Pre-Comrades quiet time in South Africa

We’ve been in South Africa’s beautiful Cape region for the past week. The reality of what I will be doing next Sunday, May 31st hasn’t hit me yet. I know it will once we arrive in Durban on Friday. But for now, I am feeling both relaxed and energized. Tapering has that effect. I will update my training log with taper details after Comrades, and I do plan to write a detailed race report – no matter what happens.

The Comrades website will have live video coverage, as well as runner tracking. My race number is 11854. Start time is 5:30 am on Sunday May 31st in South Africa. In Vancouver that is 8:30 pm on Saturday May 30th.

In the meantime, here is a hair-raising Comrades race report from Susan, a Vancouver comrade who ran the up run in 2013. That year was particularly brutal because of extreme heat and an unusual head wind. Susan made it with seconds to spare. That was her second Comrades and she went back for a third time last year. Unfortunately Susan couldn’t make it over this year but she will be with us Canadian comrades in spirit as she plans to run a virtual version in Vancouver on a treadmill using her GPS data. 


Posted in Running

Starting to taper

On Saturday I managed another long run of 51 kms. After the steady paced marathon the week before I was feeling a bit stiffer and slower but I got the job done.

The next day, Sunday, was supposed to be another back-to-back run of 25 km. I was starting to worry that I was overdoing it. Normally I run in the mornings but I was tired and it was Mothers Day. My daughter and five year old grandson were visiting and I decided to enjoy the day with my family, and go for my run in the early evening.

At five o’clock, without much enthusiasm, I laced up my shoes and started out on my favourite trail. After half a kilometre I noticed an unusual pain in my inner ankle. There was a red spot that felt sore when I pressed on it. My fear of getting another stress fracture is so great that I immediately stopped running and went home. Fortunately my first reaction in disasters is denial so I was able to ignore the thought that my months of Comrades training was for naught. I spent the evening with Mr. Google, self-diagnosing, and icing. Finally I convinced myself it was “just” an inflamed tendon from all that mileage on uneven surfaces.

On Monday my ankle felt fine but I decided to stick to my schedule and Monday being a rest day I didn’t run. Tuesday I happened to put on the same shoes that I wore for my aborted Sunday run (Saucony Kinvaras) and started running on the treadmill. I immediately felt the same pain. Then I realized– the pain was just the shoe rubbing a bony spot on the side of my foot. Duh! For some reason I had decided to lace up the Kinvaras through the extra lace holes at the top. That had changed the fit around my ankle somehow. I switched to my NB Zantes and proceeded to have a terrific hilly fartek run on my treadmill. Whew!

Mostly relieved but slightly embarrassed, I was also sorry to have needlessly missed my Sunday run. But probably no harm done. The idea of making up a few extra kms this week did cross my mind. But I won’t. The taper has officially begun and I will listen to the wisdom the experts.

We leave for Cape Town this Friday evening and I plan to do about 55 kms before then, including a couple of long speed intervals tomorrow.

I’m looking forward to the next couple of weeks of less mileage. I haven’t had much of a problem with the training volume, physically, but it has left me with less mental energy for my other interests like photography. I also want to enjoy our three-week holiday in South Africa, as well as the exciting build-up to Comrades weekend.

Posted in Running

BMO Vancouver Marathon- just another long training run

BMO VCR medal

In 2013, about 10 months after I began running again, I ran the Vancouver Marathon for the first time. I had hoped to finish my come-back marathon in under four hours. Based on my other race results that goal was reasonable but I just hadn’t built the endurance yet. While a few months of training will get you to a marathon finish line, to run a good marathon you need a solid endurance base and I think that takes a couple of years of running. After 20 years of not running I had lost that base. Also it was a very hot day and I made the rookie mistake of going out too fast. My 2013 BMO time was 4:10:55.

Last weekend, two years after my first attempt, I ran my second Vancouver Marathon, but this time as just another long run. Being in the middle of Comrades training I couldn’t afford taking the time to taper, nor could I push the pace or allow time for recovery. It was a kind of frustrating because it was a perfect day, this is such a wonderful event, and I knew that I could have done a better time than my 3:58 in November’s Seattle Marathon. But this Vancouver Marathon was not my goal race and I had to be patient.

