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04 Oct, 2010

My Comrades: Modern Athlete readers share their Comrades 2010 experience

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Comrades 2010 was a highlight for many and a disappointment for others. Whether you won a silver medal or finished a second before the 12-hour cut off, one thing bound all of us on the 89.2km long road to Durban... and that was the incredible and unique experience of finishing one of the most gruelling ultra races in the world. Modern Athlete readers share their Comrades 2010 experience.

Werner Bremer
Race Time: 6:56:56

When I think about Comrades 2010, my feelings alternate between dread and elation. Dread when I think about the preparation and the whole trip to Durban and elation because I ran way better than I ever expected. My goal was to finish between 7:00 and 7:10, but as close to 7:00 as possible. I eventually finished in 6:56:56!

On Friday I arrived in Johannesburg from Nuremberg, Germany without my luggage, after almost not flying out the previous night (from Paris) because of a technical fault with the one engine on the A380. Not a problem though, as I had my shoes, ID chip, heart rate monitor and watch, ski-pants and running socks with me in my backpack on the plane (thanks to my wife!) I still had to run around to get some energy gels and plasters before the race, but eventually I had everything and could calm down and get rested for the race itself. (I still don’t have my bag…)

This was my first downhill run and I was quite apprehensive after everybody told me it is worse than going uphill, especially the last 30 km. Well, now I can say give me the down run any day and I will be happy! I prefer it!

My training got off to a shaky start. I started ‘training’ (sort of) in middle November 2009 after not having run for two years. I initially ran 4-8km a couple of times a week. At the beginning of March I started with a proper silver medal training program. One piece of advice though: make sure you have been running more than just 15-25 km a week when you start with a program that expects you to immediately run a minimum of 75 km in the first week!

As we had our coldest winter in 50 years, 90% of my training was done at temperatures ranging from -3 to -20 degrees Celsius. Twice I had to rest for 2-3 days to give my lungs some time to stop hurting after doing 22-27 km at around 10 degrees. The cold made it even more important to warm up properly and especially stretch before starting the runs. As I overlooked this second part in the beginning, I ended up with a lot of torn muscles during my training which could have been avoided.

I ran my qualifying marathon on 14 March in Kandell, Germany at a temperature of 2 degrees C. Because of the lack of stretching I developed micro tears in my calf muscle at 36 km. I hobbled to the end to finish in just under 3 hours, after being well on my way to a personal best. Because of (preventable) injuries I lost around 4 weeks of training overall during the 14 week training program.

Comrades day itself was a dream! My sister organized a place in Pietermaritzburg for us on the Saturday, and although we slept on the floor on very thin foam mattresses, I was well rested at the start of the race. On entering the starting block I met and greeted Dirk Cloete and two other Irene runners. As the gun went off I was with the pack like a hound after a fox. After 15km I got rid of the plastic bag I was wearing, something I will never use again as it made me sweat a lot and then the cold air made me freeze. My pace was way too fast and I had to force myself to go slower every time I looked at my splits and heart rate.

Next time I will just ignore the splits and run my pace according to how I feel! Trying to slow down my pace actually also had the effect of tiring me out, as I had to concentrate harder on keeping a slower pace which did not feel comfortable.

At 30km into the race my gluteus muscle suddenly started hurting. This caused me to overcompensate and then my knee started hurting as well. Whenever I got to an uphill I had to start walking as the pain was just unbearable. Over the whole distance I probably walked half of all the uphills, which meant I lost a lot of time. Luckily for me I could make up some of the time on the down hills, clocking around 4min/km! I even stopped once to have the muscle massaged and later tried to massage it myself while running and walking.

In spite of all this, I had a great time! I never felt really tired and never felt fed-up with the race or wanted it to be over (like in previous races).

I even had time to ‘dance’ to the music of the supporters. The kids really enjoyed it when I slapped their hands. Seeing their smiles when you slap their hands or take something from them really made it worth the while to ‘lose’ the couple of seconds in doing it!

The supporters were also great, especially all the Irene supporters! More than once it forced me to start running again on an uphill, even if it was only for a couple of hundred meters, just to show appreciation.

Another thing that influenced my race a bit was the lack of nutrition. I was going to get my energy drinks from a specific producer. The only problem was that I did not once see their tables and never got the drinks! They were there, but not very visible.

Luckily I took five sachets of energy gels with me, but this ran out 28km before the end. I then had to rely on bananas and potatoes (I generally hate eating during a race) and the Energade drinks to supply me with the needed energy for the last stretch. Luckily it was enough, though I did feel I needed something extra over the last 3km.

Before I flew to Durban I told myself that this will be my last Comrades ever, remembering the previous races. After having such a great race this year I know I will do it again, and know that without the injuries before and during the race I can go at least 15 minutes faster.

I learnt a lot and here is some advice:
• Always have the essentials for the race with you if you are travelling with an airline; shoes, ID chip, clothes, watch and so on.
• Make sure you have been running more than 1-2 months before starting a serious training program.
• If you pick up an injury while training, depending on the type of injury, remember you can still train at a slower pace up to the point just before it really hurts.
• Don’t rely on others for your energy gelds needed during the race. If you do, make sure you have a back-up plan.
• It is better to get a good night’s sleep in the town where the race starts, than to get little sleep and having to get up at 3am in the morning and stress whether you will make it to the start on time!

Thank you to all the supporters at Irene Running Club, especially Marina and Wynand (all the admin stuff), Bertha van den Raad (for taking my bag to the finish) and my family, Karin and Paul Prinsloo (for getting my ASA numbers and running clothes to me in Durban) and Francis Venter (for a place to sleep!)