And here we go again. Comrades Number 7 for me and the 94th edition of the greatest Ultra Marathon.


Comrades training and race strategy for 2019 Comrades

Right from the beginning of the year, it was clear to me that this year’s up-run wouldn’t be an attempt for a new personal best (that would mean better than 8hours and 49 min for the 87 km) or at least a Bill Rowan medal (faster than 9 hours).
How‘s that? I mainly attribute it to my failed attempt to improve my marathon PB (3h30) in October (Cologne Marathon) last year. I had trained like a maniac, hired a high profile running coach, and did speed sessions 2-3x per week at paces my legs had not seen before. After missing my PB by 4 min I was so disappointed. I did not want to run for 3 weeks (I also was sick after the marathon) and returned to running only slowly in December.
Long story short: I had to build my endurance almost from the ground. My first long run in 2019 only happened late in January.
I did not do any speed sessions, intervals, or hill repeats. I focused on endurance. Supported by strength (core) training at the gym twice a week.
This Comrades is also going to be my first as a #nomeatathlete vegetarian runner. After reducing the consumption of meat substantially in 2018, I stopped eating meat at all on the first of January 2019.

Axel doing strength training at the gym (front squats)

My Two Oceans Ultra (11th for me) was a very slow 5h 35 min, but I felt strong during the run and especially after the race. I recovered really well. The time between Oceans and Comrades was also very short this year, making it difficult to recover, re-ignite the training, and taper all within 7 weeks.
I also had to travel for business between both races, making me skip another 50km training run about 3-4 weeks before Comrades. This is what I usually would have done. Not running an additional ultramarathon training run made me question myself if I would have enough endurance in my body. But I knew, that was more a mental game than a question of fitness level. Based on my 11 years of running Ultra Marathons, I knew that the build-up for Oceans and Comrades was good.
From 1st of January until race day I had completed
  • 1313 km of running and
  • 21 strength sessions at the gym.

Fundraising for the CHOC cows

It became a tradition for me to run not only for myself but also for a good cause.
I continued to collect donations and run for the CHOC cows, the famous South African charity focusing on supporting children with cancer (and their families as well). Last year I won the top-fundraiser award from the CHOC Cows and was 4th overall in the Comrades charity runner ranking.
Beating last year‘s result was my goal for this year as I approached several of my international clients (corporates and individuals) to donate. I managed to do it. Not by much, but I did 🙂
I am extremely grateful for all their donations, getting me on the top spot amongst the CHOW cow fundraisers again, as well as on the second rank overall with R 82314.58 (approx. EUR 5140).
2019 Comrades Race4Charity Result

2019 Comrades Race4Charity Result – 2nd overall


Thank you to Stefan, Kim, Holger, Liv, Fred, Thomas, Ralf, Allan, Steffi, Patrick.
The unbeaten master of fundraising Dean Wight repeated his outstanding result from 2018 and managed to raise more than R 350,000 (more than EUR 20,000!). Respect!
For me, collecting money for people in need turns the whole run away from a quite solitude sport into something with a much bigger meaning. And it helps during tough parts of the race, remembering that a child with cancer can’t just stop as I could during a race in case I would get tired of running. A Comrades marathon is nothing compared to what cancer patients of any age go through!

New Comrades recruit from Germany

But I do not only enjoy trying to convince corporates into donating money. I also enjoy speaking about Comrades, running, and the CHOC cows with my talk ‚Purpose, Passion, and Persistence‘ (sometimes extended by another ‚P‘ called ‚Performance‘) for corporates.
During one of these talks in 2018 at the summer event of FitX, a highly successful and growing chain of fitness clubs in Germany (similar to Virgin Active in SA, but with 24/7 access), I spoke in front of 450 of their staff.

One of them was Gert Fischer, an outstanding marathon (PB: 2h 39) ultramarathon runner as well as an Ironman (I mean serious Kona-level). He heard me speak about Comrades and was hooked. Just like me in 2007, when I got bitten by the Two Oceans-bug.

