Illuminati to Cool – The Starting Pens at Comrades

I’m so confused now. I just shouldn’t read. I’m less confused when I muddle along ignorantly. But I’ve been reading and now I’m confused. Yesterday I ran the 20th Sasolburg marathon. Not MY 20th Sasolburg Marathon. Just Sasolburg’s 20th Sasolburg Marathon. Sasolburg is so named for the petrol-derived-from-coal industry which exists there. Sasol is the name of a company in South Africa which began as a fuel manufacturing business, manufacturing fuels from the rich coal deposits in the surrounding areas. Truth be told, it’s a pretty crap place, air-wise. Grey smog covers the whole place and from the highway, as you approach the town, you notice an enormous furnace producing noxious smoke which spreads like a blanket over the entire area. The people are incredibly polite in Sasolburg, in spite of the poison filling their lungs and homes all the time. A couple of observations from my marathon yesterday:

  1. They have low walls around their houses. For the most part, the houses have low walls which is a beautiful contrast to the high walls and electric fences visible in Joburg. The only thing I really hate about Joburg is the wall around my house which imprisons me. Not a problem in Sasolburg.
  2. People obviously don’t need their shoes in Sasolburg. There were many abandoned shoes on the road as I ran along. It was quite noticeable. I saw at least 20 shoes. Okay, it was a double lapper (sort of), so I probably saw only half that number, but still. It was a very peculiar phenomenon and I was reminded of the horse shit which was similarly abandoned at the Kaapsehoop Marathon.

So why am I confused? Well, this whole Comrades seeding and medals thing is very confusing to me. I always tell my students, if you are confused about a topic when you’re studying, try and teach someone else and that way you’ll understand it better. So here goes:

At the start of Comrades, there are 9 batches. You have to qualify to run Comrades. One way to do that is to run the previous year’s Comrades Marathon. If you simply use last year’s race as the qualifier, you get dumped into the crappy batch H-group, no matter how you fared in the race. The other way to qualify is to run a qualifying marathon. There are several all over the world. So there are 9 batches: A-H. You see! You’re also confused now. Let me break it down like this (sounds like an old-school hip-hop song):

  • H (Hope to finish) – batch: These are people who, as I explained, either use last year’s Comrades as the qualifier or who run a qualifying marathon in less than 5 hours, but more than 4:40. The average pace for the qualifier must be less than 7:06min/km.
  • G (Getting better) – batch: These are people who run a qualifying marathon at an average pace of less than 6:38min/km or under 4:40 but more than 4:20.
  • F (Flipping fast) – batch: These are people who run a qualifying marathon in under 4:20 but more than 4:00 or at an average pace less than 6:09min/km.
  • E (Elders) – batch: This group is reserved for the Green Number Club which is made of those people who’ve completed 10 or more Comrades Marathons. A very well respected group of people of which I will never be a member. Never!
  • D (Diabolical pace) – batch: Qualifying marathon pace = less than 5:41min/km (a pace at which I would be haemorraghing by 4km into the race) or 4 hours for the marathon. 4 hours for 42.2km. I’m getting nauseous just thinking of it.
  • CC (Charity) – batch: Not “Charity” as in “We feel sorry for these people.” “Charity” means people who’ve raised over R5000 for any of the various charities supported by The Comrades Marathon Association by 2 May. Also known as the Amabeadibeadi Race4Charity group. (Essentially, you can buy a spot higher up in the rankings.)
  • C (Champions) – batch: So these are the people who Chrissie and I refer to as the A-team. 5min/km required to finish their qualifying marathon. I run 100m at full sprint at about 5min/km! Their average speed is 12km/h for the full 42.2km. On 1 June when you see them go, you’ll know that at some point during the preceding year, they ran a marathon in under 3:40.
  • B (Best) – batch: These are people who work and run and nothing else. People like Justin. They run a ridiculous number of kilometres every week. For example: Justin is, as I type this on the Sunday after a marathon which he ran in a comfortable 3:22, out for an easy 15km. I have my feet in a foot massage thing hoping the fire will leave them soon. The Best Batch run a qualifying marathon in less than 3:20. I’m thinking about that and I think I should go lie down now. Average pace for the marathon? 4:44min/km for the whole 42.2km.
  • A (Illuminati) – Group: Marathon time of less than 3 hours. Pace = 4:15min/km. I’m not going to say much more about this except to add that generally, these people have 3 training sessions per day. Often, an average daily run for a Comrades runner in this group can be 30km. Hahahahaha! Imagine! Running 30km per day. Just imagine.

