Australia to Comrades – We help Trevor with his Comrades preparations

Australia to Comrades – We help Trevor with his Comrades preparations

This week on RUN with CoachParry, we chat to one of our international members of the Online CoachParry Training Club - Trevor Smith. We've been helping Trevor on his road to his back2back Comrades medal and today's episode Markus and Trevor chat a little more detail on a few questions for an athlete training overseas coming to run a race in South Africa.

Markus and Trevor talk about strength work and how to progress the program specific to Comrades, as well as how to do proper hill training in Australia where they dont have the luxury of hills like we do in SA. As a result much of Trevor's training is done on trail and so Markus guides him how to adjust these runs specific to a road program.

If you've been following our #BiogenJourney with Hobbo on his road to IronMan 70.3 in Durban, then have a listen to this as we also have Lindsey catching up with Hobbo, who is making some amazing progress. He hit two major milestones this week! Listen to this for some inspiration for your #BiogenJourney.

Share your story with us using #BiogenJourney and you could win 3 months access to the CoachParry Online Training Club! This week's winner is Johan du Plessis (Instagram handle @chocandchees). Welcome to the team Johan!

If you want to be a part of the team, you can find all the info you need HERE


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Australia to Comrades

Brad Brown: We head to Melbourne in Australia now, we head ‘down under.’ It’s mid-day-ish as we’re recording, evening in Melbourne and it’s a great pleasure to welcome Trevor Smith onto the podcast, Trevor welcome.

Trevor Smith: Thanks Brad, glad to be here.

BB: Nice to have you. A lot of the podcasts we do, obviously there’s lots of South Africans on, because that’s where we’re based but that’s not a South African accent that’s been transplanted in Australia, you’re a fair dinkum Aussie?

TS: I’m not scratch me and you’ll find a South African, that’s true, you can tell the Queensland twang, I’m a definite Aussie all the way through.

BB: No doubt about it. What’s the attraction with running in South Africa?

TS: There’s only one reason to go and that’s Comrades.

BB: I was going to say, it’s not our rugby team is it, it’s something else?

TS: We’ll go anywhere to get a hiding! There’s no problems with that! We don’t have to, we can save the airfare though, the way we’re going, the Pacific Islands will probably do us.

BB: We won’t talk any rugby or any cricket, cricket is probably even worse than your rugby at the moment but we’re not going to touch on it.

TS: Our expectations in that sport are a bit high, but they’re not being met. That’s not going well either.

BB: Let’s talk your love of Comrades.

TS: Yes, Comrades, when I started running, I guess reading on online forums and stuff, people were talking about it and just the story, it’s an amazing story, this race, it just captivates you. I guess when you think about it, it’s that brutal cut-off probably that attracts you, even though it’s very nasty, it’s just the challenge. You think, wouldn’t it be awesome to run that and even more awesome to actually finish. So, that was the attraction for me.

BB: Trevor, it’s an interesting one and I’ve said this before on the podcast, for us here in South Africa, most of us, like my generation, grew up around the race. I grew up as a youngster in the Bruce Fordyce era. My dad was running Comrades and Bruce was winning and it was just part of what we did at that time because of what was going on in South Africa politically.

We didn’t have access to international sport, so that was it. We always joke, we used to watch Miss SA on TV because that’s all we could get and Comrades, that was it. For us it’s normal, it’s like 89km or 86km on the up run, everyone does it, why wouldn’t you?

Coming from outside of SA and if you talk to people, you go, 86km or 56 miles, people think you’re crazy and I know the numbers in Australia, I mean marathon running is pretty big, there’s a big marathon in Melbourne, Sydney has got a big marathon, but as soon as you take that step over 42km or 26 miles, the numbers drop off significantly and I’m sure you experience that.

If you tell runners who don’t know anything about Comrades that you’re training for this crazy race in SA, they must think you’re made.

TS: They do! They normally think you’re mad even to run a marathon to be honest, but that is much more popular. Ultras, you whack a couple of zeros off the numbers of people that do marathons, I mean there’s a hardcore ultra culture here, but it’s all trials and it’s very small. It’s growing but the big races might get 200-300 for doing the ultra distances, it’s nothing like you’re seeing at Comrades.

