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COMRADES 2018 – THE EXPO

Day 2 in Durban is basically dedicated to heading to the expo to pick up race numbers and to make sure everything is in order for Sunday. It’s important to get all of this done as early as possible so that I can concentrate on relaxing the mind and body and knowing that Friday is taken up by course tours. It’s also the easiest time to pick up bibs as the crowds apparently are at their lowest on the Thursday with many either working or still in transit.

Standing in a queue is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s all part of the Comrades experience. Fortunately this year I didn’t have to wait around with 17 kilograms of luggage in tow just to make myself look ultra awkward, but the line was already large and growing by the time I got there 20 minutes before the 10AM opening. Once the expo opened though the line orderly and rapidly were able to get inside the Durban ICC building to begin the process.

First up for me was getting a brand new timing chip. For those unfamiliar with Comrades but used to entering other timed events around the world other than Parkrun (more on that later), the chip for this event has to be worn on the shoe rather than attached to a bib, or in the case of Comrades, either bib. I’m sure the chip I had from last year is still at home somewhere, for once you get a bib it’s yours to keep and to reuse for future events.

After parting with R150 (which is about $15 in Australia) and filling out a form to ensure that was mine for eternity, it was off to join the queue for international entrants. One of the good things about Comrades is that they look after the Internationals better than they do the locals in some respects, giving us our own registration area, our own space at the back of the expo and even a whole section of stadium when we finish. Even though the wifi in the building was struggling (and in Durban fast wifi is about as rare as a Comrades runner on Monday doing a recovery jog) I managed to collect my things so I could do the one thing I needed to do at the expo, buy a pair of sunglasses worth R180 to wear on Sunday. Then it was time to have a little peek at what was in the bag whilst consuming a coffee (still hate drinking the stuff but it sounded more appealing than some of the tea options available)

Having spent the money I probably needed for some lunch on the chip and the bus ticket to the start (most of the expo was cash only), the only other thing I did was to listen to a quick lecture on race strategy that I felt I needed to listen to, especially with a course tour on the Friday morning coming up to confirm the plans. I left just after 12:30, heading in the right direction this year after last year’s self inflicted confusion back to the motel, before returning to the Durban Hilton located across the road to have a lightish training run with about 40 of the internationals. The lesson learnt from that run was that Durban motorists have a concept of red lights but not much else when it comes to traffic lights.

We’re from around the world about to tackle Durban’s traffic.

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COMRADES 2018 – DAY 1 IN DURBAN

I’ve arrived safely! Even found the time to record a couple of videos. The first was whilst I was having an early lunch at Durban’s Tambo Airport (hence the several delays as the pizza was going cold), the second was as sundown was approaching and I wanted to not only shake the legs out a little (and buy some drinks on the way back), but also to have a close look at the finish stadium, the Moses Mabhida stadium built for the 2010 World Cup, before the big crowds would make it impossible. Enjoy these 2 video entries!

 

COMRADES 2018 – THE LONG ROAD TO SOMEWHERE!

Training for an event such as Comrades is tougher than many would imagine, especially if you’re alone and are trying to do it with minimal group runs or help. Hence the long road often includes many race runs doubling as training efforts. Whilst Wangaratta proved to be a false start as mentioned in the previous post, there was still quality kilometres to be pounded in both Port Macquarie and also in Canberra. Both of these had left me with a good tale to tell (or so I think), so here is the race report in a kind of  conjoined contracted fashion.

 

PORT MACQUARIE TREBLE BREAKWALL BUSTER, 4 MARCH 2018

This would be a series of new experiences for me, namely the first time I had ever been to the Port and the first time I had run 3 races in the one day since high school athletics carnivals when I ran 400m/800m and the sprint relay (the house wanted to field 2 teams because everyone else did). With a calf injury hampering preparations, a visit to the local Chemist Warehouse for Voltaren and bandaging in addition to the pre packed K-Tape would certainly put the mind at ease over whether I was going to run. Hence the plan was to take it easy and try to time my finishing times so that when I finished one leg the second leg would be about to start or had just commenced.

