In Season One: Comrades Marathon

And after a couple of months with [coach] John [Hamlett] he sat me down and he said, ‘You know, Ann, I really think you can win this, but it’s going to require a whole lot more sacrifice on your part and you’ve got to really be serious about this.’ And that really was the changing moment for me, because it stopped being a race that I’m insanely passionate about and truly love; it then became something I deeply wanted to do well in.”

– Ann Ashworth

Episode summary

South African Ann Ashworth had developed into a very good runner and had a passion for long-distance running, especially her country’s crown jewel, the 90-kilometer Comrades Marathon. Over time, she recognized that she just might have the talent and drive necessary to be a great Comrades runner.
This episode follows Ann’s journey of discovering competitive running in her youth all the way through to seizing her moment at Comrades in 2018. Ann’s story is one of hard work and dedication, overcoming and never, ever letting up.
Through heartbreaking disappointment, painful injuries, and financial sacrifice, Ann remained firm in her focus to compete among the best at this race that she holds such deep passion for: “It’s not just a running race for me,” Ann says. “It’s a deeply spiritual experience, and it’s something that makes me feel insanely patriotic. It’s just an incredibly special race for me.”
This episode is part of our first season, and the theme of this season is experiences in and around the Comrades Marathon, which is a 90-kilometer, or roughly 56-mile, road race that takes place each year in South Africa. It is the oldest and largest ultra-distance foot race in the world.

Show notes and Recommended Resource

Every episode we highlight one entry from our long list of recommended resources, which are focused on women and running. And for this episode, the highlighted resource is Lessons In Badassery, a personal blog project written by sports and adventure journalist Katie Spyrka; she features interview-style posts of, well, badass female adventurers and athletes. In addition to sharing inspirational stories of exceptional athletes, this blog features a lot of really nice photography. There are so many incredible athletes here, from a wide range of sports; in the realm of ultra running, I really enjoyed the May 6 post featuring Maggie Guterl, and the April 15 post featuring Sarah Sawyer

You can find Lessons in Badassery at lessonsinbadassery.com.

loskop-2019

Cherie Turner: Welcome back to Strides Forward, the podcast of stories about long-distance running, told by women at all levels of the sport, from around the world. I am Cherie Louise Turner, your host and producer.
This episode is part of our inaugural season, and the theme of this season is experiences in and around the Comrades Marathon, a 90-kilometer or roughly 56-mile road race that takes place each year in South Africa. Comrades turns 100 years old in 2021, and over 27,000 runners registered for the 2020 event. It’s the oldest and largest ultra distance foot race in the world and tremendously popular throughout the nation.
Ann Ashworth: In South Africa, we have a real culture geared toward ultra distance running; races like the Comrades ultramarathon are really a part of our culture and our heritage, and so as soon as you start running any kind of distance in South Africa, the second or third question you’re asked is, When are you going to run Comrades?

Cherie: That is South African elite ultra runner Ann Ashworth. And she answered that question years ago: Ann ran her first Comrades in 2008 and she’s completed it 7 more times since. And part of the reason Ann continues to return to Comrades is that, for her, it is more than a race.

Ann: So as a country, South Africa is quite complicated. We have gross differences between rich and poor, whether those are based on racial lines or cultural lines or whatever standards you want to apply to it. There are huge disparities between South Africans, rich, poor, educated, uneducated, etcetera, and we are a deeply divided nation.

Even though apartheid has come to an end, there are still just deep rooted imbalances in our society. And there’s a lot of unhappiness that circulates around that, but running in South Africa is a great leveler of people. It doesn’t matter how educated you are; it doesn’t matter where you live; it doesn’t matter what you earn; it doesn’t matter what skin color you have. We’re all in the same boat. And my experience has been is that at races, South Africans are at their most nice. We are the nicest people to each other when we are racing. And whether you are a runner on the road or supporting on the side of the road, for me, that is South Africa at its finest. It’s a time where we get to showcase to the rest of South Africa and the world how good we can be as a nation. And I think that’s why I find Comrades so symbolic because for me, it’s the very best versions of ourselves that we can be. And so it’s not just a running race for me; it’s a deeply spiritual experience, and it’s something that makes me feel insanely patriotic. It’s just an incredibly special race for me.
Cherie: Ann had been a serious runner since high school. She enjoyed the sport, and found that the further she ran, the better she did. By the time she reached her mid 20s, Ann’s focus was on marathons and ultramarathons. And to help her improve her running, Ann didn’t need to look any further than her local running community.
Ann: I think that because we are so Comrades focused, we’re also blessed with a lot of Comrades greats. So the Comrades legends are in and around us all the time. And one of the Comrades greats that I have a particularly close relationship with is Bruce Fordyce.
And he took me under his wing for 2, 2 and a half years, and really geared my whole training towards these ultra distance races. Bruce is known as Mr. Comrades, so training under him really steered me towards focusing on Comrades more seriously.

