Famously dubbed around the world as "the barefoot runner", Zola made headlines as a small-town girl from the then apartheid-riddled South Africa by representing England in the 1984 Olympics. She became a household name when, at the young age of 19, she broke the world record for the women's 5,000 metre race.
Now, 28 years after Zola ran in the Olympics, we are a just few days away from the London 2012 Games. With all the excitement, we decided to catch up with Zola to ask her about her latest marathons and how she feels about the upcoming Olympics.
Essential Travel: You've been a professional athlete since the young age of 17, but from what age did you start training? How many marathons have you run?
Zola: I started training every day at the age of 14. I think I have run about five or six marathons and three ultra marathons.
Essential Travel: What do you think about while you're running?
Zola: I don't really know. I love the feeling of being outside and in nature. I love running off-road and my favourite running place is my hometown, Bloemfontein, South Africa. I love running on the dirt roads in the countryside with no one around and nothing but the smell of the soil and grass. I think that's why I run - I feel at peace. So there is nothing specific I think about, but rather a process of multiple thoughts settling down. I feel spiritually renewed after a run.
Essential Travel: What is your training routine?
Zola: I train twice a day, except for Sundays and on the day that I do my long run. I get up early to have my first run and then run again in the evening.
Essential Travel: What is your diet like when you train?
Zola: Nothing special. I still cook the way my mom cooked. I try to avoid sugary stuff because of my Hypoglycaemia, but otherwise I eat what my family eats.
Essential Travel: Is there any specific routine you do just before a race? Perhaps something for good luck?
Zola: I always tie my left shoe first - I don't know why!
Essential Travel: Will you be watching the London 2012 Olympics? If so, is there any athlete you have your eye on and whom you are hoping will take home the gold medal?
Zola: I can't wait for the Olympics, but I guess I won't really get a chance to watch the athletics much because of my son's tennis obsession. So tennis will be the sport for us to watch. I don't have any favourites going into the Olympics, but the marathons are always a special event to watch.
Essential Travel: You recently ran the Two Oceans Marathon in Cape Town and the Comrades in Durban. How was that experience for you?
Zola: The support in South Africa is amazing. I can recommend these races to anyone. It is well worth making the trip to run them. The spectators are amazing as well as the co-runners.
Essential Travel: You beat the odds by being a South African competing in the Olympics during the apartheid. What advice would you give to young athletes out there dreaming of making it to the Olympics one day?
Zola: I think the Olympics is probably the ultimate for any athlete, but we assume that if you don't make it to the Olympics, or at the Olympics, that it wasn't worth the effort. That is such a misconception. The Olympics, and training for the Olympics or having it as a goal, is great to have. But it should only be a small part of your life. It should add to your life and spirit as a human being and it should not matter if you win or lose. The experience you gain and the meaning it adds to your life is worth far more than winning.more blog posts