Sydney, Newcastle & Hunter Region

Vlads Race report – Comrades 2017

“Man it was so hard but I pulled through”! When you put yourself on the line and at your limit you can win and loose BIG. I trained really hard for this race, I put so much into it and we sacrificed a lot, Cheryl and I that is. Just getting there was a burden I was aware of, my ticket was only bought the week before, most of my sponsors let me down, I had tears of pain at 6okm, but before the race even ended I knew I was coming back, by the time I landed in Sydney I had my 2017/18 race plan finished. But I wont have to ever do it that hard again, thats a promise! I couldn’t really do this justice though, the event is bigger than the Olympics for runners, the aura amazing. I had a life changing experience and I hope you can smile at something in this. Im already smiling because Im going to go back and get a Gold medal, a top 10. Ive got a lot of work now to do, 50 weeks of becoming better. I like that, I like structure and a goal and a plan and I love working hard. Come on a journey or go there yourself! Vlad_Runlab.

Team colours: Even working out what to wear in a long event takes planning! Unfortunately I didn’t get to wear my favourite compression shorts. I will next year though! Gel in one hand, timing chip on my left shoe. Calf guards worked well too.

EPIC! That has to be the word the best describes Comrades 2017 for me. But how much of that was due just to the event itself? I did take a Week to think about this properly once I returned. Yes the event is certainty very special, my particular race day experience however together with this made it EPIC. Its no wonder why big events like this are better described as experiences and not events. Anyway I’ve captured some of my thoughts and experiences from the big day to try and let you in on some of this feeling.

“I glance left, Green, right Green, there are two or three Green singlets in front of me that I can make out. Tap, tap, tap BEEP – look left, right, pass a few get caught by a few. Tap, tap, and tap BEEP we are climbing still steadily”. “You must hold back on the hills, but don’t be afraid, ok?” That’s pretty much how the first 2 hours of my race were. The first hour it was still dark as we ran along steadily, staying comfortable and in control for the most part. The only points of commotion were the aid stations as you tried to hussle your way into the far left so you could get a drink. Staying on top of everything this early on is critical.

I decided to do Comrades about November 2016. The journey from that point up to the race would throw up its usual challenges as well as nice surprises. One of these nice surprises was getting an invite to run for the Nedbank team in December. That in itself was a big deal! Nedbank’s colours are Green – a reference the “Green runners” in my opening paragraph maybe helps convey just how many Nedbank runners there were! In terms of the Elite contingent whilst this was a smaller part of the overall team, it still numbered about 30 Athletes in total.

Early on before it got light and noisy.

 

We had many amazing athletes in the Nedbank team, and so it seems its like this every year. Nick Bester is the team manager and a previous winner of the Comrades himself. Many of the runners have done the event multiple times. So this experience is invaluable leading up the race and during the race itself. I arrived on the Wednesday night and we twin shared with other runners. My roommate is Nick West; he has his own pretty cool running story. He is from Great Britain and there ore others here from South Africa, Sweden, the States just to name a few. It’s a very different feeling compared to other major races I’ve been in – the merging of some fantastic road marathoners with ultra road and trail runners who have competed in the best races around the globe!

 

Thursday am we get driven 5 minutes from the accommodation (as its all hills to get there) so we can do a nice flattish run. Apart from the Monkeys, it’s almost like home, well probably Cairns at this time of year. You see its Winter but the average max temperature was 28 degrees for the 5 days I was in South Africa. The rest of the day is just finding our feet. Friday is more hectic but I’m so thankful for being in a team already – we are able to miss all the queues, check our chips etc. at the Expo and then do a couple or formal requirements for the sponsors. Luckily the 10 minutes of time we got to ourselves was just enough to rush into the official merchandise area and grab Cheryl and myself an event top each!

Post lunch, more formalities and the official media briefing is underway! That’s an experience. I think most of the international runners are also glad now Steve is on our Team as he gets the call up usually to do the talking (and he loves it) – the man can talk!

