SHE HAS WHAT IT TAKES
by Michelle Carnegie
17 October 2017
When one of the most hard-core and successful coaches in the country decides to take you on as one of his athletes, you must know that you potentially have what it takes, but you also quickly realise training - as you know it - will never be the same again.
For Gauteng based advocate Ann Ashworth life and training have definitely changed since John Hamlett, better known as the Coach of Coaches, has taken her on as one of his athletes. John, who is known for carefully selecting athletes he feels he can work with, is the only coach to have coached athletes to some 48 Comrades gold medals.
Ann clearly has what it takes, and is tough and talented enough, because since she has joined ex-military man John’s camp about 14 months ago, she not only recently won the Legends 68km Ultra Marathon in East London, but she has physically and mentally transformed into a different athlete.
Her goal? A top ten finish at the Oceans Ultra and Comrades Marathon next year, before setting her sights on winning the Ultimate Human race within the next three years. She is clear about one thing, she will not do any of it without John as her coach as she believes it is his training program – unlike any she has seen before - that has gotten her to where she is today.
Ann got to know John through her husband David who started training with John about three years ago. “Through my husband I found out how hard-core John was, and I thought I would never survive under him. He also hasn’t trained any women for a long time,” says Ann. So understandably Ann was a bit unsure if she should approach him. “I got to a stage where I felt I wasn’t progressing on my own, and on a hope and a prayer I sent John a WhatsApp message.” That was 14 months ago and neither of them has looked back. “I’ve been able to hack it with the big boys and I think John and I are equally surprised!”
Ann admits she still wakes up some mornings and when she looks at her training program for the week ahead she often wonders how she will be able to get through it. “But somehow you do. John’s program is unlike any other I have ever seen. It is fundamentally different,” says Ann. It was whilst preparing for the 2017 Comrades Marathon that Ann realised just how different John’s training program is. “My training involved quality sessions every single day, which is unusual. The duration of my long runs also changed. From January to Comrades race day I logged 3 500km opposed to the 1 200km I was used to.”
Though she was as fit and strong as they come, a nagging hamstring injury forced her to pull out of this year’s Comrades, barely 1km into the race. “I had a niggly hamstring since December which seemed to disappear by end of February. Driving down to Pietermaritzburg the week of Comrades my hamstrings tightened up because of the long sit in the car.” To makes things worse, Ann, co-founder of the Born 2 Run Athletics Club, got dehydrated while setting up seconding tables for her club mates along the Comrades route, a day before the 89km race. The dehydration caused massive muscle cramps at the start of the race, resulting in a torn gluteal muscle. “I suppose the moral of the story is to not set up seconding tables the day before Comrades,” says Ann.
A new goal
Obviously Ann was devastated, especially as Comrades was her only focus for six months. “I felt I had put in all the training mileage, but it was a complete waste of time. John advised me to find something else to keep me motivated, and that’s how I got to run the Legends Ultra Marathon.” She convinced some teammates from the TomTom Athletics Elite team to join her, and whilst Ann was racing they used it as a training run. Though she wasn’t as well prepared as for Comrades, Ann still smashed it and won the race in a time of 4:58. “Though I wasn’t as fit, it was mentally important for me to get my act together,” says Ann, who has a marathon best of 2:47.
A change of pace
Ann has had to make some life changes in order to focus more on running. Career wise she recently converted to advocate after realising a typical office day job is not going to fit into the bigger plan. As co-founder of the Born 2 Run Athletic Club she has decided to hand over the reigns to others in order for her to focus more on her running career. “I am also fortunate to have a husband who puts his life on hold to make sure I am able to run.”
She is currently running once a day and goes to gym once a day, especially as the Down Run requires more leg strength. She has also adapted her nutrition and is following John’s specialised nutritional program, which focuses more on a high protein intake. Ann is no newbie to Comrades; she has run 6, with a best time of 7:07 in 2015. The Born 2 Run Athletics Club, which she was part of, won the team prize twice in 2013 and 2015.
A strong bond
Ann sees John, who has some great achievements as a pro-athlete himself, not only as a mentor and coach, but also as a father figure. She believes he is hard on his athletes and himself. “If you say that you are tired or sore or you didn’t have time to do a session, it will not be acceptable to John. He will push his athletes to the limit. And if they don’t break, they are exceptional. That is John’s style.” His training is all round and involves so much more than just the physical, says Ann. He spends a lot of time mentally preparing his athletes. “For instance there are race simulations within training, which really mentally prepares you for what is ahead.”
It is clear John’s training is paying off for many. He is most well-known for coaching David Gatebe to a 2015 Two Oceans win before David not only won but also broke the Comrades Marathon record with 4 minutes in 2016. John has also coached both Andrew Kelehe and his brother Gift to Comrades wins. Apart from these success stories, John’s TomTom team has for several years now won or finished second in the overall team prize at the Comrades Marathon.
No matter what, when Ann tackles Comrades next year, you can be sure it will be an emotional day. “I grew up in a Howick family, who always sat on the side of the road come Comrades day. In 1989, the last year Bruce Fordyce won the race, my Dad and I were sitting at the top of Polly Shortts. I was 3 years old and as Bruce came past I said to my Dad that one day I am going to win this race.
His words were: ‘You go girl! I will watch you.’ Unfortunately my Dad passed away before he ever got a chance to see me run the race. So every time I run Comrades I know my Dad is watching down on me from heaven.”
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