Cherie: Bruce Fordyce has won Comrades 9 times, more times than any other athlete; he was unstoppable through the 1980s and in 1990 he won the race one last time. He remains very involved with Comrades and the greater South African running community. Working with Fordyce, Ann began to realize some of the potential she had for being an exceptional ultra runner, as she recognized at the 2016 Comrades.

Ann: I actually had been injured for a series of months and of little to no training just in a period of 6 weeks, I managed to run a person best time at Comrades, finishing 13th that year. And I thought, If I could finish 13th, just outside of the golds, on such little training, if I really applied myself, What might happen?

Cherie: Only 6 weeks of training and almost a top 10 performance; and this was on top of her working as a corporate attorney, putting in 10-12 hour days. With better preparation, What might happen, indeed? But Ann knew to find that out, to discover what her ultimate Comrades potential was, she needed to make some changes.

One major change Ann made was to switch coaches a few months after that 13th place finish. She began working with John Hamlett, one of South Africa’s top long distance running coaches.

Ann: Although Bruce was very serious in his days about his own racing, as a coach, he’s quite happy go lucky; he’s quite easy going. So when I was training with him, it was more about just the enjoyment, the thrill of the race. But there definitely wasn’t that killer instinct in my training. Bruce has really fostered a love and passion for the race. But it wasn’t until I started training with John that I thought, Shucks, I could actually try and win this thing.

Cherie: Ann had developed a deeper appreciation for Comrades with Bruce Fordyce, and in coach Hamlett, she found someone who could guide her to be a top competitor.

Ann: And after a couple of months with John he sat me down and he said, You know, Ann, I really think you can win this, but it’s going to require a whole lot more sacrifice on your part and you’ve got to really be serious about this. And that really was the changing moment for me, because it stopped being a race that I’m insanely passionate about and truly love; it then became something I deeply wanted to do well in.

Cherie: Coach Hamlett had a very clear picture of exactly the sacrifices Ann needed to make to move forward.

Ann: John said to me, If you want to be a serious athlete, you can’t also be an attorney. And I sort of said to him, Well, I still have to eat. How am I gonna, how am I gonna pay my bond and fill my fridge if I don’t have a source of income? And he said, Well, you’re going to have to make a plan.

Cherie: And that’s exactly what Ann did. Knowing full well that she’d be in for some serious financial challenges, Ann quit her job.

She decided to study for a year so she could take on a different job position within the law profession, one that would allow her to be her boss.

