Training pace, cramping and everything leading to Comrades – We help Peter ahead of his first Comrades Marathon

Training pace, cramping and everything leading to Comrades – We help Peter ahead of his first Comrades Marathon

On today's episode of RUN with CoachParry we chat to one of our Online Training Platform members Peter Clark in his lead up to his first Comrades. Peter has an awesome story having lost 20kgs (!), and in the process has completed 2 full IronMan and is attempting his first Comrades this year. Lindsey and he discuss all things from how to deal with cramping, how to choose the right Comrades program for your level and why we need to train slower to run faster. If you're running Comrades, there's definitely some value in here for you too!

Brad also shares another one of our athlete's Success Stories - Timothy Patterson and how he smashed his marathon in a 3 day event in Bermuda!

If you want to share your personal best or story with us, use #BiogenJourney and you could win 3 months access to the CoachParry Online Training Platform. This week's winner is Pamela Woest! Well done and we look forward to having you on TeamCoachParry! This is what Pamela popped on Instagram:

If you missed the first of this year's Bonitas Online Comrades Success Seminar, you can catch the recording on our FaceBook page, YouTube page or website.

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Brad Brown: Welcome onto the next edition of Run with Coach Parry. I’ve got the coach with me once again, Lindsey, howzit, good to have you back on. 

Lindsey Parry: Very good thanks Brad, lekker to chat. 

BB: We get to chat to another one of our members of the Coach Parry online community and training platform. Peter Clark, Peter, welcome onto the podcast. 

Peter Clark: Thanks very much Brad, great to be here. 

BB: Peter, you’re Jo’burg based, before we hand you over to the coach because I know you’ve sent through a whole bunch of questions for us, let’s dig into a little bit about you and tell our audience about you and your running and that sort of thing. How long, have you been a lifelong runner or how did you get into the sport? 

Losing 20kgs on the Dukan Diet


PC: No, I’m a bit of former fatty. I started about five or six years ago, a weight loss plan with my wife, so I dropped 20kg and also got some young kids and they were fairly active, so got into more and more activities that way. Started off with cycling with friends, then our kids were doing open water swimming and so I thought I’d join them. Then I thought, why not give triathlon a try. Then I managed to do a full Ironman two years in a row, so quite chuffed with that. Running has never been a strong suit of mine. I plan for this year to take a year from the triathlon scene and focus on getting my running done and let’s give the Comrades Marathon a go, why not? 

BB: I love it, I absolutely love it! You talk about losing 20kg, straight away people are going, how did he do that? Is it just training or has it been a combination of watching what you’re eating and training?

PC: Initially the wife heard of this Dukan diet, which is kind of like the Atkins protein heavy diet thing. We started off with that and we started losing the weight and then once you start losing the weight you start thinking, now that I’m a bit leaner, let me try and get active. From that we started off with a bit of strength work, we started CrossFit for a while and that was great. Good community vibe, that kept us going and built decent strength and then, as I say, with the kids and that, we got more into the cardio endurance type stuff and just went from there. 

BB: I love it and Lindsey and I always joke about this too Peter, is there’s something, I don’t know if it’s in the water in South Africa or what it is, but people get active and it’s, we’re not going to do a spring triathlon or Olympic distance triathlon, we’re going to go all in and do an Ironman and it’s the same with running. Half marathons just aren’t good enough for us, we’ve got to go and run this crazy ultra marathon between Durban and Pietermaritzburg every year. For you, what’s the attraction to the long stuff? 


What is the attraction to ultra marathons?



PC: Testing out your abilities. You’ve got to try and push yourself all the time and these are the ultimate challenges you can do, so why not. 

BB: I absolutely love it! South Africans are not normal in that sense, there’s no doubt about that. You’ve got a whole bunch of questions that you sent through, that you wanted to ask Lindsey. Let’s jump into the first one. You ran the Dischem Half as part of our, you joined us in the buildup that, before we get into the questions, tell us a little bit about your experience on the platform, in the build up to Dischem and your Dischem? 

PC: The Dischem offer was a fantastic opportunity for me. My training up until then was kind of just getting on the road and slogging it out. There was no structure to it and I had downloaded a few plans and seen what’s going on there and none of them really got me motivated. With this Coach Parry plan it’s been great, having your and coaches input and what have you, going through the forum and seeing other people’s stories, feeling part of that whole system.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and since then I signed up for the full programme and signed up for Comrades and now it’s just to get cracking on that. 

BB: We sucked you in good and proper haven’t we? 

PC: Well no, not at all, it’s a great product; you’re doing a fantastic job out there.