Together with FitX he made a plan and signed up.
He flew to Durban and had a wonderful time – his first time in South Africa. He sent me a message on the day he arrived saying he already had become a fan of Comrades. 3 days prior to the race. 😉
Gert and Axel at 2019 Comrades Expo

Gert and Axel at 2019 Comrades Expo

And boy did he have a race. 7h 09min as a novice, earning a very solid silver medal. Amazing, or how my CHOC cows would say, amoooooozing 🙂
Congrats Gert, looking forward and hoping to see you for your back to back in 2020.

Registration and Expo

As every year, on Friday, we arrived on a plane from Cape Town which was filled with runners and their supporters.
The registration went not as smooth as during the last couple of years: For whatever reason, the Comrades organizers removed the separate registration for charity runners. Very, very disappointing. As a small gesture towards the charity runners, they could at least give us the advantage of skipping the queues when picking up our numbers.
Anyway, after the disappointment vanished, I got my number and we went to visit the expo.
The Comrades branded stuff by Mizuno, technical sponsor of Comrades, was underwhelming once again. They don’t even seem to understand how running works, offering, for instance, running shorts with not a single pocket at all. Not one!
The rest of the expo was ok, but nothing special. With several big names not showing up! No Adidas, no Salomon, no New Balance, no Nike, ….
But there is always one highlight. The CHOC cow stand.
Not only do they sell amooozing cow branded stuff, they also had a trophy for me rewarding my fundraising efforts. I love the crazy cow I received 🙂
Of course, I don‘t do it for the award. But receiving it as a little reward for my efforts to raise money makes me happy 🙂
Axel receiving top fundraiser award at 2019 Comrades for the COWS

Axel receiving top fundraiser award at 2019 Comrades for the COWS


Saturday – pre-race day

Saturday morning is the traditional Durban North Beach leg loosened trot, where I run easy 2-3 km, while my wife runs about 10 km. I like to sit at the promenade and soak up the atmosphere generated by thousands of runners.

Traditional Saturday morning run at Durban beach

Especially seeing the buses (pacesetter and their groups) singing is quite a thing!
The rest of Saturday is filled with doing nothing. Sitting, relaxing, putting up the legs, going for dinner early.

Race shoes securely stored in the hotel safe

This year was the first time since I run Comrades (2010) with a slight chance of rain in the early hours of race day.
And Saturday afternoon served everything to make runners nervous: Heavy rain was pouring down…
I personally don‘t mind running in the rain, but wasn‘t quite intrigued by the idea of getting wet feed during the first hour of the race and running for another 8 or so hours with wet shoes.
But we were very lucky: No rain in the morning, but a pleasant overcast sky instead, with wet roads from the night’s rain.

Race morning

Get up now

Time to get up early

It's race day

It’s race day

My alarm went off at 3:15 am, a quick visit to the bathroom followed by a breakfast at the Hilton hotel in Durban together with a huge number of runners. Many of them looking quite nervous. Which is understandable.
This year I was as calm as never before. Most likely because I did not feel the pressure of running a really good time and knowing what was about to come today.
My breakfast:
  • Cappuccino (with almond milk, I can‘t digest cow‘s milk, even if I run as a cow)
  • Two slices of brown toast with peanut butter/jam
  • 1 banana
  • Approx. 200 ml of almond milk with soaked chia seeds and some jam (soaked them over night)
At 4:20 I said goodbye to my wonderful wife, who would support me on the route again, and made my way to the start. Which was a convenient, easy 10 min walk from the hotel, together with about 20,000 other runners.
On my way, I met a South African runner, who only started running Comrades after moving to Australia, and who returned to Durban for his Back 2 Back-medal. He mentioned: „I could have gotten to the start cheaper than flying in from Australia if I’d have attempted to run the Big C a couple of years earlier 😉
We laughed and then he entered the D-seeding batch while I made my way to the C-batch.

