Running for life, and fun

Boitumelo Maswabi
DEDICATED: Millie Makara

…While pushing through pain

The idea that anyone can run 90km for fun may seem insane to most, but for ultra-marathoner, Millie Makara – nee Rutang, it’s a thrilling adventure that not only tests the human resolve but, to quote the ever-positive entrepreneur, ‘gives one a sense of power’.

A fast-growing recreational activity, not only globally but in our parts, endurance running offered escapism from family instability during her formative years.

Nicknamed ‘AmilliMAK – aka V12’ by fellow runners, the married mother-of-one, who owns and runs Nicopolis Apartments, a self-catering accommodation facility in Mogoditshane, gushes to Voice Woman about the countless marathons she’s conquered and her resilience philosophy of overcoming adversity, or simply, in her words, ‘pushing through pain!’

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What made you think, ‘Oh, running is fun, I can make it a lifestyle’?

The truth is, running has been my escape.

Every seasoned runner has his or her ‘why’.

I wasn’t always a long distance runner, but I was always actively involved in some form of physical activity from a very young age.

I had the longest legs growing up so found myself thrown into all types of sports: athletics; I was a sprinter, an avid volleyball player, and later on at high school, I discovered celebrity fitness guru, Billy Banks, and his Tae Kwon Do and boxing workout DVDs and instantly fell in love with the fitness lifestyle.

Working out became my drug, a kind of defence mechanism.

My parents were going through a messy divorce at the time and one way of handling the deep emotional distress was to channel my feelings into working out.

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I could have easily done drugs, or cut myself, instead, I decided to use running and exercise as a perfect escape.

Please go on.

I would go out for a walk when the noise and fights would start, then jog a little, before I knew it, I was running 1, 2 then 5km without even realising it.

This is where my love for running developed.

When I was running, I wasn’t thinking, which meant I also wasn’t feeling. I figured if I kept moving, I wouldn’t have to face whatever was going on at home.

I was running away from very unpleasant situations at home, one of which resulted in me being (unintentionally) pushed and ending up with a back injury.

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To move was to feel pain, and I couldn’t do the one thing I had found my peace in; I couldn’t run.

Doctors said I might never be able to walk without the support of at least one crutch, nor be strong enough to carry a baby later on in life.

But they were wrong?

Yes! Fast-forward to 2023, there’s a 17-year-old fireball studying in USA, playing basketball and living her best life, my Ro’ro! And, today, I hold many trophies and medals from my fitness lifestyle, including my most precious 4 medals to Comrades Marathon, a 90.84KM ultra-marathon.

I run ridiculous distances for fun.

I challenge myself with every run; I celebrate every run.

Running gives me a sense of power I didn’t have when I couldn’t walk on my own, the rhythm of my feet with every forward motion gives me hope.

Tell us about the marathons you’ve competed in.

I have run most races and marathons, locally, including Diacore and UB marathon, to name a few.

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At some point I won, in my category, the PPC Marathon.

Internationally, I ran the Chicago marathon in 2005, the Soweto Marathon, Omdiedam, Vaal, Cape Town and Comrades marathon and others.

I must talk about the Comrades marathon in particular – the ultimate human race.

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It is a 90+km ultra-marathon held in Durban annually.

I think it’s by far the world’s largest and oldest ultra-marathon as far as I know.

I always say that it’s a festival that celebrates the human spirit – the triumphs of the human spirit over colour, race, class, and adversity.

When we run Comrades, we are one people.

It’s amazing, so humbling to see strangers shouting your name by the roadside, ‘Hey Amilli’Mak, keep going, you’re almost there!’

I mean, we start this run at 0500/0530hrs and the spectators are already there. It’s the community with refreshments to give to runners, kids holding water sachets, people with massage creams just waiting there to offer you even a little massage on that day, because you’re doing what most people perceive as impossible – running a distance they believe is doable only with a car.

I would probably be one of those people!

I always say that Comrades enables ordinary people to overcome whatever human limitations we put on ourselves.

