The Recipe for a Successful Comrades Marathon Run

Let me tell you about my special bread. I make this bread which is loved and appreciated by many. It’s delicious. It has nuts and seeds and honey and gives one an enormous sense of well being. I just went and took the recipe out of the cupboard and laughed at it. 20 years ago when I first made the bread, I used that recipe. Well, I didn’t so much use the recipe as look at it. I got the idea, added a sprinkle more of this, a touch less of those and some other pinches and globs of stuff because I felt like it. The outcome was a bread which people love and ask for. If I were to make the bread today, it would in no way resemble the recipe that I just read, in fact, it would probably be very different to the last loaf I made.

Let me also tell you about my sons. At the ripe old age of 30, I decided I wanted children. At round about the same time, two teenage boys landed on my doorstep needing (probably not really wanting) a mother. Our being a perfect match, I adopted the two boys and am now the proud mother of a beautiful grown up son, Frantz and a beautiful growing up son, Richard. I know that many people were horrified by my choice, not least of which was my family. Why were they horrified? Aside from the fact that teenagers are horrifying? They were horrified because that’s just not the recipe for becoming a parent, now is it?

Let’s just say, I don’t do recipes. I can’t. I won’t! Bread’s not as tasty and life’s not as meaningful for me if I’m following the recipe.

Today I ran a 15km race in the arse end of Joburg, where there are no trees and very few houses. Boksburg! What a shit place! The race profile says “fast and flat”. If they were referring to my post nasal drip and my chest, maybe. But the race was nothing like that for me. However, I managed to run a PB 15km, beating my previous best by 3 minutes and not running one km over 7 minutes! I hardly run 15s except for that one out in the arse end of Joburg. What a shit place!

So what was my recipe for my race today? I took the basic which I always use: Don’t die. Don’t come last. I added a bit of that which I usually use: Run as fast as you can for as long as you can. But I’m improving on the recipe. Now I allow myself a walk, but the walk is not allowed to be more than 50 paces and I can’t walk unless I have run at least 300 paces since my last walk. Count your steps on the uphills (I stole that from Leslie’s recipe). But it’s not about the measuring cups and the scales for me. I’ve added yoga into the mix and I’ve added a regular Thai massage (Holy crap! You want a great stretch which will have you sleeping like a baby for days? Visit Auddy at Puri Thai in Parkhurst. Ask for the traditional Thai massage and be prepared to be stretched in a painful, albeit most enjoyable manner. I can’t explain that in any other way.) So my recipe for Comrades success is improving.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have a plan. It just means that I have the basic structure and I’m improving on it as I go. I know all about Tom Cottrell. I know about Tim Noakes. I read Tim’s book, only to find him releasing a new edition the day I finished, refuting many of the claims in the edition I’d just bloody well read. (recipe changed!) Anyone who has trawled through or even threatened to trawl through Tim Noakes’ book will understand how pissed off I was when the new revised edition came out. (Okay, I promise. That’s the last time I’m going to tell you how pissed off I was to have, only the day before, finished reading The Lore of Running.) I’ve read Barry Holland. I’ve read Don Oliver.

In addition to all this reading, I am well educated in: homoeopathy, nutrition, psychoneuroimmunology, whole foods, foods as medicine, how the body works and so on. All of these are the taste buds, without which, my recipe would be of no use. I knew more about my body and it’s reaction to certain types of exercise and food than most people will ever know about their own bodies, long before I started running. Running has served to enhance that knowledge. So, I am in the enviable position to be better placed than anyone on the planet to formulate my own recipe for Comrades success.

Have you ever watched a Comrades marathon? Yes, to win a Comrades marathon, there’s a very real chance you have to be shortish, you have to have toothpick legs. You have to have sinewy muscles attached to those toothpicks. In many cases, you have to have a shimmering black skin and you have to have run thousands and thousands of kilometres since January that year. But even in that recipe, there are people who make the bread just as delicious, by adding to or taking away from that list. Take a day to watch a Comrades Marathon or take some time out to look around you at a race or watch a race in your area. The people running in the top 20 positions look similar to the basic recipe above. Some run 30kms per day. Some run 10kms per day. But the people behind them don’t even have the basic recipe going. They are fat, thin, tall, short, big legs, small legs, black, white, pinkinsh, orange, male, female, diabetic, blind, sighted, gluten intolerant, lactose intolerant, people who had bread before they started, people who haven’t eaten in 12 hours, sober, hungover. And any mixture of those ingredients will have them doing their best. There is no real recipe for running a Comrades Marathon! You have to prepare your body to run 90 kilometres at roughly 7 minutes per kilometre for 11 hours and you have to prepare your mind to recognise that achieving that will be incredibly difficult, but you should never give up. (That’s the “preheat oven to 180°…..or 150° depending on how you want the crust to come out”!)

