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01 July 2019

Just under a year ago Robin Lary had only been running on and off, in fact, nothing further than a parkrun. Fast forward to June 2019, and he has just completed his first Comrades Marathon. This is his story of how he went from parkrunner to Comrades Marathon finisher.

Just under a year ago, I had been running on and off for a few months trying my best at this fitness thing. My goal at the time was to run a parkrun as fast as possible, and as my times started getting quicker, my colleague (who happens to be a fitness freak) kept on trying to get me to run further. I remember telling him that I would never run further than 10km, and I was pretty adamant about it.

A few months later, I was flicking through some TV channels and the Comrades Marathon race was broadcast. I didn’t pay much attention to it, until last year. I was in a phase of wanting to challenge myself in some way or another, and looking for an opportunity to do so. Then in July last year (the month after Comrades), having only been running for around 9-10 months, I told my wife that I wanted to train for Comrades. My wife’s initial reaction was “ooookkkkkk Robs”, and I left the conversation there. A few days later, I had a serious conversation with her and I made the bold decision to tackle the Ultimate Human Race in 2019.
You may think (as others had), why go from a 5km parkrun to an 87km race? My reason is simple. Most of us generally place barriers or limitations on things that we want to do before we try tackling it. Why, before we decide to do something challenging do we use these words: ‘It’s probably too hard, I won’t have time, now is not the right time, I need to train more, I’m too old/young, I probably can’t, what if I fail, I have a full time job, I’m not experienced enough…’
I wanted to challenge myself physically and mentally to help me move past these mental blocks/limitations.
Life changing journey
I ran my first marathon in January 2019, I ran my first Ultra (Two Oceans) in April and then my first Comrades on the 9th June, so it’s been an interesting and jam packed 5 months so far. 

If you are planning on tackling Comrades, here are a few tips from a novice. I am by no means an experienced runner, but wanted to share some tips based on my journey.

  • Define your goal and what it will take to achieve it. Be as critical as you need to be.
  • Join a running club where you feel at home and where you will get the training support that you need. It definitely helps when you have support from people who have travelled your journey before you have.
  • If you don’t know how much to train, when to train, how long you should train, how many races to run etc you may need the help of a running coach. This is what a coach specialises in, so don’t discount the value that they will add. I used a coach and it worked very well for me.
  • Listen to your body! If your body says don’t train, try not risking it. One day off your legs is better than being injured for a few weeks. The hardest thing to do when training for a race like Comrades is making the time to rest. Trust me, all you want to do is run, but don’t be afraid to rest. Your legs need a break to recover, and a coach helps nicely with the ideal time to rest (which is important after long runs and races). There were days when I trained twice a day, and that rest is very welcoming.
  • Running a race like Comrades is a BIG commitment. You will spend a lot of time on the road, so if you have a family, have the conversation before you commit. I had the conversation with my wife and we tried syncing my running schedule with my wife’s schedule so that we don’t live past each other.
  • Find the time to train that works for you, and a time that’s realistic. We all have challenges. Work is busy, we have family commitments, church commitments, you want a social life etc, but you need to make the time to get on your legs. I generally trained early mornings, i.e. up at 4:30am (sometimes at 4am), but that may not be possible for you. If you choose to train early mornings, try getting some training done in different weather conditions, as it’s a hot and humid race day.
  • When you are training and things are tough or you find yourself in negative mindset, remember why you are doing it and what motivated you to make the decision. This generally picked me up when I trained alone or when the road was very long on the day.
  • Try different running strategies and nutrition when training. An example of a running strategy is using something called the 9/1 strategy (running for 9 minutes and walking with purpose for 1 minute). The walking gives your legs a break on those long runs. Having a strategy for the day helps you plan effectively as it’s a long day on the road. Nutrition is trying different solids and/or liquids before and during your training, not on race day. This allows you to see what works well for your body before the race day. In my coach’s words… Remember, strategy and nutrition are the two things you can control on race day.
  • Go out and enjoy the experience, whether it’s physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. You will question your sanity on the route, but that’s just part of the journey, and when you do, the supporters or a fellow runner will pick you up, as the running community is nothing short of amazing.
  • Be prepared for a curve ball on the day. An old injury may creep up or the weather conditions are different and you hadn’t planned for it. Planning all these scenarios in your mind will contribute to your success.
  • Learn or have a few jokes at the back of your mind. This may seem weird but was a great tip given to me. You’ll be surprised how much this can uplift someone who us having a bad race or how it takes your mind off things when you share a joke or two between runners and then enjoy the experience and camaraderie (pun intended) together.
  • Work on your mental strength. This is a big win for the day. We’ve often put in enough time on our legs, but our minds hold us back on the day.
Overall, the goal between the runners on the day was different, but the road we travelled was the same. Keep motivating yourself. If you know with 100% certainty that your goal exists, you have the ability to motivate yourself to do it as it’s a daily process, and this will ultimately increase your rate of success.
So, go out and challenge yourself. As the saying goes, the only limit to our realisation of tomorrow, will be our doubts of today.

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