The Comrades Marathon – Did You Know?

Comrades Marathon

·         It takes around 90 000 steps to complete the race

·         The foot has 26 bones, 33 joints and 112 ligaments which are all hard at work during an ultra-marathon

·         A runner will drop 3 – 5kgs in weight during a race, most of this is fluid. In fact a runner with lose up to 1100ml of fluid an hour but process only around 900ml per hour

·         Your biceps will ache! The most unusual part of your body that might hurt during a race are your biceps. This is often the biggest surprise awaiting first time ultra-runners

·         On average up to 20% of runners don’t finish the race with 50% finishing in the final hour

The ultimate challenge

It is 5.30am on Sunday, June 9 and you are in Durban, at the start line of The Comrades Marathon.  There is a 92km undulating road ahead as you are about to set off on the gruelling ‘up race’ to Pietermartizburg.  You are a bundle of nerves, have some self-doubt at the daunting task ahead, are excited at the prospect of being part of this amazing road race but also a little in awe at the real sense of achievement, knowing you have made it to the start of this incredible journey. This is the true spirit of The Comrades Marathon. Where every runner is a hero and collectively they embody this year’s slogan: ‘Sizonqoba – Together We Triumph!’

It has taken months of training and preparation to get you to this moment but you still have to make it across the finish line before the cut-off ‘gun’ is fired.  Bonitas Medical Fund, one of the key sponsors that has supported this ultra-marathon for a number of years, has pledged to be with each runner ‘from start to finish’.  To achieve this a number of seminars, workshops and roadshows were held to prepare you for the big day but there are many more activities, activations and continued guidance in the lead up to this big day and to help you achieve your goal.

Coach Lindsey Parry says that the ‘up race’ is one of the toughest marathons in the world with its own set of very tough climbs.  ‘Looking at the route profile you’ll see a tough first 36km leading into Hillcrest and another tough 6km out of halfway.  The second half of the race, despite still featuring Inchanga and Polly Shorts – with about 9km to go –  is considerably easier than the first,’ he says. ‘So aim to be able to run most of the last 30kms.’

Here are a few interesting and light hearted facts and tips from Coach Parry to help with some final preparation, both physically and mentally.  A few might have you smiling, especially if you think of them while pounding the tar along the route.

Black toenails can be avoided.  Make sure your running shoes fit correctly both in width and length. Get professional help at a specialist running store when buying new running shoes. Socks are also important. Poor fitting socks can cause toe nails to catch. Keep your toenails short, especially for a long run. Tying your laces properly is also essential and another trick you will learn by buying shoes from a speciality store. If all else fails do not be scared to cut a piece out of your shoe where the affected toe/s are to stop the toe nail from catching on the shoe

The charm of chaffing. Can it be avoided?  Vaseline on the affected areas is the most effective says Coach Parry. There are some other products that are kinder to your clothes but Vaseline remains the most effective plus nowadays there are some excellent under garments that also help.

Extra energy is required. Your body doesn’t cope with the required extra energy to run a marathon, you need to keep the energy levels up by consuming energy drinks, gels and food provided on the side of the road. We need roughly 1g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight for moderate exercise lasting longer than 90-120 minutes. That is a lot to consume, so aim to start well loaded through a good evening meal and some form of a morning meal. If you do that, you can get away with 45-50g of carb per hour during the race.

Don’t be alarmed – you shrink during a marathon.  The spinal column has fluid filled ‘sacks’ called intervertebral discs, these act as little shock absorbers and protect the spine. During the course of a normal day, due to gravity fluid is slowly forced out of these sacks and they narrow leading to a slight change in height. With the fluid loss during a marathon, coupled with being on your feet all day, it is possible that this is slightly more exaggerated than usual. This, together with the muscles responsible for us maintaining our upright posture getting very tired, result in us sagging.  The good news is that both will easily be remedied by literally taking the load off and lying down for a few hours.

Strange after-effects. The two biggest side effects are the severe depletion of body fluids and muscle damage.  Fluids are easily replaced by steadily drinking. Sweet drinks aren’t ideal, but something like cold water with lemon and a touch of salt are great.

There will be a large amount of muscle damage so your inflammatory markers will be sky high and in the two or three days following the race you will be sore. Do not be tempted to use anti-inflammatory drugs, especially within 24hrs, as your kidneys will still be under strain and anti-inflammatory drugs will make this worse.

Using compression gear and using ice packs or an ice bath will greatly help to reduce these symptoms. Some very easy swimming can help, but avoid most forms of exercise including long walks for the next couple of days.

Hitting the wall or mental fatigue? The first 30km is the most gruelling especially dealing with how slowly you need to run to conserve enough energy for the last 30km.   Inevitably runners just can’t go slowly enough and the final 30km becomes very difficult.  ‘Interesting enough,’ says Coach Parry, ‘runners don’t tend to ‘hit the wall’ in Comrades, it is more a question of mental fatigue and discomfort in the legs that make you start to question why you are tackling this race.  It is typically around the 65km mark. The best way out of this mental hole, is to break the race into little chunks.  To run from water point to water point, but importantly just keep one foot in front of the other.’

Post-race nutrition is vital. Within 15-30 minutes of finishing The Comrades you need will need something sweet like a chocolate milk, some milky tea or a recovery drink.  Then, as soon as you are able to, eat a high protein meal to start the recovery process. Compression gear is great, and if available an ice bath in 12-14 degrees will also help immensely with muscle soreness. 

In conclusion Coach Parry tells us of a quote from one of the runners after finishing their first Comrades: ‘Everyone warned us about the ‘big 5’ but we were most troubled by all the hills with no names.’ But, despite this there is no greater achievement than fulfilling your goal and crossing the finish line. Remember what The Comades is all about – Sizonqoba – Together We Triumph!’

For more information go to www.comrades.com