The Comrades Marathon is known as the ultimate human race that every road athlete aspires to run at least once in their athletics career.
Ann Ashworth’s dream was almost shattered last year when her Comrades effort ended after just one kilometre when she picked up an injury.
After receiving her first gold medal at the Two Oceans Marathon and running a comfortable 3 hour 50min coming 5th this year, Ann was determined not to let her years of sacrifices go to waste.
On her seventh attempt, Ashworth finally achieved her childhood dream of winning the Comrades Marathon. The cherry on top was being named alongside the greatest female athletes she had aspired to be.
With the support of mentors, coaches, life time partner, teammate and various sponsors, Ann managed to maintain her focus and determination as she persevered towards reaching her life time goal.
As the founder of Massmart sport for elite female athletes, she demonstrates her belief in women empowerment, especially black female athletes.
Outside sporting life, Ashworth describes herself as a regular girl who is creative, ambitious, determined, outspoken and competitive.
Ashworth wants women across the globe to know that if you have a dream you should protect it and work towards it every day.
Ashworth believes there is great value in women’s sport and relationships need to improve with prospective sponsors in order to unidentify and develop female talent in South Africa.
Women’s sport in South Africa needs to be improved in order for women to be recognised on an equal scale to men. The proudly South African Ashworth believes that her greater career lesson is that one should surround themselves with like-minded individuals committed to making a difference.
gsport shares Ann’s journey leading up to 2018 Comrades Marathon and we get a glimpse into her life.
Ann, describe the feeling of winning the 2018 Comrades Marathon?
It still feels surreal. I hugely admire and have aspired to be like Comrades winners Ellie Greenwood, Caroline Wostmann, Helen Lucre and Frith van der Merwe. To win Comrades has been a childhood dream come true, one I never thought I would achieve or even come close to achieving. To be run with and be ranked alongside my running heroines is both humbling and daunting. I’m still not sure my name belongs on a results sheet ahead of athletes such as Yolande Maclean, Tanith Maxwell and Charne Bosman.
How did you fancy your chances leading up to the race and who did you see as close competitors for the title?
To be honest I thought I would be lucky to get a Top 5. I had been paying attention to which local and international athletes would be taking part and the line-up looked very strong. I was sad when Caroline and Camille pulled out because I thought that would be one heck of a race to watch (with popcorn the next day), but even in their absence the ladies field was extremely competitive. I predicted that Gerda, Charne, Alexandra and Tanith would be the top 4 ladies while also bearing in mind that there are always surprise internationals who pop up on race day.
Who are the sponsors that got you across the line?
Massmart is an outstanding sponsor. I approached Massmart with an idea to launch a new ladies only elite team focused on ultra distance running in August last year. Massmart was a new sponsor to the athletics space but were hugely supportive of the development of female athletes and black women in particular.
From the outset Massmart was committed to making a very real difference in this space. Team Massmart was launched in October 2017, comprising 8 elite athletes (4 white, 4 black) and three mentees (up-and-coming athletes we hoped to mentor and support, with a view to including them within the elite team at a later stage). Massmart contributed toward monthly retainers, coaching, kit, travel, accommodation, race entries and goal race incentives, providing consideration support to young runners we believe will dominate the ultra distance events in the years to come. This has been a huge blessing to me, particularly when I was forced to take time off work to train in the build up to Comrades.
In addition I have been sponsored by PUMA for a number of years. PUMA has very generously provided me with as much running kit and shoes as I could possibly need. They also agreed to sponsor Team Massmart with running shoes. I’m so grateful for their support even when I have not performed (such as at Comrades last year when I had to pull out due to injury). PUMA has been exceedingly generous and faithful.
New Nutrition – a sports nutrition and weight loss company owned and operated by John Hamlett has sponsored me with protein shake, vitamin supplements and race nutrition for the past two year. These top quality products have ensured that I have stayed lean, strong and injury free during training.
My husband and I have also benefitted from a sponsorship from Braeside Meat Market who allow us to purpose hormone free, organic meat from them at half price. This is a huge benefit to us as we follow a very high protein diet and meat is seriously expensive. I’m so grateful for this support.
Finally, I have been assisted my many sports and medical practitioners as part of my training, many of whom do not charge me for their treatment or services (probably because they know I’m a starving athlete). Big thank you to Wayne Borowsky, Dr Peter Baxter, Kirsty Weaver, Pinnacle Performance Centre and Dr Jenni Kruse for all their support and assistance.
Who is Ann Ashworth away from running?
Gosh, just a regular gal. I’m an advocate by profession – newly into the profession and am thus referred to as a “baby junior”. I do all the very small matters such as unopposed applications, noting judgments, summary judgment applications etc. I’m really new at this (having been an attorney for 8 years before retraining as an advocate last year).
