Tag Archives: ultramarathon

Comrades Update: Phase II Planning


Of all the differing opinions about how to best prepare for Comrades, there is one piece of advice that everyone seems to believe: Comrades training begins on January 1st.  Popular opinion also says that training should include at least 1000KMs (620 miles) between January and May.

Comrades offers a training plan written by their official coach Lindsey Parry.  There are options for every goal finish, as different medals are awarded for different finish times.  From what I deduce, this plan will get you to the start line without an overuse injury and will prepare you to finish.  It relies on the strategy of double-blocking long runs on the weekends pretty much every weekend January-May.  Nearly every run is to be done at a slow pace.

There is another popular free training plan written by Norrie Williamson and sponsored by Old Mutual.  This program has more speedwork included, both in the form of tempo runs, intervals, and hill work.  There is more variation in pace for different runs, although the majority of the training is not surprisingly long,
slow distance.

I was surprised that neither training plan takes runners past 50KM in the build up to Comrades.  In my mind, that seems not far enough, as it leaves (nearly) a full marathon between the longest long run and Comrades itself.  I think the logic is that it is better to be underprepared than overtrained (and injured).

Neither training program specifies strength training, although most coaches and Comrades runners profess that strength work is non-negotiable for the Down Run.

So with these two training plans and the seven decades of collective running experience– and a little bit of hubris– between us, my dad and I spent some time over his visit at Christmas to devise our game plan.  We looked at both the Old Mutual plan  and the “official” plan.  We looked at our calendars to determine what races we’d like to use as supported training runs.  We noted when we’d both be in the same city so that we could plan a long training run together.

We decided on three races to enter so we can practice our race day pacing and fueling: Waco Miracle Match Marathon 50K at the end of January, Ft. Worth’s Cowtown 50K at the end of Feburary, and the North Texas Trail Runners Grasslands 26.2 in mid-March.  We won’t be racing at any of these events; rather, they are long runs that will offer some of the excitement of race day and break up the monotony of solo long runs.

We will also be hosting a DIY 40-miler at the end of April.  Using a super hilly 4.5 mile loop that starts and finishes at my house, I’m planning on running 8 full laps plus a final 4-mile loop to knock out a 40 miler as my penultimate long run before Comrades.  I plan on enlisting the support of my running friends to join me for a loop (or more) as I get nine hours on my legs.  Stay tuned for more info about how you can come join me!

All in all, my training plan will bring me to about 880 miles if I run the four-days-a-week as planned. That gives me wiggle room to hit my 1000KM in case I get sick or injured or just need a mental break one week.

In addition to the running, I’ll ride my FitDesk bike one day a week.  I have one day of yoga-for-runners and two days of strength training built into my plan.  I have one day of full rest each week.  All in all, it seems like a lot of work but in a very manageable way.

I’m going to chew the elephant one bite at a time.

If you’re interested in seeing the excel spreadsheet that details my training plan, leave a note in the comments.  I’d be happy to email it to you.






Comrades Update: It’s Wednesday!

weekdays (frome crossword series)

WHOA!  What are we doing here?  It’s Wednesday!  OnBalance is a Monday/Thursday thing, right?!  What’s going on?

My friends, I’m happy to say that I’m going to be here every few Wednesdays through 2105 to update you on my plans for running Comrades Marathon in May.  I suspect that once the calendar turns 2016, I’ll be posting about Comrades even more often.  And come April and May?  It’s going to be all Comrades, all the time (well, at least on Wednesdays).  I have to have someone to talk to about my training and its associated obsessions, and I love my husband too much to make him crazy with my incessant chatter.

I like you, too.  So if you hate posts about running or travel or running and travel, give Wednesdays at OnBalance a pass.   I’ll be posting my regular family/fitness/life/balance musings on Monday and Thursday as always.

But if you’re even mildly curious about the preparations for running a 56 mile race on the other side of the world and the adventures therein, make sure you’re here!

(And if you’re curious about this whole Comrades thing or you have no idea what I’m talking about, use those tags over there ——————————————–> and click on the one that says “comrades” to find all the posts about this wacky undertaking.)

What do you have to look forward to?

I’m going to keep updating my progress toward my Comrades qualifying race, the Dallas Marathon, coming up in December.  I’m also going to let you know about our travel plans and how we’re going to make the most of our time in Africa.  There were some negotiations with Mr. Balance to honor his concerns about leaving our three kids for such a long time.  We’ve got a plan now, and everyone is excited about the adventure ahead!

