An encounter in South Africa showed our columnist one thing: When it comes to eating right for running, it doesn’t have to be crazy stuff. It doesn’t need expensive seeds and plants, it needs love above all else.

Sports fans, this will be a very clear jacket today. It’s about runner food. And Mama Mzansi is to blame. But let’s start at the beginning: The most beautiful ultra marathon for me, the Two Oceans Marathon in Cape Town, has just happened.

Mike Kleiß has been doing sports since he was a child. “If you move, you achieve more” is his motto in life. Running was always his favorite subject. For seven years he has been running between 15 and 20 kilometers almost every day, often in marathons and sometimes in ultra marathons. So far, our columnist has published two books on running. He is the founder and managing director of the communications agency GOODWILLRUN. Mike Kleiß lives with his family in Hamburg and Cologne. He writes about running here every Thursday.

I’ve walked it several times, the last time I was pretty unreasonable. Four days before the 56 kilometers I got a mild flu, but I thought: Kleiß, you didn’t fly 11,000 kilometers to avoid running the marathon. And dragged me through like that.

I was sure: I will never run the thing again. Looking at the pictures of the competition in April, one thing is certain for me: it will be that time again in 2023. I have to do this wonderful route again. This is of course due to the running, but above all I fell in love with the people and the country. Especially in Mama Mzansi.

I want to go back to her, to her living room where she cooks. In the middle of Langa, the indeed dangerous township in Cape Town. I found her by pure chance. In Cape Town I was always surrounded by a good soul, Charles, who is an acquaintance of a friend of mine who lives in Cape Town.

Charles knows every corner of the city and everyone knows Charles, which is really vital in many situations. I always wanted to know the country and the city “with truth” as far as it was possible. I didn’t want to be one of those many tourists, I wanted to get to know the people and the country, unadorned, pure. Of course, this also includes dealing with “real” nutrition.

So I asked Charles where I can really eat pure. Anyone who cooks really healthy and “real”. I remember his big smile: “Are you brave enough? Then we drive to Mama Mzansi in Langa. She cooks in her house. But it’s not without risk, we have to be inventive,” he said. The taxi driver took down his taxi sign when told where to go.

So we drove incognito to Langa. The car stopped in a side street on the outskirts of the township, where we were picked up by Mama Mzansi’s helpers, who had been informed in advance that we were coming. They skilfully guided us off the street very quickly and pushed us into a side entrance.

From overweight chain smoker to marathon runner – a success story

Mama Mzansi’s helpers only have one job: to give their guests security. Those who find their way to her will be rewarded for their courage with the best food in Cape Town. And with words and thoughts that ground you. Bring some back down to earth.

What do many runners get lost in their heads when it comes to proper nutrition? Low carb, low fat, vegan, and… just no sugar. It has to be superfood. The main thing is superfood. It has to be clean and of course very, very healthy. The more chia seeds, lentils and ginger tea the better. Everything with wheat is particularly bad. Wheat is sort of the new smoking.

Of course, I also somehow belong to this crazy breed of runners. However, anyone who finds their way to Mama Mzansi quickly reconsiders their attitude towards food. He is confronted with the sentence that has changed a lot for me: “The main component of the food that you see here in front of you is love!” Mama Mzansi always says.

“And to make it even clearer: No superfood in the world gives you strength. My family and I have always needed a lot of strength in the township. For the hard work, for survival. No superfood helped. But what was available. Mainly vegetarian. The basis of everything has always been pap. (A solid maize porridge that is an important food staple in South Africa, as in many parts of Africa). In addition, there were almost exclusively seasonal vegetables.”

“Meat was there when we slaughtered animals, so very, very rarely. My mother had chickens. There were more and more chickens. Suddenly there were chickens everywhere because we didn’t have the heart to kill them. The people who eat meat every day should slaughter the animals themselves. Then they would have healed quickly.”

A very short speech by Mama Mzansi that really says it all. Pap is eaten all over Africa and we know how fast African runners are. It’s definitely not the pap’s fault alone. But maybe because there is a lot of love in her food – and not just in Mama Mzansi’s. And you have respect for animals. In a nutshell: the superfood in Africa consists above all of love. Not from chia. That’s how it works.

Read all of Mike Kleiß’s columns here.