I was in the medical tent, for the third year running, doing a research study, and so missed much of the race (next year, maybe I’ll watch it!). But it was once again a memorable race, though perhaps for different reasons. It’s a race that will be recalled for many years, or at least until the incredible 5:20 performance of Leonid Shvetsov is erased from the record books. Some are already saying that the record will stand for up to 20 years (the previous one stood for 21), I suspect that there were signs that Shvetsov will only run faster next time we head from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.
For one thing, he was not challenged over the final 30km, effectively running a time-trial in conditions that few would suggest were good for long distance running. Another factor, of course, is the temperature – it was a much warmer day than previous years. And then finally, the manner of his victor, and perhaps more importantly, the time differences between himself and second, and also other gaps within the top 10 suggest that today was NOT a good day for ultra running. No other man broke 5:30, and the tenth best time was a lot slower than in previous years. On a good day, Shvetsov can break 5:15 – watch this space for 2009, and remember, you read it here first!
But it once again re-inforces the importance of speed – Shvetsov is a man with a 2:10 marathon, a time that is quicker than just about any South Africans can run, let alone those whose focus is on the ultras. And that speed means that a halfway split of 2:43 is a comfortable pace, whereas those who have 2:20 in their legs are much closer to what one might call a “tempo pace”, reducing the preservation time. So how do we compete with the Russians? Simple answer, less focus on marathons and ultras and more on speed, because until we produce a crop of 28 minute 10 km runners who can one day graduate to 2:10 marathons, we’ll be chasing Eastern Europeans every June 17th!!
Tomorrow, I’ll post about the “back end” of the race – the medical tent, the masses and the parts that people don’t see on television. So check us out for some insight into what really happens in the Comrades marathon, what it takes to run 90 km on a hot day, and how these men and women survive and conquer a trip that most would only make in a car!