Training programs published on the web, in books and magazines have at least one fundamental flaw. Most have more. The same applies to running “gurus” one might encounter from time to time. Some will help many will hinder your training.
But you still need one of these “programs”. It’s no contradiction to say that.
Understanding the flaws allows them to be modified and supplemented to make them work.
The fundamental flaws of training programs
Training “programs” have three fatal flaws.
First, they require more weekly distance, more marathon and longer runs and faster paces than most runners need to achieve their goals.
- They have to. It’s their insurance. If they recommend less and your fail you will blame the program. So they have to recommend a good deal more. That enables the program generators to say ” Its not my problem. You did the distance you needed.”
- Runners with the right genes and running background who easily cope with the “more” will in any event easily achieve the target time if they do the right things on the day.
- Sadly, runners might not achieve what they could because they overdid their training which they survive rather than having it make them stronger. All that effort could have had a better result. Sadder still are those put off from trying for a higher goal or even put off from ever trying to take part in Comrades medal by the demands of these programs.
- To be fair it is probably difficult to come up with a single training program that is suited to the whole range of runners – tall, short, skinny, round, heavy, light, old young, seasoned campaigners, novices and all the other variables.
- To be fair too, the programs that they design are useful.
- The good thing is you might well be able to finish the Comrades in your goal time doing a lot less of this “training” while doing more appropriate training.
Second, training programs are incomplete. They are mostly schedules of the running that you need to do. They don’t detail all, if any, of the other things you have to get right for a good Comrades.
- You might find a bit about stretching, supplementary exercises or cross-training. But they don’t often provide a systematic body training program that covers all the extras you need to the level that will help you.
- You are highly unlikely to find any indication of how to keep yourself optimally hydrated and fed during training or the run itself.
- Another unlikely find is how to train your mind and get it involved in your run.
- These “extras” are as important as running.
Third, training programs are not coaches or advisors. They are unresponsive, somewhat merciless taskmasters.
- They generally have no mechanism to measure weather you making progress towards your goal; nor do they set out the variables that you can or should manipulate to improve your running.
- You commit to the schedule and have no idea if you’re doing it right, no feedback, little understanding of the variables that you can or should manipulate.
- They do not encourage, motivate or inspire you. Nor do they tell you how to encourage, motivate and inspire yourself.
Why do I say this?
Some programs do touch on the some of the points I have raised. I don’t know of one that does it all properly. So when I used to look for training programs, I never found all I needed.
Then too, I have seen too many runners, some I know well, fail at Comrades. They have set goals in their reach but struggle with their training, get injured, ill and under-perform at Comrades. They are perpetually dissatisfied with their achievement no matter how much praise they receive. Part of that is doing too much training, part of it is not doing enough of the things other than running.
I have seen others get through, even achieve quite well while enjoying their Comrades who in terms of training programs shouldn’t be running Comrades or shouldn’t be achieving what they do. They are never over-trained, nor have they overdone their running.
I know two runners who have done more than 20 Comrades with a good proportion of silver medals. Their training, particularly the 70 km training run, what they tell of how they feel the night before the race and their race day strategy all say they could have had many more.
My own achievements at Comrades, putting my feet where my mouth is so to speak, also clearly show what I am saying. According to the prescribed minimum distances, I should never have entered let along completed my first Comrades aged 36 nor and 13th aged 57. I put the ages in so that one can see I am not a robust unstressed gung-ho 20 year-old.
Even now I am embarrassed to admit just how many kilometers I accumulated before running my first Comrades. But I did get the medal.
My average of under 9 hours for the first 12, the sub-9 for my 2nd Comrades, my lone silver medal, actually all my runs were done on substantially less than program prescriptions.
It could be argued that I am an exceptional athlete – there is a minor sense in which this is true i.e. we are all exceptional – but it would be hard to find evidence enough to sustain this view.
Could I have achieve more with more training? Sure. Could I have done or coped with more training and more 60km or 70 km runs while training. Not sure. Actually I am sure I couldn’t have.
What you need to do
The key to training for Comrades is first to understand that your best Comrades is determined by training that takes you as strong, healthy, inspired and as fresh as possible to the start line of Comrades, with a goal and a race plan based on the training you have done. It does not require you in any sense to arrive at the start line happy only in the sense that you have survived the training program – with legs left out on the training roads.
To do that use “training programs” to guide your training. What they do well is to set out the combinations of running, effort levels and increasing training load through the training period.
The second is to take charge of your training. Make and implement decisions that are good for you, your body, your situation, your run. To do that you need to keep researching what training is about and applying your findings and your logic to you running.
And you should be out on the road consistently, 5 days a week or more if you can. And you should be drinking plenty of water.