Comrades 2022 – a new date means a new training plan
For decades, runners have had a Comrades ritual, kicking off in January with training for a marathon qualifier in late February or early March, and then starting the big Comrades high mileage phase in the middle of March. All this will now change as the CMA has thrown us a curved ball with a change in the race date to August 28.
Back in 1984 when I ran my first Comrades marathon as a 22-year-old, the race date was on May 31, and later it moved to early June.
Our entire race calendar was built around the Comrades marathon, with most marathons and ultra marathons falling between the end of January to early May, to be used as training runs for the Comrades.
The two scenarios
There are essentially two scenarios for runners to pick from:
- Race the Two Oceans ultra and then the Comrades. This is a great opportunity for those who have always wanted to race the Two Oceans, as in the past it was wiser to use the Two Oceans as a slow training run for the Comrades. But runners can now peak for the Two Oceans and race it, then rest and start a gradual build up again for the Comrades. For these runners, the build up to the Two Oceans in April would be very similar to previous years, with a marathon qualifier in late February/early March, followed by a slow 50km training run in March.
- Run a fast marathon qualifier and then the Comrades. The change in the Comrades race date poses several challenges and opportunities for runners, so let’s take a look at them.
The big Comrades, high-mileage training phase moves to June and July. This means doing high mileages through the winter! I think that any gold medal contender would be wise to relocate to a warmer province such as KZN for this, if they can during this time.
It will be very tough putting in the big mileages with the cold, short days and the risk of flu etc. I shudder to think of those in the Cape winter, where it is cold, wet and with very short daylight hours. It will be very hard to train during the week, but one possible advantage is that the long weekend runs can start later and the runs will be cooler. Heat acclimatisation is important as the change from training in winter to the heat and humidity in Durban at the end of August will be significant.
There are two ways to do this:
- Runners could use the tapering weeks in August when the weather starts to warm up, to run in the afternoon heat. After just 2-3 weeks of a few 1 hour runs a week, there will be noticeable heat acclimatisation. This effect can be increased by wearing extra layers of clothing to increase the sweat rate, which simulates running in high humidity. Wearing layers of clothing will raise your core temperature, which is what running in the heat does. Remember this will also increase your sweat rate, and you should therefore drink more fluids and electrolytes when running and after the runs.
- Using a sauna at a gym is an effective way to heat acclimatise as just four, 30 minutes sessions in a sauna can increase blood plasma by a massive 17.8% (2015 study in European Journal of Applied Physiology). Running in the heat increases the blood plasma levels. Before winning the 2017 Western States 100 miler, Cat Bradley used the sauna frequently in the weeks before the race. Remember this will also increase your sweat rate, and you should therefore drink more fluids and electrolytes after each sauna session.
Peaking too soon
We have had two years of virtual Comrades, so the temptation to start the big training for the real thing will be huge. This means a risk that runners will begin their Comrades training too soon. The big Comrades training phase this year will be from the end of May/beginning of June to about July 17, after which there will be a gradual 6-week taper and sharpening phase.
Losing mental focus
We can only stay mentally focused for a limited time, and it would be expecting a lot for runners to stay focused and train hard for the 8 months from January-August. This means planning an easy, lighter training phase before the big Comrades push starts.
A fast marathon qualifier
In the past, runners have had to run a fast marathon qualifier early in the year and this is hard for many runners after the festive break. This year, runners can plan for a longer build up to a fast marathon qualifier, which means less chance of injuries and potentially a faster race time. Instead of trying for the fast qualifier in February/early March, they could plan for a fast marathon in May when the weather is cooler and perfect for fast running. (The Wally Hayward marathon on May 1, in Centurion would be perfect for Gauteng runners).
Work on speed
If a runner plans for a fast marathon qualifier in May, then January and February can be used for working on their 10/21km speed. This speed will help for when a runner switches to a marathon programme at the beginning of March.
The race calendar
There are some unknowns at this stage, relating to the race calendar. We can expect race organisers to move race dates, where possible, to try to cater better for those doing the Two Oceans and Comrades marathons. This means that some marathons and ultra marathons may move to later in the year. At this stage there is still uncertainty around these race dates. For instance, I have heard that the Johnson Crane marathon, normally held at the end of January, will now be on March 7. Here is a link for the current road race fixtures: https://www.roadrunning.co.za/calendar
Early indications are that the Covid may be changing from a pandemic to an endemic. This would mean that symptoms would become milder. The Omicron variant went through my runners in December like wildfire, but the symptoms were mild and my runners all recovered quickly.
We can also expect that race organisers will require either proof of vaccination or proof of a recent Covid test. I have encouraged my runners to get vaccinated and to also get the booster jabs when they are available.
While the size of race fields are likely to remain limited, the current limit of 2000 people for an outdoor event is already a big improvement
I am optimistic that we are in for a great Two Oceans and Comrades. We will have to plan well, while remaining flexible as we don’t know what the year has in store for us.
A special word of encouragement for those runners who have run 9 Comrades, and who have been waiting to do their 10th and get their green number. This is your year!
Those interested in coaching can contact me by email on firstname.lastname@example.org