Mystical Miles: Running Living Beaming is a marvellous book about the deeper experiences life has to offer. And sure, it's about running, about the fullness of what it is like to run. Not quite a training guide though with lots practical tips, it goes further and through running explores the shimmering brilliance of life
Training for Comrades
A no-frills guide to getting the most out of the Ultimate Human Race, the Comrades Marathon
Besides the ďraceĒ of life, as my friend George Parrot would say, the Comrades Marathon is the ultimate human race. Most people wonít know why it has this stature, Most reasons why it is so will be groping in the dark, maybe lighting a small, nay, tiny area of its richness and power. Some of us know the much more of its secrets because we are lucky. But it doesnít matter what we know. The core of it all is the process of self-discovery and the discovery of the richness of life.
Sure, some will denigrate the Comrades marathon. Many will ignore its call. They are the poorer for it; they miss out on something truly special. Maybe they are just frightened of themselves and of life. Even some of those who take part miss the essence of the experience.
This training guide will help you to get the most out the event: training, running on the big day; experiencing all the aspects of the event and opening yourself to the experience.
So what does one do to get the most out of Comrades?
Right first time. Comrades is about doing.
Talk is cheap Ė running is what counts.
The key to training
Running is the start. Run regularly build the habit of running 5 days a week. Itís the accumulation of all the miles you run that build the strength and stamina you need to be a distance runner. And itís not only the accumulation of running just for the few months leading up to Comrades, itís the accumulation of years of running that makes you into a real distance runner. Your best Comrades will probably be the 3rd or 4th one Ė if you manage to get your training right and build on each yearís training.
With running come a few rules:
∑ Recovering, allowing your body to adapt to running, is as important as running. Your body is unlikely to be able to cope with six months non-stop increasing effort. So build in easy weeks in between; and have easy days between the hard days.
∑ Many things can interfere with running regularly Ė your family, work, injury, illness, laziness, running too much. Manage these properly, donít take more than you give.
∑ Be careful of long runs (those over 20 km) and of running them too fast.
Types of runs
The main point is or training is to run, but varying the runs helps enormously to build stamina and strength and normal running speed, so that you can run the Comrades distance at what feels like a jogging pace, but is somewhat faster than you pre-training jogging pace. Hard sessions should be followed by easy days, if running twice a day then no more than two hard sessions in a row.
So build in the following types of run:
Steady paced runs
These are core runs of building up leg strength and are a measure of how your training is progressing. The are run harder than recovery runs but less than the
∑ An interval session where you run session like 5*1000 m repetitions with a short break in between, or a variety of 400 m, 800 m and other distances. (With a warm-up run and a cool-down run, the planned distance stays the same. You should walk away from these session feeling pumped up and ready for action and not tired and destroyed
∑ A hill session where you choose a hill or a sand dune and run up it and recover when running down. A 400 m long stretch is just fine. Start doing hill session gently. As you get stronger you can do more.
∑ Time-trials or paced runs. These are run over measured distances against the clock. They are not run at race pace, at maximum effort all the way. They are run hard Ė you easiest hard pace or you hardest easy pace. If you had to race 8 km and your best time would be 32 minutes, 4 min per km, then you need to run these runs at say 4:15 per km. You must feel the effort. You must recover quickly from the effort. Limit the distance at first.
Sport Scientists say that a recovery run shouldnít be longer than 8 km. I have often run 12 km recovery runs to reach a weekly mileage target. Whatís important is that they should be run slowly, embarrassingly slowly and only until you, without noticing it, run faster; and then you end the run. Or if there is till a way to go to where you will end, slow right down, even walk. The wanting to run feeling should bubble and sparkle in you legs; running harder merely evaporates the good the recovery run has done.
Long runs are a big part of Comrades training. They should be run easy. You can stop while running for a water break and a chat. The length should be varied and should gradually increase. Everyone probably has a maximum distance above which long training runs become damaging. Mine is around 40 to 42 km (though maybe itís the route I like rather than the distance which others say is a bit longer anyway ;-)
In my big mileage weeks (after months of training that went well) Iíll run the route I call 42 km one week and instead of running a 50 or so the next week Iíll run another 42 km, and the next week another one. So while it looks like Iím keeping the distance the same, Iím in fact being a bit lazy and thatís what keeps me going.
Itís also good to do at least one run, preferably before a rest week and no closer than 6 weeks before Comrades day, of over 50 km.
Most people (me too) run long runs that are too far and run them too fast. Doing this means that the run no longer builds strength; it eats away at the strength that has been built up. So be careful. Watch what you are doing. Save the effort the for the big day. If the long run becomes an effort, go home. Swim. Have a beer. Running can make it work.
Last point on long runs:
z If your long slow run pace is faster than your planned race pace, (You should have a planned race pace before you even start training right?) then you should do at least half of your long runs slower, practising your race pace. Otherwise how is your body going to be able to run at that pace? Seriously. Ask guys that normally jog around 4 min/km and ask them how they manage to run at 4:30 min/km over the Comrades course. Most of them breakdown, walk, curse and struggle. You have to practice your pace so that you slot into early in the race and then use the regular rhythm to help you through. You have to be realistic though: remember if you canít do it you usually canít :-O
z If your long slow run pace is the same as your Comrades planned pace, then you donít have to worry. Keep at the same pace Ė maybe you will even surprise yourself on the big day
z If your long slow run pace is slower than your planned race pace, then donít worry either. As long as you follow the program and do your effort sessions (hills and time trials) then over the 20 training weeks your long slow run pace will decrease. Thatís what you want. If it doesnít quite get there by two weeks before the big day, then adjust your planned race pace and know that you have trained for that pace. If your training is working you will notice that your runs get easier and easier at the slow pace, that your time trial times get slightly faster. Track your progress.