Porta Loo Queue

Do you suffer from the ‘pre-race weak bladder-syndrome‘ 😉 ?
Then you might have been in the massive queue at the port-a-loos right after entering the start area.
You wouldn’t have needed to wait for 20 min. Next time, just carry on moving towards the start line and you’ll see dozens of empty loos 🙂

Pre-race relaxation

The temperature was pleasant with approx. 16 – 18°C. That’s really nice, when you have to sit/stand and wait for another hour in the seeding pen, waiting for the start at 5:30 am. I sat on the pavement, relaxed for another 30 min, until everybody has to get up on their feet when the seeding pens start to merge.
I was in the first 1/3 of batch C, and when the pens merge, you can get very close to the start line. I was maybe 30m away from it, and therefore it’s not such a big deal in terms of time lost between the gun goes off and crossing the start line (races in South Africa are “gun to mat” and not “net time” in case you wonder).
I’ve mentioned before how emotional the start procedure always feels: The national anthem, Shosholoza, Chariots of fire, the rooster and then the gun. I trust nobody, who has ever been at the start of Comrades, will ever hear Chariots of fire again and not relive the moments before the start.
I felt very relaxed at the start and looked forward to the race.

The race: First third

The first almost 40 km of a Comrades up-run are uphill (what a surprise), with some downhills thrown in.
As you can see in this pace-chart, my pace was mainly in the range of 6:00 – 6:30 min/km, with some faster sections on downhills and some slower sections when it got steeper. At km 23 – 24, going up Fields Hill, I walked for the first time during this race. Otherwise, for the first 30 km, I perceived all hills as runnable.
The pace was a bit faster than what I would need for a 9h 30 min finish, but I felt strong and always watched my heart rate to stay mainly in the 150 – 155 range. I never considered trying to go for a sub 9 hour finish. I knew, it would have destroyed me.
2019 Comrades pace km 1 - 30

2019 Comrades pace km 1 – 30 for 9h35min finish

I started eating about 40 min into the race and my plan was to eat every 20 – 25 min thereafter.
Unlike in previous years, I did not religiously watch my eating times, but I was very much in tune with what I should have done. Maybe an advantage of ultramarathon running for more than a decade.
As always, my nutrition was based on pizza leftovers and date balls.

Pizza leftover from the night before

Pizza leftover from the night before

3 packs of food (date balls + pizza)

3 packs of food (date balls + pizza)



For the first 30 km, I only drank water and no Coke at all. I knew the time for sugar water would come later.
As usual, I also had a water bottle with me from the start. This bottle lasts for approximately 1 hour until I need to take water from the water tables. The main reason for me: the water tables often are very busy in the beginning, until all runners realize how the tables are arranged and that there is no need to grab water from the very first person with a water sachet – since there will be another 20 people with water waiting for you for the next 50 m 🙂

The usual picture: Axel and Marco at Comrades 2019

The usual picture: Axel and Marco

Somewhere between km 20 and 25 the mandatory meeting happened: My friend Marco from the Netherlands, organizer of the Two Rivers Marathon, called my name. We spend some time together, took some photos, spoke about our plans until we separated again. He missed the 10 hour mark unfortunately, but got a very solid Bronze medal.

The following picture is taken at Fields Hill, the 2nd of the 5 major hills (not to mention the 100 small ones). A 3 km incline.


Fields Hill after approx. 20 km


Salt, salt, salt

My salt intake was much higher this year and whenever I saw someone standing on the road, no matter if at an official water table or a generous spectator, I let them put some salt on my hand, lick it with my tongue, and drink some water right afterward. I always kept some water to wash my left hand – you don’t want to have salt on your fingers, forget about it, and rub it into your eyes later on 🙂
I think I did this 8 – 10x during the race, and I believe that’s one of the reasons I did not have any issues with cramps whatsoever!

The next picture is taken at Winston Park, just before I was going to meet my wife.

Winston Park at 2019 Comrades Marathon

Axel passing Winston Park during 2019 Comrades Marathon

At Hillcrest I ran past the massive cow gazebo with an amazing vibe! That was absolutely amooooozing 🙂
And then, after about 3 hours and a bit, I met with my wife for the first time to restock on food and get my beloved coconut water. We chatted for a few seconds, I took my food pack and the coconut water, and off I went.

