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  • Annie Bothma

"Behind every mask, there is a face and behind that a story." - Marty Rubin

The uncertainty that we all had to deal with was tough - especially those first few weeks, when everyone was filled with anxiety, not knowing how long the lock-down and global pandemic would persist. However, we soon started adapting to a "new normal", and strove to find the best in a dire situation. I moved back home from Cape Town to Stellenbosch, the town I grew up in, to live with my family during the pandemic. I adored the new training environment since it resembled Kenya; being surrounded by beautiful mountains, endless vineyards, open grass fields to run on, and gravel roads in the farms and mountains gave me plenty of good places to train. Of course, I was no stranger to those routes, but there I was also privileged to have either my dad or younger brother, Frans, on the bike next to me, to make sure I was safe while logging the long marathon miles.

I started training hard, by increasing my mileage and doing strenuous workouts and tempo runs. I applied the training principles that I learnt in Kenya: running high mileage, never neglecting hills, and making sure those key, weekly long runs were present, alongside regular fartleks and quality speed-endurance sessions. I basically followed the training program template made by my Kenyan coach, Erick Kimayo, while adjusting it based on my new environment and my body’s response to the training. I also incorporated some of the knowledge I gained from previous coaches and from what I studied in the States, as well as the experience I have with what works best for me as an athlete.

I tried hard to stay focused on the only three things I knew I could control: my effort, mindset, and preparation. I kept hoping that I would be ready for the first race that came my way, but the months went by with nothing but cancellations and postponements. The training was a lonely endeavour - I missed being part of the running community. I started chasing down records and setting personal challenges or goals to chase together with my dad in training. We created our own mini-races along the way and, over the months, I ran multiple personal bests, in tempos and time-trials, that I never thought possible. However, my excitement didn’t last. Soon after achieving unofficial personal best times or running a solid workout or long run, I would feel incredibly low, realizing, in the end, that it was nothing more than another Garmin stat that doesn't really mean anything to the rest of the world. It kept me motivated to keep training hard, but it was tantalising to never toe the line at a real race while knowing that I was most likely in the best shape I have ever been.

In September, 2020, I got a strange, but interesting, opportunity to compete in the Chaski Marathon Relay, a virtual relay set up by the Athletic Brewing Co. I ended up being part of the winning team, JUSARSA, and ran the first leg of 19.2 km in 61:09 - which extrapolates to a 67:12 half marathon. American Lindsey Scherf ran the second leg of 12.9 km in 41:15, and Japan's Shiho Kaneshige clocked 34:41 for the final 10 km, for a total time of 2:17:05. The team won by 18 minutes. Although I never want to do a virtual race again, and the result will remain unofficial, at the time, this event showed me that the work I did in Kenya and following months of the pandemic was definitely paying off.

Another small consolation came shortly after, when I won the virtual Cape Town Marathon in October. I wasn't well tapered, as I only found out three weeks beforehand that it would be an official time on a measured course and was still running extremely high mileage when I decided to participate. Because of the limited opportunities at the time, I would have jumped at almost every chance I got to run an official event.

The day, however, was not an enjoyable experience, having to run all by myself in a looped course set up in Green Point, Cape Town, of which more than half was on cobblestones. The multiple sharp turns and mundanity of running that many circles on my old training ground definitely got to me by the end. I was also struggling with a lingering stomach bug that made me feel nauseous for the majority of the race. As early as 8 km in I started struggling to ingest my fluids and gels, and had to skip some, since the feeling progressively worsened. I struggled to eat for the rest of that day, and had extreme stomach pain the next day while receiving treatment for the stomach bug.

The time was not as fast as my fitness predicted or the qualifying time I was hoping for, but I lowered my official personal best to 2:33:35, down from my debut time set the previous year at the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon. I was happy and thankful that it was at least an official time - and an improvement, which is always the goal.

When restrictions finally loosened at the end of 2020, I returned to Kenya in November and was in the best shape of my life. I was ready to run a world-class marathon at the start of 2021, still hoping to gain my Olympic qualifier to the postponed Games of 2020. My opportunity never came, and I had to deal with the heartbreak, disappointment, and frustration of every cancellation and postponement, just like the majority of my fellow athletes around the world. We all kept hoping that the new year would be different, but there was, in fact, nothing magical about January the 1st, and when 2021 came the world was still fighting the pandemic and South Africa was still under strict lockdown regulations - yet another year filled with uncertainty, anxiety, doubts and fears awaited the world.