Sunday morning arrives! We have our alarm set for 2:30am but we don’t need it. Breakfast is being served downstairs from 2am! Yep apparently last year there was a bus breakdown, Nick is very keen to ensure that this potential disaster doesn’t happen again, and if it does there is a bit of spare time! Whilst Nick cooks his instant porridge and jumps back into bed to eat it, I head downstairs Vegemite jar in hand to get my pieces of toast.

Eating before 3am isn’t that easy but as soon as I enter the dining area there is no thinking about the time anymore, its packed! And they have porridge, so a couple of pieces of Vegemite toast and a little porridge it is, a quick trip back to the room and then downstairs all like clockwork and on our way to the race start!

 

We get to an empty Church. Its reserved for all the Elites and we get there so early, I’m pretty sure it was just after 3:45am. We have over an hour here and its mainly just about getting ready now, bathroom stops some warm-ups.

 

At 5am we form a group – all the Elites and we start jogging to the start. Its pretty cool because the Managers are also forced to run with us and some of them are not fit anymore J the spectators and other runners making there way to the start realise that the Elites are coming through and people are breaking into applause, its pretty special. We arrive at the start and after a couple of dead ends we jump a fence and are taken to the start line, nothing fancy here just get in there and hold your ground. We have about 15 minutes until the start now.

Race nutrition: We had 8 places we could leave our desired drinks. There were of course very well manned aid stations throughout the entire course

The Anthems are amazing, there is this incredible vibe and excitement and chariots of fire is played – The Cock crows twice – The Cannon – Sprint……. We are warned the start is very dangerous, many fall. Fly out of the blocks and then re-group. Actually surprisingly it all went smoothly and by the first kilometres it’s pretty settled, the one flat kilometres of the race has finished and we are now on a major freeway and heading uphill.

 

We know that the first half of the uphill run is slower than the last half; it has the majority of the hills. The average pace for the first half was set at 4:06 as a target. That sounds pedestrian but its deceptive, actually I still went slightly faster than this myself and it would get me to half way in 2:58. I ended up getting there in 2:56.

 

So whilst I never felt I was pushing myself really for the first section – looking back and making further analysis, I was not trained well enough for the overall distance of the event. Through the halfway mark I was still full of running very shortly though there is a really steep climb up to Ichanga, still though I ran all the way up!

 

It started with the Hammy! Its came on really quickly, I was forced to stop instantly and I grabbed my leg right on the Hamstring insertion and tried to relax the muscle. Unfortunately I simply couldn’t move and for about 5 minutes I had a walk/stop/hold action. I couldn’t believe it – Id never cramped like this. This wasn’t the only think, I had been getting uncomfortable in the Torso too and my Throat – and now Id been forced to slow right down it was like a party for all these Demons to my running all over my body!

 

This photo does some justice to the hills because it’s really hard to explain. Whilst there are 5 major hills that all have their own cool names and place in Comrades folklore, there are many many hills. You can see how steep this little pinch is.

 

So I could hardly run, and I was cramping in the hammy’s and I couldn’t breathe at all comfortably. My nutrition plan went out the window and so did my race ambitions, I simply couldn’t run well at all. I watched as the emptiness that has surrounded me slowly filled with more runners as the minutes ticked by and I was swallowed up by the race field.

 

It was in this next couple of hours in a world of pain that so many “moments” happened that no doubt will be easier to deal with over time. Running through my head was a lot. I knew I had many loved ones watching on, I had overwhelming support, my own expectations, sponsors and more. It was 10 years to the day we lost our dad too. That was hard to miss – In a twisted mess of disappointment and real physical pain over 10 kilometres I walked, ran, hobbled, cried, laughed, talked to the most sincere strangers and talked to myself. In that hour or so there was never a doubt I wouldn’t finish and disappointment quickly faded to a sense of accomplishment as I ticked off kilometre after kilometre getting closer to the finish line 1 long drink station at a time.

