A score to settle with Comrades…but first Oceans!
09 March 2016
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Brad Brown: Welcome back onto this edition of Old Mutual Live, great things start here, great things start now. It’s an absolute pleasure to welcome our next guest onto the podcast and I’ve been following her running journey for a few years now.
What I love about her, she’s an ordinary, every-day runner, but she’s doing some amazing things. She’s got some unfinished business on the horizon and I’m so chuffed that she’s back to sort it out. Morgan Ross joins us, Morgan, welcome, nice to touch base.
Morgan Ross: Hello Brad, welcome and hello from Jo’burg, how are your legs feeling after the Cycle Tour?
BB: Actually legs are feeling fine. Funnily enough, I’m suffering with the bottoms of my feet, the balls of my feet are really sore, so that’s the worst bit. But I cycled in a new pair of cycling shoes, so that could be the problem, again, don’t try anything new.
MR: Give yourself one day to put your feet up, at least.
My first Oceans and I’m nervous
BB: Don’t try anything new on race day, I made a rookie mistake, but it’s one of those things I guess. Let’s talk about your running Morgan, I mentioned you’ve got some unfinished business on the horizon. You’ve got a ‘did not finish’ at the Comrades Marathon from a couple of years ago. You’re going back and we’ll touch on that in just a moment. But first of all, just a few weeks to go to the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon, how are you feeling about the ultra?
MR: I’m very nervous about OMTOM, like you say, I’ve got a score to settle with Comrades, getting down to the bottom of Cowies Hill two years ago with 14km to go. But I’m actually a little bit more nervous for Oceans because in my brain, I feel like that cut-off is a little bit more stringent than the 12 hours that they allow you on Comrades and it’s my first time doing the 56km.
I’ve done the half a couple of times, at OMTOM, but I’m very nervous for that. Knowing that it’s only three weeks away, we’re approaching less than 21 days, so I’m a bit nervous for that, but I’m excited because apparently it is one of the most beautiful races.
BB: It’s not known as the world’s most beautiful marathon for nothing. Morgan, things are very different for you from a running perspective, now, than they were two years ago when you had that missed attempt at Comrades. You’re running a lot better. You say you’re feeling nervous, but I’ve been following your times and that on Strava and you’re running really well. You must be feeling pretty good with the way you’re running at the moment?
Comrades Marathon approach two years on
MR: I mean I’m a lot more confident and I went into Comrades two years ago very naïve. I’d gone in with only two marathons under my belt, I’d never done a run longer than 42km, although I’d done around 880km of training which isn’t the ideal, but I’d done the amount on my legs.
I’d never done a long run, I was about 6kg heavier than I am now. Just small changes like my foot striking which I changed this year, instead of heel striking. I try to force myself to just adopt more of a forefoot strike which I found has definitely made my knees less injured.
It’s caused a little bit more strain on my calves and my Achilles, but my knees are a lot better because I really struggled for years with ITB injuries. Just changing my foot strike made me quicker. Obviously I’d lost a bit of weight, so that helped and more consistency this time around.
I’ve been doing more little runs in the week where before I would do, like an 8km time trial on a Tuesday and then try blast two back to back half marathons whatever on the weekend. I’ve been doing more like little eight, nine and 10’s in the week, just being more consistent. So it’s a bit of a combination of things and I think also a little bit of an ego thing for me, knowing that I’ve got that score to settle.
Sometimes being so vocal on social media, it’s like, there’s no way you can fail now because you’ve told the whole world that you’ve got this score to settle. I’m using Two Oceans as my one ultra and then I’m going to do another one. I’ve got Paris Marathon one week after Oceans, so definitely a lot more longer runs in the pipeline for me this time around.
Consistency is key for Comrades
BB: Nice, and we’ll chat about what you’ve done differently this time around to last time, but the word that I take out of that is ‘consistency’ and funnily enough, our stories are very similar. My first Comrades too, I ended up missing the cut-off, although you got a bit further than I did, and that, for me, was the key to going back and finishing and having a good Comrades, was being really consistent.
It seems like you figured out the secret to running Comrades. I know it’s still a long way to go to race day, but it’s showing in your running. That’s probably the biggest bit of advice we can give to out and out novices is, right now, make sure you’re running and not necessarily lots; but you need to be running often and hardening your body up and getting used to that continuous running.
MR: Definitely and I think the other two things that have made me a little bit more consistent is getting much more involved with my running club. I’m very involved with Sunninghill Striders and have been for a couple of years. But I’ve really seen the value of going to those time trials and showing up at the tent before and after and having that camaraderie with your fellow runners.
Just getting inspired and motivated where before I was quite a loner. Put my headphones in, ran around the local and now I’m definitely getting more involved with the other runners. You mentioned Strava, I think that for me has been very motivational.
I’ve had a Garmin for years, you track it on your own, but it’s such a great social network to track your progress versus others and have people give you those kudos. Those kinds of things and to monitor your progress on Strava, which has been very motivational for me, I must say.
BB: Morgan, let’s take a step back and where this bug bit as far as running goes and why Comrades. I think it’s one thing running and I think it’s a South African thing that we all start running to run Comrades. But where did your running journey begin and what was the progression for you?
Comrades is about as motivational as it gets
MR: So, for those who know me, I’m in the music industry. About 8/9 years ago, partying far too hard, 13kg overweight, hanging out in bars and clubs and then ending up at the Fontana Roastery at 3:00 in the morning or whatever it is.
The one day I just woke up and I said, enough of this. So I went to my very first time trial at Fourways Road Runners and I think I finished that first 5km in about 45 minutes. I was like okay, if I can do, I can probably do 10km.
