One of the most important challenges facing the Comrades runner is the long run as it takes some planning to ensure that you can fit them in and that they are done at the optimum time and at optimum pace.
The Comrades remains a feat of endurance, despite improvements in training, running gear and nutrition. The appeal of completing 89km lies in the fact that it is not only a notable achievement, but is also doable for those who are reasonably fit and who are prepared to do the training.
It is important to realise from the outset that only a small minority of runners – maybe 50 runners in a field of perhaps 18 000 – do sufficient training to be able to race the Comrades. Those at the sharp end of the field will hit peak weekly mileages of over 180km/week for about 8 to 12 weeks to be able to race the full 89km.
But the reality for the rest of us is that the mileage we do in training is only sufficient for us to race up to about 60 or 65km. For most of us the Comrades is about 25km to 30km too far, after which we hang in.
The Golden Rule
Many runners have probably heard from fellow club runners that long runs are no longer considered important. This is a dangerous fallacy as it only applies to elite runners who are hammering out high mileages every day, which makes their long runs less important. But since we do significantly lower mileages than the elite runners, the long runs become proportionately more important for us as it provides the bulk of our endurance and helps us to get further down the road on Comrades day. The golden rule in training for long distance events is: the lower your weekly mileage, the more important your long runs become.
The build-up to these ultras
The trick to planning a good Comrades lies in working back from the race date to ensure that you can do the necessary long runs at the right time so that you do the last ultra 5 or 6 weeks before the Comrades. This means a steady buildup so that you are ready to run an easy marathon late January or middle February, a fast marathon qualifier early March and then towards the middle of March the first 50km long run.
Before tackling the first 50km long run (normally the 50km Om Die Dam for Gauteng runners) it is important to have first done 2 to 3 runs of around the marathon distance. If you tackle the first 50km run with just one marathon under the belt you’ll find that you barely cope with the 50km run and that it will take you longer to recover from it.
Likewise, you don’t want to jump up in distance from a 42km to a 56km at the Two Oceans and it is advisable to do a 50km run as a stepping stone.
The magic numbers
The aspirant Comrades runner aiming for times between 8hrs and 12 hours should complete three long runs, a 50km, 56km and 60km before the race. Silver medallists would aim for four long runs, structured as 50km, 56km, 60km, 65km. These runs should be done at an easy pace as the aim is to spend as much time as possible on the road. The long runs should be spaced 2 to 3 weeks apart, which means some careful planning to ensure that you don’t do your first long run too late and find that you can only do 2 long runs.
The biggest mistake
I’ve done it, but hopefully you won’t. Running a long run too fast is probably the single biggest mistake a Comrades runner can make. This is due to several reasons. You will be doing your high mileage phase and running on tired legs, which means greater chance of injury or falling sick. It also means huge leg damage which can take weeks to recover from. The trick is to be clear in your mind as to the purpose of these long runs. The aim is to spend time on your legs, but at the same time keeping leg damage to a minimum. Save your racing for the Comrades!