Some history on the Comrades Marathon

It all began with the vision of World War I veteran Vic Clapham: He wanted to create a living memorial to the soldiers who lost their lives in the war and to the camaraderie he experienced on the battlefield. He chose the 90 km stretch of tough hills and valleys between Pietermaritzburg and Durban – the Comrades Marathon – as a fitting tribute to celebrate the human spirit over adversity.

The first race took place in 1921, and it has been run every year since, except from 1941 to 1945 when it was stopped during the Second World War. Forty- eight runners entered, but only 34 had the heart to race – not surprising as the course was tarred only the last few kilometers into Durban. Bill Rowan became the inaugural winner, clocking 8:59 to win by 41 minutes ahead of Harry Phillips. Of the 34 starters, only 16 completed the race.

Over the years several people have left their stamp on the race:

1922 is one of the most storied races in the history of the Comrades: Bill Payn, a Springbok rugby player, hosted Arthur Newton (a six-time winner) the evening before the race, and after a number of stiff drinks, was persuaded to enter. He arrived on time for the start, wearing his rugby boots. At Hillcrest he stopped for the first time to take in a breakfast of bacon and eggs. Not much further a fellow runner invited Payn for a chicken curry. After eating he continued on to Drummond. A spectator en route helped him keep his energy up by providing him with oranges, peach-brandy, water and tea. He finished eighth. The next day, Payn took part in a club rugby match, but because his feet were blistered from the long run in rugby boots, he played in his running shoes.

The first woman to run the race was Frances Hayward in 1923, but her entry was refused, so she was an unofficial entrant. She completed the event in 11:35 and although she was not awarded a Comrades medal, the other runners and spectators presented her with a silver tea service and a rose bowl.

The race of 1931 is memorable because of the efforts of runner-up Noel Buree. The taxi he had ordered to pick him up at Scottsville failed to arrive so he borrowed a bicycle to get to the start. En route he suffered a puncture and eventually arrived just in time for the start of the race. After a huge tussle with Phil Masterson-Smith, Buree was finally beaten into second place by a mere two metres. Masterson-Smith, only 19 at the time, remains the youngest winner in the history of the Comrades Marathon.

In 1948 a rousing Comrades tradition was born when race official Max Trimborn, instead of firing the customary starter’s gun, gave a loud imitation of a cock’s crow. That tradition continues to the present day – with Trimborn’s voice, recorded on tape, played over loudspeakers.

In 1962 the race attracted foreign entries for the first time: British runner John Smith won the up run in under 6 hours and, as he watched the stragglers come in hours later, he commented to former winner Bill Cochrane that the other people completing the race were getting as much applause as he had received. “You are now witnessing the spirit of the Comrades,” replied Cochrane.

During the 1980’s, the sight of blonde-haired Bruce Fordyce effortlessly pulling away from the field in the second half of the race played a big role in attracting more runners, as well as some of the world’s best ultra-marathoners, into the race. The legendary Fordyce won the Comrades in 1981 and again in 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986 (5:24.07 down run), 1987, 1988 (5:27.42 for the up run), and 1990, recording a total of nine wins. He missed only 1989, when he sat the race out – but another significant milestone was achieved that year when Sam Tshabalala became the first black winner of the Comrades.

The 75th anniversary of the Comrades Marathon in 2000 was the largest ever staged, with a massive field of 23,961 and, in 2010, on its 85th anniversary, the race gained a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the ultra marathon with most runners.

Today, 97 years and 92 races later, the Comrades Marathon remains the world’s oldest and toughest race. It is as famous for the challenge it poses as for the race day camaraderie it fosters: Year after year, the grit and goodness in humanity comes to the fore, reminding us that through adversity there is hope and love.

How Speed Work Can Help With Long-Distance Running

As a long-distance runner, maybe you don’t do speed work, it just doesn’t appeal or sound like fun. Like most, your focus is on logging lots and lots of miles and you don’t pay too much attention to your speed.

As a result, you may go years without running faster than 5K pace in training. Unfortunately, it is a great myth that in order to run distances well, you must simply run far. If you train at the same pace day after day, week after week, year after year, that’s the kind of running your body adapts to.

