Four days before the long run

Here come the old, not-too-wrinkled vigour boys, well this one anyway; and for ~5 km this morning, anyway too.

The first 5 are always easy. It’s just the other 55 to worry about for Saturday’s Two Oceans.

Actually the first 20 km and hopefully probably the first 40. It just the last part that’s hard.

Anyway, I’m not allowed to worry about those either. Comrades is a whole ~32 km further. Those last km after 56 km the real worry-mes.

But even those hard last Comrades km, I have learned to deal with.

I put off worrying about the hard bits until after I’ve finished the run.

Carbo-loading practice

Tapering, carbo-loading practice

Got the taper and carbo-loading, such as it is, going for Two Oceans on Saturday. Not so much to perform there, but just practicing for the taper and carbo-loading before Comrades which is still a couple months away.

One thing I’ve learned is that it’s no good just sitting or lying around in the last week. Gotta keeping moving, doing short, faster runs, nothing that will damage muscles, everything that will keep my heart rate pumping, my blood-volume up and waste-removal pipes working.

Another thing I know is that it doesn’t help to pour in or push in all sorts of stuff in to me, in the hopes that it will carbo-load something somewhere. All that does is upset my systems completely.

Part of the carbo-loading trick is eat only when the muscle-glycogen-store receptors are working, in the 45 min or so after exercise, or after a couple of days of carbo-depletion.

For the rest I eat less.

Because I need less on daily basis as I am not running so much.

Also because my body is far too good at turing excess carbs into fat. I have enough of that for many Comrades Marathons

The Ultra Ethos

Why do ultras?

The ultra-ethos:

Get yourself strong, start something you might not be able to do.

When the going gets tough, go on; when it gets tougher dig deeper;  go on until you finish it.

Not because you have to, were told or paid to, not because there is a crisis or a medal you can show or a reward

Go on because you choose to.


The engagement, you get to understand, creates good in you.

Logic of Running

The logic of running:

Running strength grows only if enough recovery and adaptation is allowed between runs.

I know I should rest tomorrow.

I know too I won’t. Gotta feel I’m working and not indulging as I might easily do.

Recovery running

Recovery Running

In the logic of endurance running recovery runs help recover from harder runs. It’s also there in the recovery runs and the times that we don’t run, that we adapt to the worker and so get stronger.

I glad that now here in March with the run less than 3 months away that I’ve found my recovery pace.

Actutally I found my harder running pace of 5:30 min/km and have to focus, but not much, to do some of the runs I do at just over 6 min/km.

Recovery and Race Paces

This March recovery pace is likely to be my race pace on the big day. Plus the walking and the stops. If I get stronger it will help me walk less. And while I might shave off a second or two of this pace, essentially its set now.




10, actually 12 things to know about Comrades Hydration

Things to know about Comrades hydration


Even if you just want to survive to the end, your survival is more likely the better hydrated you are.

It’s the same for any ultra, and it’s even the same for everyday living.

There’s a lot of science out there that could help you get it right. There is also a lot of hype, advertising and myth, and many points of view. You have to wonder though if its all enough and how and what applies to you in your run.

Here are 12 things to know about Comrades, and by extension or contraction, to marathon and ultra hydration. They are not science. They are about the logic of longer run hydration –

    • distilled, so to speak, from what engaging with what scientists and others say and write, running and, sure, flirting with dehydration.
    • aimed at a framework for engaging with drinking to sustain endurance runninghydration

Proper Hydration

  1. You run your best Comrades at whatever level you choose to engage with it, when you are properly hydrated for as much of the run as possible.
  2. Proper hydration means having the right amount of water, not too much and not too little, with the right things dissolved in it, in the right places in your body for as much of the run as possible. This includes keeping the supply process going so that water is available when it is needed.

Not just water

  1. Hydration is more than just drinking water. To get water through your stomach and be absorbed without unbalancing the levels of chemicals your body needs in its systems to sustain running, it needs the right things in it.
  2. Eating and drinking go together – to hydrate you need the right things in the water; to digest absorb nutrients you need the right amount of water with them. It makes sense to think about them and to manage them together.


