It all started with a pair of running shoes bought by her parents. Now, Tanith Maxwell is one of South Africa’s leading female athletes. Her passion for running along with her dedication and drive to continuously improve is evident in her achievements. We had the opportunity to interview Tanith and get to know this phenomenal woman.
Why did you start running?
I started running at a very young age. I remember watching my uncle, Kevin Flannagan winning the SA Marathon Championships in Durban in the 1980’s and it really had a huge impact on me. So much so that my parents bought me my first pair of running shoes shortly afterwards and I never looked back!!
Running connects the body and the mind. What were your happiest and most painful moments?
Running has become a part of my everyday life, something I cannot do without. So I would say my happiest moments are on the road in the early morning, on my own. Whether it’s on a regular route around home or exploring a new part of a city in a foreign country. And the most painful moments is when I am injured or struggling with niggles, especially when there is time pressure on me to prepare for an upcoming event or championships.
What do you think about as you run?
I get asked this question quite often and every time I have to think about it!! If its an easy recovery run, I can think about anything really, it generally becomes time where I am able to problem solve the best. When the training is more intense or there is a quality session of track intervals or time trial sessions then the thinking is focused around the session that I am executing i.e. I will be thinking about staying relaxed, breathing, relaxed upper body etc.
How do you manage your passion for running and your work & (family) life?
I am fortunate that at the moment my work is my running so I don’t have to juggle the two. My family is also very supportive and understanding towards my sport. I think because most of them have been marathoners or comrades runners in their time, they know the time and commitment required to achieve in the sport.
What do you do to motivate yourself?
I think the discipline and consistency required for the sport is what attracts me and the motivation comes from genuinely having a love for being outdoors and running, and the rewards the sport can bring as long as you work at it constantly!
What was your biggest running accomplishment?
My biggest accomplishment to date was representing South Africa in the marathon at the 2012 London Olympics. I think becoming an Olympian is the pinnacle of any runners career.
How did you prepare both mentally and physically for a marathon/long distance race?
I have a very experienced distance coach who takes care of my training programmes and we have been working together since 2010. The physical aspect requires the right ratio of both endurance, strength, speed endurance and speed. These sessions are carefully formulated in weekly sessions and include: long runs, tempo runs, time trials, speed intervals and plyometrics. The mental aspect is more difficult for me and to this day I am still trying to improve in this area. I think executing the training perfectly helps in the build up but I am still working on improving my mental approach to racing!
What is the next big race that you are training for?
After finishing my first Comrades, I have taken time out to let my body recover. I have only just started running a couple of easy 12km runs. I will build up slowly to an international marathon at the end of this year where I hope to post a time sub 2h34. In the build up I will take part in the SA half marathon champs in PE and some local Western Province road fixtures.
What does your typical rest day look like?
A rest day usually includes some cross training and a core strengthening workout. However, if the legs are particularly tired from a heavy training block then I will leave out all forms of exercise and perhaps take a walk with my dachshund in Newlands Forest.
What do you do to prevent injury?
First and foremost, listen to my body!! As runners I do believe we are far more in tune with our bodies than sedentary people. Any slight tightness or discomfort I feel, I address immediately so as to prevent it developing into any kind of serious injury. I also believe in strength/plyometric sessions (especially for the older athlete) it definitely combats the onset of injuries. Lastly a small amount of stretching after my morning runs.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about running?
I think the biggest misconception in the sport is the mindset by so many runners that the LSD run (Long slow distance) is the bread and butter of any training programme i.e. running long and slow. They train their body to run slow. Huge improvements can be made with any level athlete that is introduced to interval speed sessions, time trial sessions and Hill sessions.
Why do you think supporting women in running is important?
The Olympic Marathon only became a discipline for woman at the 1984 Olympics in L.A. Since then woman have made huge inroads with all distances right from sprints up to the ultra distances. It is important that woman are given the same opportunities as men, especially in cultures where running for woman is frowned upon. The Ladies races in this country (Spar, Totalsports) have grown substantially over the years and enables woman to come together from all walks of life, improving both their health and lifestyle.
What is the most valued lesson you have learned as a female runner?
I think my most valued lesson would pertain to both men and woman. It would have to be the discipline demanded of the sport. There are no shortcuts to the training, no easy way out of tough sessions. The rewards from the sport come with complete discipline and dedication, in fact some of my friends call me ‘obsessed’ or ‘over the top’ at times when It comes to my training!! I call it commitment!
What advice would you give other women that want to start running?
I think the most valuable advice to any woman wanting to start running is progress slowly. Nothing happens overnight so invest in a customised training programme if possible and set realistic goals! This will help with the prevention of injury, prevent burn out or giving up and most importantly keep the fun element there!
Thank you Tanith for sharing your running journey with us. We wish you everything of the best in your future endeavors.