My preparation for my 6th Comrades race

After not making the sub 5 hours at Two Oceans this year I started working with a professional running coach – in addition to the strength coach I am working with since December 2017.
My training went ok, but I was on the edge regarding the pace to achieve my goal of a sub 9 h Comrades or not. The fact that the distance increased to 90.2 km didn’t help with that plan…
From Jan 1st 2018 until Comrades race day I ran 1,221.4 km. That’s 75 km less than in 2015, when I ran my PB of 8h 49 (up run).

Race-Plan suggestion by my coach

When my coach and I discussed the race strategy, his first suggestion was to go for a 9h 15 min finish. He amended the plan due to my hopes for a sub 9 h finish to a 9h 08 min strategy – and in the end the result was proof of his experience…
With the majority of uphill running (on the down run) happening in the first half, we were aiming for a slightly negative split (running the second half faster).
Well, as you will see now, his first suggestion was spot on.

Thank you to my blog readers

After checking in at the hotel, my wife and I enjoyed a wonderful lunch at the Big Easy restaurant in Durban.

Love Big Easy restaurant, at least the food. Some waiters are the most unfriendly I’ve ever come across

Filling up on Friday

When I went up to the room in an elevator, I started chatting to another runner and he said: „You look familiar“. He was a runner from Atlanta, Georgia (USA), and after a while he recalled where he knew me from: From reading this blog 🙂
Unfortunately I forgot to ask about his name, but if you read this post and are the one, please send me a message 🙂

Running for the CHOW Chows and winning the “Top Fundraiser” Trophy

We went to the registration, which is always organised in the most efficient way imaginable. Catering for more than 20,000 runners is quite a mission, and every year the Comrades organisers prove they know what they are doing (unlike the folks from the Two Oceans marathon, messing up entering and registration every single year).

Quiet registration area on Friday (Two Oceans Marathon look at that: That’s how you organise a registration venue!)

After receiving my race number, T-shirt, and goody back we strolled along the expo. And of course we also went to the stand of “The CHOC Cows” the charity I ran for this year.

The CHOC Cows

The CHOC Cows is an amazing charity celebrating their 10th anniversary in 2018. They collect donations for CHOC, which is the only charity in South Africa supporting children with cancer and their families. The COWS are quite famous in South Africa by racing at bicycle and running events in cow costumes.

Read more about the cows on their website: The CHOC Cows. This year was their first year as an official Comrades charity, and I opted to collect donations for them.

I urged a few of my overseas clients (companies like digatus and FITX) to make some substantial donations and also received very gracious donations from individuals, for which I am extremely grateful.

In the end I managed to collect almost R 80,000 (approx. EUR 4,500), putting me on 4th position in the overall ranking of charity runners for Comrades. The almost R 80,000 where the biggest amount collected for The Cows, while the 3 runners ahead of me collected donations for other organisations.

At the booth of The Cows I was quite surprised, when they welcomed me with open arms, hearts, and a trophy…

Totally surprised receiving the award

Happy cow with top fundraiser award

Richard (on the right, one of the founders of the COWS, my wife Silke and I)

Richards calf: going for his 10th Comrades as a cow

Richards other calf: Love living life

“Daisy” and her team really take care of the running cows and I am so proud being part of the herd now.
Richard is one of the founders of The Cows, and if you haven’t read their story yet, you should… (the story of The Cows).
I met him for the first time here at the expo: He ran the past 10 Comrades in a full (!!!) cow suit and this year he went for his permanent, green number. If you read until the end of this post, you’ll meet Richard again and learn how his Comrades (almost) became a massive disappointment …

A flyer for a funeral plan was part of the goodie bag. I must say that’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen in a goodie bag!

Last run before race day

The day before race day: Usual program of sleeping long, short 3 km run on the beachfront, seeing thousands of other Comrades runners and enjoying the sun. Followed by breakfast and resting the legs at the hotel pool.

My wife and I doing a short run the day before the race

Beautiful art work at the Durban promenade

At the Durban promenade, 1 day ahead of the race, with thousands of other runners

Getting to the start (driving from Durban to Pietermaritzburg)

Since it was a down run, the start was in Pietermaritzburg. For the first time we decided to stay in Durban and drive to the start in the early morning.

Yep, 1 am alarm clock

Yep, 1 am wake up call is what I mean by early morning 🙂

Everything was packed of course, and I didn’t have breakfast at that time. I just fetched some coffee for my wife and me from the restaurant at the hotel, prepared a thermos flask with coffee for the breakfast later, and off we went.

