Friday, 5 September 2014

Elana Meyer: not just a runner, an inspiration - Part 2

An exclusive interview with South African former long-distance runner and Olympic medalist

Elana Meyer
Elana Meyer, a former long-distance runner and Olympic silver medalist at the 1992 Summer Olympics, as well as current ambassador for the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon, shares some tips on running a long-distance race in this second part of an exclusive interview. She also chats a bit about the up-coming Sanlam Cape Town Marathon.

Interview with Elana Meyer: Part 2
Running a long-distance race

Do you follow a certain strategy while you're running? For instance, do you speed up at certain times and slow down at different stages?

It depends on which race you're running. If you're running an Olympic race, you always have a race strategy. You determine it according to your own strengths and weaknesses. You're also racing against a lot of competitors with strengths and weaknesses, so you will decide on a racing tactic, depending on your own strengths and your competitors' when you're racing.

When you usually run longer distances, the most important thing at the end is that it's a race against yourself. When you can make sure that you can get the best out of yourself for the race, then you'll get a good result.

How do you avoid 'hitting the wall' when you're running?

'Hitting the wall' really is a term used in marathon running. After about 30km, you run out of glycogen, so you have to use different energy systems. Some people 'hit the wall' when they're not trained; when they're not fit enough. It's really a term that they use when they're getting tired.

There are a lot of things you can do to prepare better for an event. The longer the distance you attempt, the more weeks you need to prepare. You can avoid hitting the wall if you're well prepared.

How do you keep your feet on the ground when you've achieved greatness like yourself, winning an Olympic medal and being very well-known? How do you stay humble?

Being a successful athlete is only one component of a person. I believe I have a lot of strengths and weaknesses, and it forces me to look at the whole picture. To be a successful athlete doesn't mean that you're a successful person. It's one component that you can excel in. There are a lot of other areas where you really have to work hard. A lot of people are also better than you. So you always have to look at it holistically. One component of strength doesn't make you a strong person.

How do you deal with disappointment, like when you've lost a race or you didn't make the time you wanted to make?

I think you often learn a lot more through disappointment. I had a career of ten years running in South Africa and another ten years of running internationally. To grow and improve doesn't come in the form of victory after victory after victory. If you look back, you often had disappointments, but the fact that you got through them and that you become stronger through them, makes you successful.

Failure and disappointment are part of the road to success. Often, there are many kids that haven't won, so they give up. You need to be persistent through disappointments and failures to become a successful person.

What are some of the life lessons that you have learnt as a long-distance runner?

Running and sport have been the greatest feature in my life. Even though I have a degree and an Honours degree, sport has been the greatest feature. The lessons I've learnt through running: having a clear goal, being prepared, having a plan to achieve your goals, and going out there and doing the hard work to achieve your goals. You can apply these things in any facet of your life. You can apply it to work and to school. Most of the things I apply in my daily life, I've learnt through sport. 

Tell us more about the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon.

I'm an ambassador for the event. I'll certainly do one of the events, I'm not sure which one yet, but it will be something like the Mile Run or the 10km. My bigger role is to be part of the event, to get international athletes there, and to get as many locals as possible taking part. I'm definitely going to be part of it in a very big way.

From left to right: Jakes Jacobs (President: Western Province Athletics),
Elana Meyer (Sanlam Cape Town Marathon ambassador),
Yegs Ramiah (Chief Executive: Sanlam Brand)
and Francois Pienaar (Sanlam Cape Town Marathon ambassador)

Is there anything about the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon that makes it stand out from the rest of the marathons, besides it being an event for charity?

In South Africa, we have two great ultra marathons – the Two Oceans and Comrades marathons. The standard marathon distance at the Olympic Games and for all the big city marathons like London, New York, Chicago and Tokyo is 42.2km. Our aim is to build a big city marathon, where people will travel from all over the world to come and do it once in their lives. We want the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon to become one of those 'must run' events on the international calendar.

Is there any long-distance race that stands out for you in your career?

I did my debut marathon in Boston. The Boston Marathon is the oldest city marathon in the world. In 2017, it's turning 120-years-old. It started one year after the modern Olympic marathon. So, it's a historic event. I went back to run it a few times for charity. It's such a great race because of its history.

I've also run New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Mexico and London. All those marathons have something unique. Every time has been a unique and very special experience. That's what really makes a marathon. It's not a race, but an experience. That's why I always say that every person in the world should at least attempt a marathon once in their life.

Are there any special events for children at the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon?

Cape Town City Hall
Yes, absolutely. We have a Fun Run. A lot of the kids from the communities will have the opportunity to be part of the big event and run it. It's a 4.2km event. We also have a five-person relay, which is also 4.2km. Then there is the 10km run, which we wouldn't encourage very young children to run, but if you are at least 15, you're welcome to join us.

What advice do you have for children who aspire to be successful long-distance runners?

It's such an awesome way of getting fit and having a good lifestyle. It's really something that you can do from anywhere. You just need a pair of shoes. So you can go out and you don't have to go far. Once around the block – not the one that you can kick underneath your bed - is much better than doing nothing. Even if you run for ten minutes, it's better than nothing. Start by walking and jogging, and then later on move up to running. It's really something that anybody can do.

We would like to thank Elana Meyer for the amazing interview and we wish her all the best with her future endeavours, especially in terms of promoting long-distance running. You are a running legend and inspiration to us all!

For more information on the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon, visit

Compiled by Andrea Vermaak

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