MARK ETHERIDGE: Molinaro a scoop for UK when she could have worn green and gold
Winner of IAU World 50km race was born in Joburg but was not asked to represent SA
The history books will tell us that Great Britain’s Carla Molinaro won this year’s IAU World 50km road running title in Hyderabad, India.
Just two weeks ago the Springboks won the Rugby World Cup in France while the national men’s cricket side are now in World Cup action in India.
And the disappointing thing that the history books won’t record for SA sport is that they could have added another string to their bow. That’s because, by virtue of being born in Johannesburg, Molinaro qualified to run in the green and gold.
Spending a few well-earned days off and holidaying in Sri Lanka, Molinaro confirmed this. “Yup, I could have run for either. Great Britain just asked me first.”
In any case, a number of top SA ultra-marathon athletes missed out on the world champs due to bungled administrative/visa problems.
But that wasn’t Molinaro’s problem. There were no issues like that for her as she won in 3hr 18min 23sec, finishing 43sec ahead of US athlete Andrea Pomaranski and another minute ahead of British teammate Sarah Webster.
Living on the Atlantic seaboard in Cape Town since December 2022, Molinaro shared the story of her race.
“I had a consistent build-up, averaging around 100-120km a week, after a bit of downtime since Comrades Marathon. I built up with an amazing running group in Cape Town and I wouldn’t have had the year I had if it wasn’t for them — and of course, my UK-based coach Martin Cox.
“In fact this whole year has been the highlight of my sporting career — third in Two Oceans, third in Comrades Marathon and then winning the world 50km champs, never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined doing that.”
There was another SA connection in her build-up as she spent two weeks in Dubai with Comrades queen Gerda Steyn, getting acclimatised to the heat and humidity that awaited in Hyderabad.
As for the race itself: “We went off slower than expected and seven laps into the race I decided to see if I could break away from the lead group, and actually did it quite easily, but then thought it may be wiser to drop back into the group and save energy.
“I finally made my move on the final lap and just did my best to hold it all together. I didn’t know where the second girl was but worked out, by listening to the clapping of the crowd — and when there was a distinct break between them clapping for me and then for her I realised I had enough of a gap and could almost start celebrating.”
Now 39, Molinaro left Johannesburg with her family when she was eight years old and much of her family are dotted around the London and Buckinghamshire area. She also has local family in Johannesburg, Ballito and Cape Town.
She says the ultra-running scenes between England, Europe and SA are like wine and vinegar.
“Here in SA we’re focused on Comrades and Two Oceans and very road-based scenes, whereas in the UK it’s very much trail... I’m not even sure if there are many big road-based ultras in the UK and also, over in Europe the ultra-scene is very trail-based.
“Ultra-running is just way bigger in SA. There’s nothing in the world like Comrades and Oceans, something I’m always trying to get across to my UK-based running friends.”
Yet, she’s not a full-time professional athlete “although that would be nice”.
She has a degree in science and health exercise in sport from Cardiff University and also has coaching qualifications.
“So, during Covid I set up an online membership platform called SCY [Strength, Conditioning, Yoga] for runners. There’s one strength and one yoga session per week that I pre-record and then we’ll have regular online interactive sessions with physiotherapists, sports nutritionists, sports psychologists — anyone I find interesting.
“So I give runners the tools to make them stronger and faster ... make it affordable and also to drown out some of the general noise as there’s so much information out there.”
She ascribes her discipline of regular cross-training to the fact that the last injury she had was an incredible four years ago. “I was running up in Johannesburg — I fell as I went from the road onto the trail and sprained my ankle really badly and it eventually turned out to be a stress fracture which put me out for six weeks.
“I still tried to do Comrades Marathon that year — on cross-training alone. Believe me when I say it does not work,” she laughs.
“But apart from that I’ve had no injuries and I truly think that’s due to all the strength and conditioning and yoga work which prevents so many injuries.”
What’s next for multitalented Molinaro? “I’ve always loved multi-day runs/adventure races but right now I want to see where I can go to at this level.
“On my bucket list though is to run the length of Italy and then put together a cookbook of all the regional recipes en route. I’d also love to run the length of SA from the Zimbabwe border to Cape Town.”
When she’s not running, she considers herself as “pretty chilled, and I love going to the beach in summer”.
Food is also a great delight on the Molinaro menu. “I really like trying different food so I have a group of foodie friends and we all go out to different places a few times a week, so one could maybe say that food is very much a hobby of mine.”
The fact that SA missed out on winning a gold medal in India was very much the rainbow nation’s loss and Great Britain’s gain — one could say it’s food for thought for SA’s athletics powers that be.
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