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  • Writer's pictureMosibodi Whitehead

'I'm surprised because I beat the younger guys' - 59-year-old Desmond Zibi still going strong

While many may remember him for his exploits at the Two Oceans Marathon, Desmond Zibi is enjoying a second wind as an exceptional age group runner. That's because the man who took second place at the 1999 Two Oceans Marathon in 3:11:33 is now 59 years old and still running strong. Last month he won his the 55-59 age category when he completed the Nedbank Runified Breaking Barriers 50km in 03:08:45 to take 38th place overall and finish ahead of the third placed woman. The man who turns sixty in September says it's all about discipline.


"At an early stage I was taught discipline by my early coaches when I was still at high school in Newell in New Brighton," he told #TheTopRunner. "I would go to New Brighton Oval and go and do speed just using my watch. If he said I must run 200m in a certain time, I would run them even if he is not there. I would credit all the coaches that played a part when I was growing up and then at a later stage the likes of Alec Riddle who coached me when I came fourth and second at Two Oceans and I was top ten at the SA Marathon Champs. Alec would tell me: 'Desmond you don't have to race every race.' At times I wouldn't understand but later I got the concept that you can't race every race."


At almost 60 years old Zibi is still running strong. Photo Credit: Kariega Human Race.

With that philosophy as his guiding principle, Zibi blossomed under Riddle's mentorship winning many races in his native Eastern Cape such as the Marina Salt 15km while placing regularly inside the top ten or twenty at national races like the SA Half Marathon Championships where he ran his 1:04:11 personal best in Durban in 1998. He even travelled abroad where he returned with good results such as an eighth place finish at the 1999 Macau Marathon and ninth position at the Maratona de Golfo in Napoli Italy. With his senior career behind him, Zibi then joined forces with Mike Mbambani to start the Ikhamva Athletic Club.


"And later when I joined Michael's group here at Ikhamva, he still preaches discipline. And me as a senior runner I should be exemplary to the younger and up and coming runners. It's not gonna help me racing week in and week out because your body can only take so much," said the man who is the owner of a 2:17:32 lifetime best which was set at the SA Marathon Championships back in 1994.


Zibi (Front row, second from left) after taking fifth place at the Two Oceans Marathon in 3:14:49. Photo Credit: Supplied.

He's disciplined approach to training and life means that Zibi is able to continue training hard with athletes thirty years his junior and run fast all while working a full time physically demanding job at Willard Batteries where he sometimes even works the night shift. He manages to fit in his training by running to and from work and then joining the Ikhamva Group when he can. Armed with this good block of training and a focused mind, Zibi is now targeting good performances over a shorter distances.


"The same programme that (Melikhaya) Frans does, we do it - it's just that we can't do it at the same intensity. So we put more emphasis on consistency. I do the same training they do. I'm surprised because more often I beat the younger guys. I'm not happy about my times generally. Last week I broke by EP 10km record which stood at 33:11 and I ran 32:58 but I'm still not happy. I've still got unfinished business. I will be breaking down all my records starting from 10km, 15km and 21km. I'm enjoying what I'm doing," he smiled.


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