Quiet time

July is the a quiet running time for an ultimate Comrades runner.

So I if I get out to run now it’s mostly for the joy of running, to maintain the aerobic capacity I built and to get my legs muscles to recover, deeply properly and bouncingly.

I am also working on a solution to my ultra-flaw: the one where I just can’t drink anymore. Swallow fatigue. Gulp stop.

I mean I can drink 700 ml per hour, electrolyte right. I can squeeze in, force in more. But if, as in the heat and wind of  Comrades 2013  I need 900 or more ml per hour, I dehydrate. Over 11 hours I can be a good few litres short.

I don’t worry about it too much.  I’ll find an answer. I’m sure. And if I don’t, it’s okay too.

I’ll just get close as I can to the end and then procrastinate – put off bailing until I cross the grin-ish line in time as I did this 2013 year.

So … back to running

After this morning’s run, there’s no doubt I’ll always be a runner

Fabulous run. Not for recovery from the 2013 Comrades, nor for something like Comrades, as all the runs before 2 June were: committed, thought-through, after-analysed, all trying to build the right stuff to handle the monsters on the day and get through those tricky 54 miles distance, those 87 km of hills and heat – plus the walk to the start and trying to find the car afterwards.

So a 05:30  run  under a bit of moon, a few stars through a lot of streetlight pushing back the dark, just for the sake of running.

The power in my legs surged, made me hop, laugh and whistle; race oncoming cars across three lanes. And laugh again. Boundless running on bounding legs. Just love it.

And as I ran this Comrades culmination thing, this targeted, planned, focused, then made-real thing, bubbled and spurted, thrilling, filling, spilling.

Something deeper

The race-pic of me walking Polly Shorrts in long shadows was a bit of a nasty surprise. Legs, body, arms look strong with enough thrust. But my face shows strain. Much more drain than I was feeling.

Thought 1: Maybe I shouldn’t have been as confident as I was feeling. Sure I was desperate to see the 8 and 7  km-to-go board which I never did.  But that doesn’t explain all the drain. I knew I was dehydrated but maybe not as much as I must have been. Still I knew I had enough time and enough in me to finish. So I was thrilled. Which should have added a bit more spark in the eyes under the cap that had worked so hard for me.

Thought 2: Mostly I don’t talk about this, because I worry that if I do, it will disappear. Who am I to get this magic you see?  But, well, I knew even then after all that heat, I had tapped a deeper energy. It’s happened before.  Some things, Comrades being one, put me in its flow. That’s all I’ll say for now.

After Comrades

Family down with coughs and sneezes. I fight off the creepy-crawlies, don’t run much because of the rain.

It’s okay.

I’m enjoying the Comrades recovery. I like walking around in my everyday world, with the fingers and ankles still tingling and sparkling with the got-the-medal fizz.

How much poorer my life would be without it.

More than just a road race

If Comrades was just another long road race,  an “up”, a “down”, and a silver medal would be enough for an ordinary runner like me.

But Comrades is much more. Partly because of what I do with it, sure. You seem I’m a magician. I make it big, rich, fulfilling, especially if I can finish in time. But I couldn’t do that without what Comrades is. So I go back. If I skip a couple because I want to do something else or can’t that year,  it’s ok.

A part of me is always a Comrade. Even when I can’t. I’ll be there. Part of the story of me is out on that road.

So why run the Comrades Marathon

I know now why I wanted to run this not-too-but-long enough ultra- marathon.

I know to exactly why.

Running helps me get the most out of life. The Comrades Marathon, all that it is, gets me the most out of running.

Simple. Marvellous




Comrades 2013 – Physical overview

Cap and Shoes

Long enough ago …

I ran 11 Comrades, one after the other, got sick, got better and a medal a couple years later then stopped for too many years.

So this is a kind of second time around and definitely starting over. My record for Comrades Two – two Vic Clapham medals, one DNS and one failure in which I got to about 84 km before the 12 hours ran out. Right, running 84 km in 12 hours is a failure.

To put my Comrades Two into perspective, 20 years ago I ran I silver, now I charge the last 500 m to get in before the final 12-hour cut-off.  My average for Comrades One was under 9 hours with two just under 10 hours, one 10+ hour run and two under 8 hours.

But hey, if getting a Vic Clapham medal (11 to 12 hours) is the way to honour our Vic, I’d happily run that long every year I can get to the startline of his masterpiece at least okay enough to run with not too many holes in me.

Training right

This year I was strong to ultra-run. Something I haven’t really been for maybe 13 years. The strong of running regularly over many months, gradually increasing mileage and having an easy week now an again and, not getting sick or injured during that time.

I think its right to say that if you manage yourself right through all the training, you can manage yourself through the day of the run.

Running enough adapts all the running systems  and gets them working together – legs strong, cooling system efficient, digestion-absorption supporting running, motivation making sure that I know a sleep after finishing is better than a sleep that stops me finishing in time – (my kind of running humour in case you’re wondering why I brought sleep into the equation); in short all of what it takes to run.

