One of the often posed question to me, before as well as after the Comrades was about my training. It is quite difficult to say why I don’t believe in training for an event – either I cannot train well or I don’t believe in it. Training specifically for an event is like pursuing education solely for the purposes of examination – you invariably lose the sight of the bigger picture. I also find that a rigid training plan often takes away the joy running, much like preparing for exams takes away the joy of learning.
Time and again, I have been painstakingly preparing training plans, get them organised using different softwares from spreadsheets to calendars and ultimately follow them only two days – the first day of the plan and the day of the event. Training for Comrades was no different. I prepared my training plan first in October after the humbling experience at Colombo. The plan was to train myself for a sub-6 hour finish at the Shahid Ultra, which was my first test of confirmation that I am capable to run the Comrades. Neither training plan was completed nor the goal was achieved.
The second training plan was prepared after the Auroville Marathon in February 2012. This time, I also troubled Santhosh to review and give his opinion on the training plan. He suggested incorporating back-to-back runs on the weekend to improve my ability to run longer distances. Started with a one weekend of back-to-back half marathons but faded very quickly. The subsequent weekends were a single-run affair and I rarely found energy or will power to get out for a run the next day. In the middle of March 2012, I wondered if I would be really capable of doing the Comrades. In addition, I also wanted to do a 50-60K in one of the hill stations early May as the final run before Comrades.
Ram’s plan was fairly simple. He just stuck to his ‘Core principles’ which is worth stating here:
- No two days missed
- Min 10k per run
- 50k per week
Although it looks simple, it is just impossible to me to adopt and follow. In addition, he inevitably runs a marathon every month in some part of the globe. It was around this time that ‘Bib’ Bala was on his ‘crazy’ mission to run a half-marathon every day for 21 days and on the 22nd day, being his birthday, he would do a 46K run. More about it in Ram’s Blog and his craziness reached new levels in December 2012 when he ran a marathon a day on 12 consecutive days between December 1 and December 12, 2012.
I decided to have one final test for myself before I take the decision to make or break – A self-organised 50K run under 6 hours. Shahid came to my rescue and suggested that we could instead do a marathon within Chennai City itself. The date was fixed on April 1, 2012 and we chose to start at 3:30 AM. In addition, he suggested that we run to the St. Thomas Mount and run up and down the hill. Running up and down the hill was less challenging than navigating the Kathipara flyover to reach the hill. That run proved to be confidence booster as Shahid informed that we have completed 42.195 Km, sorry 26.1 miles (Shahid’s reluctance to change into metric system of measurement made me improve my ’16 tables’ and have to constantly do the calculations.) in 4 hours 45 minutes. It was first of April and I still do not know if Shahid told me the truth! The next day, I followed it with an easy 10K accompanying ‘Bib’ Bala in his 21X21 endeavour. I found it so difficult to get ready for running at 3:30 AM for two days in a row and here was the man who has been doing that for 17 days then.
The month of April had some runs that is worth mentioning here. First, the climb of Gingee Fort. Gingee is located about 66K from Pondicherry. I took an early morning bus and reached the fort by 7:30 AM only to realise that the fort opens at 9:00 AM! It was ridiculous to expect tourists to climb the hill (800 ft) with temperatures above 30C. Tried looking around to sneak in illegally but could not find any route. At 8:30 AM, I was one of the earliest to get into the fort and ran up and down twice to finish my run before 9:30 AM. I wish the Archaeology Department opens and closes the fort in a way that most tourists can enjoy watching sunrise as well as sunset. The fort can be closed during the day time.
The second incident was a consequence of an unholy mix of ghee roast and energy gel acting in my stomach and causing one of the scariest moments of my experiments with running. I had planned a 4-hour run and I carried a sachet of energy gel with me during the run. I had a good run for the first two hours and at the end of it, I consumed the entire sachet of gel. At the end of third hour, I started having an excruciating pain on the right side of my stomach. Panic set in as it is the same region where I had my appendicitis operation in 2005. I chose to abort my run and head back home. The pain did not subside and I had more worries. Quickly managed to grab some bread and milk and chose to lie down and take rest. The pain vanished in the next 2 hours and I started recalling the events leading to the run – Ghee Roast the previous night, and Energy Gel! A good two hour the following day confirmed that all’s well and Comrades was back on the radar!
The destination for the final long run was chosen to be the picturesque location of Meghamalai Hills. Sreevatsa and his friends from Madurai helped me with all the logistics for the trip. I reached Madurai first and was fortunate to witness the Alagar Vaigai Elenthuarulal of the annual Chithirai Thiruvizha in Madurai. I often hear from my ‘runner friends’ that we do not have quality running events like a New York Marathon or Boston Marathon where the entire city is shut down for the event and most households have at least one person involved in the event in someway or other. In India, we have temple festivals which have been organised for over centuries and share far superior display of human unity and spirit. Hence, most cities never felt the need or relevance for events like marathon.
The Meghamalai run turned out to be an encouraging one. I stayed on my feet for about 6.5 hours running up and down a 3.5K stretch. Although I couldn’t run the 50-60K that I originally planned, I was reasonably satisfied about being on my feet for over 6.5 hours. I could not figure out a longer route as it was a reserve forest and I had been warned adequately about the existence of leopard, wild boars and others. My appearance and repeat running caused some annoyance with the workers in the tea estates.
The final practice run was the mid-day madness half-marathon in Chennai. Started the run at 11:30 AM and completed the half-marathon at 2:00 PM. It was highly unlikely that I was going to face a weather anywhere close to heat wave that I experienced in Chennai on that day. This run, another brain child of Shahid, was largely to test the mental strength and was happy to come out of it in fine health.
It is still difficult to say as to how much a systematic training matters for Comrades. Personally, I feel that only regular running and variations in it helps to run the Comrades. Some reasons why I feel a systematic training won’t help
First, the Comrades terrain cannot be replicated
Second, even if it can be replicated, it is impossible to run such terrains on a regular basis
Third, the weather in South Africa is totally opposite to the weather in India around the same time. Intensive training leads to more issues like dehydration which weakens the body faster.
Fourth, nothing can teach you how to run in the tenth hour or eleventh hour and Comrades is all about that
Fifth, you cannot run comrades alone. I will be writing more about that in the next few blogs. Comrades can never be achieved alone. It needs assistance from various people which cannot be sought on all days.
Finally, listen to your body, weather conditions and environment around you. A systematic training largely ignores these. For instance, the day before the long run, if you spend two hours on a bus ride during mid-day, there is no way that the run next morning can be achieved in planned time.
That said, a regular disciplined approach to running irrespective of events definitely helps one to run better and live better.