After 500 m on the road we saw hundreds of runners on their way to the bus stop for their ride to the start.

One idiot of a bus driver blocked a 4 lane road (!) and we had to squeeze through a tiny gap between his bus and parked cars. I have no idea what this idiot was thinking – I trust he wasn’t thinking at all. But that gave us a first quick adrenalin rush at 2am. The drive to the start was easy, very little traffic and we arrived even before 3am at the start. During the ride and after parking I had breakfast, a coffee, and time for a 1 hour nap in the car. At around 4:30 I left the car and went into my seeding pen, covered in a pyjama due to the cold morning in PMB.

First 30 km

I started the race and paid close attention to my pace. The goal was to be conservative during the first half and run at about 6 min/km. I also started walking early to avoid losing to much energy on the uphills. I felt quite strong all the time and on the downhill sections I was able to make up the time I lost on the downhills without being too fast.

First 30 km elevation chart (Comrades 2018 down run)

It was a beautiful morning and right from the beginning I was supported by constant “moooooooh” from the spectators, honouring my run for The Cows. That was really special and I never had expected that. It’s amazing how every single “moooooh” takes away your mind from the running and makes it easier. I always thanked the supporters and was grateful for their encouragement.

I completed the first 30 km in 3 h 05 min, almost in plan.

Here comes the cow

Keep on moving

“I like to mooooove it mooooooove it”…. first experience running as a cow

People even started singing “I like to moooove it mooooove it” when they saw me and it always made me smile.
This really made this Comrades very special for me and I am definitely going to support The Cows also in the future – because what they do is absolutely amazing and the support you get in return from the spectators is simply spectacular! It makes you feel that you are running for much more than yourself.
I also met lots of other cows on the route, always cheering each other on. Well, we are one tribe 🙂

Second 30 km

The second 30 km went well, but I started to fall behind my schedule. There were quite some longe uphills where my average pace dropped significantly and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to make up for that in the end.

Second 30 km elevation chart (Comrades 2018 down run)

Second 30 km elevation chart (Comrades 2018 down run)

But I also knew, that if I would run harder now, I would pay for it later. I simply wasn’t strong enough based on the training prior to the race.

Short shootout to CP, one of the readers of this blog, who approached me during one of those uphill sections and we chatted for a while.

I arrived at the half way mark of 45 km with some 6-7 min behind the schedule of a sub 9h finish. Not ideal, but with a perfect second half the goal was still within reach.

I completed the 60 km in 6h 10 min, meaning my 2nd 30 km were as fast as my first. Which is good in general, but not perfect at Comrades, since especially after the half way mark there are not that many uphills any more and I should have been able to make up some time… Well I was still in a very good mood.

My wife and I during the race. The cow-ballon was very helpful for me to spot her while running

Axel and Silke Cows

Intense Cow-Support

As you can tell from the pictures: I had a good time and enjoyed the race. I told you already about the incredible support for all of us cows, and this made the race so much more fun!

Great support along the route

High five to my Dutch running friends

That’s how I thanked everyone who supported me by singing “I like to move it” or just making “mooooooooohhhh”

The traditional running picture with Marco 🙂

Yep, of course I met my friend Marco from Holland again on the route where he took the traditional running picture of the two of us again. Always great seeing you, Marco!

Very good tradition: Marco (Two Rivers Marathon) and I on the route of 2018 Comrades Marathon

Final 30 km

Now it becomes a “down run”.
There were still some nasty short hills to climb, but the real down run has begun and I managed to run 5:30 min/km and faster for quite some while. But not for long enough to make up enough time – and whenever there was a hill, I struggled.
I believe at around 70 km I realised that the sub 9 is not going to happen, and I was fine with it.
Final 30 km elevation chart (Comrades 2018 down run)

Final 30 km elevation chart (Comrades 2018 down run)

I took it a little bit easier, soaked up the atmosphere, the support, the scenery, the joy of living life to the fullest.
I must admit, in the end I was almost too tired to wave at the singing and “moooooohing” supporters – but I gave my best 🙂

Passing the previous finish

This year was the first time with a different finish venue.
They moved the finish from the always buzzing Kingsmead Cricket Stadium to the massive Moses Mabhida Stadium, which was built for the 2010 Football Worldcup (and where Germany lost the 2010 Worldcup semi-final in a disastrous way) – 2.5 km further down the road.
Yes, it means you run past the previous finish and you think “I could be done by now – and now I still need to run another 2.5 km… (*insert your preferred swear word*)”.
And that’s how I felt. I would have been able to finish in sub 9 hours if we would have finished at the old venue.

