12 Reasons Why Most Runners Saw Flames In The 2015 Soweto Marathon & Tips On How To Run A Solid Marathon

How To Run Properly

So the 2015 Soweto Marathon has come and gone.

Firstly, before I dive into the issues that caused many a heart-ache, I want to say congratulations to everyone who participated yesterday.

Whether you ran the 10km, 21.1km or 42.2km, a massive big up to you!

I saw flames in this year’s race. On a very good day, the Soweto Marathon still remains a tough race. On a day like Sunday, the 1st November where the heat decided to have a mini party, tough became unbearable for many.

A pretty good indication of how tough the day was is the leaderboard analysis of 2015 and 2014. Below is a list of the male runners who took the first 10 positions:

2015 Soweto Marathon Results

Sintayehu Yinesu, successfully defended his title by finishing in a time of 2:23:20. In 2014, he finished in a time of 2:17:55.

That’s a difference of 5 mins 05 secs. In running terms, that’s a life-time. It can be the difference between first or tenth position.

Mike Fokoroni, who finished second in a time of 2:24:12 would have finished in ninth position in 2014.

Given the above, this year’s race was – without a shadow of doubt – one of the toughest, if not thee toughest.

Nonetheless, below are 12 Reasons why most runners saw flames in this year’s Soweto Marathon.

1. Lack of training

A good race starts lomg before race day.

I’ve been running for a while and I can tell you with certainty that a lot (thousands) of runners take chances.

Then there are runners who put in a lot of training (quantity), but don’t train properly (quality). They will say things like “speed training is not for me” or “doing strength work is not my thing”.

If you start a race with a lack of training, you WILL see flames.

Tip 1: get a good training programme that will emphasize the importance of distance, speed, hills and strength.

2. Lack of Rest

Rest is incredibly important and offers undeniable benefits for runners. I don’t know what it is about big races, but leading up to those days, there’s so much to do. All sorts of crazy stuff crops up and you find yourself running around (spending long hours on your feet) the day before.

Generally speaking, these are the activities that will contribute towards you seeing flames on race day:

  • Ending your training late: our methods of tapering (decreasing training as you approach race day) is different. It’s suffice to say don’t do anything stupid in the final 10 days of your training. Whilst cross-training for your core and upper-body is still good within the last 10 days, try to get complete rest for 3 straight days leading up to race day
  • Collecting your race pack late when the queues are long (I remember spending 4hrs in a queue to collect my race pack at the 2013 Comrades Marathon. It was not fun)
  • Going out the night before (the night before the 2015 Soweto Marathon was a massive soccer derby between arch-rivals Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs. First prize would have been to watch the match from home. Second prize is to go to the stadium and go straight home afterwards.). Rule of thumb is to stay indoors and off your feet on the night before
  • Trying to get 8 hours of sleep the night before: it is unlikely you will sleep well the night before. The nerves and fear of waking up late rarely allows you to sleep adequately

If you find yourself entangled in a few of the above as you approach race day, you will see flames!

Tip 2: general rule of thumb is to get adequate sleep 2 – 3 days prior to a big race.

3. Supplements

Supplements are key. And that’s why many elite and pro-athletes will NEVER share what they consume.

I’ve watched a number of Comrades Marathons and I’m amazed at how far into the fields athletes will throw their supplements container after consuming it just to make sure no one grabs a hold of it.

Where supplements are concerned, it does get tricky because we all have different bodies that re-act differently to what we consume.

Many runners have claimed that they don’t use substances. Good for them.

Personally, I think supplements are imperative.

Whilst there are many crappy products, there are a lot of great ones.

Trying to run without supplements in the name of keeping it ‘natural’ is just asking for flames.

Tip 3use supplements for pre-pace (as part of you carbo-loading), on race day (before the race), during the race (to revive low energy levels) and post-race (as a recovery drink).

4. Running Gear

42.2kms is a very long distance. Whilst you can get away with a pair of Saturday night Jordan sneakers and a cotton top in a 5km fun run, wearing that same outfit for a marathon is idiotic.