This freed Ann up so that she could prioritize ultra racing. And she followed Hamlett’s rigorous program to prepare for the 2017 Comrades, and infuse her racing with a killer instinct.
Ann: 2017 I had a really good feeling about. I felt a lot more confident; I felt like I’d worked hard. I wasn’t injured. I hadn’t been sick. I felt really positive. It was my first year training with John Hamlett and I felt like I’d done a lot in preparation for the race compared to previous years and I was feeling pretty confident.
Cherie: But within less than 5 minutes of the start of that race, confidence, hard work, staying healthy. . . none of it would matter.
Ann: And then the day before the race I picked up a bit of a hamstring niggle and 700 meters into the race, my hamstring tore and that was me out. I felt like I had a death in my family; I was so devastated not to be able to complete the race and I wasn’t sure I was going to go back. Just because it was so disappointing to me.
Cherie: Of course, Ann was not nearly done with Comrades, and decided to recommit for 2018 and continue working with coach Hamlett. She also upped her commitment to the sport by forming a new team, Team Massmart, South Africa’s only elite-level womens’-only running team.
Week in, week out, Ann remained focused on training, on preparing for another chance at an athletic breakthrough in this historic and hilly 56 mile event she’d developed such a passion for and dedicated so much of her energies to.
But the 2018 Comrades got closer, Ann was facing more disappointment; the final build-up to the race, to borrow Ann’s own description, was disastrous.
Ann: I tore my glute twice in the build-up to the race, and had to have some time off to try and get that under control and it was still quite niggly. In the weeks immediately preceding the race; so there was still some damage in that muscle which I was quite concerned about. And then 10 days before the race I picked up the worst stomach bug that I have ever had. And I literally was bedridden for 6 days. And I thought, Oh, my goodness, I don’t know how I’m going to do this.
Cherie: This was a time Ann was supposed to be resting, conserving physical and mental energy, and instead she was sick and worried.
Ann: And the Sunday before the race, I went to go visit my mom, and I just cried on her veranda, and I said, I don’t know what to do. And my mom said something so profound to me; she said, Ann, I believe that god made you with running in mind, and so you’ve got to trust god to get you through this and race day. And I didn’t have an answer for that because that was kind of it, that was all I needed to hear, and I just had to trust and hope and pray that everything was going to work out.
Cherie: Bolstered by her mother’s calming words, Ann set to readying herself for Comrades.
Ann: When the stomach bug came to an end on about the Thursday before Comrades, I went out for an easy run and ran a 15k PB, and I was like, Wow, I’m in great shape. I don’t know how that happened. And then did a couple of fast speedwork sessions before the race and felt amazing.
Cherie: But when Ann lined up June 12th, 2018, she was still haunted by the deep disappointment from the previous year and the concerns about recent injuries and that wretched stomach bug.
Ann: When the gun went off that morning, I just had tears streaming down my face; I was in such a state. I was so terrified and really didn’t feel confident for the race at all.
Cherie: So she started with one simple goal.
Ann: The gun went off and the only thing I could think was, Just get past 1k. Just get past 1k, because then you’ve run further than you’ve run last year.
Cherie: Comrades starts in the dark of morning and the beginning of the race is chaotic. Ann and the other elite runners are escorted to the very front of the race, no long before the start, and there is no separation between them and the runners behind. Thousands of eager, anxious, and very fast runners crowd tightly together, ready to blast off the line.
So when the gun goes off, it’s a stampede of racers, male, female, elites, subelites and amateurs, all mixed together. In the low-light conditions of the beginning miles of the race, it’s not always obvious where the other female competitors are.
Ann: So I got past 1k, and I said, Cool, let’s get to 5ks. We ran, ran, ran and we got to 5ks and then I started to look around me at who the athletes were around me and it was all the legends, it was, you know, there were a whole lot of top international athletes around, and I was like, Yikes! What am I doing up here? You know, I’m not used to being surrounded by these athletes.
Cherie: And there were several great athletes to be surrounded by. The 2018 Comrades had a strong field of female competitors. Two foreign standouts were Russians Alexandra Morozova, who had placed second the year before, and her friend, Nina Zarina, who Alexandra claimed was a better, faster runner than she was.
Elite Russian female ultra runners have a well-established history at Comrades; notably, identical twins Olesya and Elena Nurgalieva. In the decade between 2003 and 2013, they were almost unbeatable; the only year one of them didn’t win was in 2005, and that victory went to Tatyana Zhirkova, also a Russian.