But break out of that rut with speed work and your body will adjust to the new demands.

If you want to see progress in your running for the long-term, you need to incorporate regular and consistent speed work into your training. If you are sick of doing the “marathon shuffle” or if you are frustrated that your times keep getting slower – then speed work can help. To get faster you need to do some of your training at substantially faster-than-marathon paces. No surprise there: The body has an uncanny ability to adapt to new physiological demands.

How does speed work benefit long distance running?

1. It improves your running economy

Short, fast repeats train your body to burn less fuel and improve your oxygen processing. This helps you run more economically, and therefore faster and farther with less effort.

2. Speed work trains the body to activate a greater percentage of muscle fibres with each stride

This makes each stride more explosive and generating more power without extra effort. This increased muscle power makes your stride more fluid and allows you to propel yourself farther with each stride, making easier distance runs.

3. It helps you overcome the pace rut

Fast repeats train the nervous system to adjust to new demands and challenge the muscles to function at full force. This translates to greater strength, faster times and helps avoid the “marathoner shuffle.”

4. Speed work increases your lactate turn-point

The lactate turn-point refers to the point at which lactic acid build-up exceeds removal. A higher lactate turn-point will improve your endurance capabilities and running efficiency.

5. It improves your overall fitness level

It does this by increasing your aerobic capacity and cardiovascular function. A stronger heart and more efficient cardiovascular system means you will be able run longer and faster without getting tired.

Everyone can benefit from speed work. Incorporating speed work into your training will make you noticeably stronger and your distance running smoother and faster while taking less effort. So let’s get to it! Let’s break out of that comfort zone, ease into speed work and enjoy easier distance run!

Ultra Marathons. Why they’re ultra fun!

Years ago, my coach suggested I run an ultra marathon.  “That would be insane!” was my instant response. I just assumed it would require superhuman endurance and 24/7 training. But a seed had been planted and, when I needed a new challenge, my thoughts turned to tackling an ultra. Honestly I have never been the same since! You can usually find me plotting the next one because, believe it or not, running the ultra distance was fun. Yes, there are months of self-discipline and hard training. And yes, they are tough and grueling – but there is a huge amount of fun to be had before, during, and after the race.

Here are 6 reasons why ultra marathons are ultra fun to help get the most out of them:

The challenge

Our bodies thrive when we physically work them and our minds are stimulated by the extraordinary challenge of running further. And who doesn’t enjoy the personal achievement from tackling something that seems impossible? You get to experience what your body is really capable of, and what you can put up with. This is an invigorating, liberating and very rewarding experience. It is living to the fullest and we feel more alive than ever before.

 The camaraderie

Unique to ultras is the shared camaraderie of it all: the good-natured joking and gabbing of fellow runners, the encouragement and support of strangers, the shared seriousness of a daunting challenge, and the festive atmosphere at the finish. Ultras enrich our understanding of the human spirit. They bring interesting people together and are like big parties with old and new friends.

The slower pace

I run them slower and have more energy to enjoy the journey because I am not so ruthlessly focused on pace. The slower pace, often with friends, sometimes walking and taking rest breaks, can be quite liberating.

The beauty of it all

Spending hours in beautiful surroundings, the ever-changing scenery, the interesting roads, the breath-taking views and always experiencing something unexpected … what’s not to love? The slower pace allows you to fully experience and enjoy the beauty all around.

The buzz of the ultra

There is a state of nirvana unique to ultras. When you’re out in the elements for the length of time it takes to run an ultra, you get this voice in your head telling you to stop … and if you don’t, that’s usually when you are lifted on a wave of euphoria unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before – it is the ultimate runner’s high – the buzz of the ultra.

The Finish

The finish…aaah….the finish. There is nothing quite like it. The atmosphere is amazing: cheering, caring, festive and embracing. And sharing race stories afterwards is a treat and the highlight of the day.

Ultras are life-changing experiences. If you haven’t yet taken the leap, take it! Plan a race, enter and enjoy the most exhilirating ride of your life.

