"I'm going back to Asia" - Mokoka opens 2023 with 66 as he prepares to run Lake Biwa Marathon in Feb
Opening his season with a comfortable 21km victory at altitude on Saturday 14 January, Stephen Mokoka announced his intentions for the year ahead. The National Half Marathon Record holder (59:36) bested a quality field including 60:51 half marathoner Collen Mulaudzi and reigning Comrades Marathon champion Tete Dijana. Mokoka produced a telling surge just after halfway to win the Nedbank Skosana Race in 1:06:44, with training partner Mulaudzi second in 1:07:43 and Dijana good value for his 1:08:10 third place.
"I'm happy I opened with a 66," he told #TheTopRunner shortly after the race which was run through the streets of the Pretoria suburb of Centurion. "I think last year I opened with more or less the same time. I'm happy about the time because we started at more or less 3:30 pace. I enjoyed the route. I also loved the atmosphere, so thank you to the guys because we were working together during the race for me to be able to run a 66," said the man who has been coached by the legendary Michael "Sponge" Seme for almost two decades now.
After he had won the race, the man who has once again been included in the Boxer Athletic Club elite team for a seventh straight year, added his own additional lap of 10km to betray his plans for the next few months. The man who placed fifth at the 2019 World Championships in Doha, revealed that he is in the middle of a marathon training programme which will culminate in a race in Asia at the end of February.
"I have a marathon that I'm gonna run next month. I'm going back to Asia. I have a good track record in Asia, except one year where I ran 2:16 in Tokyo. I still have seven weeks of preparation that I need to do, so I'm happy about the time that I managed to run today. I hope the body comes together and reacts positively and I hope I run well this year. So I hope this year will be a great year. I'll be happy, I'll be delighted," said the man who turns 38 at the end of January.
In 2019, Mokoka took third place at the Lake Biwa Marathon in a time of 2:07:58. His decision to return to one of his favourite Japanese hunting grounds on 26 February, means that the 50km World Record Holder (2:40:13) will be unavailable to defend the Nedbank Runified Breaking Barriers 50km title he won when he set that World Record last year. Impressed with the way Dijana ran the 21km and how his Mafikeng childhood friend Edward Mothibi performed in the 10km race, the champion wished them all the best for the race in the Nelson Mandela Bay which will be run on the same day as his Japanese marathon.
"I'm happy that he ran a 68 so it shows that the speed is coming back. I hope he (Tete) works well so he can get a bit more speed before going to 50km. I wish them well - all of them that will be running in PE next month. Especially him (Tete) and Edward because we are homeboys, we are brothers. You saw us this morning we were chatting a lot, just doing a catch up because we could not meet during December. Edward ran 30 minutes which is good. It shows that whatever they are cooking in Rustenburg, it's actually working," he smiled.