Bruce Fordyce
5 minute read
23 Apr 2022
8:10 am

Fordyce’s Comrades focus: An August run means May is the new March

Bruce Fordyce

In Part 1 of our build-up to the big race, the focus is on doing the right training to prevent sickness and injury. 

The annual Comrades Marathon will be held in August from this year. Picture: Anesh Debiky/Gallo Images

Now that the Two Oceans dust has settled, and the post-mortems of the great race have been completed, it is time to take stock and make plans for the Comrades Marathon in August.  

When the Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) first announced that the race would be run on 28 August there were howls of protest from some quarters. 

Yes, we all understand that change often makes people uncomfortable. Try changing a runner’s familiar training route if you want to see an adverse reaction to change.

But the rationale for the August date was more than adequately explained in the letter the CMA sent out.

• The Comrades race date has changed many times in the past. Unlike the Boston Marathon (Patriots Day) or the Two Oceans Marathon (Easter) there is no traditional date for the Comrades.

• There will be more daylight for the race when it is held in August. This makes life easier for exhausted runners struggling to the finish line and for volunteers trying to set up and clean up after the race.

• Despite the understandable fears expressed about the KwaZulu-Natal heat the CMA have consulted their weather experts and have been informed that daytime temperatures are only marginally warmer in August than in June. And June is not always cool and mild. 

The furnace-like conditions of the 2013 up run spring immediately to mind. That year hundreds of runners found themselves struggling and the medical facilities were almost overrun as berg wind conditions wreaked havoc. 

But there is no more time for discussion on that. The arguments are over. The Comrades will be run on 28 August. 

So, how do Comrades runners approach this new challenge?

Firstly, they must adjust their calendars; 28 August is now the new mid-June race date, and May is now the new March and the start of the important hard training phase.

Most of us understand that it is only possible to sustain intense, committed and hard taining for about 8-10 weeks.

Any longer, and injury and sickness loom and motivation starts to wane. 

Those who started training flat-out in January and February and who produced some excellent results back then need not be envied.

It simply means they have started way too soon and may have to rest a bit until entering peak training phase.

For those who ran the Two Oceans Marathon or similar marathon on the Easter weekend and ran well, they could not have timed their training better. 

They can now rest and jog lightly to recover from their efforts and then regroup and build up again next month.

It is a bonus that the new Comrades date has made it possible to race both major South African ultra- marathons hard. 

In the past there simply wasn’t enough time to race the Two Oceans hard and then race the Comrades a scant few weeks later and do justice to both. 

I am aware that some notable runners achieved remarkable doubles but the double was a high risk gamble, and I’m not much of a gambler. 

The perfect Comrades training programme is all about timing and the understanding that success at the Comrades Marathon does not necessarily go to the runner who trains the hardest but rather to the runner who trains the wisest. 

For that reason I have always argued that the time to start this intense training phase in the old days was at the beginning of March (8-10 weeks before race day) allowing for a steady taper and rest before event day repetition. 

Now the same applies to the new race date. It is just that the calendar has shifted and the hard training grind must now start in May.

This does not mean no training before. Consistency and a steady running foundation (I used to run 100 to 120 kms in my easier days, then jump up to 160-200). Some of my running rivals ran as much as 240 kms a week. 

Hopefully every aspiring Comrades runner brings a training base, a solid foundation to the critical three month slog. 

The aim here is to build the endurance and strength required for the Comrades and then in the last few weeks to add speed and stamina and then to taper and finally rest for race day. 

Now only a few athletes can manage 160 to 200 kilometres a week but what will be required from the beginning of next month is a consistent blend of L.S.D. (Long slow distance runs), hilly runs, some speed work or faster running – and of course , some rest. 

When pushed into a corner with the question as to what the least training is that I can get away with, I confess that I believe a few weeks of the Comrades distance run in seven days is about right.  

There will be setbacks, sickness and injury. The physiotherapists in particular are licking their lips, as are the doctors.

No one has a perfect training build up, not even champions. Every Comrades runner has to confront setbacks from time-to-time.

It is going to be made even tougher in winter. Canadian runners and European runners are used to long runs in dark and cold. 

Up here on the Highveld, I remember some bitterly cold July days where my poor dog bumped his nose on the ice in his dog bowl and our fingers went numb despite the gloves we wore and a bitter wind cut through us. 

I must admit there were some early mornings where I sought comfort under my duvet rather than venture out into the cold but then none of us were training for the Comrades. North American and European runners would be chuckling at us.

Here we go – the great adventure has begun. There are still a good number of sleeps ahead but before the Comrades runners have even noticed, it will be race morning.