Welcome to WE ARE WONDERWOMEN, a series of short stories from inspirational women who swim, run and cycle amongst us. Ahead of International Women’s Day on Monday 8 March 2021, I’ll be celebrating the achievements, talking about the challenges and sharing tips from a variety of women across our sporting community.
Dr Caroline Pule is a passionate runner, biomedical scientist and philanthropist from Cape Town, South Africa. When she is not enjoying running, outdoor adventures or working at the forefront of global health medical research, she is on a mission to empower and inspire women across sports and science.
In her story, Dr Pule shares how she moved from athletics to longer distances, what running means to her and her top tips for enjoying an active and healthy life.
Hello Wonderwoman! Tell us a little bit about yourself….
I’m Dr Caroline Pule, a multi-talented lady from Cape Town, South Africa. I am a passionate runner, outdoor adventure lover and gym fanatic. I love inspiring others through my running adventures and journey and through other fitness activities I do, including kickboxing, hiking, swimming, gym cross-fitness and skipping rope.
By profession, I’m a Biomedical Scientist who is passionate about global health, medical research, and ensuring we have a disease-free nation. I am affiliated in the Global Surgery Division, Department of Surgery at the University of Cape Town where I manage the Global Surgery Research Cluster and conduct groundbreaking research work. Additionally, I’m a UCT- Harvard Programme of Global Surgery and Social Change (PGSSC) Research Fellow and my primary research focuses on TB drug-resistant and drug- discovery. Coming from a TB Biology background, I’m exploring Surgery as a treatment adjunct modality for drug-resistant TB, in settings with a very high TB prevalence and I’m also involved in other multiple ongoing Global Surgery research projects in collaboration with UNICEF and Harvard University Medical School. In parallel, I help as a volunteer scientist for the CrowdFight Covid-19 initiative, a global organisation enabling volunteer scientists from different countries to work together to fight Covid-19 pandemic. I am also an advocate for women in STEM and a philanthropist who founded Caroline Pule Science and Literary Foundation (CPSFL), which helps establish science clubs in disadvantaged communities and to distribute scientific literature to these communities.
How did you get into running?
I am a passionate runner and my love for running started when I was in primary school where I participated in cross country, relay (400m) and 800m. Athletics was my nickname and I grew with this passion. I only started running Marathons and Trails, ultra marathons about 7 years ago as the longest distances.
What part does running play in your life?
I love running because is liberating, inspirational, encouraging, easy yet so challenging and therefore it goes without saying that it plays a huge part in my life and the fact that I can run till old age, gives me hope for this sport. Running makes me feel at peace, alert and always motivated. Is good for my mental health given how stressful my chosen career field can be. Interestingly, running during this COVID-19 pandemic has really been helpful mentally on another level. Its been helping me with reducing the stress of panic and worry living through the pandemic. After every run, I feel refreshed and ready for whatever challenge that might arise, I feel much better and at ease, allowing me to sleep better and peacefully.
What is your biggest achievement?
My biggest running achievement to date is completing my first ever Comrades Marathon “The Ultimate Human Race” in 2019, finishing in 11:30:33. Tears of victory! Nothing can explain that feeling; it was a long day of running with many hills from the start, yet inspiring and humbling. I’m so proud of myself; this made me realize how strong I am both physically and mentally! I have a fighting spirit no matter what I face, and I needed to be motivated. This is really a special race, I still don’t believe I ran all the way from Durban to Pietermaritzburg.
What inspires you?
- My love for God- The joy of the God is strength and this keeps me going,
- the zeal of life I have- living life to the fullest makes me happy, limitless and to appreciate a gift of life,
- and doing good to make the world a better place- I’m happy and inspired when I’m able to help other people and make a difference wherever possible.
What motivates you to get through a challenging session or tough point in a race?
