Comrades keeps you coming back – William Barrett’s one on one coaching call

Comrades keeps you coming back – William Barrett’s one on one coaching call

On today's podcast we chat to William Barrett who is facing his third Comrades this year so Coach Markus gives him some tips to help him plan his strategy for race day.

We also talk about heart rates, pacing charts, the run-walk strategy and what to do if you've missed some training sessions in your programme due to illness.

 

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Transcription

 

BRAD
Welcome to yet another edition of run with Coach Parry. My name is Brad Brown. It's great to have you with us. We're joined once again by coach Markus. He's going to be chatting to William Barrett who's training for Comrades as well. So fantastic to have William on. He's a great runner and he's improved unbelievably so you'll hear all of that on today's show as well. We head to Bloemfontein today, we've got William Barrett, one of the members of the Coach Parry Online Training Club on the call with us. William how's it?

WILLIAM
Morning Brad, morning Markus, all good here.

BRAD
Very good. This is a bit of a trifecta, Markus is in Pretoria, I'm in Cape Town and you're in Bloemfontein, we've got all bases covered here. Let's talk about running in Bloem. You told us you're originally from Bloem but you spent some time in Cape Town, you've just moved back, we're heading into winter. You tell me you're the only guy at your club around this morning that was all dressed to the nines, long pants, gloves, the works.

WILLIAM
Absolutely. Obviously the six years in Cape Town made me a bit of a softy, but it's lovely to be back in Bloemfontein from time and I must say it's going to take some time to get used to the altitude. But lovely to be back and nice to meet up with old friends again.

BRAD
I was going to say there's a bit less air up in Bloem as well, but that's not a bad thing. You struggle a bit when you start but when you end up getting used to it and then going down to races at sea level, you've got a massive advantage.

WILLIAM
Yes, they say so.

BRAD
Are you hoping to win Comrades this year?

WILLIAM
Well, you never know!

 

William's Background

 

BRAD
Let's talk a little bit about your running background. How did you start running? What got you into it?

WILLIAM
I started the training for my first marathon in June 2016, the Cape Town Marathon. Back then I was 30kg's heavier than I am now and I spoke to a friend who did a couple of Comrades and I said to if I feel fine after my first marathon, I will consider entering for Comrades. Back in the days it didn't sell out so fast. So anyway, halfway I found her and I said I'm feeling fine, I'm under two hours for the half, so maybe I'll consider Comrades and after the marathon when I checked my phone she just sent me a screenshot that she's entered. So I had no choice to enter the Comrades. I just carried on training from there.

I was lucky enough to get an entry for the Three Peaks Challenge, the one where you do Devil's Peak, Maclear's Beacon, and Lion's Head. After that I just progressed and I went to Comrades the up run in 2017. Had a lovely run at Comrades and since then running has been a big part of my life. I was fortunate enough to push a friend who's in a wheelchair for the two Cape Town marathons and last year I did my back to back. I had a little bit of a knee issues so around 30k's my knee gave in and it became a really long day on the road. So this year the goal is to go back and get a better result.

BRAD
Amazing. Before we get into getting the better results, I'm interested to find out about this losing 30kg's because I know a lot of people want to know. What's the secret? What did you do? Was it just a case of eating right and training or was there anything else to it?

WILLIAM
No, nothing I just cut sugar completely and bread completely for the first six months of training. As the mileage increased, I just started, the sugar is still not a really big part of my diet but I enjoy my wine, beer and pizza. So I pretty much eat what I want but it's just the training that managed to help me to shed all those extra kg's.

BRAD
That's amazing. Going back for Comrades number three this year. You know you're in no man's land now, William. There's no turning back because Comrades runners can't count, 2's half way to 10 and once you've done three, you have to go on and get your green number.

WILLIAM
That's what they say, and to be very honest, I was dead set, I was going to do two and then done. Because I had such a bad run last year, I just couldn't stop, I would hate myself to think that my last run at Comrades was bad or disappointing on the one side. So the goalpost definitely shifted and a couple of mates are going for their green numbers now, so yeah, maybe you never know.