I’m creative (think: interior decorating, crafts, design); outspoken (think: standing up for the underdog, standing up against corruption, taking principled decisions and being vocal about it); disciplined (think: working through the night to meet a deadline, waking up at 3am to run when necessary), ambitious/driven; competitive; fiercely loyal to my family, friends and team mates; and a little crazy (who isn’t).
I hear I’m funny (that’s what people say), but only because I don’t mind making a fool of myself or laughing at myself. I love wine and tapas… mostly wine. I’m married to David (5 years in October) who is my training buddy and my best friend. We have 4 furkids (Barkley – GSP; Skunk – mix; Furlington and Minx – rescue cats) and live in Blairgowrie. I drive a skadonk but prefer to spend my money on concert tickets, fine food, wine, and holidays.
How can we improve the state of women’s sport in South Africa?
I think culturally women have less freedom than men to pursue sport-oriented goals. For example, young mums need a stable income to support their family and would need a firm support structure if they are to have the flexibility needed to travel away from their children to races or sports events.
I may be wrong but my impression is that women offer the stability within many families while men have more leeway to explore different career paths or opportunities. If women are truly to have an opportunity to develop within a particular support we need to have financial support available, whether in the form of sponsorship (kit, equipment, travel, race entries etc) or financial retainers and incentives.
Athletes need to be able to compete and train as a full-time or part-time job, avoiding a situation where they race too often and for this reason are only able to achieve consistently mediocre performances.
In addition, we need to ensure that women in sport mentor and assist each other. In that way we learn from each other as we go.
Finally, I think there need to be programs and structures in place to protect women from exploitation. Often young women will turn to older men for coaching, management, support and advice only to be taken advantage of (for example, a coach will claim half an athletes winnings or will encourage an athlete to take part in too many or low profile but lucrative events which do nothing for the athletes profile). Programs and structures which serve to empower women and protect them from unscrupulous “hangers on” would go a long way.
What is your message to prospective sponsors about the value women’s sport holds?
There is a wealth of unidentified and under developed female talent in South Africa. If you are prepared to invest in the sporting future of our country, you will reap abundant rewards in the medium to long term. There are many private individuals with the skills, passion and knowledge to make a real difference. Please help us to change lives and make South Africa proud, particularly in circumstances where our public institutions are failing us. We can’t do it without you.
What have been your greatest career highlights?
Two Oceans 2018 – 3h50 – 5th place (my first gold medal as part of a comfortably paced training race was just exhilarating).
Comrades 2018 – it doesn’t get any better!
What is the key lesson you have learnt during your career so far?
Beware of whom you trust. Most people are out to help only themselves. When you find like minded individuals committed to making a difference, hold tight onto them. Together you can reach of the stars.
What is your message to women about following their dreams?
If you have a dream, work toward it every single day. No matter what happens, keep moving forward with your eyes on the prize. There is no room for doubt, believe you can do it and you will.
Who are your role models?
I have different role models for different aspects of my life. Professionally, my mentors are Clayton Vetter and Kirsty McLean. They have gone out of their way to teach me the ropes at the bar and to get me started in my career. Clayton is also one of my best friends.
Running wise – Bruce Fordyce inspired me to run and has mentored me as a Comrades runner since 2009. John Hamlett, my coach, motivates and inspires me in a way I didn’t think possible. Gift Kelehe is part of my training group (or rather I am part of his). His dedication, commitment and willingness to work hard at his goals is truly awesome.
My parents, both of whom are/were outspoken and steadfast in their belief that you should always: do what you can to help others, be fearless in the pursuit of justice, and uncompromising in your belief of what is right. They have made me what I am today.
What does it mean to be Proudly South African?
I think that taking proactive steps to help fellow South Africans is #proudlySouthAfrican. We have a rich heritage of coming together, regardless of race, class, religion or belief in an effort to assist or to guard against corruption, oppression and inequality, no matter the context. That still applies.
Photo 1 caption: 2018 Comrades Marathon champ accomplished a childhood dream when she crossed the line first this year. Photo: Supplied
Photo 2 caption: The Massmart all-women running team leader aspired to be like Comrades winners Ellie Greenwood, Caroline Wostmann, Helen Lucre and Frith van der Merwe. Photo: Supplied
Photo 3 caption: Perhaps the champion’s biggest achievement is the ladies-only elite running team, Team Massmart was launched in October 2017 featuring 8 elite athletes (4 white, 4 black) and three up-and-coming athletes, contributing monthly retainers, coaching, kit, travel, accommodation, race entries and goal race incentives, and providing consideration support to young runners showing potential to dominate the ultra distance events in the years to come. Photo: Supplied
Photo 4 caption: The Two Oceans Marathon is also a firm favourite of the runner, who earned her first god medal in 2018 by way of a comfortably-paced training race for a 3h50 5th-placed finish. Photo: Supplied
With editing by gsport