Pat Freeman – 26 Comrades Marathons and counting
09 May 2016
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Brad Brown: Welcome onto this edition of Old Mutual Live, great things start here, great things start now and the countdown continues to the 2016 Comrades Marathon. It’s scary to believe that it is just around the corner. Mornings are a lot darker, they’re a bit chillier now, which means it is definitely Comrades time of the year.
We’re joined now by someone who is no stranger to the race, she’s got a permanent number, it’s a double green, it’s number 6883 – it’s a very small number. If you’re starting out Comrades now, your number might wrap around you twice, but this number has been around for a while. Pat Freeman, welcome onto Old Mutual Live, thanks for joining us today.
Pat Freeman: Thank you Brad, hello, what an honour.
BB: Pat, Comrades has been a part of your life for a long time, hasn’t it?
PF: Yes, it has. I was a bit of a late starter, but since I was 30, so that’s quite late to start.
BB: Do you wish you’d started earlier?
PF: Yes, and no. But in hindsight I feel that perhaps it’s better to be an older runner, I think your body is a little bit more settled in. Maybe you pick up less injuries later and you’re a bit more relaxed maybe.
BB: You started, I think you ran your first one, if memory serves me correctly, in ’89, is that correct?
PF: That’s right.
What planted the Comrades seed?
BB: What planted the seed, what made you want to run? That was obviously in the heyday of Comrades, the Bruce Fordyce era. He was winning left, right and centre. ’89 was an incredible race, it was the year that Frith absolutely cleaned up, Sam Shabalala won that year. But what planted the seed for you to run Comrades?
PF: A number of things, family members were running, my ex-husband at the time was running. I was always on the side line running around with kids. I thought, gosh, it must be much easier to run than to try and follow this race! A friend showed me the ropes of getting to a 10km and to Two Oceans. I thought well, if I can do Two Oceans, maybe we’ll just try one Comrades and just got carried away from there.
BB: And one has led to how many now?
PF: Well, as they say, one up, one down, and then oh, everybody is running this year, and oh well, you might as well do another. From there on it just rolls on, number 27 coming up this year.
BB: That’s incredible. Pat, one thing I’ve noticed by looking at your results, you’re very consistent. Your times a very consistent, I’m amazed. You’ve got from varying from just over nine hours to, you’ve got one that you dipped just under 12, but most of them are around the 10/11, what’s been the key to your consistency?
How to mentally push through Comrades
PF: That’s quite a hard thing to answer because I’ve got quite a strong head and once I get going, I just kind of keep moving. My theory is, keep moving, get it over with and the pain will stop, but I do enjoy it. I do enjoy it and do somehow tend to get more steady and more consistent in the second half. I’ve got this, just keep moving at this pace type attitude.
BB: That’s kind of the key. If somebody is listening to this that’s a novice, it’s important to note that everyone gets tired in that second half. But that’s the key, is to just keep moving. You can lose a lot of time in that second half if you do start feeling very sorry for yourself and taking breaks.
PF: Very true and also the tables, I’ve got this theory about not stopping. Watching out for them long in advance, that’s just quite a nice thing for me. I am at the person I’m going to get water from and I just go right around the whole hubbub of the whole table. In my mind I’m not only overtaking people, not that it means anything, but it means time in the end. If you just do that, at every table, you’re saving a few minutes here and there and they all count in the end – in my head!
BB: It’s funny you say that because in the second half of Comrades, the tables come thick and fast. You’re almost just finishing up at one and the next one is starting. You can get carried away and stop at each table and that’s where you do lose a lot of time.
PF: You do, most definitely, so that’s one of my theories that I don’t waste time at tables and it doesn’t help to stop. You actually take a little longer to get going again. As long as I can move, I move and I try and save my walking for the more strenuous up hills.
