Local man runs first marathon in backyard during lockdown: ‘I really wanted to test my mental strength’

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Ndyebo Mapekula. (Photo: Supplied/Peter Scherb)
Ndyebo Mapekula. (Photo: Supplied/Peter Scherb)

It was a video posted by a fellow runner on Instagram that sparked the idea.

Ndyebo Mapekula, who lives in Cape Town, was enthralled: here was Lee Ryan, a British father-of-two completing a 100km run in his 30m backyard.

Sure, the near-global lockdown forced fitness enthusiasts to find intuitive ways to keep fit while at home.

But spending more than half a day running in circles in your backyard? Ludicrous.

But that didn’t stop Ndyebo, who was keen on pushing himself both physically and mentally, from taking up the difficult challenge.  

“It took him 13 hours to complete,” Ndyebo says of Lee’s astounding achievement.

“During his run, he went live on Instagram and I was listening to how he was talking about mindset.

“I’m not a marathoner. I only do 21km, 10km and 5km. I never would’ve thought I’d ever run one. But Lee’s talk about mindset made me want to challenge myself – not physically but mentally.”

Ndyebo captains the Adidas running group in Cape Town and has represented them at several runs around the world.

So, leading a healthy lifestyle is second nature to the running enthusiast. Which is why he was initially bummed by the restrictions a countrywide lockdown would place on his physical activity.

But where there’s a will there’s a way, even if it’s within the confines of four walls.

“I try to do something every other day,” Ndyebo says of his home workouts. “Even if it’s stretching.”

He focuses on mobility exercises, glute activation and core workouts and occasionally does a 5km run.

All of this is in preparation for The Speed Project, a 550km relay from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in the United States.

The race was scheduled to take place in March this year but was postponed to August due to the coronavirus.

“People think being healthy is solely based on physical fitness and eating healthily,” the 25-year-old says.

“But for me, a healthy lifestyle also means being mentally and emotionally fit.

“This led me to run my first ever marathon in my backyard.”

Without any preparation – he decided the night before – Ndyebo took on the 42,2km challenge. “It was around 7pm the Saturday night that I decided to do it,” he recalls.

“By 5am the following morning my laces were tied, and I was ready to hit the road.”

It took him just more than five hours to complete – an impressive feat considering how difficult it is to run in a narrow space. “The main goal was to finish,” Ndyebo says, adding that he didn’t really know what to expect.

“My body is in agony, especially my ankles! Because of all the turns I had to do as I was running in an L-shaped driveway.

“But being quite experienced with 21km, I know my body’s threshold and how much I should give so that I don’t burnout.”

He did lots of stretching after the run, soaked his body in warm water and Epsom salts and “then slept like a baby after that”.

Ndyebo Mapekula's running time

Ndyebo jokingly says he’ll never do a marathon again. Not even the satisfaction of an official medal could persuade him.

Because more than anything, stretching his mental strength as far as possible was of more importance than public acknowledgement.

“I really wanted to test my mental strength and I wanted to do it without any external factors such as pressure from people running past me or people motivating me to finish the race.

“I wanted to be isolated, even in my thoughts, just me and the distance and the satisfaction of finishing it.”

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