Why most of your training runs should be slower than race pace



The Dischem training plan was interesting, seeing how it was structured. What concerned me was that I noticed a lot of the running was at the race pace. I signed up for the one hour 45 plan which is about a sub five, which for me was a nice challenge, as my previous PB had been 1:47 on a pretty flat course, The only sort of training where I noticed you were running below race pace were the interval sessions and none of the other runs were anything close to race pace, so that was one of my questions as well is, how does that work? If you’re on a plan for a sub five pace, for a race, very little of the training is done at that, so some input and background on that from Lindsey would be great.

LP: Cool, it’s obviously intentional and the reason for it is quite simply because the average runner runs too hard on easy days and what that does is it gives this consistent accumulation of too much fatigue, which ultimately leads to a slowing down/breaking down, injury, getting sick. What it also does is it limits your ability to really access your cardiovascular system. By running too hard on the easy days, you actually weaken your aerobic system and you get, you start shifting the points downwards or slower where you start to kick in with anaerobic metabolism or more of your energy coming from anaerobic.

That’s really why we do it, is it that most and the majority of your running and you should be doing at least 80% of your training there and thereabouts. Once you start getting much more experienced and better, then we can start fiddling around with that 15-20% where you can do different types of intervals, progression runs, tempo runs and you bring in a little bit more variety. 

Typically I still keep those type of sessions, for the most part, unless I know people quite well and been working with them for quite a while, I typically keep those things to a single session. It would either be intervals or a time trial, it would be one session a week.  We do want some stimulation of the anaerobic system, but also we want to improve our efficiency, our coordination, range of motion and those are the sorts of things that then improve with those hard, high intensity sessions, but once you move into one of those sessions, I’ve just seen over the years that it’s only the really good and really experienced runners that typically benefit from that.

So that’s the reason why the programmes are split up the way they are.  I’ve got to say, you did do pretty well, having chatted to you after Dischem, but also now just having a look through your questionnaire, no question that you are capable of a sub 1:45 and I would venture as far as to say that had we run on even a slightly easier route profile, especially the last 5km, I think you would have gotten a PB for sure, but very close to a sub 1:45

PC: I must say I was pretty happy with my time and my effort for the race, it was enjoyable and post-race I was feeling pretty strong still, so that was very encouraging for me. I think my PB at the Dischem, three years back was 2:11, so it’s 20 minutes quicker over the distance. BB: Peter, I think you said you went 1:50 at Dischem this year. 

PC: Yes. 

BB: That’s absolutely superb. Does that answer your question about pacing in training? 

PC: I’m very much so. I’m one of the ones very much guilty of pushing too hard on the easy runs. 


Most runners push too hard on their easy runs


BB: Lindsey, we’ve spoken about it at length, it’s one of those things you have to be really careful of and if you do those easy ones really easy, it allows you to do the harder ones probably as hard as you should be doing them and that’s when you get the biggest bang for your buck out of your training programme. Following on from Dischem, obviously you want to step on and go onto Comrades and you’ve got a couple of questions around Comrades preparation. One of them was about, are you on the right programme, but also your races that you’ve got planned, let’s talk about getting on the right programme, particularly at this time of the year Lindsey, I think is pertinent to guys training for Comrades. What was your question about the training plan and the training programme you should be on Peter?

PC: So, I just was going through the plans, I was looking at the sub 10 versus the sub 11 and just from a perspective of the races I’ve entered now, the sub 11 seemed to fit in almost ideally with the plan. My big concern is I’ve entered too many races and I’ve got too many hard runs ahead of me leading up to Comrades but I kind of figure I may as well go all in. 

BB: Before we get onto the races, Lindsey let’s just talk about how to choose the right Comrades programme. We’ve spoken about this often, someone of my ability who is just scraping in under 12 hours goes, you know what, I’m going to follow the Bill Rowan programme because if I follow that programme and the wheels come off I’m guaranteed a finish, but that’s not really the case, you’re not doing yourself any favours by following a programme that’s way above your ability. Am I correct in saying that? 

LP: You’re not doing yourself any favour at all. I think Peter’s approach is quite sensible. 

BB: You haven’t seen his race schedule yet Lindsey!

LP: Hopefully what I say next will inspire rather than scare him but really. I am going to say it and then qualify it slightly but really, your ability on Comrades, if we don’t improve you much in just terms of your basic capability of a runner, is much closer to nine hours than it is to 10 hours.  It’s subbing at sub 9:15, based on your five and your 10km run. It’s interesting that you talk about running being your weak leg, but I do see a lot of potential there for you.  Of course, you haven’t really converted those yet, not over a half marathon or a marathon.


Setting up a sub 10 hour Comrades Marathon

I absolutely see the value in you being more conservative and although, if you did two or three Comrades, as I’m almost certain you’d end up getting a Bill Rowan at some point, there’s definitely a lot of value in being more conservative.  I just think that perhaps, for you, the bronze is too conservative and that’s not to say that I wouldn’t follow that programme, but I would definitely tweak it to get your training paces closer to the sub 10 hour paces and then if you did that, I feel like the two programmes, you’d be absolutely fine on the bronze and I think still, probably go sub 10, but you’d certainly go sub 10:15, but of course it would give you almost another whole year of good, solid, fairly low risk training.  I’m not opposed to going this route, but I do think you are selling your running ability a little bit short. I think I’m happy with you on bronze, but look to the sub 10 paces as your guideline for what you should be doing. 

