Comrades Training Programme

By Don Oliver, Comrades Coach 

Despite all the drama, Comrades looks relatively easy on television. Few of the runners appear to have an ideal physique, and yet the majority finish – just over 90%. Don’t be fooled though – those that finish have strong minds and well-trained bodies. 

The training programme contained in these articles is designed to lead towards a safe Bronze medal in under 11hours. Programme modifications required towards obtaining a Bill Rowan (for sub-9 hours) or the Vic Clapham (for sub-12 hours) can be found on the Comrades website www.comrades.com under “Training". 

To start off on the right track in January, you will need to adjust your lifestyle pattern to accommodate one and a half hours running each day for five days per week and probably nearer to three hours on a Saturday or Sunday, for races. Come to terms with your family, work colleagues and all your current on-running friends. Tell them with conviction that you are training for Comrades and you are determined to finish. Make a commitment! 

The next thing is to adopt a reputable training programme. The one contained in this booklet has a proven track record. Comrades Coach, Don Oliver, who has personally earned 19 medals and over the last 23 years guided thousands of novices safely get their first Comrades Marathon medal. 

JANUARY 

In January you must get into a routine of running six days per week, with no excuses. Monday should be your Rest Day – cherish it! If possible join up with reliable running partners and select some safe, accurately measured routes. You will need a slightly longer mid-week route for Wednesday. Join an athletic club and participate in their long club runs on weekends. 

Keep an accurate long book (contained in this booklet). Obtain a good pair of running shoes from a specialist shop and a stopwatch with memory function. Become a clock watcher. You have to watch your time so carefully on Comrades Day, so get into the habit early. Run races at + 6 min /km and run slower on club runs at 7 min/km, which is close to your Comrades pace. Race twice a month and do leisurely club runs the other weekends. 

Thought for the Month: “I am glad I started training early”. 

Training programme for January

Objective:  To run a 21.1km road race in under 2 hours 10 minutes (just over 6 min/km)


 

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mon

REST

REST

REST

REST

REST

Tue

8

8

6

8

8

Wed

10

10

10

12

12

Thu

8

8

8

8

8

Fri

5

5

8

6

8

Sat

5

5

5

5

5

Sun

20 club run

21 Race

15 club run

15 Race

25 club run

Total

56km

;57km

52km

54km

66km

 

FEBRUARY 

February is the month during which you build-up towards running your first standard marathon. The build-up includes participating in a 32km race and “looking through” as you finish the race and imagine doing another 10km comfortably at about the same speed. In addition to the 32km race, you should also complete two long training runs either with the club or friends of between 25km and 30km consisting of 3-3½hrs on the road. This will gradually condition your body to spending “time on your feet”. 

We use stepping stones to run further in each race progressing from 21km to 42.2km. When you take on your standard marathon, the element of the unknown is only 10km. We use this technique to get up to the ultras painlessly and successfully. 

It is important to successfully qualify on your first attempt in order to build your confidence. During February you must practise the ritual of getting your race preparation right. Be aware of what you eat the night before, your sleep pattern and your toilet preparations. Eat a small breakfast, stretch, suntan lotion, Vaseline and have your squeezies, peak cap, running kit, socks and shoes ready. 

Make sure you know how to get to the race venue and where the parking is and how long the journey takes. Get all the details right so that you are relaxed when you start. 

When running your 32km race, aim to go through halfway in 1 hour 30 minutes and do the second half slower in 1 hour 40 minutes, to finish in 3 hours 10 minutes. Your second half will always be slower than the first half in distances from 32km to 90km. Start your races slowly and settle into your rhythm as the field thins out a bit. Make sure you drink enough, which is about 500ml liquid per hour for a 32km race. Drink Coca-Cola as often as you can and take one squeezie (corn syrup) every hour on the hour. 

Keep a record of your running time every 5km and save it in the memory. Play it back after the race and see how your race times compare with your plan. Learn from your mistakes now to avoid errors in the big race. 

