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COMRADES 2019 – FINAL THOUGHTS PRIOR TO DEPARTURE

The lead up racing is done, the training is almost done save for a couple of moderately timed training runs, the logistical details are almost complete. It must be that time of year where Comrades looms large. Indeed with less than 24 days until race day sneaks upon us like a pig hunter stalks the beast, consideration to how to attack the days leading into the race and especially race day itself now needs to be considered. I have just about got the planning down to a fine art of what I intend to do in the preceding days, but a final decision on the finer details during the race may not be 100% set in concrete with the probability of plans changing on the fly.

I remember sitting in not quite the exact same location 2 years ago as I blogged prior to my first attempt at this race, doubling as my first ever trip away from Australia. Excitement and anticipation was high as it is now knowing that the big race is a week away and traveling to the Republic is almost a reality. This time however, apart from being a now wiser traveler, there’s more angst, nervousness and pressure surrounding this trip. Whilst I’m sure many will tell me not to think about a DNF this time around, the fact that I’m still waiting to cross the finish line to get that medal around the neck for the first time at the third time of asking means I’m actually glad I’m taking a connecting flight to Cape Town for a couple of days.

It will actually be nice to do the tourist thing in Cape Town rather than just getting down to business, holing myself in a motel room watching SuperSport (the Cricket World Cup will be nice to watch at night). I’ll at least be able to see some sights and tick Table Mountain off the bucket list, hopefully not spending too much energy in the process. Then it’s a short cross country hop to Durban on the Wednesday to go through a now familiar routine (Expo Thursday, Tour Friday, Pizza Friday Night, Parkrun and shopping Saturday Morning, early wake up before race day on Sunday). The specifics I’ll go into more detail later on when I’m in South Africa.

For those wanting to follow me on race day hopefully there will be a link available for streaming of the race, which until a few weeks ago was in doubt thanks to budgetary cuts to the national broadcaster (Aussies feel your pain!) so anyone can watch all the action. For those that can’t understandably hack the pace or the journey, my number 22190 is as it was in the last 2 attempts. Obtaining green number and permanently securing that number is a pipe dream at this stage, even with time on my side. I just want to finish once to begin with so I can show off some hardware alongside photographic memories.

For those of you in or heading towards Durban this week, I look forward to seeing you at the Pavilion Hotel, at the expo (yes the chip is on the shoe this year, no need to purchase another), on Bus 4 of the CMA tour, perhaps at North Beach Parkrun among the thousands who are having their last tune up, or in Pen G just after 4:40AM on race morning. Like the 126 other Australians on the start line I’m sure we’ll be made as welcome as ever.

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WINGS FOR LIFE MELBOURNE – MY VIDEO REPLAY

In an attempt to try something else, and to give something other than just words or the odd rambling video pre race (and to test drive the Movavi Video Editor) I’ve decided to try to convey race night (YES RACE NIGHT) at the Melbourne based Wings For Life World Run. For those unfamiliar this run has 12 locations worldwide where runners have their race ended when a car passes them, and several others when a virtual car used via their app gives a little buzz to indicate the “capture”. Apart from Melbourne, other locations where a car is used include Rio de Janeiro, Poznan in Poland, Munich and Pretoria (where I’m sure a few towing the line at Comrades would be using this like me as a training run). My distance of 16.79km was well behind the worldwide (a Russian bloke who covered over 63km) and the local (another Russian who was 10th overall covering over 58km) leading marks, but was certainly beyond expectations particularly with Cairns a week earlier taking a physical toll.

Without further ado I’ve divided the vlog into 2 parts. The first covers the pre-race festivities up to the time the runners are about to enter the course, with the second part incorporating the final moments of the pre-race, some vision from the race itself (which may be blurrier than normal, one of these days I’ll actually invest in a Go-Pro rather than rely on the Mobile Phone) and a brief post race synopsis on the bus returning to race HQ. Fortunately this year I was able to get back to HQ early enough to gather my gear and make the last train from Kooyong Station (where the first video commences) back into the city for a Sunday Night heading into Monday Morning. A recovery swim at Broadbeach the next morning was welcome, although it probably would have been more effective if the water was slightly colder and I wasn’t avoiding boogie boarders inside the patrolled area.

