Passion Still Sets the Pace
From barely being able to run around her block to winning the Comrades Marathon in 2015, Caroline Wöstmann draws the same motivation now as she did in the year of her Comrades triumph. “It should be fun,” says the elite athlete and multi-distance runner. “Just take it one day at a time. When I first started running I couldn’t even run 800 metres without having to walk. But the consistency of doing that every day and building on that slowly got me to the point where eventually I was able to do Comrades.
“Once I could run around the block once, I tried it twice, and then three times. Then I got a little more adventurous and when I could run 5 km without needing a walk break, I started to look at doing races,” she adds.
Wöstmann also thrived on keeping her progression simple. “The first race I entered was the Dis-chem Half-marathon. I missed the start because I had no clue about getting there early because of traffic. I started with the fun run and found my way on route, and finished in about three hours. I didn’t even own a proper running watch. So it wasn’t a case of this massive talent coming onto the running scene. Running is something I found that was fun and I discovered this whole social community.”
Wöstmann believes too many runners attempting the Comrades take it far too seriously from the beginning. “A lot of people take it too seriously from day one. They want to start following a running programme, but you can get a lot of info from just speaking to the people at your club,” she says.
“I wasn’t following any sort of programme for my first Comrades. I’d go out and Monday to Thursday, do 10 km each morning, and on the weekend a bit of a longer run with the club or a race.”
The key to any race is keeping calm and knowing your limitations, two things that Wöstmann has mastered.
The progression from being a new runner to a more experienced and informed athlete can see many individuals lose the balance in their lives to sport. “It needs to be at the level of what is motivating you. As I started getting better, having a running watch to time myself became a motivating factor for me. But it shouldn’t be a daunting experience. It should be fun.
“Running is very simple. You don’t need much to run. What you do need is the inspiration and motivation to get out of bed in the morning when it’s cold and dark out there, and before work or when the family wakes up and you need to get kids ready for school. Some people need a set programme to follow for that motivation. For others it just takes the enjoyment away from it. “Personally, I preferred just knowing I’m going to run around my block and challenge myself to do it twice. Then I found a little route and I would drive it and measure out 5 km, and then run it just to finish, not in a time. That was keeping me going at that point.”
Clearly her focus and challenge has changed as an elite in her sport. But the motivation remains the same. “Part of my enjoyment is constantly setting that boundary a little higher and seeing if I can achieve that. I’d also say you need to make your running more of a social experience. It’s fine to have your four times a week where you have to run on your own, but on the weekends we shouldn’t be training alone. We should be running with other people and enjoying the races out there, and making it a whole social interaction as opposed to just fitness.”
And for those lining up in Pietermaritzburg this year about to run their first Comrades, the greatest piece of advice that Wöstmann can give is surprisingly simple. “I can remember starting my first Comrades and sitting on the ground, not wanting to waste energy because I was so nervous. I just kept thinking how on earth was I going to run that far?
“A while before I was doubting myself after a 50 km club training run, thinking I couldn’t take another step after that, so how was I going to run Comrades? One of the runners told me it’s all relative. Your body will figure it out. But you have to keep moving forward. Run or walk, but don’t sit down on the side of the road. Keep moving forward. Eventually that finish line will come.”