At this stage of your training you should be able to run:

  • 8km Time Trial in 47 minutes
  • 15km race in 89 minutes
  • 21.1km race in 2 hours 06 minutes 

For the Bill Rowan and the Vic Clapham medallists, see the Comrades website www.comraqdes.com. 

Thought for the month: “I am really looking forward to that standard marathon nest month.” 

Training programme for February

Objective:  To qualify for Comrades by running a standard marathon in 4 hours 20 minutes

 

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

 

 

 

 

 

Mon

REST

REST

REST

REST

Tue

8

8

8

8

Wed

12

10

12

12

Thu

8

8

8

8

Fri

5

8

5

8

Sat

5

8

5

8

Sun

32 Race

25 club run

28 club run

30 club run

Total

73km

69km

69km

76km

 

MARCH 

This will be your first real test. You must qualify for Comrades this month. By now you should be well prepared and entitled to expect a trouble free run. Later this month you also move on and up to an Ultra. If you’ve stuck to this programme of progressions it should be a smooth transition. You’re looking good. You’ve progressed in small steps and have not done “too much too soon”. You haven’t over-raced and you’ve spent some quality time on the road in the club runs. 

“Where an I now?”

Month

Total km

Longest run kilometres

Longest run time

January

285km

21km

25km

2hrs 10mins

2hrs 55mins

February

287km

32km

30km

3hrs 12mins

3hrs 30 mins

Total

572km

 

Between January and June you will need to run about 1400 km in your Comrades build-up. You will be entitled to submit your Comrades entry form.  


Pacing chart for a standard marathon

Kilometres                               Stopwatch time

10km                                        1hr 01 mins
20km                                        2hrs 00 mins
21.1km – half way                      2hs 07mins

30km                                        3hrs 03mins
40km                                        4hrs 07mins
42.2km – finish                          4hrs 20mins

 

 Cut this chart out, laminate it and pin it on your shorts for race day. Two weeks later you can move up to a 50km Ultra. After the marathon you must recover by running slowly during the next week. Any bad aches and pains appearing is a sign to rest and go to a physio. The golden rule for the ultra is: “The longer the distance, the slower the speed.” Your target time for 50km is 5 hours 40 minutes at an average speed of 6.8mins per km. Your splits will be first half in 2 hours 45 minutes and second half in 2 hours 55 minutes. Your time through the standard marathon mark of 42.2km should be 4 hours 44 minutes. 

Pacing chart for a 50km Ultra Marathon
Kilometres                               Stopwatch time

10km                                        1hr 06 mins
20km                                        2hrs 12 mins
25km – half way                        2hs 45mins
30km                                        3hrs 20mins
40km                                        4hrs 30mins
42km standard                          4hrs 44mins

50km Finish                               5hrs 40mins

 

Your training this month is difficult because you have two races with a two week gap in between. Don’t try any fancy speedwork during March or you could face a major breakdown. 

Thought for the month: “I actually prefer Ultras to Standards” 

Training programme for March

Objective:  To qualify for Comrades with a 4 hours 20 mins marathon and also complete a 50km Ultra

 

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mon

REST

REST

REST

REST

REST

Tue

8

8

8

8

8

Wed

12

10

12

10

12

Thu

8

8

8

8

8

Fri

8

8

5

10

10

Sat

5

8

50 Race

8

8

Sun

42 Race

15 club run

REST

15 club run

30 club run

Total

83km

57km

83km

59km

76km

 

APRIL 

April is a busy month. You proceed to build a solid foundation to make it possible to run 90km fairly comfortably in 11 weeks’ time. The danger this month is to panic, and to run ultra marathons every weekend in an attempt to build up mileage. 

The wise and cautious draw up their racing menu now. As a general “rule” experience has proven that you should run two standard marathons and three ultra marathons between 1 March and 16 June. One of the ultras is the compulsory “Long Club Run” of 62km in May. Another rule states that on the weekend following a standard or an ultra, the long run must not be longer than 15km. Study the road racing fixtures in this booklet and plan your runs. 