  1. The human body can cope without water and food while performing. It also has a couple survival mechanisms, one of which insists on curling up under a tree in the shade  and sleeping. While we can make use of these mechanisms to get through a run, coping and survival mechanisms are not performance, let alone best performance mechanisms. And they don’t guarantee that you will make the cut-off.
  2. One of the early casualties of even mild under-hydration – not enough water – is that your blood volume drops and with it your blood pumping rate and with them your performance. In my speak, your body borrows water from your blood volume (and other body systems) to ration what’s available between all the systems that need it. The funny thing is when you train right you build up your blood volume to sustain your efforts. So its a bit weird to undermine your training by not keeping up a good water supply.
  3. No training can get rid of being de- or under-hydrated. You can be tough. You can show how long you can go without water or enough water. But you can’t out-tough the effects of dehydration. Why bother anyway? You can, not so weirdly, do the opposite. You can train to yourself to drink and process water on the run.
  4. Dehydration is not a thing that occurs later in the run. You begin to use water as soon as you start running. If you don’t replace what your body needs you begin to dehydrate. Actually you use water when you are standing at the start, you even use water when you are sleeping. The deficit begins insignificantly with little effect. The problem is that it keeps building until it becomes noticeable. By then you have to work extra hard to make up the deficit as well to replace what you use while your are waiting for the deficit to be fixed. This can be tricky if not extremely difficult without stopping or seriously slowing down.

Train to drink

  1. It’s easy not to train drink and eat while doing the months of running training. Because training distances, even 42 km marathons are shorter than Comrades, you can catch up after them. In Comrades  you have to catch up and keep up hydration while you are running.
  2. Its actually very easy to train to drink on the run. You take what you need with you, get someone to bring it or plan your runs to go past places where you can buy things. By testing out things, you get to know what you need, how much you need and when you need it. You can get to know your needs at different effort levels and for vary conditions in which you run. Your body learns to process water while running, It’s good to end a 2 or 3 hour training run not needing or being keen or desperate for anything to eat or drink; needing only, as you relax afterwards, to pee the blondest pee.

The Basic Plan

  1. The basic plan is to:
  • get properly hydrated before the run,
  • top-up even from when you wake to the start gun
  • drink regularly during the run. The water-tables are spaced just right to help you with your liquid needs.
  1. To reinforce this, note that it takes time, maybe even up to an hour, for what you drink to get to the parts of your body that need it. This means is drinking ahead of your needs, drinking before you get thirsty. Thirst is not a good indicator of drinking needs for long runs. It’s  triggered by a deficit not by a need that hasn’t arrived yet. Anyway thirst is easy to ignore or override. 




The big day looms big

So why Comrades 2011, so far, hard?  Got so much before, so what come back? Partly I know: be strong for my life’s autumn; healthy for two beautiful kids; top-up my soul with moon, stars, friends, more of the riches of the running world.

But one more medal holds something I can’t know ‘til it’s in my hands, ‘til later when the culmination subsides and I can hear the whispers of the stars.

How’s that? Better not catch a cold. Finish packing! Come on! Sunglasses, Viagra, in mean electrolytes capsules, pacing schedule, energy bars, peanuts more …


Packed so far: shorts, vest, lucky socks, news shoes worn with 150 km off their soles, timing chip, a couple of memories. Need spare shorts in case I lose more weight, these ones are barely hanging on … I wish. Got a zip-lock bag of external resolve; last year I took a 10l jerry can. Less training more resolve; more training gotta force myself to stop grinning, jumping, getting on the plane 2 days early.

Day before:

Gotta preserve these old legs. Following Lance Armstrong’s example I took my performance enhancing things: wine last night, coffee this morning, water and fruit salad then 25 min cycling at 70 rpm. Weight, according to the gym scale is stable if not a few grams less plus I had my glasses on. Relief. Taper isn’t making me heavier so I can eat more:-) Test of gut and calluses less than 8 days away.

Before that: I ran a bit.


The Perfect Distance … part 2

Part 2 of  Facet 2 of what makes
the Comrades Marathon an ultimate run

First, more of the feeling on crossing the Comrades finish line.  With relief and achievement comes: a marvellous affirmation of all that you dared, all that you did, all you prepared, all you endured; acknowledgement that you campaigned and survived; a culmination well-resolved that allows you first to rest and assimilate what you did; then to fan the embers of the fire that you will next burn. And there is still more in that feeling but now for more on the Comrades distance.

