Zola Budd Pieterse & Comrades 2012

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Q: I hear Zola Budd is training for Comrades. Can she make the Top 5 women? – Arthur M

Answer by Ross Tucker:

Zola Budd is one of SA’s great distance runners – her 5000m world record (14:48.07) from 1985 would still be world-class today,
so she was clearly ahead of her time.

But frame those performances against the almost 90km of Comrades, and the challenge is quite different. Zola’s ‘distance’ performances suddenly look like sprints, and the transition from racing for 15 minutes to 7 hours is a difficult one.

The biggest predictor of marathon success is previous track success, i.e. speed. That’s why the current crop of brilliant marathoners are, or were, the fastest over 10km and 21km as well.

For Zola, the challenge is significant. Few world-class track runners have really attempted it, probably because of the time investment and risk of ultra-running (you get one shot a year, not five or six).

If Zola is serious, there’s no reason she can’t succeed – the physiology that made her a great 5000m runner (cardiovascular function, fuel efficiency, economy, muscle enzymes, etc) could also make her a great ultra-runner. She is obviously older and more mature, both physically and mentally; that will stand her in good stead. She has run a few marathons, but without focused training, those performances are difficult to judge.

All in all, it’s possible. Staying injury- free is key, as is getting the mileage in. Her unquestionable physiological attributes can help her into the top 5. And who knows, maybe even higher.

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