It’s been said ‘The more things change – the more they stay the same’

Comrades runners are reaching the final week of peak training, and with that anxiety and concern grows over that ‘extra-long’ journey to the Moses Mabhida stadium, which out shadows both Kings park rugby stadium and the Kings park athletic track.

The distance fears are unwarranted:

Firstly there is absolutely no physiological reason for being concerned on the distance. If you can run the qualifying time, and have been training over 2 and 3 hour long run, you have the training necessary to complete whatever the distance you wish.

As an ‘extreme’ example:

My history in running was not one of talent:
The slowest and bulkiest in class, I was put in as hooker, and as long as I arrived at the ruck it would be flattened!
Twists of fortune after school, saw a sudden promotion to 1stXV rugby, and that inspired a need to get fit, which resulted in my becoming a hooker of provincial (district in UK) standard, weighed 85kg and a BMI of 29, compared to a running ideal under 22.

I arrived in Durban, from snow bound Scotland, on 22 February 1981.
One month later I ran my first Savages marathon, (where I met the great Kenny Craig with only!! 22 comrades at that stage) in 2:55, and another month later was 11th in the Arthur Newton 56km from PMB to Hillcrest (the top guys were cruising behind), which led to a 7;09 on my debut Comrades in 1981.

If we need all these long runs of 4 hours, 60 plus km, and so on… then sorry I failed, but was still able to get to the finish on the allocated day. (basically on 80 minute rugby match fitness and three months of running in South Africa)

Recognising (incorrectly) that the further the distance, the better I was, my next ‘adventure’ was 100 miles (161km) in 1982, which was duly completed in 14:07.

Better at longer I thought: So in 1983, (with legendary Kenny Craig and Dave Park of East London) won the Star Mazda 1000km race (10 days x 100km), and yet my training had been around 3 hour and shorter runs, with the prior 100 mile and Comrades.

Clearly, I was not adhering to SA ‘myth’ and protocol by meeting the requirement of running a marathon every second weekend, although in April 1983 on a ‘end of contract’ trip to UK and extended to USA, I ran what was then the world’s fastest intercontinental back to back marathons of London in 2:42, followed the next day by Boston in 1983. I guess that did prove my affinity to South Africa running culture! But clearly I was driven by something else.

The critical point is that anything longer than 3 hours of training is about psychological benefits, and beliefs!

What determines our distance limit?
The distance we are able to run is the balancing of speed and time.

Our potential to complete a distance between 1000m and 100km is determined from our ability over the 1 mile, 5km and 10km distances.

The faster we are there, the faster we will be over the 15k to 100k distances. FACT:

The fact is that all my rugby playing, which saw me sit on the bench against the midweek touring All Blacks the year before I came out, had given me some speed and capacity. Rugby is like a short interval or fartlek session. Its about speed over the short distance, with easier slower running and walking to the next break down or restart of play. (speed speed speed, and mostly from the ball of foot push off)

It was this potential which in only 3 month had been turned into a reality with a weekday runs of an hour, and weekends of 2-3 hours.

From 1983 this was augmented by cycling, Canoeing and swimming for Ironman / Ultra triathlon purposes, where gold medal were earned in Leppin Ironman, Durban Ultra Triathlon, and a 7th place in Hawaii 1984, and the 3rd ever South African finisher.
It was my introduction to Tim Noakes and Bruce Fordyce who advised and managed our victorious Leppin London to Paris Team in 1984, that brought home the importance of speed v distance.|

In short: In three years I had moved from bulky 85kg hooker, to an international 100 mile and 24 hour runner, who with the dropping of sanctions, would run 6th in the 250km Spartathlon and gain international colours for Ultra distance and triathlon.

Slowest in class – to International class: – This is NOT about distance!!!

The same potential is true and in each and every one of us:

The faster we are over 5km / 10km the faster potential we have for Comrades:

Providing you can run 61 minutes for 10km, a flat-out mile in 9:20 or better, or a 4:56 marathon, then YOU can FINISH Comrades.

If we haven’t ‘overdone’ it then on Sunday 10 June 2018 we will all finalise our trip from Pietermaritzburg City Hall to Moses Mabhida stadium: – with ONE KEY proviso!!!

THAT We: — engage our brains at the start and run with common sense to a well thought out pacing regime!

The athlete can be as fit, healthy and fast as you want over the short distance, but if you don’t have a logical pacing plan, then you will never achieve your best.

How accurate does your pacing plan need to be?

Lets consider a point 4km into the Down Run Comrades not far past the UKZN Campus on Chief Albert Luthuli road:
If you are just over a minute too fast at this point you will be targeting a time that is 30 minutes too fast at the finish — Too Fast for your current ability! – That’s like being capable of a 4:45 marathon, BUT, going off at a pace that will give you a 4:30 finish!!!

