Nicolette Griffioen – 5th for Team SA in Slovenia
01 January 1970
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Brad Brown: Welcome onto this edition of Old Mutual Live, great things start here, great things start now. It’s a great pleasure to welcome our next guest onto the podcast, she is slowly carving a name for herself in various sports. But we wanted to chat a little bit about running and particularly her recent performance at the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships that took place in Europe. It’s a great pleasure to welcome Nicolette Griffioen onto the podcast, Nicolette welcome, thanks for joining us today.
Nicolette Griffioen: Thanks very much Brad.
BB: Nicolette, I say you’re carving a name for yourself in various sporting codes, you come from a bit of a multi-sport background don’t you?
NG: I do, started off with mountain biking and added some running and now I do some duathlon, triathlon, whatever I can really.
BB: No particular preferences? You love them all?
NG: I do love them all, but my performance is definitely better with running or on the bike, my swimming is not so great.
BB: Which helps when it comes to triathlon, I mean as much as you want to be a good swimmer, most triathletes will tell you, it’s a running sport, whether you like or not. If you’re a strong runner and you’re decent on the bike, you’re in with a good shot at the end?
NG: That’s true and I’ve done not too badly at the Xterras, despite my poor swim, so definitely.
Great to perform in the Green & Gold
BB: Let’s talk about your performance recently at the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships, a phenomenal performance. From an experience perspective, it must have been amazing representing South Africa, tell me a little bit about it.
NG: The whole trip was amazing really. We were really surprised that Slovenia is a beautiful country, friendly people. The race in a tiny little town in the middle of the mountains, with the whole town out to volunteer and help with the race and the route and the water points. Then the course was beautiful and always a privilege to represent your country overseas.
BB: Going into it, what were you expecting from a performance perspective, for you? Like what were you dreaming, were you going in there thinking, you know what, I just want to soak it all up and see how we go or were you chasing a podium? What was the thinking going into the race?
NG: I’m always very open-minded going into a race, you know, with international competition it’s difficult for South Africans to really be at the top. So depending on how the race goes, I probably would have been happy with just a top ten or a top 20 if the competition was really strong. I don’t really focus too much on my position, just to have a good race and enjoy myself.
BB: Well, ‘good race’ is probably an under-statement, you had a wonderful day out. I think if my memory serves me correctly, you went through halfway in about 20th and you ended up finishing fifth. I mean that second half of the run, you just absolutely stormed through the field.
NG: Yes, the race started with a fairly long jeep track climb, which I took very slowly, I’m a slow starter. I think I paid off in the second half of the race because I was still strong on the second big climb and there I started to catch the other girls.
BB: Talking about a slow start, there’s been lots of talk recently and we’ve spoken, funnily enough, a lot about it, around Comrades and trying to run negative splits in a race like Comrades. Is negative splitting something that you try and do regularly? Is it something you aim for?
NG: Not really, I just like to start slowly, improve as the race goes on and my heart rate doesn’t go up very quickly. I don’t like sprint races where you have to sprint off the start line. I don’t focus on my splits much, I’m not really a time-based runner. I like to check my watch now and then, but I don’t run according to a certain pace.
What are your trail running strengths?
BB: Nicolette, one thing I love about trail and particularly when it comes to the top guys and girls, is it’s almost horses for courses. You can find something that plays to your strengths, what would you say your strengths are when it comes to trail running?
NG: I love single track, technical running, so anything that really needs your concentration the whole time, that’s the kind of thing I enjoy. I like steep climbs, it’s the flat stuff and the jeep track that bores me a bit and then I tend to lose concentration and run slower, definitely technical running.
BB: How did you get into, not just trail running, but this whole multi-sport exercise vibe that you’re into now, has it always been part of your life or is it something you picked up later on?
NG: It’s something that I actually started when I finished school. I took a gap year and I was a little bit bored, so I decided to start running and got a spinning instructor job at the gym to take up some time and earn a bit of money. From there I just entered a race and I loved it. My first run race was a trail run and I came third, so I was hooked immediately.
