'I almost gave up on running,' reveals Mashele as he celebrates his first SA 21km title
Updated: May 4
The only person that Precious Mashele respects more than Stephen Mokoka is Hendrick Ramaala. The eyes of this usually quiet man light up and his speech becomes animated when he speaks in glowing terms of how the 2004 New York Marathon champion changed his life by bringing him to train under his guidance at the Zoo Lake Training Group.
"I trained with Mokoka from 2012 to 2016 and I really respect that guy. People think respect is the same thing as fear but it's not. That guy taught me about the pain of running," says the man who joined the SA Half Marathon record holder's (59:36) group after he was discovered at a holiday training camp hosted by Caster Semenya and her coach Michael Seme in Limpopo. Seeing the talent in the teenager, Seme (affectionately known as Bra Sponge) invited him to join their group in Pretoria where he quickly started to challenge the top runners in the camp including the alpha athlete - 8-time SA 10 000m champion Mokoka.
But for all his promise in training Mashele failed to deliver on race day. "I didn't understand my body and ran too hard in training because I was trying to keep up with Mokoka so I was always injured. I suffered from shin splits and plantar fasciitis," explains the 30 year old. Despite failing to live up to his own high expectations, Ramaala saw the talent in his fellow Limpopo-an and convinced him to make the move from the capital city to the tree-lined suburbs of northern Johannesburg.
"I almost gave up on running because even when I first started training at Zoo Lake in 2016 I was still injured. They massaged me and stretched me but nothing worked. I told Ntate Ramaala that I was going back home to Limpopo to rest. I stayed at home from September until December and it's only then that I started to feel good," he told #TheTopRunner. Mashele returned to training injury free on the 16th of December 2016 and never looked backed. He went on to win five national cross country titles, adding the SA 5 000m and half marathon crowns in a 2021 that has been his best year as an elite athlete. For this he thanks Ramaala.
"I can never thank that man enough because when I arrived at Zoo Lake I had nothing. He fed me, gave me new training gear and shoes and even accommodated me at one of his flats close to Zoo Lake. Whenever I would win prize money I would want to share it with him but he would sometimes refuse to accept it, saying I should use my winnings to fix things at home in Limpopo," shares the man who had been on the national 21km podium twice before his triumph this weekend.
For outsprinting Mokoka (1:01:24) to win a tactical NMB 1/2 Marathon in 1:01:17 in Nelson Mandela Bay on Saturday, the SA and Central Gauteng Athletics 21,1km champion earned R112 500. A lot of money to earn in one day. But then Mashele's first SA Half Marathon victory was nine years in the making. Next on his to-do list is securing Olympic qualification in the 5000m. If the first half of this year is anything to go by, then the Boxer Athletic Club star has that one in the bag too.