Q&A with Comrades winner Ann Ashworth

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Ann Ashworth photo Getty

Were you confident going into the race?

Yes and No. I knew that I had undertaken some serious training in the build-up to the race and that my body was as lean and strong as it was going to get, but 3 weeks before the race I was dangerously anemic and then two weeks before I picked up a tummy bug which lasted 5 days. I thought those two factors could potentially end my Comrades dream.

What motivated or convinced you take up ultra-marathon running?

The Comrades Marathon is a huge part of South African running culture – it really is the ultimate human race. As a child, I always planned on running it and a gold medal was my ultimate dream. I guess it helps that I’m built like an endurance athlete – lean and light. I’ve never been a particularly fast runner; my strength really is in endurance. I seem to be able to hold a consistent pace for quite a long time but would be easily pipped over shorter distances. I also love the solitude of long runs – it’s a great stress reliever.

What do you think about when you are out there running for over 6 hours?

To be honest, after about 3 hours I stopped thinking altogether and just ran! My husband, David and I ran together for the first 30km and we just chatted about our upcoming holiday, work and household matters (very boring). When David left me in Cato Ridge, I just zoned out and enjoyed the crowd support along the route.

When the pain and doubts hit, where do you find inspiration?

It’s been a very difficult journey for me the last two years. I had to give up a stable job, retrain (study) as an advocate, go without a salary for 15 months, and give up a few of my favourite foods. In doing that, I was not alone. My Mum had to give me a loan to pay my bills, as did two of my friends. My husband had to pick up a lot of chores and responsibilities and my coach had to give up a lot of his time and business to make sure I had the support I needed. When I ran, I ran to honour their hard work and sacrifice as much as my own. In addition, I helped to establish a ladies only elite running team – Team Massmart – in October 2017. The team really wanted to challenge for team prize at the race and I knew I needed to do my part to help with that.

What is the best way to treat tired, sore feet post the race?

Slops … seriously, putting running shoes back on it not an option! I’m really ticklish under my feet so a foot massage doesn’t exactly work for me. I do love hot baths though and they always help.

What do you eat and drink before, during and after the race?

Because I’m so lean, I don’t have any reserves to tap into which means I need to eat often on route. I carried gels in my pockets which I took with water, I collected a few jelly babies along the way, drank crème soda and an electrolyte drink and downed three protein shakes between Pietermaritzburg and Durban. Before the race I had a banana, protein shake and futurelife for breakfast. After the race I like to have a burger (no chips) and an ice cold coke.

What is your advice to marathon runners looking to make the move to ultras?

Training for an ultra requires a lot of time on the road, so athletes need to carefully consider whether they (and their families) are able and willing to spend half a day of every weekend training and to make the time sacrifices required to train consistently. Once you have your families support it’s all systems go! I think core strength is critical so it’s a good idea to get a good base of training done through gym work and Pilates. Most importantly, you need to be consistent with your training. At least 5 days a week training with three x-training sessions a week.

Who makes up your team and what are their roles?

John Hamlett – my coach and surrogate father figure. David Ashworth – my husband, training partner and shoulder to cry on. Carol Boniwell – my mum, my PA, chief second, sponsor and pillar of strength.

Bruce and Gill Fordyce – Bruce is the reason I started to run Comrades and he has been a good friend and mentor for many years. Bruce and Gill seconded me along the route.

David Katz – helps me manage Team Massmart and took responsibility for seconding the team and I on race day.

Clayton Vetter – my professional mentor and very close friend – he has helped me adjust to life as an advocate and has seconded me at Comrades several times.

Anton Roets – my old boss, close friend and sponsor (he has helped me cover my bills while retraining as an advocate).

Dave Jack – another a good friend and mentor who gave up the race number 483 which had previously been reserved for his daughter. Dave seconded me on race day.

Kirsty Weaver – my friend, physio and voice of reason.

Massmart – sponsors of the first ladies on elite running club. Massmart has helped to make my dream a reality by offering us the support we need to train and perform as elite athletes.

New Nutrition – sponsors of my protein products.

When do you find time to train?

I typically train between 8h00 and 10h00 and then 16h00 and 18h00. It’s not safe to run alone in the dark so I get up to work at 5h00, then take a break to run later in the day.

Do you have running-mates or do you train solo?

When we can get our day planners aligned, David (husband) and I train together, but otherwise I do most of my training alone. Ahead of Comrades I attended training camp in Dullstroom where I ran with the Entsika men’s team.

Talk us through your running equipment and tech?

Massmart very generously sponsored each member of Team Massmart with a Garmin Phoenix in December last year – I now can’t imagine running without it – I love keeping track of my distance and being able to compare different runs along the same route. I’ve synced my Garmin with Strava – a sports-related social media platform which allows me to measure my runs and training compared to others and keeps me highly motivated.

This year PUMA released the Speed 300 Ignite V2 – I’m thrilled to say I have found my ultimate running shoe. The shoes are light, flexible, breathable and so comfortable to run in. From track to treadmill to Comrades, these shoes are a winner. I’ve yet to get a blister, even after 90km!

I absolutely cannot run without sunglasses. I treated myself to a pair of Oakley Moonlighters in March and love the “blue steel” effect they have on my “game face”. Those lenses hide a world of pain.

What attracted you to work with PUMA?

I approached PUMA in 2013 for assistance in launching a new national running club – Born2Run. As it turned out, PUMA was willing to back a group of completely unknown athletes with no guarantee of success and reward. I have always appreciated their leap of faith in me. PUMA has been hugely supportive of Born2Run and now also the new elite ladies team – Team Massmart. The brand is exceptional and their shoes and gear are fantastic to race and train in – just love it.

You compete in PUMA Speed 300 IGNITE 2 – it is not generally known as an ultra-marathon shoe, so why do they work for you?

I’ve always preferred a lighter shoe. It’s a delicate balance between unnecessary weight and necessary cushioning. I couldn’t run further than 21.1km in a racing flat, but I wouldn’t want to wear anything too chunky over such a long distance. The Speed 300 is the perfect balance for me. The 8mm HTD strikes the right balance between a racing flat and a typical high-mileage trainer. Add to that the soft upper and the roomy toe box – I’ve yet to get a blister or a black toenail in these shoes, they just work for me!

Do you have any other races on your bucket list?

David and I would like to run New York and we will also be travelling to Valencia later this year.

You are active on Twitter @UltraAshworth and Instagram @ann.ashworth – what kind of content do you share?

I try to keep things real and so I typically share things happening in my everyday life as opposed to only running-related content.

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