This table is a breakdown of the various qualifying times. Comrades allows you to use other races longer than a marathon as a qualifying time as detailed below.

Comrades Marathon Qualifying Races.jpg

So what’s with the seeding batches? We found out yesterday the real “Why?”. Seedings are there to stop early birds who are walkers or just really crap like me from going and lining up at the front of the race, only to be run over and trampled by the masses behind them as the race starts, thereby injuring themselves, endangering, holding up and frustrating the much faster runners behind them. We found this out in Sasolburg. Chrissie, Janine and I ambled up to the start from the parking yesterday. We though we were at the back and just early. We were, in fact, in the front, facing the wrong way and early. As we became aware that we were standing surrounded by A-teamers and Illuminati, we became nervous and laughed at ourselves. Unfortunately, by the time we realised, we were trapped inside that heaving mass of sub-3s and had to come up with a strategy to get the hell out of the way as soon as possible as the race started. When the gun went off, Janine and Chrissie managed to do that. I squealed girlishly and tried to make myself very small by putting my head down, holding my arms as close to my body as I could and running at break-neck speed for 200m. I’m not joking. That’s what I did. My aorta shrieked and eventually the marauding mass thinned out and I could edge over to the side as we’d agreed to do. Chrissie and Janine caught up with me and we carried on together at an abnormally fast pace of 5:15m/km. Janine then sped off towards achieving a 4:10:59 for the marathon.

This time I had a timing chart on my arm so that I could check my progress towards a 4:20. That’s a ridiculous stretch, but I thought I should aim really big and see how I did. My confusion comes from thinking that G-group had a qualifying marathon time of less than 4:20. So that’s why I was aiming for 4:20. I knew I wouldn’t achieve it in Sasolburg, but I had to have a stretch goal. I had to try and be in a better group than H because H group starts Comrades, on average, 12-15 minutes after the gun goes off, leaving you 12-15 minutes less to finish that 89km between Pietermaritzburg and Durban. A handicap I could certainly do without, knowing what I know. So on Friday night, when I was putting together my timing chart, I aimed for 4:20, knowing that I had to work harder to get closer to that higher batch number. Knowing what I know, I scheduled my first two kilometres for 7:00m/km, giving myself a little time to warm up. With the marauding masses and Chrissie and Janine, the first two kilometres flashed by in under 10 minutes.

I’m a Project Manager by profession, but generally keep the planning nonsense out of my private life. This time I had planned. And if I had planned, the world was just going to bloody well stick to that plan no matter what! (The first lesson I learned from this planning was: Timing Chart goes the other way around on your arm. Oops!) Unfortunately, I didn’t send out the memo to the Illuminati at the start of that race, nor the Cool Kids, Chrissie and Janine. I whimpered: “I’m going too fast,” to Chrissie. Nothing changed. Half a kilometre later I whined again and still nothing changed. So I grew up and took responsibility for myself and told Chrissie to run ahead, I’d catch up later. I needed to slow down or face burning out at 36km. As I slowed down, a lady came running up next to me and started running with me. She told me she was going too fast. Having something in common, we carried on together. And so began a mutual Angel relationship. Chantel and I ran the entire first half together. She was such a blessing to me and so much help. She kept me focussed on the timing as I had planned. She claims I was the same to her as she was returning from recovering from an operation. She was behind in her preparation for her first Two Oceans Ultra, but she’s doing well. She was also a real trouper. She was struggling with sore feet, but she kept running according to my timing chart, not wanting to affect my timing for the marathon. By the time she turned off for her 21km finish, we had drifted 3 minutes behind my schedule, but I was happy. We had run a very fast 21km, with Chantel crossing the line in 2:10:36. That’s by far my fastest 21km. Even faster than the mineshaft, Kaapsehoop.

