With just 30 sleeps to go until race morning, the tension is ratcheting up for Comrades runners.
Actually it is really 29 sleeps to go as sleep is, at best, fitful and sporadic on the nervous night before the race.
Most runners should be running their last long runs this weekend and should then be reducing their training work load significantly during the last remaining weeks.
I say “should” because many will be tempted to maintain the intensity of their training and will try to cover extra distance tempted by the two public holidays on offer in the next few days.
Many will use the excuse that they are making up for lost training in the previous weeks (“I was lazy in February”, or “I was injured for two weeks in March” are the arguments given for not reducing training).
They will ignore the golden rule of Comrades training that demands that Comrades runners should never try to make up for lost training.
Instead they should take comfort from the knowledge that even the very best suffer setbacks in their training. They still cling to the argument that “I need to make sure I am ready on race day. I need to train hard for a couple more weeks.”
Experienced runners know that the best way to make certain they are ready on race day and the best way to gauge form is to reduce the number and length of really long runs and to run some quality training sessions and to race hard over the shorter distances.
At this stage I would recommend running a last 42km marathon (very slowly) this weekend and after that a 30km the next weekend (May 7/8,) followed by a 25km (May 14/15) and then a 15 to 20km on May 21/22.
Attention now needs to be focused on sharpening up and peaking for May 29. This can be done in a number of ways. For the more serious runners the track is an honest and accurate gauge of fitness.
Fast repetitions of 800 to 1 200m with short rest intervals are excellent for sharpening. But the track is a harsh environment and many runners might prefer running informal shorter bursts of speed on the road or golf course.
This type of training is known as “fartlek” a Swedish word meaning “speedplay”.
Every Comrades hopeful should run as many hills as possible. It may be a “down” Comrades this year, but there is still a virtual mountain range of hills waiting for runners.
Runners should try making an extra effort on all the steep hills they encounter or they can even run some hard repetitions up a steep 400-500m hill once or twice a week. But what in fact is the most accurate proof that a runner is ready to run an outstanding Comrades?
Some like to measure fitness in the number of kilometres they have run since January hence the reluctance to cut back on training at this stage. Some runners check their weight.
The lighter their tread on the bathroom scales, the happier they feel. And still others are comforted by the reaction of their friends and families.
They are delighted when Granny wants to feed them and even happier when their friends pay them the ultimate runners’ compliment: “You look awful”.
The late and greatly missed Merle Robb used to walk up to me at the Comrades Expo and pinch my bum. If she couldn’t find any flesh to pinch she would declare loudly to one and all “Brucie-Pie is ready. He’s very fit this year”.
But the definitive proof of perfect peaking for race day is running a fast time or personal best over a measured distance such as a time trial or short distance race.
Runners don’t have to feel fast and fit while running a long training run.
They can be reassured that they are ready to run a great Comrades when they beat the stopwatch at the club time trial.