Only as we all know, from experience, it WONT! – you would have a great run to 30-35km and then BAM! – straight into a wall, from which the shuffle to the end will see you finish over 5 hours!!!
The same is true, but even more so with the 90 plus Km of Comrades.

If you want to fail or commit ‘ Comrades suicide’ – then go off at a pace that the stats show you cannot sustain for the whole distance!

No one can (significantly) beat the stats:
” a 3:07 marathon runner can squeeze into Silver,
” a 3:42 marathoner can hit the sub 9 for a cherished Bill Rowan:
” it takes a 4:32 marathoner to get a 11 hour bronze.

Unfortunately the obtaining of the sub 12 hour Vic Clapham copper, is NOT solely in the hands of a sub 5 hour runner.

The Impact of Cut Off times:
The reasoning for the decisions of Comrades Marathon leadership in recent years is not clear, but the stated intermediate cut off times have had a major say in the outcome of those runners fighting the 12 hour cut off time.

Compare the current approach to the example of the very long 1971 Comrades down run.

Dave Bagshaw, (who as a novice, won and set records in both the 1969 down, and 1970 up run) won in 1971 on one of the longest courses in Comrades history. Bagshaws time of 5:47:06 just missed his 69 down record of 5:45:35.

Consider this:
Allowed to run his own chosen pacing regime, Bagshaw was even faster per km on the longer course!
Being allowed to run their own race is the only request being made for the class of 2018!

Interestingly, and noteworthy, is that the Comrades Organisers of that time (1971 was Collegians Harriers), understood the runners needs and extended the “half way chopper” by 30 minutes!!
This will be of no surprise as the organisers were all runners, and understood these things. Pride, profitability, and power base was not a key part of Comrades in these years.

Finally don’t think running to Moses Mabhida Stadium is novel

There is nothing to fear – Do NOT get scared of the long trek to Moses Mabhida Stadium….. Its been done before!!!!
Twice in fact and further!!!!

The traditional and founding Comrades date was 24 May 1921. This was Empire Day, and the races were held on that holiday, until the birth of the Republic of South Africa in 1954.

For Two years the race was in limbo and the Comrades was run on 14 July!!

(Yes, mid-winter: arguably a far better time to hold it from a weather view point: and yes even the Gauteng and Cape runners found ways to train, just as the Canadians, Scots, Norwegians, Finns and Northern USA do each year to come to Comrades –
July – or August – would also: Be in northern hemisphere holiday seasons: allow us to race both Comrades and Oceans each year: – and hold a fast cool weather marathon (SA Champs) – a subject worth much more consideration IMO)

There was a major difficulty in getting venues for the move from 24 May to 31 May, Republic day.
In Maritzburg, a venue was secured with the building of the race organisers, Collegians Harriers, clubhouse, but in Durban few would allow the use of their grounds.

The organisers found their home at Kings Park Athletic (and then cycle track), which was used for the 1957, and 59 down runs.

Those who know Durban, will know this is around 200 metre north of the entrance to Moses Mabhida stadium.

The runners, who it should be remembered, ran the hilly side roads from Cowies hill, and went down through Cato Manor, and up and OVER tollgate before shuffling down the steep Berea Road, past the beer-sodden support of the Osborne hotel, into Durban and then along Umgeni Road, had a harder race route than today.

No: Few things are truly NEW. We are simply following in other footsteps, and there is no reason to worry.

1957 was the year that Mercer Davies won in 6:13:35 and Clive Crawley, the Comrades number 1, ran his first race and won the Novices trophy in little over 8 hours 30 minutes. There’s no reason to be scared, Clive went on to be the first person to do 42 consecutive runs – going 200m shorter to Moses Mabhida will NOT kill us………

Comrades consistency of culture, ethics and history v power, pride and profitability:

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the above look back in time, is that I have not seen any mention of that 1957/59 race venue from an official CMA documentation.

Given the mass of concerns that have been raised over the distance, it is surprising CMA have not turned to history to highlight this fact, and put modern day runners minds at rest!

Perhaps again the real question to be asked is: ‘how much of Comrades history, tradition, culture, and ethics do many of the current decision makers have or experienced?
How many have run, and / or still run?

It would be unfair to blame these qualified professionals, but without that Comrades experience few people can emphasise with the true message, meaning and emotion of Comrades.

Equally we need to appreciate the view of most of those who have earned, and are passionate about the coveted Green Number, and the race, is important.

We are not all the same, and perhaps the future will show the benefit of overlooking, or choosing between, the founding principles, and creating a vision based on pride, power, and profitability?

However, as sure as Vic Clapham valued each life of his Comrades lost in the 1914-18 war, and as sure as he honoured every finisher, (including L.E.W. Pearson who was 20 minutes after the cut off but got the first ever bronze), there are many Green numbers, and Comrades runners, who are convinced that the ‘race history’ is the rock solid foundation, and that it must be highlighted, and foremost, and never lost, to those runners who come after.

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