As I ran through the 22km mark, someone or something pulled up my handbrake and for 8kms, my legs felt like they were running through treacle. And I was hungry. These days, I’m always hungry. I dewormed myself the other day cause I thought there’s no way I can be eating all the time and still be hungry all the time and still be losing weight. I’m told this is normal. I’m told this by Illuminati like Megan and Michelle so I’m being circumspect with the word “normal”.

The rest of the race was largely uneventful except I kept falling behind schedule. Not too badly and it didn’t demoralise me because I knew that I was going to kick my Kaapsehoop time in the butt! That was more important to me than G-batch. Everyone had told me that Kaapsehoop would be a fast downhill marathon. Having qualified with only 3 minutes to spare, I kept telling myself that I hadn’t really qualified. I knew that Sasolburg was a respectable marathon and I was going to make sure that I did my best for 42.2km to comprehensively beat 5 hours! I crossed the 32km mark in 3:25:30 which was a whopping 35 minutes faster than my fastest 32km race. I punched the air and gave myself a high five and a whoop whoop. I ran my best 32km in 4:01 at Tough One in November. (You know, November which was the other day!! November 2013!).

Several of the remaining stories I have about this race begin with: “I came up behind this guy…”, or “I was running past this woman…”, or “As I ran past this couple…”. The second half of the second 21km was very tough, but I know I ran the last 5km faster than I had run any of the preceding 5kms in the second half so I’m very chuffed. I passed a very Iron Man-looking guy at about 40kms who had beautiful legs (as Iron Men tend to do). As I passed him I complained, “I wish I wasn’t passing you because you have very beautiful legs.” He laughed and said, “I just wish they’d work!” “Well they’re still taking you forward, so they’re still doing okay,” I reminded him. I hope I never lose the perspective I have now. I am so lucky to be running. I know that a thoroughbred couch potato lives in this skin. The fact that I can run a marathon means that anyone can run. Really! Anyone can run if I can run. I will remain grateful for every step I’m allowed to take. I was buoyant as I approached the very nasty beach sand in the last 500m. As I came running into the stadium, I looked down at my watch. 4:38:50. Kaapsehoop, KISS MY ASS! Chrissie and Justin were standing just beyond the finish and they were cheering me on.

And this is why it’s important to know what the batches are about….

Seeing my buddies, I relaxed and hopped down the last 50m, dancing and cheering with them, ecstatic that I’d beaten my PB for a marathon, but blissfully unaware that I was about to miss the cut-off for G-batch or rather that I was about to upgrade my Comrades seeding to G-batch! I looked up at the clock: 4:39:30 (official time is 20 seconds less than that so finish must have been earlier). Justin and Chrissie greeted me with as much excitement as I owned at that moment. They are such great friends. They appear to derive immense joy out of other people doing well and improving. I love them for that and so many other things. Justin proclaimed the news to me that I had improved my seeding for Comrades by coming in under 4:40. I burst into tears! Lol! And since then I’ve been giddy with joy and excitement. Justin, as I said, had finished the marathon easily in 3:23:46 and Chrissie (who did the Half Iron Man the weekend before) finished in 4:22:18. One day I might be cool like that…

And if all that awesome news wasn’t enough, I won the shoe draw at RAC Time Trial on Tuesday. Today I went and got the proper size. I now have a great pair of brand new running shoes to add to my new pair which I bought on Friday (yes, I ran a PB marathon in brand new shoes! Sometimes I just can’t do rules.) Thank you The Sweat Shop and Adidas and Asics.

I’m still going to try for under 4:20 at Kosmos 3-in-1 in March, but my focus for that day is not speed but distance. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Gratefully yours

P.S. Internet issues have prevented me from finishing this in one day, so although the first part was written on Sunday, I finish this off on Thursday! Better planning for next time. 😉

9 thoughts on “Illuminati to Cool – The Starting Pens at Comrades


    Brenda, if I can run everyone can run, you wouldn’t know but I know where I come from. hope to see you on the road. Kosmos is a good marathon route. you can do it.

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  5. I stumbled on this post and I’m very grateful I did. You have a lovely conversational style of writing peppered with with humour. Laugh out loud- relate to- humour. My marathon time comes in under the 4:20 and you made me appreciate that a lot more than I have previously. You will get there I hope and believe.
    All the best! Stephen

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