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Oh s**t only a week left!

Unbelievably it’s only a week to go before the marathon.  Mentally I have been fixed in the medium and long term, getting fit, eating right, what is the plan for Comrades? and so on.  I went out for a drink with some friends on Wednesday evening and as I started talking about training and my goals for the race, the short term suddenly hit me.  A week on Sunday I will be out in a field near Foyers about to start my first 26 miler.

 

Looking forward to it, yes but nervously.  Preparation wise of course, there is very little to do.  However, as a result, every detail seems magnified.  The main concerns are diet during the week and how much to run.  Everything else is important as well though.  Sleep pattern, other activities, planing out the detail of the registration process making sucre I choose the right gear and many other aspects suddenly loom very large in my mind.  I am discovering lots of new websites with last minute advice which I am trying to ignore and follow at the same time.

 

When I am not stressing about detail, I am thinking about the race itself.  I genuinely don’t know what to expect. Specifically, I have a very wide range of expectation in terms time and pace and no idea at all how my legs will feel when I reach the latter stages.  Pacing is not generally my strongpoint in any case.  When I ran the half marathon, I just aimed for a comfortable pace and only really checked the watch twice at 10km and 10 miles.  After a tough last couple of miles, I ended with a time which was marginally better than my most ambitious goal so obviously the strategy was a brilliant one.  Except this is twice as far, what happens of comfortable proves to be too fast after only half the race?  If my legs blow up with three miles to go fine but what if its ten? On the other hand if I start slow and finish feeling like I have just had an enjoyable training run, how frustrating will that be? Unfortunately, I don’t know what I am capable of and even if I did, I am not yet good enough at pacing myself to run to a planned pace anyway.  Not surprisingly this is feeding the excitement and the nerves.

 

All a bit focused inwards but can’t be helped.  Will continue to obsess this week but hopefully enjoy the race.  I will be on twitter, Facebook etc and updating with a full report when the head and legs have recovered sufficiently.

 

Beautiful view of Loch Ness from the roadside in Foyers.  How hard can it be?

 

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Another Step Towards Durban – original post 4/9/13

The start of September seems to have brought the Loch Ness Marathon date very close.  With less than four weeks to go, I wanted to start by reminding everyone that, as well as taking a major step on the road to Durban, I will be raising money for the Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) Charity.  I am delighted to say that more than £2,000 has been donated so far.  If you still feel able to give something, please visit http://www.justgiving.com/Kenny-Fraser or use Just Text Giving by texting an amount and the code KFLN68 to 70070.  You can also find out more by visiting their website atwww.pkdcharity.org.uk.

Hopefully, the running preparations are going as well as the fund raising.  The weekly mileage has been building up and I am hoping to be over 50 miles this week in my last week of heavy training before starting to “taper”.  This is just code for having a few easier weeks!  I am finding the really long runs tough but anything up to about 20km now seems pretty manageable.  Adding new routes has also helped as I mentioned in the last post.  Bellahouston Park for the first time this last week and some great views from the little hill in the middle.  It also brought back vivid memories of watching Nat Muir win tough international cross country races there in the early eighties.  One of Scotland’s best but never received the international recognition he deserved.

I have also been continuing to enjoy Stewarton Road and pushing further up the road onto Fenwick Moor.  It is a tough and hilly route but very quiet and with great views all around.  The solitude and peace seem to be working.  Not sure whether that will be sustained when the Winter is blowing over the moor!  It has set me thinking though and with so much hill country around, my plan is to use this over the winter as I build up my endurance for Comrades.  I have dug out an old  book with 100 hill walks around Glasgow and will be using these plus some coastal routes down by Troon and Turnberry to give some variety, especially on the longer runs.

The view from the top of the hill is well worth the effort.
View down to Glasgow from Middleton Wind Farm on Feniwck MoorFor now, another batch of pictures from Stewarton Road and Bellahouston Park.  I also have a mental note to find a better way of presenting these photo pages as they seem a bit dull at the moment.

Let me finish this week with two other pieces of news.  I have mentioned a couple of times that my daughter Lorna has been enjoying parkrun, in fact achieving another personal best of 35’24” last week.  Well she is now entered in the 5k run on the same day as the Loch Ness Marathon and is genuinely disappointed that she is too young to have a go at the 10k!  However, I have also discovered that my cousin’s husband, Mark MacLennan, and the wife of my closest friend, Carole Spy, are both running the 10k.  All in all a real family day so even more reason to donate or just get out and put your running shoes on.

