Training fields

Beware of traps and minefields



Patellar chondromalacia, iliotibial band friction syndrome, stress fracture, upper respiratory tract infection. This dreadful list of chronic conditions sums up the pitfalls and minefields that await runners as they train intensely through this critical phase of their preparation for the Comrades marathon. They lurk like camouflaged aliens waiting to pounce on dedicated racers, waiting to destroy inspiring racing dreams.

And sadly, many runners will face these vicious enemies, and other nasty allies, in the coming weeks. Unfortunately, many runners will injure themselves or become ill during this very critical training period.

We know that statistically 65% ​​of runners who will not reach the Comrades Marathon finish line at Moses Mabhida Stadium on 28 August will fail because they will be carriers of injury or disease.

The Comrades is tough enough to be a strong and healthy runner. It’s almost impossible for a runner with a disability. There are those who struggle with a toxic mix of stubborn courage and dozens of painkillers, but the price their health pays is not worth it.

I have a good runner friend, whose name we won’t know, who won his medal thanks to handfuls of anti-inflammatories. The price he paid for this medal was five nights in a Durban hospital recovering renal failure.


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In mid-July, the Comrades runner is like a tightrope walker teetering erratically while balancing precariously between extreme physical condition and complete disaster. I used to joke with my running mates that if a sparrow with a bad cold sneezed into a tree a mile away from me, I’d be bedridden with the flu two days later. That’s how dangerous this time can be.

However, it is how each runner reacts to the occasional major swing that determines the success or failure of the comrades.

We don’t have those stats, but I’d venture to assume that over 90% of riders leaving the Pietermaritzburg start line on race morning will have encountered some issue or another in the weeks leading up to Comrades.

How do the runners fight against the enemy watching them? A first defense is to understand that caution is the best form of attack. Don’t try anything new and untested.

Comrades Race 1984

In the weeks leading up to the 1984 race, I threw caution to the wind when I began vigorous gym work. I started lifting weights with my legs and arms. Maybe the hamstring curls I attempted were too heavy, or maybe my half squats with weights were too vigorous, but I quickly developed a slight pinch in my right hamstring. . I ignored the annoying hamstring, convincing myself that it was “just a minor pinch and it will go away soon”.

This is one of the most frequently cited excuses by runners in our sport for pushing and ignoring common sense. “It’s just a small concern. I will exhaust it. It wasn’t, and I didn’t.

The conservative approach also advises against sudden increases in workout mileage. And yet, so many runners ignore this sage advice. Perhaps they are driven by an impending sense of fate and the race date rapidly approaching. But they also throw caution to the wind when arguing.

“I have to double my mileage. I have to make up for lost ground. I lost two weeks of training.

Runners must recognize that what is gone is gone. Forget missed workouts. Let it go, move on.

No perfect build

Don’t ignore disturbing symptoms or annoyances, no matter how insignificant. That slight hamstring pinch could turn into a serious tear, like in my case, that scratchy throat could turn into a raging cold or infection.

Take comfort knowing that even champions and elite runners will have struggled with their own setbacks in the weeks leading up to Comrades. Yes, even Gerda Steyn and Bongmusa Mthembu will have suffered minor injuries and illnesses which will have cost them a few days of training. No one has a perfect build.

I understand that it can be very depressing watching others run, while learning on social media about the prodigious distances others run in their training log, especially when all you can do is lay down a bag of ice on an inflamed ankle.

Also take comfort in knowing that hurt is often a “blessing in disguise.” They can act as “calming pills” or valiums for over-enthusiasm.

Comrades Race 1979

I remember the 1979 Comrades champion, Piet Vorster, confiding in me that he hadn’t judged his chances in the race that year very well. He had struggled for weeks with a bad ankle injury and had been unable to train. He was convinced that he would have to bail out (give up) the race at some point because he hadn’t put in enough miles in training.

Not only did he not bail out, but he won the race and in a new record time. At 80 kilometers he ran powerfully over Polly Shortts and was untouchable that day. I say. I was chasing Piet and couldn’t catch up with him.

Rest assured that if you react wisely and cautiously to failure, it will be a distant memory on race day. When you first lay eyes on the incredible 1 mile to go chart, you won’t remember the lost workout, the cold you battled in July, or the injury that cost you five days. training.


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