Hitting the trail with elite runner Zola Budd

Mon Apr 23, 2012 6:08am EDT
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By Ed Stoddard

GROENKLOOF NATURE RESERVE, South Africa (Reuters) - My running partner has generously conceded to my pace and it's not because of the warmth of the African sun on a glorious autumn day.

I often find myself with training partners faster than me but seldom has the gap been so glaring, for on this particular day the person striding alongside me was South African track legend Zola Pieterse, better known by her maiden name Budd.

Zola and I are both training for our first Comrades Marathon, dubbed "The Ultimate Human Race" - a grueling 89 km (55 miles) that ends in the port city of Durban.

Our routes to the Comrades could hardly be more different: she is an elite athlete who has competed against the world's best runners, while at 47 I have only been running seriously the past few years and have spent more than a few nights in smoky bars.

Zola spends a lot of time on her feet and the original barefoot running superstar has strong views on the subject - even if, contrary to popular belief, most of her road work has been done in running shoes, even in her blistering prime.

On this particular day on trails on the outskirts of Pretoria, she was clad in a pair of Newton trainers, a "natural running" shoe she is marketing and developing.

But Zola is a firm believer in allowing children to romp barefoot and feels that in the United States, where she has lived for the past four years, parents "bubble wrap" their young.

"If you look at athletes from Africa, the way we grew up in Africa was going barefoot. It's acceptable. I think it's only in the U.S. and Europe where people are frowned upon if they go barefoot. Even my kids went to school barefoot," she said.   Continued...

Zola Budd-Pieterse relaxes in front of Tower Bridge in London before making her debut in the London Marathon, April 11, 2003. REUTERS/Toby Melville