BB: It’s crazy and Comrades is obviously a big one and you’re talking a couple of hundred, maybe 300 people running an ultra, but our normal run of the mill, ugly, smelly, stinky ultra in the middle of nowhere gets a few thousands.

Then you take on the big ones like Comrades and Two Oceans and you’re getting in the tens of thousands, it’s crazy. Your attraction to the long stuff, how did that come about?


Why Comrades?


TS: I can’t run very fast, so the further it goes, the more chance I’ve got! There aren’t races long enough! In all seriousness, that is part of it, as one of the coaches here says, and I think he’s right, if you can, you’d run the 100m and win [** 0.04.28] win the gold medal, but when you can’t do that, you keep stepping out, stepping out, stepping out.

Part of that was as a teenager I always thought I had a bit more chance in a bit longer, not that I was any good but at least I wasn’t quite as bad, might be a better way of putting it. Then growing up, Robert de Castella, world record holder, for a short couple of years there, he was the number one marathoner in the world and I was a very impressionable age and great win in the ’82 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane when I was young, I was a teenager in Queensland.

That was a big influence, it dawned on me one day when I started running again that maybe I could run a marathon myself that was something that I thought was absolutely beyond me and it was just a wonderful thing to do. I guess the inspiration from particularly him, but others that followed him as well.

BB: I love that and training for ultras, you talk about those numbers dropping off and training for a race like Comrades, I don’t think South Africans realise how lucky we are that we’ve got the infrastructure and the support that we’ve got to train for a race like Comrades but in a place like Melbourne, even though it’s this massive city, once you start going beyond those things, I don’t want to say you’re on your own, but the opportunities for long club training runs every weekend, like we’ve got here, don’t exist in most places around the world outside of SA. How have you managed to deal with that and what’s been your way to counteract not having what we’ve got here in SA to build us up towards Comrades?

TS: The Park Run phenomenon, I’m not good at short answers by the way…

BB: It’s all good.

TS: The Park Run phenomenon took off here in Australia a few years ago, like it did over your way and out of that, about three years ago a running club was formed out of my local Park Run, Diamond Creek Runners. It’s this new thing we’ve got in Australia, recreational running clubs they call them.

Previously we’ve had athletic clubs, which were for people who were probably a bit more serious, a lot of track races. Not everyone who is in an athletics club is a fantastic runner, there’s a lot of people who are just giving it their best shot, but not fantastic times.

Even so at that clubs you still have the Olympians are in those athletic clubs, so there is certainly elite athletes there. Recreational running club was formed locally. My running buddies that I had through work, had all split off different ways and I was looking for some new people to run with, so I joined them and we’re now the biggest recreational running club in Victoria with 500 members.

A lot of those are 5km specialists but even so, there’s still a number of people who aren’t. Out of that group, I’ve got a group of core friends and what-not and there’s generally some of those at various levels of sanity and you can normally find someone who wants to do something stupid without much encouraging.

BB: A couple of beers and it’s done.

TS: Yeah, that’s right! That’s right, a couple of drinks and they’ve signed up for a 56km race and they have to tell their wives the next day.

BB: One of the things in Oz as well, there’s some great people that are involved with Comrades from Australia and I think of Digger, obviously the work that Digger has done and anybody in Australia who runs knows Digger, it’s just one of those things, particularly when you run Comrades.

You just see the numbers of Aussies that come over to run and Digger has got a lot to do with that. I know he organises a lot of things too, so it’s growing, it’s definitely growing in Australia and the support is getting there.

TS: Absolutely and I did contact Digger when the opportunity had come up for me to do it because I know it’s a big deal for a lot of South Africans, it’s a reasonable sized country, so not everyone, it’s easy for them to get to, but obviously it’s an order of magnitude for me and it’s just the time off work and time away from the family, the financial cost. Everything has got to be together to go.

