It is almost time for the big one – my third Comrades is on Sunday (eek). It’s an engagingly terrifying prospect. I am privileged to be taking part in the greatest ultra race in the World, but man I know it is going to be a very long and painful day.
Still, it is healthy to occasionally put oneself way out of the comfort zone, remove the succours of modern living, and see if you still have what it takes.
After abandoning my last long run following a minor injury scare, training has been steady. I’ve done two more long runs of just two hours, a mere fifth of what I will have to cover on Sunday, but that’s point about about Comrades – you can’t really train for it. After all, who else but someone like Steve Way can do a 40 mile training run. For me, it will be the ultimate case of ‘winging it’.
Rather perversely, in preparation for a 56 mile race, I have focussed on sharpening up my speed over the last two weeks. Lots of long slow runs makes one a long slow runner and I knew that my 5K speed, usually one of my best race distances, was well below my best level.
I have a season ticket entry for the 10 race long Even Splits 5K series at the Brownlee cycling track every third Wednesday of the month. Two weeks ago we had relatively good, fast conditions for the first time this year. I was eager to ‘go deep’ and see what I could do. I thought that I should be capable of a sub 18:15 if I really nailed it.
The race comprised three and a bit laps. The start is always a bit manic, almost everyone goes off too quickly and fades. I too got a little carried away, running the first mile in under 5:35 (17:22 pace). I started slowing on lap two and my team mate Paul came bounding past me. He is a very strong runner, normally significantly quicker than me, but on the comeback after injuries, so I tried desperately to latch on and get a tow around.
Up the draggy climb at the start of lap 2, he eked out a few metres on me, the elastic was approaching snapping point. It was one of those moments one faces in races. A simple matter of can I bring myself to suffer enough to close the gap, or do I give in and accept early defeat.
I managed to squeeze out a little more pace and closed the gap a little, clinging on for another lap.
By the ‘bell’ with a mile to go, Paul and I were in a group of four with runners from Knaresborough and Ripon. I was at the back of the group, grafting hard just to stay with the group.
I knew that if I could hang on until the final bend, I would have a good chance to take them in the finishing sprint, but it was agony. I was gasping, gurning and grunting with a heart rate in the 160s.
The Ripon lad made a move down the back straight with 600m to go, the Knareborough runner followed, but Paul didn’t, so I picked it up to make sure I was in striking distance of the two North Yorkshire lads, thankfully out gunning them both in the finishing straight.
My time was 18:10 which I was very pleased with.
Last Saturday, my partner and I decided to head over to York University to try out Heslington parkrun. It looked like a super fast course. It was a still day, drizzly, but with no wind. The course is a lap of a kilometre long cycling circuit then an out and back run on the bus lane next to the lake, finishing with a final lap of the track.
I set my Garmin to ‘kms’ rather than miles. I wanted to see if I could possibly dip under the 18 minute mark for the first time in well over a year. For me, sub 18 minutes tells me that I am in good fettle.
Helpfully for me, I got involved in a proper race for third place with a Knavesmire runner, we had a right old ding-ding, taking it in turns to try to break each other.
I managed to drop him just before we returned to the circuit for the final K and I recorded 18:04, so not quite what I was hoping for, but it felt good to be in the same postcode.
Attention now turns to Comrades, a long tiring journey on Wednesday and Thursday followed by a couple of days of fun and catching up with great friends before rising in the Godforsaken hours of Sunday morning to travel up to Pietermaritzburg. There will be nerves, electricity and excitement at the start. The singing of the South African national anthem, then Shosholoza followed by the crowing of the cockerel and then we will set off into the cool African pre-dawn.
I wonder if I will make it to Durban.
Comrades 2018 -1 week
11 stone 3.4 lbs
39 miles, longest run 12.4 miles. Heslington parkrun : 18:04 (3rd)
RunBritain Handicap 2.6 (UK M50 rank 180)