Ann: The race was almost predetermined, when the Russian twins were really dominating the front of Comrades, and it was almost a foregone conclusion, like, it was going to be a Russian 1st and 2nd and who was going to come in for 3rd. And it was quite depressing, to be honest. Depressing because there wasn’t an South African contender, but also just because the race wasn’t exciting. It wasn’t enjoyable for anyone anymore. No one wants to race for 3rd place.
Cherie: Then finally, in 2014, the UK’s Ellie Greenwood ended the Nurgalieva reign, beating them both out for the win.
Ann: Thereafter had Caroline Wöstmann come through and really just stamp some South African blood at the front of the race, it definitely made things a lot more exciting and I think has promoted a huge upsurge in female ultra-distance running in South Africa because, ya know, now everybody thinks they’ve got a chance, and that’s amazing for us.
Cherie:  And for the 2018 Comrades, South Africa lined up some heavy hitters of its own. There was 2016 champion Charne Bosman, marathon Olympian Tanith Maxwell, and Gerda Styen, who many favored for the win. There were so many names to focus on, in fact, that Ann Ashworth was not among them. And to be fair, she had dropped out the year before and in the 8 previous times she’d done Cormades, Ann hadn’t cracked the top 10. But of course what you miss by only looking at Ann’s Comrades resume is the amount and quality of the training she’d been putting in over the past several years.
Ann: And it wasn’t until sort of 21 ks when the light was up and I started to look around and see what was happening that I realized that I was quite close to the front of the race. And I came around a corner and the lead vehicle for the ladies was literally 200 meters in front of me. And I completely freaked out. I was like, What am I doing so close to the front of the race. This is terrifying. I’m not supposed to be here. You need to slow down. This is a very bad idea. Just calm down.
Cherie: No doubt, a common error in ultra racing is going out too fast in the beginning and paying the price later on. So most racers have a pacing plan, a detailed outline of how fast they plan to run throughout the race.
Having the discipline to stick to a pacing plan is something elite racers and especially elite female racers are particularly good at. It’s a test of patience and confidence in your own plan and abilities to not get carried away by what’s happening in the moment. So while Ann was shocked to find herself so close to the front a quarter of the way into the race, what is also interesting is how many other women were nearby, which announcer and 2015 Comrades winner Caroline Wostmann took note of:
Announcers: I think that this really just shows the caliber of the women’s field that we have today. Because usually they really do spread out right from the early stages, and it is still early stages in terms of the overall race . . .
Ann: I backed off the pace, and I slowed down a little bit and was like, OK, just stay calm. You clearly started too fast. But I was dead on target on my pacing plan that my coach had given me. Like I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
Cherie: What was becoming clear was that Ann’s pacing plan and the pacing plans of the race favorites appeared to be very closely aligned. Again, announcer and Comrades champion Wostmann:
Announcers: But to have so many women in contention at this point running together in a pack shows that we have a number of women who have the same sort of finishing time expectation, which could really lead to an exciting day.
Cherie: Wostmann was right about that; it was going to be an exciting day. And Ann Ashworth would come to play a big role in making that so. And one person who’d share in the excitement was Ann’s good friend Bruce Fordyce. Even though Fordyce wasn’t training Ann, he remained a big supporter of her running; for the 2018 race, he was one of Ann’s seconders, the people who provide food, liquids and other necessities to a runner out along the course. They also provide information, like how far ahead or behind other runners are. Unless racers can actually see their competition, there’s no way for them to know where those runners are withone someone else keeping track and telling them.
And when Ann reached her meeting point with Fordyce around the 45-k or 28-mile mark, he was very eager to let her know exactly what was happening.
Ann: I hadn’t had any information. So I didn’t know what was going on. I was just running blind kind of following the pacing plan that I’d been given and when I got to halfway, Bruce Fordyce, he was kind of purple he was so excited, and he just started screaming at me, and he said, Ann, you’re in 3rd place, and you’re 6 seconds behind the leaders, and I was like, OK, what must I do? And he was like, Just keep going! So I just kept going.
Cherie: Ann remained steady and patient, sticking to the pacing plan she’d been given by coach Hamlett, and the tears and fear and just 1 kilometer goal from earlier in the day were soon replaced by settling into the reality that she was one of the top competitors.
Ann: I then spotted Alexandra Marazova and Gerda running next to each other in 1st and 2nd, and I hung behind them for a while.