Then you probably, you don’t want to fail. Obviously no one wants to fail anyway but if you live in Durban you say okay, it doesn’t work out this year, but I’ll have another crack next year whereas if you’re coming from Australia, the reality is it can still happen, but you want the percentages for that to be pretty low. You’ve got to get all your ducks in a row. You need to be well organised to come over and do it.

I spoke to Digger, at my running club there’s a couple of other people who run it and I spoke to them and I’d done all my research. I knew as much as I could before I started.

BB: I say ‘Digger,’ for those of you who don’t know Digger, it’s Bruce Hargreaves, he’s the Australian ambassador for Comrades and you can look him up on Facebook, he’s very active, he’s in the Aussie Facebook group as well if you are thinking about this, you’re listening to it in Australia and you want to find out more, you can chat to us, Coach Parry, or you can chat to Digger, he’ll definitely be able to help you out.

You’ve been part of what we do at Coach Parry for the last few months and have taken it really seriously. You joined and then you decided, I want to step this thing up and you’ve been working with Markus one-on-one as well and Markus is with us as well. I’ve got a mind like a goldfish, I can’t remember if we introduced him at the start of the show or not!

TS: We haven’t, no one knows he’s there, hopefully they do now.

BB: Howzit Markus, nice to have you on.


Hi Coach!


Markus van Niekerk: Jeepers thanks Brad, I was just about to get the popcorn out!

BB: Sorry, we were having a lovely little yack; I can chat to Trevor forever. Markus, you’ve been working with Trevor for a while now and obviously the buildup continues to Comrades, your initial thoughts on working with Trevor? You’re going to have to be nice because he is paying part of your salary! He’s a great guy and working hard, I’m sure?

MVN: I must say, I really appreciate Trevor’s love for running. It was very evident, since our first conversation, that he’s really passionate about running, it’s something that floats his boat and like he said, he might not be the fastest, but he’ll get from Point A to Point B and he’ll enjoy it.

To me that’s what sport is about. If you don’t enjoy it, then rather not do it because if you’re doing it for other people to see what you’re doing, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. If you’re enjoying it, keep on doing because it’s going to put a smile on your face for as long as you do it.

BB: Trevor, I know you’re working closely with Markus and you chat to him pretty much weekly, what are you working on at the moment? What are you struggling with at the moment?

TS: I guess I’m just getting used to training with Power, so Markus, that’s one of the big things that he’s talking about and I haven’t done that before. If you say ‘heart rate’ or ‘feel,’ that’s something I’m quite used to, so training with Power, I do need to keep an eye on what it actually is. I don’t instinctively know, I’m getting better, but that’s one of the challenges.

Just some of the little logistical things, I suppose, like hill repeats, trying to find the right gradient of a hill close to where I am for the session, that’s just really simple stuff, crossing your T’s, dotting you I’s, but I’m working through that, doing my research and finding the right sports or a better sport.

The one I’ve just done, the hill looked bigger at my first guess than it what it turned out to be! Anyway, not reaching the power on that hill session when I looked at it and thought, gee, I haven’t hit the numbers there, I wonder why that is.

BB: Markus, let me bring you in here, or let me ask you this question first and then ask Markus, Trevor, prior to joining us with Coach Parry, had you followed a real structured training programme or were you one of those guys that let’s wing it as much as we can, how do I feel today? Cool, I’m ready for a 15km run, how have you done it in the past?

TS: I’m somewhere in between those two. I guess I started looking at other people’s programmes, I’d been running long enough and done enough reading to put my own ones together, so I’d have a plan, but I’d treat that as an outline. Then depending on how I was feeling on the day, would depend on what I did.

Looking at some of the things I’d put together in the past, I was probably a bit too ambitious. As I said, keep saying to people when I’ve done very stupid things that haven’t turned out very well, I forgot how old I was! A seven day week programme which I’ve done, doesn’t suit a guy who is 50 years old, it’s just too hard.