My coach had advised running at a 90% effort. I reckoned that a 90% effort for me would be a pace that was  just under 6:00 minutes per kilometre– in other words about 10% slower than the 5:30 pace I thought that I could have run.

I stuck to my planned pace and finished in 4:10:58. About a 5:56 pace. Over that distance it was still a solid effort but I enjoyed the run and felt great at the finish– a lot better than I did two years ago.

The best part of the day was hearing that my Comrades coach Ellie Greenwood, who had just started running again after missing several weeks of training because of a broken hand, finished in 2:47, good enough for third place. What an endurance base she has! Ellie’s BMO Marathon report is on her blog. I am so happy that she will be running Comrades after all and I am looking forward to meeting up with Ellie sometime during the Comrades weekend in Durban.

Although I ran the marathon on Sunday I still have to do another 100 km week. This includes back-to-back 50 kms on Saturday, and 25 kms on Sunday. Then the taper begins.

Posted in Running

Five weeks until Comrades

Our Canadian team shirt- a work in progress:

Canadian Comrades team shirt

Canadian Comrades team shirt

In less than three weeks my husband and I will be flying to Cape Town. By then I’ll have started to taper my training and I am looking forward to a couple of weeks of gentle running  and acclimatization in the Western Cape before we head to Durban for the Comrades Marathon.

But before then I have two more tough weeks to get through. Last week went well. I continue to follow my training plan exactly and am grateful for everyday that I can run. For Saturday’s long run my husband joined me for the last 21 kms which made the day more enjoyable. We shared a Coke at Locarno beach before powering up the long hill to the University of British Columbia. We both felt great at the end and managed a final sprint over the Burrard St. bridge. (sprint being a relative term after running for 50 kms)


I tried a different approach to fuelling on Saturday’s long run. I consumed more carbohydrates the day before the run and had a bigger breakfast three hours before starting out- toast, honey, a banana, and a large bowl of steel-cut oats with almond milk. Two cups of strong tea with milk. I skipped my usual coffee. On the run I just used Gu gels– a total of three within the first 30 kms. For the last twenty kms of the run I felt I had fuelled enough but drank about 6 ounces of Coke as well as water which I had fortified with Vega electolyte powder.

This time I didn’t eat any solid food on the run even though I was starting to feel quite hungry towards the end. Hungry, because it was past my usual lunch time, but not at all depleted. I expect that I will need to start eating something solid after halfway at Comrades. I also plan to consume more gels early on in the race. At the pace I was running my 50 km training run, carbo loading and three gels was plenty to keep me going for almost six hours. Running over ten hours in the Comrades is going to require more. I plan to carry 10 gels although I’ll be surprised if I manage to consume them all.

My biggest worry about Comrades is heat. It is springtime in Canada and the highs are in the teens but it is cooler in the morning when I usually run. I am hoping that two weeks in SA ahead of the race will help me acclimatize. But I do need to prepare for electrolyte maintenance- something that is hardly ever an issue running here.

I have my general nutrition plan worked out although I am still researching salt and electrolyte products. I like the Vega electrolyte powder but it is not going to be practical to mix this with water on the Comrades route because the water comes in sealed sachets. Nuun electolyte tablets are good too but again, it would be awkward and time consuming to be trying to dissolve these on the Comrades course. I may need to bring salt pills especially if it is going to be hot. On the other hand I don’t want to overdo it since the gels contain electrolytes too. And I also have to be careful of consuming too much caffeine… Yes, I know I may be obsessing too much!

Except for my gels and some salt/electrolyte product, I do not plan to carry anything with me during the race. There are well-stocked aid stations every few kilometres.

And then there is my Comrades running outfit to worry about…. Fortunately I have my shoes sorted out. (New Balance 890 v5) The rest of my ensemble is undecided. Our Canadian Comrades team has some wonderful custom red shirts with polar bears on order but I am not sure if they will reach me before my early departure for SA. So I may need a back-up shirt.

