Comrades Marathon training – April 25 to May 22

Based on training schedules of the late Don Oliver, Comrades Coach. Adapted and edited by Tom Cottrell.

Prepare properly and qualify easily

The biggest biteable bit in the whole of the Comrades training is to QUALIFY. The timing of the race at which you qualify is of vital importance. You mustn’t try to qualify too early in February or even March because you will not be ready in your carefully structured training programme.  You increase the chance of having a bad run, having a bad experience, even a minor injury.  The second reason is – what are you going to do after you have qualified in February? Your natural impatience will be to start looking for the next step up – an Ultra Marathon.  For sure you will be well and truly overdone and burnt out by August.

Your qualifying marathon will be on 1st May or latest the 15th May.  The fixture list is well constructed this year with each major province having a standard marathon over that beautifully placed weekend.  The qualifying time this year for your first Comrades Marathon 5 hrs.  Generous.  It was always 4 hrs 30 mins to go with an 11 hour cut-off on Comrades Day.  Thanks for the extra 30 minutes which will be gratefully accepted by quite a few weary souls in early May.

By the way, we don’t qualify at the other distances between the marathon and 100 kms.   Some smart souls work out that there is a soft option at the 6 hrs 00 mins qualifying time for a race of 50 kilometres. There are no soft options with Comrades.  A 50 kilometre race at this stage is another eight sore, hot kilometres two or more weeks later where you can get dramatically into deep trouble.

It is important to qualify with ease to give you great confidence for the next three months of hard training.  If you are going to battle to qualify it will not give you the confidence that you can do two marathons back to back on the same day plus some more.

Prepare properly

Well how do we go about preparing properly?  We split our preparations into two parts; one for the body and one for the mind.  Of course they are closely linked.

Body preparation

To comfortably run your qualifying standard marathon you should have at least three runs of between 25 kms and 32 kms (2½ to 3½ hrs) in the month before the race.  In that way you have built up to about 3½ hours running on the road, only leaving one hour of the “element of the unknown”.  That is the time between 3½ hours and our target time of 4½ hours. You should be running six days a week and you should have been putting in regular weeks of 50 kms to 60 kms.  You can tick all that off if you have been following the “RunnersGuide” programme.

Finally you should have to be used to unashamedly walking a little bit in races.  Not enough to be accused of “blowing” or “the wheels coming off”.  The inclusion of sensible, planned short periods of brisk walking is a powerful tool of all of us long distance ultra-marathoners.  We coined a phrase some years ago that still rings true – “walk with pride and dignity”.  No, we never walk in despair and utter tiredness.  Walk early on in the race, with pride because you are representing your club and with dignity we walk upright briskly and with purpose.

Mind Preparation

You can prepare yourself carefully for your qualifying marathon by going through the pre-race day preparations that you have done for your half marathon and 32 kilometre races.  This includes:-

  1. Enter your race early preferably as a pre-entry.
  2. Check where the start is and how long it will take you to get there.  Leave 30 minutes for parking, collecting numbers going to the loo etc.
  3. Have arranged precisely where you will meet your training and racing friends.  Preferably share the same car.
  4. Have found out something about the course such as how many laps, location of major uphills and downhills, surroundings can be urban or rural out in the country.
  5. Have used the right peak, cap, suntan lotions, squeezies, socks, hankies, shades many times before.
  6. Have a workable drinking plan for water, Coca Cola.
  7. Arrange with each other for pit stops and waiting for each other.  Don’t lose each other it can devastate you.
  8. You are comfortable with the speed of your running partners.  It is of no help if they are even a little too fast.
  9. Your running shoes are comfortable and in good condition.
  10. Have a plan for time splits along the route.  Even better have a pacing chart pinned onto your shorts. 
  11. You have very successfully shown yourself that the idea of “biteable bits” and “chewable chunks” has worked for you.  This next chewable chunk from 32 kms to 42,2 kms is entirely possible.  A walk in the park!
  12. We will enjoy a little wind down to the marathon by having an easy week’s running and early nights.  That sets your mind right.
  13. “Run through” your 32 km race.  This means from 30 kms to the finish at 32 kms you deliberately think of going further in three weeks’ time.  You tell yourself even though it hurts a bit you could really keep going for another hour if we really had to.  We have to “run through” all our races from now on as we progress up the ladder from 32 kms to 62 kms.
  14. If you do all these things before your marathon you will be feeling quietly confident that you have done everything right for yourself.  A little excited of course, but not actually nervous.  You have nothing to worry about.

Mind and body preparation

Now you can put the two single separate parts together – the mind and the body.  Put the two together and you have confidence.  That’s what you need to set out to qualify for Comrades.  You will feel the same in late-August later this year for exactly the same reasons, good preparation of mind and body.  Off you go and show me.

Where are we now?

As we come to the end of April and head into May, getting ready for our marathon it is a good idea to see where we are now.  We have certainly built up slowly and consistently from January.  Remember we are looking forward to about 1800 kms of training between January and August. We will build on this and so far it’s been a great start.  It will look even better at the end of May. .

Your April – May training programme.

We have done a comfortable 32 kms in April in 4 hours.  That sets you up nicely for our standard in the first week of May.  Pre-enter your qualifying marathon for weekends of 1st or 15th of May.  That’s a commitment.  You’ll feel good about getting on with the job of preparing for Comrades.

Our April – May training is a build up from 21 kms to 25 kms to 32 kms, then a wind down to 21 kms for the weekend before our standard.

We have our running pattern clearly defined now and we are flourishing on it. Monday – Rest Day. Thursday – Longer mid-week run. Sunday – Long run.

Add on “easy week” followed by “hard week” and you are learning quickly.

Objective: To qualify for the Comrades Marathon by finishing your standard marathon in 4 hours 50 minutes.

How to measure if you have achieved it: Be an official finisher within 4 hrs 50 mins in your selected ASA approved 42,2 km race.

How to achieve it:

  1. Complete the recommended build up from 25 kms to 32 kms.
  2. Get used to feeling what six minutes per kilometre running is all about.  Measure your speed in two races.  Your marathon speed will be slower at 6,4 minutes per kilometre including those planned walks.
  3. Think about cutting out other sports and fitness programmes until after Comrades.  Try to adapt to your increased weekly kilometres and avoid getting over tired.
  4. Treat any minor injuries or vague aches and pains seriously and seek medical or professional advice before it develops into a major problem.
  5. Sunday is your major training day so make sure nothing interferes with your programme.  Everyone has a job during the week and has to make concessions to your training runs mid-week.  Never compromise on that Sunday run.

Thought for the month: “It’s nice to comfortably qualify”