This column is off the Super Athletics website - www.superathletics.co.za.
Only twenty Comrades runners can get gold. A Silver medal (under 7h30) therefore becomes the sought after goal for the semi-elite runner and a Bill Rowan (under 9 hrs) for the better than average runner.
So what do Silver medal runners look like? And who should be shooting for this goal on 30th May?
Silver medal runners do more mileage than any other medal group (1,750km from January to June), weigh less (66kg) and tend to have been less frequently injured in the build-up to Comrades. There are two groups of Silver runners:
- Those who finish in under 6hrs 45mins (the very fast blokes (and some ladies), the kind who can run 2:35 marathons), and
- Those who finish between then and 7hrs 30mins (the 2:50 marathoners, who train as hard but lack the critical leg speed).
Sub 6:45: In the 2004 Comrades UP run, 106 men finished in under 6:45. They had all run qualifying races at under 4mins/km, the average being 3:48min/kay – which equates to a 2:40 marathon or 3:35 Two Oceans. This allowed them to go through halfway in 2:56 and do the second half in 3:01 – the most evenly matched splits in the entire field. The biggest blow was a 2:48 first half and 3:56 second half. There were six women in this time category, they had run qualifiers at 4min/km pace and slowed by 12mins in the second half.
6:45 to 7:30: Four hundred and six men finished between 6:45 and 7:30. The most obvious difference between this lot and the sub 6:45’ers is that they ran the second half much slower than the first (3:16 and 3:59 – a 42min difference). These runners had run qualifying events over a wide range of times, from a 2:27 to a 3:15 marathon, the average being at a race pace of 4:12 min/km – a 2:56 marathon. Eight women finished with these men, their qualifying times fractionally slower (a 3 hr marathon) and they went through halfway in the same average time as the men but slowed down by only 12 minutes.
7:30 to 8:00: More interesting though than the men and women who get Silver medals are those who miss them. The runners who finish between 7hrs 30 mins and 8hrs hours can reasonably be classified as the ‘missed Silvers’ and the stats would bear this out. There were six women in this group. All but 20 of the 359 male runners who finished in under 8 hours had gone through halfway less than 3:45. This suggests that a Silver medal (double 3:45) was their goal. Forty percent had qualifying times equivalent to those who did get Silvers, but 19 had run qualifying races slower than 5mins per km. This suggests the common mis-belief that ‘all you have to do to get a Silver is be able to run at 5mins/km’. Sure, but that person is one who can 4mins/km in a race half the distance. Three of this group had run negative splits, waking up to the fact at halfway that they might still get a Silver medal if they put their foot on it, but missing by minutes.
8:00 to 9:00: And it doesn’t end there. The rest of the finishing field is strewn with failed Silver attempts. Another 646 men and 5 women went through halfway in under 3:45 and 90% ended up with Rowan medals in the 8:00-(9:00 hr range). Were these runners realistic in attempting a Silver medal or did they just go out too fast? Thirty percent (195) had qualifying times that suggested a Silver was possible, but 64% had run about a 3:30 hr marathon as a qualifier. Thus they went through halfway at their standard marathon pace and therefore had little hope of holding it together for the second half – as evidenced by the average 56mins extra it took them to get from Drummond to the finish.
So, what do all these numbers tell us? That:
- The sub 6:45 hr runners are the absolute elite but also the most consistent in their performance relative to ability.
- That the 6:45 hr to 7:30 hr Silvers are sub three hour marathon runners who have a good day and manage to run the first half in under 3:30 hrs and not die in the second half.
- The borderline Silvers are those with marathon qualifiers between 2:55 hr and 3:05 hr, or who haven’t done the mileage or who are currently even slightly injured (any one or all of these three puts you on the risk list)
- That there are more failed than achieved Silvers.
- That you don’t get a Silver by hoping for it: a comfortable sub 3hr marathon (preferably sub 2:55 hr), at least 1,700kms in training between January and June, good pace judgment and a conservative race strategy – allowing for a slower second half – are the key factors.
- Simply getting to Drummond in under 3:30 hr is no guarantee of a Silver. Any reasonably capable runner can do that!