Never before had the Comrades seen such poetic running, such effortless mastery, and such athletic perfectionindeed, such complete excellence.
What he has perfected is consistency. He has never yet had a bad race. This must be because he has controlled all the variables that determine ultramarathon success. And in doing so, he has made the most important observations about training for the short ultramarathons since Arthur Newton. Let us see how he came to his ideas (Fordyce, 1985).
He is convinced that with a little more racing experience he might have done even better.
Bruce subsequently told me that this performance made him suspect that runners like Newton (see Exercises 5.1) and Mekler (see Exercises 8.24) had possibly trained too much for the race. Bruce was particularly impressed by Dave Levick’s Comrades performance in 1971, when on a grand total of only 130 km training in January and February, he ran one of the great Comrades, finishing second in 5:48:53 and going on to win the 1971 London-to-Brighton race in record time. Thus Fordyce concluded that high training mileage in January and February was probably not necessary.
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With the insight of the athletic genius that he is, Fordyce resolved not to follow the usual pattern exhibited by most runners who, tasting success for the first time in a marathon or ultramarathon, conclude that they would do even better next time by training a much higher mileage. (For example, compare Jackie Mekler’s
Comrades training in 1958 and 1959 versus 1963 and 1965 (see Exercises 8.24).) Rather, Fordyce decided to keep his total training distance down, and following the lead of another Comrades multiwinner, Alan Robb, Fordyce introduced more speed work and hill training.
So for the 1979 race, he increased his training distance for January to May by only 800 km and has since kept this distance at about 2,900 km for the last 5 months each year before the race. Since then, his major training refinements have been to define exactly what type of speed training he requires and when. He has also discovered that it is not possible to race ultramarathons too frequently, particularly leading up to the Comrades.
Running the Comrades and London-to-Brighton ultramarathons within 14 weeks of each other has led Fordyce to conclude that many long runs are not essential for successful distance running. Because he takes 4 to 6 weeks to recover from the Comrades and tapers for the last 2 weeks before the London-to-Brighton race, he has only 6 to 8 weeks to prepare for the latter. During the period between these two races in 1983, he was able to run only two runs of 50 km or longer. Despite that, he ran one of the world’s fastest times for 50 miles in the 1983 London-to-Brighton race.
The only hiccups in his progress have been injuries that occurred in March of 1979 and 1980 and in February 1982. He believes that these resulted from starting
Specific Comrades training too soon, and this has further convinced him of the need to be careful in January and February and to introduce intensive speed training only later. Of particular interest is that despite the low mileage he ran in February 1982 (282 km) due to injury, he still won the Comrades that year.
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