BRAD
That's how they suck you in, William, they know us too well. Comrades is such a long day, it's so difficult to run the perfect Comrades. There's always going to be something that you feel you can do better or improve on and that's what keeps you coming back - besides the fact that it's an amazing day out. What do you love about Comrades? I mean it hurts, there's no doubt about it, it's a tough day, but there's obviously something about it that draws you back.

WILLIAM
Definitely. The friendships that I've managed to form in the build up to Comrades, the hours that you spend on the road, it's friendships for life. The camaraderie is just something that you cannot explain to somebody who hasn't experienced it. It gives you a goal to push through the really tough times. I guess that once it's part of your lifestyle, it becomes part of your DNA. Then it's really hard to not go back. I know the stats show the drop off from novices and about 6000 going for their first and then only 3000 go back. But those 3000 that go back for the back-to-back they end up doing 10-15. So Comrades is a life -changing event and it definitely pulled me through tough, tough times. So I'll ever be thankful for Comrades.

 

Initial Thoughts

 

BRAD
I love that. Markus, I'm going to bring you in here. You've had a look at William's numbers that he sent through. Your initial thoughts and then let's jump into some general questions and see what we can help William with.

MARKUS
Okay, perfect. William, what were your Comrades times in 17 and 18?

BRAD
So 2017, I finished in a 8:28.

MARKUS
What was your qualifier then, can you remember?

BRAD
I think I had a C qualifier. I think I was in the C batch. I think it must have been my Peninsula marathon which I ran back then in 3:43.

MARKUS
Okay.

BRAD
And that year was into the South-Easter, I say that year but every year it's into the South-Easter, but I think that year was particularly bad. So on a good day that would have been about a 3:20 I reckon.

WILLIAM
The South-Easter was pumping that day. So I did good and I only went to Comrades with about 800k's so my first up run was really good. I had a little bit of a knee niggle and on the day nothing went wrong, everything went right. 2018, I was going for a silver and I managed silver pace up until about 30k's and then something in my knee just went. I don't know what it was. That ended up being a long day, I finished in a 10:07 even though my Ocean's time was a 4:20 and it wasn't a flat out race, it was just a bad day. So my two Comrades time, I've got an up of 8:28 and a down of 10:07.

MARKUS
Okay, and what was your qualifier last year?

WILLIAM
Last year I ran the Cango in a 3:09.

MARKUS
Okay, perfect, and obviously you did the Peninsula now in a 3:05.

WILLIAM
That's correct. This year the goal was to go for a sub 3. Half way I went through 1:29 but the wind was just too tough at the end and I missed my little group that I ran with, I stopped for a bit of water and coke mixture and they carried on so when I missed them the wind was just killing me. I still feel quite comfortable with the 3:05. Yeah, I wanted the A seeding because I saw that stat that Lindsey said, you know, the number of silver medalists coming from the A seeding list as the B seeding. But I also know that trying to go and get an A seeding is only going to improve my time by two minutes max, but the risk of injury and racing another race. So I just accepted that I've got a B seeding now, I'm quite comfortable with that right now.

MARKUS
There's nothing wrong with it. I was in B in 2017 and there's nothing wrong with that. So it's just one of those things that you shouldn't be too worried about. What's interesting is if I look at your your 5k time trial, 18:30 that you posted, that equates very close to sub 3 marathon. I definitely think a silver is in reach for you this year, granted that you don't start too hard. It's all about how you run the first, in my opinion, the first 28 to 38 kilometres. I mean, even Inchanga is about 43 kilometres in, so that's a 3 kilometre hill, and usually just when you crest the hill there, or when you get to the top, that's when you slowly but surely start experiencing what your legs feel like. So it's very important that you respect the first 28 kilometres, and then run the next 40/50 really clever, and then you need to adapt your strategy from there on back to the stadium. With regards to training paces, you're currently on the Silver programme, right?

WILLIAM
That's correct.

MARKUS
And everything's 100% there? No injuries, nothing that you're concerned about?