It started out reasonably well, managing to get through the warm up without trying to overly extend myself (which had been an issue at both Sydney runs last year) and tagging along with the 2 hour pace runner for much of the trip during the half marathon. There were times where the nerves started to rise, particularly when running across a bridge that felt like it was swaying when runners flew across it, and along the narrow breakwall section where the rocks were decorated generally as a tribute to someone. I fell off the back of the pace on the 3rd lap and basically crossed the finish line, navigated my way through the crowd and ran straight over the start line to commence the 10km. By that stage I was feeling OK physically except I felt the need to do some business requiring a toilet. Any momentum I had gathered was lost to the extent where the calf started to feel a little sorer than normal and I was reduced to little more than walking pace.

By the time I came through to start the last leg, the kids were all lined up and about to start their race, and there were only a handful of adult runners that were completing the last 5km. Yet knowing I had Comrades to think about, I knew it was important to finish the last 5km well. The track was clear enough until I hit the breakwall for the 6th time (3 times for the half marathon, twice in the 10km) where I was dodging the general public who were looking for fishing/surfing/sightseeing spots and the kids with their parents heading in the other direction. Fortunately I plodded into the finish in a time that needed a sundial to measure as opposed to a stopwatch, and I ended up with 4 medals from the day (even if I now have 2 finishers medals for the 10km and none for the half). Most importantly though for me, it was 36km in the bank done for the big dance which was the most important aim of the day. I intend to be back for next year to try to get through the whole thing a lot quicker than I did this year.

 

CANBERRA ULTRA MARATHON (50km), APRIL 15

By contrast to the Port, this was the 3rd time I would be starting the Ultra Marathon in Canberra and the 5th time overall where I would be running there having done the marathon twice. In an attempt to prevent the boredom that the course became some sections were deleted and another loop in a suburban area added, plus instead of going anti-clockwise around Parliament House we ran clockwise. Yet one part of the course had everyone talking, for a volunteer marshall who was either asleep at the wheel on his briefing, or was guessing big time, directed everyone except the first 3 male competitors onto a section of the course 20km earlier than we need to be. By the time I had arrived (after an unscheduled pit stop less than 3km into the run) I half thought about going straight but trusting the corner worker I wandered on the turn up to the bridge. It turned out that just about the entire field were coming the other way with instructions to turn around, and the thought has since passed that if I trusted my instinct that the course was wrong before making the turn, I would have been in 4th place in a National Championship (this doubled as the Australian 50km championships) for about 2-3 kilometres.

After that it was a case of just taking it easy and if I did manage to get a time that would improve seeding for Comrades it would be a bonus. The simple walk/run strategy incorporating signage worked better than anticipated. Conversing with other past and present Comrades runners (some of whom were using this as a training run, others as a last chance qualifier for this was the last marathon prior to the qualifying date cut off) left me more relaxed than ever. In contrast to last year where I was the 7th last to clock in, this year there was still a reasonable throng waiting at the finish line some 5:39 after the commencement, although they were there to see someone from the Indigenous Marathon program become the first to finish the 50km since their inception rather than seeing me. It was probably the most content I had been crossing the finish line in the capital, and after that I thought that if I had crossed the 50km marker at Comrades in 6:39 then things were really going to plan. Whether that forms part of the whole plan remains to be seen.

 

There were a couple of other decent training runs and of course the local Rocky River Run that have been done since, although the quality of those runs probably weren’t as good as they could have been. But it’s now too late to worry about those sort of things for as I type this I’m in the Singapore Airlines Silver Kris Lounge preparing for departure!

COMRADES 2018: ONE WEEK OUT, LOOKING BACK ON THE SETBACKS

To say that preparations for this year’s odyssey across Kwa-Zulu Natal has been flawless is nothing short of a lie. I’m sure that most if not all participants that will be on the start line will have had some sort of issue in the 5 months leading up to the event (for training really shouldn’t even begin until January), so it will be reassuring to know I’m not alone in terms of being less than ideally prepared. This isn’t quite a substitute for the race reports that I should have prepared long before this, nor should it be used as an excuse for what will happen next Sunday, rather this is just a part of the journey many will take.