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  • Annie Bothma

Updated: Nov 20, 2021

This will be the first time since 2019, that I will not be returning to Kenya in December for training. For the past two years, I have spent the December holidays, Christmas, my birthday, New Year's Eve, and the beginning months of each year in a training camp located at 3000m above sea level in a small township called Kipsiat Kenya. It is sad for me to realize I am not healthy enough this year to return back up to altitude, but I am also looking forward to embracing the beautiful summer weather in South Africa and focusing on training healthy and consistent. I am happy to share that I have finally been able to see improvements and progress in my health since some medication changes at the end of October.

But it is hard, I have made some of my best friends and met some of the most amazing people while training and living in Kenya. I do hope to go back sometime soon in the future. Meanwhile, I decided to reflect a bit on my journey training with the best in the world and to share some of the experiences and special memories of my time travelling back and forth between Kenya and South Africa over the last two years.

At the end of 2019, shortly after making my debut at the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon, I realized the only way I was ever going to make my dreams a reality was by going all in. I realised during the race that I was highly unprepared for the distance, from both a fitness and fueling perspective. After this rude awakening surrounding the demands of a 2-hour-plus race, I knew I had only scratched the surface of my marathon potential.

I decided to throw everything I had at this newfound passion for the marathon. I was a successful personal trainer and running coach at the time, but I knew that if I didn't fully commit myself to running, I may never reach my full potential or achieve my dream of representing my country at the biggest stage - the Olympics. I was on my feet the whole day, demonstrating exercises, so I never had time to properly recover after my own training sessions. I was also working long hours and had limited time to train. I was working on weekends as well and after competing I often had to rush to be on time for appointments.

I made the brave (and scary) trip into the unknown at the end of that year, when I travelled to Kipsiat, a remote little township in Kenya, roughly 3000 m above sea level, to train with the kings and queens of the marathon. I had the privilege of sharing a camp, and coach Erick Kimaiyo, with Brigid Kosgei, the current world record holder in the marathon.

Being used to training at sea level, the transition came as quite a shock, having to endure routes of seemingly endless hills while feeling like you’re breathing through a straw. In the beginning, merely walking up the 400m-hill from where we started running in the morning back up to the camp felt hard; and at night, while laying in bed, my breathing felt different and heavy. I noticed changes in my sleep, my appetite, and my skin, which seemed drier in the thin air. But, somehow, I managed. During my second week there I eclipsed my previous highest mileage week by about 20 km and did a 41 km long run.

Living in a small, rural township, in a rudimentary camp with only basic facilities, was something to get used to. I had to adjust to washing all my clothes by hand in a bucket and then drying them in the sun before we geared up for an afternoon or the next morning's session. I cooked all my food on a small gas stove in my room, since the camp had no kitchen. The nearest big town, Eldoret, was a 3-hour drive away and we were only able to make a trip every couple of weeks for some non-perishable items that I could take back to camp. The rest of my groceries all came from the local market on Sundays, or from when we made a trip to a nearby township, Kachibora, which had a market with fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as a small supermarket. We would often have days without any water or electricity, and there was no wifi - which allowed me to fully focus my attention on recovering from training. I spent a lot of time reading, journaling, and also just soaking up the sun while chatting with my teammates.

I feel blessed to have made these friendships, and I still frequently communicate with Brigid, my other teammates from the camp, and the coach. It is an experience I will always remember, and cherish, for the rest of my life.

During my time there I did some of the hardest runs and most gruelling workouts I have ever completed. We did a 38 km long run where we gained a total of 1500 m elevation, starting at 2000 m above sea level and then running back up to the camp at 3200 m over a net-uphill course.

