Interview Brigid Wefelnberg – Ladies in Ultra


new series of interviews about everyday women doing extraordinary things…

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Wefelnberg Mt Everest Challenge Nov 10

“The only horrible thing in the world is ­ennui,” Oscar Wilde once wrote, suggesting that boredom doesn’t feel much better in French. “That is the one sin for which there is no forgiveness.”

And no surprise that that is Brigid’s motto or leitmotiv in life! This ultra-lady has tons of energy to spare and boredom is not part of this athlete’s vocabulary. She’s permanently on the go or shall I say “on the run”, the penultimate globe-trotting ultra-runner. But make no mistake – tough as nails and metronomically endurant she might be but Brigid knows how to remain glam, look after 2 teenage kids and incidentally hold down a full time job.

She’s run through deserts, jungles, up and down mountains all over the globe. Multi-stage, ultra-long, exotic, extreme ……those are her pre-requisites for entering an event.

Marathon des Sables, Bhutan Ultra, Cambodia Ultra, The Volcano Ultra, Kalahari Augrabies Extreme …..she’s been there, she’s done it, you can’t miss the long blonde mane amidst the pack of tough sinewy seasoned ultra runners. But enough said over to Brigid ……

KAEM021-2012-10-30-19.18.17 (1) How did your passion for running start?

I live in the Black Forest and while I was studying, I discovered hiking and trekking here, then moved on to speed and alpine walking. Somehow this was too slow for me, so I started running to cover greater distances. But it actually wasn’t until a friend called my attention to the Marathon des Sables in 2005 that my running passion really got cooking – and is still very much cooking.

What makes you tick in ultra-running?

I have a great passion for extremely long distances on difficult terrain and extreme weather conditions. Sounds strange, but that’s what “cooks my noodle” as it were. When I realized I had a talent for this, it made it easier to put up with the hard times and whatever pain my body had. Crossing a finish line after so many hard kilometers is always such bliss!

What are your criteria for event selection?

 Definitely ultra distance, difficult terrain and extreme weather conditions which usually means desert. I also love jungles and polar areas. I do not do any events that are close to home. My events have to be in far away exotic places. When I’m older and don’t have any sponsors, then I’ll have to/want to stay closer to home. But for now, the further away the better!

Tell us about your training?

I am not one of those people who has very strict training or nutritional plans. I train hard and long, but I do it at the times of the week where work and time allow. I only do long stretches, i.e. I don’t leave the house for any distance shorter than 20 km. I run anywhere between 20 and 50 kms in training, depending on how soon it is till the next race.

How do you manage to look so good and yet complete these tough events?

Oh wow, thanks for the wonderful compliment! Sport and sweating out toxins is wonderful for the skin. I am also not your typical too-thin runner. I’ve always had a few more pounds on my ribs, a bit more baby fat (I’ll call it…) which gives the skin perhaps a healthier glow.

At the moment, I’m hopelessly in love with my boyfriend Jürgen, which they say makes one look younger. A lot of people are telling me I look really good and I credit Jürgen for that.

I also think state of mind and where you put your mental energy actually play a major factor in looking good. I don’t worry about things like diet or being envious of other people or things that aren’t worth stressing about. I had quite a turbulent childhood, life seems easy now. I think that is definitely reflected in the way we look. 

You are a single mother of two – how do you fit this in your schedule?

I have a very convenient working arrangement with my employer, Nagarro Software, an Indian software company based in Delhi, and that is that I do most of my work from my home office in the Black Forest. My kids are also a bit older now (17 and 21) so they don’t need constant attention – and the days of Hotel Mama are over! I can arrange my work schedule and my training schedule as I need and can cater to everything I have on my plate at any given time.

Another factor is that I don’t spend time doing ANYTHING that does not bring me closer to my goals – no shopping sprees or sitting in cafes for hours, etc. Nothing that is just time-consuming but doesn’t get me anywhere. This gives me more time to work on things that are really important to me.  

How do you approach to diet and nutrition?

I love this question, ’cause it’s so easy to answer! I eat what I want, when I want and how much of it I want. Most of what I eat is healthy stuff, as sports tend to make us feel like eating healthy. But I don’t spend a lot of mental energy I need for high-performance sports on thinking too much about food. I basically just enjoy whatever I feel like!

What about your best running memory?

I have just completed one of the most difficult ultra-races on earth, the TransOmania, a 300 km non-stop race across the Omani Wahiba Desert. After many years of running experience, I have to say this race is best the damn running thing that has ever happened to me!

And your worst?

I’m not sure what my worst running memory is but I’m thinking of one bad memory from a race that was actually an incredible experience as well, the Cambodia Ultra which I did just this past December. Everything was going great on the first two stages – but suddenly I got diarrhea from the third to fifth stages, which totally slowed me down. I had to stop more often and longer to “enjoy the landscape” as I had ever wanted. And I often had to pit stop in front of locals, not having enough time to go behind the bushes. Was pretty embarrassing and frustrating!

You have done so many races, can you recommend a couple?

I can highly recommend the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 250 km in South Africa, or Les Volcans de l’Extreme 250 km on Java in Indonesia. I could only recommend the TransOmania for those who really want to torture themselves over 3 or 4 days!

What events do you have coming up?

Just having finished the TransOmania so shortly after the Cambodia Ultra 220 km, I’ll be taking a break from training for a few weeks, then I’ll be preparing for the Madagascar Ultra of 250 km and the other big highlight of this year the TransArabia, another 300 km non-stop ultra across Jordan. I guess I just can’t get enough!  

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Niandi Carmont

Niandi Carmont

Interview by Niandi Carmont 
Niandi is South African born, a former resident of Paris, she now lives in the UK. A runner for over 20-years; Niandi has completed Comrades Marathon 13-times, Washie 100 2-times and has finished well over 100 marathons and ultras  all over the world. Currently residing in the UK, Niandi splits her work life between the UK and France.
LADIES IN ULTRAI think this quote pretty much sums up what Ladies in Ultra is about:

I’m strong, I’m tough, I still wear my eyeliner.” – Lisa Leslie (Basketball)

Personally I have never entered any events reserved solely for women and am unlikely to do so but that is another debate. For me the appeal in ultra-running lies in the fact that it is a sport where you will find yourself on the start-line with like-minded runners sharing the same goal and passion irrespective of sex, race, gender, ability or age.

However, as an ultra ‘lady’ myself I always wear my lipstick.  And yes it’s OK to wear those pink N—trainers with the Swarovski crystals. Heck it doesn’t make me run any faster but let’s say it’s just that feminine touch – a statement. Tough, hard, sweaty, gritty and going for pit-stops on ultra-routes does not mean you can’t be or don’t feel the need to be feminine.  It does not mean that your vocabulary cannot compete with that of a paratrooper’s when the going gets tough.  Some of us feel the need to be feminine, some of us don’t.  We all want to achieve and compete either against ourselves, other women, or the whole field (and chick guys too!).

Basically, the Ladies in Ultra interviewees are from a heterogeneous background in terms of nationality, age, experience, profile. Some fit their passion in in busy schedules and juggle with personal and professional commitments. Others are sponsored athletes but the common denominator is “the fairer sex”.

So that excludes Tony, Mike, Bruce …..have I forgotten anyone?

Ladies in Ultra will be a new series of interviews about everyday women doing extraordinary things… be inspired!

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