As 2018 rolls into February, we catch up with defending Comrades Marathon Champion Bongmusa Mthembu. He has some fantastic advice for novices heading into this month; while also hear about the new altitude training hotspot, for South Africa’s ultra-running elite.
You’re with us here on 32Gi Sports Nutrition, I’m Mr Active, David Katz. Great to catch up with a man we were very fortunate to chat to twice last year, both pre and post a win. It was a very big win, the Comrades Marathon. The second time Bongmusa Mthembu has won the event. Bongmusa, we’re into 2018, Comrades is fast approaching again, how are you feeling, how has your training been?
Bongmusa Mthembu: Thanks for having me. No, it’s just one of those times where we started training. My training so far is going really well and I’m just hoping for one thing, which is avoid injury. You know, we’re training a lot of time, we’re putting in a lot of mileage and kilometres, so we’re just praying for one thing, which is no injury. No, I’m quite happy because I’m injury free, hopefully my training will go well up until after those two events, Two Oceans, before Comrades, if it may happened.
DK: Bongmusa, you talk about injury free and as you said, it’s a bane of many a long distance runner. What are some of your strategies as a team? Personally, if you guys feel a niggle, you feel something is not right, do you push it, do you hold back and get treatment and wait and get it assessed? At the end of the day it’s all about getting to that race day.
How Comrades elites handle pre-race niggles
BM: Yes, because if like now you get injured somehow, we just have to rest, because a lot of times to train at the same time. As long as you keep your fitness at a certain level, they don’t do anything. You can do some other cross training, so if it happens, getting an injury. I must do that, but yes, it’s always frustrating, especially when you know that you are expecting to do well in those races.
It’s frustrating to get injured. You might think it’s going to be severe, you find out you’re damaged more. But yes, I think with the running that you have, with the team that you have, the management, the coach, all those kinds of people, they keep you motivated that okay; if you have an injury or a strain, take your time and rest. Put something there or attend physio or so on until you get recovered. Then you can pick up the training where you left.
DK: Bongmusa, we had a big announcement recently, the finalisation of the Comrades route for this year, over 90km. I know you’ve run and won down as well as up now; but 90km, different finish, it’s going to be interesting. What do you make of the route?
A whole lot more (well 1k) Comrades in 2018
BM: Hopefully as the running starts to change in South Africa, hopefully even the Comrades Marathon Association will see it, because when we talk about course record that means it’s out. Because the distance is longer than the last down run.
Other than that, we’re quite excited, a new finishing venue. I think everybody is looking forward to finish at the Moses Mabhida Stadium. It’s going to be interesting. We’ll see, it’s definitely not going to be so fast. Remember that it’s running, early June now.
DK: Bongmusa tell me now, you talked about the finish, it’s going to be at Moses Mabhida. This has become an iconic landmark not just in Durban, but across South Africa. As a KZN boy it’s going to be special to finish in that stadium, wherever you come.
BM: Definitely, I think for us mostly, as I’m coming from KZN, I’m fortunate to train sometimes on the route. So all those kinds of things, I think it’s one of the things that I’m willing to do it. Hopefully it might happen and that’s why I always work so hard, put myself through so much hard training.
So that at the end of the day when I try to prepare, it’s time to push myself, to be able to win the race. All in all, I think everybody is looking forward to see who is taking first. It’s going to be memorable; I think we’re not going to forget the first time you enter at Moses Mabhida Stadium.
The “new” Comrades altitude training hotspot
DK: Bongmusa tell me as well now, you guys have a, I know you personally, a little bit of a different approach this year. You’re off to Ethiopia soon for some high altitude training?
BM: Yes, definitely, I think it’s very important for me, just to change the environment, my comfort zone, to go other places. I’ve been going out for a couple of years now. I think it’s just a good opportunity, for me, going to Ethiopia in the next few days now. I’ll be leaving for Ethiopia for maybe like eight weeks.
Then I’ll be back maybe in South Africa to continue with my training. So it was a good opportunity for me. I think in my mind we start to work so hard. I know most of the guys there, they don’t train for ultra-marathons, so I’ve got the plan with the guys that I meet there. They’re going to help me with those distances that we usually do.
DK: Tell me, Comrades, it’s a fantastic race, we know it has these big numbers, but we saw the entries last year sell out in next to no time. Is that as an elite, as someone who loves this race, it’s so promising to see isn’t it?
BM: Yes, it’s quite interesting, everybody is very excited to run the Comrades 2018. I think all those kinds of things, new finishing venue, I think all the slogans that they have, the environment that they have. Atmosphere that you’ve got in the Comrades.
I think that’s why it attracts people to come and run the Comrades. I know most of the people who have entered the Comrades are those people who are not used to running the Comrades. Most are novices, but this is Comrades, everybody wants or is willing to run Comrades.
Bongmusa’s key February training tips
DK: I’m a novice running Comrades this year, or alternatively it’s my first down run; going into February, at this time of year what advice would you be giving to someone in terms of where they should be? What they should be looking out for?
BM: I think I’ve always said, you must enjoy, you mustn’t put yourself under pressure that you must go something, a miracle in Comrades. You must go there and enjoy it. This time, in February, remember, there will be some other races, maybe you haven’t qualified yet,; so remember, there will be races that you’re going to do to qualify for Comrades.
Then after that there is March and April, so that’s where you can maybe, just to put more mileage, a little bit, not like Bongmusa does. But it’s very important to do at least 150km a week and Comrades, you’ll finish. Most of the people in our time, they are very lucky because I think every information is out there.
Unlike me when I was starting to run Comrades. I didn’t know anything, I didn’t know how to train, I didn’t know how to eat, and there was nothing like how to sleep or all those kinds of things that are very key when you prepare yourself for Comrades.
DK: Bongmusa Mthembu, two-times Comrades Marathon Champion and all round nice guy, thanks again. Always great to catch up with you, and enjoy your time in Ethiopia.
BM: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me, looking forward.