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  • Writer's pictureThathe Msimango

'Before I thought talent alone can take you places' - Much improved Mkhwanazi eyes Absa DURBAN 10K

Rising star Bongelani Mkhwanazi believes his decision to start working with coach Xolani Mabhida is what has taken his career in a new and more fruitful direction. Mabhida, who is better known to some as an ultra distance running coach after guiding three-time Comrades Marathon winner Bongumusa Mthembu to glory, is in on the verge shaping Mkhwanazi into one of the best long distance athletes of his generation.

Mkhwanazi catches his breath after running a lifetime best 1:02:25 at the Nelson Mandela Bay Half Marathon. Photo Credit: NMB Half Marathon.

Although the pair have only been working together since last year, the results are already starting to show. Mkhwanazi has been in red hot form in 2023 as he recorded personal best times in both the 10km and the half marathon. In May during the Chillies 10km, Mkhwanazi went-toe-to-toe with multiple SA Champion Mbuleli Mathanga to clock a brilliant time of 28:26 for second place - two seconds behind Mathanga. A week later the 27-year-old athlete produced 1:02:45 for 17th place in a quality field during Nelson Mandela Bay Half Marathon.

The man who hails from Mandeni, North of KwaZulu-Natal, has praised Mabhida for improving him as the athlete. "I think before I doubted what a coach can do for an athlete. Before, I thought that talent alone can take you places, which is one of the reasons I was coaching myself for the quite some time," explains Mkhwanazi who runs in colours of the Maxed Elite Running Club.

Mkhwanazi and multiple SA 10 000m champion Mbuleli Mathanga battle it out at the Chillie Lifestyle 10km race on 28 May during which Mkhwanazi dipped under 29 minutes. Photo Credit: Supplied.

"I think since I have started to work with Mabhida the numbers are there for everyone to see. I have improved dramatically compared the time when I was coaching myself. It's hard to master everything by yourself so that's why you need someone to assist you. He has been good to me. The way he speaks to his athletes makes it easy for us to perform," he told #TheTopRunner.

Mkhwanazi who has represented the country in 2022 World 100k Championship in Germany says he had given up in the shorter distances, but his new mentor has made him believe again.

Coach par excellence Xolani Mabhida (a former 800m athlete himself) has revived Mkhwanazi's fortunes by making him focus on the shorter distances. Photo Credit: Xolani Mabhida.

"You know most people say once you run ultra-Marathons then you can't be fast in 10km and 21km. So I took that into my head and told myself that the focus shall be on long distances going forward. When I started with coach Mabhida, I hadn't run a half-marathon in my career. He told me to do short distances for speed in order to be ready for long distances. Then I keep surprising myself with how fast I can run," explains Mkhwanazi, who took fifth position in this year's Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi 52km race.

His next goal is to try and run as close to 28:00 as he can and he thinks it achievable in the upcoming Absa RUN YOUR CITY DURBAN 10K race which boasts a world class field on a fast course on the 9th of July. "The shape I am in at the moment, I believe 28 minutes is doable on my side. With the presence of fast guys in the race, I'm positive that they can push me to run faster. So If I can slice more time off my personal best that would a great feeling for me."

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