Tips On Keeping Focused In A Race

I had been training for months and started off strong. Then, somewhere in the middle, there was THAT moment when I started to believe the “I can’t do this” thoughts and before long I was asking myself  “Why am I putting myself through this?” questions. That mid-race slump was precious time lost from my performance. Does this sound familiar?

The mind is slippery, right? It has this annoying tendency of coping with the pain of racing by spiraling out of control, or simply checking out.

To help you stay present and keep focused in a race, I’ve compiled the following 6 tips:

Focus on your form

Focus on your movement, your breathing, how your body feels, whether your rhythm is smooth, and whether your legs can handle the speed. When your mind drifts to other thoughts, simply remind yourself to pay attention.

Set small goals

Break the race down and give yourself small goals so you don’t feel overwhelmed by how far it is to the finish. Focus on getting to the next water stop, mile marker, or landmark. Once you reach it, pick another one and stay focused on that.

 Use mantras

Pick a short phase, or song, that inspires you, for example, “Smooth and strong”, “One step at a time” or “Strong or steady” and play it over and over in your head while running

Give yourself pep talks

Use your inner voice in a self-affirming way. For example, when you start to tire or slow down, tell yourself “One more minute” or “Ten more steps”. And when you’re getting close to the end of the race, you may say “I can do this” or “I am tough”, to push yourself to the finish line.

Count

Another tip is to count. This works for me for a short time only – but those few minutes are often all I need to get through a rough patch.

Rename those emotions

For instance, if you wake up on race day and your heart is racing, your hands clammy and your head spinning, you can call what you’re feeling either nervousness or excitement: physiologically they are identical. But if you call the emotion excitement, then it becomes a positive thing because it’s giving you energy and anticipation towards the race.

What are your tips for keeping focused in a race? Let us know!

Ever wondered why you feel ill while running?

In my years of running I felt really sick on two occasions: Once was on a long run on a sweltering day when I overhydrated and most of what I drank made a re-appearance. On the other occasion, I stopped suddenly at the end of a hard race and found myself bent over throwing up on the grass, rather than enjoying the finish. But there have also been times where I have felt incredibly nauseas while running and for some hours afterward.

Please tell me you have felt the same way….at least once!!

I’m banking on there being a good chance you’ve felt ill on a run, and I want to tell you why…well, my ideas of why.

  • Dehydration

When you are dehydrated, your body does not have enough water to function properly. To remain hydrated, take small sips of water while running. Avoid drinking too much because this can lead to nausea as well. During long runs, and if you are sweating heavily, drink sports drinks enhanced with electrolytes to avoid dehydration and sodium deficiencies – often the cause of nausea, dizziness and tiredness.

  • Overhydration

Drinking too much water dilutes blood-sodium levels. This can cause headache, cramping and nausea.  It is a balancing act to hydrate enough to avoid nausea but not too much so as to cause it. Monitor your fluid intake to find out what’s right for you.

  • Overexertion

When you push your body to its limits, you can overexert yourself. Overexertion causes nausea and vomiting because your body cannot get rid of the lactic acid quickly enough and it builds up in your stomach. This can be avoided by warming up, keeping a steady pace, and by not pushing yourself too hard.

  • Blood sugar levels

Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is a lack of glucose in your blood. Glucose is the body’s main source of fuel, and it won’t function properly without it. When you run on an empty stomach, you may start to feel nauseous, dizzy, lightheaded and weak. It is best to eat something light before you run, like a piece of fruit or peanut butter on crackers.

Eating too much or too soon before you run can also cause cramping and possible nausea. Experiment with the amount of food you eat, the amount you drink and the timing of it.

  • Stopping too quickly

This can wreak havoc on your stomach because it’s not prepared for the rapid change in exertion, causing you to feel ill as you return to normal. This can be made worse if you really push hard during the final stretch. Rather than stopping abruptly, try to keep walking or jogging to give your body time to readjust and ward off stomach cramping.