BB: No pressure Peter

PC: Yes! My big concern is that I’m a serial cramper, so I’m just trying to build in that extra cushion, just to compensate for should things go wrong. Also, the distance hasn’t been there for me, so hell of daunting for me at this point, that’s my big concern. 

BB: We’re going to touch on the cramping, Peter, if I could just add something in there from my experience and this isn’t coaching advice at all. You’ve done two Ironman’s, what’s your best Ironman finish time? 

PC: Last year I did a 12:02. 

BB: Here’s the cool bit. You have gone longer than you need to finish Comrades as a novice. If it’s 12:02, then you’ve missed the cut off. You’re going to go under 12 hours, so mentally you’ve been there whereas most guys who are just coming from a running base, they’re going to run their longest runs maybe six hours, maximum seven hours.

They’ve got to go five hours into the abyss where they’ve never been before.  For you, from a mental perspective, you’ve been there. Physically it’s going to be a tough challenge, but Comrades is very mental and having that in the back, I tell you what, it makes a massive difference because that’s what I used to do. I’ve gone nowhere close to a 12:02 Ironman, but I’ve done a 13:00 Ironman. I’ve done a 12;20 but mentally it just gives you such an advantage, so you’re in a blimming good space there. 

Lindsey, let’s talk about cramping. It’s probably the million dollar question, if we had the solution, we’d be gazillionaires, but how do you stop it? 


The cure to running cramps


LP: We’d be loaded! But there are a few things we can try. Look Peter, the more you stay in the running game, it may never go away and that will depend slightly on what the cause is, but often just the fact that you’re in running for another year, that you do move over to longer distances, that you do physically prepare your body that much better, that can greatly reduce the impact of cramps or eradicate them altogether. 

The first step, you’ve ticked that box. You’re going to prepare fairly meticulously for Comrades, so that box is going to be ticked and that is one of the things you control and so you must.  Strength training can also have a positive impact on reducing the incidence and severity of cramps. If there’s time in your week for some strength training, absolutely go for it.

Coming from a triathlon background, I would encourage that some cross training is kept, but obviously these things do depend on time that we’ve got available to train, so you’ll have to see if that is possible to do. Then the two things that you can then do after that to try and minimize the impact of cramping is to incorporate running and walking from early in your races.

We’re going to touch on your race calendar shortly, but especially when you do those longer training runs, the marathon and longer training runs, you want to start working on your Comrades race plan, be it a 5km run, one minute walk or a 3km run, one minute walk, then walking on the hills, how do we do that?  Do we do a pole to pole strategy? Do we do three minutes, one minute, but those are the sorts of things you want to start working on in those longer training runs, getting used to running slowly enough on Comrades race day.


Doing what you can to prevent cramping before the cramps start


That will go a long way to helping.  Then on race day, if and when those cramps do happen, it becomes a question of recognising as they are going to come, so that you can start walking before the full blown cramp arrives. Once that full blown cramp arrives, what you want to try and avoid doing is stopping dead. 

You want to still keep moving. Obviously walking will then be the most likely option available to you and so you’d walk until you can feel that cramp subsiding and obviously once that process starts, you want to increase the number and length of those walk breaks to try and get to a point where the cramp doesn’t become debilitating.

Then those changes, the subtle changes in the rate of firing your muscle contractions should then help to reduce that.  Finally, there is a product that I’m finally comfortable with recommending to people, it’s not 100% but unlike most of the other products, the electrolytes and there’s pills that you can take that are supposed to stop cramps dead in their tracks, I find that those things work in less than a third of all cases whereas CrampNot, which is actually a gel with capsicum in it, so it’s got the burny ingredient of chillies in it, that is effective in greater than 60% of people that try it. 


Capsicum and running cramps


So it doesn’t work for everybody but it’s worth trying because it does work for a lot of people. They recommend you take it almost as a preventative thing, it’s a normal gel that provides energy like all the others, full of sugar, but then it’s got this capsicum, which if you are a cramper and you take these things an hour or so before your normal onset of cramps, then it can stop it and then obviously if you are physically having a cramp, it’s also supposed to be very effective. The research shows it is very effective, as I said, in more than 60% of people who take it stop cramping. That’s definitely worth giving it a whirl.

The other thing that people have used over the years is pickle juice, the stuff that your pickled gherkins and pickled onions and things go in, if you sip on that, that’s very effective at stopping cramps.  I’ve got a couple of people that swear by taking Rennies. Once cramping starts, if you suck on a Rennies that also helps. Those are just a couple of the things that you can try to mitigate the effects of cramping. 

