Meet The First South African Woman To Cross The Finish Line At The World Masters Mountain Running Championships

What it takes to be a champion!


Ondela Mlandu |

Nicolette Griffioen — the first SA woman to cross the finish at the World Masters Mountain Running Championships (um… whoa!) — is a lover of nature, so it’s no wonder her nickname is “Nature’s child.” And you’re most likely to bump into her running on a mountain…

From World Masters Mountain Running Championships to…

Nicolette recently ran the Sky Run and made second place, as the first female to cross the finish line. Next up, she’ll be taking on the Ultra-Trail Cape Town 100km race on 30 November. In 2014 she won the UTCT 100km, and continued her winning streak through 2015 with numerous victories, including the Ultra-Trail Mount Moodie (87km), achieving both the SA long-distance champion 2015 and SA ultra-trail champion 2015 titles respectively.

Nicolette speaks to Women’s Health about the ins and outs of what it takes to be a trail running champion.

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Training fundamentals

A typical training day for Nicolette usually involves some form of morning movement. “It depends on the schedule of my day, but a short session of running or swimming is how I train to mentally prepare me for the day ahead,” she says. Swimming is a great complement to Nicolette’s running, because it’s zero-impact. “Swimming strengthens my cardiovascular system and forces me to be aware and in control of my respiratory rate and depth,” she says.

Nicolette’s afternoon session is a training run, between 12 and 20km, with hill repeats or some speed work. “Generally, though, I prefer simple, long miles at an easy pace,” she says.

READ MORE: 3 Rookie Errors That I Still Make As A Trail Runner

Nicolette Trail Runner

Pre and post meal prep…

Nicolette doesn’t follow a specific eating plan, but she is mindful of feeding her body a high-quality diet. “I’m an advocate for eating only ethically sourced meat, but this can make it challenging to consume sufficient protein to satisfy the nutritional demands of long-distance running. I enjoy fish from family fishing trips and supplement with chicken when necessary, but avoid all commercial red meat and pork,” she says.

Nicolette aims for a large part of her daily energy to come from natural, raw and whole foods such as nuts, fruit and vegetables. “My weak points (which I succumb to on a daily basis) are chocolate and cheese! Cheese is at least extra protein and dark chocolate isn’t too bad either. I don’t change my diet at all before an event,” she shares.

READ MORE: The Best Trails For Beginner Trail Runners, According To A Pro

Nicolette Trail running

Make the most of your trail running experience with these tips…

  1.  Train on the trail. Don’t wait until race day to experience the underfoot variability of trail running.
  2. Invest in a good pair of trail running shoes. Yes, shoes are expensive, but an unsuitable pair can negatively and unnecessarily influence your perception of trail running.
  3. Be mentally prepared. Trail running compared to road running is slower. Prepare to be slower and out running for longer than on any road run you’ve ever completed.
  4. Consider swimming or cycling as a form of cross-training. Swimming and running strengthens the multiple muscle groups that trail running engages.
  5. Take time to enjoy the peace, quiet and amazing natural environments. Nature is beautiful. You will feel even more fulfilled than after “just running”.

READ MORE: “I Did My First Trail Run — Here’s What Went Down On The Day

Behind the motivation

What keeps Nicolette motivated is that she is able to improve her craft. “I love trail running, [so] it’s not that difficult to put in the effort. I do, of course, have days when I don’t feel like training, but I’m able to find a small motivator to get me going,” she says. Nicolette uses the simple things to inspire her to get out, such as planning a new route, and running spontaneously. “Everyone is different — work with your personal reward system to motivate yourself on tough days,” she says.

READ MORE: Everything You Need To Know Before You Try Trail Running

Greatest trail moment

Nicolette’s greatest trail running moment was winning and setting a new female record on the beautiful Sky Run 100km course in 2016. “It was my first time running the race, I had zero expectations, I ran with my heart and enjoyed every step, and in the end I was fortunate to have the perfect day.”

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READ MORE ON: Fitness Real Women SA Women In Sport Trail Running