You need to read the books. You need to listen to others’ advice. You need to train. You need to eat properly. You need to listen to and understand your body. Those are the taste tests. You need to go to many bakeries and taste many breads and things that aren’t breads so you can know what you want in your bread and what will work well in your recipe.

Most importantly (actually, just most narcissisticly) you need to remember that because I don’t blurt my recipe out to you and tell you how to make a good, no, great loaf of bread, doesn’t mean I don’t have a recipe. Maybe my recipe is still evolving and getting better, but I’m not able to improve on a personal best time for a 15km without a recipe. It’s just not a recipe that I can write down for you right now. Maybe after my twelfth Comrades Marathon, I’ll write down the recipe, but right now, my recipe is working……for me, especially in the context of what I know my body can cope with. If I want a baker to bake my bread for me, I’ll hire one. I like my bread. And my bread is good enough for me. If you want to support me as I evolve my recipe, feel free, but don’t tell me I’ve got the recipe all wrong because it’s not the same as your recipe. We’re in this thing for different reasons. Our breads will never taste the same. Find your recipe for success in running and in life and then evolve according to what you like. Some recipes you might like, just the way they’re written down, then follow the recipe if that’s your thing. I’m not going to let someone else write my recipe and I don’t always follow the recipe. Some breads just need an extra glob of honey.

Yours in the love of running and bread-making

The Slow Coach

All Is Forgiven….

I’m hurt! Not emotionally, physically. Although, if I were hurt emotionally, the person responsible for that hurt would know who he is and he would know what he had done!

You know what you did!

You know what you did!

But I’m not emotionally hurt, I’m physically hurt. And I’m hurt from what was otherwise a reasonably forgettable 21km race. I learned two very important lessons today. I learned something I already knew and I learned something about last week’s race that I needed both last week’s race and this week’s race to teach me.

Lesson #1: They’re not joking when they advise you to slowly and gradually run in a new pair of shoes. I got a new pair of running shoes a few weeks ago. I’ve run about 6km in the shoes and today I donned said new shoes for a 21km run. Not wise. But more about that later.

Lesson #2: Don’t help others! What a dreadful lesson! Let me explain. Last week, I helped two or three or eight ladies through the second half of a marathon. At times, I knew I could have gone so much faster, but I stayed with them. Admittedly, when I was at a low point, they were there to….well, I suppose, keep me company. But I think I missed qualifying for Comrades because I helped them. I think I could have qualified on that route, but I didn’t because I felt guilty and I felt afraid. Guilty for leaving them when they might have needed me and afraid because I thought I’d need them to repay the favour when I hit a low point, which they did. The reason I come to the stark realisation today that I shouldn’t help others, or let me qualify that, help others at the expense of achieving my own goals, can be found in how I came to be in Boksburg on a freezing Sunday morning on my oldest brother’s birthday. Happy birthday Graham.

Happy birthday my brother

Happy birthday my brother

I had seen this race on the calendar and had decided to give it a go. I’ve got a few marathons under my feet now so 21s are a pleasant distance for me. Mike, coming back from injury and illness, was going to do back-to-back 21s this weekend, the second of which was going to be this, the Birchwood Hotel something or other, the name of which escapes me now because Vodacom’s hideous excuse for signal at my house is not allowing me to go onto the Internet. So I don’t know what I ran today. I just know it was in Boksburg where there are no trees and too much pollution. I told Mike I’d run with him today. I’ve been getting faster and faster while Mike has been injured and sick and so I’ve been faster than him in the last few races we’ve run. But a nice easy run with Mike to support him on this mammoth task of back-to-back 21s was a decent gesture and would make for a pleasant run this birthday Sunday.