I ran up and down the steepest hills I have ever seen. We did long speed-endurance workouts consisting of a total of 15-17 km of intervals on the road, and shorter speed workouts on a grass field that resembled a track, but looked and felt more like a cross country course - all up at 3200 m. We did fartleks that consisted of 1-minute hard running followed by 1-minute steady running on dirt roads with terrain so challenging the whole workout felt more like a tempo to me. Then, on weekends, a long run of 25-41km resembled a progressive tempo run. For some faster workouts and long runs, we drove down from 3200 m to 2000 m, where there were slightly fewer hills and a bit more oxygen to get the legs turning faster.

I felt strong in training until I got a viral infection at the beginning of 2020, which cost me about two weeks of training. I was throwing up, and it was terrifying not having any real medical support or a hospital close by. I returned to South Africa shortly after, to compete in shorter (21 km and 10 km) races, but again my health didn’t allow me to finish. The next day after dropping out I was in the hospital, severely dehydrated and constantly running to the bathroom. I had to spend a whole week in there, and went through a multitude of tests, as it turned out that food poisoning followed the illness from a few weeks before and threw my body into disarray.

That race was also the reason why I initially went off social media. Being dehydrated as a result of all the vomiting and diarrhoea from the stomach bug and then getting food poising I looked extremely thin. I have a slender built, but my veins and bones were even more visible. I was so excited to get back to South Africa and be amongst the running community I grew up in, missed and love. I was excited to tell them about my experience in Kenya and hopefully run strong with my new fitness and strength from training up in the thin air altitude, running more mileage and climbing the steepest hills I have ever seen! But instead - the only remarks at the start line I got was not about Kenya - but my body. Instead of "How are you?" I got: "You look so bad. Just look how thin you are?!!"

Although these remarks may be right, they weren't necessary at a start-line of a race, they weren't asked for or appreciated at the moment - they were hurtful and made me feel ashamed of my body and weak. I have always been self-conscious of my weight. I have always felt too skinny and inferior to my competitors. I have tried so hard to gain weight over the years and have seen a multitude of specialists to try to help me - but if you lack the necessary hormones for growth and physical development, reproduction, and have always had a natural small build - it is very hard to actually put on weight! It is not anyone's place to judge another runner based on how they look, it is not just the body that runs, but also the heart, lungs and maybe most importantly the mind (in my case those work just fine!! I have seen runners of all shapes and sizes perform and run really fast - everyone is unique.

I did everything in my power to prepare myself for another trip to Kenya, for the same reason that I initially attempted altitude training: I was selected to run in the elite field of the Vienna City Marathon that would have taken place in April 2020. I flew right at the end of February but had to return after only a week due to the ominous rise of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I decided to try competing at a local marathon in South Africa as an alternative, but I was only back home for about a week when suddenly everything around me was changing very fast as my own country was also now being effective and along with the rest of the world on 23 March 2020 we went into lockdown - uncertain what would happen next. Hello, treadmill...


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  • Annie Bothma

A blog post in the celebration of Women's Month: The Totalsports Women's Month campaign, a race report about successfully defending my Totalsports Ladies Race 10km title, and call to all women to chase their dreams.

I competed in the Totalsports Ladies Race two times as a junior athlete. The Totalsports ladies race, that use to be hosted in my hometown Stellenbosch, has always been something I dreamt of winning. The race is very special to me as it was the race in which I completed the 10km distance for the very first time. I was only 13 years only and had never run that far before; I entered just for fun. At the time I didn't even have a watch, I found someone to run with and talked the whole way. 

I fell in love with the sport, the vibe, the crowds, the adrenaline and the sense of accomplishment after crossing the finish-line. The next year I entered another 10km road race with the goal to race it. I clocked 38:17 that night. In 2012, at the age of 16, I entered the Totalsports Ladies Race again and won the Junior category. I started to dream of one day being one of those top Senior Women on the podium. 

Last year, I finally got the opportunity to line up at the Totalsports Ladies race again after I returned to South Africa. I didn't compete in road races for three years while running on an NCCA D1 scholarship in America and the Totalsports Ladies Race 10km was my first race back in my home country. Breaking the tape in 2018, I finally reached my goal: That childhood dream came true winning the 10K Totalsports Ladies Race Title. 

"Little girls with dreams, become women with vision."

The past few weeks I was privileged to be part of the Totalsports Women's Month Campaign.