The stadium in the background, the cow in the front

But that didn’t matter, so I carried on running along an annoying route towards the stadium. Seeing the stadium is encouraging, but running along this final long stretch is not really exciting.

Atmosphere at the new stadium

The stadium looks impressive from the outside and from the inside. But it is HUGE with it’s capacity of more than 60,000 spectators.

Unfortunately, when you finish after 9 h and 15 min, there are not many spectators around – 80% of the field is still running… Therefore the atmosphere at the new stadium was…

…almost not existent. And that was quite different at the old venue, where the support was amazing even when finishing early.

After receiving your medal you have to leave the inner area of the stadium immediately and you move through the tunnels and ugly parts of such a stadium, climbing lots of stairs… Not exactly what you’d like to do after running for 90 km.

I don’t want to rant to much about the stadium. I don’t like it.

Axel at the 2018 Comrades finish

So, I finished in 9h 15 min 44 sec.

Not exactly what I wished for, but rather what I worked for and was fit enough to achieve. I am grateful to finish healthy and happy as a proud cow 😉 .

It’s still a PB on a down run (previous PB was 9h 26 min), and it was the longest run ever.

The stadium in the background, the cow in the front

Pushing a legend: Richard on his final km

You remember Richard, the guy with the amazing tattoos on his calfs.

Well, after my finish I met lots of friends from the Netherlands at the international area, then I moved over to the first class hospitality of my running club AAC, and then my wife and I started walking back to the hotel, approximately 45 min before the end of the race. It was about 2.5 km to walk…

On our way back we saw all the runners coming towards the stadium.

When we were about 1 or 1.5 km away from the stadium and with approximately 15 min before cut off (12 hours), I spotted Richard. He looked destroyed, to say it nicely. He was done. He could only walk slowly.

And I knew, if he wouldn’t commence running slowly, he would not make it, he would not get his well deserved green number (I get goosebumps while writing this).

Devastated Richard on his final km

As a runner myself I knew, now it was mind over matter. Of course he could still run, only his mind told him that he couldn’t.

So, while I was wearing flip-flops, I left my wife at the side of the road and told him to start running together with me. He started, but too fast, so I held him back slightly. For maybe 100 or 200 m I ran next to him and he had to promise to me that he would carry on until he reaches the finish.

Later he wrote a post that a few hundred meters later another cow saw him and also assisted him.

And this was the result…

HE MADE IT!!!

Richard, I am so proud of you!

Another incredible Comrades story: The guy with the crutch…

Comrades is full with incredible stories. Let me share another one with you…

Before you watch the video…

…think about something you believe you are not able to do. Something you’d really love doing, love achieving, but you believe that things are just not right.

Now watch this video and try not to get wet eyes…

Hilton Hotel Durban tradition: Ice bath

The Hilton Hotel in Durban is always my go-to place when running Comrades. Every year they add a little twist here and there for us runners, this year they had a professional looking first aid station next to the ice cube box. I still remember 2010, when there was nothing like this and I ordered ice cubes from room service 🙂

The “medical team” at Hilton Hotel Durban

Ice cubes, ice spray, bandages, and more at the Hilton Hotel Durban after the race. Amazing!

My race nutrition

No major changes to my race nutrition. If you want to get more details about my nutrition, just look at some of my older posts.

My food packages (pizza rolls, date balls, and coconut water; pizza leftover from dinner prior to the race is missing on the picture)

Coconut water – one of the best, refreshing, and replenishing drinks you can have during a race

Some pizza leftover, also for my food packages for the race

If you like my blog, please support me on my Comrades 2019 fundraising

May I ask you a favour?

If you really like my blog, I would really appreciate any sort of donation for my fundraising for The Cows at Comrades 2019.

Please follow this link, and every donation is highly appreciated – 5 Euro, 77 Euro, 500 US$, 700 ZAR, … whatever you can afford will help kids with cancer and their families to go through the toughest time of their lives. Running Comrades is nothing compared to what they go through.

THANK YOU VERY MUCH for your donation

Click here >>>>> https://www.givengain.com/ap/axelcomrades2019/

Final remarks about my 2018 Comrades

I enjoyed every part of this race and if I can only recommend running such a race for more than yourself.

Find a charity, a cause, a reason you are running for.

I am going to revisit my training strategy, continue working with my strength coach and running coach and aim for a sub 9 h finish in 2019 again. As a cow, of course.

My Garmin Connect data for Comrades 2018 Down Run