Comrades is looming…

It’s strange, but as the Manchester marathon approaches, the more I find myself thinking about Comrades.

Manchester is a comfortable old friend. I will be running the course for the third time in successive years; also I have lived in Manchester for 10 years of my adult life, so it’s a city I know well. Although I respect any marathon race, the Manchester course holds no surprises or fears.

Comrades, on the other hand – well, where do I start? I have never run any Ultra before, let alone a 54 mile one, let alone a hilly one, let alone one in a hot foreign country…Oh boy, what am I doing?

This week I listened back to Episode 73 of Marathon Talk. This was the Comrades special from 2011 when presenters Tom Williams and Martin Yelling ran the race in an up year.

I can’t say that listening to this podcast was inspiring – the boys had a very tough day out and eventually finished in 10:48. It was slightly scary listening to them recounting their experience of the race.  Both are very accustomed runners and Ironmen triathletes and both said it was off the scale in terms of the hardest thing they have ever done. Gulp.

I’m glad I listened back because they gave some top tips for Comrades – from not having to queue up at the Expo if you are an international runner, to taking lots of painkillers with you in the race (apparently you could make a lot of money by doing a bit of drug dealing on Polly Shortts!)

I am tapering a bit for the Manchester race, but the closer I get the more I realise that I cannot afford to completely smash myself at Manchester.

I think I am in better shape than last year (when I ran 2:56.32).  I have broken my 10K, 10 mile and 20 mile PBs during in the past month and have run a higher training mileage than last year – about 6 miles a week more on average.

If pressed, and without sandbagging, I think I could possibly run something like a 2:53 or 2:54 next Sunday, given good conditions.  However, that would ruin my legs for at least 2 weeks and I don’t really have the time available to do that.

I need to fit in a couple of runs of about 30 miles between Manchester and Comrades, ideally including some hills.  I also need to allow at least three weeks for a proper taper before Comrades.

So the plan for next Sunday is:

  1. Run very conservatively in the first half – aim for 1:29.30 which should feel comfortable.
  2. Run a negative split in order to have a positive experience
  3. Run a time under 3 hours which should get me into the A pen at Comrades.

In the past I have said to teammates that I am not treating a particular race as a serious effort. That was never really true.  Once I see those four little safety pins and attach a number to my vest then I automatically switch into race mode.  Running below optimal pace in a race just seems pointless, after all, then it’s not a race is it?

However, next week I MUST calm myself and try to remember that Comrades is my goal this year.

I was both disappointed and relieved to hear that Tom Williams won’t be on the start line for Comrades this year.  Disappointed because it would have been great to run the same race as him but relieved because I know that he is just not in the kind of shape to do himself justice. Sometimes it’s a brave thing to DNS, especially when you are as high profile as he is. Last year he was flying, he whupped me in both the Thirsk 10 and the Manchester marathon. He will get that form back, I know.

Having read up on some Comrades training plans, the main thing I learned was that I should be doing back to back long run days on weekends – something like 20 miles on a Saturday and then 25 (or more) miles on Sunday.  This is obviously really tough, so I think I will only attempt that once or twice.

My idea at the moment is to run to Woodhouse Moor parkrun from home on Saturday morning – about 7 miles, run the parkrun and then jog home for about 18 miles.  Then on Sunday I will get a train from Leeds to Skipton and run back to Leeds along the canal – that is 29 miles. I should try to include a few loops off the canal to add some hills and to get to a shop to buy some supplies along the way.

Hopefully,  I will persuade some of my teammates to join me for the last part of the canal run to give me a bit of support when I am sure I will need it…

It is also clear that I will have to run these training runs very slowly – at something like 8:30 to 9:00 minute miles and practice taking walking breaks.  My plan at the moment is to take a walk break of 1 minute every 5 miles, I’ll have to see how that goes. It seems sensible to practice the run-walk strategy in training rather than leaving it to race day.


Running this week has been all very steady, with the exception of parkrun. I was itching to have a go at sneaking under 18 minutes at Woodhouse Moor.  I gave it everything, but I just missed, running 18:06 – however, it didn’t feel like a fast day, it was chilly and blustery and on a still day I think I would have ducked under 18 minutes.

CM -7 weeks (MM -1 week)
Weight 11st 6.4lb
50 Miles
parkrun – Woodhouse Moor 18:06 (8th)


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