WILLIAM
No, my knee is feeling fine. The mileage, I only joined the Silver programme about a month and a half ago and I managed to complete the training runs in the suggested training paces. There is a 4:30-5:10, I manage a 4:45/4:40 so I'm more or less in the middle of the suggested paces and I'm feeling fine. I've got a question around that, that I'll ask later on, it equates to your heart rate and what your heart rate should be, but I'll ask that a little bit later in the call.

 

Using a heart rate monitor and calculating your ideal heart rate

 

MARKUS
That was going to be my next question. And I don't know if it was by mistake, but I see you answered that you don't have a heart rate monitor. Do you have one? And do you use it during all your runs? And do you ever look at the information that you get from that?

WILLIAM
Sorry, I think I missed that question on the questionnaire. I always run with a heart rate monitor. My heart rate on an easy run at 4:45, that's about 140-142 beats per minute.

MARKUS
How old are you now?

WILLIAM
I'm 37.

MARKUS
Okay, bang on. That's exactly what it needs to be. In fact, it's slightly lower than what it should be. So that's even better news. If you were higher than that, then I'd be concerned because what your heart is then telling us, even though you perceive it to be easy, it's not really easy for your body. My mother in law's the prime example. She was 58 years of age and she's been running for more years than we've been alive and she's always, always sick. Until one day, I sat down with her and I said, listen, let's quickly do the math. I said, what is your easy pace? 5:50. I said, Okay, perfect. What is your race pace? It's a 5:40. I said, but that's the problem.

There needs to be a significant difference between your really hard running pace and your easy pace. And your heart rate's a good indicator of whether you're really running easy or not. The math method that I refer to often is 180 minus your age. So strictly speaking, you should be around about 143. And the fact that it's two to three beats lower than that - brilliant stuff. It just tells me you are running at the right zone, so there's no need for you to push closer to the 4:30 marker, because it won't be beneficial to you at all. So just keep on running where you are at the moment.

BRAD
I'm not sure if that answers your question, if you want to ask the question about the heart rate, William?

WILLIAM
No, that was exactly what I wanted to ask. The 180 minus my age, that's the one that I tried to use. But you know, with the watches, some say your training zone, it should be in training zone 2, but then I'm running at 130-132 beats per minute. Which I think is too low. So I'm good if I say my easy runs are 180 minus my age.

MARKUS
Perfect. If you really want to be disciplined for your recovery runs, you can do 175 minus your age. And if, let's say for argument's sake, you've just come off an injury or you were sick for a few days, it's best to implement the 175 minus your age method, but let's hope that you remain healthy from now on until the race day. But 180 minus your age, what I've achieved by just implementing that method is amazing, so it's a really good thing to work from.

WILLIAM
Perfect, I was a little bit scared because it was out of the zone 2, but I feel comfortable, I feel easy, I can have a conversation, so thank you very much. That's very important to me, because from now going to Comrades that will be my easy run, I'll not exceed let's say 143 beats per minute.

MARKUS
So just another thing on that is, when you run Comrades, when you run a race day. So obviously your comfortable pace, you said it's about 4:45 to five minutes, so if you run a silver, it should be a 5:08 per kilometre. If we do 7:30, that's 5:11. If we go 7:25, that's 5:05 per kilometre. So just the thing that you need to take into consideration, I've just explained it as well, the longer you run, the more inaccurate your heart rate becomes. So we have what we call a cardiac drift so your heart rate tends to go up and up and up, because there's less blood in your system and it's not an accurate reference.

So Brad just confirmed that Lindsey's already sent his pacing charts to Comrades so you will be able to get a really detailed pacing chart from the expo. You need to get that pacing chart and you need to stick to that come hell or high water. You need to tell yourself it doesn't matter how good you feel in the first 40 kilometres or even often Inchanga, it does not matter how good you feel, doesn't matter how strong you feel, if you really, really feel that strong, then try and perform towards the end. But the best thing you can do for your race, especially on the up run, is not to overcook the first 28km's.