And so I found myself shivering at the start of a 21km race at 7am in Boksburg. Mike and I were chatting to some of Mike’s friends (lots of “G” names, which always confuse me – Greg, Geoff, Grant, Craig, Graham, Gavin, Garth….) and so we set off in a jovial mood. I was taking small steps so as not to go far ahead of Mike and when he walked, I was able to keep going at a similar pace to him. What a pleasant run. Mike is incredibly friendly and I think he is so partly to goof off or to have an excuse to walk. He talks to everyone and specifically seeks out those that are walking or running slowly so that he can amble alongside them. I think he is able to run much faster than he does….but this is not a school report on Mike and his ability. I hardly worked up a sweat or even a discernible heart rate. I was really going slowly, but it was very pleasant. I’ve been so obsessed with getting better and better and getting to Comrades, that I’ve never really just done as little as possible, but here I was, purposefully underachieving. All for a good cause. (I know Chrissie has spent one year doing the same for me. Thank you Chrissie. I now realise how frustrating this must have been for you, albeit very pleasant.) At 9kms I got grumpy which I always do at 9kms. At 13kms I wanted to give up which I always do at 13kms and at 15kms I started to limp. I think the new shoes, combined with the smaller steps I had been taking to keep up with Mike were too much for my fragile frame and at about 15km I needed a hip replacement. The reality, however was that my gluteus medius and right hamstring were the cause of my troubles and I began to limp. Mike also started complaining about a paining hamstring and we took a lamppost approach to a few kms.

Then Mike started to do time calculations. He had been doing them periodically throughout the race and I had just nodded silently, knowing that, if he wanted to go faster, I could go faster. At this point though, he started talking about doing 2:45, which I could have done if we had been running at a decent pace from the beginning of the race, but now, with an injury and a limp, I wasn’t sure I could suddenly start hurrying. Mike usually finishes very strongly and I was aware that, at some point, he may get bored and want to go faster. But I was hurt and I want to run Wally Hayward in 10 day’s time so I didn’t want to do any serious damage. And then, to add insult to injury, literally, a car shot a rock off the road. It flew past Mike’s leg and straight into my ankle. If I wasn’t limping before, I most certainly was now. I stopped and rubbed my ankle. You know how near the end of a race, you can’t bend down because your quads and hamstrings just don’t wanna? Not me, I had been having such an easy race, that I just stopped, bent down and rubbed my ankle. But my glute and hamstring were aching. And now my ankle was throbbing. My compadre didn’t notice and he ran ahead. He suddenly had a goal. He started out with a total underachiever goal of less than 3 hours. Suddenly, close to the finish, and realising that he had kept a good pace throughout the race (no thanks to me, of course), he made a goal to beat 2:45. So he ran ahead, leaving me limping behind him. He’d turn around occasionally to give me a thumbs up which I thought meant “Are you still able to move forward?”, but which he later explained, meant “Would you like me to slow down so you can catch up?” I kept nodding because I was still not coming last and not dead yet so “Yes, I am able to move forward.” Not “No, please slow down.” I caught him occasionally, because he was doing lampposts while I was able to run the whole time even if it was slowly and with a limp. Eventually, however, his strong finish and desperate need to beat 2h45, had him speeding ahead. Mike did indeed finish in 2:44 and I finished three minutes later in 2:47.

And so there were my two lessons:

  • #1: Run in a new pair of shoes properly and
  • #2: Don’t help people at the expense of your goals (even if you make up those goals as you go along). I feel depressed now.

I must admit, the post race massage,

Pabi's post race massage rocked! Click on the pic for their website

Pabi’s post race massage rocked! Click on the pic to go to their website

the Springs Boys’ Marching Band,

Springs Boys Marching Band

Springs Boys Marching Band

and the fabulously friendly people along the way

Friendly People All Over the Place

Friendly People All Over the Place

made the race a total hit with me.

Loads of friendly people along the way

Loads of friendly people along the way

The aeroplanes coming in to land as we ran underneath them also made for tons of squeals of excitement.

Aeroplanes along the way

Aeroplanes along the way

You see the strangest things on Boksburg races.

You see the strangest things on Boksburg races.

I will definitely be back for this race next year. Hopefully they’ll have medals and t-shirts for everyone next time and hopefully Boksburg would have planted some trees by then.

There were many people running today that had run Loskop in the pouring rain yesterday. You’re idiots! Well done. Aha! Birchwood Cross the Line. That was the name of the race.

Yours in the love of running……

Thank you Shaun Horsepower for the amazing photos!