BB: I was going to say, when did you realise you were actually pretty good at it?
NG: Ja, the first race I did I thought, okay, maybe I have some potential.
BB: That’s amazing. Were you pretty sporty at school or not really?
NG: I played hockey, but I hated running. I didn’t do athletics, so just really hockey and I swam for fun. I disrupted the team swimming by messing around and talking to my friend.
BB: How funny is it that you’re performing like you are performing now, it’s hilarious.
NG: It’s very strange, I’m grateful that my mom didn’t push me into any sport while I was at school and I think that’s why I have now, have a real passion for it.
Favourite places to trail around Gauteng
BB: You’re based up in Gauteng, from a trail and off-road perspective, I don’t want to say there’s not much that you can do. Because there are lots of trails around Jozzie and Pretoria. If you head out towards Harties and that sort of thing. Probably not as many as in the Western Cape, but where are some of your favourite places to train and get some off-road stuff in?
NG: Van Gaalen’s Cheese Farm, which I’m sure everybody knows about by now, is my best training ground. Because you can do long distance and a fair amount of climbing. Then also near Hartbeespoort is Hakahana. They have some nice trails there now and other than that, really I do my week time, week day running at home. We have a plot and a small nature reserve, so at least I can get on the trails right out of my front door.
BB: That’s awesome. Nicolette, as far as what you still want to achieve. We’re so blessed here in South Africa with the events and the races and that we’ve got. What’s on the near horizon, basically from now until the end of the year, what have you got up your sleeve?
NG: I was considering running the Hout Bay Ultra, but I just need to see how my recovery goes from Slovenia. Then after that, I’ll probably be doing Otter again and the Sky Run. I’m looking forward to doing Sky Run this year because injury kept me out of it last year and I believe it’s something I need to do.
The appeal of running long
BB: You obviously like the longer stuff, as you say, you’re not into the short sprinty stuff, what is it about the long ones that you love?
NG: I don’t know, I just seem to improve as the race goes on, it’s hard to explain. But in the ultra, it’s a different mind-set, it’s more mind than physical I think, so I enjoy the challenge.
BB: I agree. I love the mental challenge of running long. Talk to me about dark places, we all go through them, particularly when running ultras. How do you deal with getting yourself out of dark holes when you’re really struggling on a long run?
NG: Generally, I try to focus on the positive things, like from over half way, I say you’re over half way. I think about all the people that are watching my race and tracking the race. When you run, you don’t only run for yourself, but you run for other people. You’re very fortunate if you’re able to run, to be in that position. I draw on positive energy from other people and the environment. Trail running is just amazing. You get to run in such beautiful places.
BB: You mentioned two of the big iconic trail runs here in South Africa, Otter being probably the biggest of them all and Sky Run as well. What races are on your must-do list in South Africa? If somebody is just getting into trail running, what are some of the best that you would suggest people get going in?
NG: It really depends what type of running you like. Some people don’t like big races and they prefer smaller, more intimate type of races. But I’d say you must definitely do a stage race, something like the Dryland Traverse or AfricanX because the atmosphere is just amazing. Then obviously Otter, everyone who wants to be a trail runner wants to do Otter and then that’s about it.
BB: You’ve tasted racing overseas and how different that is to running here in South Africa, what are some of the big runs that you still want to do and race overseas?
NG: I would definitely like to do Da Gama, I’ve heard from AJ that it’s an awesome race. Then there’s lots of ultras I’d love to do, there’s so many in the calendar in one year. You need to look after your body and only do a couple, so I do choose the best ones and be selective.
BB: So many ultras, so little time, that’s the problem.
BB: Nicolette, great to catch up, thank you so much for your time, congratulations once again on that fifth. I do believe that’s the best a South African has done there, so fantastic performance. We can’t wait to follow your progress and if you do get to run Otter and Sky Run this year, and Hout Bay, best of luck. We look forward to catching up again soon.
NG: Cool, thanks very much Brad.