'Comrades will be difficult this year' - Bongumusa Mthembu
Three-time Comrades Marathon winner Bongumusa Mthembu believes that whoever is going to reign supreme in this year's Ultimate Human race will have to be mentally strong while having great tactical planning. Mthembu was highlighting the shorter preparation time that athletes were provided for the 2023 edition of the 90km ultra marathon because the lockdown forced last year's race to be shifted to August, but will take place in it's traditional June again this year.
Understanding that his preparation time has been cut by three months, Mthembu who hails from Bulwer outside of Pietermaritzburg, has only done two races to get himself into shape. In February he clocked 2:27:18 during the Bhekizizwe Joseph Shabalala Marathon in Ladysmith and then claimed top honours at the Om Die Dam 50km race in North West in March. The 39-year-old Tom Ford top Runner believes the race will be unpredictable with a few surprises on race day.
"I think whoever is going to win Comrades this year will have to done their race preparation really well. There has been a limited time for us elite athletes to get in great shape," said Mthembu who recently joined Adidas as one of their elite athletes.
"I skipped Two Oceans because of many reasons. Remember, I'm old now so I must check on how I race. This is crucial to me if i want to perform at the highest level. Plus I need to be mentally strong when approaching these situations. So this year's race is not going to be easy even top athletes know that. I also heard that four Japanese guys are coming so its going to be a big race. Even an unknown runner can emerge victorious," he explained.
With Comrades organisers having announced an increase in the prize money with the first athlete either male or female set to pocket R500 000 compared to R260 000 last year, there is even more at stake for those who make a living out of running. Mthembu has praised the Comrades Marathon Association for backing athletes by returning the total purse to pre-Covid levels.
"Its a good move that organisers have increased the prize money. If you know me then you know how I'm vocal about prize money in the country's races," he said. "Its an international event and shall set as an example to many runners across the globe. But I'm not running for the money even though I need it to prepare for the races. I hope this is start of more good things to come."