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  • Writer's pictureMosibodi Whitehead

'I'm still strong' - Mosehla says 5000m track background is key to his Comrades success at 80yrs old

By completing in the 2023 Comrades Marathon in 9:26:10, Johannes Mosehla made history. Not only did the 81-year old from Limpopo become the oldest finisher in the history of the 100-year-old race to break the great Wally Hayward's 34-year-old record, but his finishing time was more than 90 minutes faster than the 10:58:03 that Hayward ran in 1989. While it is surprising to many that an octogenarian is capable of running quite so fast, the Polokwane Athletic Club athlete says it's not surprising because he was a top runner over half a century ago.

Mosehla believes that his background as a track athlete is what makes him so fast at 80 years old. As recently as 2019 aged 77, Mosehla completed the Sunnypark Right 2 Run Half Marathon in 1:45:38. Photo Credit: Supplied.

"I have realised that I am a talented runner," said the man who is a builder by profession. "I started running in 1963. The teachers used to force me to run even when I didn't really want to. That's when I realized that they must have seen talent in me. In 1967 I started representing my district in track races - 1500m and 5000m. Then in 1971 when I studying building I was selected to represent the province which was Lebowa in those days. I was able to run 13 minutes for 5000m and went to the national championships in Bethlehem in the Free State where I took second place," he told #TheTopRunner the day after his magnificent achievement at the 87,7km race from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.

His story then is not unlike that of his Bapedi tribesman Titus Mamabolo, who only emerged as an elite athlete during his twenties in the early 1970's and then went on to set the world age group record for the marathon (2:19:29) as a 50-year-old in 1991. In fact, Mosehle says he competed against Mamabolo on the track during the late 60's and early 70's. But that was to be the end of Mosehla's track career as he took a break from running for decades in order to focus on raising a family.

Mosehla with Comrades Marathon Association vice chairperson Les Burnard after being honoured for being the oldest finisher of the 2023 race. Photo Credit: MWMedia.

Returning to the sport in the mid-2000's as a social runner, the then sexagenarian had not lost any of his speed. In 2006 at the Spirit of The Flight 10km race in Pretoria a 64-year-old Mosehla clocked 40:16, just three months after completing his first Comrades Marathon in 8:19:43. With a best finish of 7:57:11 as a 65-year-old a year later, it is clear that the man has natural athletic ability saying that he is able to continue running fast as he gets older because of his mental approach to the sport he loves.

"The problem is that when people reach the age of sixty they retire from life just because of their age. It's not that they can't do it. I still feel strong enough to keep going. I'm going to enter the race again next year. And next year I am going to retire from working so I focus on preparing for the Comrades Marathon so I can improve on my record and make it better," he laughed.

Mosehla explains his story to journalists at the Elangeni Hotel in Durban on June 12 after completing the 87,7km Ultimate Human Race in 9:26:10 the day before. Photo Credit: Supplied.

For his record-breaking efforts during the 96th edition of the world's most loved ultra marathon, Mosehla was rewarded with a R20 000 cash prize donated to him by KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Sports, Arts, Culture and Recreation Ntuthuko Mahlaba. "I'm grateful for this gift. I intend to invest the money because this will be my last income before I retire from building."

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