It’s a race that inspires an ordinary person to do extraordinary things and has that power to change lives, to inspire and to bring out the very best in every individual even those just watching on the sidelines.

To a non-runner, 90km for fun is unimaginable, somewhat a little crazy even.

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I remember many years ago after finishing my first 10km race in Botswana, and I said to myself, ‘WHAAAAT? Never again, that was the last time I’ll ever do that.’

I said the same thing after running my first 21km, and after running the Comrades!

The truth is, nothing prepares you for what it’s like to run 30, then 42, then a 60km Comrades training run and then, before you know it, you’re running 90km!

But you do all that, you cross the finish line after running 90km and you know that the human body is capable of doing just about anything.

I know that having run 90km and beyond more than four times, I’m unstoppable; not just physically, but mentally, too.

That stuff is incredibly daunting.

For me, life has always been about setting personal goals, and then working my butt off to achieve them; this is something I apply to every situation in my life.

Running has taught me to not bury my hands in my head when the going gets tough.

I choose to keep going no matter how hard life gets.

90KM? Your muscles shut down, you feel numb, you rationalise quitting, you make every excuse to stop, you cry, you laugh, you pray as you’re running, all of these emotions at once!

And the last thing you want to do at 60/70km is to take one more step, because it’s painful!

I swear there were times when I wanted to quit, but you learn to push through this physical pain.

It takes a lot of training, discipline, physical and mental strength, and spiritual faith, even to just silence that small voice at the back of your head that says, ‘you’re not strong enough, you can’t complete this race, your legs can’t carry you!’… but when your why is strong enough, you push yourself to get to that finish line.

My why has been testimony that God alone is God.

I don’t run to win, to get to the podium, I run because I can.

It’s to express my gratitude to God.

It is to prove that God alone is the greatest physician and I believe that nothing is impossible as long as you trust and believe in God.

You recently took part in the 31on31 challenge.

Tell us more.

Started in 2021, the 31on31 Challenge is the brainchild of a friend and fellow runner, Ben Bwalya.

It is a 31km run that takes place on the 31st of December.

Runners are awarded a stunning medal at the finish.

It’s about expressing gratitude, and so, with each foot strike, we reel off our good fortune and express our gratitude for the year ending.

The challenge has grown from about 80 registered runners in its maiden year, to over 200 runners in the just ended December 2022: a well-organised race and, this time, the organiser invited wheelchair athletes, which was absolutely amazing as everyone had a fantastic time!

Botswana’s summers are brutally hot, and crime is on the rise. Isn’t it risky for a woman to venture out into the quiet streets early morning?

Endurance runners train when it’s very hot!

It takes at least 4 hours to complete a full marathon (42.2km) and 9 hours to complete the Comrades marathon.

So, we actually do the greatest part of the races when it’s hot.

For us, the only way to get the body to adapt to running in hot weather is to train in hot weather.

After some time, the body starts to acclimatise.

Botswana heat is actually a blessing in disguise.

With the recent high number of runner assault cases, as well as the reckless driving that claims the lives of runners and cyclists alike, many runners express that this has increased their fear and anxiety.

Thank God Botswana has such a close community of different running clubs, we encourage group runs.

It is definitely risky to run alone.

I carry a whistle and/or pepper spray.

Runners in pairs or groups are less appealing targets.

Invest in reflective running gear or a runner’s light so that you’re visible to traffic.

Lastly, how are you able to juggle a hospitality business, the home and running?

Women are resilient; we’re used to multi-tasking.

I think it’s a skill that’s only God-given!

I am fortunate to have opted to take the entrepreneurship route because I control my own schedule.

But this is not to say those in the employ of others cannot do it.

A lot of people come to me and ask, ‘how do you stay so active? How do you look so good and young at 43?’ But the same people do not want to give up their current lifestyles!

I carry my running shoes everywhere I go.

Until you are willing to commit to doing something, then you cannot expect to get a different result.

The same goes for relationships, for business: consistency is key!

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