Cherie: Not too much further down the road, however, the 2017 Comrades runner-up Morozova fell off the pace, and Gerda Styen was where everyone expected, out in front, leading the race.

Announcers: I just know that Gerda is in such magnificent shape, so I’m hoping that she’s going to be able to sustain that and even get quicker as the course goes on. Is that Ann Ashworth  coming up behind her? Big surprise for me seeing Ann Ashworth behind Gerda Styne at this stage.

Cherie: As broadcasters were readjusting their expectations, Ann closed the gap between herself and the leader.

Announcers: Ashworth right on the shoulder of Gerda Styne; She is looking incredibly strong there; that’s quite interesting to see her challenging Gerda; I think this woman’s race is just becoming more and more exciting as it progresses: Announcers: Ann has been training really hard, and I don’t think anybody really saw her as being someone who would be fighting for first position in this race, so . . .

Cherie: Being in the unexpected and unfamiliar place of contending for first position was something Ann was grappling with herself.

Ann: I was quite unwilling to take the lead; I didn’t really want to be there. But realized I was then no longer on my pacing plan if I continued to run behind;I needed to run in front and then ran past Gerda, into the lead, and it was terrifying.

Announcers: Ann Ashworth of Team Massmart leading the race at the moment, she passed Gerda Styen, Styen also being caught by Marazova; Ann Ashworth has opened a gap over Gerda Styen. I’m really excited about this lead that Ann has taken; still too early to make predictions.

Ann: I think I then ran the rest of Comrades on pure adrenaline. I didn’t know what was going; I was just like, Just go! Just go! Just keep going. And ran 100% on heart from that moment onwards.

Cherie: And it was during this time when Ann was powering away in the lead of the most watched, biggest ultra-distance running race in the world, and one of the biggest sporting events in her country, that she arrived in the area of Hillcrest, where she’d meet another of her seconders and one of her greatest supports, her mom.

Ann: She said she would do one seconding point for me because she’s seconded me at every single one of my Comrades, but obviously the older she’s got, the more difficult it’s been for her to be so actively involved, so she said she’d do one point, which was in Hillcrest, my favorite crowd support place. And by that stage I was leading the race, and she said it was the single most terrifying moment of her life to have her daughter running towards her winning the Comrades and she had to hand me a water bottle and she was like, What if I drop this water bottle? I won’t know what to do with myself if I drop this water bottle, so she had to tell the people around her, Look that’s actually my daughter and I need you to give me some space because I can’t drop this bottle. And so shamed the crowd like made a little gap for her so that she could get into the road to give me my water bottle.

29Cherie: And how did the exchange go?

Ann: Very smooth. Perfectly executed.

Cherie: While Ann was fueled by a cheering crowd, her supportive mom, adrenaline, and a straightforward focus to just keep going, she did not let that override her better senses as she approached Fields Hill, a notoriously steep 2-mile downhill section of the course that comes at about three-quarters of the way through the race.

Now downhill running may sound fun and easier, but any runner whose run a long paved downhill will tell you, it batters your legs, especially your quadriceps, or quads, those big muscles on the front.  Overdoing it on the downhills can lead to your legs cramping or just feeling flat or heavy. It can be devastating. And after Fields Hill there’s plenty of time for that devastation to set in: 12 more miles or about 20ks to the finish, and that includes the final climb called Cowies Hill, which is windy and at times quite steep, and goes on for just under a mile..
Ann: Down Fields Hill into Pinetown, Bruce Fordyce always told me, when running downhill, you have to take really small steps to avoid trashing your quads as you go down that steep hill. So I took these really silly little steps. I felt like a ballerina and I gave myself the giggles because I thought, I hope no one is recording me at this moment because I must look like such an idiot running down this hill with such small steps. And Alexandra came past me, flying, and I wanted to go with her, but just kept on remembering that Bruce said, You never race down Fields Hill, so I didn’t and I waited.
Announcers: Ann Ashworth has certainly been passed by the Russian, Alexandra Marazova (fade out/fade in) Alexandrea Marazova running very very strongly at the moment and comfortably opening a gap over Ann Ashworth; Ashworth at the moment doesn’t seem to have an answer for the Russian 2nd place

Cherie: And as the runners came off the downhill, and started making their way over a flatter section of the course on their way to Cowies Hill, the announcers took stock of what was happening.

Announcers: It’ll be interesting to see what that gap is between Ashworth and Marazova because you can see  it’s growing steadily all the time, and Gerda Styen is hunting both of them down, Has Ann Ashworth done too much too soon? Or is she going to hang on to what currently looks like 2nd place?

