It seems road runners have very little to talk about save Comrades.
Wow! That sounded a little more brutal than intended. But, join a group of distance runners across the country and almost without fail the conversation will invariably end up with Comrades. One would naturally expect there to be more talk about an upcoming event the closer one gets to an event. As race day approaches nerves mount, excitement increases and like writing an exam, questions begin to surface within each runner as to the state of readiness for the big test.
Comrades conversations will often focus entirely on distances covered on a daily basis, weekly basis, monthly basis and what your total has been since January to race day. I’m still amazed at how many Comrades runners line up at the start of the Johnson Crane marathon simply to tick off their first marathon of the year. They follow this with running Pick n Pay marathon 2 weeks later and 2-3 weeks after that Om die Dam 50km is added as a notch to the belt of “how tired can I get before Comrades.”
Now, Johnson Crane and Pick n Pay marathon are great marathon to do if you’re planning on using them as your qualifying marathon for Comrades. Both are fairly moderate routes and suitable for ensuring a decent seeding. More importantly, they are early enough in the season to allow time to recover and to get some speed back into your legs before the Comrades build up phase begins. More on this shortly.
At this point I can’t help but spare a thought for the novices among us. Picture it, it’s 4:55am on Wed morning in the 2nd week of January. The club runners are beggining to arrive and congregate in anticipation for the start of the 5am morning run. As the group waits for kick-off, the usual morning banter and laughing echos across the parking lot. Just outside the inner circle, like a sheep watching a pack of wolfs ready to devour the morning feast stands, the Comrades Virgin. She wonders to herself, “what the hell am I doing h…” and before that thought can be completed the clock strikes 5 and in unison as if some internal gun had just gone off the pack is off and the morning run begins. At first things aren’t too bad and the Virgin is actually quite enjoying the run but slowly the pack begins to circle and a few ice-breakers are thown in, “how long have you been running?”, “which club were you with before?”, “what work do you do?”, etc, etc. But suddenly and without warning things get serious, “are you running Comrades?” There it is! The inevitable question, like a droplet of drool hanging on the edge of everyone’s mouth desperately longing to give into the irresistible pull of gravity. Lured into a false sense of security she responds with a proud and assertive, “yes.” And with that come the grenades, “Really? Well, how much training have you been doing?”, “Did you run Tough One?”, “Are you running Johnson Crane?”, “Why not? Do you know that Comrades is only 137 days away?” The virgin smiles and tries to answer politely but inside she’s going into a flat panic, her mind is spinning, her HR is spiking, suddenly there’s a bit of nausea beginning to develop.
OK, so that may be a little over dramatic but the truth of the matter is whether we’re in for our first or fifth Comrades we all have a tendency to get a little worked up and a little sucked into to doing far too much far too early in the year.
Calm down and run!
The problem is that most of the runners making most of the noise around mileage and how much needs to be done are generally those who have done nothing or very little since the previous Comrades. They suddenly wake up on the first of Jan and realise that a base needs to be built, a qualifier needs to be run and lots of mileage is needed before race day on the 31st May. But generally most runners have been training since the beginning of spring and have build up some consistency or a base if you like. When it comes to Comrades consistency is the name of the game. Of course if you want to get faster over Comrades and run a better medal or achieve your best there’s a little more required, but that’s for a separate article. We’re really just talking here about having enough to finish comfortably at whatever level you’re currently at.
The Comrades build-up does not start in January.
If you’re already starting your mileage build-up to Comrades then you’ve already blown your chances of running a better time this year round. The bulk phase starts in March where for 6 to 8 weeks you gradually increase the total weekly mileage to a peak, hold it there for a week or 2 and then taper sharply over 2-3 weeks to Comrades.
Keeping the bulk phase to around 6 weeks means that you get more than enough mileage in and you don’t arrive at race day with your body screaming for a holiday. Instead with the correct taper you feel sharp but rested and you can’t wait to get out on to the road for the incredible journey from Durban to Pietermaritzburg.
If you are one of those who has begin or is beggining to start your build-up now and too soon the good news is that it’s not too late for you to repent. Drop and give me 10 push-ups, slap yourself across the face a few times and then go and race a 10k!
Where to from here?
There’s a very real panic in runners at the moment as they get swept up by all the Comrades talk in their training groups and on social media. Calm down and just run.
All that’s needed from this point on is the following:
Do just enough mileage to ensure the slowest possible seeding within your desired seeding batch. There’s no need to be slogging out marathon long runs at this point, again the only marathon needed now is the qualifier. Allow enough recovery post qualifier to make the most out of March and April. Comrades specific training only starts in March. That means for 6-8 weeks you’ll build the mileage, run more marathons, slow out a few ultras and then taper to ensure you line up at the start recovered and full of running.
So, calm down, there is still plenty of time to Comrades and still plenty of time to smash your legs to pieces on the road.
For now, enjoy the build up to your qualifier and focus on that.