  • Digestive system shutdown

A common cause of vomiting and nausea during running, or soon after you finish, is due to the shutting down of the digestive system.  As exercise intensity increases, blood is directed away from the stomach and sent to your lungs, heart, and other muscles that need it more. To keep food-induced vomiting at bay, avoid consuming a heavy meal, or fatty foods that are harder to digest, before your workout.

  • Heat exhaustion

Running raises your body temperature, and in hot, humid weather your sweat may not cool you sufficiently. Signs you are suffering from heat exhaustion include feeling faint, nausea, cramping and dizziness. You may also stop sweating. If you think you may have heat exhaustion, stop running, get out of the sun, have a cold drink, and apply an ice pack on your neck.

How have you tried to curb nausea/vomiting on races? We’d love to hear your tried and tested remedies!

5 ab workouts that will make you run FASTER

I went to a Pilates course a while ago and when I told the instructor that I am a runner, she said ‘I will help you run with your abs’. My first thought was: ‘Um, I run with my legs, not my abs!’ Needless to say, I did not go back. A terrible mistake I have since learned. The more I read about running and strength, the more I realise that strong abs actually DO allow you to hold a faster pace and run better.

Here are 5 great ab workouts that will make you a better runner:

1. Leg Raises
• Lie flat on the floor with your arms at your sides and legs stretched out next to each other. Raise your legs, keeping them as straight as possible, and lift them until they are pointing at the ceiling, or as near as you can get. Make sure your toes are pointed.
• Lower your legs until they are hovering just above the ground, and then raise them again. Be careful to keep your movements measured. Aim for three sets of 10 reps, or simply do as many raises as you can.

2. The Plank
• Lie on your stomach and prop yourself up onto your toes and elbows with feet slightly apart. Your toes should be about hip distance apart with the elbows resting on the ground in a straight line under shoulders.
• You’ll start feeling this after 30 seconds, trust me!

3. Side Plank
• Lie on your side, supporting your upper body on your forearms, while holding your arm at the side, and your feet stacked on top of each other. Keep a straight line from your head to your feet.

4. Glute Bridge with Marching
• Lie with your right foot on the ground and your left leg extended out. Lift your hips and left leg up. Hold for two seconds. Then, while keeping your hips up in the air, switch legs. Alternate sides for 30 to 60 seconds.

5. Bicycle Crunches
• Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Clasp your fingers behind your head or cup the back of your head.
• Contract your abdominal muscles and alternate pulling each elbow to the opposite knee. Concentrate on curling your torso forward with each rep.

So, if you are serious about improving your performance and staying injury free for the long haul, then building strong abs is of utmost importance. You’ll also feel better overall. Now isn’t that a goal worth striving for!

Your thoughts CAN change your race outcome

It is definitely the racing season with marathons and half marathons taking place across the country in February. Since this is the case, we thought it would be a good idea to tackle issues around racing in the next few blogs.

Studies show that each thought we have can actually change the structure and function of our brains. So, literally thinking that you can do something alters your brain. This brings to mind the age-old adage: If you can believe it, you can achieve it.

Personally, this saying is soooo over-used that I often don’t let myself think about it. But the truth in the saying is paramount, and it has been scientifically proven: if you can believe it, you can achieve it.

Being aware of your thoughts is the first step to success in any sport.

If you run a 21km race with an ingrained, even brainwashed, belief in yourself, your training and your potential, then you are already half way to achieving your goal.

Being a marathoner and ultra-marathoner, I completely understand that this is easier said than done. Because I know, come that 28km mark in a marathon, or the 60km mark in Comrades, my thinking and self-belief goes out the window. And this is totally, 100% normal!

The trick is to not stay in this place.

You need to allow yourself 1-2km of wallowing in disbelief and wondering why the hell you started running in the first place. But only give it a max of 2km. Then you need to find it in yourself to pick yourself up again. This is imperative. If you remain wallowing in self-pity and disbelief for the last 12km of your marathon, let me tell you, it will easily take you 1 and a half – 2 hours to get to the finish line.

Now, there are certain things you can do to help you in these moments on race day. And they all depend on you, and what works for you.

