Each Comrades Marathon has plenty of stories, 2019 was no different. We bring you three of the best; double defending champion Bongmusa Mthembu narrowly finished second, Nkosikhona Mhlakwana heartbreaking battle for gold on debut, and not to be forgotten, a return to glory for 1995 winner Shaun Meiklejohn.
David Katz: Comrades Marathon 2019 has come and gone and it was another phenomenal race. Really well done to Gerda Steyn, breaking six hours, first woman to do so on the Up Run, to take the women’s title. Then a very closely fought men’s race, Bongmusa Mthembu was going for a third in a row.
He’s won three overall as well and just losing out to Edward Mothibi. A great run by Edward Mothibi, but Bongmusa joins me now on the line. Bongmusa, you guys really pushed each other hard there at the finish. It was a fantastic race this year wasn’t it?
Bongmusa Mthembu: Absolutely my brother, it was a fantastic race. I believe so many people were watching on the TV, they were so excited to see the guys battling, I mean towards the end of the race. I can’t complain about anything. Edward, he played his game and at the end of the day he was the man to stand, so I came behind him.
He ran very well and for me, I’m not disappointed at all. I gave it all and I ran my own race. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be the first one to break the rope, but I’d also like to congratulate Edward. He’s done very well, I’m so happy for him and proud of him, especially because he’s even from here in South Africa. That’s a huge achievement.
South African’s push the pace at Comrades
DK: It’s always great to see another title go the way of a South African. What did you find was different this year on the Up? I know it was a little bit colder at the start. Did you find that the guys took up the pace very quickly?
BM: Yes, I was expecting the guys were going to be fast, plus there were so many guys who ran Comrades for the first time and those guys, they didn’t know how to run Comrades. It seems that they’ve been told that you guys must be with Bongmusa, you guys must run with Bongmusa. You could see, the bunch from the beginning was so huge.
It was so difficult to run, even to grab the water at the water station. It’s one of those things, at the end of the day my brother, I don’t want to complain about anything. I’ve lost the race and I’m proud of myself because coming back from Two Oceans and also do well like I did in Comrades, so I’m very happy. I’m looking forward to just take a rest, take it easy, starting again for next year.
2nd in 2019, Bongmusa still has a long-term plan
DK: You talked to me last year about being in the process of a seven-year plan, which means you’ve still got three/four years on that. Is that still the goal? You still know that you’ll be at the top end of this sport, of Comrades for the next few years?
BM: I’m fully confident of that, I’m still going to do well in Comrades. I’m still going to give it my all. I’m definitely; I’m keen to do that in the next few years, because there is no other race that I’m going to do. Now I’m going to rest up until next year. Maybe I’m going to do any races just before Comrades, I think that’s what the plan is, like right now, going forward in those few years.
DK: Bongmusa, I wanted to ask you, it’s always difficult; you see this elite bunch, you know you’re all together, you know the guys generally have done well over the last couple of years. How do you know which is the move to follow, who you can let get away? I know we saw David Gatebe take up the pace, how do you as a runner decide, okay wait; this is the move that I think I need to mark?
How to mark moves at Comrades
BM: Honestly, it’s better, like the previous three years, since they cut off the hot spot. I must say, my opinion, it’s been better. In the previous years it was so difficult because the guys, they were just like flying, but at the end of the day you’ll find that no, they were chasing that hot spot.
Now, it’s so easy because the guys, they will be in that group, you’ll be able to see who is up front, who is taking the lead, who is going forward and then you can look who is going. Then you can see, is it the right time? I remember quite clearly that even like on Sunday, David and Edward, there was some point where they just picked up the pace. I just settled behind them and gave them; I think it was about 200m.
So I just gave them that distance because I knew that I want to see who is going to respond first. I saw the guys didn’t respond, they were just waiting for me, whether I’m making a move to David. Then by the time I was trying to catch to David, we just left all these guys, up until we were only like four in the bunch. From there till we reached Camperdown, I mean that’s where the race started. That’s where I felt like no, even now I’m able to grab my water, I’m able to get all my stuff that I needed to the water tables.
