The Fear And Joy of Comrades: The Up Run

Denis knows that Comrades feeling well

Denis knows that Comrades feeling well

Triathlon season is over, so, with nothing else to do, let’s go wandering in the hills of KwaZulu-Natal. If you’ve entered the famous Comrades Marathon, by early May you should be vastly reducing volume and increasing intensity and letting your body heal from the pounding it has taken over the last few months. Just do not be silly and take up some other sport to rid yourself of the edginess you feel by the reduced training – you will very likely pick up an injury. These last few weeks are about staying cool, calm, rested, flu-less and trying nothing new.

Now and again you will feel a flutter in your tummy when you think of the stupidly far distance you will need to run on 2 June, oh and the hills – don’t forget the hills!

Many of you would have read my tale before, but a refresher course does no harm, and will make you suitably scared and respectful of this mighty race.

Firstly, here is some stuff I have learned about Comrades:

  • Over 400,000 athletes have successfully run Comrades over the years; of these less than 200 have won and less than 2,000 have achieved Gold (a top 10). About 7-8% of the field achieve silver (sub 7:30) with 50% of the field finishing in the last hour. But keep in mind, about 25% of the starters do not make the 12 hour cut-off and we know of a few heart attacks and hospitalisations each year.
  • Warning: approach with caution and show respect.

  • For most of us, Comrades is not a race, it is an adventure of the mind, body and spirit and a wonderful fulfillment of a dream turned into reality. Every single runner would have faced and overcome physical and mental obstacles, so don’t worry be happy you are about to hurt yourself.

Comrades is about the smells, sights, sounds, thoughts, finding yourself, cursing yourself, experiencing self inflicted pain, taking your body and mind to places you never dreamed of and above all, enduring memories.

If you approach Comrades a little overweight, a bit under-trained, slightly scared and understanding that the day is very personal (you are not running for your family or anyone else, that is just BS) and is a pure self indulgent adventure, you will have a good day and have a precious Comrades medal that you earned the hard way.

  • No-one apart from you actually cares about your finish time.

  • You will read this quickly but Comrades is a long, long road so do not think that the brief descriptions I use are any reflection of the distance or time or lack of pain.

  • Unless you are an Olympic standard walker, it is not possible to walk Comrades within the cut-off time.

  • The average healthy person who has trained for about four months and covered about 1,000km in training should finish within the cut-off time. But…

  • You cannot wake up one May morning and decide to run Comrades in a few weeks with no training. It won’t happen.

  • It is quite possible to run Comrades on nothing but Coke and water. I have very successfully run five or six Comrades on Coke and water only diluted 60/40, taken every second feeding station. To me the lesson is that you should consume only what you have trained with and take care not to consume too much fancy stuff.

  • I have never eaten solids on the run and do not know of anyone who does (apart from Wendy who eats jelly babies). Your body simply cannot take solids due to the prolonged jostling of your innards and its natural tendency to void the stomach and bowels as your body re-directs its resources to your muscles. This is also why Comrades runners tend to pay a lot of attention to what they eat and drink in the days immediately preceding the run. (and also why distance runners visit the bushes)

  • You will be sore during and after the run, particularly on the down run, everybody is. Do not take pain killers on the run if you can avoid doing so, although many, many athletes do. This is because your body is stressed enough and probably dehydrated, without adding to the kidney’s task of dealing with more chemicals.

  • You will recover quicker if you do not take pain killers on the run

  • You will have one or more bad patches; every runner has them from first to last. Accept that this happens but know also that you will recover, just keep moving forward
  • You will seriously consider giving up sometime along the route, usually in or around Camperdown at about 25k to go on the up run. Be strong, dig deep, the feeling passes. The no name hill at 22k does not help either
  • Massages on the run from the well intended therapists actually do not help apart from the respite during the rub. To me you feel worse afterwards, so save them for the finish

  • The occasional walk is normal and good. We have even seen some gold medallists walking up the dreaded Polly Shortts, so walk briskly if you need to; most of us do.

  • Never, ever, race up or down a hill that has been given a name

  • Always have a plan B… sometimes a plan C is also needed!

  • There is no such thing as an easy Comrades; it is tough and it hurts.

  • About 50% of the field finishes in the last hour, so hang in and avoid the bail bus.

  • Make friends and chat to the spectators, it helps a lot.

  • The recovery drink of choice post Comrades comes in a can or bottle and is amber in colour! Enjoy

  • Keep remembering that sweat is just fat crying.

If you decided to run the UP as your first Comrades because it is easier, CORRECT! Here is why:

    • The up is about 2K shorter than the down (For the 2015 Comrades, the race has been extended by 900 metres making it only about 1km shorter)

    • The start of the up is usually warm and clears quickly so you lose less time than in the down

    • The first half of the up run is a very tough uphill marathon with lots of hills (up ones that is) but the second half is considerably kinder (if you pretend Polly’s is flat)

    • Despite the relentless climbs, the up run is less painful than the down.

    • It is less embarrassing walking up a hill than walking down a hill in the middle of a running race

    • The last eight or so kilometres have lots of supporters and the winding roads disguise the distance as opposed to the down which ends on a motorway and through city streets
    • The after race pain is a great deal less severe than the down run. You will be sore of course, but sore is good and you will recover sooner

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