For me, I write, in permanent marker, words and phrases on my hand and arm – throughout the race, I look at them and remind myself of these positive thoughts. Sometimes, I am in such a pickle that I actually say them out loud while I am running.

I once ran Comrades with a marble in my pocket, because it reminded me of an incredibly tough beach session Steph and I did a few months before.

But you could wear a bracelet or a necklace with a word that inspires you on it, or an armband or a ring that represents the reason you are running. Because let me tell you, you will forget the reason you are running the race, and you will forget that you have put the mileage and the speedwork in.

So in the weeks leading up to your marathon, find that thing that inspires you, source quotes, song lyrics, and words that mean something to you, and that are guaranteed to pick you up in your lowest moments.

Think yourself out of the slump. Think yourself to victory. We believe in you!!

parkrun – changes lives

Last week we shared how being mindful of sport and the role it plays in improving the lives and the health of our nation. The best example of this is parkrun (always lower case as though to emphasise how simple it is).

parkrun is for everyone – from beginner to Olympian. Depending on the venue parkrun is for those in, and pushing, prams, wheelchairs, the blind, the deaf and other physical conditions.

 Bruce Fordyce, 9 times Comrades Marathon Champion who brought parkrun to SA in 2011 tells all and sundry that, “There is nothing, no substance, nothing more addictive than parkrun. So beware!”

In November 2011, Bruce Fordyce started the first South African parkrun at Delta Park in Johannesburg with 26 runners. On 12 August 2012, I started Nahoon Point, East London with 81 runners and a handful of volunteers. There are currently 126 parkrun venues in RSA and by the year end there will be close to 200. Worldwide there are currently 1236 venues in 16 countries with 4.2 million registered parkrunners internationally. South Africa currently has around three quarters of a million (750 0000).

More than being just a 5km timed run, parkrun offers incentives to keep you coming back:

  • First parkrun is the most perfect family activity and is not selfish.
  • On the completion of 50 parkruns you receive a RED 50 club T (Free)
  • On the completion of 100 parkruns you receive a BLACK 100 club T (Still Free)
  • On the completion of 250 parkruns you receive a Bottle Green 250 club T and on 500 a blue one.

Competition and incentives aside, parkrun has been life-changing for many people. Obesity, Diabetes, High Blood Pressure and Depression are just some of the issues that parkrun has played a role in overcoming or containing.

One local man, by the name of Henry, had not run a step since completing his schooling. He arrived at the Nahoon parkun, overweight and diabetic, in September 2012 and started walking/jogging. He was quickly hooked on the good feeling he received from being active again. His first attempt saw him finish in 37:54. One month later he was down to 31:20. Another month and he was down a further 2 minutes to 29:20 and in the first 4 months had improved a massive 11:01 to 26:53. He has reached 250 parkruns – a huge milestone! It was, however, not the once a week parkun alone that saw him beat diabetes, but the change of lifestyle prompted a change in eating habits and more regular exercise.

Another success story is our man Noel. Noel was the original definition of a Couch Potato, and driving a 4×4 every now and then was the only “exercise” he was interested in. Running or walking was not on his radar, let alone his bucket list. His wife, Annamarie, somehow convinced him to accompany her to the first Nahoon Point parkrun in August 2012 and promised to walk with him. Noel walked his first 5km in 52:55. Mumbling and grumbling at the finish he was never the less back the following week and the week thereafter. By the end of 2012, Noel’s time had come down by over 9min. By the end of 2013, he was run/walking and his time fell by a further 9 minutes to a highly respectable 34:08. Today, he has a personal best time of 29:38 and a pace of under 6min per km.

A third success story, Tiamarie, lived and now truly lives in an idyllic setting at Sunrise-on-Sea. She had major health problems and was a smoker. She too had done nothing since school days when her son challenged her to start walking. Challenged by her son, she walked the Sunrise-on-Sea parkrun. She was at the inaugural Sunrise parkrun and is the only person in South Africa that has not missed one solitary weekend of parkrun in 5 years and has 268 behind her name. She ran her first half marathon in September 2017, with plans afoot to run a marathon in 2018.

