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  • Writer's pictureMosibodi Whitehead

'God sees. He knows when it’s your time' - Melikhaya Frans after marathon PB at World Champs

"My name is Melikhaya, but when I was running I felt like it should be Melisizwe," were the marathoner's words as he reflected on a groundbreaking performance at his very first World Championships. You see Melikhaya means stand up for one's home and family, while Melisizwe means to represent the nation. And Melikhaya Frans did exactly that when he became the first South African to run under 2:10 at an Athletics World Championships as he took 18th place in Oregon.

"It was a bit cold in the morning so I decided to wear a t-shirt. I ran with the lead bunch until about 27km when I started feeling a little bit of cramps, so I slowed down until 30km. But that was when the race leaders started to move. By the time I felt good again, it was too late and the guys had gone. So those 2km cost me, but at least it didn't cost me a lot because I didn't come back empty handed," he told #TheTopRunner.

Frans' Ikhamva Athletic Club training partners and coach Michale Mbambani (back with blue cap) bid him farewell at the Chief Dawid Stuurman International Airport in Gqeberha before his departure for the World Championships in the United States. Photo Credit: Melikhaya Frans.

That he smashed his previous mark by over two minutes, exactly six weeks after setting a new lifetime best over the half marathon distance underlines the rich vein of form that the man from Gqeberha currently enjoys. The 32-year-old also broke a long-standing Eastern Province Athletics (EPA) 5000m record when he dipped under 14 minutes back in February, which is why many won't be surprised to learn that the 2:09:24 he ran in Eugene on Sunday eclipsed the EPA marathon record which had stood for 24 years. He says his coach and mentor Michael Mbambani must take the credit.

"My coach knows my body. He predicted that I would run a PB before the NMB Half Marathon and I did and the same thing happened here. I actually had an opportunity to go and join another training group after winning the SA Half Marathon title in June, but I refused because I prefer to be at home. I’m very happy when I’m at home and training at home with my training partners. There’s no reason for me to go far away to run fast times, I’ve managed to do it training in the Eastern Cape at sea level. Always listen to your coach and be disciplined. Even if he chases me away, I will refuse because he is my coach," he said explaining the special relationship he shares with Mbambani.

Melikhaya Frans (2:09:24) and Tumelo Motlagale (2:20:21) pose for a photo together in Eugene, Oregon. Photo Credit: Colleen McNally.

It is timely advice for many athletes based in the country's coastal provinces especially who have long held the belief that in order to succeed as a distance runner one must relocate and train on the highveld. Frans' patience has been rewarded not only with record after record, but also an outpouring of love from South Africans in general, but those of his beloved Port Elizabeth in particular. He says it was ultimately their emotion that carried him through the marathon to greater heights.

"This is a beautiful year. I don’t know how I can describe it. The people I have surrounded myself with are good. I am a people’s person. So I always stop and chat to people and take photos with them. I think in a way, they were blessing me. Your time will come. Hang on, even if it takes 5 years. God sees. He knows when it’s your time," he smiled.

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