Newsmaker – Claude Themba Moshiywa: Striding to success

2013-06-09 14:00

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Meet Claude Themba Moshiywa, the first South African to win the Comrades up run in 21 years

It was inevitable that everyone would jostle for a piece of 2013 Comrades Marathon champion Claude Themba Moshiywa – and that Minister of Sport Fikile Mbalula would get the biggest chunk of South Africa’s newest hero.

The 38-year-old runner was nearly halfway home from Durban when Mbalula invited him – along with the rest of the South Africans in the Comrades top 10 – to be a guest at Parliament for two days.

“It was moving. I never thought I would shake hands with a minister in my life,” said Moshiywa when City Press met him late on Friday, still clad in his green Nedbank Running Club gear.

He had just arrived at his house in the middle class suburb of Ormonde, south of Johannesburg, and was unpacking his luggage, ready to spend his first night at home since he left for the Comrades a week ago.

A phone call interrupted our interview at once – yet another well-wisher.

“I didn’t expect the fanfare. The many congratulatory messages I have received are so overwhelming ... considering it took me a few hours to even realise I had won,” said Moshiywa.

Next week he will again swap his running kit for a suit to go back to his day job as a First National Bank purchasing officer for catering, a firm he has served for 17 years.

He has been married to his wife for eight of those and they have two boys, aged six and seven.

His sons immediately become part of the conversation when asked how he will spend his R300 000 Comrades winner’s purse – which could pass the half-a-million mark when adding his club’s cash incentive.

“I will invest a lot of it in the education of my boys,” he said. “This was the biggest payday of my life ... and I hope to get more next year.”

The reward was borne of six months of preparation, sacrifice and risk, said the man who hails from Sebokeng (now eMfuleni) in southern Gauteng, the eldest of three children.

Moshiywa decided to forego of his turkey and pudding during the festive season and instead burned fat with a work-out that clocked anything between 150km and 180km a week. Fridays were his only rest days.

“My club manager, Nick Bester (a Comrades legend), always tells me, ‘When you train, train smart and don’t kill yourself’.”

Moshiywa focuses on one race a year and that is the Comrades.

“I do hills once a week and I reduce mileage in May to focus on speed work.”

And the scary part?

“I wake up at 3am from Monday to Thursday and it is so quiet that time of the day that I feel lonely ... and sometimes I get scared.”

In the eyes of the country, Moshiywa is a virtual unknown, but his record tells the story of a tried and tested athlete who even represented the country at the World 50km Championships in Holland three years ago. He finished 10th in three hours, 11 minutes.

“It was my first time overseas – and the same year in which I developed a strong belief that I stood a good chance of winning the Comrades.”

He was placed third in the flagship ultrarace in 2011, his best run since his debut in 2000.

It wasn’t an easy win this year. Thigh-muscle cramps almost robbed him of his lead with 10km to go.

“When you run Comrades, you are a soldier and have to soldier on,” he said of his three-second stop at the Polly Shorts hill.

A veteran of 13 Comrades, Moshiywa is a late bloomer and the fact that he is going strong in his late 30s backs up the popular belief that ultramarathons are best suited to old-timers.

“The older you get, the more you become stronger and wiser in the ultras,” he said, adding that he doesn’t have a specific prerace diet, except to avoid meat and oily food.

He does, however, have a cupboard for supplements, like most professional runners.

“Nutritional supplements help my energy levels,” said the man who previously ran for Diepkloof Athletics, Liberty Life and Mr Price, where he teamed up with Ludwick Mamabolo in 2010.

Mamabolo won last year’s Comrades, but that was followed by a doping scandal.

He said he was happy that Mamabolo was back running, but didn’t want to talk about doping – save to warn athletes “to better understand the content” of the substances they were taking.

When not running, Moshiywa spends time with his sons and seldom misses their Saturday tennis sessions.

His next big wish is to meet his beloved Kaizer Chiefs, especially his favourite players, Itumeleng Khune and Bernard Parker.

“I love soccer and I am Khosi for life. I was hoping to get the club’s flag and raise it at the finish of the race on Sunday.”

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