Preparing for the world’s biggest ultra-marathon is as easy as pie

The Comrades Marathon is somewhat of a rite of passage for international ultra-marathon runners, covering the 87 kilometres between the towns of Durban and Pietermartizburg in South Africa. It is the world’s largest and oldest ultra-marathon race, and was first contested in 1921 to commemorate those who passed in the Great War.

This event takes the leading elites 5 and a half hours to complete, but it is very much a broad participation race, and the spectacular finish being the race for the amateurs to make the 12 hour cut-off mark, with roughly half of those that finish coming through the line in the final hour.

Preparing to do anything physical for anything up to an unbroken 12 hours requires preparation and planning from a variety of facets, and the performance pie was a helpful resource in the many weeks building up to the race. The performance pie is a readiness tool that PlanetK2 have developed over the last several decades to prepare individuals to both think about how to get ready, as well as equip them with a monitoring and tracking mechanism to guide performers through moments that matter.

This is how it helped me to prepare to be ready for the hardest thing I have ever had to get my body through:

Technical Readiness

What skills and knowledge will I need to do this?

Despite being involved in competitive sport my whole adult life, technical readiness required me to go ‘back to school’ and learn how to prepare technically from scratch as this was an unchartered distance for me. From mileage, pace to rest and recovery, it was essential to understand how to prepare in each specific phase in the several months of build up.

My key mindset here: Trust your preparation has got the body and mind where it needs to be.

Tactical Readiness

Have I got all of the tactics that I need to deliver the outcome?

The challenge was made manageable knowing that I had a plan. Studying the terrain maps and breaking the course down into sections, each with a set of tactics to use in them. What really made a difference was the visible measures of success along the way, in the form of pace charts and milestones to constantly aim at. 

Tactical readiness also involved being prepared for things not to go to plan- and things did indeed go off piste when my support crew couldn’t get to me in the whole second half of the race! 

Key mindset here: Have a plan. Stick to the plan. Be ready to adjust as needed.

Physical Readiness 

How well am I creating and maintaining the energy I need to perform?

Being such a physically demanding experience, energy creation, consumption and maintenance were key. Nutrition, hydration, sleep and rest all needed to be adapted in the months leading up to the event and equally where intake was carefully planned for the full duration.

Key mindset here: Maintain freshness as long as possible. Hold back initially because you will need the freshness in the later stages. 

Mental Readiness

How’s my mental readiness for the demands I face?

Being calm and collected was key. Mental freshness was going to be as important as the physical aspect, so developing mental cues to use in the key stages became important. The goal was to become bored before you become tired and sore, so keeping the mind fresh and focused was helpful.

Key mindset here: When things are tough they will get easier. When they are feeling easier, they will get tough again. Just hang in there. 

Emotional Readiness

How good is the support I get from the people that matter to me – characterised by trust, care and mutual support?

The support crew were vital, both from an emotional and physical support perspective. Supporting the logistics and coordinating the nutrition was vital with high traffic and dynamic circumstances. Knowing that they were on call to help me meet each section took a huge weight off the process. We were all confident knowing that roles and expectations were clear.

Key mindset here: Make sure I give my support team the necessary information and instructions to empower them to play their role.

Contextual Readiness

How well is my environment helping my readiness to perform?

Having to travel across the country to get to the race presented some challenges from a cost and logistics perspective, but nothing that couldn’t be overcome. We had a family support network not too far away from the race venue which meant that I could just focus on getting my job done.

Key mindset here: Clear any obstacles out the way to adapt to the demands of your context. Be proactive- don’t leave it to chance!

And after all of that…I was ready! Success!!! First (perhaps last) Comrades Marathon is in the bag.

Readiness rarely happens by accident. Use the performance pie to help you prepare for your next big moments that are important to you.

Here is a guide on how to use the performance pie