It is so important. Because like I just explained, it's early in the race, you're still feeling very fresh, and you feel like okay, I can give so much more than I'm currently running. And that's the pitfall that the guys usually put their foot into and it just becomes a mess later during the race and you're really going to kick yourself if you cooked it in the beginning and you were warned not to do it. Because my first Comrades, same story, I was running at exactly the same heart rate, exactly the same pace as you. I was super confident going into that and I wouldn't say I overcooked it properly, but I did ever so slightly. And after I just crossed Inchanga, my running partner that I ran with on the day said 'I think I just had my first strike', meaning that he just felt his first bit of a blow with regards to fatigue. And I said, 'no, man, it's fine, let's just keep on going' and we ran and not even three kilometres later I said 'Okay, I think I've just experienced the same'. I still had 40 kilometres to go and I knew I was going to be in trouble. So it's something that you need to just be mindful of when you start your run.

 

All about pacing charts and the run-walk strategy

 

WILLIAM
I'm perfectly comfortable with that, Markus. You mentioned the pacing charts and that speaks to my second question. Because I'm such a borderline I'm trusting the process 100% and I'm trusting the pacing charts, even if I feel like Superman in the first 20k's, I am sticking to the pacing chart. My question is, does the pricing chart allow for a little bit of a run walk strategy or not really?

I've never practiced a run walk strategy and I normally take a little bit of a break say every 10k's and then at one of the hydration stations. I stop completely, I mix my water and my coke and that takes a little bit of time. Then I start walking while I drink that, but I also might have two or three water and coke mixes and then I'll carry on. So my question is, the pacing chart, is there a little bit of a run walk break factored in? Or is that pretty much based on the route, bearing in mind that the guy's going to run the average of 5:08, downs faster, ups slower but is there a little bit of fat built in?

MARKUS
So first and foremost, what's nice about the pacing charts is it takes the route profile and every single kilometre into consideration. So when you go up Field's Hill, it takes that specific hill's profile into consideration and adapts the pace. It's difficult to factor in a very accurate run walk strategy because what you do is different to what a thousand other people do. It's a really good question. I know there is some fat built into the programme. But Lindsey did the pacing chart and I think it's a good thing to discuss in the forum.

For instance when I give my athletes advice on what to do, like the 4 big hills, on Cowie's you do one walk, on Field's Hill you do one or two depending on how you feel, and those should be 30 seconds long, Botha's is not that long, you take one walk, and going up Inchanga, you take two proper walks, you take 30-40 second walk in the first km of the hill, and another 30 to 40 second walk in the third kilometre of the hill. So there's different strategies and different run walk plans that people implement. So it's tricky to cater for everyone. But it's a really valid question and something that I'll take up with Lindsey and we'll just pop it into the forum.

BRAD
But also, William, Lindsey and I recorded a series of audio podcasts, and this doesn't just apply to silver, so anybody listening to this who thinks this doesn't apply to them, we've actually done an audio podcast for each medal. So what is the run walk strategy for Vic Clapham, for a bronze, for a Bill Rowan, pretty much across the board, and there's one for silver. So that's a really nice guide. I can't remember the exact numbers but I know Lindsey did mention it, run X amount and then there's a minute of walking that's baked in so there is definitely a run walk strategy built into those pacing charts. Any other questions?

 

Should you try catch up your training after missing a few weeks?

 

WILLIAM
Awesome. Thank you. My biggest concern was the heart rate, that I'm not running at the right intensity. But I feel quite comfortable with that now. My last question is, with the relocation to Bloemfontein, I had a little bit of a flu so I didn't run Oceans this year, I was due to but I didn't. So I don't have that guide or that confidence booster, just to know exactly where I'm at. I've done a couple of longer runs but it's not the same, it's not the race.

So going forward from now, 1st May to Comrades, I know I shouldn't cram in a bad April, trying to cram that into May, but I do feel comfortable that I can do a five k extra here and a five k extra there, just to get the total mileage up towards Comrades. Would you guys advise that? Or would you say right off the bad April, forget about the k's that you didn't get in, stick to the programme and keep focusing on the programme as is?

MARKUS
How many weeks did you miss of the programme?

WILLIAM
I missed about 100k's give or take.