Cherie: Three exceptional runners, all within contention for the win. How would it all play out over the closing hour of the race? Had Alexandra overcooked herself on Field’s Hill or did she had enough left to power through to the finish? We know that Ann had purposefully let Alexandra pass her, but had she been too restrained coming down Fields Hill, allowing Alexandra to open up too much of a gap? Had Gerda Styen been saving up for a final blast to the line? Ann soon provided her reply to these questions.
Ann: We got to the bottom, by which stage Alexandra was 200 meters in front of me, and I eventually decided to make a move.
Announcers: Morozova here running hard up the hill. Is Ann Ashworth coming back at her up the hill? It looks like the gap is shortening slightly now. Ashworth definitely coming back at her now. This race is not done by a long shot.
Cherie: And Ann Ashworth came well prepared to dig deep.
Ann: I think one of the key strategies for me is mindset. There is a little mental technique that says, Hope is the worst coping mechanism. And I think that you can’t start Comrades hoping that it’s not going to be so bad. It’s better for you to expect it to be really bad! So that is something that I do, I always prepare myself for the worst. I prepare myself for some pain and suffering, for some tough patches, but ultimately know that I will get through it. But I think the trick is not to get thrown by those bad patches. It’s so easy to give up and cut yourself some slack to back off the pace, but that’s actually not the right thing to do. You’ve got to batten down the hatches and you’ve got to grit it out, and it will pass. That does require some mental resolve but it’s something that you’ve got to practice in training. It’s quite tempting while you’re doing a long training run or a key quality session to get to 85% of the way through and think like, You know what, This is a bit tough. I think I’ve done enough; I’ll just stop now. You can’t; you’ve got to push right through. And the more hard training sessions you’ve gotten push through in practice, the easier it will be to push through on race days.

