on Plan B or Plan C if necessary. It takes a little more training and focus but as a competent ultra-marathon runner With 6 Comrades Marathons and 6 Oceans Ultras in the bag, it is not too big an ask.
When I completed, quite a few people asked me my secret to completing all the Comrades Marathons I have ever started, so I thought I could put the answer down in writing. I will, however, state right up front that I am by no means an expert and that I am not about to discount the knowledge and skill that my seniors with multiple green/blue numbers have to offer. There is obviously nothing secret about what I am going to say, nor is it rocket science or novel, but of the many lessons I have learned, I would like to highlight only 3.
· For me Comrades is almost like a numbers game. If you run a marathon at average 7.1 min/km, the qualifying pace, you are already in a difficult position to complete. You need to run Comrades at about 1 min/km slower on average than your marathon time because it is long. 8.1 min/km is what you need to finish, if everything works out perfectly. But it does not always turn out this way because it is the longest distance you will run in a season and you do not run that long every weekend. I completed my marathon qualifier at average 6.04 min/km and completed Comrades at 7.3 min/km, this with excruciating pain on my right calf that I, as a typical ultra-distance runner, just chose to “work” with. The point here is are able to complete a marathon in 6.75 min/km without too much effort, then you are more than half way there. Prepare for a qualifier very well and run it once. Never try to improve your seeding, you lose more than you gain in the process. You could get a G seeding but it does not help if you get to the starting line up with fatigue from running many races at relative fast pace.
· Then you need to run Comrades on a fresh pair of legs. For me, overtraining is one of the most painful experiences you can have as an ultra-distance runner. You have trained hard and you know very well that you can do a lot better, but on the day, your legs just do not cooperate, you feel tired and as a result, psychologically you are taking strain. Overtraining for me is too many long runs. I often hear of people running marathons and ultra-marathons almost every weekend. That gives a false sense of preparation at its best; and at its worst you start getting injuries. The best way to run Comrades is to train very consistently, incorporate speed and strength and run a maximum of 28km long run on a weekend. My longest runs this seasons were a 2 X 42km and Oceans Ultra. The last time I did a 60km or 66km “long run”, also called the dress rehearsal, was in 2010.
· On Comrades race day start slow. If you tend to walk a lot in the second half, rather start walking early when your legs are still fresh. I pass many good runners at less than 15km to go simply because they start too fast. For a bronze finish on a down run, you need to reach half way between 5h20 and 5H30. Any time faster will likely see you walking the downhills in the second half. Then on the steep hills whether up or down, go easy.
What I have said here will not benefit a Comrades Bill Rowan or silver finisher- obviously they run according to rules I will never get to learn. I am looking forward to the Up run next year – but I have other objectives that include mountain biking. I will see how things all fit together.
But for now, preparations for our Mount Elbrus climb is in advanced stages – 7 days to go. I will give a run down in the next few days before we leave.