Planning your training
First plan your weekly distances. Click here for basis for planning your weekly training
Your weekly distances are based on what you can do. This comes from what you were doing in the months before your training starts
For some it will be based on what you want to achieve. In Norrie Williamsonís book at table gives a good guide to the training requirements for a down run Ė it relates you current times over various distances to training distances and predicts a race time. Check it out. You will learn lots by reading it.
When I trained for an ran my silver, the book said that at my race paces I should train about 1800 km in the 20 weeks before the race. I did that and got my silver J
The rest weeks
z Rest weeks are very important. And sometimes these weeks should be eight- or nine-day weeks. Have a break. Let your body recover. Do the house work; mow the lawn, show affection to your significant others.
The idea of batches of weeks
z Batching weeks is based on the theory that by the end of four weeks, the body should be running the distance comfortably and is ready to do more. More sophisticated versions of weekly patterns allow variation between the weekly totals in each four-week batch, but I like to keep it simple.
z Those that know say that one canít train intensively for more than 6 weeks in a row. So, 4-week batches with a rest week should be okay, as long as they arenít too intensive.
z You may also want to make one batch 5 weeks long to accommodate a long run. Because the date the 56-km Two Oceans Marathon in Cape Town varies with Easter Saturday and with it the number of weeks between it and Comrades; planning training has to be flexible. It has to in any case Ė so vary around the proposal but keep to the theory: run, recover, run more, avoid injury
z Increasing the average distance of each batch means that you are progressively increasing your bodyís ability to run further and cope with the effort. But, as always, donít be too mechanical. It may be that you can only do one two of the weeks at the higher distance. Thatís okay Ė listen to your body. If you canít do it, you canít. Pushing hard breaks you down and you will end up disappointed Ö again.
z You may have to run twice per day to make the distance target. Itís not a problem, just do it. But make at least one an easy session; the other do as you please but consider doing it easily as well.
Keep track of what you are doing
Probably the most important thing besides actually running is to keep a record of your training. Note in a book, on a spreadsheet, in a diary how much you are doing and how your are feeling. Rate the following on a simple 1-5 or 1-10 scale and too many in the mid-range means youíre doing too much. At the end of a 4 week batch you should be 10 in all categoriesJ so that youíre ready to do more. If your score is too low, you should rest and recover more. This is a good way to make your self aware of what you are doing, to try to let go of all your unrealistic hopes and fears. You pay attention to what your are doing, you accept whatís there for what it is and you go forward with grace and an grin.
Rating categories and scales:
What follows assumes that you are a relatively normal person, and not that you are at you happiest when you are at you most miserable, or that life has conspired to make your life bum.
Legs ( the most important ;-): one means sore, tired, stiff, canít run. Five means okay, kinda doing all right but running is an effort. Eight means you come home pumped up after a session, feeling great and ready for more, then fall asleep an hour or two after you have had a meal. Ten means you donít want to sleep, and irritate those around you with you boundless, effervescent, infectious energy. Good sign: you vacuum the house at midnight and then start washing the windows Ö in the rain. The numbers in between can be defined to fit what how you feel, my own experience with them is limited. Too many 10ís indicate that youíre not really training and are probably having an affair. You may want to keep your diary hidden.
Body (also the most important;-0 ): This should check whether you are sleeping properly, your digestion, your pulse rate, headache and and nose-running rate.
Running enjoyment (all of these are the most important): rate how you feel about running. Best is when you canít wait to run. That you have done all the things you have to at work faster than normal, run, enter a mystical running zone and come back feeling that you could have done much more, but havenít. Worst is when you really donít feel like running at all, that even the thought of putting on running clothes is an effort. Good signs of doing too much are that you start forgetting to pack your shoes or shorts; or that while you are running the prospect of tripping, grazing your knees and elbows and breaking your ankle, is better than going on another 2 km.
Effort: rate each run you do in terms of effort. Let 8 be your hardest training effort (speed, racing, hill work or distance) the ideal effort. 9 - 10 will mean that the effort will be too much for effort runs. Let 2 be the best effort level of recovery runs. What you should rate is the effort it takes to complete what you want to do. So if a recvery run is a bit strenuous, then rate it 3 or 4 or more. You can the warm-up part of a run a 2 and the effort part of a run 8 so there is a double rating. So, if Monday is a steady effort run the rating may be a 6. Then Tues could be a 2, Wednesday a 2-8, Thursday a 3 because it was one or two km too long. Friday should be a 0-1 because you didnít run, Saturday an 8 because your effort was a 6 but the distance made it harder; Saturday afternoonís walk with the dog a 1, Saturday night at a trance party a 10 because you should have been sleeping, and then you got back on track with 2 for the Sunday afternoon jog.
The important thing is to think about what you are doing and to take corrective action if anything looks wrong. The ratings are an indicator. If the effort is too much for the type of run be careful. You are not recovering enough.
The most important parts of the taper:
z Drop the mega distances Ė cut your distance by 25 % so it you are doing 100 km per week, run 75 km and then 56 km then 42 km. Try it. It works.
z Hit the speed work. Do more faster running over short weeks. You can drop your jogging pace by 30 sec per km during the last 4 weeks if you taper right. Think about it. Your average per km could be 30 sec faster per km Ė 45 min better than what you achieve without a taper and that doesnít even factor in that your legs will be tired and you will go even slower.J Can only be good, even it its only 10 sec wouldnít that be marvellous.