If there is one man that can advise you wisely on the Comrades Marathon, it has to be Denis Kennedy. He has run 21 Comrades Marathons, 21 Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathons and over 150 standard marathons, to name but a few. And on top of that, he is a remarkable athlete in many other sporting disciplines, including recently winning his age group at Ironman 2011 and Ironman 70.3. For the last couple of years, Denis has sent out an e-mail with advice and tips on how to tackle the Ultimate Human Race. This e-mail has become so popular that each year runners look forward to his advice and take his tips to heart.
Denis agreed to share some of this experience picked up over 21 years on the long road between Durban and Pietermaritzburg. Before you even start the big day, he says you must remember the following:
• About 400 000 athletes have successfully run Comrades over the years, but of these less than 200 have won and less than 2 000 have achieved gold. About 7 to 8% of the field achieve silver, while 50% finish in the last hour, but keep in mind that in 2009 about 25% of the starters did not make the 12-hour cut-off. So approach this race with caution and show it respect.
• The average healthy person who has trained for about four months and covered about 1000km in training should finish within the cut-off time. You cannot wake up one morning in May and decide to run Comrades. It won’t happen.
• Always have a plan B and sometimes a plan C!
• There is no such thing as an easy Comrades – it is tough and it hurts.
• No-one apart from you actually cares about your finish time.
• Don’t take yourself too serious!
THINGS TO REMEMBER ABOUT THE ‘UP RUN’
• The ‘Up Run’ is about 2km shorter than the ‘Down Run.’
• The start is usually warm.
• The first half is a very tough uphill marathon, but the second half is considerably kinder.
• Despite the relentless climbs, the ‘Up’ is less painful than the ‘Down.’
• The last plus-minus 8km have lots of supporters and the winding roads disguise the distance, as opposed to the ‘Down,’ which ends on a motorway and then city streets.
• The start is a very stressful time for first-timers or inexperienced athletes. Being stressed out or cold simply wastes energy. Keep calm and warm, take deep breaths, and chat to fellow runners.
• Get into your pen about 25 to 30 minutes before the gun.
• Check your watch after the first kay or so as it is often bumped off in the crush and you will need to re-start your time.
• Weaving in and out the crowded field wastes energy – but having said, that do not dawdle!
• Get into your rhythm as soon as possible and keep an eye on your pace/time. If you are planning a steady 6min/km, you should do the first 10km in about 65 minutes. This will easily be caught up later, so not to worry.
• If you are looking for a silver medal, you should pass through the halfway mark at Drummond in around 3:40, for a Bill Rowan about 4:15, and for a bronze around 5:00.
• Do not take painkillers if you can avoid doing so. Your body is stressed enough without adding to the kidney’s task of dealing with more chemicals.
• You will have one or more bad patches. Accept that this happens, but know also that you will recover, so just keep moving forward.
• You will seriously consider giving up somewhere along the route. Be strong, dig deep, the feeling will pass.
• Walk briskly if you need to.
• Make friends and chat to the spectators.
• In the final stretch, don’t relax too much – you are not finished until you cross the line!
• Smile for your finish photo’s and try to look like you just had a quick walk.
• Cry if you want.
• Enjoy every second of it, but never ever say you have conquered Comrades, because it will come back and bite you when you feel a bit too confident on your next run.
• Take the medal and hang it round your neck, as it is too hard to carry. Say thank you, because you have just run Comrades, something very few in the world will do. It is a personal achievement that can never be taken away.
• Remember, the recovery drink of choice post-Comrades comes in a can or bottle and is amber in colour!