At this stage, you should have completed on standard and one ultra, leaving one standard and two ultras to do in 11 weeks. Your “wind-down” will require four weeks so you have seven weeks for three runs. The long club run on 9 May is “compulsory”, leaving you one standard and one ultra to choose. 

This month is the time to look seriously at the condition of your favourite running shoes and get a new pair now if you think they will be worn out by the time Comrades arrives. You need good cushioning and support for the big C. The other choice you have to make this month is with whom will you run Comrades? Stay with your training mates and those who have kept you going in the races up to now. You all know each other well enough by now and do not irritate each other. 

“Where are we now?”

Month

Total km

Longest run kilometres

Longest run time

January

285 (5wk)

21km

25km

2hrs 10mins

2hrs 55mins

February

287km

32km

30km

3hrs 12mins

3hrs 30 mins

March

358 (5wk)

50km

30 km

5hrs 40mins

4hrs 15 mins

Total

930km

 

You are now a qualified ultra marathon runner and just logging up 1000km for the year. Hang in for April and you can look forward to the beginning of your wind-down in the middle of May. Treat all injuries and minor illnesses with great care and get expert attention quickly to avoid a long break in your training at this critical stage.

 Thought for the month: “I am looking forward to seeing the family again in June”. 

Training programme for April

Objective:  To run another ultra marathon of 50km plus another standard of 42km

 

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

 

 

 

 

 

Mon

REST

REST

REST

REST

Tue

8

8

8

8

Wed

12

10

14

12

Thu

10

8

10

10

Fri

5

8

8

8

Sat

56 Race

5

8

8

Sun

REST

15 club run

42 Race

15 club run

Total

91km

54km

90km

61km

 

MAY 

May is a mixed month. You run your longest training run of 62km and then start the nerve wracking wind-down that takes you as far as the Comrades Marathon next month. The long club run is very much like taking medicine – you don’t like it but you know it’s good for you. The 62km run is the final stepping stone before running 88km on the big day, on which you will enter the unknown territory of 26km further than you have ever run before. There are many organised long club runs around the country now and the main features are: 

  • It should be run between 4 and 5 weeks before Comrades.
  • It should be run slowly, with frequent stops to stretch, drink and eat.
  • It should be longer than 60km but not longer than 70km. 

The result of running as much as 62km is that you then feel confident that a run of 87km is entirely possible. To ensure a safe Bronze medal, you should aim to spend time on the road between 7-8 hours for 62km. 

Following the long club run, you should start a four-week wind down aimed at recovery from the high mileage you have run in the last five months in order to build your strength up for the 88km race. It is during this period of tapering that the benefits of your hard training will appear and your fitness will reaches peak. All the tiredness disappears, all the aches and pains are forgotten and replaced by an awareness of awesome strength, and that anything is now possible. 

During May, the Bronze medallists must resist the urge to start specialised speed training and repeat hill sessions. The last thing you need now is to pick up an injury. This type of tapering is for elite runners only. As winter approaches, the risk of colds and flu increases, as your resistance is low. Dress warmly for training and during the day. Take vitamin supplements to build up the immune system and eat balanced meals. Get treatment for any persistent sickness or injury. Time is getting short to get better. The gradual lowering of weekly distance is quite an art to balance losing fitness against building up strength. 

You will find that you are naturally running a little faster during wind-down and you can go with this because it will take very little effort with the incredible fitness. When you come to Comrades Day, as you run slower because of the longer distance, you will find the pace so easy and so slow that you can carry on like that for 11 hours. 

“Where are we now?”

Month

Total km

Longest run kilometres

Longest run time

January

285 (5wk)

21km

25km

2hrs 10mins

2hrs 55mins

February

287km

32km

30km

3hrs 12mins

3hrs 30 mins

March

358 (5wk)

50km

30 km

5hrs 40mins

3hrs 30 mins

April

296

56 km

15km

5hrs 59mins

1hr 45 mins

Total

1226km

 

You can justifiably look forward to the end of May, as you near completion of a rigorous programme. You can now start dreaming seriously about that medal. 

