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Comrades 2014

Rodney Hooper

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Comrades 2014 – DNF experience
Rodney Hooper, Novice - 13453

Nutrition, nutrition, nutrition

Age: 45
Height: 1.91m
Weight: 85kgs
Qualifying marathon: CT Marathon 3h22
Comrades seeding: C
Jan-June 2014 mileage: Between 1300-1400kms
Long runs: 2 Oceans and 4 Hills 4 Lindsay

After having read many of the stories posted on the website I thought I would share my experience of the 2014 “down” run. Hopefully it will give novice readers a perspective on what they are about to embark on.

Pre Comrades:

During 2012 I decided to get back into “shape”. Despite playing a number of sports competitively and doing some jogging my weight was too high. So I bought a Concept 2 indoor rower for the garage, changed my diet and shed over 20kgs. In early 2013 a group of us from the office decided to formalise some running training and from about March or April we began regular sessions. From this base we became more adventurous and started tackling longer races. Having completed the John Korasie 30km in 2hr21 and feeling strong at the end I decided to enter the CT Marathon 3 weeks later. It was a perfect course for a strong run. Perhaps too perfect as this gave me the confidence to enter 2 Oceans and the Comrades.

My standard weekly mileage from Sept 2013 through to the start of Comrades was high, with no injuries. Looking back at my Garmin reports there are a number of weeks above 100kms and a peak week of just under 130kms. In Dec 2013 on holiday with my sons I did 80kms in 3 days around Hermanus. Most of my long runs were at 5m30 / km at an average heart rate of less than 140. My point is this – training mileage was never going to be the “risk” factor for Comrades – I mostly ran as I was told by the programme I followed. My issue has always been nutrition and absorbing calories whilst running. For runs of 25kms or less I don’t eat before and simply have water before I leave. For runs of 30kms or longer I don’t eat before but take a camelbak and sip about 1-1.5l of Energade or equivalent. I’m not a fan of the gels but have managed to eat Gu chomps when needed. As my heart rate is low during training runs I don’t burn carbohydrates extensively so little sips of Energade are enough to fuel runs up to marathon length. The problem comes when I try and race 30kms or longer. My usage of carbohydrates increases substantially and this means a different fuelling strategy is needed. Coke is my kryptonite – if undiluted I get stomach cramps / a stitch instantaneously. Suffice it to say getting sufficient energy whilst racing is a delicate business and very frustrating. 2 Oceans was a disaster – after going through the halfway mark in 2h20 I got severe stomach cramps and dizziness on the top of Chapman’s Peak and limped home in 5h33. 4 Hills for Lindsay just 12 days after Oceans was my chance to test and make changes. I didn’t eat before 4H4L and decided to drink only when thirsty. I ate banana’s and salami sticks and largely avoided sugar until 35kms. My training partner and I had strict rules on forced walks and either slowed down or walked if our heart rates reached 155. It was an amazing day, we loved every moment of the run and were very sorry when it ended. If asked to run a further 33kms we would have gladly done so. Our time was 5h21. Comrades and a Bill Rowan medal seemed very doable.

Fast forward to the day before Comrades – the office crew all climbed into a hire car and drove the route to Pietermaritzburg to stay the night. It soon became apparent that the route was much tougher than we envisaged. The first half of the “down” run looked anything but. In my mind I immediately thought 10hrs was a more realistic target. The B&B that was booked for us turned out to be a brothel! Just our luck – suffice it to say when someone went looking for utensils in the dining room cupboard all they found was condoms! Even worse – the lady of ill repute was permanently ensconced in one of the B&B’s rooms so we had to contend with late night callers having their merry way. So limited sleep but not uncommon on the night before Comrades.

The start was buzzing and the energy and nervousness of the runners palpable. We didn’t push to the front of our batch and sat on the pavement on foam we had brought. [Tip worth remembering]. Even though we were probably halfway in our batch pen we were only 80m from the start line and it took us around 90 seconds to get over the line. From there everything but the course profile went downhill. We had decided to utilise the same strategy as 4H4L and walk whenever we hit a 155 heart rate. Boy did we walk! The first 21kms of the route feels like a constant uphill with the odd steep downhill. We didn’t try and hold an unrealistic pace, we slowed down considerably. At 25kms I picked up a stitch on my right side – don’t know why. That stitch stayed with me for nearly all of the next 40kms. I tried running, I tried walking, nothing seem to work. When I reached the green mile I had a lie down on the grass, a friendly spectator gave me some cool drink and a banana and pulled me up. 500m down the road near the 26km marker the medics from Netcare pulled me over. My blood pressure was 60/40 for the first 2 readings and slightly higher for the 3rd. Despite having 4h47 minutes to finish the last 33kms I just couldn’t do it. Not even walk. Disappointment would be an understatement – having your number pulled off you in the bailout bus, seeing other runners enter the stadium and walking around the finish with no medal of your own isn’t pleasant. If I had completed a number of Comrades it probably wouldn’t hurt so much but spectacular failure on your first attempt is a bitter pill.

Lessons to learn:
If nutrition is a concern for you then I would strongly recommend training slightly differently and not doing only LSD runs – do faster paced long runs that force you into testing your nutritional strategy.
Do a lot more hill work than what you think is necessary for a “down” run – you need to get used to steep up and down stretches
Start out slowly – if you have strong legs there is lots of opportunity to make up time in the 2nd half.


Internal links:
External links: Official Comrades Marathon website

Copyright Nikki Campbell 2011