I’m strong, very competitive hard working and courageous alpha woman who loves challenges and doesn’t give up easily. So, by nature I have a fighting spirit and I believe in finishing what I started, during tough training session, I remind myself why I started and that I’ve got what it takes to make through! I push myself beyond limit and strive for progress, If I fall, I stand up and keep moving, hence I have a hashtag #KeepMovingWithCaroline. Additionally, running itself is motivating, liberating, inspirational and encouraging yet so challenging. During races, when it is tough I pray, say positive scripture out loud and will I can do it, then just keep moving, as long as I don’t stop, I use mental power as is all in the mind, I take it km by km until we get to the finish. Metaphorically running can literally be compared to a life journey, which makes it a powerful motivator.
What do you think the biggest challenges for women getting into running are, and what tips or advice might you have to overcome these?
The biggest challenge is the lack of self-esteem and self-acceptance. I realize that some women (not all), still are challenged with self-esteem and turn to be ashamed of how they look or their body-shapes because of some body shaming that still exist within the society and this makes me sad. I believe every WOMAN is perfect and complete just as they are and until they accept this, it will be impossible for them courageous, transform their health habits and turn their sports aspirations into realities. Additionally, this can turn into mental health challenges for some women and again this is saddening. I would really like to see women continue to inspire, motivate and each other to reach greatness. Hence I my most of my posts on social media are not just for entertainment but I want to use my lifestyle, specifically related to sport as an example and inspiration to many to know that if I can do it, so can they. To know if I get challenged and not give up, so can they. IT IS possible if you believe in yourself and do the work.
“In all, just be yourself, you are perfect and complete the way you are, a master peace!! There is no need to subtract any feature you have. Rather work on improvement and growth, than pretending to be someone, what you are not.” And always remember that everything is possible if you put your mind to it and you are disciplined – Dr Caroline Pule
“Goals exist to be achieved! It doesn’t matter how big or small they are! Every achievement counts and sets you for another one! A mind of a visionary and enthusiast is always up for a victorious challenge!” –- Dr Caroline Pule
“I believe in pushing oneself continuously, out of their comfort zone, because the same strength and endurance applied in sports, training, can also be applied in one’s daily life” –- Dr Caroline Pule
What are your top tips for women getting into running?
1. First thing, do a health assessment and know your health status and fitness levels. This is the beginning of a good sustainable journey. To set health goals that are measurable and sustainable, you need to plan accordingly and gather necessary information. I know most women are scared to do health assessment due to not wanting to deal with the possible results, but the latter is critical as if you don’t know how healthy or unhealthy you are, you won’t be able to know what healthier lifestlye plan you will have to follow. I myself was nervous at first but I knew to take charge I had to know what I’m dealing with, my health status.
2. Setting health goals: commitment, discipline and determination are keys. Most women struggle to stay committed to their goals till the end, let alone make healthy eating and exercising a lifestyle. For this reason, they need to be ready to commit, stay disciplined regardless of temptations and be determined- don’t quit. Ask yourself why are they doing what you are doing and why is it important (I asked myself this questions and told myself, that there is no way I’m backing off, I will commit for the whole 4 months because it is possible).
3. Exercising: find the type of sport activities they enjoy as a form of exercise, e,g. running, walking, cycling, swimming, hiking, skipping rope or just indoor workouts and run with it . Once they know what they enjoy more, it will be easier for them to exercise than feeling forced, however I do recommend joining the gym.
4. Healthy eating: follow a specific meal plan or learn about nutritious food, about calories intake and calories limit, however this may have challenges for some women, for example if they are married with kids and cook for the whole family. When you understand what you are constantly eating and how beneficial to it is to your health; it makes it easy to know what you need to cut out of your kitchen cupboard and what stays. If it is difficult to eat veggies and fruits, just juice them up and drink them.
5. Don’t quit, no matter how hard it can be or seem, as sometimes you will feel like you are not progressing but it’s a journey and transformation takes time and best way is to repeat tip 2, 3 and 4. If I did it, so can you.
We are WONDERWOMEN celebrates the achievements and voices of women across the running, cycling, swimming and triathlon world. You can check out more stories here.