Good running shoes are the most important. We all have different brands which we test and try out over time. Within a brand, you are likely to settle on a particular style.

When it comes to running shoes, I’ve always been a Nike fan (way before I became a business partner of theirs as a Nike+ Run Club Coach).

All the other supplementary gear: tops, pants, socks, bra (for ladies of course) are just as important.

When you see runners take off their tops, trust me, they are not trying to look cool. Those tops are feeling too heavy.

Tip 4: try and run as light as possible.

5. Trusting your watch too much

One of the greatest addictions as you grow into running is your gadgets, especially those that help you measure stats.

It is imperative to become a wiser runner as you progress. To this effect, using running watches and apps like the Nike+ Running App is fantastic.

Some of these gadgets allow you to create training programmes that literally guide you step by step on your run.

Fantastic as they are, watches don’t adjust to the weather or how you feel on race day.

If your base your running strategy solely on your running watch, you’ll see flames.

Tip 5: learn to adjust. Let your gadgets guide you NOT dictate to you.

6. Bad Pacing

This is probably the biggest challenge for most athletes. In fact, even the best get it completely wrong at times.

So, I’m going to spend a bit of time on it by talking about individual pacing (running on your own) or running in a group that is led by a Pacer (runner who assists others to finish in a particular time). I’ll then show you my stats for the 2015 Marathon and highlight a few key factors.

Generally speaking, Pacers are very good and strong runners. However, they mess up as well. The 2015 Soweto Marathon Sub 4 bus missed its mark by over 5 minutes. In running terms, that’s a bad miss.

Whether you are running a lone race or running within a pacing group, the general rule is to run negative splits: run the first half slower than the second. What this means is you have to develop the discipline to run below your normal speed in the first half (and IGNORE your body which keeps telling you to push and go hard).

A couple of benefits of negative split running is that you finish strong and pass many struggling walkers towards the end. Mentally, this gives you an incredible edge.

However, there are potential negatives, the biggest one being time-pressure in the second half if you are running for time.

Very few people are able to run negative splits. Having said that, very few people are able start fast and maintain a good and consistent pace (and not burn out) throughout a marathon.

It is a tough balancing act that requires you to have a few pacing targets. Plan A is when all goes well. Plan B is when things become tough. Plan C is the “wheels falling of plan”.

In the 2015 I was targeting a 3:40 (Plan A). I passed the half-way at 1:49. But, my second half (esp the last 10kms) was a mess. At the 28km mark I knew I would have to settle for Plan B, a sub 4hr.

Although my gross running time was 4:00:22, my nett (mat to mat) running time was 3:58:49. So I made my sub 4 by just over a minute, as you can see from my stats below:


More significantly, from a pacing perspective, I want to highlight my position (out of a total of 5 637 runners) at different points in the race:

  • 10km: 1315 Overall and 766 Category (top 23.3% and 13.6% respectively)
  • 21.1km: 1256 Overall and 746 Category
  • 32km: 1102 Overall and 650 Category
  • 42.2km: 978 Overall and 572 Category (top 17.3% and 10.1%)

Clearly from the above, many athletes saw serious flames after the 32km mark.

From the 10km mark to the finish, I improved by 337 positions (6% of the total field). In last 10kms, I improved by 124 positions despite running a split of 6.34 mins/k (almost 2 mins slower than my first 10km average of 5.04 mins/k)

The above stats speak a mouthful regarding the importance of pacing.

Tip 6: learn the skill and discipline of reserving energy in the first half or race.

7. Being experimental

Never try anything new on race day.

At big races where there’s an Expo, you are likely to buy new goodies. At times, you might forget to bring your supplements with and if you are out of town, getting back home is not an option.

Perhaps, you meet up with some really cool and fun people along the race and they offer you something that looks like it can revive you.

Tip 7: whatever your ‘justifiable’ reasons, don’t experiment or take anything foreign on race day.