MARKUS
Yeah, put it this way, for me a golden rule in any form of sport unless you're a professional is never play catch up. That's one thing that we, as everyday people that's got an 8-5 and in your case kids, it's just something that we cannot afford to do. I'm just scared that if you try and play catch up, it puts too much stress on your system, and you end up being sick again. If you haven't done that ultra, it's not the end of the world, because you don't want to race that in any way, because if your race Oceans, you must know that you're not going to have a good Comrades.

You must choose which one you want to do properly. And do the other one as a training run. So I mean, when you did a 4:20 Oceans in 2018, so then it makes sense that it possibly had an effect on your knee. Because I mean, a 4:20 is nothing to scoff at. That's a seriously good run. Well, from my experience, you didn't really take it easy then did you?

WILLIAM
On the podcast they said, training run, race Comrades. If you really want to give an Oceans a go, go out at about 75%. That was more or less what I did. I had lots of juice in the tank left. I felt fine. And the weirdest thing was after Comrades, I took off about two weeks completely and then I went for a very easy 3k and my knee wasn't sore. So I'm still a little bit baffled, and I posted it on the forum also, about what happened that day. But weird as it was, maybe that was the running god's way to get me back to go for another Comrades, I don't know.

MARKUS
Last question with regards to the longer runs that you've done, how many marathons have you done this year?

WILLIAM
I've done the Peninsula.

MARKUS
Okay, only one? And how many ultras have you run?

WILLIAM
None.

MARKUS
Okay, so what I would suggest is, and I don't know how this links up with your programme, I suggest for you try and run at least one 50 kilometre run.

WILLIAM
I actually cut my 50 kilometre run short to jump onto this call, so I've done the 32.

BRAD
Okay we're going to end this now, William you gotta go do another 18.

MARKUS
Even next weekend, if you can run a 45 next weekend, on the 11th. It's four weeks out, it's not too much on your system. But you need to do a final dress rehearsal, you need to run at that pace. You need to run in the top that you're going to run, you need to implement your nutrition strategy.

For me, it's all about that one last long run and say, this worked, this didn't work. What am I going to change or everything was like clockwork? It's a big mental boost as well. But you need to do that one long run. Especially when the going gets tough in Comrades, you're going to tell yourself, I've been here and I'm able to push through, I can do this. After a certain mileage in Comrades, it becomes a mental thing. And that's where you need to have your mental game with you on the day.

WILLIAM
I just want to clarify something, when I said I've only done one marathon, that was [***29:53]. I mean, the 3h20 runs on the silver programme, that's an easy 40k on a Saturday. So I've done a couple of those, nothing more than 42. This is my final question. The programme says we must do a 50k run on the weekend of the 12th.

Then the following weekend there's another three hour run, so then there's another 35-38, so there's still a lot of running that needs to happen from now and only thereafter we start to taper seriously. So I feel that yes, I've missed the ultra, but a normal Saturday would be a 38, 40 or 42. So although I've missed a big dress rehearsal in a race cicrumstance, it's not that I didn't put in the kilometres training-wise.

MARKUS
Yeah, I agree with you. In that case, don't play catch up. Just follow the programme right to the end.

BRAD
You're right on track, William. This is the time when everyone, it doesn't matter what medal you're chasing, everyone's doubting if they've done enough. Do I need to do more? And you cannot cram for Comrades. Follow the programme, trust the process, and you will be rewarded on race day. That's as simple as it is. William, it's been amazing. Thank you so much for joining us. Unfortunately, we are out of time. But yeah, if you've got any questions, pop them in the forum. We love having you in there. And yeah, thanks for being part of the team.

WILLIAM
Thank you so much for the advice. Two big thumbs up. I'm a new member and for everybody is listening, if you really want to take your running to the next level, this is the one place where you want to join. It's an awesome, awesome, awesome website. And thank you so much for the guidance. You really elevated my running to the next level. I really appreciate it.

BRAD
You're a star. No worries, anytime. And yeah, we can't wait to hear how things go in the final build up. And then we'll be following you closely on race day.

WILLIAM
Awesome. All the best guys.

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