Final announcement, entries for Comrades 2014 opened on Sunday and after checking through a few things, my entry is officially registered.  Another big step on the road.

Runnin’ in the Rain – original post 25/7/13

I have been reminded of my time in Johannesburg this week. Was out for an easy 10k this morning and caught in a thunderstorm and torrential downpour. I have always maintained the climate in Gauteng is the best in the world but thunder and lightning are a feature of the summer weather in the highveld. They don’t do these things by halves either. Typically the temperature rises to about 30 degrees during the day with very little humidity which is beautiful. Then about 4.30pm, all hell breaks loose. Today’s downpours are a mere shower. The only place I have seen heavier rain is Mumbai during the monsoon season. On top of this sheet and bolt lightning spread over a wide area. Most dangerous of all, hailstones are frequent. These can genuinely be the size of golf balls or even tennis balls. A common sight in October and November is drivers sheltering their expensive BMWs under motorway bridges to avoid a pummelling from the storm.

By 5.30 it is all over, the sun and warmth return and it is time for an even more frequent saffer pastime, the braai. In a standard Jo’burg lifestyle, the only thing that prevents people downing a case of Castle Lager at a summer evening braai is a long lunch earlier in the day. All of this might make you wonder how the world’s greatest ultra marathon survives in this culture. However, it is very much an outdoor lifestyle. I have also been sorting through some old boxes and tripping across some memories this week and I was constantly tripping over reminders. the fact is, Everyone participates and especially in endurance events. In addition to Comrades, the Two Oceans cycle and running marathons, the Korkie Ultra Marathon and the Dusi Canoe marathon are well established along with a plethora of other events.

The participation element is a crucial difference between the sporting environment in South Africa and here in the UK. Outside of the traditional strongholds of cricket and rugby, their impact on top level sport since readmission twenty yearns ago has been relatively limited. They don’t have the facilities but they also have a different attitude. Everyone takes part. Mass participation events of course exists everywhere but in South Africa there feels like a a marathon virtually every weekend. People take things seriously and build a whole lifestyle around these events even if they compete at a very amateur level. I remember playing golf with a guy early in my time there who was in his early sixties and probably weighed at least 100kg. He talked about his running and the runners’ breakfast he was hosting for 50 people at his house the next weekend as part of his preparation for Two Oceans. He even invited me. A similar approach prevailed even in rugby. The office team in Johannesburg had a full schedule of matches and 30-50 spectators would turn up from our side alone at every game. Participation also extended well beyond the white elite. Running and football were both mass participation sports in the townships and in rural areas. The climate obviously helped but doing sport was a part of the fabric of life that just does not happen in this country.

I was far from immune to this culture. Obviously my golf was a key thing and it was another telling example that I was able to join one of the top clubs instantly just by agreeing to play for their team. Despite this focus and my enthusiastic participation in the beer and steak side of the life, I also took part in kwik cricket, touch rugby, swimming and a few other odd events. I even managed to run a couple of races while there.

The first time I agreed to do this, I decided to do some training. This turned into another of my futile three week bursts of effort which did not become habit. In this case, part of the issue was altitude. Few people realise that Jo’burg is 6,000 feet above sea level and coupled with my sixteen stone bulk it did not make for a good running experience. The piece de resistance was when I decided to do some short sprint intervals one day. I jogged down the hundred yard cul de sac in which we lived and sprinted back up a few times. On the fourth attempt, I carried straight on into the house and was violently ill several times. Definitely not ready for quality work! A few weeks and no training miles later I lined up for the start of the Harrismith Mountain Race. This consisted of 4km of rough uphill running to reach the foot of a cliff. The ‘runner’ then pulled him or herself up hand over hand for a kilometre or so to reach a plateau. A couple of k’s across the top scramble down the cliff on the other side and follow the rough track back to town to finish in the high school stadium. I knew I was in trouble when the medical truck overtook me on the road out of town at the start. I struggled even to run the downhill bits and it took me more than two and a half hours. Bear in mind the winner who had a PB under 30 minutes for 10km took 53 mins to cover the 12.3km course so it was tough! Looking back, I really enjoyed it but that didn’t make enough of an impression to convert me.