All of this– and lots and lots of running talk– is coming to OnBalance on a Wednesday soon.

Thanks for your support!

Comrades Update: I’m in!


It’s official.  I’ve lost my mind.  I’ve registered for Comrades Marathon.

I’ve been talking about my idea to run Comrades with my dad and how I’m planning on training for the 90KM race through South Africa’s Valley of the Hills.  I spent the summer building my base of mileage, enjoying a few classic summer road races, and preparing for my triathlon this weekend.  Although Comrades has been on my mind regularly for the last few months, there was nothing I could do until September 1st.

Entries opened.

I entered.

I’m now committed.

I find myself an equal mix of thrilled and terrified.  I’ve read so many blogs and forums about Comrades and the powerful experience each person seems to have by participating in the event.  I’m impressed by the camaraderie of the participants, whose banter gives off a strong sense of comradeship despite the limits of online communication.  I’ve read about the tremendous crowd support, the airing of the race on national tv– all twelve hours of it, and the thrill of participating in the world’s largest and oldest ultramarathon.  I’m excited to be a part of the Comrades community.

But, hello….any race that has this as their motto:


Well, either they need a new PR firm or they aren’t joking around.

I’ve read enough about Comrades to know that it’s the latter.

Let’s review the race profile for next year’s “Down Run” course:


My quads hurt just thinking about it.

The good news is I still have more then eight months to prepare.  My training is coming along well for the Dallas Marathon in December.  I still plan to take a few weeks off at the end of the year, and then the first five months of 2016 will be All Comrades All The Time.

I’m pretty darn excited about it.  It’s a huge undertaking, but I’m ready.  I can’t wait to put in the hours of training, and I can’t wait to have it pay off.

I am certain, however, that at more than one point on the way from Pietermaritzburg to Durban, I’ll be spit-shouting “izokuthoba!”

And it will be worth it.

Comrades Update: Planning a Year-Long Training Program


This post is one in an occasional series about my plans to run the 2016 Comrades Marathon.  

A few weeks ago, I wrote an update about the logistics involved in my plan to run the 2016 Comrades Marathon in South Africa.  This 90K race through “the valley of the hills” (cough, oxymoron, cough) takes place next May 29th, and both my dad and I plan to toe the start line.

In addition to the financial and childcare logistics that must be sorted, I’ve already devoted a lot of time to planning out my training program.  While I’ve run many marathons and ultramarathons, I have never endeavored to undertake a full year-long training cycle before.  I’ve looked at all kinds of magazines and blogs and websites for ideas and to read about others’ experiences.  It’s enough to make my head spin.  For mental tidiness, I am dividing this training into two phases: July-December 2015 and January-May 2016.  I’m terribly old school and do this by printing out monthly calendars, grabbing a pencil, and working backwards from target dates.


Because Comrades requires a sub-5 hour marathon run between August 1, 2015 and May 1, 2016, I am aiming to run my qualifying marathon in December.  While I have no doubt that I can run a sub-5 hour marathon even if I had to do it this weekend, the start of Comrades is seeded based on your qualifying marathon finish time.  And because Comrades is a gun-timed race– with a strictly-enforced 12-hour time limit to finish and other sweep times along the course– having a faster qualifying time means precious minutes aren’t wasted getting to the start line.

Also, I was very well-trained for my marathon last fall and wound up having a terrible run in New York.  I was hoping to qualify for Boston– and was in shape to do it– but things just didn’t fall my way.  If I follow the same training program again this fall, I am optimistic I can run a BQ at the Dallas Marathon on December 13th.  This is the first target date from which I worked backwards to fill in my training schedule.

(Aside: I was chatting with a woman at a local road race a few weeks ago, and she downplayed my desire to run Boston.  I mentioned to her I’d run it four times before, but that was back when I was in my 20s and qualifying didn’t require so much work.  It’s nice to work hard for something and earn a precious reward.  It’s also a good lesson for my kids that just because it didn’t work out last year doesn’t mean I should give up on it.)