Is ~90km easy?

On TV, Comrades looks easy, even from the side of the road. If only a few people took part, it would look harder. But the constant stream of runners, ordinary enough looking, makes it easier to trivialise the run.

The front runners relentlessly race to the finish. Besides a sweaty stagger they hardly look, from the outside at least, as if the distance was much of a problem. While they walk the finish arena sipping maybe soup, other runners are out on the road and will be for hours still. They smile and wave. They crowd to be on camera. Some wear funny hats. It’s a long party – chatter, jokes, music thump-bump, spectator cheers and runners’ responses.

But it’s not only that. Under the festive noise, the TV commentary, the exuberant interviewers, is a quieter soundtrack: a faint gurgle as runners’ endurance slowly drains; the rasp of a blister, the crackle of a crumbling will; the effort of a foot forced forward.

The TV doesn’t show this increasing, compounding wear on the runners; doesn’t show the increasing concentration etched on the runners faces. It’s inside the runners who feel it and have to manage it.

Anyone tempted to call Comrades easy merely needs to relate it to how they feel after a day of sitting at an office desk, of standing for an hour doing a presentation or in a queue, or how far from the gym-entrance they try to park – then multiply the fatigue by twelve or fifteen or a thousand.

I remember a colleague, Frank saying, “You can walk it.” I’m not sure I could, I walk too slowly and walking uses untrained muscles. “Maybe I could,” I said, “but can you?” Reality is a good test of lots of things that go on in words.

So if you are tempted to say Comrades is easy, enter the event, go and do it.

If you’ve run Comrades before it’s easy to think that it’s an easy run. You just need to train a bit. We forget the hard parts too quickly. My 8th Comrades was the hardest. I thought I would never run again. It took 5 month before I started running again. But by January the next year I was looking forward to the 9th.

But maybe the easiest thought of all is that Comrades distance is too far, that its roads are too hard, the views uninspiring – I mean how many of us go off the route to look down into the Valley of a Thousand Hills. It’s too easy to reject Comrades and quickly  multiply the justifications for avoiding its test.



The Comrades distance needs a mind-shift. You have to expand what you think is possible. If your mind won’t conceive the distance, if you can’t, so to ay, fit it in your head, running it is so much harder.

Comrades also needs a body-shift, mostly out of the door. Because, you can if you want to think about this a little, mind and body are one, actually it needs to start the cycle of mind-body->body-mind shifts.

With great spirit you can enter the race and commit to its training; dreaming of the medal you will earn. It’s just as easy, 3 or 4 times a week to run easy runs and think you are doing enough; to skip a run or six in January. Race day is a long way off, you understand, there is time to train. But because you build your running strength by constant accumulation, your body does need to shift more and your mind does need to shift your body out the warm bed, out the cosy music in the car on the way home after work, into the running world.

There’s another thing. The glow of beating the hills and cut-off of a run-of-the-mill-perfect 42.2 km January marathon is great. In Cape Town we are lucky to have my favourite marathon, the Red Hill. Beautiful route (that takes in a small part of the Tuffer Puffer), a serious climb and a very good determinant of two things: one being how fit or unfit you are, the other that it predicts the best Comrades time you can achieve that year – ~2.5 time that marathon time.

You know deep down that all you can do over the next four months is to get strong enough to do that prediction.

It takes little jolt, maybe that of a double espresso after the breakfast to celebrate the finish, to remember that on Comrades’ day, 42.2 km isn’t even half way. It’s true, you see, that running a 42 km is an achievement in itself. The problem is that 42 km over a hard course, then another 42 also over a hard course, then a little more.

That jolt reminds me that even when I was at my strongest, doing 140km a week with training runs of 44 km on consecutive weekends, I needed to snooze after each one. Maybe it was just that I didn’t want to mow the lawn. But actually after running 44 km I didn’t feel like running more right then – I preferred the after-run snooze, feet in the sun, in the lingering memory of the run and the sizzle and fizz of a perfect after-run breakfast, and the crackling smell of more fresh coffee. Still, as I drifted off, I remembered that 90 km is quite a long way too.

Part 3, the last, of the Perfect distance comes next

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