I’ve just entered week three in Dullstroom, which means we are now six weeks out from Comrades 2019. Yikes!
In between training sessions, and in lieu of television (or more specifically, Netflix), I’ve spent a fair amount of time reading – something I seem to have very little time to do the rest of the year. Pondering, thinking, sleeping and reading. Sounds like a holiday, right?
If I’m honest, I don’t think there’s a great physiological benefit to my trekking up to Mpumalanga for 8 weeks ahead of Comrades – its only a few hundred meters higher than my favourite training ground in Northcliff, Johannesburg. But what I definitely do find to be an advantage is the isolation. I’m not taking any phone calls, will answer only limited WhatsApp messages, check emails only once a day and have been careful to avoid newspapers and news reports like the plague. My head is firmly buried beneath the sand.
Away from all the daily stresses and distractions I am able to quietly assess how I am feeling, meditate, and practice some race day visualisation. As a result, I am calmer, less stressed and sleeping a whole lot better. It’s certainly been a holiday for my brain (although definitely not my body).
The other advantage to attending training camp is that I’ve run out of excuses for missing a training session. There are no meetings I need to attend, no urgent emails which require my response, no rush hour traffic to avoid. In fact, the only thing in my diary for each day is a run (or two, or three). That’s probably why the only clothes I packed to bring to Dullstroom are my running gear and pyjamas.
And while it’s true that occasionally I get the mutters about being here: particularly when it is cold and I’d rather be snacking on something delicious from a big retail store (our closest retail park is an hour away) watching Netflix in my own bed, kept company by my cats; I am able to recognise that training in Dullstroom is an enormous luxury. Very few athletes have the means and opportunity to train exclusively at high altitude for several weeks, free from their work and family commitments. I am incredibly lucky.
For anyone (which is most) not able to book time off to train – what is the alternative? Bruce Fordyce didn’t take time out to attend a training camp and he won the race a whopping nine times! Where there’s a will, there’s a way, right? Here are my top 5 recommendations.
First, it is absolutely critical to stick to a regular regime. If you need to be out the house running by 6h00, do it – every. single. day. Don’t delay and have a lie in – that’s likely to have knock-on consequences for your day, typically resulting in you missing a training session or, at the very least, cutting it short. Schedule your runs into your diary as you would an important meeting – you need to have regular appointments with your running shoes ahead of race day.
Second, sleep is vital. During high mileage phase (which is now), you need to give your body as much time to recover as possible. Afternoon naps are golden. Consider kitting out the backseat of your car for a lunchtime basement nap; roll out a foam mattress under your desk and lock the door for 30min mid-afternoon; designate 45min in the day when the kids need to stay quiet and out of your bedroom (also, buy earplugs)… make a plan. Elite athletes aim to get at least nine hours sleep a day. While I was working, I’d be lucky if I got six. It’s not enough. Steal a nap whenever the opportunity arises and go to bed early whenever you can.
Third, avoid sick people at all costs. I don’t want to sound rude, but seriously… you do not spend six to nine months training for Comrades only to get sick during the peak training cycle. The best thing you can do these last six weeks is to be anti-social. No braai’s sitting in the chilled autumn air; no trips to the mall where you’ll be exposed to hundreds of germy folk (or worse, the doctors rooms) ; no sitting in a cinema or restaurant; or hanging out with mates who have a hint of a cough or a sniffle. Just stay home, be isolated and use WhatsApp. The more people you are exposed to on a daily basis, the more likely you are to get sick. And if you can’t avoid people, because of your job or family responsibilities, then pack an industrial strength bottle of hand sanitiser in your bag and disinfect absolutely everything you touch. Gargle with salt. You’re six weeks out from Comrades – it’s ok to start acting a little weird.
Four, eat clean. The last thing you need in the middle of your big long runs is an upset or dodgy tummy. During high mileage or high intensity training, your gut is placed under far more strain than it would be ordinarily and it’s common to develop an upset tummy (sometimes called “runner’s trots”) at this time. Rather than risk the discomfort and potential embarrassment of a long run tummy accident – take steps to ensure you’re eating healthy (and even bland) food. Avoid eating out, ditch the spices, skip the wine and shelve any rich sauces. (For more information see https://wolffmark.com/2019/02/18/you-might-be-fit-but-your-gut-can-let-you-down/).
Five, don’t carb cut or calorie count – eat according to hunger. Over the next six weeks, it is vital that you eat enough food to ensure that your body does not turn to its own reserves (stored glycogen or muscle) for energy. This is not the time to be dieting – aim to be lean and mean, not underweight and injured. Contrary to popular belief, running far does not give you license to eat any- and everything you want. However, you do need to eat enough “good food” to ensure that you are properly fuelled. In the same way that a car cannot run without petrol (and that dirty petrol will cause untold damage to your vehicle); an athlete cannot run without food (and cannot run well on junk food). For an exact calculation on how much protein and carbohydrate you should be taking in daily – check out https://www.johnsnewlifestyle.com/. You’ll be surprised by how much “good food” you need to eat as an athlete.
In the interest of brevity I will leave it there – five take home points you can use to simulate a “stay-at-home” training camp. I’ve got a few more weeks here out in the sticks before I head back to Johannesburg for my taper. I hope to have more good days than bad and to finish the training block fit, lean and uninjured. To each of you taking part in Comrades this year – good luck with the final push!
Sizonqoba – Together We Triumph.
Special thanks to my sponsors Massmart and Trojan Health whose support and generosity have enable me to take time off work and run full time this year. I am so incredibly grateful for this opportunity.