 

PART 1

PART 2

 

So with a month to go before the Big C, the major remaining training run will be with many of the South East Queensland based runners on “Hell on Coot-tha” on Saturday (18 May). After that there may be one more run of 2 hours plus before tapering off with very little running in the last week (not much more than 10km total from the Monday to Saturday of Comrades week).

CAIRNS MARATHON – HAMSTRUNG BUT PRESSING ON

It can be weird how many classify how tough a marathon or ultra marathon is. Some find them tough because of distance (applicable more in Ultras), some see the toughness factor hidden in elevation charts if not in the distance, a few see the elite nature of a field as the indicator that this will be tough. Then there’s climactic conditions where some find it tough because of heat (or lack of), humidity, wind and rain (intensity and frequency). The inaugural Cairns Marathon last weekend fell into the tough category thanks to tropical warmth and showers not falling consistently.

After settling in following the error of forgetting to lodge an entry before Saturday, I was thrilled to discover that the fridge in my motel room wasn’t operational. That said I conceded that if I was going to run this event it may be useful to try to simulate what I’ll be facing at Comrades as best as possible. Knowing that my motel in Durban doesn’t have a fridge in the room at all perhaps this was a blessing in disguise, particularly when I would be using the drink of choice in the opening couple of hours (orange Lucozade) and wearing almost identically what I intend to run in next month.

 

With the motel about a kilometre from the start precinct I wasn’t that worried about departing from the motel later than I had liked. That said with the wet conditions prevailing at the time perhaps it may have been wiser to go early rather than late. It was an earlier than usual starting time compared to many marathons in Australia, although starting later than 5:45AM probably would being the heat factor into¬† even sharper focus. Owing to the heat I planned to utilise as many drink stations as possible even though at Comrades I’ll revert back to using the 2nd or 3rd station for my first fluid replenishment opportunity. It was also determined that for the first 10km or so I would keep pace with the 4:15 pace runner to test if I was able to maintain some sort of moderately fast tempo befor before reverting to survival mode (walk/run which I’ll be practicing throughout May). There probably was little point or chance of keeping up for the whole distance with that pacer, partially due to conditions (and the dropoff in pace training in warm conditions early in the campaign would be enough proof), partially due to long term thinking.

For the first hour despute the heat everything went pretty well according to plan. It would be the only lap where the field would depart more than a kilometre or so from the Esplanade, running up to Aeroglen, turning into the Botanical Gardens, then shooting up a backroad to the airport starting what would be a trio of loops. The walk/run mode began just after the 70 minute marker, if only to try to cool the body down a little in between showers. Indeed the on again off again nature of the showers was frustrating as a runner, for it was harder to judge how I wanted to approach the run. Running in wet conditions is far different to clear running on a damp surface, particularly in sighting landmarks where you want to start or finish an effort.

Speaking of such efforts, it probably showed that I had learnt from Canberra that I was able to run less like a footballer when those efforts were made. I was able to go that extra 150-200 metres that I was looking for in my capital surges. Yet the conditions weren’t helping the feet. I passed a first time marathoner who had to discard his shoes and run in bare feet when his shoes were too wet to cope with. I too was battling this problem although knowing that these shoes would be a training pair after this race and with a dry pair waiting at the finish line persevering with what I had would be the plan.

This would turn out to be the least of my issues. At around 28km i started to feel tightness in my right hamstring. Perhaps I should have thought long term at this point and called it a day, but the fact that I was relatively close to the finish (2/3 race distance), the lure if finishing an inaugural event and wanting to bank the kilometres prior to Comrades saw me continue. For a while I did find a way of coping with the discomfort by shortening the stride pattern, which I’ll need to utilise for the hillclimbs in the first half of the up run. By the end of the final loop I was actually slowing up waiting for another runner to finish alongside me (even if some of the club runners were urging me not to), leaving a pedestrian 5:15 finish time as a result. That said upon looking at the overall results I’m actually not feeling as bummed about this time, with just 4 runners breaking the 3 hour mark. Certainly there would have been faster times if it was dry and cooler, but with Cairns based in the tropics the conditions probably wouldn’t have been much cooler.