You end up, there’s so many sessions, recovery and easy sessions because you just can’t do anything else because you’re buggered whereas you could do a bit more quality if you actually had some more rest days and flogging yourself you think, this is doing good even though it’s hurting. It’s not actually! A bit more rest is probably helpful.

Anyway, that’s how I did it. I would have a plan but then I’d go on how I was feeling and adjust it.

BB: Why the step up to something a lot more formal like you’ve done with us and with Markus?

TS: It’s pretty straightforward. Last year I trained pretty hard and when I ran the down run, I worked hard the whole day and had a whole three minutes left when I came into the finish line, which is fantastic, got my medal. It wasn’t a barrel laughs to do that, I certainly had to dig deep, so the up run has got a reputation as taking you a little bit longer, even if it is a bit easier on the body.

I thought, if you just rock up the same next year mate, you’re going to come home empty handed, so that’s not the idea, so I thought about that and I thought three things I can do. I was carrying a few extra kg, I thought if I can lose some weight that will help. Then I felt I started the race, I was feeling tired and I thought I probably did my training, did a bit too much.

I thought, if I get a coach that knows the race and knows all the stuff you need to know about running and training that will really help. Then I thought, if I got a charity entry -

BB: Put some pressure.

TS: That will save me a few minutes. I mean when you’re talking, you know yourself I’m sure, with your similar athletic prowess to me… A minute here, a minute there, they all add up and if I can save 10-15 minutes because I’m not as far back in the field, it might be the difference in getting a medal or getting the medal I want.

I did that and then I thought a bit more and I thought, if I can improve my strength training that will help and something else that came to mind after that, but anyway, they were the first three that I came up with and a big part of that was… I mean I could get a coach here in Oz, but Comrades is a unique race and I wanted to talk to people who knew the race and that’s you guys, so here I am.

BB: Markus, on that training and Trevor you can jump in here as well, feel free, how has Trevor been reacting to the coaching and responding to the work that you’ve been giving him? Trevor, are you feeling comfortable with it? Are you seeing any improvements?

TS: We’re really just getting started Brad, so I’m just trying to get through my sessions and don’t get cooked and deal with… Life doesn’t stop, so I’ve still got all the dramas of work and family life and fit the training in and we’ve got a heat wave here at the moment, so trying to fit my training in that, all that kind of stuff, still tick the boxes.

My running has been going better since, I think, the post-Comrades and I think there are a number of reasons for that, but I think the strength training I’ve been doing and the weight loss has helped the cause. I’m happy where I am, but of course we’ve got a long way to go, so just work through it.

BB: There’s still a long way to go to race day as well, so there’s still lots of work to be done and lots of improvements to be made. Markus, your take on where Trevor is right now?

MVN: The biggest thing for me Brad and Trevor hit the nail on the head was, I think he did overcook it a bit when he prepared for last year’s event. Yes, it doesn’t matter how you look at it, you’re always going to have to train hard for Comrades but it doesn’t mean you do not have to train smart as well.

We’ll get to his questions just now but definitely having a more structured, more thought through process to follow, just take out all your guessing, all the guess work out of the programme and like he said, we actually just recently got started, he signed up for a once-off programme. I like to do mine slightly different, I like a bit more interaction than just chatting to them once and giving them a 16 week programme.

We actually had a chat earlier in the week and I gave him a 12 week programme. After numerous chats that we had on Skype and WhatsApp, so it’s definitely the beginning of a long road ahead, but if he did follow the programme, and yes, there’s growing pains, if I can call it that, finding the right gradient hill and like I said, we’ll get to his questions just now, he’s definitely on the right road ahead.

BB: Absolutely. You talk about overtraining and I say this all the time as well, the worst place to find out you’ve over trained for Comrades is 70km in. You don’t want to be there and that’s what happens. You feel great going into the race and you only find out you’ve over trained once on the up run, if it happens at the top of Botha’s Hill, you’re in all sorts of trouble, but if it happens at the top of Nchanga, you don’t want that to happen.

So often we see it. Guys think you’ve got to put in hundreds and hundreds of km and like I said, you find out then and that’s not the place to find out. Trevor, questions, let’s get you some direct help. I know you’ve brought a couple and it’s time to use and abuse Markus.


