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.

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.


2013 – a last 10km



A last 10 km run 8 days before the run, on the Table Mountain road above the city centre.
A good easy send off with a deeply etched memory. Except that I probably spent as much time taking pics, bathing in the marvel and sharing it with mountain bikes who were equally enthralled.


So now I can turn my mind to packing for the trip.

Step by step I’m getting into the run and it all helps me get my mind ready for the big day.

Notes from 1946

Notes from 1946

For 6 years through the World War II years, the Comrades Marathon wasn’t run. In 1946 it started again with a field of 22 of which 8 finished.

Winner in a time of  7:02:40 was Bill Cochrane, who had also won the 1935 run. Morris Alexander in his book The Comrades Story notes the irony as ex-prisoner-of-war Cochrane ran past the Oribi camp in Pietermaritzburg “still crammed with hundreds of Italian prisoners” many of whom watched through the barbed-wire fence.

At the back of the field “balding 59-year-old Edgar Marie hobbled on to the track, and around the final circuit, to pass the finishing post with only 2 seconds to spare.”

The cut-off was 11 hours then. So Edgar Marie could be me me this year finishing in the same time but with 1 hour and 2 sec to spare, except I’m not yet balding and I’ll try not to hobble.



2013 Taper day 4

Friday is normally my rest day. Plus this should have been a rest week, according my theory of having an easy week after 4 effort weeks.

I missed yesterday because I just didn’t want to step into the dark, swirling, drenching rain. When it cleared and the sun came out, I nearly but not quite reorganised my day to run.

By this morning I was keen to catch up the missed run and to see what a day’s rest would bring. So I set off early to see if I could PB  my 8.72 km route – my regular 8 km run. Felt great – Legs strong, good focus – until I checked my watch and laughed.

1-IMG00361-20130509-0901Part of me hadn’t turned on the stopwatch.

I like that part of me – the ultra-me who knows and does the long runs. Welcome back!  This other more often ego-me, the one who decides to do Comrades and make a thing about it, gets all panicky too easily.

Ultra-me knows best what I can do and should be doing. He’s taking charge even now. Great. The PB didn’t matter. It could even have been too much

I know  – well if I feel good – I’ll get it next week

Before then I can look forward to tomorrow’s 20 km easy effort run.

2013 Taper – 3

Tapering – tweaking the power

Day 1 rest

Day 2 easy 8 km ( says its 8.72)

Day 3 the same 8 km. This time pushing harder in the last 3.5 km,  surging on the 6 little hills, easy on the 30-50 m between. Not too much but faster than yesterday.

1 min 20 faster over the the whole run, around 10 sec per km but actually closer to 20 sec/km becasue the effort was only over the last part of the run

Thoroughly enjoyed the effort. The orange and coffee afterwards

Feeling strong, ready to go on.


The taper idea

The taper theory

Having built distance into the legs and reaching the  peak mileage week, the next and last phase of Comrades training is the taper.

The idea of the taper is to lessen the weekly distance run (mostly the long run of the week) while  increasing the intensity of running, so that the effort-demand stays the same without the wear of  long runs and longish runs on top of other long runs.

I’ve come to think of the mileage- and endurance-building phase as a hardening, toughening phase. The taper is a tempering phase. The first builds steel into my running muscles. The second makes them stiller tougher, and adds a bit of whip and sharpness to them – like a well-made sword.

What this means in practice for me  is that I keep the number of days of running, make the weekly long run shorter, while pushing harder on some of the hills. If I can get myself motivated, even to approximate interval training by running harder for distances up 1 km during the runs I do.

Maintaining intensity is important. So is watching for the effects of overdoing running


  • One of the body adaptations of the long training weeks is an increase in blood volume – to feed the muscles at the level at which they are expected to work. This is the one the worry me most. If the work rate drops the blood volume begins to drop except that I still need it for Comrades run-day.  Increasing the intensity during runs keeps the workrate high and keeps blood volume at the right levels.

Intensity – hill work, intervals, paced runs over set distances – also increase leg speed. Which has a direct impact on Comrades race pace. A good taper cut 10-15 seconds per km off the pace which can be maintained over the Comrades distance. I know that’s why I could cruise the last 12 km of Comrades in my best year at 4:45 min/km rather than the 5 min/km I planned.

Even 5 seconds per km is good. It translates into 7 min quicker over the route. Or a 7 min “cushion”.

  • Increasing intensity also make me feel really pumped up, and life and world look infinitely  luscious as long as its all not too much.

Overdoing it

  • Doing too much is always a risk. It’s even more of a risk now in the last weeks leading into Comrades. Slight sniffles quickly become colds and flu’s. And the time taken recover properly from a cold, more from a flu, more from antibiotics destroys so much of the training already done. And while recovering you don’t run so the effects of not running kick in – the drop in blood volume, the accumulation of the by-products of running which can jam you up. 

Its best to notice the early warning symptoms – higher pulse rate, itchy throat, drippy nose, tiredness, sore muscles, a little cough. Which means its best not to ignore them

Its good to eat even more healthily, lots of a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, Even more consistent drinking.

Its good too to err on the side of caution. If you think its too much don’t do it.

The practice

  • Today is the second day of my taper. I ran 8 km carefully checking as I ran, the state of my feet, ankles, calves, knees, quads. No problems at all. The long runs didn’t lay waste to my body.
  • The first day of my taper for 2013, I started it with a long sleep and no running. I missed being out under the stars  but it’s okay.

I need another glass of water.

And an orange.