8. Not knowing the route

It’s impossible to dry run all your races before race day. So, this point is less about doing dry runs of your races and more about saying respect a course you’ve never run before by doing some pre-race research.

Tip 8: err on the conservative side of things, especially if the information you pick up tells you it’s a tough course.

9. Adverse weather conditions

No doubt, this was the real flames catalyst at the 2015 Soweto Marathon.

Firstly, I don’t know what was being smoked when a decision was taken to start the 42.2km at 6h15, AFTER the 10km and 21,1km. Whatever was smoked when that decision was taken, I want some of it.

I had barely run 7kms and I knew it would be a very long and hot day.

The heat lived up to expectation. Then pockets of the race dealt us some nasty dust just to add salt to injury.

Thanks to the great benefits of steaming at the gym, I think I handled the weather better than most.

The best way to prepare for the heat is to run in the heat. Sounds kind of stupid but I know many runners who train only in the morning (before work and sunrise) and late afternoons/evenings (after work and often after sunset).

Tip 9: train under adverse weather conditions (esp heat).

10. Unnecessary competition

Runners are incredibly competitive. And “no”, I’m not talking about the elite athletes.

I’m talking about the ordinary Joe Sope who runs a 6.5 – 7.5 mins per km 42km and refuses to be get passed by someone who looks ‘incapable’ of passing.

Be it their deceptive weight or age, never underestimate fellow runners in a race. You don’t know what training programme they’ve been on. You don’t know what supplements their using. As such, it is unnecessary to compete with others just because they don’t fit the profile of a runner who should be passing you.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being competitive. But, compete against yourself. Set goals and try beat them.

If you want to compete with others, compete with runners you train with and make it more fun than anything.


  • don’t underestimate other runners
  • compete against yourself
  • if you compete against others – add an element of fun (don’t take yourself too seriously) 

11. Illness and Injuries

I’ll be the first to admit that as runners, we are stubborn – very stubborn.

We always want to justify why we think we can run through injuries and illness. Whilst I understand the frustrations of getting injured or falling ill close to race day, at times it’s just best to be realistic and skip a race and avoid seeing flames.

Tip 11: skip a race when you are seriously ill and/or injured. There will ALWAYS be races!

12. Insufficient water or water-points

I’ve deliberately put this last because I believe that the first eleven points are all within your control (including adverse weather conditions because you can train for them).

This is one massive race spoiler for many runners. Fortunately, I have never had to deal with insufficient water or water-points.

“What’s the difference?” you might ask. From a planning perspective, all races must have a water-point every 3kms. Insufficient water, means you get to the water point and there’s no water. Insufficient water-points means you run for distances in excess of 3kms until you get to a water-point. Sometimes, it even means there isn’t a water-point at all and you have to run for at least 6kms before you get one.

I have often had to deal with warm or hot water at times and that makes me grumpy. I don’t know how I’d feel if I ever got to a water point and there was no water.

Having worked at water-points before, I know how painful it is to see runners get to a water-point and get told: “sorry, the water has run out”.

Quite frankly, it’s unacceptable! Especially because, from a runner’s perspective, there’s seldom a work around this massive challenge.

You can’t exactly run with a squeeze-bottle full of water. Actually, I lie, you can. But, it would just spoil your running rhythm. Picking up numerous sachets at one water-point to make provision for later on is not a run-friendly solution either.

I guess this is the one ‘flames ingredient’ that makes us appreciate all those neighbours who cheer us on. Just stop, ask for some water and you WILL get help. You might lose a few seconds (or minutes) but it’s better than dehydrating.

Tip 12: when water supply has gone horribly wrong, ask supporters to help out.


As indicated at the start of this article, the 2015 Soweto Marathon was incredibly tough and most (if not all) who participated in the marathon, saw flames.

However, I know that most runners self-inflict a lot of the running trauma they experience.

Through this post, I hope I have shared some tips that will help you manage the challenges faced when running long distances. In doing so, I hope you’ll be able to run a much better marathon next time around.

God Bless!

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