I did my very first 10 and it took me a long time to actually pluck up the courage to break through in my mindset to do anything further than 10. I actually only did my first half marathon about two years after I started running.
Then I think just as runners, we’re naturally competitive and we don’t settle for things because in our brains we always have to keep walking forward. So I was not happy with just doing 21km, so I signed up for my first 32 and your first 42 and then it goes and goes.
I was also very much a ‘go big or go home’ person. My very first ever standard marathon I did was at New York and I also love travel. So I’ve made my annual thing to do, is do one international marathon a year. I save up 11 months of the year to go and run for 4.5 hours.
It’s been great because it’s a nice motivational way to get your A into G, for lack of a better term. Also to see the world. I just remember my brother saying to me once, he’s like: then you know, there’s a beautiful marathon, I must actually find out where it is, oh, it’s called ‘In South Africa’.
My brother had run Comrades, my father is a big Ironman junkie and I was like, why am I running all these marathons all over the world when I have the most beautiful one right on my doorstep and it’s the most challenging one. The big C has always been something I’ve wanted to tackle and like I said, I’ve got a major score to settle with it now.
Motivation to go back after failing to finish
BB: How hard was it to make that decision to go back? It’s one thing going into it and failing it your first attempt, but to get up, dust yourself off and come back is; I mean I’m asking you this, I know how hard it is, but for you, how hard has it been?
MR: I must say, when I got to the bottom of Cowies, strangely enough, I was actually staying at a friend of mine in Cowies. So it was literally, I didn’t have to go into the sweeper van or anything, I literally just walked out to the house. I watched the remaining hour and 45 minutes of the Comrades and as I was watching, the people coming through, I was like, I ran with that person, oh no, wait, that person. I
was running at the nine-hour mark or whatever and I thought, all of them finished. I was running with them at some point in the race, so it is probably achievable. It wasn’t too much of a difficult decision for me to make. I wasn’t burnt by it. I wasn’t the type of person to go, oh, stuff that, that was far too hard. It was just like, it’s achievable. So just do things a little bit smarter next time and you’ll be fine.
However, the next day, when driving back to Jo’burg, we decided to drive the Up run back, and I was going, how am I going to run the Up run of this if I couldn’t even do the Down. So I decided to take a gap last year and skip the Up run, just mentally I don’t think I could have coped with running up Field’s Hill.
So I decided, let me just give myself a break, regroup, make my 2015 year more about marathons and just getting my weight under control. Then come back in 2016 with a clearer vision and less naivety as well and obviously three or four kilo’s under.
BB: You talk about that naivety, what’s changed in your mind with what you know. I was exactly the same Morgan, I went into my first Comrades so arrogant. I was like, hey, the champ is here, I just need to arrive and I’m going to finish this thing. I think a lot of novices do, you don’t really realise what you’re getting yourself in for. What’s changed in your mind, knowing now what to expect going into your second Comrades?
Being over the novice barrier
MR: You know, there was this guy on my first Comrades, I don’t know his surname, but he was in a Randburg Harriers shirt. His name was Shawn, cause I obviously read it on his bib number and he and I just started chatting around about the 25km mark I think it was.
He said to me, how’s your training been this year and what was your long run, did you do Easter 100, did you do whatever. I said to him, no, I’ve not done a long run, I’ve only ever done two standard marathons this season and he chuckled and burst into laughter. He was like wahahaha, you have no idea what you’re in for.
I just kind of looked at him and thought, screw you, you’re ruining my day! He was 100% right! At the time I was like, why are you taking a dig man, you’re supposed to be encouraging me. But he was 100% right and I think that’s the naivety that I went in with, that your brain can take you to 42km quite easily.
I think, like I mentioned to you, I couldn’t get past that point to get to a 21 and once I did a 21 I was like, okay, that’s okay. Then once I did a 32, I was okay, I can do that now, but I’d never done anything further than a 42km. Now, I’m a little bit more experienced, I’ve done an ultra or two and I’ve proven to myself that I can get to 75km, which I did on my DNF. I think my brain is just a little bit more wired to my capabilities, if that makes any sense.
BB: It makes all the sense and it is, it’s such a mental thing at that stage in the race, it all boils down to are you mentally tough enough to keep going and keep with that pace. Morgan, I think you’re, just with what I’ve seen, I personally think you’re a totally different runner to what you were in 2014, to what you are now. I think you are going to have an amazing day. Yes, there are unforeseen circumstances, but if everything goes according to plan, you are going to have the day of your life, it’s going to be absolutely amazing.
MR: Thank you, I hope so, I’m looking forward to it and I’m also, I think another thing that I’m going to do differently this year, I am going to stay in Pietermaritzburg the night before. Because I stayed in Durban last time and that long trek up to Pietermaritzburg, the morning of, your nerves and your brain and your thoughts for that hour and a half or whatever you’re driving up there, it can definitely work on you. You’ll get an extra hour sleep in if you stay over in Pietermaritzburg. Not that you sleep much the night before Comrades!
BB: I was going to say, that’s if you actually do get to sleep the night before Comrades. Morgan, thank you so much…
MR: Everyone says, the countdown is like three sleeps to go, two sleeps to go, you always have to deduct one day because you don’t sleep much the night before.
BB: No one sleeps the night before. Morgan, it’s been awesome catching up, safe travels down to Cape Town for the Old Mutual Two Oceans. We’ll see you down there, please pop past the expo, we’re going to be broadcasting live and then we’ll chat to you on race day as well, but thanks for your time.