BB: We’re going to have another episode of, let’s translate that for our international listeners Lindsey. Rennies antacid tablets, for anyone that is listening outside of South Africa, that’s what they are. Pickle juice Lindsey, that’s weird, is that so you forget that your legs are cramping because your mouth tastes so bad or how does that work?


Pickle juice and cramping



LP: It has a similar mechanism to the capsicum is that it binds onto the receptor sites which inhibit the contraction of your motor neurons. It affects almost as a blocker, so it stops, the cramp is normally caused from an over-excitation of those motor neurons because as you fatigue, there’s almost a delay in that impulse and the coordination goes out of it and then there’s a point at which the contraction and relaxation signals overlap and then the muscle goes into a full blown cramp.

What the capsicum and the pickle juice do, they slow that process down and they effectively improve the coordination of those contractions again and that’s why the cramping stops. 

BB: Fascinating. Peter; let’s talk about your race schedule. There’s quite a few races on there, but you did send it through with a bit of background of each on the plan feed, so I’m going to let you run through it with Lindsey and let’s talk about it, if that’s cool?

PC: Sure, the plan is this Sunday coming up is Johnson Crane 42km, that’s my qualifier, get that out the way, just take that as easy as I can for like a 4:30. I’ve got a mate who is not a very fast runner, so I’ll run the first lap with him and then just coast through on the second. That one I’m not too worried about.  I’ve got half marathon about two weeks later.


Marathon pacing plan


Again, the training plan has a two hour long run in, so that I’ll just also take fairly easy, probably a bit quicker pace than the plan suggests, but if you’re saying I should be following the sub 10 plans, it’s probably spot on.  Then CapeGate Half Marathon, it’s meant to be a fast race, so that one is going to hopefully get me a slightly better seeding.

Try and get my four hour time on that, sub 4.  Then it’s the serious ones, that’s Om Die Dam on the 16th of March, 50km and that’s purely just to finish. There’s no time goal set for that, it’s just a case of getting that distance into the legs and working on that walk/run strategy I would imagine. 

Then it’s Birchwood Half Marathon, again, that slots in with the training plan for a two hour long run and then Irene Ultra, the 48km on the 7th of April. That’s the plan, again, calls for a training marathon in there, so I thought 48km is close enough. Then I think the final long one is Colgate 32km, which I’m planning on taking easy. Then it’s about 20 odd km from my place, so I could take an easy run home after the race, just to extend that distance and prep for Comrades. 

LP: The only one I have concern with is Om Die Dam because of its proximity to CapeGate. As a general rule, I like to keep three to four weeks between marathons and ultras, ultras or marathons and marathons, I like at least a three week break and that is for training races.  When you’re actually running hard, I’d say two weeks is a very tight turnaround and that’s going to essentially pose you the biggest risk of getting injured through this training period.

Again, looking at your target of sub 4, if you set out your stall and that sub 4 is 3:55 to 4:00, then your cramping or the potential of cramping aside, I would say that’s well within your capability and is not quite training marathon, but it’s getting close to it. 

I think you can get pretty close to running a sub 4 as a slightly harder than should be training marathon and if that is the case, then you might get away with doing both of those races. If CapeGate is hard and there is lots of cramping and your legs are completely broken afterwards, you may want to have a second think about Om Die Dam there. 

Marathons and ultra marathons in the build up to the Comrades Marathon


Other than that, your training programme, that looks pretty square. It’ll give you two marathons and two ultras in total, again, there is question mark on the Om Die Dam, but it would give you two marathons, two ultras, leading up to Comrades, which is pretty close to ideal in terms of total number. The only question mark there is the timing on that CapeGate versus Om Die Dam. 

PC: My wife is running the 21km at Om Die Dam, so maybe if I’m feeling a big knackered after CapeGate, I can maybe opt for bailing on the full and doing the half. LP: Okay, sweet, that sounds a sensible approach. We hit CapeGate, have a little discussion in the week after and then we can make a call on how wise Om Die Dam is. 

BB: Sounds awesome, Peter, unfortunately we are out of time, we’ve got our next call pretty much waiting, so what I’m going to do, I know you had one more question about your nutrition, but I’m going to point you to our forum because our resident sports nutritionist Nicky De Villiers is in there, so ask the question you had there, I’m sure Lindsey will weigh in, but Nicky is definitely the right person to ask that question about nutrition. She’ll be able to give you some great advice in the forum as well. 

PC: Cool, thanks for your time, it’s been great. 

BB: Peter, it’s been amazing, thank you so much for your time. Thanks for being part of Team Coach Parry and we love reading your posts on the forums and the interaction and we look forward to following your progress to Comrades and beyond. 

PC: Hope it all goes well, thanks for the help so far, it’s been great. 

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