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The thrill of the race: Training to run the Comrades Marathon

2022 sees the return of the Comrades Marathon after two years of the world’s largest and oldest ultramarathon not being held due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Dubbed “The Ultimate Human Race”, the Comrades is a bucket-list event for many long distance runners, and is sure to again grab the nation’s attention, come Sunday, 28 August.

This year’s 95th Comrades Marathon is a down run stretching 90.2 km – the 47th down run in the race’s history – and will kick off at the Pietermaritzburg City Hall, leaving runners with 12 hours to get to the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.

Have you always wanted to experience the thrill of completing a Comrades Marathon, but weren’t sure how to train for an ultramarathon like this one? Here are a few basic things to get right.

Starting training well in advance is essential

Runners are advised to start a training schedule at least 16 to 20 weeks before a marathon event. This leaves enough time to prepare the body for what will be a gruelling and challenging test of its abilities. Training plans usually comprise going for training runs three to five times a week, using the other days to rest and do cross training or low-intensity exercise.

Preparing and training well before a marathon helps you to gauge the correct pace you should have in mind when running the race, and helps to improve fitness – of course, it goes without saying that being fit is crucial if you want to complete a race that takes hours.

Good eating habits are a cornerstone of marathon training

Ensuring your body is properly fuelled for a marathon like the Comrades is key to having a good race, but it’s important to also pay attention to nutrition when preparing for the race. At a recent meeting session as a part of the Comrades Marathon Association’s national roadshow leading up to the event, sports nutritionist Nicki de Villiers again highlighted the importance of good eating habits, saying, “In terms of the nutrition considerations, there are mainly three considerations: one is fuel and provision of enough fuel, the other one is hydration. The other one is we want to get the best rest as possible.

“What I really want novices to do at this stage is they need to train with what they are going to run with, and they need to make sure it is enough, so they need to fill all their needs with enough carbohydrates foods. They need to make sure they recover well after each session by drinking enough water and eating enough carbohydrates stuff and also eating proteins.”

Take a look at some marathon training diet guidelines.

Don’t forget to pay attention to rest

At least seven hours of uninterrupted sleep each night should be habitual for marathon runners. When we sleep, our bodies repair themselves and recover from the daily grind, which is especially important for runners training for an event that requires as much from the body as a marathon does.

Research has shown that better sleep certainly has a hand in athletic performance, and this part of Comrades prep shouldn’t be neglected. If you decide to get up and go running early in the morning, keep this in mind when planning when to head to bed.

Running shoes can make or break a race

Running in the right shoes is the key to maximising comfort during an hours-long marathon. When deciding on training and racing shoes, it is a good idea to have your gait analysed, as different gaits require different types of running shoes. Marathon training and the race itself will take it out of running shoes, which is why it is also important to choose a shoe that packs a punch.

Take a look at some of On’s most highly regarded long-distance running shoes, the On Cloudstratus. With a double layer of Helion-enriched CloudTec®, you get vertical and horizontal cushioning that offers support when the going gets tough.

Don’t run with an injury

Trying to avoid injuries is very important in the run-up to an event like the Comrades. Marathon coach Lindsey Parry says that running with injuries is one of the leading reasons for not finishing the race. Of the 10% of runners that start, but don’t finish the race, 64% don’t finish because they started with an injury.

Says Parry: “Again, I can only stress that the biggest chance of being successful in Comrades is avoiding getting injured. But if you do get injured, get it treated.”

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Anyone that has completed the Comrades Marathon will tell you that training for the race isn’t easy – but the pay-off when you run into the stadium makes every early morning and night worth it. Check out this 16-week beginner’s marathon training plan from Runner’s World, and start gearing up for Comrades 2023!

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