Duzi training by the Pope himself!

With all the excitement of the 50 Miler in December and Duzi Canoe marathon in February we thought that we would go back to undoubtedly the Legend of the Duzi “Sir” Graeme Pope-Ellis and have a look at his training plan. The Pope has the distinction of racing 46 consecutive Duzi’s and winning 15 of them Plus he has been a huge inspiration to Martin Dreyer and Shaun Rubenstein so we thought who better to ask.

In the book Canoeing in South Africa Graeme Pope-Ellis starts his introduction to the chapter on training by drawing the distinction that there are essentially 3 types of competitors:

  1. The just finish group – time does not matter as long as they cross the line
  2. The person who tries hard and ends up pretty much in the middle of the pack
  3. The person going for a win.

Two things hold true for all 3 types and need to be realised if one is to make a significant difference.

  1. The fitter one is the more you will enjoy the race
  2. “a flexible muscle trained correctly over a substantial period of time is incredibly strong and durable” therefore “ you must start slowly, both paddling and running and gradually build up fitness and strength.”

Training programme A

With the Duzi in the latter part of January (middle of Feb 2017), you must start training in July/ August (Aug / Sept). If you have run the Comrades, the cross-county season or paddled the Berg River Marathon and thus kept a little fitness through winter you need only start August / September (Sept / Oct).

For the first 2 to 4 weeks do an easy run twice a week of 4/ 6km and an easy paddle of ±30 min two to three times a week.

For the next six to eight weeks merely increase your training time by ±10 min on each session and do one running and one paddling time trial a week.

If you manage to train for 5 days a week for six / eight weeks it is time to take a break for about a week before going on for another six to eight weeks. The only addition is to try and get three 3 hour paddles in and three runs of 1:15 otherwise keep training as before.

It is a good idea to do a little gym work from September to November (Oct to Dec) but always spend time stretching. Try and run on rough and uneven terrain to strengthen your ankles, knees, thighs and back.

Training programme B

“I try and avoid ever having more than 72 hours rest during a training period and train five to six days a week. I break my training in to two distinct phases: one continuous period of six to eight weeks, followed by a rest of about 4 days, then a second six to eight week stint of training.”

With the present structure of the Duzi one should train 30 to 40 percent running and 60 to 70 percent paddling.

Gym Training: I start with fairly heavy weights in June/ July (July / Aug) with 10 to 15 repetitions and continue with them until September (October). Then I do circuit training up to within three or four weeks of the Duzi to bring me up to the peak and help me with my speed.

I believe in working only my upper body in the gym; my legs are worked by running hills. However if a paddler is injury prone or has weak legs, I would recommend leg work in the gym. It is worth bearing in mind that gym work is a supplement and not a substitute to the training programme.

If you are weak at paddling, your Duzi training should start with the Berg River marathon (training begins in February/ March) If you are weak at running, do the cross country season in winter. If you need both then do both, but if you are training to do well in the Duzi then running the Comrades is a NO NO NO!

By 15 October my background training is over and I am ready to do my 12 hard weeks of specific Duzi training. This, as mentioned before, is a six-week training stage followed by a three to four day break then another six weeks of really hard training.

Running and Canoeing

The following sessions are included in every week of canoeing training

  • Intervals
  • Pyramids
  • Canoeing time trial
  • An easy session
  • One very hard session of ± 1 hour 20 minutes

I run in the mornings and paddle in the evenings – one or two days hard, then one day fairly easy. On weekends I race or go over the course of the Duzi, either with or without the canoe.

Running with a canoe should only start in about October once or twice a week, gradually increasing to three or four times a week in December. In January I drop down to two or three times a week. I get in three hard days of about three to four hours of non-stop training three times from 15 November to 31 December. They are spaced five to ten days apart, giving me time to recover between sessions. This is the time that one feels pain in the chest as arms and legs are strong enough at this stage to see one through.

Any training done under one hour is speed training and any over an hour is done as stamina training.(italics added)

A typical training week from October to December


a.m. Run hills or pyramids ± 15 minutes

p.m. Canoe pyramids


a.m. Fairly easy paddle

p.m. Run time trial 5 to 8 km


a.m. Run with boat , 45 minutes

p.m. Canoeing intervals


a.m. Run hills or intervals ± 45 minutes

p.m. Canoe time trial


a.m. Easy run with boat 30 minutes

p.m. Hard 90 minute paddle

I race on either Saturday or Sunday; on the other day I do a fairly easy run and paddle one after the other; 30 percent running and 70 percent paddling in time. The total training time should be about 2 hours at 60 percent effort.

I treat all races as training, and therefore do not rest for a day or two before races. I start tapering down three weeks before the Duzi. I train hard for 45 minutes every second day and go fairly hard for an hour on the intervening days, then rest completely two to three days before the Duzi.



Pennefather, Rory, Canoeing in South Africa, Pg.72-75, Halfway House, Southern Book Publishers (Pty)Ltd, 1991

Graeme Pope-Ellis (1948-2010), Natalia 40 (2010) Natal Society Foundation

  • italics comments added as the Duzi dates have changed since going to print



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