It’s a pity the Comrades Marathon isn’t run in October because if it were, hundreds of runners would approach the great race conservatively and correctly. They would tailor their training to peak at the correct time and many more would achieve the goal they wanted. But unfortunately the Comrades is run at the end of May and so many get it so wrong.
There is something addictive about New Year’s Day and its association with the start of the road running season. The first day of January is almost hallucinogenic in its ability to persuade runners to abandon reason and to rush headlong like lemmings to the precipice of injury.
It’s as if someone has fired a starting gun and you’d better not get left behind. So, I have already heard, with some alarm, that there are run ners delighted and proud of the 60km training runs they have already completed and Twitter is abuzz with runners proudly posting “550km for the month”. “Feeling chuffed!”, and “Great start to the year, 600km in the legs.” Then there are the depressing messages “Comrades dream shattered. I’m injured. Feeling suicidal.”
My old running mate Graeme Lindenberg, now practising as a physiotherapist in Cape Town, once described this January malaise as “desperately-keen-titis“. Runners are overcome with excitement and zeal and in the lovely summer months they are desperately keen to train as hard as they can. Graeme always enjoys this time of the year. “We physios love it,” he says rubbing his hand with glee. “Give it a couple of months and there will be a queue of limping marathon running patients at the doors of our rooms.”
And that is the whole point. Of course Comrades runners have to train hard and display lots of enthusiasm, and of course it’s wonderful to boast that there are “600 training kilos in my legs”, but it is all about timing. The Twitter boasts need to circulate in March and April and the pride and delight of a well-run 60km training run need to be felt in those same months, not now, with the race still almost four months away I repeat this mantra every year: “Proper Comrades Marathon training starts at the end of February.” Then it is indeed time to get addicted. For eight to 10 weeks from the end of February the training has to be intense and it should reach a peak in late April, not in summer, but in autumn.
I always associate proper Comrades training with those mornings when the autumn leaves are blowing in the streets, a cold wind chilling the air and most training runs are run in the dark. Comrades runners need to hold themselves in check now. It’s only for another three weeks and then project Comrades can start.
That doesn’t mean Comrades runners can sit idly by in these summer weeks and twiddle their thumbs. Each day now can be spent running regularly and building a training foundation upon which to build a Comrades training programme in March. There’s also the necessary irritation of having to run a qualifying marathon to be dealt with. To stay sharp I recommend having a weekly run in a time trial or short distance race.
So a typical February week for most Comrades runners would look something like this: Monday: rest. Tuesday: 10km fun pace. Wednesday: longer midweek run (12 to 15km) at a steady pace. Thursday: 10 km fun pace. Friday: rest. Saturday: faster time trial or short distance faster run. Sunday: half-marathon or slightly longer at a slow pace.
The key at the moment is to have fun and enjoy running. It is going to get serious and tough at the end of the month.