Strength Training


TS: Sure, I’ll start in the strength training question. I was doing Shona’s beginners strength training, mainly because I did strength work last year but just a few things I’d hobbled together, it was far from comprehensive.  To be more rounded I thought I’d start with a beginner programme so that I’d have a balanced thing. I’ve kind of done that. I was thinking for Comrades, what should I be doing? Should I do the next level up or what are you recommending that I do?

<: Thanks for the question Trevor, there’s a few things to take into account. Obviously you mentioned it yourself, this is a beginner programme. I know she has different levels of intensities or different levels of difficulty. My suggestion would be, when you do get to a place where you feel that the programme that you’re currently following is getting too easy, then we can get in touch with Shona.

She can put you on the next level; we can even add a second gym day. Gymming for me, or strength training isn’t just about developing strength in your legs. For a race like Comrades it’s two fold. Yes, it’s about developing strength in your legs, but it’s also about injury prevention. It’s about helping your legs to cope with the load and not injuring yourself in the process.

TS: Makes sense.

BB: Just if I can add in there as well. I know Shona has got on the training platform, for those of you who are listening who are not quite sure what we’re talking about, those strength programmes, she’s got the different levels, there’s beginner, intermediate, advanced and then there’s one and two day programmes. I think you started at the right place but it sounds like it’s definitely time to move up and I’d suggest pop that question in the forum, tell Shona what you want to do and she’ll be able to suggest something. It’ll definitely get you up and onto the next programme. Next question you’ve got?


Hills & Gradient


TS: For the long runs, gradients. I’ve always assumed you should try and target something vaguely similar to what the race is going to do, something between two and two and a half for that, is that what you think I should be doing or something different or what’s the thought?

MVN: Trevor, for me, especially for preparing for a race like the up run, I wouldn’t say specifically go and look for hills that’s at the perfect gradient. You can certainly go for runs in hilly areas, that’ll definitely help you. Once again, you are training on Power, so you’ll adapt your intensity or the workload that you run at or the intensity that you run at based on your power reading.

For me, it’s about just running where you can, mostly and if you are in a hilly area, brilliant. If you can run to a hilly area, just as well. You don’t need to run at a specific gradient because I can tell you what, Field’s Hill is totally different to some of the other hills, it’s long, it’s never ending, at a certain gradient to many other hills in the race.

When you’re doing your long run, doing hills towards the end of your long run might also help you for hills like Little Polly’s and Polly’s. It’s super tough when you get there and you haven’t done some form of hill simulation. It’s a really valid point you make.

BB: If I can add in there too as well, you might have a hill in Australia or in Melbourne that’s 2-3 degrees, I don’t even know what the gradients are of Field’s Hill or Polly’s, but the cumulative effect, just because a hill is two degrees at eight hours into Comrades, two degrees doesn’t feel like two degrees, it’s one of those things. You can do lots of them, it’s definitely going to help you as well.

TS: Comrades, the hills, there’s nothing too dramatic on them, but it’s the cumulative effect, that’s the issue. We don’t have a Field’s equivalent here, we don’t feel big enough!

BB: At our level, we walk up in anyway, so it doesn’t really make a difference!

TS: Absolutely! Practicing the walking is part of it!

BB: I’ve always said that there’s no hill that’s never been walked up and I’m not scared of walking up hills, so that’s fine.


How to adjust trail runs on a road program?


TS: The other question was, I’ve got some of the runs in there, most of the time, but there’s a few that are distance of 40-50km, a lot of the longer stuff we tend to do on trail, I guess it’s more fun, to be honest. Trail, they are a lot harder, so I’m mindful that 40km on a trail is not 40km on a road, so should I look at reducing some of those distances to count for that and if I’m going to how much should I reduce them by?

TS: Trevor, it’s tricky because trail running, put it this way, when you prepare for Comrades, it’s not frowned upon when you apply the walk/run strategy. The same thing with trail running, it’s not frowned upon, not that it’s really Comrades, but it’s more normal to walk on a certain trail section as it is for on a road run, if I’m explaining it correctly.