Tiamarie’s progress is remarkably similar to that of Henry and Noel, proving that the buy in to regular parkrunning transforms lives.

parkrun offers hope.

parkrun transforms lives.

parkrun changes lives.

 

Tips on proper eating this holiday season!

The weeks leading up to Christmas and New Year are filled with huge amounts of food, festivities and socializing. Whether it’s dining out, going to a holiday party, or seeing treats everywhere, the holiday season really puts our willpower to the test.

However, with some planning, and simple tips, you can enjoy the holiday season without feeling guilty!

Here are some tips that you can incorporate into your daily routine over the festive season.

1. Eat structured meals.

Plan your meals for the day – what time you’re going to eat, where you’re going to eat and what you’re going to eat. Where possible, try not to skip any meals. Skipping meals leaves you hungry and often leads to overeating as you’ll be inclined to eat just about anything you can get your hands on, which invariably will be yummy treats!

2. Pack a healthy snack.

We all know that this is the season for running around, shopping, and going all morning or afternoon without much of a break. So before you leave the house, pack a small healthy snack in your bag. I often carry nuts or dried fruit wherever I go – these will sustain you until your next planned meal!

3. Savour your treats.

Holidays are supposed to be fun, right! And they’re a time where you are supposed to relax and find rest. So I am not about to tell that you shouldn’t eat all the delicious holiday treats that will definitely come your way. But, do choose your treats wisely, portion them out properly, and above all…savour them. Don’t swallow it down whole!

4. Stay hydrated.

Drinking enough water will keep you hydrated. Often, we think we are hungry, when we really are just thirsty. Eat at your planned meal and snack times, and drink water in between.

5. Stick to your exercise routine.

The most important thing here is to stick to your exercise routine!! I know it’s a busy time of the year, but maintaining your exercise regimen, will help you keep your weight in check, and may even prompt you to make healthier food choices.

 

Food should never define you, so don’t berate yourself if you do overeat on the odd occasion – no-one has ever gained 10kg overnight, afterall. Just try and make the right choices, exercise a little self-discipline over this season, and you will start the new year fresh, rejuvenated and ready an energized year of running!!

Beating the holiday lethargy

🎶 ‘Tis the season to be jolly tra la la la la la la la la🎶

Christmas time is the best time of year for family, for eating and for much merriment, but it’s not necessarily the best time for fitness levels. It is very common to lose that loving feeling towards running and cross-training over this period. And by the end of the holidays you experience a guilt for over indulging in food, tarts and chocolates, and doing the minimal amount of exercising.

We know that it’s darn tough to stay on track with your fitness when you’re surrounded be all the distractions of the holiday season. From parties to shopping to cooking; it can feel a little like running through an obstacle course.

The most common complaints we get this time of year relate to time and energy. Our time is limited and is taken up by family, family and more family, right! More than that, we feel more lethargic. When both of these two factors collide, it can lead to missed workouts and inactivity.

It’s important to know that you’re not alone in this.

While you use the holidays to rest and recover from a busy year, you CAN still enjoy the benefits of feeling fit and getting your exercise in.

Here are some useful tips that help me:

1. Set a realistic goal each week

On a Sunday for example, sit down and set yourself a plan that works based on the flow of your life over that week. Budget your time wisely and exercise when you can. If you only can only spare 30 minutes on a day that’s ok, 30 minutes is better than nothing! Maybe just increase the intensity on the shorter workouts. For example, do some hill sprints or speedwork in your 30 minute runs, and a slower longer run when you have more time.

2. Post your goal to a group of people that care about your fitness.

This may be your local running group, a Facebook group, or even a temporary whatsapp Holiday Fitness Group created just for the holidays. The main thing here is that you are connected with a person or people that either have the same mindset as you or who is willing to help you keep accountable.

The goal is to keep it simple, move regularly, and stay motivated by being connected to a group. It’s all about creating meaningful mini challenges and telling people about them.

Finally, getting in your workouts, you will be boosting your metabolic rate, upping your happy hormones, and even improving your speed and fitness. What more could you ask for in a busy holiday season!