Eat Right for Comrades Recovery

Running Royalty at Comrades!



Ask most South Africans what pops
into their head when they think about the Comrades Marathon and more than
likely the name Bruce Fordyce will be mentioned. He won the race nine times
between 1981 and 1990, including eight consecutive wins, at the same time as
the race became a nationally televised ‘institution’, and unsurprisingly was
soon dubbed the Comrades King. This year will see Bruce running his 30th
Comrades, and he says his preparation went well: “I can’t wait! I structure my
year around Comrades – that’s why I keep coming back. I am expecting to get in
under 7 hours 30 minutes so I can get my silver this year.”

Bruce took on Comrades for the first
time in 1977, placing 43rd and steadily worked his way up the placings until he
claimed second place in 1980, just behind winner Alan Robb. In 1981, Bruce
grabbed his first Comrades win in 5:37:28, and would go on to win it the next
seven years as well. His ninth win came in 1990. In 1986, Bruce set a Down Run
record of 5:24:07, which stood for 21 years before finally being broken in
2007. His 1988 Up Run record of 5:27:42 stood until 1996. While Bruce dominated
the race in the 80s, he says that he had some tough competition to beat,
notably Alan Robb, Johnny Halberstadt and
Bobby de la Motte (who was runner-up three times to Bruce between 1984 and

Last year, Bruce only just missed a
silver medal by 31 seconds, but he’s confident he’ll get it this time!
“Obviously I’m less competitive these days, but now it’s me against the clock.
I don’t care about who I’m running against. This year, I intend to enjoy
myself. Last year, I killed it. It’s a pity when runners overkill it and forget
to enjoy the ride,” he says.



In the last two weeks before
Comrades, Bruce follows a strict routine in training, running 10km in the
beginning of the week, then tapering down to 8km, 5km and resting on the two
days before the race. Every year, he drives over the course before the day to
remind himself of what lies ahead. “Comrades is another sort of animal
entirely. You have to be prepared for anything and you have to be familiar with
the route,” he says.


Bruce is also said to be a Tim
Noakes disciple, following a strict protein diet with his training. “Back in
the day, I could eat anything and I wouldn’t be bothered, but it’s different
when you’re in your fifties. When I was running I felt heavy, so I started
eating differently and I’ve lost weight,” he explains. Bruce describes his
healthy lifestyle very simply: “If it looks delicious, don’t eat it!”


Throughout his career, Bruce says he
stayed injury-free thanks to his knowledge of his body, “I know how I work and
I don’t do stupid things to harm my body. Through my training, I’ve found it
important to change my running shoes to adapt. I use heavy shoes for a quality
session and change to lighter training shoes for another run. Also, you have to
warm up properly for a worthy session.”



Bruce points out the top of Field’s
Hill, overlooking Durban’s skyline, as
well as Polly Shorts as the stand-out sights on the route. “The day is so
special, but memories like that are quite moving. When you grab sight of the
sea in the last 20 kays, it’s great!” His passion for the race is unyielding,
encouraging novice runners to pursue their Comrades dream. “Just join a running
club with a reputation for running Comrades and by process of osmosis, you’ll
be running it. You’ll hear all the stories from members and you’ll be inspired!”


Unsurprisingly, Bruce’s guidance is
often sought by fellow Comrades runners, including recently by former South
African middle-distance track star Zola Pieterse (n?e Budd), who is taking on
her first Comrades this year. “Zola asked me for advice because she was unsure
about a lot of things. She wanted to know how to taper in the last weeks and I
gave her advice and told her what I do, cutting back on mileage and going for
short, quality runs.” For every Comrades competitor, even Zola, the King’s advice
is straightforward. “Start slowly! It’s a hilly race, so much so that you’ll
think the Down Run is up for the first 50km or so. The best advice I can give
is to enjoy it and take it all in.”





In 1983, a petite, barefoot 16-year-old
Zola Budd clocked an amazing 8:39.00 for 3 000m and turned heads around the
world. Then in 1984 she broke the 5 000m world record in Stellenbosch, moved to
Great Britain
and suddenly she was representing her adopted country in the Los Angeles Olympics,
where a famous clash with Mary Dekker of the USA
became one of the biggest talking points of the Games. Years later, Zola would
win two World Cross-Country Champs titles as well.


Now known as Zola Pieterse, the
former track star has recently moved up to ultra-marathoning, having run the
Old Mutual Two Oceans 56km in April, and is now taking on the gruelling 89km of
the Comrades. She says she knew she had to challenge herself: “I was at last
year’s Comrades Expo and it was then that I decided to take it on. Comrades is
a part of South African culture. I’ve always watched it on TV, and as an
athlete you’re always drawn to it,” she explains.



Despite cold and wet conditions at
Two Oceans, Zola enjoyed the distance, clocking in at 4:29:51. She then also
tackled the 50km Loskop Marathon,
coming in fifth woman overall and first master in 3:40:03. “My body has adapted
quickly to the distances and the preparation has been good! For Comrades, my
aim is to finish in eight hours. For me, the real race starts at 60km! If your
body can survive until then, you can push through,” she says.


Zola never thought she’d take on
Comrades, having never seen herself as “a marathon runner,” even though it was
always at the back of her mind. But this year, she is spending as much time as
possible training, having used Loskop and Two Oceans as her key training runs
and spending three times a week on core work in the gym, as well as
complimenting her training with swimming and cycling. She also commends Bruce on
mentoring her through the Comrades process, giving her tips to follow before
the big day and on the route itself. “He has been a huge help to me. He told me
not to go in too hard, too soon, and taught me a lot about tapering down in
May. Bruce just told me to learn to read my body and pace myself when
necessary.” Zola also says Bruce told her to “keep it simple” on the day.


Zola has her own advice for would-be
Comrades novices: “It takes patience! Wait until you’re ready and properly
trained to take it on.” She also recommends working up slowly from 10km races,
through half marathons and then marathons, until you’re ready to push on
towards the Ultimate Human Race. “And don’t neglect your speed work and quality



While the former barefoot starlet
will be wearing shoes on Comrades day, she is a committed ambassador for
barefoot running and minimalist shoes. She has been promoting Newton
shoes for the past year and has been introducing the South African market to
the benefits of minimalist shoes and a less aggressive heel-strike. She is
based in South Carolina
in the USA
and travels to South Africa
every few months. Her homesickness is apparent, but she believes that she and
her family will come home some day. “We still have a business and our home in
Bloem, so coming back is always a possibility. There is also heaps of support
from the country!” she says.


Her children are attending school
abroad, but are coming over in June to watch their mother’s maiden Comrades
run. “It’s nice that I’ll have my family here on the day! It will be the
greatest motivation to see my kids on the way to the finish!” And with the
famous, much-loved name ‘Zola’ on her race number, there’s no doubt that all
the spectators and fellow runners on the route will recognise her and also
cheer her on.