Comrades- the last weeks are a mental game

Comrades- the last weeks are a mental game

It’s the final countdown to Comrades

Today you crawl out of bed and feel aches and pains, and running a good Comrades marathon seems impossible. Tomorrow you jump out of bed feeling great and know that you are going to smash the Comrades. But the day after, a good race seems impossible again.

If this up and down roller coaster ride sounds like you, read on …

The big training is done and dusted and it now becomes a mind game as the focus moves from putting in big mileages, to worrying about getting sick or being injured. 

In these final weeks we are tuned into how we feel, sometimes panicking over symptoms that disappear when the starting gun fires on June 11. But of course some symptoms are real and need attention, and the trick is to distinguish between the imaginary and real in the final few weeks.

NOTE: If a symptom persists for more than a day, then it is something to have checked. If you feel sick, get to a doctor instead of waiting and hoping that you get well. If you think you have an injury, get to a physiotherapist. It is better to take active steps to try to sort it out, than sit and hope it goes away. Don’t leave this for the last few days before the Comrades.

This final phase is the taper and it will ensure you have a good run on Comrades. Without a decent taper, you won’t get the benefit of all your hard training. Some runners expect to suddenly feel strong after the big mileage phase and then start to worry when they aren’t running well, not realising that it takes about three weeks of reduced mileage before the legs have recovered. This means that you may feel drained and tired until quite close to the Comrades. 

NOTE: A common problem for runners in this stage is work pressure, trying to clear their desk of work to take time off for the Comrades. This can mean stress, less sleep and poor eating habits. 

There is no easy solution to this, but it helps being aware of it. If this happens, try to catch up on sleep on the weekends.

The aim of the taper is for your legs to recover fully from the muscle damage caused by the high mileage weeks and the long runs. Running Comrades on sore and tired legs is as tough as running the Comrades on little training. 

NOTE: Now is a good time to go for sports massages (ideally two to three of them, with the last one about four to five days before the Comrades). Sport massages are great for working out the stiffness and tightness in legs. 

Comrades runners often worry that they will have lost their speed in the slow, high-mileage phase, but the speed returns quickly once the mileage drops, and we don’t need many speed sessions to get fast again. In the week before Comrades (May 29 – June 4) a good option is to do a tempo run of 5-8 km (half marathon pace) or a light interval session early in the week on Tuesday or Wednesday. In the final week (from June 5), only silver medalists and faster runners need to fit in a light interval session on Tuesday, while an easy 4-5 km jog for everyone else is safer.

NOTE: If you have never done speed work before, don’t try to do it now. It would increase the risk of injury and it is not worth the risk.

Resting completely sounds good, but what happens is that the body goes into repair mode and shuts down. Instead you want to keep ticking over with short, easy runs to help to fire up your neuromuscular system and keep your body ready for action on the big day.  The short and easy pace runs also help us to cope mentally as it is the inactivity that worries us. A good plan for the last days is to rest on the Thursday and Friday, and then do an easy 20 minute jog on the Saturday to loosen up.

NOTE: If you are injured or sick, then rest is best now, so that you can maximise recovery time. And then you could start with light running closer to the Comrades to loosen up.

 Core-work and strength training are normally good. But if you have never done it before, don’t suddenly try it in the last weeks, as your legs will be sore from using muscles not normally used

NOTE: If you do follow a strength training programme, then do the last session about 10 days before the Comrades. The above also applies to Pilates, Yoga etc. 

Now is a good time to start preparing your checklist of what to take, and  you should  have your Comrades shoes set aside, waiting for race day. 

NOTE:  It is a good idea to buy stuff you need for race day such as energy drinks now, as there may be a shortage of stock closer to race day

Yes, you can still get sick and be okay

Since you are in your taper and the big training is done, getting sick isn’t necessarily a train smash, provided it isn’t in the week of the Comrades. In 1997 I was so sick that I had to bail on a run a week before Comrades, and yet I bounced back to run my 6.38 PB. 

Runners with school children seem to be at a high risk, while working in an office also adds to the risk. And the worst I think is for those who have to commute using public transport. 

NOTE: The best  is to practise good hygiene, do social distancing where possible, and boost your immune systems

Some runners will get a “vitamin bomb drip” in the last two weeks and it does seem to help runners who are feeling flat and tired, and there are several pharmacies that do this. If you try this then about two weeks to a week before the Comrades is best .

Flu injections are used by some and not by others. I started having a flu shot before Comrades as I was invariably sick the week of Comrades, and was never sick again at Comrades. Again, if you have a flu shot, have it now, not just before the Comrades in case you feel any side-effects and get slightly sick. 

NOTE: In all cases when sick, stop running and get to a doctor. The sooner you do this, the sooner you will recover. If you are sick in the last week then get medical advice as it can then be dangerous trying to run Comrades.

Beat the germs

We can learn from cyclists. The former doctor for the professional Sky cycling team (Now Ineos Grenadiers), Dr Richard Freeman, found that they were able to reduce the number of infections once they introduced hand sanitisers for the cyclists. These were kept in the bus and their rooms. Cyclists were also encouraged to avoid hand shakes and instead used a fist pump and then used a hand sanitiser afterwards. We are just as likely, says Dr Freeman, to get upper respiratory tract infections or gastroenteritis from shaking hands with someone who is infected, as from being sneezed on by an infected person.

NOTE:  Flu and colds decreased in the lockdown as we had to wear masks, use hand sanitisers and practise social distance. While we can’t do all this, try using hand sanitisers and social distancing.

Sorting out injuries

There are three specialists we use most often, physiotherapists, biokineticists, and chiropractors. It helps to know which one to use and it depends on your injury. 

For most injuries, I usually recommend going to a physiotherapist first. 

A biokineticists is usually better for preventative care, through analysing muscle weakness and imbalances and then prescribing exercises. So this is a good thing to do after the Comrades.

 A chiro is always good for checking alignment as we are often out of alignment due to a locked sacroiliac joint, and tight and inflexible hips.

The taper is a mind-game

Don’t let your mind become obsessed with negative thoughts so close to the race. If you have a problem, try to get it sorted and you will feel better knowing that you are doing all that you can.

You have done the training, and your reward is to stand at the start of the Comrades and have an amazing experience. 

Coach Neville

For the past 22 years I have helped hundreds of runners achieve their dreams, using the Recovery Based Training System I have developed. 

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