Race Pro passes Comrades with flying colours!
DK: Bongmusa, you’ve been seconded by 32Gi and more specifically Mark Wolff for a good few years now, just tell me though, a fantastic new product that’s been launched into the market is Race Pro. How did you find that new product worked? It’s ideally suited to ultra running and ultra events and multiday events, how did you find Race Pro?
BM: What is nice about that product is that even Mark is always being in the Comrades, so he knows exactly how to mix the Race Pro. It’s fantastic. I’ve never felt any problem on the road; I’ve never felt any hunger or any dizziness or something.
I was fully focused from the start because I’ve used that two hours before I start the race and also Mark, that’s where I used to see Mark, I always grab the bottle whenever he gives it to me. I’d also like to thank Mark, I remember, I spoke with him afterwards when he sent me the message and I even phoned him.
Sometimes in our sport we need guys like Mark. This guy, he spends his time with the athletes, he knows the struggle of the athletes. I’d like to thank him, even his products, I also believe our relationship that we have is going to grow from strength to strength.
Last year I had the present “Rapid Recover machine” from them, hopefully going forward, we’ll still be together. It’s such a nice product and I’m very happy with it. Even for recovery, I just use it, even now, when I’m still in the recovery process.
A debut to remember (& forget) for Khasta
DK: From the King of Comrades to a pretender to this throne who agonisingly just missed out on gold, in his debut Comrades.
My name is Nkosikhona Mhlakwana, 26 years old, Mr Price Elite athlete, coached by Mr Prodigal Khumalo. For being an average runner like me and attempting the Comrades Marathon at this age of 26 years, it’s quite interesting. If you look at the likes of Mr Prodigal Khumalo, Bongmusa Mthembu, Gift Kelehe, Ludwick Mamabolo, all of these contenders, this age that I am at now, it’s the right age to start the Comrades Marathon.
I past Gordon, and when I passed Gordon and Siya, I was so, so, so happy, I was going fine, but after that, under the bridge, there was a speed hump there and then my legs were not supposed to go over something like that, so close to the finish.
I think that’s where I lost the rhythm and I had to pull up and be strong mentally and focus, as my legs had stopped. For me being number 11 on my first Comrades Marathon, it’s very interesting because now I can call myself a true Comrades Marathon runner.
1995 winner returns to earn triple-green
DK: On the other end of the spectrum, former champion and 10x gold medallist, Shaun Meiklejohn bounced back from a disappointing 2018 to earn his triple green.
Shaun Meiklejohn: Unfortunately at 60km my hamstring tore, which resulted in me withdrawing from my first ever Comrades race on my 30th attempt. Coming back this year, I guess I had a little bit of fear and doubt in the back of my mind.
I approached the race a lot more cautiously than I normally do, which is not a bad thing. Soon into the run I started gaining confidence when it was going well and to get my 30th medal and finish, and 20th silver really meant a lot to me.
DK: Both Shaun and Khasta were well fuelled along the route.
Shaun Meiklejohn’s ultimate fuelling strategy
SM: At about 3:15 in the morning I had 400ml serving of Choc Recover as part of my pre-race meal and then going into the race I took 600ml, about an hour before of Endure to keep my hydrated for that first hour. Then after that first hour into the race I switched over to the Race High Intensity sports drink which I had every 6km approximately. I switched over on every third drink to the new Race Pro, super carb protein drink.
That just, the combination of those thrown in with the G-shots from about 30km and I kept those apart for about every 10km until the finish, just kept the energy levels constant throughout the race and found it fuelled perfectly. So much so that when I crested in Polly Shorts I ran my quickest split the whole day into the finish and felt properly energised and hydrated throughout the event.
NM: All in all, using 32Gi along the way helped me to see the importance of having a supplement that can help you to recover your muscle cells while you’re running, and also be able to refuel your lost electrolytes on your body.
DK: If you needed any more inspiration with the last word, here is Khasta.
NM: To everyone that is believing that it’s not possible, they must turn their mentality, it is possible and everyone can make it on the day because we all work hard for such achievements.