Mokoka’s midnight train to Doha

Uncharted territory Stephen Mokoka will line up in his first IAAF World Championship marathon, which starts in the middle of the night in Doha on Saturday . Picture: Ulrik Pedersen / NurPhoto / Getty Images
Uncharted territory Stephen Mokoka will line up in his first IAAF World Championship marathon, which starts in the middle of the night in Doha on Saturday . Picture: Ulrik Pedersen / NurPhoto / Getty Images

After turning out for the 10 000m event on the track at the last four editions of the IAAF World Championships, Stephen Mokoka will debut in the marathon at the biennial showpiece.

And, like many other hopefuls in the 42km race in Doha on Saturday, Mokoka will line up in the world championships’ first midnight marathon.

The 34-year-old has a plan, which comes with the experience of running in the Shanghai Marathon over the years.

“I will try to sleep a lot during the day so that by midnight I am well awake. The Shanghai Marathon normally runs at 3am [South African time], so the body is psyched up for that,” Mokoka told City Press prior to his departure for Doha.

The idea behind the midnight starting time is that the temperature will have dropped to closer to 30°C.

In Doha, Mokoka will lead a four-member men’s marathon team that includes Desmond Mokgobu, Benedict Moeng and David Manja.

Like Mokoka, Mokgobu has the experience of racing under hot and humid conditions as he won a major 42km race in Asia last year – the Beppu-Oita Marathon in Japan.

The Doha championship race will be run on a fully lit, looped course along the waterfront of its famous Corniche, set against the Qatari capital city’s towering skyline.

As for his imminent debut in a world championships marathon, Mokoka said: “Training has gone well so far. The time zone won’t have much effect because I’ve been planning for that.”

The runner from Mahikeng in North West is fresh from making history by becoming the first South African to dip under the 60-minute barrier over the 21km distance. Mokoka clocked 59 minutes and 51 seconds for a fourth place at the Buenos Aires half marathon last month, shaving 16 seconds off the 22-year-old national record held by his idol Hendrick Ramaala.

It remains to be seen what Mokoka has up his sleeve now that he has switched events on the world stage.

For the past four years, he has consistently competed with the best in middle-distance running, including UK legend Mo Farah.

Farah has retired from track events to pursue the marathon, with the hope that he’ll be ready to compete over the distance at the Olympic Games in Tokyo next year.

In Doha, Mokoka will face foes from familiar territories: Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda.

Kenya’s Geoffrey Kirui will be back to defend his title in a field that also has 2013 champ Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda. 

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