FEBRUARY: Calf Strain (and forgetting the race bib)

The intention in late February was to wander back to Wangaratta where I had run fairly well last year to do the half marathon again. Everything was all set to go until I started feeling a familiar soreness in the calf, familiar because I had some issues with that part of the leg over the years. What made it worse was that I arrived in Melbourne early Saturday morning (after a long flight delay) only to discover I had left my race bib for the weekend amongst my clean laundry at home. The tightness in the calf after standing watching a pre-season AFL match didn’t help, and I made the decision to pull the pin on the Saturday night. Instead of running on the Sunday, I ended up going bowling which to be truthful didn’t fare much better following a strike on the opening frame!

MARCH: Calf Pull (and a 10 minute pit stop)

It was exciting to head to Port Macquarie for the first time ever, let alone run the Treble Breakwall Buster (a half marathon, followed by a 10km, followed by a 5km). Once again fate tried to intervene at a football training session earlier in the week when my calf was pulling badly after trying to explode into a sprint. I was able to make the start line thanks to some heat rub treatment and some bandaging and was feeling reasonable through the half. During the 10km however the curse of the porta-loo struck again, having to stop for 10 minutes to do some business. The delay meant I was one of the last to finish the treble, the stoppage allowed me to resolve that I would never again indulge in Subway the night before a run….or was it undercooked microwaved Lasagne again?

APRIL: A change of address

By April the physical side of things was actually reasonably settled and I was able to complete the 50km in Canberra in just under 5:40 (more on that later this week). Yet the mental side of things was altered with a change of address. Sure it helped in terms of employment as it was much closer than my previous address, but everything associated with it meant training was sometimes put on the back burner. On the flip side it helped in some ways in the regard that I won’t have to “step on egg shells” before heading on the road for an early morning training session again, plus it was closer to the hills that I probably should have done more work on.

MAY: Quad strain

Bloody football! Sometimes I don’t know why I actually keep playing but some people can be persuasive enough to keep me playing. The quad basically went when I was kicking the ball during a game, and although the pain had largely subsided in a week thanks to Voltaren, Ice Packs and the odd self massage of the area, it meant that any final long run had to be canned. I was able to have enough in the leg to run the local half marathon last week (again more on that later), and unlike some of the elite runners it isn’t enough to prevent me from starting, but this little setback could easily have derailed everything I had hoped for. Fortunately a couple of short runs this week leading in to the big day shouldn’t be a problem, for I’m planning to do at least the North Beach parkrun on Saturday as I did last year as well as the International Ambassador’s run on Thursday which I was asleep for 12 months ago.

 

None of these will be excuses upon race day, heck based on Melbourne last year where I barely trained and still managed close to 4:30 perhaps the injuries will help to keep the legs slightly fresher. One day I’ll find a preparation schedule and injury prevention techniques that will ensure I’ll have a near perfect preparation, but that will have to wait until next year.

COMING UP THIS WEEK: Race reports from the runs this year, and planning for the GF that Comrades is!

COMRADES 2018: THE CHECKLIST

Oh my goodness I can’t believe I’ve rediscovered this blog! Seriously life has been so hectic between address changes, training, football and the odd event that it hasn’t been until now that I’ve been compelled or able to write something about the return to South Africa in just over 2 weeks time. I’m sure I’ll give an update on a couple of the race weekends soon enough as a lead in to the big day which is precisely 21 days from the time of writing.

At this time it’s time I played Santa Claus, no not to give presents to all the kids out there 6 months too early, but to make a list and check it twice of what I need to bring and do before it’s go time. Just about everyone of the 20000 projected starters will have some sort of list, but mine is as public as anything is going to get. This list may be handy if you’re planning to do an event overseas (not necessarily Comrades, but perhaps something like Boston or New York) or even if you’re travelling to a big event as many runners tend to do.

THE LIST

– Running Shoes

The clogs I’m trusting on race day

Purchased after the Canberra Ultra, my new clogs have been worn in and even used at the Wings for Life run in Melbourne at the start of May. As is my custom I’m not planning to wear them in the last week before Comrades, the fear of a blow out or other failure is too high.