Making Comrades happen year after year
BB: Pat, you’ve also been running consecutively, you haven’t missed a year from a running perspective. We’re going to get onto what happened last year in a moment, but that’s also incredible. Often, particularly people who have run for a long time, there is a stage in your running career where you do pick up a niggle or an injury and you happen to miss a race or two. But you’ve been pretty good. How have you managed that? From an injury perspective, have you picked up any injuries over your running career? If so, what’s the best way to deal with them and still get to Comrades?
PF: That’s a bit of a hard one Brad because I’ve got a reputation in the club. They say, well, there’s Pat, she’s well rested and that’s sort of my theory. I think I don’t quite do enough training. A lot of people do a lot of training, but when I started running, I was very limited for time. Having a small baby and working fulltime, I just worked out that I could give my running two days a week.
So two days I ran and once on the weekend. I did that from day one in my running and I still do it, cause it worked in the beginning. I didn’t want to change that and overload my body. Obviously my body didn’t need that much. I don’t do really high mileage and I think that’s probably the key, although it does work for some people. I don’t want to advise that, but it worked for me.
Don’t over train and be head strong
BB: Pat, it’s interesting you say that, because I’m also a ‘less is more’ type of runner. I find if I do do too much, I do pick up niggles. You still need to do the work, there’s no two ways about it, but it’s interesting you say that. Because I think in the 80’s and 90’s, it was all about volume and doing big mileage. But there has been a shift slightly to going in slightly underdone. A lot can be said for that?
PF: I think so too, I really do. Especially if you’ve got the, what you could call, ‘big match temperament’. That you know you’ve got to dig deep on the day. Your head is strong, your head knows it wants to do it. It’s just trying to convince the legs, which takes a bit of doing, but it’s not impossible.
BB: I think you make an important point there. You talk about that big match temperament and Comrades is very mental. People say, oh, it’s 89km, if it’s a down 86km, but it’s actually six inches. It’s the six inches between your ears.
Because your mind gives up long before your body does. I’m sure you’ve had this experience where you’ve gone into Comrades better prepared than a previous year and yes, it hurts and it probably hurts just as much. You just recover better when you’ve gone in slightly better prepared, I think.
PF: I think so too, but having said that, one of my absolute best Comrades, I wasn’t well. This is another strange theory I have which I haven’t been able to replicate. But I was ill, I’d had medication the weeks before and I’d reacted badly to it. I started Comrades and I couldn’t get going. I was just about last, right until halfway. Crying, muttering, moaning, I’m not going to leave the road, this is not fair, why did this happen to me. I muttered all the way.
Just on halfway I started to feel a bit better and I thought, I’d better hurry. I just flew on the second half and that’s the year I did my 9:13. Who can say? People say, do that, and I said, gosh, I cried the whole first half. I walked the whole first half, but maybe that is the theory. It’s again a theory that’s been no, don’t start off too fast, save yourself in the first half, especially on the Down. That was a Down, so that was an interesting one.
A bug finally ended my consecutive runs
BB: Without doubt. Let’s talk about what happened last year cause you’ve been running since 1989, you finished every single one up until 2014. Then last year you had a DNF, what happened?
PF: I’m horrified. I don’t even want to talk about it! I don’t know, I got a virus the night before, but I do help at the expo. I work in the international section doing the registration. In hindsight, I was told by the doctor that I picked up some sort of viral thing that quite possibly had come through one of the guests that came by plane.
So the night before I started with vomiting and it just went right through the night. I woke up at 3:00 and tried to eat and make myself work. I could barely walk when I started, but I did start, I was determined. I thought I might feel better, I just might and I managed about 35km and I couldn’t stand upright. So I left the road, I was horrified, I was really upset, I didn’t think that would happen.
BB: It’s an important lesson to learn as well and you know your body better than anyone else. This applies to all runners. There will be times in a run where you just go, you know what, this is not it. I know giving up and throwing in the towel is very difficult to do, but sometimes you’ve got to walk away from a fight in order to be able to fight another day. It probably was a wise call.
