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  • Writer's pictureMosibodi Whitehead

'It's about learning' - 18 Comrades silvers in 2023 for SkhindiGang thanks to Bilankulu & Co's work

When Bongani Bilankulu drives the sub 40 minute bus at the Absa RUN YOUR CITY TSHWANE 10K on Sunday 27 August it will reflect just how far he has come since he swapped football for running in 2012. In fact, while the Murray and Roberts Running Club man is well known in Gauteng running circles as a perennial sub 3 hour marathon performer, many may find it more surprising to hear that despite having broken 40 minutes for 10km for the first time in 2017, only in 2022 did he achieve his first Comrades Marathon silver medal when he clocked 7:04:57.

Bilankulu pacing silver medal hopefuls at the Phobians Pretoria Marathon in lead up to the 2023 ultra marathon season. Photo Credit: SMacPix.

"It's about learning," he told #TheTopRunner as he reflected on the disappointments he had to overcome to achieve his maiden Comrades silver. "We have paid our school fees. From our mistakes we realized that we can help a lot of people. Because not every failure is a failure. They are a learning curve. You can use those failures to impact on other people's lives," said the man who is also a 3:55 Two Oceans athlete at his best.

The years of crunching running spreadsheets, training programmes and pacing charts are now paying off for a host of new runners. That's because together with his former Fat Cats Athletic Club members Vongani Mashile and Sithembele 'Sthe' Stherah Sihunuza, Bilankulu founded The SkhindiGang Coaching Group which helps social runners achieve their targets. Combining their practical experience with ASA Certified coaching certificates, the trio are making a huge difference especially in the lives of the growing legions of serious social runners targeting Silver, Bill Rowan, Sainsbury and sub 3 hour medals.

Bilankulu, Sihunuza and Mashile interview sub 6 hour Comrades top runner Musa Zweni during one of their SkhindiGang coaching podcasts. Photo Credit: SkhindiGang.

"We realised that pacing for the Comrades Marathon is different than the pacing for a standard marathon. Training for Comrades is about spending time on the road. I mean last year we told guys that we are going for a sub 7H30 and we didn't have it. People asked us what we are smoking because we want to train people for a silver yet we don't have it! But then we came back with ten silvers and all were maiden and this year we came back with eighteen silvers," said the man who is the owner of a 2:40:36 42,2km personal best which was run at the 2021 Sanlam Cape Town Marathon.

That success has swelled their ranks tremendously. For example a total of 161 runners are currently on the SkhindiGang coaching programme for October and November marathons which include The Cape Town Marathon, The Jacaranda Marathon in Tshwane, Kaapsehoop Marathon, the Chicago Marathon and one runner who'll be tackling the Berlin Marathon. It's a Herculean task for the 41-year-old who is employed full time as a Deputy Director at the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development. Bilankulu says sending out weekly training programmes, pacing runners on long runs and at races, hosting podcasts and advising runners is easy for him to do because he just loves the sport.

Bilankulu during his early years as a long distance runner. Photo Credit: Supplied.

"It starts with passion. Once you are passionate about something you make sacrifices. We do a lot of evening coaching sessions with SkhindiGang which we do virtually. I for one am not doing the Cape Town Marathon because I've got another race, so it gives me time to focus on the runners. S'the and Vongs are doing the Cape Town Marathon but the programme is not hectic now so they focus on the runners, then once I come back from my race I will focus on the guys doing Cape Town. It's one of the reasons I didn't run Comrades this year - it gave me time to focus on the administration of SkhindiGang," he explained.

The man who hails from Thomo Village in Giyani will be using the Absa RUN YOUR CITY TSHWANE 10K is one of his last few tune ups before taking on the Berlin Marathon on 24 September. For more information on The SkhindiGang send a WhatsApp message to 0729150854.

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