My other experience was another great example of sporting participation. I took part in the FNB Company Relay. In fact, I have photographic evidence that I did it twice, in 1991 and 1992. This event was a marathon distance around the city split into, I think, 8 legs. These were of varying lengths with the longest about 12km. Mine was the so called executive leg, 2.8km albeit with quite a stiff hill. I can’t remember the exact numbers but I believe the firm entered about 20 teams and there were thousands of athletes taking part. I still have the instructions which shows that the baton change was split into 7 wide funnels at each handover. The logistics of this were challenging, imagine finding 7 areas big enough to handle this plus a start and finish in a major city. Staging the race and achieving wide participation is testament to the culture.

Enough memories. Despite my drenching this morning, it has been a pretty good week so far running. The heat in Scotland at least is much less intense than in Majorca and I have gone back to listening to music while I run. I have also started playing with nutrition but will report back on that once I have had a few weeks to make it work. The result of this is that last week was 50km in just four days once I recovered from my sore throat and I am hopefully heading over 40 miles this week. Feeling very positive for now. I am heading up North to stay with my dad next week and will be doing a recce of the Loch Ness Marathon route. See how the positive mood survives that.

Looking slim and athletic during the 1992 FNB Company Relay. The shadows I am overtaking on the right are walking!

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The Comrades Marathon 2013 – Original post 4/6/13

This blog has been running on my website http://www.couchpotatotocomrades.com for a couple of months.  I am going to bring the posts up to date over the next fortnight and hopefully should be in sync soon.  This post was originally published on 4 June 2013 but the pictures are new.

My running week begins in a very secular way on a Monday so I am reflecting on the week which ended on 2 June. Overall a very good week of training with a total workload of 30 miles, a good long run of 15.5km and solid starts on both speed and hill sessions. Main trouble is keep going week after week at the moment. Until mid July a combination of retirement events and holiday will make this difficult. As I look forward to this week, I have a great trip planned to play golf at Portmarnock which involves 36 holes on Friday and then a further 36 holes at Woking for the Alba Cup on Saturday. Good fun but the miles will be walked not run.

Malahide beach and harbour near Portmarnock.  Golf pics in next post!

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I digress. The real running story of this week is of course Comrades. It would be very easy to miss from the UK media and its obsession with football but the 2013 race took place yesterday 2 June 2013. The men’s winner was Claude Moshiywa, incredibly the first South African native for 21 years to win the country’s greatest race. His time of 5hrs 32′ 08″ was no record but still very strong for an up run. In the women’s race, Russian Olesya Nurgalieva won for an eight time from her twin sister Elena finishing in 6hrs 27′ 08″. The first non Russian home in the women’s section was Scottish Joasia Zakrewski finishing in fourth to make us proud – didn’t hear anything about from Alex Salmond though. More details can be found on www.comrades.com.

Congratulations to everyone who took on the challenge this year.

The lack of media coverage is no surprise, like many things in South Africa this unique event seems remarkably little known outside the country. The race has been run since 1921 and is around 89km between Durban and Pietermaritzburg in Natal. The direction alternates between up runs (Durban to Pietermaritzburg) and down runs (Pietermaritzburg to Durban). The difference is huge with a total ascent of 3,845 feet. I have driven the road and it is genuinely steep the whole way hence obviously my decision to target as down run in 2014. Given this challenge, the most amazing thing about Comrades is that it is a mass participation race with 18,000 entrants this year. This is not quite in the London/ New York class but is way up there considering it is more than twice the distance.

There is a very healthy a growing ultra marathon circuit which includes many races which are longer and tougher than Comrades but these are extreme and niche events with at best a few hundred entrants. Even the legendary Ultra Tour de Mont Blanc has only 2,500 places. To my knowledge there is nothing else which combines mass participation and a tough ultra distance.

The race also has fairly demanding standards. Entrants need to have completed a recognised marathon or longer in a reasonable time. The time varies but tends to be easier than a Boston qualifying time but by no means a joke. Similarly, in order to finish Comrades you must complete the course within the time limit of 12 hours, not exacting but far from trivial. Very few global events operate a strict cut off like this. Within the time there is a strict hierarchy of medals depending on finishing times.