 

The last 30km took me like what seemed forever. I think partly because id already moved on from the race. Crazy as that does sound, completion was now just a process to allow me to get organised for my return. Still though it was great to finish, and get that Silver medal.

This best sums up how I felt during the race, after I had to stop and re-group and recover enough to run every kilometre was very painful

The immediate post race period was extremely tough, I was cramping all through my upper body and felt very Ill. Walking the short distance to out team headquarters was a real effort I wasn’t sure if I needed to go to the toilet or throw up and I wanted to eat too. I stumbled upon the rest of the runners and only then did I see how well we had done as a team in the men’s 4th, 9th, 10, 13th to name a few – the looks on these guys faces were priceless that had had very good runs, well deserved and a privilege to be a part of!

I left Durban on Monday afternoon, another beautiful warm afternoon Pat and I sat outside at the airport soaking in what we had just been a part of. My phone messages and updates from home a reminder that colder weather awaited as soon as I arrived, a Facebook post of one of our usually larger Sydney run groups only 8 or so showing up this morning due to the weather. No I wanted to shout at them, where were you, get out of bed. FFS this isn’t how it is and not how you get there! What this race woke was a fire within, a message to all out there that not only do you really need to work towards your goals if they are truly going to be something worthwhile to you, but also sometimes even if you prepare well it doesn’t quite go to plan.

 

Having the experience of hanging around with so many Elite Ultra Road and Trail runners and past Comrades champions certainly has given me the insights into the training that is required to be competitive at an Elite level in these events. I do need to make some adjustments and mature more as a runner something which I’m already putting into place now just a week after the event.

 

Rather than be at all down about what I have to do, I’m driven more than ever to incorporate required changes into my Training. Its funny because even before Comrade’s, Adam Clarke and I had been talking a lot about Runstrong and the Trail group amongst other things. And this experience has given me that added spark required to help take these programs to the next level with him. There is nothing like being around the worlds best to better improve and there is a stack of stuff I’ve learnt here and realise now that I’m going to incorporate into Runlab sessions for you all, to better prepare. Last but not least this really does include the “Ultra” bolt on to the Runstrong program!

This is classic! A great shot of the runners around the female winner Camille!

 

I think I can walk away from this race comfortable I learnt what I had to today. If you ask me what went wrong, I will tell you a combination of things. I had a sore throat as soon as I crossed the finish line – that kind of hung around for two days and then I got really sick for a few days. Maybe that contributed to the cramping, conditioning also played a big factor. For me it was the first time id ever run that far. A slightly more conservative approach likely would have seen a much better time and overall performance but that wasn’t the intention either. The support from so many runners was simply amazing, thankyou for all the kind words and wishes before and after, unlike the silence from my sponsors which was just disappointing. You learn a lot about a lot! The entire learning has allowed me to take stock and set myself for the journey ahead. There will be some great runs to look forward too at the end of this year as well as next and the Comrades 2018 campaign is going to be my focus.

You got me good! This is coming into the finishing area. It’s a great spot to be there are thousands of people. Feelings of satisfaction and disappointment this time around.

 

Comments (3)

Wow – what a powerful commentary. I sincerely appreciated the opportunity to read this. Your honesty made me tear up. it was wonderful to read and experience your open learning approach to the event and I am sure other parts. I can hear your optimism and energy for 2018. Congratulations on 2017. Again what a wonderful report and i really thank you for the gift in allowing us to read Deb A

Vlad, obviously you’re a very talented athlete so don’t over analyse your race. Your sore throat and sickness happens often in long runs. I had a husky throat and got sick a couple of days after Comrades and i had a good race (for me). The main point in your article is that you havent run this distance before. It’s that simple. Run more, do some long “B” or prep races. You’ll get it right next time dont worry.

What a heroic run! Amazing to see you run from strength to strength each year.

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