The Ultimate Human Race…again

I’m flying to South Africa on Wednesday evening, arriving on Thursday evening (it’s a long way). On Sunday 29th May, at 5.30 a.m. I’ll be in Pietermaritzburg to sing ‘Shosholoza’ and toe the start line of the 91st Comrades Marathon with around 16,000 other runners.

Eight weeks ago that seemed very unlikely. I’d almost about mentally conceded that injury and lack of training had defeated me and that I wouldn’t be fit enough to attempt Comrades.

I think I’m fit enough to attempt it now, however I haven’t done anywhere near the number of miles that I hoped to run.  Back in January in set myself a target to run 1,250 miles between January 1st and Comrades.  I have actually run just 509 miles – only 40% of the target. I feel very under-trained.

This lack of training helps in one regard – it expunges any thought of trying to run a sub 7 and a half hour time for a silver medal. I was much fitter and faster this time last year and I missed the silver medal by nearly an hour and a half.  However, I ran a dumbass novicey race and I suffered a lot in the second half.

If I learned two things last year it was the critical importance of walking and eating. I didn’t start walking early enough and when I did have to walk I had to do the horrendous Comrades death shuffle, interspersed with periods of glacially slow jogging. That cost a lot of time in the second half of the race. I also didn’t eat or drink enough, despite taking drinks at every aid station, save the first one.

This year, I will follow a strict policy. The Comrades down run is 89.2km (its 2 km longer than the up course).  That’s equivalent to 18 consecutive parkruns.  After each 5km parkrun, I will reward myself with a 1 minute walk break. I will also take walk breaks on all steep uphill inclines (of which there are many).  Comrades is essentially a fuel conservation race.

Comrades 2016

This time, I will take some food with me – I’ve invested in some Race Ready ultra shorts from America that have multiple gel pockets and I may make use of a seconding service available at the Expo.  This means I’ll be able to leave my own food and drinks at three special tables along the route.

My mate and fellow Comrade from last year, Craig is travelling with me. Unfortunately Craig won’t be running this year, but it will be great to have some support with me. I’m sure I’ll also meet lots of friends from last year and hopefully meet some of the other UK runners, many of whom have been chatting on the Runners World forum over the past few months. It’s exciting.

I really don’t know what time I am capable of.  If I stick to my strategy and avoid a meltdown then I should be able to finish in under 9 and a half hours and if things go really well then there is a chance I could scrape another Bill Rowan medal (sub 9 hours). However, as long as I make it to the finish line at Kingsmead Stadium in Durban before that dreaded 12 hour gun is fired, I will be a very happy boy.


Last Wednesday evening I did something that I haven’t done in over 6 months – I pinned a number to my white Valley Striders vest and participated in a road race. I had a go at the final race of the three John Carr 5K races held on quiet flattish estate roads in Esholt.

I felt a little anxious before the start – should I be risking a fast 5K so close to Comrades? What if I knacker my achilles again? Which shoes should I be wearing?  (I’ve run exclusively in chunky Hokas since my comeback from injury – I chanced wearing my lighter Brooks PureCadence shoes.)

The race went better than I expected – I ran a time of 18:11 to finish 51st from 391 starters and 5th in my 45-49 age category.

I was certainly race rusty. After a comfortable opening kilometre, I found myself slowing on the slightly uphill second km and my mind wandered. Instead of concentrating on the race – being in the moment and embracing the pain – I had thoughts like “my God, what am I doing, this feels horrible” and “my achilles hurts, I’d better slow down”.  In other words, my central governor was having a night off.

I got to the half way turning point in a very disappointing 9:30. As we turned, I gave myself a bit of a talking to and I increased my speed and passed a few competitors on the homeward (slightly downhill) leg. With around 500 metres to go the inflatable finishing arch was in sight and I kicked for home. This spurred a few others to engage me in racing to the line, which helped the finishing time.

I loved the racing bit at the end, but I was pretty spent at the line and had to take a few minutes to regain some composure. It was great to be racing again.

Thanks for all the kind words of support and encouragement.  If you want to track me or anybody else at Comrades, there is an app called Ultimate Live.  My race number is the same as last year – 24598.




CM -1 week
Weight 11st 7.0lb
28.7 Miles Longest run 7.7 miles

Parkrun (Roundhay) 19:17 (4th)


Inverse tapering…

Three weeks before Comrades last year, I was feeling antsy – jaded by the volume of training through the winter and spring, I couldn’t wait to get to the Comrades start line.

This year is very different.  Feeling under-trained, I wish I had an extra month to fit in a few more long runs and hone my speed.

I’ve enjoyed the best week’s training of the whole year – 73.8 miles covered including my longest ever training run of over 31 miles. Thankfully, my injury problems appear to have abated.

I had an appointment to see a specialist sports Doctor on Thursday. Because of a lot of faffing around with the physio and my health insurer, it had taken the best part of five weeks to arrange the visit.

Five weeks ago I was thoroughly injured and not expecting to run Comrades.  By Wednesday I realised that I didn’t feel injured anymore and I saw little point in seeing the Doctor.  The worst he could say was that I shouldn’t be running a hot, hilly 56 mile Ultra with a dodgy achilles. So I cancelled.

