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by Michelle Carnegie
07 December 2018

She has just clocked her marathon PB of 2:35 in Valencia, Spain, without trying and training too hard. So when the 2018 Comrades Champion Ann Ashworth shortly after announced that she would be running full time from next year, running experts and the running community were buzzing with excitement. Because what Ashworth has managed to achieve up to now while balancing a demanding career as advocate, managing an elite running club and running as an elite herself, has been nothing short of amazing.
Ashworth, the driving force behind the establishment of Team Massmart, an all women elite running team, has up to now - unlike most other elite athletes - balanced a hectic full time career with running, and many other responsibilities. Therefore being able to focus full time on running as an elite come January 2019, promises to be a game changer for the hard working Ashworth, from whom great things are expected in the next two to three years.
A dream race
Not many can forget the image of an elated Ashworth jumping into the arms of her coach John Hamlett as she crossed the line to claim the 2018 Comrades women’s title. It was an emotional moment for many, but obviously more so for Ashworth, who fought her way back from many disappointments over the last two years; she had to pull out of the 2017 Comrades Marathon barely 2km into the race due to injury, and many a times over the last two years training had to be put aside because of work commitments. But Ashworth is known as a fighter, and so she fought her way back to a Comrades victory this year.
Ashworth identified Valencia earlier this year as being a race she was really keen to do. “I thought it would be an opportunity to meet up with one of my best friends Helen (who has moved to Paris) for a marathon and I was keen to run something overseas. When my husband (David) and I got married we said we would try to run an international marathon every 2 years, but with our respective studies and my completing pupillage we just couldn’t afford to do anything after Brussels in 2013. I used my Two Oceans prize money (she finished 5th) to pay for the flights for this trip,” says Ashworth.
She admits to struggling getting back into training after Comrades.
“For two months I basically just ran easy with my dog. From October we started training more seriously again but my work and home commitments have been quite limiting. I did as much as I could with the time I had available but my build up was by no means perfect. One thing I have done in the past few months was cross training with my friend and teammate Vicky Hansen (who is a personal trainer). I have found that has kept me injury free and made me a lot stronger in my core,” says Ashworth.
Insofar as race day was concerned, she knew she hadn’t done the work necessary to run her best race, but she was determined to give it her best shot. “My coach John set a race plan which terrified me (as usual) and I just had to trust him completely to know what I could do. As it turned out my coach was dead on and the race pretty much unfolded as he predicted.”

A surprising PB
She never expected to run a PB at Valencia. “Not even close! I really hoped to get close to 2:40 but 2:35...unbelievable.” Her husband David was just 2 minutes ahead of her so he waited at the finish line for his wife. “He waited for me with a (big, sweaty) hug. I love seeing him at the finish of a race! He had been trying to break 2:30 so my first question was whether he had made it, but he had run a tough second half and missed his target, which is obviously very disappointing for him (but I know he can do it, next time). I looked down at my watch and just couldn’t believe it - I was like: 2:35... who knew!”
A change in pace
A day or two after Ashworth’s magnificent performance she announced through her social media channels that she would be running full time come January 2019. “Decision made. For the past 2 years I have done my best to juggle a fledgling career as an advocate, part time studies, launching and managing a new elite running club and the development of my own running. With a full plate we’ve done as much as we can do. It’s time to consider what might possibly happen if I actually made running my priority. I don’t know how, but I’m committed to running full time next year. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. I have the will, let’s find a way.
Ashworth explains that her career and work flow is really unpredictable. Sometimes I’m crazy busy, so much so that I can’t train or eat properly or sleep, and other times I’m very quiet. It’s a constant fear that I will have crazy weeks of work right in the middle of a key training peak, something I experienced this year. I don’t have many years of running ahead of me. I need to build my career and take on some adult responsibilities, but I also believe that everyone needs an opportunity to chase dreams. I’ve had that the past 2 years due to the kindness and generosity of my friends and the incredible support of my family. And somehow we won Comrades - a dream come true. John has encouraged me to keep chasing dreams for another year or so, just to see what happens. It’s in my nature to be impulsive (not a good quality for an advocate) and so after chatting to David and my two best friends in SA (Clayton and Anton), we decided to give running full time a chance. I didn’t have a plan, I just wanted to do it and was committed to finding a way.”
The backing of Massmart
The next day, Brian Leroni from Massmart SA sent Ashworth a message asking how much financial support she would need to chase her dreams. “Massmart SA has now undertaken to sponsor my dreams full time. I’m speechless. I really didn’t expect to be supported this way; particularly after all they have already done for Team Massmart and me. It seems as though Massmart is in the business of making dreams a reality and changing lives. They have been and continue to be an outstanding sponsor,” says Ashworth.
Ashworth is currently in Paris visiting a friend before heading back to South Africa on Tuesday. And for the first time she will be in the position of chasing dreams full time, something that she was clearly born to do.

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