Q&A: 2023 50km World Champ, Carla Molinaro
– Gold medal, Comrades 2018.
– Women’s World Record for Running the Length of Great Britain.
– 3rd, Two Oceans Ultra 2023,
– 2023 World 50km champion
Runner’s World: When we interviewed you on the finish line of this year’s Two Oceans Ultra, after you’d crossed in an impressive third place, you were rightfully ecstatic. You attributed your result to a race strategy that came together perfectly. How do you create your strategy, and what makes the pieces fall into place on the day?
Carla Molinaro: I based my strategy on the sessions that I’d done in the run-up to Oceans, and what my main goal is for the year. My main goal is Comrades.
I just wanted to have a solid Oceans and not destroy myself, so I could get back to training the following week. Which I managed to do. I was just really surprised that this strategy led to a podium!
You never know what’s going to happen in an ultra; so you just have to go in expecting it to be a great day, but with the ability to problem-solve on the go if things do start to fall apart. Hopefully, if you’ve put in the work in training, that won’t happen too often.
RW: As a Strength Conditioning & Yoga (SCY) coach, you have fantastic insight into running. How do you turn 180 degrees, from coaching others to bringing the best out of yourself?
CM: I have a coach myself to help me with this. Having someone who can rein me in and make sure I don’t do anything silly – like running across countries! – has been just what I need to help me reach my potential.
I’m sure I’ll get back to crazy running challenges, one day. But I’m really enjoying focusing more on performance at the moment; and knowing that’s the goal stops me from even asking Martin if I can run across a country… well, most of the time, anyway!
RW: Outside of running itself, what are the most important aspects you feel might contribute to executing the perfect race-day strategy?
CM: I think nutrition is the main thing you can work on to improve your performance. Fuelling your sessions before, during and after will not only make sure you’re performing to the best of your ability, but you’ll also recover more quickly.
I’ve been experimenting with low fibre, to minimise GI distress. I do this for a couple of days before a race, aiming for less than 15g fibre a day. It takes some planning, and the food isn’t that exciting; but it takes the worry of having GI issues out of the equation.
It’s also important to practise what you’re going to have on race day, so you can make sure it works for you. And practise it a lot, not just once! That includes breakfast and running nutrition.
I like to draw out the route profile a couple of days before, and put key points on there – like where the aid stations are, where I think I might struggle, where I’ll be strong, etc. You can add anything you want that will help you visualise the race.
RW: It’s great that currently you both compete and coach. What do you feel the benefits are of being on both sides of the equation?
CM: One of the main things is to know what your runners are going through. I know how the sessions feel, how you should feel while you’re doing them.
I’ve been running for so many years now – and I’ve run on all surfaces, and across all distances – that I feel I can make a programme from pretty much anything an athlete throws at me. I’m confident I can draw on my experience to write a programme to get them to the start line in the best shape possible.
RW: What running aspirations do you have?
CM: I’d love to win Comrades and Oceans one day, and qualify for the Western States 100-miler. I would also love to make the Commonwealth Games team for the marathon; I used to think I wasn’t fast enough to even think about that, but I’m now starting to think it’s a real possibility.
RW: Who inspires you?
CM: All the members of my SCY programme! I have such a mix of athletes in the group, and they’re all at different stages of their running journeys – some of them are just starting, and some have been running for years. But they all show up and tick off the sessions every week.
I love seeing the journeys that people go on, and what challenges they set themselves. And it’s so inspiring when they crush a goal.
RW: How do you balance your life, between the UK and SA?
CM: My original plan was to stay in South Africa for summer, and then head back to the UK for a few months over the winter. But I love it so much here, I’ll only go back to the UK for a couple of weeks in July – mainly to restock my running shoes! – and I’ll just embrace the rain when it arrives in Cape Town.
My favourite yoga pose for running is the World’s Greatest Stretch (that’s actually what it’s called!).
My ultra-running shoe stack:
HOKA Clifton 9 for road, HOKA Mafate Speed 4 for trail, and HOKA Rocket X 2 for race day.
First choice for nutrition:
A mix of Maurten’s caffeinated and normal gels, and the 160 drink.
More from Carla @carlamolinaro, www.carlamoilnaro.com