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  • Writer's pictureMosibodi Whitehead

'I believe that I can still run until 45' - Evergreen Mokoka shares the 2:06 secret

On Sunday Stephen Mokoka joined a select group of South African marathon athletes. His 2:06:42 for fifth place at the Osaka Marathon in Japan saw him miss Gert Thys' national record by just nine seconds pushing him up to second on the SA All Time list as one of only three local marathoners to have run sub 2:07. But perhaps what's most impressive is that 38-year-old Mokoka is the oldest of the three to have achieved the milestone. Thys was 27 years old when he ran his 2:06:33 in Tokyo, while Hendrick Ramaala was 34 when he produced his 2:06:55 at the 2006 London Marathon.

"My role model is Gharib because I’ve seen him running a 59 at the age of 37. He had been running the marathon and running for a very long time but he improved his half marathon at the age of 39. Look at Lamdassem he ran 2:06:25 and he’s forty. So those are the kind of things that you look at and you can plan better - plan long term,” he told #TheTopRunner.

Drawing inspiration from the Moroccan Olympic silver medalist and the Spanish 42,2km national record holder allowed Mokoka and his coach Michael Seme to put a two-year plan in place to attack the national record. In fact, when Tshipi as he is affectionately known, ran a new world record at the 2022 Nedbank Runified Breaking Barriers 50km it was all part of a broader plan to become the latest member of the Mzansi 2:06 club.

"I can say it goes with how long you have been training and the coach has to come with a different strategy for training because you cannot train like a kid - because the body takes long to recover. Hence my coach said 50km - we had to do intervals not the ones that I used to do and longer tempos and even long runs changed because he says I can’t train the way I used to train because I was young at that time," said the Boxer Athletic Club top runner.

Decorated coach Michael 'Sponge' Seme is the man behind Mokoka's success. Photo Credit: Sponge Group.

It means that his best marathon performance could be yet to come. With Bra Sponge having tweaked his training to accommodate his advancing years South Africa's national half marathon record holder (59:36) has been able to retain his 10km speed while getting stronger over the marathon. So who's to say that if he gets another race with good conditions (it was 3/4 degrees celsius with no rain in Osaka on 26 February) that the man who took fifth place at the 2019 World championships couldn't repeat that performance or even become the first South African to run a 2:05 marathon?

"So for me to be able to cope with a 10km, or 15km or 21km its because of the kind of training that the coach introduces. And if you look at the world everything has changed, Nike has come with good shoes and other companies are coming through. So with the change in technology and the improvements, it's no more that when you reach 40 years old you retire. I still believe that even at 40 you can perform. So I believe that I can run until 45 and still run well," he said.

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