No one sleeps well the night before the Comrades Marathon. And tonight, Saturday night, August 27, will be no exception, as thousands of fellow runners try to count the sheep while their nerves are rattling and the butterflies in their stomachs are more like angry swarms of bees.

It doesn’t help that they’ll be sleeping in other people’s beds with different pillows, while being constantly bothered by runners in the next room who keep flushing the toilet and turning the lights on and off while they prepare their running gear for the morning.

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Earlier I had closed my eyes tightly and tried to force myself to sleep, but under my closed lids my eyeballs were wide open and staring and my mind was already racing with what race tactics I should employ the next morning. How early should I start, what time should I run through Drummond (halfway)?

Relax and have fun

I’d like to take solace in the old man’s advice that pre-race sleep isn’t as important as “night before” sleep. In other words, the quality of sleep on Friday is what really matters for fellow beginners.

I was also comforted by my firm belief that it was important to enjoy Comrades as much as possible and have as much fun as possible. The words “relax” and “have fun” were always written on my hands in indelible ink to remind me when I was running and looking at my hands that I shouldn’t take things too seriously.

“Slow and Smart”

I’ve always started every Comrades marathon very cautiously and I can’t help stressing that the best way for beginners to start their first Comrades is slow and smart

Comrades do not reward the brave and courageous, they reward the humble.

Starting like a coward means starting cautiously, holding back, treating the challenge with immense respect and keeping in mind that there are 90 tough, hilly kilometers ahead.

The start of the “Comrade Marathon” is extremely emotional, it’s terribly easy to get carried away. The National Anthem, Shoshallooza, Chariots of Fire and Max Trimborne’s Rooster Call all conspire to get the heart rate up and the adrenaline pumping, and the sight of thousands of runners streaming by can tempt many first-timers to start too fast.

The first 20 kilometers

In the first stages of the race, novice runners need to restrain themselves as much as possible, restrain their enthusiasm, and disguise themselves under quiet shadows. The first 20 kilometers should be very easy, runners should feel like they are floating in a dream.

Every descent should be treated with respect, especially the early steep 2km Polly Shorts. Too many runners attack Polly Shorts coming down the mountain, joking about how little they have to fear from this monster mountain. They have something to fear.

It is very important to maintain and condition your quadriceps on each descent because those quadriceps will come in very handy in the final stages of the race. No one should attack the downhill, runners should float down the hills, letting gravity do its work.

Fellow runners must ignore all distance markers during the early and middle stages. They are pointless and are powerful motivation killers. Sadistically, the distance markers at Comrades are in descending, reverse order, so that at Polly Shortts, runners will pass a distance sign that signals “80 kilometers to go”, much later they will have another “67 kilometers to go”.

Landmark to landmark

What does that mean? It just means there’s still an incredibly long way to go. Runners must run a race from landmark to landmark. Ditch the Polly Shorts, run through Camperdown Village, Catta Ridge and Harrison Flats. Climb Inchang Hill.

With 21 kilometers to go, distance markers become useful tools. Now the distance left to run is realistic, familiar (10km, just my morning run, 5km, just parkrun).

Runners need to push themselves by feeding off the energy of the crowd, they are some of the most passionate fans you will ever meet. Enjoy the racing traditions (don’t forget to say hello to Arthur Newton and take off your hat with a “Good morning Arthur” greeting as you pass Arthur’s place). Admire the Wall of Pride, beginners choose a place for your board on this wall.

The support of the “Comrades” fans will help the runners get closer to the finish line. Photo: Anesh Debiky/Gallo Images

And when the going gets tough, as it will (the humidity and the hills of Pinetown from 19km to the end are particularly grueling), runners have to tell themselves that if it was easy, anyone could do it. They should mutter the following mantra under their breath: “I want to write my paragraph in the history of this great race, and I am not ‘who.’

Finally, runners, especially beginners, should try to freeze a moment, a memory or two from the end of the race, so that if they ever feel down, alone, or disappointed in themselves, they can go back to that moment and unfreeze it and remind themselves : “Once I ran a marathon with my friends.”

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