CAPE TOWN - Tanith Maxwell was just an 8-year-old when her uncle, Kevin Flanagan, won the SA Marathon Championships in Durban in 1983. Struck by the passion of his niece who was there to welcome him home at the finish line, Flanagan bought her a pair of North Star “tackies” to start her running career. And the rest is history.
Even before that, Maxwell had been introduced to the passion of long distance running, being an avid supporter of her parents, who completed 14 Comrades Marathons between them. She seemed predestined to run marathons and run them fast, and in ten days’ time will line up for another high profile 42.2km race in the form of the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon.
Now one of South Africa’s leading marathoners, Cape Town’s Maxwell can look back on no fewer than six occasions when she donned the green and gold marathon vest, starting with the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006 and ending with the London Marathon in 2012.
Between those were the All Africa Games in Algeria in 2007 and three World Athletics Championship marathons in Japan (2007), Germany (2009) and Korea (2011).
Now in her forty second year, Maxwell has not yet surrendered hopes of improving on her marathon personal best time of 2:32:33 set in Berlin in 2010, arguably the best year in her career when she set most of her PBs on the road.
“Tanith lost considerable speed in running her last two Two Oceans’ ultra and has also struggled with a chronic Achilles injury,” explained her partner and coach, sports scientist Andrew Bosch. “Then the on-off uncertainty on the World 50km championships complicated things further.
“We are now working at Tanith’s track speed again with a view to running a fast 10km. Then we will look to a fast half marathon before an attempt to run her best standard marathon.
“Obviously it takes more time for her body to adapt than it did in her twenties, but I believe she can get back to her best, setting the platform for another fast marathon.”
While looking ahead with optimism, Maxwell’s current training regime will not see her ready to compete for podium honours in Cape Town next week.
“I’m looking forward to running as a hard training run,” explained Maxwell. “I’m not in the same place in my preparation as I was last year, but Cape Town is a great race and I’m still looking to have the opportunity of seeing how my training has been going for a marathon overseas later in the year - hopefully the Valencia Marathon in Spain in November.
“I’m intending to go out at around 4 to 4:10 min per kilometre pace and then see how I’m feeling in the second half. The incentives on offer for leading Cape Town and South African runners might influence how I run towards the end and I hope I can be in contention for those awards.”
Irvette van Zyl, Lebogang Phalula, Cornelia Joubert and possibly Zintle Xiniwe will be those athletes most likely to thwart Maxwell’s hopes for the incentives, but Maxwell’s consistency in the face of marathon unpredictability could see her move through the field in the second half, as she did last year, when she came from well back at half way to finish 11th in 2:45:36 and clinch top prize in the masters over forty years category.
“Before finally focussing on ultras, it would be great to sign off on my standard marathon career at next year’s Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, having raced my first marathon for South Africa at the Melbourne Games in 2006,” admits Maxwell.
“Then it will be back to trying to win Two Oceans (she has a second and two third places to her credit) and finally giving Comrades a full go before I’m too old to be competitive!”