– Timing Chip
Unlike most events these days the chip for Comrades is attached to the shoe, and I cannot obtain my race numbers in Durban without it (or I’ll need to waste time and money obtaining a new chip, for each chip is designed to be attached to one person and one person only). This will likely be the first thing to be packed in the big suitcase as for me behind the passport it will be the most important item for me to remember to take. I’ll probably attach the chip to the laces before going to sleep the night before in the motel room.

– Running Clothing
I have purchased new running shorts which I would like to test out before departure, as well as wearing the same singlet I wore last year with the addition this year of Australian badges being sewn on the front and back. The sewing is on the to do list for this week, getting them straight though is harder than anticipated. I also have 3 fresh pairs of socks given I like wearing a new pair of socks where possible for big runs (even if it goes against some advice not to try anything new on race day). Hopefully I’ll be able to buy a cheap pair of sunglasses either in Melbourne. Singapore or Durban to run in, and like last year the cap included in the race pack will probably go on backwards over a visor on top. I’ll probably also wear an older jumper for the start in Pietermaritzburg with will likely be discarded either at the start or shortly after, hopefully someone less fortunate will get as much use out of it as I did.

One of the badges to be attached is now on, the other on the back is still to come.

– Travel Documents
My Passport is on top of the bag I intend to use, the itinerary will probably be the last thing I print out before departing my home base. I’ll probably also print out copies of my accommodation bookings which I don’t often do these days for domestic travel.

– A new Phone
Given that I’ve had my current phone for 13 months I feel I need to buy a replacement, and Tuesday I should be able to get a phone. The reason for this purchase is so I can get an “Unlocked” (meaning not belonging exclusively to a network provider) phone to get a South African sim for data purposes, meaning I can upload some content from my phone whether it is a Facebook post, a tweet, an Instagram picture or even a YouTube video immediately rather than having to wait to return to the motel room to post everything.

– Travel Kit
Given the whole trip is a 2 week event I’ll be packing more clothing than normal. Perhaps some fresh casual socks and underwear will be required, and I already have purchased another towel. Toiletries and other items I feel necessary will go in as required.

– Alarms
It may seem strange to a few that this may go on a list, but setting an alarm is critical given the need to commute from Durban to Pietermaritzburg on race morning at an earlier than normal time, I’ll need to remember to set multiple alarms at an early hour to enable that I have enough time to be mentally ready, to have consumed some food (it is going to be a long day after all) and to have enough time to get on a shuttle as early as possible. Many I know are still trying to get rooms in PMB but if I was going to choose that option I would have needed to book 12 months in advance much like I do for the Gold Coast Marathon.

– Finances
The last thing I’ll need prior to departing Australia is to get enough cash in order to pay for taxis and for other food post race given that they’ll likely be cash only affairs. Fortunately I have enough loaded thus far to pay for anything on a card should I need that in South Africa, and at this stage I’m looking to load enough Singaporean dollars to secure the transit motel room booked for the long layover on the return trip.

– Race Plans
In the next fortnight I’ll be formulating how I’ll be looking to tackle the race piece by piece. The final plan however won’t be finalised until the bus tour on Friday Morning, as I will be trying to pick up any type of pointer I can if it helps. Of course it may also help if I actually read my notes, as last year I scribbled some notes on the course but didn’t really end up referring to them prior to race day as was the intention

– Race Eve shopping
Usually many try to have everything organised well in advance, but as part of my routine I like to purchase some things I feel I need to succeed the morning prior to the big run. Much like last year I’ll be likely purchasing Bananas (again hoping to remember to take them on the run), Energade (the sports drink of choice on course, this will enable I won’t have to spend time in the early stages battling through a crowd to get fluid), Vaseline, Bandages and perhaps even scissors as I’m loathe to take them from Australia for security purposes.

Of course there will be more specific lists of what I need to take and what I have to do, however these key items will be what I will be focusing on this time around. There will be a few more blog posts in the next couple of weeks detailing race plans and what’s happening on the trip. I’m actually feeling pretty excited about this now that the day is within sight.

