The more you do, the more you can do. Just ask Annamart Laubscher, final-year medical student and top cross-country athlete.
Since 2013, when Annamart started participating in this sport, she has clocked up an impressive 21 wins in a variety of cross-country events across the country, one of which was the 2017 Ultra Trail Cape Town, a tough 35km-route over Table Mountain. “I did not expect to win. I just wanted to enjoy the environment," she says.
At school, Annamart was an accomplished biathlon and triathlon athlete and she represented South Africa several times internationally in these sporting categories. When she became a medical student in 2013 at the University of Stellenbosch's Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, she realised that it would be difficult to take part fully in all three these sporting activities (swimming, cycling and running). “Also, it is quite dangerous to cycle in Parow, so I decided to focus on my running." She loves nature and also previously did mountain biking, so it is no wonder that she eventually found herself doing cross-country running.
Unfortunately two injuries tripped up Laubscher's cross-country plans for 2018. “This sport is a bit dangerous. Sometimes you should rather be cautious instead of just rushing headlong down the mountain," she warns. She first fell on her knee, "which then needed quite a few stitches", and shortly after that she sprained her ankle. “That forced me onto the sidelines for a while."
According to Laubscher this sport has grown considerably over the last few years, especially among women. “It was reasonably small-scale when I started. Few people knew of it and there were just one or two events per month. There were also considerably more men taking part than women."
In the meantime, cross country races have started to attract more attention, and there are now events to choose from just about every weekend. “I think there are a few reasons for this," speculates Laubscher, “such as the desire to live a healthy lifestyle, a desire to discover new places, a need to meet people who also love nature and adventure, or maybe even just collecting fitness points for your medical scheme!"
She says the number of female participants has also increased. “Some of them are very strong and I have a lot of respect especially for those who take part in the longer items. I would like to run with them some day!"
Laubscher is one of 18 medical srudents who were chosen to do their practicals at the Worcester Provincial Hospital, instead of at the Tygerberg Academic Hospital. Apart from believing that there are more opportunities in Worcester as there are fewer students working on the clinical rotation, she also thinks it is important to support the training of doctors in rural areas. “One gets a greater insight into the overall health of a patient, and how treatment should be individualised for each patient in order for it to be successful," she explains. “I hope this also means that more doctors will return to areas such as these when they have completed their studies."
As with all medical students, her schedule is a busy one, and it is sometimes difficult to get round to everything. “I did, however, decide from the beginning that my studies and my career would always be my first priority." Her secret with regards to time management is to put together a programme containing everything that needs to be done that day. “Do the most important things first, and then take a look at whether there is time for the rest." Laubscher sees sport and other hobbies as things that help one with good time management, because it is easy to "waste" time. She says that it does require effort and energy, even though she sees her running as a source of relaxation. "After a long day in the hospital it is sometimes difficult to motivate yourself to go running." Her advice? Don't think about it too much and just take the first few steps. “After that it becomes easier to persuade your body to continue."
She still isn't sure what she would like to specialise in one day, but she says she would like to get a few years of experience overseas, maybe climb a few mountains there, and then return to work in a smaller hospital in South Africa. In terms of her running career a Comrades Ultra-marathon, an Iron Man triathlon and other cross-country races are on her list of milestones she would like to reach.
Laubscher encourages anyone who is interested in cross-country running to give it a try. “All it takes is a love for the outdoors, willpower and a general motivation to live a healthy life."
*Visit www.trailrunning.co.za for a complete list of cross-country running events.