13 Questions With Comrades Winner Ann Ashworth

Dark horse Ann Ashworth ran her way to victory at Sunday's Comrades Marathon. We sat down with her to hear about her race-day plan, fuel, training and more.

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1. 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 three weeks before the race I was dangerously anemic and then two weeks before I picked up a tummy bug which lasted five days. I thought those two factors could potentially end my Comrades dream.

2. 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.

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

To be honest, after about three 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.
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4. 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.

5. What is the best way to treat tired, sore feet post-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.

6. 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.

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

Training for an ultra requires a lot of time of 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 five days a week training with three cross-training sessions a week.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

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11. Tell us about your running shoes…

I run in Puma Speed 300 Ignite V2’s. They are light, flexible, breathable and so comfortable to run in. From track to treadmill to Comrades, these shoes are a winner.

12. 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.

13. 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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