I will once again be using the Doug Kurtis training program— I reviewed it in this post  as part of my mental pump-up in the week before New York.  Like I said, I feel like it had me very well prepared to run a strong race. I know I can run sub-4 hours, which would place me in seeding batch D, the fifth of nine corrals.  This is a very achievable goal.  If I can run sub 3:40 (which is my goal that would ensure not just a BQ (sub 3:45) but actually getting to run in Boston), I’d move all the way up two corrals to C.  (Confusingly, there is a corral CC between C and D for charity runners.)  This could mean the difference of 2-3 minutes, which doesn’t seem like much in a 56 mile race, but I’d like all the time I can get!  At any rate, I plan to stick to my summer running plans and start my marathon training in earnest in August.

I will take off a full two weeks in the second half of December.  Knowing that break is out there gives me confidence I can press on for eleven months straight.


For my January-May 2016 training, the target date from which I’ll plan is the BIG DAY– May 29th, Comrades Marathon. To shape this phase of training, I’ll turn to the expert: Coach Lindsey Parry is the official coach of Comrades, and he writes the training plans available to all runners.  There are several plans from which to choose based on projected finish time, but all of them focus on running about 600 miles between January 1st and race day.  I will likely follow either the Bronze Medal plan (finish time between 10-11 hours) or the Bill Rowan Medal plan (finish time 9-10 hours).   I will wait and make my determination after my fall training and qualifying marathon.  I also want to wait and see which seeding batch my dad is in and gauge whether or not we’ll run together on race day.

Regardless of which plan I follow, I’ve started to research ultramarathons in Texas for the winter and spring.  I am quite good at the lone wolf training method, but I think for the longer training runs I would like to have some on-course support.  I do have the kooky idea of hosting a DIY 40-miler as my final long training run, wherein I propose to do ten four-mile loops on a very hilly course right outside my front door.  In my head, I will cajole ten friends in to joining me for one lap each.  I’ll keep you posted how that works out….

Good health and great happiness to you.

A Year in Preview

It’s good to have a goal.  The goal in front of me right now is one I first learned about way back in the eighties (yes, the 1980s) when my father spoke about the races he hoped to run “someday”.  Ranging from an indoor mile at an invitational track meet to the 100 mile Western States Endurance Run through the Sierra Nevadas, my dad was able to compete in most of his “must-run” events.  Except for one:  The Comrades Marathon.

First of all, the name is misleading….the marathon, by standards and definition, is 26.2 miles (roughly 42 kilometers).  The Comrades Marathon, however, is technically an ultramarathon, as its distance is longer than a marathon.  The distance of Comrades varies from year to year, but it is always around 90K.  Let me do the math for you: it’s basically two marathons back-to-back, with another 5K tacked on just for fun.  For simplicity’s sake, let’s call it 56 miles.

Still with me?

As if 56 miles isn’t hard enough, check out the race course elevation profile:


The above profile is for the Comrades run in even-numbered years and is known as the “Down Run.”  Yesterday’s 2015 Comrades was run in the opposite direction– an “Up Run.”   My dad thinks that the “Down Run” will be easier, though all accounts on the internet indicated that it is the biggest beat up your body will (hopefully) ever undergo.

Billed as “The Ultimate Human Race”, Comrades isn’t for weenies.  If you’re crazy enough to undertake such a challenging course, you do so knowing that you have to complete it in a very strict 12-hour time limit.  Fail to do so, and you don’t even get billed as a DNF (“Did Not Finish”), your name simply doesn’t appear as an official competitor.  Ouch!

So, why now?  Why Comrades 2016?

The Comrades Marathon is in South Africa.  When my dad was in the prime of his running career– a prime that lasted far longer than anyone has any right to!– it wasn’t advisable for an American to travel to South Africa.  Under the National Party and its rule of apartheid, an American who went to SA for leisure (if you can call running Comrades “leisure”) would be seen as endorsing the policy.  Despite my father’s desire to take part in this legendary race– one that is ironically founded and still run nine decades later as a testimony to comradeship– he did not want to align himself with the tolerance of an unjust society.

“Someday” has arrived.  Now nearing 70 and having faced several years of physical challenges that have affected his ability to run long distances, my dad wants to train hard so he can line up at the start in Pietermaritzberg, tackle the five big downhills (and lots of other fairly significant uphills), and find himself in Durban less than 12-hours later.  And I would like to do it with him.

There are two things (other than my dark brown eyes) I got from my dad: a love for running, and a love for travel. To line up at Comrades with him on May 29, 2016 would be a terrific blessing.

As they say at Comrades: “Bamba Iqhaza!”  Be a part of it!

I’ll be writing more about our journey to Comrades over the next year.