The key ingredients of a successful training program

While the Comrades runners begin the hard winter training that culminates on race day on August 28, many of them are still struggling with exactly what kind of training they should do on a daily and weekly basis.

Should they run up the hill? Should they include speed sessions? How many long runs should they complete? How many kilometers should they travel each week and each month?

In this critical moment of the The partner’s marathon preparation, I am asked these questions almost daily. These questions are not as easy to answer as they might seem. The problem is, like running shoes, there is no “one size fits all” answer.

Much depends on each runner’s goal. Are you hoping for a top 10 finish, a silver medal or a 12 hour Vic Clapham medal? It also depends on how much time they have available to train, how much time they can take away from work and family and social commitments.

Finally, and most importantly, it depends on how wisely they selected their parents! In other words, what kind of genetic advantage or disadvantage they bring to the task.

READ ALSO: Part 1 – A rush in August means May is the new March

About 20 years ago I met the Queen (and I mean the Queen, Elizabeth II). I was invited to a cocktail in the early evening, along with several dozen other guests. These included politicians, captains of industry and various celebrities. I could have been the only sports representative. It turned out to be quite an expensive affair. I had to buy new shoes for my wife Gill and me, a new dress. It did not help to point out to Gil that her Majesty had never seen any of her clothes. It was a new dress.

In the almost undignified mix of guests trying to meet the queen, I was one of the few who emerged triumphant both by meeting the queen and having a rather lengthy conversation with her. After a political bow we talked about sport in general and running in particular. (The Queen had previously attended a school sports gathering in Soweto).

In the course of our conversation she asked: “I hope you will forgive me Mr. Fordyce, but I have always believed that marathon runners have to be big, muscular and strong and she seems to be the opposite.”

“No, your majesty,” I chuckled, “to be a successful marathoner you have to be just like me, blessed with strong legs carrying a very light body, allied to a powerful heart and a pair of equally powerful lungs. It helps to have brain cells. minimal “, I continued,” because marathon is a silly sport. ”

She laughed: “It really is, it really is”

Genetically suitable

But my point was well expressed. To run Companions at about 3½ – 3¾ minutes per kilometer you have to be genetically suited to the task. More importantly, to complete the weeks of hard training required to compete with the Companions you must, once again, be genetically suited to the rigors of the intense training that is required. Aside from an overly pronated left foot, I seem to be one of the lucky ones genetically suited to the task.

A look at my training diaries reminded me how hard we marathon mates trained in the 1980s. Keeping in mind that Comrades ran in late May or early June in those days, from the beginning of March each year I ran 10 weeks of 160-220 kilometers a week.

READ ALSO: Top 5 of all time: Gerda Steyn joins the ultra greats of SA

Those weeks were something like this:

Monday: Morning – 10 km; Afternoon – 15 km

Tuesday: Morning – 10 km; Afternoon – Uphill session (4km warm up followed by 5-8 sprints up a steep 410m hill followed by 4km cool down jogging afterwards)

Wednesday: afternoon – 20-30km at your teammates’ pace

Thursday: Morning – 10 km; Afternoon – Track speed session, 4 or 5 times 800 meters or 1,000 meters (every 1,000 meters in 2:55 – 3 minutes)

Friday: Morning – 10 km; Afternoon – 15 km.

Saturday: An easy 15km run or an afternoon cross-country ski run or a sprint up the famous Westcliff stairs.

Sunday: Morning – A slow 30-60km long run.

Days of rest, gym

I rarely took a day off, and except for the long slow Sunday run, most of my training was completed at a pace of 4 minutes per kilometer or faster. To increase strength, I also participated in three gymnastics sessions per week.

Three weeks into race day I started a long and sustained workout, drastically reducing my training mileage until I ran almost nothing in the last 7 days (only 3 easy runs totaling less than 25km).

If everything went according to plan and my training was free from injury and illness, I could run nearly 2,000 kilometers in that time.

As I explained to Her Majesty, only a few genetically fit runners can churn out this kind of mileage week after week and even fewer have the time or inclination to undergo this workload. Only runners like Gerda Steyn and Bonmgusa Mthembu should try to copy a program like this, and they probably listen to better advice and have better training programs.

Regular runners

How can the regular runner get the most out of limited training time and poor genetics (note, I didn’t write “average or ordinary runner” as there is nothing “average” about someone attempting to run their teammates’ marathon) .

I believe he or she should stick to the same training principles, but simply reduce the mileage I’ve run in the past (by up to 50%) by including some scheduled rest and recovery times.

Sunday: Rest is essential and a Monday seems like the right choice, as it follows the long Sunday run.

Tuesday: 10-12 kilometers of standard cruising speed.

Wednesday midweek long run: This was one of my favorite runs and it was a huge part of my training program. I stole the “idea” from Rob “Deek” De Castella, the great Australian marathon runner (1983 world champion, two-time Commonwealth Games champion and Boston marathon winner). De Castella used this midweek run as part of his marathon preparation. It made sense to me that a training run at a steady pace over a longer distance was essential (15-25 kilometers).

Tuesday: A quality session in a club time trial, a speed session or a hill race (12km).

Friday: A pleasant 10 km with an easy pace.

Sunday: A quick run in the park or a shorter run preceded by a warm-up run. Totally 8-10 km.

Sunday: Long slow run (with the emphasis on slow) at any distance from 25-60 kilometers.

I will carefully analyze each of these elements of what I believe is a sensitive and manageable training week in future columns, but essentially this sustained two-month program should lead to a great result on race day.

Obviously, it is essential to be flexible. Nothing is guaranteed in life or in running. But the program has definitely worked for me, on 30 occasions, and I believe it will work for all runners, even those who are just “average” or “ordinary”.

If you are interested in my more detailed training diaries and personalized training, please visit my website for more information. go to