I was thankful that each finisher got a towel, certainly much more useful than the tea towels Gold Coast dished out 2 years ago (I’ll be determining whether I enter in the coming weeks). Yet I didn’t end up going for a recovery dip in the pool falling asleep with the legs stretched out that afternoon. Due to the hamstring issue that hampered me for half the week at work, I couldn’t complete any training runs, which may be a blessing to give the legs a little freshen up before a solid 3 weeks to complete the big bloc.

Despite the injury it’s still a definite start for the Wings for Life event on Sunday in Melbourne. If I am restricted to walking then that’s what I’ll be content with. If I can run sections and get close to 15km (I covered over 16 last year) it will be beyond expectations. The purpose of this training run is not necessarily kilometres or time, but a chance to run on motorways much like the start of Comrades. I won’t get another opportunity to practice running on a slightly different surface to a normal road, even if it’s a 9PM start time. Expect a vlog on my YouTube page tomorrow prior to the run to go through the details of what the Wings for Life world run is, and perhaps it will be reposted here depending on if I use some motel WiFi to upload.

CAIRNS MARATHON 2019: ANOTHER VLOG PRE RACE

Back in harness post Canberra, and in terms of weather it probably couldn’t be more different if I tried to control the weather myself. Going to be a warm one tomorrow, but this work has to be done. Yes I said work even though everyone will want me to enjoy it, because there’s only 6 weeks to go before the big C and realistically 4 weeks of decent training to go. This will undoubtedly ensure I have done a couple of marathon distance runs in the lead in which I’ve lacked in past years.

Without much fanfare, here’s some of my pre event thoughts.

 

 

Post race report to come beforethe next engagement next weekend, yep it never stops!

CANBERRA ULTRA 2019: BRIEF VLOG REPORT

The quality of the recording from the tablet may not be the best due to being on a plane to Melbourne sitting a row behind a crying baby. But I suppose getting off (or on in this case) my butt to do something is worth posting. Cairns next weekend for another 42km, such a sucker for punishment I’m becoming.

 

Finsih time was 6:15, not great but I did expect to be slower than normal with advice not to “race” this and with Cairns in mind where I’m likely to try to be quicker without seeking a seeding upgrade. It’s all about time on the feet and kilometres in the legs, of which I’ve had more of this year than previous Comradrs tilts (still below where I’d ideally want to be).

IN BETWEEN COMMITMENTS – WANGARATTA REVIEW/PORT MACQUARIE PREVIEW

So we arrive at the time of the year where Comrades preparations have to step up. At least this year I have been able to so far cover more kilometres even if there are times where I haven’t been that happy with the quality of what I’ve been producing. Perhaps the odd hill session in the next few weeks post Port Macquarie is on the agenda to set that straight, and hopefully once the roads of Mt.Archer reopen (scheduled for the end of March, personally not holding my breath knowing how councils work) some real climbing to at least try to somewhat simulate the roads of the trio of climbs in the first half can commence.

That said the logistical side is now a little more complex, with everyone outside of South Africa now needing a clearance from the governing body to be allowed to compete. Not such a problem for many, but in Australia with a separate body governing athletics (Athletics Australia) and ultra distance running (AURA) the big issue for me is who to get the clearance letter from. At this stage the advice from many wiser heads is to wait until some sort of mass solution can be found, but given I have just provisionally joined AURA and have become a member of a recreational runners arm of Athletics Queensland known as Qrun (whose base membership incorporates membership with Qrun, Athletics Queensland and Athletics Australia), I should at least have some sort of method to obtain said clearance prior to May, and the worst case scenario would be to try to obtain and submit clearances from both AA and AURA figuring one of them would be sufficient. To be fair the rule has always been in the regulations, but it has rarely been enforced unless a runner has been in contention to win an age group category or the overall race. Just how the governing body of athletics in South Africa will be able to handle this remains to be seen.

As for the domestic front, it was a return trip to Wangaratta just over 11 days ago to run their half marathon and in so many ways to escape the heat of Central Queensland. Who would have thought that 16 degrees would have been sufficient to see me pull the jacket out of storage! I was a little worried about not waking up in time especially given it’s not the easiest place to get to for someone without a car (3 hours of plane trips, followed by 3 hours on a train, even if said train had snacks on board), yet I was able to get to the start area with plenty of time to spare. The plan was just to take it relatively easy and concentrate on completing the run rather than aim for any specific time, as time on the feet was most important in the whole scheme. The fact that I hadn’t run close to the distance in training was concerning, but with conditions more suitable if not ideal compared to home I was reasonably confident that I would get what I wanted from this event.