In practice it means having fun on 4-hour runs, get back and still have energy for the kids and to mow the lawn. And to look forward to lots more run-in sunrises.

Running on the day

In running-on-the-day terms my training meant I got to the start line maybe 12 kg lighter than when I last ran Comrades two years ago, and with more then the minimum miles in my legs; enough I would have guessed for an 11-hour Comrades.

Not that I was there for a race against the clock and course and conditions.  I was going to share the run with friends Hans Koeleman and Simone Guikema from Amsterdam, Holland. I was confident that I had enough to finish no matter what and sure enough that’s what happened

More than that I knew that I knew enough about what and when to eat and drink along the way. I do. I know how to use my fat supplies for energy (enough I’m sure to get around the world a couple of times), how to keep up my blood sugar up and how many and what electrolytes to take when. I kinda know it all and know it right, do it all and do it right. Except for one thing.

So I had enough when I hit the heavy heat and wind on Harrison flats to get to the end in a slower time. My legs never got sore during or after the event because I walked lots on the ups.

The only problem

The one thing I can’t do is get the past the point where I just can’t drink anymore. Slurp-fatigue.Swallow-overload. I tear open the water sachet or Energade bag, or swallow at the Pepsi cup and my throat opens to let in a little and then … that’s it. Gag. No more for a good km or two.

Under the 2012 conditions, going at that slower pace which increased the time-gaps between the water tabled, I dehydrated. Not enough to blow the run, but enough to make walking the ups even slower.  I cheated a bit on the downs and let gravity drag me into running quite merrily (more humour – it’s what really gets me through, with my shoes and cap). Thank goodness the last 18 km has lots of downs.

When I’m dehydrated my mind keeps working at whether I will make it with what I have left. I like that. When it is sure my old body had enough it wanted to drink even less. By then it was getting dark and cooler anyway. Sure enough, I crossed the line with a big grin. Ultra-success. Comrades success. But well depleted. 3 l of drip depleted.

I’ve been more or as dehydrated at the end of a run, even at this year’s Two Oceans 56km run. Usually I stagger away, think about and sometimes start drinking a beer and gradually replenish. But this time I though it best to get a drip which ended up as three and get a bigger part of the Comades family experience – those great doctors and carers in the medical tent. They restored just about all the vitality I need to smile and doze on the way back to Durban.

Other than that I got off lightly. I’ll lose a toenail on my right big toe. But it will grow again and maybe look better than the old one.  And a got more light from the Comrades glow, so that I’ll be back next year if all goes well.

The learnings

The learnings reinforce the essential basics:

Do the right training right. Know how how to eat and drink on the run. Know how to cope with conditions on the day, even if it means toughing it out.


After the 2013 run

I’m still full of Comrades.

I got my medal, a couple of pints of drip afterwards and all the goodness that Comrades gives.

Plus I had the week after the run in the Durban area winter sun, with my supportive family. Their time after my time.

The best thing was that I could walk freely even the day after the run, unlike its been sometimes. That allow me to get the most of playing with the, time with friends and family, soak up the mild sun and the Comrades afterglow, get sand in my toes.

The next challenge is to ease back into everyday life, keeping the Comrades glow. I know how to do that. Its not hard. I’ve practiced that too. So I don’t let Comrades go. This recovery, that after party, learning from this years run, glancing at next year’s run all help to make it one.

Then too there’s lot to think about remember, capture, explore from the 2012 Comrades experience.

More on that to come.


The journey to the start

The journey to the start of Comrades is part of  its richness. A pilgrimage, a journey to a place where something special happens so that we too get some of what makes it special.

Mine starts tomorrow early, the long drive by car from Cape Town to Durban. There is a practical reason for it, but the journey to the start is part of my Comrades glow.

So is Van Morrison swirling through clear, chilled-cold Karoo starlight,  as I stop to stretch, shiver and marvel, family asleep in the car.

The slowness and effort of the journey allows my mind, me, to deepen its engagement with what’s to come; to take the focus that has driven my training ever closer to the place where its goal will be realised. Different to flying there, so quickly disjointed from home

Behind us will stretch the sparkling connection to home.

And I see the glitter-trails left by other runners making the same journey.

Some of us will meet at a petrol station along the way, creak out the driving seat in tracksuit bottoms, connect, nod, know.


Rugby and running

One of the by-products of rugby is the recovery massage practice.

The players get battered and bruised in  game,  get fixed up so that they can get battered again the next weekend.  They sit in an ice bath. Specialists dig deep into their bruises.

Getting fixed is almost as tough as the playing. I got a taste of that yesterday. I should do it more through the training weeks.  But I like, before Comrades to get my legs flushed and the trigger points released, in there where muscles have jammed in their fascia sheaths. It hurts. But not too bad.

Afterwards my legs have happy bounce. I feel even more ready to run.

And Jody, the expert says my legs are not in bad shape.

It’s gotta be good.