Cherie: So when Ann needed to make her move after Fields Hill, as she approached the final stretches of the 2018 Comrades, she tapped into the mental and physical toughness she gained by years of pushing through hard run after hard run after hard run.
Ann: I made my move and then just never looked back. Just literally, head down, balls to the walls all the way to the finish. And that pretty much was it.
Announcers: We’re back with Ann Ashworth and as we’ve come to expect, in the last couple of minutes, looking a lot stronger up the hills than Alexandra Morozova, and she seems to have left Morozova behind; and you can see the gap to Morozova is now significant.
Cherie: Ann was opening the gap, but the race, it wasn’t quite as done as she may have thought.
Ann: At Tollgate, which is at about 6ks to go, I had my coach with me, and he said to me, The ladies are trying to catch you. If you still want to win this race, you need to run faster, and I was like, Are you joking? I cannot run faster. And he said, Well, you’re going to have to if you want to win this race. And somehow I just gritted my teeth and ran a little bit faster all the way to the finish line.
Announcers: It’s just amazing to see how close these women have been throughout the entire race, and now coming into the final stages, they are looking so strong.
Ann: And somehow I just gritted my teeth and ran a little bit faster all the way to the finish line.
Announcers: It does look like Ann has it today. Look what she’s done. She’s shown us what hard work and perseverance does; it pays off. And here she comes into the stadium, the next Comrades champion.
Ann: When I turned the last corner and I realized I was going to win, I could have dislocated my jaw I was smiling so wide. It was literally just the happiest moment of my life.
Announcers: She finishes here in the first position for the women, Ann Ashworth. And what a massive smile on her face. She is so excited that she has done it. That is wonderful to watch, as she goes over to her coach, John Hamlett.
Cherie: Ann Ashworth had pulled it off; in 6 hours, 10 min and 4 seconds, she’d gone from tears streaming down her face at the start line, through to surprising herself by being so close to the front, to becoming somewhat reluctant race leader at halfway, to a savvy race tactician down Fields Hill, on to a powerful retaking of the lead and wrapping up as a decisive Comrades Champion. All there was left to do was celebrate, and coach Hamlet was waiting right after Ann crossed the line.
Ann: John was there at the finish line to see me, and he just took me up into his arms, he just picked me up and swung me around and couldn’t stop saying, Well done, well done. He actually got really choked up about it; he had a little cry, which is quite funny because if you knwo the guy, he’s the most hardcore gentleman you’ll ever meet. And once he put me down, Bruce, who obviously is a VIP and can go anywhere at Comrades. Bruce was next in line; he rushed down to see me and say how proud he was of me; to be greeted by Bruce at the finish line of Comrades, you know, this Comrades legend, is just incredible. . . . and then I spotted my mom, and she was a bit fragile, so she wasn’t into being hugely active at the finish line, but I spotted her in the stands, not too far from me, and somehow I found the energy to jump over the wall between the finish area and the stands, so that I could run up the steps to see my mom and she just gave me this huge, huge hug and it was just incredible.
Cherie: Ann is and will now forever be a Comrades champion. It happened in a day, at a moment, but it was the culmination of years of doing what had to be done, of saying yes, no matter what, when it counted. Saying yes to season after season of competitive racing beginning in her teens. Saying yes to quitting her job and upending her career life to focus on elite-level racing. Saying yes to  pushing through hard training effort after hard training effort. And yes again to rededicating herself to Comrades after that brutally disappointing hamstring rupture at the very start of Comrades 2017. Saying yes in the face of fear on the startline and in the face of being terrified to take the race lead. And saying yes, once again, when her coach told her, after over 50 miles of racing, that she had to dig even deeper if she wanted to win.
And Ann continues to say yes to elite running and racing; in 2019 she pulled out a 4th place finish at Comrades despite running with an excruciating back injury. She also continues to inspire and support other female runners through her all women’s racing team, Team Massmart.
Ann: I’ve been raised to help people. I think we have a moral obligation to do everything that we can to assist other people. And so if there’s a way that I can assist somebody else, then I need to do that. And the second thing I’ve always been raised to believe is that each of us are capable of making a difference. So I identified, Hey, where can I make a difference? What can I do to make a difference here in South Africa? And, I wasn’t going to start a charity or an NGO or like, I don’t have the means, knowledge, or skills to do that. There’s basically two things I know how to do: one is to be an attorney or an advocate and the other is to be a runner. And so I had to choose of these two things, where am I going to make my difference? And I decided to make the difference in running. And my contribution, how I’m helping out is trying to develop, inspire, motivate women to be better and to be more committed to ultra distance running because it’s something that I’m passionate about and it’s something that I can share in.
Cherie: Please return for our next episode which will be a special follow-up focusing on Team Massmart. You’ll hear from Ann as well as some of the Massmart team members, a few of whom will be featured in later episodes of the podcast.
For more information about this episode or about Strides Forward, please visit stridesforwardpodcast.com. There, you will also find the always growing runner resources, a list of blogs, books, podcasts, and newsletters that are created by women or focused on women, or both. These resources are mostly running centric, with a few that address women in sports or female athletes more generally.

Every episode I highlight one of those resources.

And for this episode, the highlighted resource is Lessons In Badassery, a personal blog project written by sports and adventure journalist Katie Spyrka; she features interview-style posts of, well, badass female adventurers and athletes. In addition to sharing inspirational stories of exceptional athletes, this blog features a lot of really nice photography. There are so many incredible athletes here, from a wide range of sports; in the realm of ultra running, I really enjoyed the May 6 post featuring Maggie Guttural, and the April 15 post featuring Sarah Sawyer.

You can find Lessons in Badassery at lessonsinbadassery.com, which I’ll link to in the show notes.

If you have an addition for the resources page, please contact me. I can always be reached through the website, or you can find me on Twitter and now also Instagram; on either platform, I’m @stridesforward.

Thank you to Ann Ashworth for sharing her story, as well as her story about Team Massmart. I also want to thank Ann for connecting me to several team members. I truly appreciate all of her time and trust.

And thank you to the Strides Forward team whose voices you experience in other ways with this podcast. There’s April Marriner of Bonfire Collaborative; she keeps the podcast branding and website looking amazing; and there’s Cormac O’Regan who makes all of the music you hear and does the sound design.

And thank you to you, the listener. I really appreciate all of the feedback and support. I truly love these stories and I love knowing that they’re making connections with listeners around the world. Please let me know what resonated with you. Until next time, this is Cherie, wishing you  satisfying strides forward.

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