Little bit of hardware, long way to go before the journey ends.

With the course practically identical to what it was the previous time I had run the event (keep in mind that last year calf niggles, and forgetting the race bib prevented me from getting on the start line and I ended up going bowling instead), it would have been easy to try not to follow others but as it turned out for the first 15km that was basically the pattern. As I entered the path under one of the main roads alongside One Mile Creek I spent the time following a couple of lasses who were going at a similar speed to what I was. With Comrades in mind, I was trying to hold back from making the rapid overtaking moves (which also had an element of danger given runners would be coming the other way) but also conscious of working hard on the small uphill rises. Unfortunately I wasn’t exactly holding back speed wise, running 5:40 or faster per kilometre when I was looking for a slower tempo closer to the 5:55 or 6:00 per kilometre marker. I paid for it just as the turn around point at 15 Mile Creek’s path approached, and it was at that point where I contented myself with a relative cruise to the finish. I virtually walked much of the last 3 kilometres, partially due to leg fatigue and partially to stay out of the way of the 5 kilometre runners who were rapidly finishing their race (shades of getting out of the way of half marathoners at Perth’s City to Surf), and the unimportant time blew out to 2:07 when a sub 2:00 looked on the cards. Still I was happy that I got 21 kilometres into the legs, especially with what was to come.

This weekend sees the return trip to Port Macquarie for the Treble Breakwall Buster. For those that can’t remember this signature event in the Port Macquarie Running Festival is where runners have to complete the three main events Port has to offer, a half marathon, a 10km and a 5km (many of course take a sensible approach and only do one of these). With a total distance of 36.1 kilometres covered, this for me is as ideal of a training run in race conditions as I’ll ever get for Canberra (50km) and Comrades (despite the relatively flat nature of the course) with time on the feet and the need to hold back so there isn’t substantial breaks between finishing one leg and starting another. In that regard the aim is to basically run a 2 hour half marathon, followed up by a 60 minute 10km effort. There is also another motivation for me this year that will drive me toward success. Last year I made so many unscheduled pit stops, including a 10 minute stay in a porta-loo, I was the second last person in the Buster to finish, meaning that by the end of the 5km I was having to negotiate my way through kids starting and finishing their 1km dash (which this year is going to be run on the Saturday). Apart from the time on the feet and covering the distance, my aim is NOT to finish second last as a matter of pride, or at the very least not have to make unscheduled pit stops. I suppose that means avoiding Subway on Saturday night!

Following Port Macquarie will be another month of training leading up to Canberra’s 50km event a week before Easter. I am hopeful of knocking over a couple of 30 kilometre plus training runs in the lead up, where hopefully the weather even though it has cooled somewhat from the oppressiveness of February will become less humid. Today’s scheduled training run was basically curtailed several kilometres before where I wanted to stop after the humidity sapped the energy from the legs and saturated the shirt to make it feel as though I was running with a swimming rash vest on rather than a t-shirt. Work shifts for the next few weeks are reasonably favourable so including this weekend, I’m hoping to exceed 200 kilometres for the month and also well over 1200m of elevation gain (whether that’s accurate on Strava is debatable). Combining work, training, logistics (still some flights to book as well as obtaining the clearance) and at the end of the month football umpiring will just be another challenge that’s part of the 2019 Comrades journey.

LAZY UPDATING, BUT NOT IN TRAINING (Compared to Other Years)

What a difference a couple of years can make when you know what to expect! This year I may have been a little lax in posting on this blog (it will change in the next few weeks that’s for sure), but the same cannot be said for the training. OK, I’m not covering distances that I know many others around the world that train for Comrades are already covering, but I am comfortable knowing I can afford to search for consistency rather than volume at this stage with the qualifier done and dusted when those runners who are covering long distances are also training for their qualifying race or for their big Two Oceans 56km ultra in April.