To protect my achilles, I have been running very slowly, shuffling around the streets of North Leeds in my voluminous Hoka shoes, my heart rate rarely exceeding 135.  On Saturday, I dared to cast aside the Hokas, put on my Newtons and give it a real go at Woodhouse Moor parkrun.

I didn’t know what to expect, I was hoping to go sub 19, sub 18:45 would be a bonus. I felt a rare prick of nerves on the start line – it’s been a long time since I have ‘raced’ (I know parkrun isn’t a race, but I use it as a verb, not a noun).

Rather than set my Garmin to show time, I left the display on Heart Rate.  I have a lowish heart rate – my maximum HR is in the low 160s. Rather alarmingly, after just 500 metres, the heart rate was already in the low 150s…

I’d almost forgotten how gut wrenchingly hard a full-out 5K is.  Basically it involves catapulting yourself into red threshold territory and holding it there for all you are worth. It was a large field of around 450 and lots of fast lads hared off way too quick in the first two kms.

I simply didn’t have the speed to stay with many of my usual peers. In horse racing parlance, I was off the bridle and couldn’t layup with the pace.

The hectic start started to catch a few out and during the second and third lap I was passing a few runners.

During the final uphill kilometre I could feel a fellow parkrunner sitting right on my shoulder, sensing that he intended to mug me in the finishing straight. I am nothing if not competitive and with 300ms to go I opened up my sprint, unfortunately not quick enough to shake him off.  I dug in again and kicked near the line to just pip him and we both flopped over the metal barrier after the finish line coughing and wheezing.

My time was 18:34, which I was delighted with.  It’s a minute slower than my 5K PB, but given my build up it represents good progress.

Many of my Valley Strider team-mates were running the Leeds Half Marathon on Sunday morning.  I didn’t have an entry – through being injured in the build-up and my aversion to the £35 entry fee.

I opted instead for a final extended long training run. Luckily, one of my team-mates Sarah wanted to recce the route for the Otley 10 mile race – a very hilly local race held on a summer’s evening in early June. Leaving at 7:45 a.m., I ran the 6 miles from home down to Otley to meet Sarah and we set off.  It was nice to have company for the first part of my long run.

It soon felt very warm – into the 20s and thankfully, I took a drinks bottle with me, replenishing it later in Asda and Morrisons, along with a purchase of bananas and a box of 6 cereal bars for a quid (Shopping tip: it’s amazing what bargains you find on the bottom shelf of supermarkets).

After running the Otley 10 route, I eschewed Sarah’s kind offer of a lift home and set off the long way home through Guiseley and Horsforth.

After about 24 miles I was entering Bonksville, and adopted a run-walk strategy (something I will have to do earlier at Comrades), but I dug in to complete 31.1 lumpy miles (satisfyingly exactly 50 kilometres in exactly 5 hours).

I’ve spent the rest of Sunday curled up on my Laz-e-Boy watching cycling and eating Kettle chips. I think I’ve earned that.



CM -3 weeks

73.8 miles

Weight 11st 5.2 lb

Parkrun – Woodhouse Moor 18:34 (11th)

Longest run 31.1miles


Miley McMileface

All through my months of injury, I have yearned for a return to my normality.  Breaking up my solitary working days by running along the canal each lunchtime, smashing myself at parkrun on Saturday morning and then grinding out the long miles on Sunday.

By such criteria, this was a normal week.  I was beset with a grim, grotty, greeny cold which meant I slept poorly most nights, frequently waking in the early hours with coughing fits, but by the weekend I was feeling better.

It is a long bank holiday weekend in the UK, so I decided to set myself a challenge to cover the distance of Comrades (56 miles) over the long weekend (Friday – Monday)…

To achieve that, I knew that I would have to do a very long run on the Sunday, hopefully over the marathon distance.  Given the paucity of miles run so far this year, that was going to be tough.

Luckily, there was a Sunday Striders Group doing a 10 mile run early on Sunday morning with a rendezvous point about 5 miles from my house. So it was nice to knock off the first 15 or so miles  with good company.

As I peeled off to wend my way back toward my home village of Bramhope, I planned an extra loop of 10 miles down into Otley to make it 30 for the day. The only problem would be long and sombre 3 mile slog from Otley in the valley bottom back up to Bramhope. However, if there is one thing I need to practise for Comrades it is hills.

I nipped back home for a 5 minute pitstop, wolfing down a flapjack, a mug of hot chocolate (it was blummin’ chilly) and a banana. After a change of t-shirt, I set off for my final 10 mile loop.

It was extremely tough, there are no shortcuts in this sport and my lack of training really told as I got slower and slower and by Otley town centre I’d lapsed into the death shuffle mode (i.e. 10 + minute miles).  The final climb was interminable and I was extremely relieved to fall over my threshold after running for 30.3 miles in just 13 minutes under 5 hours.

It is Sunday evening as I write this so I still have to run 8 miles tomorrow in order to achieve my Comrades distance challenge. I can barely walk at the moment…


CM -4 weeks

65.7 miles

Weight 11st 7.2 lb

Parkrun – Roundhay 19:37 (6th)

Longest run 30.3 miles