Many local elite runners talk about the Soweto Marathon as one of the hardest road races in the country because of the challenging route and because the event is staged late in the year.
A close look at the results from the past three years points to the struggle, particularly in the men’s race. Michael Mazibuko was the last local runner to win, doing so in 2011.
Prior to this, Tshidiso Bosiu was a surprise winner in 2009.
It wasn’t until Edward Mothibi entered the fray in 2016 that he became a permanent feature in the top 10.
His consistencies raised hopes that Mzansi could eventually wrestle the title from Ethiopian and Masotho runners, who have become the dominating forces in the iconic township race.
Despite finishing sixth last year – up from seventh and ninth in 2016 and 2017, respectively – Mothibi maintains that his training programme is still what his compatriots need if they want to conquer the People’s Race.
Ntsindiso Mphakathi secured a third place two years ago to become the top South African finisher in recent times.
It is a different case altogether with the local women as two-time champion Irvette van Zyl leading the pack over the past three years. South African women snatched six spots in the top 10 in the past two editions, up from four in 2016.
“Based on my personal experiences, the Soweto Marathon needs special treatment. It must be a target that needs a focus. Hill work is important in the build-up to the race. Do this in the early stages of your preparations – around August and September. Then mileage and speed work is important so you can keep up with the leading pack because those guys fly after the 32km mark,” said Mothibi ahead of this year’s race, which starts and finishes at the FNB Stadium in Nasrec, Johannesburg, next Sunday.
A record 40 000 runners are expected at the starting line to race across three distances – 42km, 21km and 10km.
The 34-year-old Mothibi is giving this year’s edition a miss after an eventful year that saw him being crowned the new Comrades Marathon champion in June.
Mothibi warned other professional road runners not to over-race to achieve their objectives.
“I raced too much this year and I needed a rest after doing the Two Oceans [in April], the Comrades in June and the 50km World Championships [in Romania last month].”
Desmond Mokgobu will be back to defend his 10km title in Soweto.
Meanwhile, Van Zyl will attempt a hat-trick of wins after she defended her title last year with a new course record of 2:33:43, breaking the 2:36:02 mark set by Ethiopian Meseret Mengistu in 2014.
The men’s defending champion, Sintayehu Legese of Ethiopia, is also expected to return to the race he has won four times already – in 2014‚ 2015, 2016 and last year.
At stake in the 42km race is a R250 000 first-prize purse for the first man and woman home.
The 42km race starts at 5.30am; the 21km at 6.30am; and the 10km will set off at 7am.
. Entries for next year’s Comrades Marathon open tomorrow morning and close on November 30, or as soon as the entry cap of 27 500 entries has been reached.