November 1, 2017 by DAVE JACK
One of South Africa’s top women runners, Ann Ashworth is the person behind the formation of the newest elite running club in the country, Team Massmart, and I was fortunate enough to have been invited to the launch of the club in Johannesburg and was able to sit and chat to Ann about her venture and to find out all about it and I started off by asking her if she felt there is need for another elite running club in South Africa and also what is going to set it apart from the rest?
AA: I don’t think there’s need for another elite club as such but there is need for more support for female elite athletes. Massmart is different in that it’s a ladies only club and we are supporting mainly black female distance athletes and we’re taking young athletes, most whom still have to prove themselves and we’re getting them coached, getting them trained and building them up to the ultra-distance events. I think that sets us apart. Most of the elite clubs will pick somebody who is already doing well, and offer them a big retainer. We’re not really focused on that. We’re focused on developing talent.
DJ: We see different approaches from the elite clubs. One club – and you know who I’m talking about – makes a huge noise and are in your face all the time and give their sponsor huge exposure and the others you hardly know they are there and as a result don’t appear to give their sponsors much exposure at all.
What’s your approach going to be? Are you going to go out there and tell the world “here we are” or are you going to be a lot more subtle about it?
AA: Our ladies are quite private people and we all have private lives outside of running. Running is not our full identity so we’ve got to have something else going on and we prefer to let our races do the talking and I think our results will show that.
DJ: Why restrict it only to women?
AA: There are three men’s elite clubs at the moment and there are no women’s only teams and there also huge discrepancies in the retainers paid. There are a lot more elite male athletes than there are elite women’s athletes and that’s one of the things we’re trying to address.
DJ: Do you see the membership being restricted to invitation only?
AA: The elite team will be by invitation only but the club will also be open to Massmart staff as well. It is a closed club. It’s not something that is open to the general public.
DJ: Where is your focus? What distances?
AA: Obviously the two big races in South Africa are Two Oceans and Comrades and I would be looking for all our ladies to be able to run a 2:40 or 2:42 marathon and then doing well in the ultra-distance events from there.
DJ: Do you have the potential to challenge for the team prize at either of the two big races next year?
AA: Born 2 Run has won it twice and come second twice with a group of experienced athletes. We’ve got an inexperienced group of novice athletes but I think we’ll be able to challenge for the team prize. It’s absolutely our intention.
DJ: Are you going to go shopping for runners?
AA: I’ve done my shopping for this year but in January I might look around as there might be athletes available for a variety of reasons. I’ve already been approached by a few top athletes but we’ve decided not to include any one else in the team at this stage but if there was some real talent who approached us we would definitely look at it.
DJ: You don’t have to tell me who, but have you got athletes in mind?
AA: I’ll look at anyone from the marathon up but not at the half marathon and lower and I’ll tell you why that is. I think there’s enough support for those athletes. I assume that some of the other elite clubs are supporting the shorter distance athletes. When we started talking to athletes earlier this year, we asked if they were already getting support from their existing clubs and if they were, we then didn’t include them. It wasn’t our intention to poach athletes who already received support.
DJ: When you talk about support, what is that? Obviously there’s some sort of financial support but what else is there?
AA: Any type of support. For example, kit, shoes, GPS watches, whatever the ladies need. The cost of coaching is something we pay for and if they didn’t have a coach and most didn’t, we find a coach. Coaching is very personal and we make a point of not sharing a coach. I certainly don’t want to share my coach. My team is my greatest competition!
DJ: Can we turn to Ann Ashworth for a minute. You’re the person behind the Team Massmart idea. Is that going to continue and if so, is it going to impact your running?
AA: I’ve given up Born 2 Run that got very big, very quickly and that impacted my time and my running. For example I was putting up water tables the day before Comrades when I was supposed to have been resting and that was quite a burden on me and then there were around 1000 members who needed me and my time. I loved it but it was tough. Now I only have to do something for eight of us.
DJ: So what then are your Comrades plans for 2018. I for one was a big supporter for 2017 and was very disappointed when the news came through about your withdrawal just after the start.
AA: My coach has got big plans. Whether I can deliver on those plans we’ll have to wait and see. Comrades is the only thing I’m racing next year. I’m back on the road and I’m going to give it everything I’ve got. I’ve given up my career as an attorney and I’ve moved to the bar, as an advocate, so I am able to basically work flexi hours so that works as far as my training time is concerned. If I want to take five hours off in the morning for a training run I can do that. I just don’t get paid!
DJ: I love the story of your introduction to Comrades because it’s virtually identical to my own. Tell me about it.
AA: I was standing at the side of the road with my parents as a girl of 6 watching the race at Polly Shortts in 1990 when Bruce won his last Comrades and I turned to my Dad and said “when I’m big I’m going to run this” and there was never any doubt in my mind from that day that I would.
DJ: Finally, when are we going to see those blue Team Massmart vests out for the first time or have they already been out
AA: They have been out here and there but only with temporary licence numbers because CGA has been a bit slow in getting us registered but we’re hoping to be at the Kaapsehoop Marathon as a full team this weekend in Nelspruit.
There you have it, Team Massmart and we wish Ann and her team of girls all the very best as they embark on making those dreams come true.