Just going to your actual question where you say, some of my runs are based on time versus distance, there are certain runs that I’d really like you to do where you need to cover the distance, that’s very important. It really depends athlete to athlete. Some of my athletes in your case, I’ll do most runs on time and then some only on distance, but on my really, really fast runners, I’ll only give them a certain distance to run.

If I give them a three hour run, they’ll probably run in excess of 38-42km and that’s not the goal of the exercise either. :

TS: I’ll probably do that, round about 40km in three hours too Markus! [Laughter] Those ones you’ve given me distances on, you’d prefer that I try and do a road, a proper paved, something that’s not a gnarly trail for those?

MVN: The other thing is, the difference on impact on your actual, your lower legs, your feet, all those things, trail is much softer than running on tarmac and that’s also something that you need to get used to. In my first up run I cannot tell you how sore my feet were with 10km to go.

It was excruciatingly painful and only in my second Comrades, slowly but surely over the years of preparing and doing long runs and accumulative mileage did my feet start getting used to the impact of running on the road. For me, that’s important. There needs to be a certain percentage done on a harder surface, just to not run with some difficulty come race day.

TS: There definitely will be, but it’s getting there, getting the mix right for me and I guess the boredom factor, some of the roads and paved surfaces,  they’re the least interesting places, but I’ll work it out.

MVN: I couldn’t agree with you more. For me, just because it’s on trail doesn’t mean you need to shorten the distance. Time-wise, whether you run 12km on trail or you run 18km on the road, in a certain time, to me, it’s not the end of the world, but there needs to be a healthy mix between running on the trail and running on the road. Like I said, for the runs on your programme, that’s specified to do a certain mileage in that specific run, then if you can, that will obviously be the best option.

BB: That’s a great question as well Trevor, on last week’s podcast we, Lindsey and I caught up with Shaun Simpson and he had exactly the same question. He travels a lot and gets to run a lot of trail and he was asking the same sort of thing. If you go back and listen to that one, if you haven’t listened to it yet, that will definitely give you a lot more insight as well.

Like Lindsey was saying too, it’s softer on the body, like Markus says, but your risk for acute injury is a lot higher, rolling an ankle or something like that. That’s where you’ve got to be careful and also the ups tend to be a lot steeper, the downs tend to be a lot steeper, so the damage you do on the muscles, as much as the climbing and that helps, you’ve just got to be careful that you’re recovering properly from those sort of runs as well, immediately straight afters, but there’s lots of great info in that podcast as well.

TS: That makes sense.

BB: Any other questions?

TS: I guess one without notice, I’ve got some travel coming up, so I’m thinking of doing some magic switcheroos with the programme, just to fit in. We’ve got, Monday is a public holiday for Australia Day, I don’t think we’ve got around convincing you guys to celebrate that yet!

Then I’m off to New Zealand in the afternoon, so it’s easier for me to go for, Monday is a rest day, but I’m thinking if I run Monday and then I rest Tuesday and then… I’m back Wednesday night and then maybe do something Wednesday morning and then come back and do something Thursday, just shuffle things around. I presume that’s not a big deal?

MVN: Not at all, as long as one is fresh before you do a speed session, in your case you’re busy with a hill block, as long as you don’t start your session exhausted, that’s fine.

TS: Sure, makes sense.

BB: Trevor, it’s been great catching up. We love having you in the forums and in the Coach Parry community. We love having you around and really do appreciate you, so we’re looking forward to following your progress and see how you go in the buildup to Comrades and make sure that you go home with that back-to-back.

TS: That’s the plan, sounds great, thanks guys.

BB: It’s going to happen, you’ve got to speak it into existence, it’s going to happen.

TS: Absolutely, that’s the plan, so it’s got to happen.

BB: Absolutely, Trevor, it’s been great and I’m sure we’ll touch base before you head out to SA, but good luck and safe travels next week to New Zealand.

TS: Thanks guys, it’s really good.

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