The Comrades Marathon 2020 down run, may sound a little easier, but make no mistake it is as difficult if not more than the up run. To avoid some of the common mistakes and to help you prepare well for Comrades 2020, Nick Bester, our resident coach and Comrades runner, has put together some of his best tips.
– For the down run, I’m a huge fan of incorporating a stairs session once a week into your training routine. Running down the stairs and getting the legs used to this impact is as important as running up them.
– Strength training is also essential – you need to get your legs as strong as possible, especially your quads. A short morning routine of squats, lunges, calf raises and core work will go a long way on the day.
– Find hilly routes to train on. Even though it’s a down run, don’t be fooled by the uphills in this race. Within the first half of the down run, there’s more uphill running than downhill. The highest point is about 23kms into the race. I often used to think to myself while doing the down run that it just feels like I’ve been running uphill the majority of the way. These will make you a stronger runner able to tackle the Comrades Marathon 2020 down run.
– I’ve always set a target of reaching at least 2,000kms between January and Comrades. In my last one, my body built up the ability to deal with more training, so I ended up doing 2,650kms.
– Mileage isn’t everything, and the last thing you want to do is get to the start line with tired legs and overtrained. I know other runners who have got Bill Rowan medals (finishing in a time of sub 9 hours) and have only run about 1,200kms from January until Comrades. Everyone’s body is different and reacts to distance training differently. Listen to your body!
– A great way to fit in the mileage is by incorporating double run days into your training. This allows you to cover the distance without always doing longer runs. I’m a huge fan of regular shorter 7-8km recovery runs.
– I’d recommend a minimum of two ultra runs before race day. A 55km run with about seven weeks to go and a 60km run with about five weeks to go should give you the physical and mental confidence you need to get through race day. Our group used to do a very hilly 74km route (at a relaxed pace) with six weeks to go, which was great prep for the race, although very few people who started, completed this run.
– Never try anything new on race day and especially not for the Comrades Marathon. It can be a very long way to run if you are running in discomfort or have stomach issues. Replicate your exact race day nutrition on your longest training run in the build-up to the race. If what you’ve tested works, then stick with it and don’t deviate. Due to the nature of the race, a lot of runners try to take extra supplements and foods they have never tried before. I’d avoid doing this at all costs.
– There are 48 watering points along the route which are well stocked with Coca-Cola, Energade and water.
– I’ve always been lucky enough to have great seconds on the route who could hand me my pre-mixed electrolyte drink. If you have seconds supporting you on the route, I’d say it’s realistic for them to stop three times along the road to hand you your drinks and nutrition.
– In the past, I only started drinking Coca-Cola from the halfway point and not before. You should be cautious about getting a sugar high too early on and then these levels dropping before the end of the race.
– Staying hydrated is essential throughout the race. It can get very hot towards the end, and you want to ensure your body is prepared to deal with this. However, don’t make the mistake of overhydrating – the effects of this can be a lot more dangerous than dehydrating.
– If you’re a fan of carbo-loading, then carbo-load a lot more than you usually would compared to a regular marathon. I have always done a carb depletion/carbo-loading diet, which worked for me but doesn’t work for everyone.
– If this is your first Comrades Marathon, I wouldn’t recommend trying this for the first time, rather test it before to see if it works for you. It makes you feel extremely weak after the first three days of having no carbs, but once you’ve carbo-loaded for the next three days, you feel like a superhuman. Contact me if you’d like to find out some more information about this diet.
– Don’t be shy to use extra Vaseline and cover all areas where you think you may chafe. If you’re unsure, then apply more. For the guys, strap some tape over your nipples. Comrades is a long way, and the last thing you want to be dealing with is chafing pain and bleeding nipples.
– Work on the race being 90km, not 87km. Every year, whether it’s the GPS in our running watches or the actual route, it seems to be closer to 90km than 87km. Comrades Marathon 2020 is just over 90km, so be mentally prepared for this because there’s nothing worse than thinking you have 1km to go when in fact you have three more to go.
– If you’re hunting time and are border-line on target for your goal, then always work off the distance markers on the route rather than the distance on your watch. You always hear that dreaded story of someone who says, “Well, according to my watch, I broke this time but not according to the official clock.”
– It is crucial to note that it’s a ‘gun start to mat’ race rather than all the other races I have done in the past that are ‘mat to mat’ races. Runners aiming to finish in under 12 hours would have to run 11.50 or so, as it can take up to 10 minutes for the people at the back to cross the start line.
– Always take the shortest routes on the corners – these all add up in the end. Around the halfway mark there’s a big bend where they set up a water point on the outer curve of the corner. Try waving to the water marshals and signal to them to bring a drink to you, instead of running the far way around the bend.
– Don’t race anything long and hard within the last month in the build-up to Comrades. Shorter races are fine, I usually do a 21km with three weeks to go and a 10km with two weeks to go. But avoid longer hard running with a month to go. Not much fitness can be gained in this period, but you can jeopardise your race by trying to cram in last-minute mileage.
