Inspiration · On The Run

Running Comrades | Interview with Tshire – Part 1

First held in 1921, the Comrades Marathon, coined The Ultimate Human Race, is the world’s largest and oldest ultramarathon road race, run annually in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa between the cities of Durban and Pietermaritzburg. The direction of the race alternates each year between the “up” run (87 km) starting from Durban and the “down” run (now 90.184 km) starting from Pietermaritzburg. On 28 August 2022, my dear friend Tshireletso crossed the finish line in an incredible 9-hours. I was so happy that her hard-work, commitment to training and sacrifices along the way, had paid off. I’m delighted and honoured to have Tshire sharing her story on the blog in a two-part interview. In Part 1, she takes us through her running journey and what it was like to train for Comrades, especially as a working mum of two kids.

I’ve always known you as a fast runner, but I’ve never asked how you started running? First of all, I’m flattered and thanks for giving me the opportunity to share the experience. I can’t remember exactly when I started running but I know I had definitely not turned 10 years old yet. I had just been transferred to a small newly built primary school doing Standard 3. As the school was small with few pupils, all students had to take part in sports. In most cases, one would be encouraged to do multiple sports. I started showing potential straight away in a handful of sports, including athletics. We had house competitions at school where I ran and got FIRST places, leading my house to victory. I was chosen, together with other students, to represent our school in the junior category but I was denied participation at regional level, as I was considered small and underage. I was devastated. But I started representing my school the following year. I was a sprinter, specializing in 100m and 200m flat together with their relays.

What was it like making the transition to running as an adult and doing longer distances? It’s been a long transition, occurring in phases. It has come with learning, development and challenges. I started as a sprinter, then short distance running and then running ultras. Running from track to running on a treadmill, road and trails. I have won prizes and I have won medals. I have been on podiums, and I have cried for positions. It took me time to learn from the sport, to develop as a teen and to accept at a tender age that it is not about the podium every time – it is all about passion. I have evolved a lot. It’s been equally challenging and rewarding. As a late teen, I decided to stop running because people were confusing me, giving me lectures that running is not good for girls. Some shamed my physique and described me as thin!

In my early twenties, I realized I shouldn’t have listened to them. I started reading a magazine called ‘Shape’ and treated myself to monthly copies. It’s from Shape that I learnt more about nutrition, fitness and health. My passion for running returned and I was ready and bold enough to do it regardless of what people said. I started running on the streets, covering longer distances which I enjoyed. I incorporated gym as well which I liked a lot. I then started to register for races – first 5km, then 10km and 21km races. I ran 21km races for the longest time though I was running even longer distances outside the races. Running became challenging when I became mother. I had put on some weight, had many new roles and also experienced some relocations. But I still tried to find room to run. So, the first couple of years running as a mother weren’t easy but with the kids older now, I’m still here running!

When did you decide that you wanted to run Comrades? In 2019, at the Om Die Dam race in South Africa, I met a very interesting chap nicknamed Stanley (Motlogelwa Khoele). Stanley was 78 years old and looking so good for his age (Stanley is on the far right of photo below).

While waiting to start our race we chatted about running and races. To my surprise, he mentioned he had run 31 Comrades, one registered, in consecutive years. Out of the 32 Comrades, he completed 25!  Just how beautiful and interesting this is, I thought. He talked about the joy, the challenges and the green number (the green number is for 10 or more completed Comrades Marathons; this race number becomes theirs for perpetuity, and they will no longer have a different number every year). I stayed attentive and intrigued as he shared his Comrades’ experiences. I was amazed. I shared his story with my husband. We both felt I had met a champ. I had heard of Comrades before and had even encouraged a friend when she was training for Comrades, but the race appealed to me much more after meeting Stanley. A month later, I said to myself, “I want to run Comrades next year,” meaning 2020. Then Covid-19 happened. Earlier this year, I celebrated when I found out the race would take place, so I registered.

What a legend Stanley is! I know for Comrades you must submit a marathon qualifying time. When you decided to run Comrades, had you ever run a marathon? NO! I had never run an actual marathon. But I had run 42km distances a number of times. Even though I had the knack, I did not consider myself as a marathoner from a run without a formal time or medal. I qualified with my very first marathon in Botswana, a race called Diacore. I completed it in exactly 4hours, placing me in seeding D. I had trained for three months, and I was pleased with my performance.

What did you enjoy most about training for Comrades? My morning training boosted my energy big time, making me feel like I had accomplished something even before the day had started. I enjoyed the beauty, freshness and quietness of running in the early mornings – it clears the mind and makes me look onto the day with a fresh mind. I have also enjoyed the experiment of running under the sun’s heat in the middle of the afternoon!

What were some of the biggest challenges training for Comrades and how did you motivate yourself to keep going? Life is made of our attitudes! In my life, I have done many excellent things and none of them were a result of my abilities but rather my attitude. I didn’t expect the training for Comrades to be smooth. But I had accepted to deal with whatever challenge it would present me with, to remain bold and move forward regardless. In the end, I was playing a role in a drama of my own writing. Like any training, a positive mindset is important. Having said this, I don’t want to give the impression that I had everything under control.

I had days when I felt like I was about to crash. There were times when it was hard to get up in the morning to train, when I didn’t see the point of doing it, when I had the “why am I doing this?” moment. But I’m also lucky because I had a compelling drive in me, pushing me to do it. If the ‘just do it’ was stronger I would run or train as per the schedule. Sometimes I would reduce my daily training requirement, but I was still satisfied with myself for just showing up.