This is a good time to reflect upon past experiences and to compare what I’ve done in the last 2 years to this stage of the year to 2019. My first attempt at Comrades was in 2017, and given to that stage I hadn’t successfully completed any event beyond marathon distance (42.195km) it was fair to suggest I struggled to work out what I needed to do in order to prepare properly. This is the Strava record for my runs in the first 2 months of that year, with the green dot being a run on Mt Coot-Tha deviating onto a trail as opposed to the road, and the red dot being a half marathon race in Wangaratta.

After learning more than imagined in South Africa later that year, there was much more determination to succeed in 2018. It was fair to say however the training was far from what I had intended, and a few niggles didn’t help the cause. Getting off my lazy butt though was probably an issue I should have overcome, for doing the work at that time of the year would set the trend for the remainder of the campaign. Of course the niggles in my calf prevented me from running in Wangaratta last year even though I had made the trip, something that I will be rectifying this weekend.

Having had a pair of failures I figured starting well in terms of getting kilometres in my legs in January and February would be key to success not only in my lead in runs throughout the later months, but also it would prove to myself that I am not that lazy. Sure moving into new premises prior to Easter last year helped, especially now that I don’t have to be stepping on egg shells in waking multiple people up should I want to go on early morning training runs. Yes I am still trying to get close to getting the distances that some others recommend doing. Sure I’d like to be able to overcome heat and humidity more effectively knowing that if I can manage fatigue and hydration well in the warmer months I can easily do it when (or if) the weather gets cooler. But the raw figures at least this year show that I am doing a lot more work than previous years and I’m feeling much more positive about future prospects.

 

This weekend sees me head back to Wangaratta, and this time I will be again running the half marathon on Sunday Morning. If I hadn’t completed the qualifying run last year in Auckland, I would have been completing the full marathon in an effort to get the qualifying time nailed so that the events I’m doing in April (the Canberra Ultra and the Cairns Marathon, which I have entered after consultation with Comrades coach Lindsay Parry, WEBSITE FOUND HERE) can be used as low pressure training runs rather than high pressure high stakes elimination races. The aim for this weekend is just to spend time on the feet, to spend time running in a group as opposed to solo which I’ve been doing for all bar a solitary parkrun on Australia Day, and to finish around the 2 hour marker. If I recall the course correctly, there are some grass sections on this course which is a little different to pounding the pavement (I’ll probably need to try to run a little “softer” on these sections to get through slightly easier), as well as some paths where I’ve got to try to time overtaking moves around slower runners and walkers so that those coming in the opposite direction aren’t affected and so I’m not held up and have to constantly alter the stride pattern and rhythm to keep moving forward.

In terms of a schedule, I am at least now able to confirm much of where I’ll be running and training on many weekends up to Comrades day, although this list is subject to change at any time.

24 FEB: Wangaratta Half Marathon
10 MAR: Port Macquarie Treble Breakwall Buster (21.1 + 10 + 5)
14 APR: Canberra Ultra Marathon (50km)
19-22 APR: Easter Weekend in Melbourne, hopeful of 2-3 training runs during this week to recover/remain sharp, hoping for 25+ kilometres on the Sunday with pace no concern
28 APR: Cairns Marathon (Course isn’t the most appealing in some ways after the half way mark, but it’s the inaugural event so a chance to make history can never be sneezed at. Plus there may be a couple of other Comrades runners appearing)
5 MAY: Wings for Life World Run, Melbourne (like last year, this is a chance to run on motorways which given this year is an UP run and the first section of the race is run on motorways is valuable practice)
19 MAY: Hell On Coot-tha training run, Brisbane (As long as work plays ball I’ll definitely head down to train with some of the South East Queensland based runners)
2 JUNE: Flight Night, PER-JNB-CPT, arriving 3 June just after Lunchtime for a couple of days in Cape Town
5 JUNE: Flight Day, CPT-DUR
6 JUNE: Race Pack Collection, Internationals Run
8 JUNE: North Beach Parkrun (remember the barcode, and to take it relatively easy)
9 JUNE: COMRADES DAY!!!!!!!!!!
You will notice that Rocky River Run is missing from the list, that is now going to be run 2 weeks AFTER Comrades. I’ll look to just run 20-25km on that Sunday before tapering off.