The key to a great Comrades lies in good planning and this article sets out a road map to help you plan your route to your best possible run at the Comrades.
2023 is fast approaching, and most runners are happy that the iconic Comrades has moved back to the June date, and will be on June 11 next year. With the return to the June date and the end of the Covid restrictions, we can expect a much bigger field again at the Comrades, as the field this year was the smallest in many years. It will again be a Down run, from Pietermaritzburg to Durban and approximately 90 km.
Training for the Comrades that was held in August this year, was exceptionally tough for runners, as the big mileages were done through the cold winter months of June and July (in South Africa). I had runners in Europe training for the Comrades, who were fortunate as their big mileages were in their summer months.
I was impressed with how well my runners coped with training through the winter months, but I also reduced the training mileages due to the shorter daylight hours.
For instance, the important midweek long runs at Comrades pace, which take a lot of time, had to be reduced. Depending on the level of fitness of the runner, those who would normally do 20km, did 15km, those who would normally do 25km, did 20km, and those who would normally do 28km, did 24km. And while this helped runners get through the winter months, it wasn’t ideal.
Running the qualifying marathons also became more complicated as race dates were continually changing and ultras used by many as long training runs, such as the 50km Loskop, were cancelled.
Another challenge was that many runners started their training less fit than they normally would have, due to the uncertainties as to whether races would be happening. This meant that many runners had to either ramp up their training quickly, risking injury, or do sub-optimal training for the Comrades.
We can expect that races will as far as possible be reverting to their pre-Covid dates in 2023, and this will make it easier for planning and for qualifying.
Good planning is the key and the things to plan for are:
- When to start your marathon training for the qualifier
- When to run your marathon qualifier
- When to start your Comrades training phase
- How many long runs, the distances, and when to do them
- When to do the last big long run and how long before the Comrades
- When to start your taper
- How to add speed and hill training, and when to do it
NOTE: If a runner is fairly fit and comfortable running 21km, then she can plan for a three month build up to a fast marathon qualifier. A runner that is less fit, will need to plan for a longer build up. Also note that if a runner has never run a marathon before, then I would strongly advise the runner to do a marathon in 2023, and only attempt the Comrades in 2024.
A good approach, that I have used for my Comrades runners for the past 22 years, is the following:
- Start with marathon training at the end of November/beginning of December for a fast marathon qualifier at the end of February/early March. December training is still fairly light due to the festive season and runners can be flexible. But ideally a runner should do a long run of 25-30km by the end of December.
- The training increases with higher mileages, speed work, and longer runs. Stronger runners will run an easy pace marathon by the end of January, while others will run a 32km.
- Training increases again, and stronger runners will do their second easy pace marathon in middle February or run a fast qualifier in late February. Some options for a fast marathon are the Peninsula (February 19 – but the wind can mean slow times), Cango Caves (February 25), or the Buffs marathon (February 26). Some will do their first easy pace marathon. Others will do 32km again.
- Some will do their fast marathon qualifier early in the month such as at the Vaal marathon (March 5).
NOTE: If you struggle to qualify
Ideally runners would have done their qualifiers by early March, so that they can then start with their Comrades high mileage phase in the middle of March.
But if a runner has not been able to qualify, then it is possible to qualify later in March at a marathon such as the Uniwisp fast 5-in-1 (March 25).
There are two options in April, the Irene 48km on April 9 and the Elands marathon on April 22. But by this time, runners should no longer have to worry about their marathon qualifiers, as they should be in their Comrades build up and doing long runs of 50-60km. But in the past there have been runners who struggled to qualify, who were then able to do so at the Irene 48 km. The 48km run has an advantage as the qualifying time for 48 km is the same as for a 50 km, meaning that a runner doing the Irene 48 km actually saves the time that would have been spent running 2 km further, making it easier to qualify.
Race dates are still being finalised and there may be other suitable marathons as well.
Middle March – late May
- This is the key training phase for the Comrades, when ideally runners should stop racing and be doing their solid mileages with slow long runs. It is this training phase that will determine how well you run at the Comrades.
Late May- Comrades
- Time to start cutting back on the mileages, and add some speed work and hill work to sharpen up for the Comrades.
The long runs
The golden rule for Comrades runners is that the lower your weekly mileages, the more important your weekend long runs become. This is because the long runs are what will get you safely through the Comrades. Gold medalist contenders who do around 180-200 km/week are already running on tired legs and developing huge endurance, and for them the long runs become less important.
In the Comrades high mileage phase, most runners need to plan for long runs of 50km, 56km and 60km. These should all be slow and easy for time on the legs (Two Oceans can be a great 56 km training run, if run cautiously).
These long runs should ideally be spaced three weeks apart to allow for recovery. The last big 60km should be 5-6 weeks before the Comrades, and club long runs such as the Comrades route tester, RAC 60km, Midrand 60km and other club runs, are perfect for this.
Your taper will begin after the last 60km long run, with a reduction in mileage, and then you can add some speed work and hill work to bring you to a peak for the Comrades.
NOTE – long runs for silver medalists
While three long runs work well for most runners, those aiming for silver medals should plan for four long runs. This means that the recovery times between long runs will mostly be two weeks instead of three weeks. My long runs when I was young were typically 4 x 60km, and with that I ran a 6.38 Comrades best.
Life happens and things won’t always go to plan, but a plan will help to keep you focused on your goal.