Renier Grobler’s Comrades Marathon quest for gold continues in 2017. He joins us on this episode of 32Gi Sports Nutrition to share his experience, ambitions and how he fuels around it. Ultra running is no mean feature, it is a science for sure. Renier’s tips may just help you excel at your next ultra marathon,
Welcome back to 32Gi Sports Nutrition I’m Mr Active, David Katz and it’s a great pleasure today to welcome ultra marathon runner Renier Grobler onto the podcast. Renier is coming off a fantastic result. We have fantastic ultras in South Africa and one of the big ones is the Old Mutual Om die Dam, Renier finishing in ninth there. Renier, just talk us through that race. It is renowned within South Africa, but no so much overseas, but what is the appeal of it? 50km, it’s a tough run and ninth is a phenomenal result.
Renier Grobler: Look David, thanks for having me on the podcast, it’s an honour to be here. Om die Dam, it was the 27th year running and it’s a very tough ultra at Hartbeespoort Dam, normally it’s very hot there at the dam and it’s a very hilly course. So I think it’s a good preparation for any guy looking to run a good Comrades or even going for good Oceans, to do a bit of a tempo run or just look where you’re at.
I would say that’s my like prelim exam, before the big exam in Comrades and then I use that just to look where I’m at, where my training is at, if I can get to the paces I want to. Last year I ran 3:08 and positioned sixth overall, so this year the guys were very fast. I ran 3:06, so I got a PB of two minutes on the 50km and I placed 9th.
Ultra distance runners stepping up a gear
DK: What do you think the reason for that was, was it conditions, but just in general, I know for a long time, with even the Two Oceans, but Comrades, South African runners weren’t coming through. All of a sudden with both the men and the women the South Africans really are pushing hard. Do you think the guys are just generally pushing each other harder now and running faster times for it?
RG: I think so and I think we’re actually very talented in the marathon and ultra distance community. Last year the winning time was 2:59, this year they won in 2:53. I think you get the guys that are fast in 21’s and 42’s, they’ve got the leg speed, so they come to the ultras. Sometimes they can ‘vasbyt’ at the end and they can just pull off a remarkable run like Colin Parura, the guy that won.
He’s a Zimbabwean but he’s normally on the 21km/42km, he’s doing well on those distances and I know he’s been like a TV runner on Comrades. He would run for hot spots and then just jog to the end and it seems like he’s trying to make the step-up now.
DK: A lot of ultras are around the 50km, just over 56km if you’re looking at the Two Oceans, the Comrades is a whole different kettle of fish. To be around 90km, these guys have this experience, they have the speed running 21km and then of course marathon, that is much harder for them to sort of translate that form into running Comrades, it’s a whole different kind of run isn’t it?
RG: For sure. I think there’s something special about the Comrades, it’s littered with mountains and also yes, the Comrades I think, it’s not just bringing speed and endurance, but you also have to run a clever race. I think for me it’s to distribute your energy levels evenly through the whole marathon.
I think that’s the athletes that run that race successfully, like a Bruce Fordyce could to and also we saw Caroline two years ago, running a brilliant up-run and just distributing her energy perfectly. It was so perfect that she could run the fastest split the last 8km, even faster than the men.
Getting your fuelling right for a Comrades
DK: Talking about that and distributing energy, you’ve got to know your pace, you’ve got to know how you run, how you perform. But at the same time a lot of that does, of course, revolve around how you’re fuelling for the race and personally, it’s an important thing with Comrades isn’t it? Your fuelling can make or break your race?
RG: For sure, I think you can be a six hour finisher and if your nutrition is not sorted out, you can have a long day and finish in seven or eight hours. I think nutrition is a very important part and I’ve played around. It’s my seventh Comrades this year and I’ve been around and played around and looked what works for me and what-not. I think every athlete differs, but I think it’s very important to sort that out before the race and maybe test a few drinks and see what works for you.
If I can give you a small brief, I take about 60-70g carbs in per hour and I weigh about 62kg, so to get that measurement right, I think it’s important. Then some people sweat more than others, so I don’t sweat a lot, so I drink about 600-750ml per hour. Where I know a guy that works with me, Albie Geldenhuys, he’s also an ex-Comrades Gold Medallist, he used to drink 1.1 litres per hour because of his sweat rate.
