The Comrades marathon is our favourite event but it is probably the toughest challenge we have completed. 2019 is an “up run”- 87K over hilly terrain with very little flat. On top of this, for International runners conditions are often not what they are used to. Maybe the climate is different or you are not used to strict cut-offs, the early start in the dark or even the way the drinks are served at the aid stations. It can all be very daunting first time round. However, this is a joyous race too which is why we are returning for our 4th and 5th runs and it is now less than 4 weeks away. We are far from being the most experienced Comrades runners but what we know about the Comrades Marathon we have learnt from some of the best. We have had them to guide us from the beginning and would like to pass on some things that we have found make this difficult challenge a little easier and a lot more enjoyable.
Before the race
- Qualifying times are in and start pens are now fixed. If you did not do as well as you hoped don’t panic – the qualifying time (4:50) is such that everyone achieving it can finish.
- Practice run/walk/run – this is essential. You will walk at some point and for most it is best to start a run/walk routine early on in the race. You need to know that once you start walking you can run again.
- In the weeks before the race try to acclimatise to running in the heat. You can make a significant difference to your heat tolerance in as little as two weeks.
- If you go to the expo to pick up your numbers on Friday or Saturday you will probably see long queues. You do not have to wait in these lines – there are separate registration desks for Internationals.
- When you visit the expo be sure to go to the International runners hospitality area. Tea, coffee and biscuits are available and plenty of other runners wanting to talk.
- Buy tickets for the return bus journey to Durban at the stand at the expo. The bus journey back can be slow.
- If you think that you might want to join one of the pace buses to help get you through the race try to meet up with your pacer at the expo. They all have their own strategies and rules which are useful to know in advance.
- Go to the International reception, usually at the Hilton early on Thursday evening and hear the legendary (and very entertaining) Bruce Fordyce speak about what you are about to take on.
- Try the restaurants on Florida Road as well as the beach front.
- To get around Durban download the Uber app – they are incredibly cheap.
- On Saturday morning go to the parkrun at North Beach (or one of the others nearby). This is a free timed 5K run, popular in many countries around the world. You don’t have to run fast – walk if you prefer but it is a useful shake-out the day before the race. You can register for parkrun and print off your bar-code to time your run here.
- If possible leave your drop bag on Saturday afternoon in the small truck outside of the expo – it is chaos on race morning. Put something warm in to wear after the finish – it can be cold up at Pietermaritzburg. Also pack something to eat and drink – supplies can run low at the finish stadium. Bring a sick-bag from the plane (sorry).
- If forecast is warm a buff can be very useful to put ice in to help cool down. Blocks of ice will be available at some aid stations.
- Carry toilet paper with you.
- Learn the words to the Shosholoza
During the race
- On race morning go to your pen early to avoid last minute crush and barrier climbing.
- Remember cut-offs are based on gun time not chip. Start your watch as soon as gun goes off.
- Once race starts keep moving forward – no matter how slow.
- Watch out underfoot at start. It is dark and crowded and made worse by many of the runners from the back pens rushing forward. There are the usual items of clothing discarded and runners clipping each others heels. We know someone who lost his shoe!
- Water and sports drinks come in polythene pouches and are usually ice-cold. We find them really convenient for drinking on the run and spraying the body to keep cool.
- Keep feet dry
- Eat plenty and eat early. Fruit, dry biscuits, salted potatoes, sweets and much more are available at the aid stations but more so as race goes on. Be sure you have your own nutrition for the early miles.
- Watch out for the Cat’s eyes on the roads. They are very prominent and the camber ‘sends’ you towards them. They are the cause of many an accident.
- Don’t waste time at the aid stations. There are too many of them to hang about at each one. Apart from food and drink they offer medical assistance. A mid-race massage might seem like a good idea but unless it is absolutely essential you are losing time.
- According to official comrades coach Lindsey Parry the best way to run the “up run” is to aim for an even or negative split – running the first half more conservatively so you are not too fatigued for the more favourable second half. Not many athletes achieve this. On average male runners run the second half one hour slower than the first and women 30 mins slower. Do try – it makes for a much more controlled and enjoyable race.
- Alternatively, say hello to Arthur (Newton, 5 times winner) and leave a flower on his memorial seat (actually a hole in the bank) which can be seen just before Drummond/half way. Legend has it that it will result in you having a good second half!
After the race
- Collect your medal.
- Go to the International area. Your drop bag will be waiting there.
- Eat and drink as soon as possible.
- Stay to watch the 12 hour cut-off. One of the most dramatic sporting spectacles of all time.
- Celebrate – you have completed the Comrades Marathon and you will never be the same!
We hope that you have an amazing race. If you have any further questions please contact us here and we will try our best to answer them. See you in Durban!