I have a dream... Umvoti’s top Comrades runner for 2018

2018-06-27 06:00
James Torlage was Thulani’s self-appointed seconder for the Comrades Marathon. James ended up running 26km in his efforts to be at the right place at the right time, to encourage his friend, Thulani!

James Torlage was Thulani’s self-appointed seconder for the Comrades Marathon. James ended up running 26km in his efforts to be at the right place at the right time, to encourage his friend, Thulani!

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THULANI Zondi is a born and bred Umvoti guy. He was born at Mbulwane, near Matimatolo, and attended Tholinhlanhla and Mdlovane Primary Schools.

During his years at Mdlovane Primary School, it was his teacher, Miss Ngobese, who inspired him to keep trying his best. At the time he was part of the school’s athletics team.

After completing grade 8 and 9 at Elsie Mtshali Primary and High School, Thulani moved to Mpophomeni, where he completed his schooling.

In addition to athletics, he became involved in the school and township soccer teams at Mpophomeni.

In 2005 he started working at Pidelta, where he is still employed.

Zondi was an enthusiastic member of the Enfield soccer team, but after several injuries, decided to return to running. Initially he did his own thing, increasing the distances, as he went along.

By the time Zondi entered his first marathon, the JG Zuma Marathon in 2017, he had run the occasional 17 km training distances, but had not paid any attention to times or anything technical.

Suddenly, people noticed and said “Did you hear, Thulani Zondi ran the JG Zuma Marathon in a time of three hours and 48minutes?”

A friend, James Torlage, decided to help Zondi with a training programme. Soon there were shorter races, half marathons, marathons and ultra marathons on the wish list. This included Two Oceans 2018 and Comrades 2018. Ambitious, committed and highly motivated, Zondi started to tick off one race after another; his times and technique improving with each one.

Some of the highlights, which Thulani recorded in the build-up to the “big ones”, were his participation in the Mandela Day Marathon, in which he completed the 42,2 km marathon in a superb time of 3 hours 17 minutes, a 31 minute improvement in his marathon time after just four months on the training programme.

The Mandela Marathon is not for the faint-hearted. The first 21 km climb out of Edendale, past Elandskop, towards Howick is gruelling, yet our man hung in there (despite some serious challenges with cramp) to complete in a superb finishing time.

In Hillcrest, Thulani participated in the 10 km forest run and completed that in the blink of an eye, his final time being 36 minutes.

Zondi progressed steadily, with encouragement and sound advice from local runners Jason Gorzellock, Kwenza Ngubane, Lindelani Ximba, and Dlamini of the Umvoti Athletics Club, and many fellow athletes.

He was cautioned to “slow down” and “don’t rush in the beginning”, wise advice from seasoned marathon runners that helped him map out and fine tune his game plan.

Once his entries for Two Oceans Ultra Marathon and Comrades were submitted, all that remained was to adhere to the programme for the two big races ahead.

His trip to Cape Town offered a perfect package. His fellow travellers were all headed to the Two Oceans marathon so the conversation along the way was all about the race.

Energised and motivated, his first glimpses of Table Mountain, the ocean and the beautiful city, all got the adrenalin going.

By the time the big day came, Zondi was ready for the 56 km Ultra Marathon which he completed in 4 hours and 15 minutes.

This time was a good indicator that his Comrades training was on track.

A few training runs in the build up to Comrades with Umvoti runners Jason Gorzellock and Andy Mason, and a tailor-made tapering-off programme from friend and two-times Comrades runner James Torlage, prepared Thulani Zondi for the big day.

The single figure temperatures at Pietermaritzburg City Hall were soon forgotten after the starting shot was fired.

After the event, Zondi commented on the incredible vibe which carries the runners all along the Comrades route; there are very few lonely stretches, the crowds are indescribably supportive and wherever Zondi has run, there have been encouraging shouts for “Umvotiiiiii”. The Comrades Marathon was no exception.

Comrades is an iconic race, “the big race” that every runner has at the back of his or her mind. What a feat that the humble, slightly built man from Umvoti was able to achieve this, and many other dreams, within the first 18 months of his running career? His absolute commitment and determination earned him the Bill Rowan medal, and a finish time of 7 hours 51 minutes in his debut Comrades — well done son of Umvoti, Thulani Zondi!

When asked which of the two big events he favoured, Zondi said it was difficult to give a clear-cut answer, the breath-taking scenery and the excitement of being in Cape Town would give the Two Oceans the edge, however, the tremendous feeling of camaraderie during the Comrades Marathon is unequalled.

His focus now is to continue participating in as many races throughout South Africa as possible, but most of all to continue participating regularly in both the Two Oceans and the Comrades Marathon for as long as he can. Zondi would like to encourage the Umvoti Athletics Club to develop a more active and visible role, to grow the number of its members and encourage other young people to become involved in the healthy pastime of running.

In closing, Zondi would like to express his thanks to all who have encouraged him and celebrated his running achievements with him, not least his family who are so super proud of their Thulani.

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