Lastly, it would be wrong not to touch on the history. Having started in 1921, Comrades is much older than most of the popular marathons that have proliferated around the world since the eighties. The original idea came from Vic Clapham a Great War veteran who wanted to commemorate the South Africans who fell in that global conflict. The race was originally run on Empire day, 24 May and the founder’s name is still remembered in the medals awarded to those who finish between 11 and 12 hours. The first legend of the race was Arthur Newton who won five times in the twenties. He was also the pioneer of scientific training for long distance running and his influence on training methods is still felt today. He was followed by Hardy Ballington in the thirties and Wally Hayward in the fifties who were both five time winners, Hayward’s name is also given to one of the race medals. Various other runners won multiple times as the number of entries started to increase topping 1,000 in 1971 and 5,000 in 1983. The eighties were also dominated by Bruce Fordyce who won the race an eventual 9 times while also taking a strong stand against apartheid. In the wake of the fall of apartheid, the elite end of the race has become much more international starting with Alberto Salazar’s win in 1994 and with strong influence from Russia and the rest of the African continent. It would also be remiss not to mentionFrith van der Merwe who has the unique position of being the only woman to complete the race in less than 6 hours and as meninges above, Olesya Nurgalieva is now approaching Fordyce’s record of 9 wins.

Why I love the Comrades Marathon

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All of this of course covers only the tiny elite portion of the competitors. There are hundreds of thousands of other stories and it is truly an amazing achievement to finish Comrades. A brief review of the annual Spirit of Comrades awards will give a flavour of these amazing tales. You can find this on the official website,www.comrades.com but to be frank it is not that great. Comrades Marathon – The Ultimate Human Race by John Cameron-Dow from 2012 is also an inspiring read on the subject.

Very long post but I did promise some more on Comrades and it is truly a long story. For now at least I feel inspired!

Sit Rep

Welcome to my blog.  As the title implies this blog will be the story of my journey from couch potato to running the Comrades marathon, a journey which I hope to make in just over two years. I emphasise hope to make. I am very far from certain to reach the end of the road in Durban in May 2014. For those who don’t know, Comrades is much more than a marathon. It is the world’s greatest mass participation ultra marathon, a distance of around 89km between Durban and Pietermaritzburg in South Africa.  I will blog in more detail about the race and the 2013 event shortly. However, it should be clear that this is no gimme. I will also be filling in more details about my history but suffice to say before 5 March 2012 I had been basically totally unfit for 35 years. I should also add that I am not one of these heroic people who takes on a BHAG (big hairy ambitious goal) and achieves it through the purity of my determination and total focus. I like to give things a try but sometimes life and motivation intervene. Above all, I don’t like pain so I have not ben and will not be pushing myself to any limits and beyond – more on this philosophy in later posts as well.

So I am taking on a very big challenge.  This blog is actually starting just after halfway through that process.  I will include a section in the site talking through my progress so far but it is fair to say that as I write today I have already travelled from couch potato to half marathon runner. Lets use this first post as a sit rep.

The way things were!

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1. Weight now is around 79kg which is about 12 1/2 stone or 175 pounds in American money. This is from a starting point on 5 March 2012 of 101.1 kg, 15 Stone 13 lb, 223 lbs.

2. Average training load around 30 miles or 48 km per week with long runs up yo 20km. Real starting point was running 2.7km on 21 August 2012.

3. Major race to date, Edinburgh Rock’n’Roll Half Marathon 14 April 2013, finishing time 1h 43’ 38*. Best 5 km time 21’08”

4. Today, 15.5 km in 1h 24’ 34” along the river Thames in London.

5. Family, married (approaching 28 years) with two great kids. My wife Sue is facing a kidney transplant but we have every reason to be optimistic. Please not, there will be very little guff about motivation on this blog but Sue’s health was definitely not related as we did not find pout about the kidney until February 2013. So put the psychology away!

6. Work, about to embark on the biggest change in my working life leaving a firm I have been with for 29 years and starting my own business or businesses.

7. Golf, handicap now 4.2 but battling – losing this kind of weight plays havoc with your timing.

8. Overall health, excellent acceding to my comprehensive annual medical check up which took place on 3 January 2013.

9. Scotland, UK and the world, still governed by fools andcharlatans. Hard to say whether it is worse or better when the economy is not in the doghouse. Pretty sure this factor is the least likely to change through the period of this blog.

And now….

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All in all a fairly good place even if my wife’s health and the new career are a bit scary.

Much more to come and the focus in this blog will be on my life and my running as they progress. I will add another section on the history of my journey to date and probably pages devoted to the anal detail of   my training and some of the people and place that have helped inspire me and keep me going.

Follow my progress at www.couchpotatotocomrades.com