COMRADES 2018: BRISBANE TRAINING WEEK, WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN AND WHAT WILL BE

It’s not often that I’m able to take an entire week off work to concentrate on the running side of things. Usually training has to fit around when I’m working, whether my shift begins early morning as it does next month for a couple of weeks, lunchtime or mid afternoon. It’s not an easy task to either set an alarm early enough to get up to do a training run OR stay awake long enough to have a run before sleeping through the dead of the morning. This iswhy this week is generally one I look forward to, even if the early morning wake up calls remain.

The planning often goes out the window for these types of training weeks and this week was no different. Fortunately I was able to achieve a back to back training block simulating what may happen on the day when it comes to walking breaks. Tuesday saw me break up a 10km effort into 4 parts each consisting of 2.5km. Of those the first 2km was a run/jog/sprint before taking a 500 metre walk break as many would do on race day. As a runner it can be hard to fathom why I would need to incorporate a walk break into training but when it comes to race day in South Africa the mind will always want to keep you running and leave you exhausted for when you need the energy. Hence the need to try to train as though this were a race.

Wednesday saw me almost achieve all of what I had wanted to accomplish. The plan was to cover either 15km or 90 minutes incorporating Highgate Hill and the nearby University of Queensland campus in St.Lucia. What saw the time go a little longer than anticipated was a toilet break about 10km in, and a couple of stops to allow traffic to pass. Sure it can be frustrating waiting for a car to go through or traffic lights to change (particularly when you’re under 500 metres to the goal distance) but not all of the roads are like running along the bike track constructed several years ago along the Brisbane River. Still I was pleased to get through the 15km even if some of it included walking uphill.

After a planned recovery day on the Thursday (where I almost lost my phone, left it in a toilet and somehow it was still there about 90 minutes later), I thought everything was all systems go for the big Friday loop heading up and down Mt.Coot-tha. It started reasonably well enough but I sensed the legs weren’t going to be cooperating not too far into the run. Perhaps it was the fact I was running with both knees braced where I normally just protect the right. Maybe the recovery from Wednesday wasn’t as good as it should have been, for my quads were still fairly sore before the start. Whatever it was I had to pull the pin on the planned run just 4km into the day, much to my disappointment and regret. I even thought momentarily that I could try again today (Saturday) but sleep and other plans the previous night put paid to those plans.

At least in terms of training I’m well ahead of last year. I’ve now covered in excess of 92km for the month with a few days (and at least 2 more training sessions to come). The plan for February will be to increase the amount of uphill and downhill running particularly in the shorter training sessions whilst increasing the distance and time on the longer runs. There will be a slight easing off leading up to the half marathon in Wangaratta on the last Sunday of the month, for I’m hoping to go as quickly as the 1:53 I did last year.

Which brings me to Friday night, and doing what was arguably the hardest part of the whole Comrades journey, booking the flights to get me to and from Durban. This year I decided to splash a little more cash whilst departing a day earlier than 2017 (which was a Wednesday for a mid morning Thursday arrival). Instead of commuting via Perth like so many others do I’ve decided to commute this year via Singapore, arriving in Durban on Wednesday morning. The return trip is to Adelaide (footy is on that Thursday night) which means that I will have a lengthy 17 hour stopover at Changi to negotiate (as well as entering customs in Cape Town rather than Johannesburg), although at least I’ve read there are many options that will take up the time before arriving ranging from tours, movies, airport lounges and even transit hotels that won’t need me to clear customs. Hopefully it will be $2000 well spent, for I could have been boring, conservative and $600 better off if I went the standard route. Maybe I’m starting to live life a little!

As for the course whose details were released yesterday (Friday) as well,it’s something I’m going to have to embrace rather than fear. 90 is a nice round number to remember but for me the important numbers are yet to be confirmed. Race plans will likely revolve around when the mid race cut off is and knowing how much energy I can afford to save knowing the the few uphill kilometres after the Drummond mid point will be the make or break point. I’m anticipating actually running the announced finish route on race day (well I have to show some form of positive language) and entering the stadium, so I guess I had better prepare myself for it.

