Life After Comrades: Maintaining Momentum and Building for the FutureDonovan van Gelder
The Comrades marathon is done for the year and the aches and pains are hopefully a forgotten memory, overshadowed by the vibe and excitement of the day and, hopefully, the feeling of achievement as a result of a completed goal. So, what now? Do we hang up our shoes for the rest of the year? Are we runners or ‘Comrades runners’? As big a deal as Comrades is in the South African running scene, there is a lot more going on for the rest of the running year.
For one thing, keeping our running going until it is time to build up for next year’s qualifier and the big day between KZN’s two major cities, will, at the very least, hold onto the fitness and conditioning that we have gained building up for this year and hopefully, if we approach things properly, we can build to a higher level for the next. Then, when we begin our focused Comrades preparation again, we will be in a great position to improve our performance on the big day.
Simply just ticking over our training for the next six months is just not sustainable. Six months is too long to sustain a good training program without any concrete goals. We need to make things interesting and stimulating. Both mentally and physically.
For Comrades our focus has been on endurance. Now is a good time to change focus and pace. Choose some shorter races like half marathons. An early one, to set a target and then one towards the end of the year where we will want to set an ambitious target based on what we did in the first one. We can now afford to keep things shorter. The endurance that we have built for Comrades will linger so we can work on getting fast. We may not have been near a track since January but now is the time. Bringing in some training buddies will make these both competitive and entertaining as well and make the post session banter a lot more entertaining.
Be patient with your body when starting to work on the speed though. We need to base our target paces for sets and reps on the track on what we averaged in our initial half marathon effort, which we would have done on Comrades training. We want to improve in small increments and our muscles will take time to stretch out and regain the snap that those endless kilometres will have blunted. Start with longer intervals at a pace that is not that much faster than your current half marathon average pace. Then, as the weeks go by, shorten the length of the intervals and increase the pace and effort.
Another way to change pace and effort is to hit the trails. After hundreds of kilometres on the tar, heading out into the bush for some trail running will be good both for the legs and the mind. Trails are more forgiving and gentle on the muscles and joints. The gradients are generally steeper though and this will ensure that we get a different type of workout than we have been experiencing in our steady Comrades build up. Mentally it will also be nice to not have to worry about kilometre splits and average pace numbers and just run on feel and as the terrain dictates.
Although I am sure every responsible Comrades runner was incorporating strength and flexibility sessions as the work for Comrades was being done, now is a good time to take this up a notch or two. Now that we are not too worried about the dreaded DOMS and not too concerned about the impact a hard weight training session will have on the following running session, we can get into the gym and start picking up and putting down some heavier things. We are not trying to build muscle but we are definitely wanting to strengthen the ones that we already have.
Hours and hours of running will have tightened up our joints, especially the hips. Even if we were diligently working on staying limber and flexible, the workload on the road would have meant that, at best, we were just maintaining things. Now that our weekly mileage is considerably lower, we can work on improving our joint range of motion and especially that hip mobility, which is so crucial in good stride length and extension and will contribute as much as a set of ten 400s on the track, to our potential running speed.
Keep up the running, you will come out of it strong and fast and, even if you don’t convert to a short distance beast, you will be in a considerably better position when the time comes to refocus on next year’s ‘Big Day’.