It’s an attempt to run a sub-9-hour Comrades marathon this year and earn a Bill Rowan medal. That’s what.
Why?? Because in my first two Comrades Marathon runs, a down in 2012 and an up in 2013, I missed it by a modest 20 minutes on each occasion.
The Breaking 9 is a reference to Eliud Kipchuge and 2 other Nike sponsored athletes’ incredible attempt to run a marathon in less than 2 hours, which Kipchuge just missed by 26 seconds – Check the doccie out here – https://www.nike.com/us/en_us/c/running/breaking2.
Watching that dramatic attempt after a 3.5-year hiatus from running was all the inspiration I needed to dust off the shoes and make 2018 that year.
Previous Comrades Marathon attempts
My first run was very much an experiment in survival. As only my 2nd ultra-distance event following a fairly successful Two Oceans that same year, it was a simple question of “can I do it?”. The 2nd was a bigger experiment. Throwing away the conventional “you must run 1,200 kilometres between January and June each year” philosophy, I adopted a more scientific heart-rate based approach to training.
I loved both that style of training, and the process. Zac van Heerden (of Exercise Solutions) did an excellent job of both coaching me and reshaping my thinking about training altogether. Strength training and decent rest were as essential parts of the program as was the running itself. So, what went wrong? The bloody weather. Many have said it was the hardest Comrades ever with huge hot berg head winds and dust resulting in 68% more runners being treated at the main medical tent and allegedly (although I haven’t been able to verify that fact completely), the highest drop-out rate (29%) in the race’s history.
I think I was on course for about an 08hr40, when things went pear-shaped in the extreme. Have a look at “Ultrabloke Broke”. To only miss it by 20 minutes made it even more heart-breaking. As a result, since my last run in 2014 (a slower jolly with a best mate), I’ve always felt I have unfinished business with the Comrades.
I took a thoroughly enjoyable 3.5 year hiatus from running, to focus on cycling. During that time, I managed to complete a few of the countries biggest cycling events in the Coronation Double Century, the uBhejane X and most notably and recently, the ABSA Cape Epic (2017), with fairly little running during that time.
I’ve really enjoyed my cycling, particularly the longer multi-day and touring type events where you ride in a group for long hours and are able to take in a lot of the beauty our country has to offer.
The abstinence from running has also had the unconscious but very welcome side-effect of quenching my thirst to get wholeheartedly involved again. The joy I’ve been getting out of my running over the last 6 months odd has been very much akin to the joy I derived from running when I first started getting ‘serious’ about it back in about 2008 when I ran my first marathon (London Marathon).
Running has changed since 2014
It’s amazing what has changed in just 4 short years. In addition to the very simple and pure joy of just slapping on some shoes and heading out the door, a ‘purity’ I find running still has over cycling, the advances in running gear and the tech that accompanies it, make it even more exciting.
Wireless headphones – in 2014, there weren’t that many options around and I seem to remember them being expensive. Fast forward a few years and after many years of enduring the wired variety finally bought a pair of JBL Reflect mini for long indoor cycling sessions on the turbo trainer. I’d highly recommend those as a relatively inexpensive but quality first pair.
When my lovely wife Nina needed a pair, I bequeathed those to her and thankfully through a contact with the good folk of Plantronics ZA, got a pair of Plantronics Backbeat Fit . A superb pair that make the long miles all the merrier.
I know the running fraternity is heavily divided over running with music. If you don’t, I would strongly suggest giving it a try. Which brings me to my next point.
Podcasts – I am a massive music fan so have always run with music. I don’t know whether there wasn’t as much variety, or whether I just hadn’t investigated the podcast format much, but man-o-man am I happy that the many boring hours on the indoor trainer drove me there.
Aside from staving off the boredom, Podcasts have led me on a wild journey of personal improvement (mourning routines), experimentation / biohacking (intermittent fasting, Ketosis), fun and learning that I couldn’t recommend to anyone more. I think that warrants a separate blog post altogether.
Just yesterday I listened to an incredible interview with British actor / comedian / author / activist Russel Brand talking about his new book ‘Recovery – Freedom from our Addictions’ on a newly discovered podcast series called the Art of Charm. The discussion was fascinating and I’ve bought the book as a result. If you’re interested, you can access the episode and shownotes here – Art of Charm Episode-659
Garmin Fenix 5x – I’ve been heavily invested in Garmin and worked my way through the 310xt, the 910xt, the Fenix 3 (non-HR) before finally upgrading last year to this beautiful piece of machinery, which never leaves my wrist.
Not only does it look great – something not all ‘serious’ sports watches can boast – but short of making me a cup of coffee in the morning, there isn’t anything I need that this watch can’t do. Long battery life, HR built into the unit, easy syncing to Garmin connect and helpful stats off the Wazoo that I’m still working out. As a serious sports person, I think it’s the piece of tech that has probably been most useful to me as a serious sports person.
Shoes – I spent a considerable amount of time between Comrades effort 1 and 2, moving from a conventional running shoe to a more natural / minimal shoe and eventually settling on the awesome Brookes Pure Cadence, and Pure Grit for trail-running.
So I was devastated to learn, when looking for a new pair last year, that Brookes had shelved the Pure Cadence shoe and reduced the original 3 options in the Pure road range, down to one, the Pure Flow, and unfortunately they just didn’t fit.
But every cloud has a silver lining, because out of that came my discovery of new Swiss running brand On Running on which I’m about to hit my 500th happy kilometre in their Cloudflow style which a local agent is now bringing in.
The shoes have their own version of EVA foam (most shoes have gone the foam route now), but differ in that it’s built into special pockets aligned along the bottom of the shoe to give a uniquely responsive feel from the shoe off the ground.
Work, work, work.
So that’s the goal. A 9-hour Comrades. Despite having success with HR and power-based based training programs over the last few years through paid-for coaches, I’ve decided to put the money aside and use a program freely available to all.
I’m a little nips that it may not work, but want to work bloody hard and follow it to an absolute tee as an experiment of sorts to see whether those that may not be able to afford it are at any considerable disadvantage.
I’ve gone with Lindsay Parry’s Bill Rowan program – more about that in my next blog post – and am enjoying it. I’m currently on a 5-day rest period, which feels a bit weirdly long, but I’m loving the time off and trusting in the experience of the Comrades Coach, and the fact that many years have taught me how important the recovery element of training is.
I’ve two more mellow days off. Till next time.