PF: It wasn’t even wise, I literally couldn’t stand up, but I was really upset. I knew I shouldn’t have started, but that was my head being so strong. My head was saying, you’ve got to prove it that you can’t go any further. There was something in me also that said, no medication is going to help. So I didn’t even take anything, which I do take at times, it does help. I just knew at that stage, I’d depleted my body and I was telling myself, this is where people die. I decided to walk off.
BB: Exactly, Pat, the rematch in 2016, how are you feeling for this year?
PF: Strangely, a bit of a niggle which I’ve never had and I thought maybe I’ve just tried too hard because I’m sort of coming back. You can’t fail and I feel insecure, it’s a weird feeling. I don’t know why, cause I’ve always been really confident that I can do it. So I’m working on my head at the moment.
What Comrades novices should know
BB: Give some advice to novices. We’ve got lots of novices that listen to this podcast who are so thirsty for information and knowledge about Comrades. You’re very experienced, you know what it takes to finish this race. What advice, if you could sit down with someone who is running their first Down run this year, what would you tell them?
PF: I think, my best one, that taking your time in the beginning, especially being a novice in a Down run. It really takes its toll on your legs. It seems, well, it doesn’t really seem easy in the first half cause there’s quite a lot of up in the first half. But just to be quite wary about how fast you’re going and enjoy what’s around you. A lot of them are looking at their watch the whole time. I don’t do watches either. I never run by my watch, I always just do the best I can at every point. That’s what I feel they should do.
Sometimes even slow down and say you’re running too fast. But if you’re feeling comfortable, you should stay at the pace that you’re comfortable at. It’s a fine line, but you can tell if you’re not breathing properly or what you’ve trained at. Stay at what you predicted, don’t get carried along with other people. It’s your race to enjoy, to make or break, so enjoy it. Because it’s a lovely day, that’s what carries you. You’ve done the training, it’s a lovely day, just take it all in.
BB: The horrible patches, we all go through them on race day. Where you’re maybe not feeling great or you feel gee, I can’t do this. The good news is you do bounce back from them. Have you got certain things that you do or tell yourself to get you out of those holes and making you feel more confident and comfortable?
PF: Yes, I do, and mostly it’s reprimanding myself. I got myself into it, so stop complaining. It was your decision to be here. But apart from that, in my mind it’s always the poor people that can’t even walk. I managed to get my mind around that and say, you know, there is somebody out there sitting watching this in a wheelchair. You’re moaning because you’re walking up this hill in the heat. Just cut back, walk and smile and say thank goodness, I can move, I can walk, I can do this big thing. That’s what gets me through.
My mom-in-law was in a wheelchair for most of her life and just seeing that, that gave me another thing. At least I had a real person now as well that I could just imagine. Say, you can get through this and you do get through it. You get through all those patches and just talk to the people around you. When you’re not feeling good and you talk to somebody around you. They distract you and the next thing you’re over that little patch, it doesn’t take long.
What still remains to conquer at Comrades?
BB: Pat, how many more of these have you still got in you?
PF: We’ll talk after this year. Every year people do ask me and I say, I’ll do one at a time, but I would really like to do 30. I think it’s special for a woman cause there’s not that many of us, it’s quite hard to try and keep going. I say as a woman, I don’t know, we’re supposed to be the weaker sex, but we’re kind of the busy sex. We get really busy at home and I love it though. Quite frankly, I just don’t know how to stop, so we’ll have to see.
BB: Pat, you mentioned the ladies and going for a triple, there’s lots of ladies in your club at Stella who are in the 20’s, it’s a special club for running lots of Comrades.
PF: Yes, we are quite an odd bunch, but we do enjoy it. In fact, if you’re at the club, it’s not, would you ever do Comrades, they basically say, how many are you on this year, you know. It’s quite fun to be there and they sort of encourage each other, it’s always nice.
BB: Absolutely, Pat, we look forward to seeing you down at Comrades once again in 2016. Best of luck for the final run in to race day and I hope you have an amazing day. I’m sure you will, you know how to do the thing, you could almost do it with your eyes closed and in your sleep. But best of luck, I hope you have a good day.
PF: Thank you, I really hope I do too, thank you very much Brad.