‘My own wonderland’

2013-09-18 00:00

NOT many schoolchildren fancy the idea of being told to run around the field these days, most preferring to sit idly in the shade and transmit their energy through their cellphones or iPads.

One exception is Tanith Maxwell (37) who, in her schooldays, came to relish the opportunity to run, the more laps the better, as she lost herself in the world of the distance runner, tuned into the rhythm of her body.

She is a full-time athlete these days with the standard marathon (42,2 km) her specialised distance. It has taken her around the world and it all started at junior school, where she enjoyed taking on a sport that she could give her undivided attention to.

“I was never one for team sports, hence pursuing running. Maybe that’s why I am still single too,” she joked. “I started getting interested in running at junior school and took it all through my high school days at Durban Girls’ College.”

Indeed, running is part of Maxwell’s daily life as she trains every day of the week, morning and afternoon except Sundays, when she takes the afternoon off.

“Running enriches my soul. It gives me peace with what is around me,” she said. “It allows me to focus, think and find solutions to important matters in my life. If I could describe it, it’s like stepping into another world, my own wonderland.”

One of KwaZulu-Natal’s most recognised athletes, Maxwell uses shorter distance races to work on her speed and stamina. Contrary to many beliefs, she has never focused on winning shorter races, despite being labelled a favourite for the Spar Women’s 10 km race in previous years.

“I may have been a top five finisher, but I never made it a goal of mine to win the race,” said Maxwell. “Many spectators harboured hopes of me winning the race for KwaZulu-Natal, but I was up against the country’s top 10 km athletes who were specialists in their own right. Looking through the list of winners bears testimony to that.”

Maxwell’s best effort over 42,2 km was in Berlin, in 2010, where she stopped the clock in 2:32. “Running is an unpredictable sport and no matter how much training and preparation gets done, it comes down to how you feel on the day and the conditions,” said Maxwell. “What I do try and maintain is an average time of 2:35 but like any athlete, there is always the determination to do better, for that perfect moment to come along when it all clicks into place.”

Maxwell still strives for that and along the way, has earned provincial and national honours. “It’s been a fantastic experience and given me travelling opportunities afforded to few,” she said.

There are moments and memories to cherish, but the two that stand out are the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006 and the London Olympics last year.

“Melbourne was my first experience on such a massive international stage. To realise what representing your country means is beyond words,” said Maxwell. “On the road, I finished in 2:41, which was good enough for a top 20 position. I was just so excited to be there, wearing the green and gold.

“Obviously, the Olympics is the pinnacle of athletics and despite my work towards it and my goals, I was struck down with a chest infection and started the race way off 100%. Still, it was an amazing day and I crossed the line in 2:40.”

While her personal best run in Berlin remains her best memory, Maxwell has also run the London Marathon and races in Vienna and Frankfurt. Having lived in London, she rates that city’s marathon as the most nostalgic.

But it’s not just about running for Maxwell. In between her career, she has a sports science degree from the University of Stellenbosch as something to fall back on once her competitive running days are over.

However, there is still work to be done in her running shoes as such. She recently returned from the World Athletics Championships in Moscow, where she lined up for South Africa in the marathon. Once again, fate dealt her a cruel blow.

“This time it was a stomach bug on top of travelling badly. I had two days to recover before the race and ran what for me, was a shocker — 2:56,” she said. “It was a vastly different experience too, as there was a complete lack of enthusiasm and support surrounding the event.

“Organisation was exceptional, yet it felt as though no-one knew such a big event was happening. I really experienced the true meaning of the loneliness of the long distance runner.”

Back home, its not long before Maxwell takes to the skies again, this time heading for the U.S. at the end of October to prepare for the California International Marathon on December 8.

“This is a big one for me and I am giving it my all, my full attention,” said Maxwell. “I will be based in Arizona and want to run a sub 2:30 race. That is huge for me and if everything is in place, I could reach what for me will be unchartered territory.”

There’s a hint of steely determination in Maxwell’s eyes as she speaks on her goal. She is hungry to succeed, hungry to record a time that makes the running world sit up and take note.

“I want that time badly and am so focused on getting there. I am in gym two to three times a week, add a couple of track sessions in the week and hit the road for a long run — up to 35 km — on Sundays,” she said.

Having been chasing qualifying times to compete at various world events since 2010, Maxwell is looking forward to next year, where she will run for herself and finally enjoy running without too much pressure and expectation.

“I’m not getting any younger and need to take my foot off the pedal soon. I have looked ahead and would like to tackle some ultra marathons soon, starting with Two Oceans,” she said. “I have no more Olympic ambitions having been there and done that. Comrades … well, maybe one or two. My dad Brian has his green number and I know what the race is about so I have to do one at least. Maybe in the next two years. Let me focus on Oceans next year and if I achieve my sub 2:30 marathon, I will have a decent platform for Comrades where a top 10 finish in the ladies’ race will be mission accomplished.”

Maxwell lifestyle and facts

• Enjoys walking her dogs on the beach

• Values her shins and doesn’t play hockey or soccer

• Reads a lot, likes the feel of a book in her hands

• One of her favourite subjects is English history

• Enjoys game reserves and the outdoors

• Is not a camper and enjoys her home comforts

• Cooking is definitely not a favourite pastime

• Likes a good steak now and again

• Does not play a musical instrument and rates her music talents worse than her cooking

• Likes ’80s music and inspirational pieces, especially before big events

• Sagas and dramas are favourite movies, with British comedy always a good laugh

• Last movie watched was Jack Reacher

• Drinks plenty of coffee and enjoys a rock or beer shandy

• Watches crime and nature on TV

• Most unusual thing ever done — the polar bear swim on New Year’s Day in Vancouver, Canada.

• Is not too keen on cycling as it is too dangerous

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