Comrades tips from a three-time finisher

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Comrades Marathon

Guest blog by Carel Nolte

Fresh – well as fresh as one can be after running 89.2 km – from completing my third Comrades, like many of the thousands of men and women who took part in the Ultimate Human Race, I am thinking about how I got to this point, and the future. Will I be running on 4 June 2017?

One of the reasons – and there are many – why the Comrades is so special, are the fascinating stories around each entrant. I don’t think anyone just gets up and decides to do this race – it takes some planning and commitment.

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My Comrades story started in March 2012 when I ran my first race – the 10km Nike night run. I had weighed over 120kg just a short while back (I still weigh around 95Kg so am no runner’s body fitness mag front page model!) and running 10km was daunting! Fast forward to 2016 and I have four Comrades medals (got my back to back in 2015!) How did that happen?

Much has been written about training for the Comrades – and there are many, many resources. I devour running magazines, read blogs by Sean Falconer, listen to podcasts by OldMutualLive and @bigbradbrown and make use of the resources offered by my running club, Born2Run (we won best ladies team at last year’s Comrades with three runners in the top 10 and lucky number 13!).

None of that is unique and are tools that all aspiring Comrades runners should make use of. However, I think that I have a few secret weapons that have enabled me successfully enjoy and complete the journey between Pietermaritzburg and Durban.

Here are a few of them:


As the top fundraiser in both 2015 and 2016 for Comrades Charities (in 2016 I raised R175 000), the privilege of being able to raise money and to contribute has meant that I have gotten far more in return. Not only does my chosen charity PinkDrive provide goody bags and support pre-race day, on the day they have a magnificent water point which is pure pink energy vibe – in 2015 it carried me up Pollyshorts and this year it welcomed me home with 7km to go and I need a last push with only 35 minutes left on the clock!

As a charity fundraiser you book a spot in the C seeding – meaning you are right by the action on the town hall balcony when it all starts and you gain a few minutes since you can start running immediately (the elites, A and B batch speed off!) Plus your queue at pickup is very short as you have a dedicated area. All in all, a no brainer to contribute!

 Have fun!

I remind myself often that I choose to do this race, something many people can’t do, because of illness or circumstance. And so I must enjoy it. I stay relaxed (getting stressed uses energy I need for the hills!) and laugh, a lot!

My running partner Allan and seconder Kurt provide great humour and on the day I try and smile at people along the road, sing when I hear lekker music and to soak up the glorious celebration of something so uniquely South African. Life has many ups and downs – like the Comrades – and it is during the tough times that one must remind oneself that there is a lot to be grateful for and to enjoy. So laugh – especially at yourself – have fun, and expect the best from others!

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Mix up training and have it fit your lifestyle

Clearly one must put in some running pre race day. Apart from running a qualifying marathon in under 5 hours, additional, constant running is needed. In 2016 I ran very little (around 500km) and most of that in the gym in 5km – 10km sessions. I did one marathon and a couple of halfs. I definitely had a base from the previous two years (where I ran around 1100km and 850km respectively in the year preceding Comrades) but in 2016 I had very limited time and many other commitments.

I could, of course have used that as an excuse and not entered, but I stuck to my gym short runs and used my lifestyle to train. One example was a ski trip I did for work (yep, tough I know!) in April 2016.

I was very worried about injuring myself – I am no ski pro! – and I was concerned about losing out on gym for 10 days and not being able to train. Well, Club Med Val Thorens in France changed my mind – and I am convinced added hugely to my Comrades finish. Not only did I have a memory-making time, my Comrades training as improved, not lessened (rumours that the outdoor Club Med jacuzzi helped are true – sitting in steaming hot water with snow around you does wonders for tired leg muscles!)

Skiing uses leg muscles and core – well, unless you want to end up face flat the whole time. And so my week of skiing at Club Med was perfect training. My legs got a couple of hours training every day – tough, intense training in different parts of my legs. All of that useful come Comrades when you are on your feet for 12 hours (by the way, this is the first year I lost no toenails and my legs were not stiff and sore – full recovered – by the Wednesday post race day…) In addition, my instructor helped me develop my core even more.  We purposefully focused on strong core to make my skiing better and to assist with Comrades preparation.

Spending a week at Club Med Val Thorens I was also concerned about diet – apart from not over-indulging in the “bad” foods, I needed loads of protein and variety to keep me on track for Comrades. Again I need not have fret – the buffets are delicious, healthy, full of variety and some of the best food I have ever had – certainly something for everyone! So, just one example of not using a busy lifestyle as an excuse not to prepare for Comrades – find clever ways to spice up your training and have Comrades compliment, not dominate, your life!

Finally, of course, don’t forget to pick the best running partner and seconding team – the people who want only the very best for you and are prepared to slog out 12 hours in tough conditions with you, for you!

See you at the starting line in June – maybe.

You can follow Carel on twitter: @carelnolte

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