Fitting in long runs came with lots of challenges too as it needed more scheduling, optimum time, good pace, finest preparation and endurance. My long runs depended more on my schedule than my actual readiness. One of the things I did for motivation was to design an advent calendar. Each training day I showed up scored me points and at the end of the week I would earn a prize. All prizes I earned were basically what I would need for the race. They included a pair of running shoes, watch, sunglasses, shorts, tank, running cap and sports bra: just basic needs of a runner! Once I had a complete outfit, I knew I had to work even harder. There is a good feeling of sticking to a routine. I also maintained a happy, healthy weight for committing to a routine: this served as motivation and results of my hard work.

You are amazing! How did you balance being a working mum with such a tough training schedule? That’s one difficult equation I could not balance. Few can accept the burden of their own victory. I have sacrificed so many dreams in the name of a larger dream and that comes obviously with a high price to pay. It took a toll on me, my family and business. From the moment I qualified for Comrades, I decided I was going to mostly focus on my training. I was running all the time which I incorporated with gym and working out at home too. Most days when I was home, I would be sleeping or resting and catching up with work. I compromised a lot.

Simple traditions of sitting together for breakfast or dinner every day were impossible. We were lucky if we could do so once a week. Shared parental duties such as bedtime stories for kids or checking their homework became daddy’s sole role. I hardly played with my kids nor spent quality time with my husband. I was always exhausted. Even though we live under one roof, my family missed me, and I missed them so badly. My business suffered too. Usually, I’m a great do-er in all family, home and business activities, but this was not so during my training. But I had fully accepted my own mission and its dues without dispute. It’s a high price to pay but Comrades is worth that high price! However, I do not take for granted the love and support I got from my family. They were by my side throughout and I am forever grateful for that.

I love your honesty. Is there anything you would have done differently during training? Not really. My training was based on resources I could afford and the extent of my capacities. I had designed a loosely structured training plan that suited me. I did not want a strict, regimented schedule. I’m naturally not a self-challenger, I’m a self-builder. My dreams shouldn’t crash me – they should be attainable and can be visualized without giving me nightmares. I needed a plan I would follow diligently. One I could commit to. To me it was important to be realistic.

My training for Comrades is the lengthiest I’ve ever done – 6 months. I ran on average 5 days a week. This included long runs, recovery runs and short runs. First weeks, I concentrated on putting in some distance because I needed to adjust to the lengthy training. On days I did short runs, I also did gym to build strength. I did hill repeats only once a month. I had only two rest days weekly. The last three weeks before the race I started tapering. I cut my training mileage to let my body recover and replenish. Training for months makes one fit, but one has to bear in mind too that cumulative stress of an increased training load can be damaging to bones and muscles. I had managed to achieve a great build-up that was injury and illness free, and I couldn’t be happier. I nourished my body with the nutrients it needed. I hydrated throughout. I relaxed my body and did lots of stretching with yoga. I knew I had done all the training I could.

Stay tuned for PART 2 where Tshire takes us to the Comrades Start Line and gives us a detailed account of what the race was like, the lessons she took away, as well as the goals she has for the future!

I’m linking up with Kooky Runner and Zenaida for Tuesday Topics. Hop on over to their blogs and others and be inspired!

34 thoughts on “Running Comrades | Interview with Tshire – Part 1

  1. Oh, this is exciting! I’m on the fence about whether I should attempt the Comrades. It’s such a legendary race, I feel I NEED to do this one.

    Tschireletso’s story is inspiring – I like how honest she is about all the sacrifices she made. If she can do it as a busy mother, surely I should find the time to train for this?
    I think I have found my goal for 2024! (2023 will be Berlin 2.0)

    Can’t wait for part 2!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve always thought you’d be a great candidate for Comrades!!! I loved her honesty – it’s not easy to talk of specific sacrifices like she did. She put blood, sweat and tears into this and came out with an incredible victory. Part 2 is coming tomorrow! So you don’t have to wait too long 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Shatie
        My friend i think it’s good to be transparent, it pained me for the sacrifices but joy comes at a cost! 😃

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Hi Catrina! I’m coming back to you after so long but it’s better late than never get😃
      If you feel like you need to do this- comrades, my advice is go for it. You don’t want to wait 20years and regret! I can assure you, there is so much to gain than loose from this one😄go run the race🙏

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Really loved this blig Shatiso. The honesty is heartwarmu g and real. Persecerance and putti g yiurself first sometimes. Just loved every line and can not wait for the start line on the edge of my seat. Thank you for sharing your journey Tshire!! And well done on yiur amazing achievement!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Admittedly, I am not familiar with this race. I am off to look it up. What a great interview. Looking forward to the second half

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Tshire really has a fascinating story! I love her determination and focus, as well as her candor in the toll it took with sacrificing valuable family time. All of us moms can relate to that on so many levels!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Very exciting… Nothing I would ever consider but I do enjoy reading about others who do.

    There’s a half in NYC sponsored by Shape magazine. In fact, if you ran it you got a free subscription to the magazine. I ran it once.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t know right now what to do really to convince you to run this race! Im working on it …I’m very sure you’d enjoy it if you give it a try. 😃

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I love the honesty and also the reward system! Genius! I have a friend who qualified for Comrades 2020, not sure what happened but she was so excited and then so disappointed! It took me 8 hours to do my 50k so I don’t think I’ll ever do it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 50km is a long distance👏🙌👏🙌I’m sure with more training you can finish the race. Honestly I feel like you had done the hardest! 🤞🙌👏

      Liked by 1 person

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