Can you see yourself getting that Comrades Medal on 16 June? What colour is it? What time did you do? – If you can’t see yourself running under the banner at Kingsmead then your task on 16 June will be that much harder. If don’t believe you can successfully complete Comrades then why should anyone else?

It may be that up until May you were focussing on simply getting the training done and actually haven’t really sat down to think through your mental approach to the race, but the truth is that the longer the event, the more ‘mental’ it becomes.

It doesn’t matter how long the race is, at roughly ¾ of the distance we ask ourselves the searching question – ‘what the ?! am I doing this for?’ In a mile event it happens during the 3rd lap – (have you noticed how the 3rd lap is always the slowest?) – in a 10km its from 7 to 9km and in a marathon its that ‘wall’ between 34 and 39kms. The big difference is that in the mile the ‘questioning’ lasts for a mere minute, in the 10km it lasts from about 6 to 12 minutes, and in a marathon it can last from an ‘elite’ 15 minutes to a back-marking 35 minutes. However this can extend to a mind-blowing 2 ½ hours of self-doubt, if you have not properly mentally prepared for the Comrades.

Undoubtedly the first thing you should know before you commit to Comrades is ‘why’ you are lining up on 16 June. It simply isn’t enough to do it because its there, there has to be meaning why you are going to put up with the fatigue of running for most of the day, the jarring and pain of throbbing quads as you hammer your feet  –step by step – on yet another downhill towards the sea. This question and doubt starts at the top of Fields Hill – at 64km – only a few kilometres more than a half marathon to go, but between you and the finish, there is Cowies Hill, 45th Cutting and Tollgate hill to climb, the leaders have finished, the sun is etching the imprint of your vest on your back, and the thought of getting into one of those Imperial ‘Vulture’ vans is beginning to look as equally attractive as their scantily clad, long legged drivers!

It is only knowing ‘why’ you are doing comrades that allows you to break through this ‘no man’s land’ barrier. Its not important what your particular ‘driving need’ is as long as it is of vital importance to you. It is the importance of the reason that gives you the ability to go beyond your normal ability.  A good way of adding to that reason is to use your run to raise funds for someone else, such as Starfish which is one of the official Comrades charities who assist the many kids in our country orphaned by the AIDS endemic. Even wearing the Ama-beadi-beadi around your neck or wrist will remind you of your ‘reason’ as you run.

One of the best examples of the power of ‘desire’ is the case of the mother who came out of her house to find her child trapped under her car. Not only did the urgency of the situation allow her to lift the car at the wheel with one hand, but also to drag her son out with the other hand. This is an extreme situation, but it shows how deep rooted desire can over ride the ‘thermostat’ in our mind that limits us to what we believe we are capable of.

Ask any golfer about the restriction of our mind. Often golfers play a good first 9 holes, but only work out the cumulative total after the first half of the round is complete. When they realise just how far below their handicap they are, their game falls apart and the second 9 are equally above handicap, so that they finish with their ‘normal’ score. Quite simply we live to our expectations and beliefs.

Clearly then we need to work on our own belief mechanisms to ensure we can achieve or full potential. A good starting point of course is to work out our realistic finish time using the statistical methods we have mentioned before in these columns. (11.36 times your best 10km time, 2.42 times your best marathon time). Talk yourself through all the positive facts of your build up. – The consistency of your training, your improvement in speed, your total training distance, the fact that you only have one more week of peak training then 3 weeks of taper and so on. Over the next few weeks be like a lawyer and build your case – focus on all the positives of your training and why you can achieve your target time.

Visualisation is another, and complimentary aspect to mental preparation. As you get into the rhythm of a long easy solo training run your mind might well flick to thoughts of Comrades. Perhaps as you stride downhill you think of the 30km from Hillcrest to the finish. You have made it through the first 60km holding back and now you are able to run fluently on the gradual downs towards the ocean and Durban. Soon you are no longer running in your local area, instead you mind has transported you to places on the Comrades route where you can not only see but also feel yourself over-coming the challenges ahead.

A quiet room is a more frequent venue for visualisation. You may find it easier when the lighting is kept low and the first step should be to get into a relaxing position with no distractions.  A good way to release tension is to work from your feet up, by first holding a tension in your muscles for 10 seconds then releasing the tension. The ‘comparison’ helps you relax each muscle in turn from your feet to your neck and even your eyes. Then mentally paint a picture of yourself lining up at Pietermaritzburg City Hall before the start – picture the crowd, the lights, the clock edging its way towards 05:30, the gun and the gradual erosion of the runners ahead as you move towards the start line. From here ‘see’ yourself running the whole route down to Durban and the finish. Initially this visualisation will be as a ‘spectator’ following your run from the outside, as if you are seeing it in a film. If you find that you come across a problem or see a potential hiccup – stop the ‘film’ and rewind so that you can sort out how you will deal with it on the day. Remember things do and will go wrong on the day, but if you have already seen the problem and sorted out a strategy of how you are going to deal with it, then you wont panic in the actual race.

Once you have managed to visualise your run as a spectator, try viewing the race from inside ‘you the runner’. See and feel the race through your own eyes. – Where will you see your seconds, how much water will you take at the water points, who are your running with, who are you passing, what pace are you running, where will you place those regular 3 minute walks that will provide intermediate landmarks to break your run into manageable parts. Try to cover the race in detail and try to recognise and solve as many of the potential problems as you can think of. If you come across a negative, rewind and decide how you can turn it into a positive.

For instance many people try to run in a group for comrades, but infact this is not necessarily a good thing to do as we all tend to hit good and bad patches at different distances in the race. So if you see your shoe-lace coming undone, don’t panic about having to stop and tie it while your group move ahead, – rather view it as a positive: You have a reason to stop, let the heart rate and breathing return to normal, stretch and change the muscle use by tying the lace, perhaps a short walk, and then to gradually start back. By comparison your group haven’t rested and they will fatigue sooner, and in any case you are now running to your rhythm.

See everything as a smooth movement – there are no massive accelerations or surges in Comrades. Just like the most economic driving, it’s a case of gradual acceleration or deceleration to conserve energy, particularly over the first 70kms to the top of Cowies hill. It is at this point that you know if its going to be a good day or bad day, and that is determined by how much energy you can save in getting to this point.

The great thing about visualisation is that you can use it to ‘re-programme’ your thermostat to see what you want to see as your capability and this can squeeze an extra 5 or 10% out of your ability. As with physical training it takes effort, it takes consistency and it needs planning, but the amazing thing is that if you stick at it, running Comrades on the day almost becomes ‘de ja vu‘: There are few if any surprises and you simply fulfil what you have taught your mind that your body is capable of. Believe in your own ability – see yourself achieve your goal and on 16 June you will become a winner!

“Business Day columnist Norrie Williamson presents the Virtual Comrades show at the following times at the Comrades Expo, and the Golden Horse Casino, where you can follow a visualisation over the whole Comrades route in short presentation, as well as receive a personal prediction and pace chart for your finish time in Comrades 2003 ”

Friday 13 June
10h30 – 12h00 Pick ‘n Pay Virtual Comrades
12h30 – 14h00 Pick ‘n Pay Virtual Comrades

Saturday 14 June
10h00 – 11h30 Pick ‘n Pay Virtual Comrades
12h00 – 13h15 Pick ‘n Pay Virtual Comrades

Sunday 15 June
12h00 – 13h30 Pick ‘n Pay Virtual Comrades

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