It’s a weird feeling, people ask me how Comrades went and my response is a rather dull, “Not great”, I can immediately see a glint in their eye and a look on their face waiting anxiously for the drama that follows that kind of statement and the war stories of how tough the day was. So I quickly add, “It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t GREAT.” And then of course the question follows, “So what was your time?” I would think that after my opening statements they’re expecting a somewhat disappointing time relative to what I’m capable of running but again I having nothing to offer that will feed their desire for drama and state, “7 hours 14 minutes.”

To most people, ok, to everyone, including myself, as these words leave my mouth I sound like the most ungrateful Comrades runner to have crossed the line, in all honesty I really can’t be unhappy with a silver and a 3 minute PB at that. So let me expand a little on my Comrades experience this year.

My training went exceptionally well, I had run the Buff’s marathon in Feb and despite that marathon serving as a harsh reminder of what downhills can do to my quads; I managed to shave four minutes off my marathon PB finishing in 02h49. I had a good Two Oceans (only my second, my first was in 1997), I ran very comfortably (maybe a little too comfortably) finishing in 04h09, perhaps a little more effort in the first half might have seen me coming in just under the silver cut-off, but to be honest, I was never planning to “race” Two Oceans and if the weather was good (we all know how that turned out) and if everything came together then I would come in just under 4.

So, everything was on track for a GREAT Comrades. I went down to Durbs in April and ran the entire route over the long weekend, a total of just over 100k’s for the weekend, some excellent training. Oh, and if you’re a Comrades runner and have never run the route before race day, do yourself a favor and get down to Durbs a few months before race day, you’ll be amazed at the benefit.

All the hard work was done, then came the taper. I don’t know what it is with taper but as hard as I try not to, I loose my mind completely (although this year I was far better). In Joburg taper comes along at the beginning of winter, just at the time everyone around you begins coughing and spluttering (which this year, included my wife!! 🙂 ) And so needless to say I avoided everyone like the plaque and became something of a modern day Darth Vader!

God has truly blessed me with an amazing wife, I really don’t know how she puts up with me during a taper period! 🙂

Anyway, after sleeping in my study for a week, low and behold I woke up in the middle on the night with a sore throat. The next morning it was off to the doc for one hellish expensive jab in the butt called a “Beriglobin.” That did the trick and during the week before Comrades I was able to actually focus on the race and build my race plan.

I had trained and done the work for a sub 7 hour Comrades and I wanted a sub 7-hour Comrades. The plan was to go out easy and run a comfortable sub 7, this would be achieved by running for 8km’s and then walking for 90seconds all the way through to the finish. In my pacing plan that’s exactly what I planned, but in the back of my mind after doing the maths I said to myself “I can do a 06h45, I’ll do the run/walk strategy until Pinetown and then run to the finish.” More on that later.

On the 3rd June 2012 I found myself being driven to the start, along with my boet and his fiance who ran their first Comrades (big up to them for having an awesome run, finishing in 10h00 and 11h23 respectively)

This was where the “good” not “GREAT” began. With just more than 30mins to the start I began my 15min warm up jog, which I do before all races in including Comrades 2011. I ran through and around throngs of runners making their way to the starting pens, eventually I turned away from the start into the dark streets of Pietermaritzburg City, saw a pavement, misjudged it and hit the floor like a bag of cement, scraping my knee, breaking my fall with my hand and sending my pre-race drink rolling 10 meters ahead of me.

I got to my feet, walked gingerly to my bottle and then continued to run, after about 5mins everything seemed to have settled and the ache and stiffness had left. After doing a few laps in a lit up parking lot I made my way to the starting pens.

Everything went according to plan, I was running at my pace, I was hitting my marks. Just before Camperdown, around 23k’s or so I started feeling nauseous. I never struggle with nausea on a run, in fact I don’t recall ever feeling nauseous on a run apart from my school days when I ended up puking on the finish straight (twice) as I pushed for my first sub 60min 15k.

I figured the nauseous feeling would pass but it pretty much stuck with me through to the finish.

The interesting thing for me was the greed that consumed me on the day (back to the lesson learned). I had planned a sub-7 but in the back of my mind I wanted more, I wanted 06h45 (this was not totally unreasonable as I had trained for it and if everything came together on the day, it was on.)

Any “normal” human being would have realized 30-40k’s into the run that everything had not and was not coming together (I had made out with the tar and the nauseous feeling had stuck) and would have reverted back to the initial plan of run 8k’s, walk 90secs through to the finish.

I’m a stubborn bugger and I got greedy and so I stuck with my greedy thoughts of run/walk until Pinetown and then run to the finish. I hit the bottom of fields and had what was supposed to be my last walk and headed off. Of course I ended up being forced to walk in those last 20k’s and ended up crossing the line in 07h14, shaving 3minutes off my PB of 07h17 set in 2011.

The lesson hit home when I sat down at my computer and looked at the splits and started doing the maths. Turns out, based on the avg pace I’d been running over the last couple of 8k splits that if I had stuck to the original run/walk plan through to the finish, again based on the maths, I would have crossed the finish line in 06h59!

Greed! I seem to recall that Jesus taught on that subject a few times! 🙂

Happy training all!

– Ray Orchison

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