 

STRAVA STATS TO END OF 26 JANUARY (NOTE: Stats exclude cross training/footy training distances which are not recorded)
DISTANCE COVERED: 93km [DOWN 3.3km compared to 2017]
ACTIVE TIME: 8 Hours 54 Minutes [DOWN 25 minutes]
ELEVATION GAIN: 1073m [UP 126 metres]

COMRADES TRAINING REPORT 2: SLOW AND FRUSTRATING WEEK BUT BETTER SIGNS COMING

Well last week sucked. I can’t really describe it much better or worse. The heat and humidity basically ruined the plans that I had and for once changing the training program on the fly proved to be ineffective. Sure some may say I’ve taken a sensible route by not risking my health at this early stage of the campaign considering Sunday’s temperature up here nudged 40 degrees Celsius. Yet I know the importance of a back to back training weekend and being basically forced to sweat it out at home was frustrating at the very least.

The week basically began with getting a free day on the Tuesday which originally was going to be a mountain run. However not responding to the alarm in the morning is proving to be a regular occurrence that hopefully will not happen in just under a fortnight when the week of training in Brisbane commences. Still I decided to try to improvise and do some grass running at the local footy oval that afternoon. Was planning to do a program of 6-8km depending on the light and how the legs adapted to grass running and road running on the same day. It started encouragingly enough doing sufficient laps for a 2km set on the grass basically in 10 minutes. Then rather than physical conditioning playing tricks with the mind, the next set was cut basically because of concerns of where my belongings were. Carrying a bag with footwear and personal items and trying to run a couple of kilometres is not exactly plan A, B or C, and even though I covered the kilometre at a rapid clip I just couldn’t do the second half of the planned leg. Then after doing what amounted to be a measuring run for a possible footy training warm up, I decided to call it a day rather than try to push on.

A further planned midweek run was basically aborted again because of sleeping through alarms, and Saturday’s initial plan for an 85 minute trot was ruined by seasonably warm weather. By the time I started what was Plan C (Plan B was going to be the 3-4-5 split run that I was originally scheduling for Sunday) temperatures according to a school I passed just before 5:30 was still 37 degrees. Somehow I salvaged doing 3 lots of 3km efforts which rather than doing them at different paces that I was easily doing when confident, in form and slightly fitter, I ended up hitting a consistent 5:30 overall pace for each leg. I wanted to do either a 6km last leg knowing that if I did the kilometres allotted to the Sunday plan then perhaps I could do the big run about 23 hours later, but both physical and atmospheric conditions combined to ruin any schedule I may have had planned. Indeed I just couldn’t escape the confines of the bedroom as listening to cricket seemed to be slightly more appealing.

At least the new week has started on a good note. With little planned and being unable to get some shut eye before working late shifts this week I felt a good training run may get me somewhat back on track. I managed to get a continuous 50 minute run on the board, save for a brief natural break where I hope nobody was spying on me. Conditions were as good as they have been for a while so despite the legs barking a little and a few rises and small hills being thrown in for good measure, covering 9 kilometres was a success. Covering the 50 minutes was an even bigger success after the shortcomings of the weekend. Pace was relatively consistent which was nice, although I would have liked to be able to throw in a couple of fast kilometres that would be sub 5:10 pace. Still complaining about a successful run is as useful as counting Bernard Tomic’s millions that he apparently has (money or pubic hair?) so I’ll be happy having a kip before work this evening.

Hopefully I’ll be able to do another run before the weekend before doing a double this weekend. One run will need to be at least 90 minutes (probably on the Saturday) with the other being either a 3-4-5 or a 4-5-6 split. That said with the Brisbane week coming up I’m hopeful of doing a couple of back to back runs with the centrepiece Mt.Coot-tha run on January 26 so perhaps the split run may even be brought forward to Friday should I be able to wake up that early!

 

STATISTICS FOR THE 9 DAY PERIOD FROM 8/1 to 16/1

22.3 kilometres covered (DOWN 2.7 km compared to last year)
2 Hours active time (DOWN 37 minutes)
239 metres elevation gain (UP 13 metres)

OVERALL STATISTICS FOR PERIOD 1/1 to 16/1

54.4 kilometres covered
5 Hours active time
486 metres elevation gain