IN what could be seen as the highlight of ultra-distance running in South Africa for 2016, the Elite Athlete Development Programme’s Bongmusa Mthembu along with fellow South Africans Gift Khelele, David Gatebe and Rufus Photo were the strongest overall team at the recent IAU 100km World Championships in Spain last week. Mthembu, who won the Comrades Marathon in 2014, was the strongest of the South African runners when he finished in a stellar second place overall behind Japan’s Hideaki Yamauchi, breaking the South African 100km record set by legend Bruce Fordyce in 1999 in the process. Mthembu has been in good form throughout 2016, collecting a third place finish at the Comrades Marathon along the way. The 33-year-old knew that 100km was going to be a completely different challenge though but was surprised by his performance. “It was the first time I had ever ran that distance so I really didn’t know what to expect from the race,” Mthembu said on his return to South Africa. “To be able to come second was incredible, but I think that the most important thing was that we were able to win the overall team title. “We worked well together and although we had some problems, I knew that the team was going to be strong and it’s an amazing time for ultra-distance running. “It just shows everyone that the new era in South African running is upon us.” For Mthembu, the pressure of taking on an unknown distance was made easier by having a strong team of runners around him as he went beyond the 87km distance of the familiar Comrades Marathon while was also confident he was going to be strong enough when he pushed into the unknown. “The extra 10km did make a big difference, but I knew that I had trained enough to deal with it even though it was foreign to me. “The training wasn’t too different to that of our Comrades training but I learnt a huge amount about my ability and I hope that I will get the chance to run the race again in 2017 to see if I can push for a gold medal,” Mthembu mentioned excitedly. Mthembu was only the second South African to finish on the podium after Cornet Mathomane finished third in 1993. Despite his achievement on the international stage, the Bulwer resident’s focus remains on the 2017 Comrades Marathon ‘up run’ from Durban to Pietermaritzburg. “With a win and then a good performance in the down run this year I am really looking forward to the Comrades Marathon next year. “I have got the desire to win back the title and I think that I have the confidence, so if I can stay fit and healthy then I think that I will have a good chance to win the Comrades again.” For more information visit www.eadp.co.za - Supplied.