Pietermaritzburg runner bears SA’s hope for a Comrades win

2013-05-30 00:00

PIETERMARITZBURG runner Bongmusa Mthembu (29) carries the hopes of a nation when he lines up for Sunday’s Comrades Marathon, attempting to become the first South African to win the up run since 1992.

He was second last year to Ludwick Mamabolo and has confirmed he wants to go one step further and be crowned champion.

With seven finishes to his name and three gold medals, he has proven he has the credentials to hold the coveted trophy aloft, despite his best times and positions coming on the down run.

He earned his three golds by finishing seventh in 2009 and finishing third in 2010 and second last year.

His best finish on an up run was 12th in 2011, where he earned a Wally Hayward medal for finishing in under six hours.

A professional athlete, Mthembu runs for the Nedbank Running Club and has made his intentions clear by adapting his training programme this year to prepare specially for the up run.

“Strength and hill training have been a main focus of my training this time around. I have done plenty of work in the Berg and Lesotho and the adjustment to my training should pay off,” said Mthembu.

“Last year, I finished fifth at Two Oceans, but this year, because of my change in training, I did not achieve a better result.”

That could be a positive sign for his Comrades run, something he has been focusing on since late November.

“I train twice a day on most days and my longest week saw me run 250 kilometres. Off season, I average about 100 km a week but I am ready …

“Anything can happen on race day, but at least I know I stand at the start in the best shape I can be, ready to give the race my best effort,” he said.

Mthembu’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. Former Comrades winner, multiple gold medallist and manager of Nedbank Running Club Nick Bester believes the man from Maritzburg could claim the laurels this year.

“A South African can win the up run this year and Bongmusa has shown he has the ability to claim the title.

“He has worked hard in training, remained injury free and starts the race as one of the favoured runners,” said Bester.

“His record at Comrades leaves no doubt he can pull off a win and with a strong support team, he can go all the way.”

Besides working on his hill strength at altitude, Mthembu has undergone complete body conditioning and taken on a strength training programme in Pietermaritzburg.

Working with Andre Pienaar, a PhD who has worked with many athletes through the years, including New York Marathon winner and Comrades gold medallist Willie Mtolo, Mthembu has covered all his bases to ensure he is a serious threat come Sunday.

Said Pienaar: “Musa has worked well and has great drive and enthusiasm. These are important ingredients to have and will undoubtedly give him the results and goals he has set himself.”

Last year’s second place finish will fade into insignificance on Sunday, when Mthembu has to dig deep and start all over again in an attempt to realise his dream.

It’s all about what goes down on the day and there is also the small matter of a few rivals to be aware of.

“I have the results to show I can beat anyone in the field, but there are always those who push you the hardest, those who are always on your shoulder waiting for you to falter,” said Mthembu.

“Ludwick [Mamabolo] and Zimbabwean Marko Mambo are serious contenders, as is three-time winner Stephen Muzhingi, who may have been carrying an injury in his build-up this year.”

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