The Comrades Marathon has world class support for runners along the long route from Pietermaritzburg to Durban. For first timers it’s a good idea to incorporate the nutrition you will have access to on the day into your training well before you arrive in South Africa. There’s always plenty to choose from at the 49 aid stations along the way and if you aren’t discerning you can pay a heavy price:
In South Africa water in races and at Comrades is supplied in bags. This is a new experience for many overseas runners who are used to the difficult trick of grabbing a cup (without spilling half the contents) and juggling your gels or food with the cup and getting what remains down your gullet before spilling it all. The bags can be easily grabbed and tucked away if necessary. They contain 150 milligrams of water which enables you to get an accurate idea of how much you are consuming each hour. This is a key advantage over the traditional cup method which is hard to quantify due to varying levels and spillage.
There is an art form to biting just enough of the corner to be able to squeeze all the water out. Bite too hard and you get sprayed all over, not a great idea in the icy early stages of the race. If you are further down the back the plastic bags on the road surface can be a hazard so tread carefully through any areas that have not been cleaned. Each aid station is looked after by group of people (usually a company) and they are industrious about keeping the water flowing and the road surface safe.
2. Electrolyte replacement
Energade is supplied at each aid station in bags as well as water. If you have not trained with Energade it is a good idea to buy some on entry to South Africa and familiarise your gut with the drink in case you react to it. You do not want to find out that something disagrees with you on race day, that means a world of hurt. I count my water bags vs Energade carefully in case I ‘overdose’ on electrolyte replacement and get sick. I’ve seen a friend of mine do this. Only drink as much electrolytes replacement as you normally do in training (if at all).
3. Flat Coke/Pepsi
Serving flat Coke/Pepsi is common in South African races and especially at the Comrades. Don’t get happy on this unless you have done so in training. I only use this if things are starting to unwind badly and I feel that I need a sugar hit. This is always served flat so no problems with the fizz will be encountered.
Food offered can be bananas, oranges, chocolates, sweets (lollies), and potatoes. Along the way you’ll find sponsors handing out samples of a range of products such as nutrition bars, high-carb sweets (lollies) etc. There will be plenty kind souls along the way offering a range of sweets (lollies), fruit and if you are lucky some tasty boerewors (South African sausage with real meat). It pays to be disciplined and only eat according to your plan.
Your plan should include only food that you have consumed in training in the quantities and frequency that you have become accustomed to.
Running 90km can do strange things to your body, especially if you are introducing a whole new regime of liquid and nutrition replacement. I’ve seen mates get to halfway with vomiting and diarrhoea from simply grabbing whatever they are handed to either drink or eat. You’ve got to develop a detailed eating and drinking plan as part of your training and stick to it on the day. It will mean saying “no thanks” to a range of offerings that seem very tempting.
5. Bring Your Own
I prefer to operate on a BYO basis: I take all the gels I will use in an expandable belt as well as some emergency salt tablets, nipple plasters, and safety pins (for any issues with your race number which is critical to your ongoing race). I do take Energade (2 bags an hour) and I may grab the odd sweet when I feel depleted later on in the race for a bit of a difference. However, in order to stay true to my nutrition patterns developed in training I carry what I consume and I never leave things to chance.
The Golden Rule is never to consume what you haven’t in training, otherwise you might find yourself getting sick and making an already challenging day even harder.