Thought for the month: “I wish Comrades was tomorrow.” 

Training programme for May

Objective:  To complete the long club run of 62km within 8 hours 30 minutes

 

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

 

03/05-09/05

10/05-16/05

17/05-23/05

24/05-30/05

Mon

REST

REST

REST

REST

Tue

8

REST

8

8

Wed

14

10

12

10

Thu

10

8

8

8

Fri

8

8

8

6

Sat

5

8

5

5

Sun

62 club run

15 club run

21 Race

15 Race

Total

107km

49km

62km

54km

 

JUNE 

At last the day has arrived and you have got a bare 11 hours to show yourself, your friends, and the family how good you really are. You will be fine, that’s for sure. You have done everything right and you are entitled to get a medal. You will be among the best prepared runners in the field. On Wednesday16 June you will be lining up to run a distance further than you have ever run before. You have done that precise same thing every month for the last six months and you have succeeded easily. The same will happen at Comrades. You will finish easily, provided you don’t blow it in the last few days or race day itself. 

You will need some last minute tips to complete your wind-down. 

  • Don’t talk to Comrades bailers.
  • Only think of your good runs and not the bad ones.
  • Tidy up all your travel and accommodation plans so that nothing upsets you.
  • Eat normally in the last weeks but just add a little more carbohydrates such as pasta, bread, potatoes and rice.
  • If you have any doubt about going out for a run because of a niggle, stay at home.
  • Do not run for the last three days be Comrades. If possible arrive in Durban two days before Race Day.
  • Buy all your squeezies, suntan lotion, etc before travelling to Durban.
  • Picture yourself waving to the crowd as you go round the track to finally secure your Comrades medal.
  • To run a good Comrades you need a good plan. Have a Pacing Chart and stick to it.
  • Make very firm and clear plans where to meet your running friends before the start.
  • Walk a bit before 6:30 a.m. – i.e. during the first hour. Don’t start too fast.
  • Check the “kilometre to go” boards and your stopwatch regularly. Don’t get too far ahead or too far behind schedule.
  • Drink about 400ml coke per hour and one squeezie every hour on the hour. Drink water when you feel thirsty. In this way, you will not dehydrate or run out of glycogen.
  • Walk the hills without feeling guilty.
  • Start eating after halfway – a biscuit, roll, potato or orange will be fine.
  • • Smile and wave to the crowds. You are looking good.
  • Hop on a “bus” if you hit a bad patch. They will carry you along for a while.
  • Use the rubbing stations in the second half if you start cramping.
  • Don’t bail. Remember that pain goes away but to bail lasts forever. 

“Where are we now?”

Month

Total km

Longest run kilometres

Longest run time

January

285 (5wk)

21km

25km

2hrs 10mins

2hrs 55mins

February

287km

32km

30km

3hrs 12mins

3hrs 30 mins

March

358 (5wk)

50km

30 km

5hrs 40mins

3hrs 30 mins

April

296

56 km

15km

5hrs 59mins

1hr 45 mins

May

272

62 km

15 km

8hrs 00mins

1 hr 45 mins

June

75

10 km

10 km

58 mins

1hr 10 mins

Total

1573km

 

Note – included above are two standard marathons and three ultras.

To have completed most of this training programme will have entitled yourself to a Comrades Bronze medal.  

Below is your final training programme for June.  

Best of luck to all the dedicated runners who followed this programme. 

Training programme for June

Objective:  To complete the 2005 Comrades Marathon comfortably in 10 hours 45 minutes

 

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

 

 

 

 

Mon

REST

REST

REST

Tue

8

8

REST

Wed

8

8

87

Thu

8

5

Celebrate

Fri

5

5

Party

Sat

5

5

Go shopping

Sun

10 Race

REST

Comrades Video

Total

44km

31km

87km

For detailed race lists visit