'I'm so happy because it shows that there's improvement' - Leeto downs big guns to win Foskor 21km
When Mathews Leeto said he wanted to spend 2023 improving his times over the shorter distances before graduating to the marathon - he meant it. The Hollywood Athletic Club top runner has had a year to remember representing South Africa at the World Cross Country Championships in February, smashing personal bests over 10km and 21km and on Saturday he won his first major half marathon title when he bested the likes of Namakoe Nkhasi and Collen Mulaudzi to win the F21 Foskor Half Marathon in Phalaborwa.
"I feel so happy," he told #TheTopRunner after crossing the finish line in 1:03:44 on a hot Limpopo afternoon to record the biggest half marathon victory of his career to date. "My aim was to run 62 minutes, but I wasn’t feeling strong at the start. But then I recovered after about 8km. That's when I broke away and ended up winning. I’m very happy because it shows that there’s improvement. Because my aim is to improve 10km to 21km. It also shows me that if I remain patient, respect my training and take it step by step then I can even go sub 60."
And why shouldn't he believe that he can join national record holder Stephen Mokoka (59:36) in Mzansi's sub one hour 21km club? Because even though he is already 33 years old, Leeto remains a relative novice on the international stage and is an improving athlete. This year alone the man who lives and trains in Zeerust in the North West Province placed eighth at the Nelson Mandela Bay Half Marathon in June in a new career best of 1:01:34, and then went to take seventh at the Absa RUN YOUR CITY DURBAN 10K earlier this month in a lifetime best 28:25. He says his coach Adam Motlagale deserves the credit.
"My coach believes in me and that gives me confidence. I also enjoy training with Tumelo (Motlagale) because we understand each other," he explains adding that his experience at the World Cross Country Championships in Bathurst where he took 59th spot in a race won by Uganda's Jacob Kiplimo opened his mind to new possibilities. "I was so excited to be there in Australia. After running that race I realized that I am in my comfort zone. I thought I was working hard, but there I saw that I still need to work harder than before."
Having announced himself as a dangerous competitor against any opposition, Leeto will lead the Purple Team's charge at the Hollywood Athletic Club's home race. The man who first emerged onto the local distance running scene back in 2015 will have the opportunity to win his first major 10km race when he lines up at the start of Hollywoodbets Durban 10k on the 3rd of September. The fast and flat race was won by national 10km record holder Precious Mashele in 2022, with Leeto taking sixth as the first Hollywood athlete home. This time around he wants to win it.
"What’s nice is that the more fast guys we have, the more we can run faster times. If I look at my race last year where I came 6th, I have learnt a lot. For example I ran without paying attention to my splits and I lead from the start. So if I can fix those mistakes then I can do better. Plus it's my club's race. That's what is motivating me. I have to respect my competitors but I want the title to remain at home."
Catch Leeto and other Hollywood AC top runners in action at the Hollywoodbets Durban 10km on 3 September at the Kings Park Athletics Stadium. Click HERE to enter. Asigijime!