– Pacing is crucial throughout the race but especially in the beginning. Always feel like you’re holding back. There is a lot of downhill in the second half, and if your quads are fatigued before this, then you’re going to lose lots of time by not taking advantage of the second half.
– In my last Comrades, when I came in 74th position, I lost around 5 minutes between halfway and the end but gained about 200 or so places. This is a clear indication of how so many runners get the pacing wrong and just how tough it gets when you’re fatigued.
– With about 20km to go, there’s a 4km downhill called Fields Hill. It’s run on a highway, and a lot of runners think they’re into the last quarter of the race, so it’s time to open the tank. They run this section faster than they’d drive a car there and come flying past you down this hill. Don’t be tempted to try to keep up with them. They’re often the runners you see about 5km later, walking because of the damage they have done.
– At the beginning of the race, Pietermaritzburg gets really cold. Once you’ve started, about 20 minutes in, there’s always a warmer section, but don’t throw away your top here. I’ve made that mistake before, and it gets icy about 5 minutes later again. Only once you’re warmed up, and it’s no longer cold at all then throw it away.
– As fatigued as you get, towards the end of the run the crowd picks up in Durban. Take the atmosphere in and use the crowd to push you through to the finish. In previous years, when I reached this section, I often gave the supporters recognition by raising my arms and giving them a smile. They go mental for things like this and give you that extra adrenaline buzz which carries you just that little bit further.
– So many runners aspire to take on this challenge, but just can’t for various reasons. Don’t forget how lucky you are to have the ability and the courage to do the ultimate human race.
– You will go through a thousand different emotions on the day. Don’t forget why you decided to run the race, or for who you decided to run it, maybe even a charity. We all have different reasons for running Comrades. For me, it was hugely personal, which is part of the reason I’ve managed to achieve what I have and been so emotional at the finish.
– You will curse along the route and vow to never run Comrades again. I’ve heard that story every year from runners who have done over 20 Comrades now. It’s amazing the silly things post Comrades depression does to runners – like enter the race again as soon as entries come out. Haha – yes, I’m one of them!
– No one sleeps well the night before knowing that they’re tackling this beast the next day. I usually jump in bed at around 8 pm and stay awake until midnight, then wake up before my alarm because there’s just too much adrenaline going through the body. The 2nd night before Comrades is where you should be banking on sleeping time.
– Don’t commit to too many plans the night after Comrades. Your pallet is going to be super sore, and often you don’t feel like eating anything else other than soup. However, I recommend making plans for the next day. My old club always used to have an ‘Aches and Pains’ party the day after Comrades where we’d find the best burgers and pizzas and share our war stories of the day.
– After the down run, your quads will be super stiff for a good few days. Mine was stiff for two weeks after my first Comrades down run. It’s undeniable the next day, who exactly took part in the race, by the way we all walked.
– It’s the furthest I have ever run in my life for the smallest medal. It’s a tiny little thing but the one that I treasure the most. The achievement is more valuable than the medal.
– Make sure you don’t miss watching the last runners coming in at the 12-hour cut off point. They always interview the last finisher and the devastated person who was the first non-finisher. It’s a brutal race and if you haven’t made the finish line by the time the gun goes off you don’t get a medal. In fact, they make the runners who have already entered the stadium, walk all the way back around to exit. I guess that’s what defines Comrades – it is a brutal race that takes no prisoners. So try and finish a little ahead of cut-off to watch this.
– When Chariots of Fire plays at the start, live in the moment, you know you have arrived at Comrades Marathon 2020. I’ve heard this song so many times, but nothing quite compares to when you hear it at the start of Comrades. You can ruin the race for yourself by being too scared – rather trust in your training and enjoy the incredible vibe. – After you’ve finished, take some time to yourself to realise what you have just achieved. When you get out the finishers’ enclosure, you’ll most likely be swamped by people and messages on your phone, so for me, I always like to spend about 15 minutes or so after the finish to reflecting on what I had just accomplished. All the sacrifice, the training, the early mornings, the hard times, the easy times, the niggles, the icing. It is all worth it in the end -trust me!
Nick is currently a 29-year old South African runner living in London where he’s been based for the last 3 years.
He initially got into running by committing to do the Comrades Marathon in 2014. After finishing in a time of 7h 14min and managing to get a silver medal in his first Comrades (down run), he wanted to train a little harder and have one more years’ experience to tackle the Comrades Marathon (up run). He took this challenge on and completed his second Comrades (up run) in a time of 6h 58min. The challenge wasn’t over and he knew he could get faster so he was back the following year (down run) and finished in a time of 6h 28min, finishing 73rd overall.
Comrades is in his blood and Nick is planning to be back to run the 100th year run in 2021. He has completed many other international marathons and is aiming for the Abbots Medal by completing all six majors.
His last 23 marathons have all been sub-3 hours with his most recent Berlin Marathon finish a very respectable 2h 29min. You can catch all his running tips and coaching insights right here on Africa Marathons or visit his website on Just a little Bester. He’s excited and looking forward to working with the Africa Marathons team on achieving each runner’s goals. Feel free to email him on [email protected].