And so we have it. This is the rub. 5 years of running has brought me to here; the start pen for Wave G at the famous Comrades Marathon. Ok, stop there, rewind a bit. Much like the Two Oceans Marathon in Cape Town in the Spring is NOT a marathon because it is 54K, The Comrades is also NOT a marathon, it is 87K uphill or 90K downhill which, in my honest opinion, puts it squarely in the ultramarathon category. Agree?
This has always been my running A Race, not just for a year, forever! My life A Race. Sure, I will eventually complete the majors and collect my 6 Star, I will, at some time, dump a castle of sand out of my shoes at the end of MDS and tighten my belt through a centurion buckle, but this is the real game right here.
Sure, I have run further. Race to the Stones was 100K and a tester at the time when I had only run a handful of marathons. I wanted to prove to myself, with one eye on Comrades, that I could go as far as I could. And I did. Albeit it was slow, but then it was trail, I was nowhere near as trained, and a chunk was in the pitch blackness of night when running was not an option through cow fields.
I have run in the heat. The humidity of South Africa and the Two Oceans half aside, I have run in the US at the baking hot Crescent City Classic in New Orleans, Athens last year was baking, as was Barcelona and Brighton this year. I will be going against the grain and wearing my hydration vest with fixed bottles rather than solely relying on the water tables and getting caught in the melee. Barcelona was a decent time too. So, I have faith I can handle the heat as long as I can stay hydrated.
Hills. Oh, the elevation at Comrades is so integral to the race that the years are known as Up or Down depending on the direction from Durban to Pietermariztburg. But still, I did run Beachy Head, one of the UK’s most challenging marathons and a fortnight later Athens, that is famed for its difficult elevation. And then there was Portland Coastal marathon this year and the near impossible hills at the key points of the race.
Speaking of Portland, it had a 6 hour cut off, and despite cramping in both calves around mile 21, I managed to make the cut off, last of those that did, but I made it nevertheless.
And so to the pen of Wave G at the famous Comrades Marathon, that is really an 87K uphill ultra in the heat of the African sun with a very strict 12 hour gun time cut off. I have run races that make up all these components, but not as one. I have, in my head, been thinking of it as the first 50K of RTTS, then Athens, but on road. And I think that is the godsend here. It is all on road, and the South African roads are, for the most part, in great condition (as the government ran the railways down to make money off haulage tariffs). And there are 45 aid stations on the route, so dehydration will only be a problem if I make it one. And I am wearing my Salomon vest to stop that too.
So, to the kit. Looking at the photos of previous races runners tend to wear a singlet, with thin straps, and very few wear hydration belts. I have run many marathons without vests and normally do now, but this is a hilly, hot ultra so I will wear my Salomon S Lab vest. It is skin tight, I have worn it many times before and has room for two bottles, ReHydr8, SOS, Mint Creams, gels, and mini mars. The plan is to just keep going. I want to skip a few of the busier water stops if possible and rely on my tried and tested nutrition. Suffice to say, if this was a 87K road ultra in the UK, EVERYONE WOULD BE WEARING A HYDRATION VEST!
I have a few vest options, singlets that is, but I shall most likely go with the New Balance I bought recently, as, if anything, it won’t show any bloody nips. Tried and tested OMM Pace shorts, and On Cloudracers, in the year that On have decided to remove them from the shops for the sake of two new models that neither quite match them. Thanks guys. Baseball cap rather than buff shall be deployed. I do not wear sunglasses to run, but I do listen to music so will have two ipods charged and in the Salomon pockets. And new Hilly marathon socks. I wore them earlier to walk around in and they are super comfy.
I need to get in under 12 hours. How I do it will be a test of what I have learned in my 5 years of racing. In essence I have always known what to do, I just don’t do it. I tend to like to walk when I feel tired, even though I could push on. I use social media and selfies and messages to family and friends as a reason to stop and grin, or take a photo of a mile sign, or a famous sight. None of that this time. The walking is an excuse, because I don’t like to be in pain at the end of a race. I shall run all I can. No selfies, or messages until the end. A 12 hour, or however long it takes me, social media blackout will ensue. I will listen to my body but still push it more than I ever have. A rigid run/walk for 2 mins/1min will work for as long as I can.
I never have truly pushed myself in race despite dizziness from time to time (most notably at the short-measured Brighton half in 2016, Tunbridge Well half in 2013 and Amsterdam half in 2012). I feel that this is the fastest way to fainting on the side of the road and being one of the poor souls with their feet raised, and a group of concerned people around them trying to help them regain consciousness. Whilst I do not want to end up like that, I also do need to pull something out the bag, I need to, this is, after all, my A Race.
I know too, that there is no shame in not completing The Comrades. It is a rites of passage here. People rave about it. It is ingrained in the nation’s psyche. The first person over the line AFTER the cut off is known throughout the land for the next year. And people say that in a week they will either be wearing their Comrades finisher medal, or planning the next year’s race.
And so I will give it my best shot. The key is getting over the start line as soon as possible, avoiding being crushed in the stampede, and to just keep going. I want it to thin out within 20K so I can drop to a 2/1 walk/run and have set both my Suunto Ambit 3 Vertical and my Garmin Vivoactive to vibrate at intervals. The Garmin died after 7 hours at RTTS, so I am hedging my best taking both.
Wish me luck!