My wife Silke and Axel on the route of the 2019 Comrades

My wife Silke and Axel on the route of the 2019 Comrades

My pace was almost spot on for a 9h 30 min finish, rather about 5 min ahead of time and feeling strong.
During this first third of the race I met Jayde, the “Daisy from the CHOC Cows” multiple times and we had so much fun since she believed that seeing me meant that she was too fast 🙂 Congrats Jayde on your great race!

The race: second third

I carried on running as I usually do 🙂 Calm, relaxed, smiling, ‘moooohing’ a lot, and soaking up the atmosphere.
As you can see, my pacing was on track also for the second third of the race.

2019 Comrades pace km 30 – 59 for 9h35min finish


Happy to go through halfway mark

Axel passing the half way mark of the 2019 Comrades Marathon

Axel passing the halfway mark of the 2019 Comrades Marathon

The second half is very well supported with hundreds of thousands of people and families along the route. I love it!
Big shout out to all my loyal blog readers who spoke with me during the run. And, as we discussed, please leave a message at the bottom of this blog post. And if I ran past you but I did not speak with you, please leave a message as well 🙂
You are the reason why I write these long blog posts!

The last third of the race…

…is where you will notice if your endurance training pays off or not.

Since I did not feel any cramps, checked my heart rate carefully to stay in the 155 BPM range, taking in all the salt, and eating on a regular basis, I felt strong for the final 30 km.

Can you believe that I was looking forward to running up Polly Shorts?

I was really looking forward to Polly Shorts for two reasons:

  1. After getting over Polly Shorts the final stretch would be (almost) completely downhill, yeah
  2. Going up Polly Shorts means the permission 😉 to walk, and I was looking forward to some walking

The mental part of the race

For the last third, running is much more a mental than a physical game.

There were many situations where my mind wanted to trick me into walking. But I won the fight and kept running.

2019 Comrades pace km 59 – 88 for 9h35min finish

And finally, I got to the finish in Pietermaritzburg.
It’s a new venue compared to my last up run in 2015 and the final maybe 100 m are very wobbly. They put artificial grass on top of what must be a field or so. It did not feel great running on that surface, but hey, I was at the finish 🙂
Axel finishing the 2019 Comrades Marathon

The final, wobbly straight to my 7th Comrades finish 2019

I am super happy with the result, 9h 35 min is one of my slower Comrades finishes, but I don’t care about the time.

Receiving the new Robert Mtshali Medal

For the first time in the history of Comrades the Robert Mtshali medal was handed out to runners finishing between 9 and 10 hours.

In the past, all runners between 9 and 11 hours received the bronze medal. From this year on, you receive the Robert Mtshali medal for a 9-10 hour finish, and the traditional bronze medal for 10-11 hours. I feel honored being one of the first to receive this medal! Robert Mtshali was the first, inofficial, black person to run and finish the Comrades Ultra Marathon in 1935. His time was 9h 30 min. It took until 1975, when the race finally was opened officially to men and women of all races.

Robert Mtshali Comrades Medal

Traffic madness

The biggest downside of this years race was the traffic madness my wife encountered after our second meeting. It took her 4.5 hours to cover 30 km on the road because of an extremely busy national road, packed with TRUCKS and spectators. She missed my finish by 1 hour! This had never happened before.

The Comrades Marathon Organisation has to take action on this traffic problem and 1.) cap the number of runners allowed for the up run to 17,500 runners and 2.) block the national road for trucks on race day.

Ice bath, dinner, and recovery

Ice bath

Post race ice bath preparations

After a 1 hour drive back from the finish to our hotel in Durban I jumped into my traditional ice bath again.

This year it went much smoother than in the past. Maybe because I prepared myself for the last 6 months or so by taking ice cold showers… This ice bath felt really good.

95 km/day (Garmin Fenix 5 battery still at 45%)

My wife, Gert from Germany, and I enjoyed our dinner at the hotel restaurant until we called it a day.


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