DK: Very important, as you say, to know and to try that and in any race, don’t try anything new on race day. But Comrades, that practice, that preparation becomes even more important doesn’t it? That importance of either doing an ultra before, even if you don’t go and race it, or doing a long club run is very important and it gives you that time there to really try that nutrition.
Practice, Practice, Practice (your nutrition)
RG: Very important point that you make there, people get carried away and then they want to try new stuff. Just stick with what you know and stick with your plan and then very important to try it out. I call it a bit of a dress rehearsal, like Om die Dam was a dress rehearsal.
So I would test my drinks and see if everything is okay for Comrades. You can do a club run, I know Magnolia always organises that 65km run, you can test your drinks there or the Easter Run that they host over Easter weekend, that 100km. If you’re not going to Oceans, you can test your drinks there or even just in a marathon. I think it’s very important, on the day you need to know what you need to do and what you need to take in.
DK: Renier, you were talking about how many carbohydrates you need, how much liquid you need, how does weather and conditions affect that? I don’t know if you ran it, but that 2013 Comrades, I had a terrible failed attempt.
But everyone was saying it was the worst conditions in a long time. It was so humid on the start in Durban, then you got halfway and you had this head on berg wind, conditions like that, how do you readjust during that race? In terms of liquid and different nutrition that you might need to take on or do you stick to your plan as you had it?
RG: So I can relate to you, I had a nightmare Comrades as well that year, that’s my slowest Comrades ever, I had a bad one. That was a very hot day and that wind that was blowing, but I think you can, what I normally do, when I see it’s hot I wet myself a lot.
I don’t necessarily drink more, but I wet myself a lot more and I try to keep cool, but I think you must drink to thirst. Sometimes people drink too much and you get your athletes that drink too little, but on a hot day like that, I’m sure most people will drink more and will drink to thirst. Sometimes people just drink because they want to drink but it’s important to drink to thirst as well.
The key to a good Comrades
DK: That’s a very good point as well. People think they need more in, but it’s more about keeping yourself cool and I think I’ve made that mistake in a few hot trail races as well. Keep the outside cold as well as drinking. Renier, some tips now, Comrades, as you said, it’s a big goal for you year in and year out, you talked about having your measurements right. But some other tips that you might have for people who are a little bit more experienced in and around Comrades when it comes to nutrition?
RG: David, I would say it’s important to get a nice electrolyte drink, for instance a 32Gi Endure that gives you sustained energy throughout. You don’t want, like you get all these gels and stuff and it’s so confusing when you walk into a Dischem, you get all these kinds of brands, so it’s very confusing.
I think to get a nice low GI drink that will give you sustained energy and not give you spikes, that will just sustain you throughout the race and you can maybe get friends or loved ones or family along the route and maybe they can assist you in having that.
But if that’s difficult as well, 32Gi has put the same, I would say ingredients into the little chews you get and you can also carry that comfortably with you. I don’t know if you have space and if you have a moon bag or a type of thing that you can zip some of the Endure sachets with you. Maybe mix while you run, at the table or so, that can also work.
DK: Very good advice and of course there’s the tabs product as well, which is, as you said, in a sense, it’s just the Endure drink in a tablet form. You can eat that and drink water and it’s going to give you the same effect, although some people like a bit of a change from water for drinking. Renier, another thing you said as well is don’t try that in a race, always try and test things before, as we mentioned a little bit earlier.
Renier, you’ll be running again in the colours of KPMG, like Caroline Wostmann who has been on here a couple of times, also you’re a 32Gi athlete. Comrades 2017, tell us about it. A Gold Medal at Comrades is something everyone attains to and only very few people can go on to win it. But a Comrades Gold Medal is something is possible and that’s the big goal for you this year isn’t it?
RG: David, for sure. It’s my seventh Comrades and I’ve been dreaming about running a Gold. Last year I broke the barrier of six hours, I ran 5:49 on the down and I placed 18th. The year before I was 19th with 6:06 on the up. I think the goal will be to go under six this year on the up and history has it, if you get under the six mark, a Gold Medal is on the table. I don’t want to pressurise myself too much, but that definitely is the goal to get a Gold, that’s the dream.
DK: Renier, we’re going to follow that, Comrades every year is a fantastic race to watch, both the men’s and the women’s race. Best of luck for Comrades and thanks very much for joining us on the podcast.
RG: Thanks so much David, I really appreciate your time and thanks for the opportunity and hope we speak soon again.