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  • Writer's pictureMosibodi Whitehead

'I've been hungry for a very long time to make it up to myself' - Mhlakwana ready for first Up Run since 2019

With the first Comrades Marathon Up Run since 2019 just a matter of a few short weeks away, many of South Africa's top ultra marathon runners are putting the finishing touches on their preparations. One of those is Hollywood Athletics Club man Nkosikhona Mhlakwana who earned his first Comrades gold medal when he claimed a sixth place 5:43:27 finish at during the 2022 Down Run. But it was when he made his Ultimate Human Race debut three years earlier that he stole the hearts of the running public as he cramped terribly just a few hundred metres from the Pietermaritzburg finish line to surrender the final gold medal as he settled for 11th position in 5:53:22.

"2019 was my first Up Run and my first Comrades," he told #TheTopRunner. "Everyone saw that dramatic moment just 500m before the finish where I had to fall and pick myself up just like a Pit Bull. The experience that I got there is that one has to be patient. One has to work hard and one has to focus. My running since that dramatic 2019 moment has improved a lot. I got a gold medal for the Comrades Down Run, two gold medals at Two Oceans and I've won many races and set many PB's. I'm a different athlete now. I'm very motivated by that moment. I've been hungry for a very long time to make it up to myself."

Mhlakwana says he is a different athlete since his the 2019 Comrades Marathon. Here he is pictured earning a podium finish at the Totalsports Two Oceans Marathon. Photo credit: Supplied.

Helping the 30-year-old to get ready for the 9th of June when 20 000 runners will complete the 85.91km from Durban to Pietermaritzburg is his coach Prodigal Khumalo. A multiple Comrades gold medalist himself, Khumalo has helped his athlete to change his approach by focusing on training and racing fewer big races. Mhlakwana who hails from Siphumelele township in Howick believes that this approach has already paid dividends.

"That moment in 2019 changed me. That's when my coach called me The Pit Bull. It means means once I grab hold of something I don't let go of it easily. Since Comrades 2019 I've become a different athlete in terms of my approach. I used to run many races week in and week out. But because now I am a professional runner, I calculate and select races," he explained.

Having prepared well for the 97th edition of the World's Most Loved Ultra Marathon, Mhlakwana is now ready to apply the finishing touches. This year his training has been solely focused on Comrades, which saw him skip the Totalsport Two Oceans 56km on 13 April, opting instead to take on the Runified City 50km in Gqeberha where he claimed third position in 2:50:12. His final race before Comrades will be the Lemo Mall Mangaung Marathon in Bloemfontein on Saturday 4 May, which will be a dress rehearsal before the big day.

"When you are training for the Comrades Marathon last week and this week are the crucial weeks when elite runners are doing their longest long runs. I've already done my last long run. I'm starting now to polish and to feel how I will be feeling on the Comrades Marathon day. I'm going there to train, test my pace, enjoy and be part of the running community. People can use this race as training or as a last qualifier or to try and improve their seedings for the Comrades Marathon."

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