We feature Nokuthula ‘Noks’ Dubazane aka #babeswomgwaqo, an environmentalist who has a strong passion for long-distance running. Get to know how this BWIS manages to remain in her element while excelling in her scientific career and preparing for her first ever, 90 km Comrades Marathon this weekend (10 June 2018).
What did you study / are you currently studying? Why did you choose to continue beyond your undergraduate degree?
I have an honours degree in Geography and Environmental Management which I attained at UKZN. Quite honestly, when I finished my first degree I was still confused as to what I wanted to do within the very broad environmental space so I believed that a postgraduate degree would allow me to figure that out. As it happens, that was a great decision as I love what I do now and I don’t think that I would have gotten here without my postgraduate training.
Tell us more about your career or your current research. Were you ever apprehensive or intimidated getting into this career and why? How did you handle that?
I have been working since 2010, and during that time my role has changed quite a bit. I started off with an NGO working on a programme that focused on environmental education. This was fine but after two years in that role I knew I wanted a change. I wanted to do something that would challenge me, but this was very difficult as the requirements for all the posts I tried applying for were too high. So in the end I knew that in order for me to be able to compete properly in the job market, I needed skills that I didn’t have at that point. So I took up an internship position which came with a salary cut but it also allowed me to begin my Masters studies. This was probably the most difficult decision I have ever had to make in my career but it taught me a lot about sacrificing the small pleasures for long term goals. This time allowed me to plan and focus properly on my professional development, it also provided me a great opportunity to ensure that I was getting the right skills while networking with the right people. Eight years later, I have moved quite a bit in the environmental space (worked for both NGO and local government) and now work for government focusing on projects that deal with climate change adaptation and mitigation. So it has been quite a journey.
Where do you see yourself in your professional career in the next 5 years?
Like I do with my running, I think that I will take my career one step at a time. I think that aiming for a title or position doesn’t say anything about my abilities. I want to finish my Masters (which has taken longer than I would have wanted to) and learn leadership skills from the people around me. I want to be in a position where I am the best that I can be in my industry, and I want to be inspiring other young women around me to be doing the same.
On Instagram you describe yourself as “a social specialist by profession”, what does this mean?
Good question, right? Well I have an honours degree in Social Sciences, and have battled with what that means in my career for the longest time but my research has led me to my own definition of what it means. To me a social specialist is someone that investigates the complexities of human interactions and how the perceptions and experiences of individuals can filter up to influence the governance structures of organisations. No matter how big an organisation is, the building blocks for success or failure are its people and we need to understand them and their contributions before we can move forward. I have been fortunate enough to have done some research and work in this space and continue to be fascinated by social systems.
How were you introduced to running as a hobby? (When did you start, why, fitness inspiration…)
Running as a hobby?! I think hobby is an understatement because running is one of my passions. I have always been an active person. I used to go to the gym for more than just a free shower. However, a few years ago I found myself in a stressful situation, I was battling to balance my work and life and I needed something to do to cope with stress. I was living in Howick at the time and don’t let this small town vibe deceive you. It is home to some of the best running trails and the most active people and I soon found myself in good running company without having to look very far.
We often use time as an excuse to neglect our physical health as busy students and professionals, how do you balance it all? What advice do you have for other women in this regard?
We have to make the time to care for ourselves and there’s a domino effect that ripples through the day. It’s like saying that you don’t have the time to eat properly when eating right gives us more energy to work efficiently. When I go for a run in the morning I definitely feel that I have more energy and confidence to face the day ahead.
How often and for how long/what distance do you run in a week? Tell us more about the running club you’re involved in, what differentiates this from any other club?
It depends on what I am training for, while training for the Comrades Marathon my training sometimes went up to as much as 90km a week which is quite high but if I were training for a normal marathon I would generally aim to average about 40km -50km a week. On peak training seasons I do try and run 4/5 times a week.
I also do group runs at least twice a week with a group of ladies that share my love for running. We meet twice a week and also get together for long runs during weekends. Our time together is always amazing, while we push each other with the running we also use it as a chance to encourage one another while catching up. This is a running community which means that there is no club fees or licensing for runners. Running clubs are generally characterized by their affiliation to Athletics South Africa (ASA), as a community we all belong to different running clubs but we do most of our training together.
Is a healthy diet an important aspect of your lifestyle, why? What’s your biggest weakness and how do you resist the temptation?
Yes but honestly it’s an area where I can still grow in. I honestly hate cooking, so it’s easy for me to grab a takeaway which is not always good. I try and eat healthy when I am preparing for a race as good nutrition goes a long way on race day, so my go-to appliance during those times is my steamer.
Do you think that focusing on a healthy lifestyle benefits other areas in your life/what differences have you noticed since beginning this journey?
Balance is important, for me running and the general outdoors certainly keeps me sane. Work can get busy and stressful, so when that happens I find that running helps put my mind at ease.
What is your best advice for someone who is interested in pursuing running as a way to get healthy? Any fitness apps/aids/gadgets you would recommend for runners? Favourite one?
Download apps like Nike Running App or Strava which track your distance, this will motivate you as you get to see how many km you run each time. Running is fun, it should be a lifestyle, so if you not used to it, rather take your earphones with and have an epic playlist which will get you through those moments of huffing and puffing. But remember, safety comes first, so make sure you can hear what’s going on around you.
Have your participated in any races? What are the costs involved? Can you recommend any student budget friendly events?
Yes I have, a lot of races charge a small entry fee which varies depending on the distance and organisers. Generally you get a free t-shirt and a medal when you finish the race. I would not suggest you do all the races because of cost but rather choose a few and in that way you don’t end up paying a lot. I would budget between R60 – R160 for race entry but this depends on whether you require a temporal license and the distance you running (cost is not the same for a 10km and 21km race).
What are your goals for your running career? Any marathons we should look out for?
I love running, and I just do it merely based on that, I enjoy pushing myself and realizing how much I can accomplish. Goals for this year include doing a few Ultra Marathons such as the Comrades Marathon, which is this weekend and I also intend to do more trail runs. I hope that in the next few years I can be able to do international runs such as Berlin Marathon.
Can you recommend free/affordable running/fitness clubs for students and career women on the run?
Parkrun is great since it’s free and there’s usually one in most areas. Distance for parkruns is 5km and this generally caters for runners of all levels
What do you envision for the modern female scientist?
I don’t know but one thing I’m certain of is that she knows who she is, what she wants and does everything she can to get it. She is no longer entrapped by societal standards of what she needs to be but rather plots out her own fate. Modern female scientists are redefining what it means to be women, wives, researchers, etc by just being themselves. Is it easy? No but they are allowing the next generation to know that it can be done.
Are you a black woman in science in her element? What does being in your element mean to you?
I think I am getting there, but honestly this has taken a lot of coaching and mentoring. As a young professional I am constantly in spaces where I feel challenged and out of my depth but I have learnt over the years that the feeling of unease is mandatory for growth. We learn when we are out of our comfort zone. Having the right mentors has pushed me to focus on career development and has helped me balance the technical work skills with the relevant soft skills needed to survive the workspace. So am I a black woman in her element? I don’t think I am there yet, but I know I am certainly on my way there and I am surely finding pleasure in the journey.
Noks’ Fun Facts!
Favourite book: Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg & ‘Broken Flowers’ by R.M Drake
Describe yourself in a hashtag: #babeswomgwaqo
Item you just cannot live without: Garmin Forerunner 35 watch
Dream destination: Bali
Life motto: Small sacrifices for big dreams
Keep an eye out for our fellow BWIS this Saturday! We wish you the best Noks.