Totalsports celebrates women in sport this August with women influencing others in their sport. Head over to their website to hear our stories of perseverance, commitment to overcome obstacles and ultimately influencing others to starting our sporting journeys.

"Don’t limit yourself just because you have a disability/illness or some sort of adversity holding you back. Dare to chase your dreams and don’t let others tell you what you are capable of doing or not. If you have a goal or a dream write it down, put it somewhere where you can see it every single day and then do something every single day to work towards it! Don’t do it for someone else, do it for you! This is your dream and your story!  Make it worth telling!"

The Totalsports Ladies Race is a run in honor of women and support of PinkDrive. Suffering from a chronic illness myself - I have hypopituitarism and celiac disease - I understand the financial strain and stress associated with fighting for your health.  I think it is amazing that they made this initiative to hold this event in honor of the PinkDrive.  It is a great way to create and promote awareness about cancer in South Africa, and potentially beyond. It was amazing seeing so many women in pink to support this cause!

The things I enjoyed most about the day was the vibe, and the thousands of women coming together to celebrate Women’s Day. Totalsports did a fantastic job at organizing the event and I feel so privileged to be part of it. Seeing so many women unite on one day and compete together in something I am so passionate about. It was great competing in my home city, conquering the Cape Town hills and enjoying the beautiful view from the top!

It is a very hilly course with a lot of sharp turns and steep climbs. However, I came prepared having run the course last year. I try doing most my long runs on hilly courses and supplement my running with a lot of strength training in the gym.  This is one of those tough courses where you have to break it up into pieces. I just run it hill by hill - trying to focus on my form - engaging my core, using my glutes and arms to push me up to the top!

While warming up, coach Garth came to me and gave me a small note saying:

"Someone may beat me, but they are going to have to bleed to do it."

Suddenly, I felt at peace in my heart that even if I don't win - I will go out there and give my absolute best!! I came to this race with the burning desire to defend my title and I did show up ready and focused to do it. I knew I was stronger and faster than the previous year, but I also knew others also work hard to win. I just stayed relaxed, concentrating on my own race and continuing with my drills, while soaking in the amazing vibe at the start.

I went with a mission to break that tape first and I ended up leading from gun to tape. I ran hard up the the hills and were able to complete the race about 30-seconds faster than I did last year! 

My fondest memory was seeing my support system standing there waiting for me when I broke that tape:

My parents - who is not pictured, because they took all the pictures. Haha

My brother Francios - who has played such a big role in my preparation; really going the extra mile for me, biking with me on almost all my long runs up-and-down between the mountains.

My best friend and gym training partner Jana Du Preez - who made sure I ran the last kilometer the fastest by shouting her heart out when I came around that last corner!!

My fiancé Heinrich,- who has stood with me through all the ups and many downs this year

My coaches Bennie Stander and Garth Dorman - who has helped me become stronger and faster than ever before!

Behind a successful athlete there’s a whole group of people contributing to that success.- My sponsors Nedbank Running Club, Nike South Africa, BiogenSa, FutureLifeSA, Nick Bester, and Oxygenate plays a big part in getting me to the start-line geared up, fueled, healthy and ready to run. I am thankful to have a support network behind me that is routing for me every step of my journey of pursuing my passion and chasing my dreams.

I am busy preparing for my first marathon; and considering the high mileage I have been running in training, I feel good about my performance. I have been training hard - my long runs has been further than ever before, my tempo runs have been consistent, and track workouts have been faster than ever before. Most importantly, I am feeling stronger and healthier than ever before! 

Running is my biggest passion. I had to overcome a lot of obstacles to be able to run - rising above my medical condition, many unfortunate accidents, and setbacks. However, somehow every setback I had made me come back even stronger and more determined to succeed in the sport.

Running is what makes me happy and feel free, strong and beautiful.  I would like other women to also experience this feeling and share in the joy running has brought me. Road running unites people from everywhere. It's for everyone - not just for the elite runners - anyone who dares to take a step forward can participate and become healthier, fitter and stronger. 

I would love to hear your story and how running/sport has changed your life. Email me at to get your story featured as one of my guest posts on the blog. Don't be afraid to share your journey; it may just help and inspire others going through the same struggles.

Happy Women's Month

- Annie

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