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  • Writer's pictureMosibodi Whitehead

Evergreen Phalula targets Absa RYC Joburg 10k after running first sub 33 since 2015

At 38 years old, most athletes are entering the twilight years of their running careers, especially if they have been known for their prowess over the middle and short distances. Yet Lebo Phalula is bucking the trend. After almost twenty years at the pinnacle of South African track, cross country and road running, one half of the most famous running duo in the country is running just as fast as she was during her heyday and she says it's all about prioritizing quality over quantity.

"Hard training is the secret," she said during an online broadcast ahead of the Absa RUN YOUR CITY JOBURG 10k where she will be aiming to finish on the podium once more. "Since I've been running, I have never struggled like this in five years. After giving birth to my daughter it was not an easy journey. But I just told myself that I mustn't give up and with the help of Boxer Athletic Club they have been there for me. I was just focussing on my training and I never gave up."

Phalula grits her teeth as she crosses the finish line in sixth place (35:25) during the Tshwane leg of the SPAR Grand Prix on August 6. Photo Credit: SPAR Grand Prix.

In the five years since becoming the first black woman to represent South Africa in the marathon at an Olympic Games at Rio 2016, Phalula gave birth to her daughter in 2017 and then found it difficult to recapture the mercurial form that saw her win seven national titles over 1500m and 5000m on the track and the 2015 SPAR Grand Prix. But that all changed this year when she started working with coach George Gundry and found herself running her fastest 10km in seven years when she clocked 32:59 for sixth place at the Absa RUN YOUR CITY DURBAN 10k in July.

"Age is just a number. People say when you are ageing you will never run like you did before but now I'm running like when I was young. Since I have been having George Gundry I have seen a lot of changes in my training because I used to train hard and forget to do the massage. That's why I was always straining my body. But now when I finish doing the hard training I know what to do. I have learnt to do more mileage than speed, because when you do speed that's when you get a lot of injuries. I have more experience and I'm happy about it," said Lebogang's twin sister.

Lebo warms up with her twin sister Lebogang minutes before the Absa RUN YOU CITY CAPE TOWN 10k in May. Photo Credit: Stillwater Sports / Jaco Wolmarans.

With this new lease on life and encouraging recent performances (she placed third at the ASA 10km Championships in Pretoria last month), a lot will be expected of the Sowetan when she takes on the likes of Glenrose Xaba, Kesa Molotsane and Cacisile Sosibo on the 24th of September. Counting in her favour is her experience. This will be the first time that the Absa RYC returns to the City of Joburg since 2019 and with a new route including sections of the M1 and M2, Phalula is bracing herself for a challenging race.

"Running in Joburg you must accept that it will be a challenging route because it's forever hilly! But you must just go there with the mentality that you must run strong and save energy for the hills because it's never easy running in Joburg. On the 24th of September I will have my own strategy. I'm just going there to run my race they way I train. The most important thing is to enjoy the race," she smiled.

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