'I'm planning to run the Comrades Marathon' - New chapter for Mqhele as he joins Nedbank Running Club
At the end of 2021, Sithembiso Mqhele announced himself as one of South Africa's most promising marathon athletes when he ran a personal best 2:18:33 at the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon. He followed that performance by winning the Cape Peninsula Marathon title in February 2022 a time of 2:22:00 before claiming a maiden Totalsports Two Oceans gold medal on debut when finishing in seventh place in the time of 3:14:19. Eager to make a statement and replicate his excellent form the following year, Mqhele dealt a blow when his club at the time Murray & Roberts Running Club, announced that it would closing down their elite athlete section.
"I think 2022 was a great year in terms of achieving the goals that I had set for myself on the road. Things went according to the plan. I think I surprised myself a little with the kind of results I obtained," explains, Mqhele who hails from Elliotdale in the Eastern Cape. "Then while I was still celebrating I had to deal with the news that the club is going to close down. It was a difficult situation for me as I'm not working and rely on athletics as my source of income. The club did its best to keep the promise of helping us until June last year which I was so grateful for. But the whole thing took its toll on me as I had to think of ways of coming out of the whole situation," he told #TheTopRunner.
Despite being emotionally drained, Mqhele continued to deliver good times on the road. One of those top performances included managing to secure a back-to-back Two Oceans gold medals, this time slicing his previous time by a second (3:14:18) for ninth overall. He says the key factor was hard work.
"I told myself I must not let the situation determine my future. I kept on working hard big time. If 2022 was my breakthrough year, then 2023 was the best year I ever had in my career. I ran all distances ranging from 10km to over 100km in order to put food on the table. I managed to come second in the Icons 103km race which was the longest distance I have done in my career. Plus I told myself I have to live within my means. It is a good thing to do to survive. Luckily, I taught myself that a long time ago. One thing I would say, last year taught me some valuable life experiences that will stay with me forever, " said the man who is coached by Mthandeni Nene.
Now the 32-year-old Pietermaritzburg-based athlete has started this year on a bright note. He has already earned a contract with Nedbank Running Club and has big ambitions including making his debut at The Ultimate Human Race.
"I'm quite happy that things are falling into place now. This year promises to bring some light to my life. Joining Nedbank, came as a shock to me, I won't lie. I never expected that they would be interested in signing me. I'm grateful to them for recognizing my talent. It shows that the wonderful performances I put in on the road didn't go unnoticed. Already, they have been supportive in helping me to make my dreams come true. This year, I'm planning to run the Comrades Marathon, something that has been on my mind for the longest time. I feel my age is on my side too," he said.