Posted in Running

Ultra week

After last Sunday’s half-marathon I got two days of rest, did a couple of shorter training runs mid-week, had another rest day, and then came the big weekend– 56 kilometres on Saturday and and another 21 on Sunday. That made 77 kms for the weekend and 100 kms for the week. Feeling pretty proud of myself.

Also this week I passed the 1,000 kilometre milestone. Meaning I’ve run 1,000 kms since January 1. You will never know what you are capable of until you push yourself. The human body, even this old body has amazing powers of adaptation– just give it lots of rest and nutrition.

In Canada, well at least in the Vancouver area, the only organized ultra runs are on the trails. Much as I love hiking on our spectacular mountain trails, I find them too slow, inconvenient, and dangerous for the kind of training I need to do right now. So if I want to run 56 kms, I have to go it alone. In case anyone is wondering how I managed to run 56 kms all by myself– the key is planning and thinking in terms of route segments, rather than distance. This is what I did:

  1. Planned my route using Strava. ( I know you can do the same with other tools like Map My Run and Run Keeper, Garmin Connect etc. but Strava is the best, most fun running app there is.) I knew generally where I wanted to go but I had to be sure of the distance and turnaround point, as well as my target elevation. I didn’t want to make it up as I went along. I also didn’t want to find myself too far from home at 56K, or worse, end up near home but short a few kms and having to run in circles to make up the distance. Would not be fun after running 50 K.
  2. Planned my fuelling and brought everything in my ultra vest. I am still testing fuelling strategy for Comrades and have been making adjustments. I’ll be making other adjustments after this weekend’s experience. This time I brought some cash so I could buy a Coke at one of the concession stands at the beach park I ran through. I never drink Coke or any other soda or pop, but apparently it is a lifesaver for Comrades runners so I am going to suck it up. Just need a bit of practice. I must admit that after 30 kms it was quite refreshing and it is no worse than a so-called sports/energy drink. Now I know I can stomach the Coke, next time I will buy an espresso for a nice quick mid-run pick me up.
  3. I was able to start the run knowing exactly where I was going. I didn’t have to engage in any internal debates about where to go or do any distance calculations. I had my plan, all I had to do was execute, focussing only on running, putting one foot in front of the other and ticking off my segments. There were four main segments in the run and I only thought about the segment I was running-
    • around Stanley Park and over the Burrard Bridge
    • around False Creek and over the Burrard Street Bridge again (good hill training)
    • along the beaches and up the UBC hill to my turnaround point at about 42K
    • return to my end point finishing with a last pass over the bridge.
  4. I knew the average moving pace I wanted to maintain, and this took the hills into account. I did run with a heart rate monitor just for interest but didn’t monitor it during the run. My average heart rate over the 56 kms was around 75% of my maximum heart rate, well within my aerobic zone. Average moving pace for the run was 6:27 per km which was exactly the pace of my previous 50K run. Amazing how the body senses what it can do. I never feel depleted at that pace, just a bit stiff towards the end. I don’t take walking breaks except when I am eating one of my home-made energy bars. I had a few pit stops where I paused my watch and I wasted 10 minutes lining up to buy my Coke.
  5. It may have made the time go faster if I had someone to run part of the route with but for a super long run I’m going at a slow pace and I don’t know anyone else training for an ultra or running over a six minute per km pace. Fortunately I don’t mind running by myself and setting my own pace and route.

Fuel adjustments to make for next time- no more of my homemade energy drink made of pure organic tart cherry juice, honey, and salt,  and no more Honey Stinger gels. I thought the more natural organic fuel options were the best. But based on experience and further research I have discovered that is not necessarily the case. Fructose alone is not the ideal fuel. I will be switching back to Gu gels which have a balance of maltodextrin and fructose. Not happy with the maltodextrin (just Google it) but will do whatever it takes. There is nothing natural about running long distances for no good reason either.

I have another ultra weekend coming up this weekend, then on May 3rd I run the Vancouver Marathon (as a training run). The week after the marathon, and three weeks before Comrades, will be my last 50 km training run. I am so looking forward to the taper!

If I include my qualifying marathon run on November 30th, my training for Comrades will have included:

  • three marathons,
  • four 50 km runs, and
  • one 56 km run.
Posted in Running