'It takes time. I never lose hope. I keep on pushing' - Galaletsang Mekgoe arrives
The first thing that Galaletsang Mekgoe will have to do with her Comrades Marathon winnings as a matter of urgency, is buy a new television for her family. That’s because they were so overjoyed to see their daughter become the first black South African woman since Farwa Mentoor to earn a top five finish at the country's most celebrated ultra marathon, that their celebrations got the better of them and the TV paid the price.
"They broke the TV! I have to buy a TV when I get home," she laughed as she shared the story of her maiden Comrades gold medal with #TheTopRunner hours after making history. "It's because they were surprised with my result. They had expected me to perform better next year. So the whole family went out in the morning and when they came back to watch the race they saw that I was in position six and that's when they started to focus on the TV. It feels so good to get such an awesome result on my first race."
The Nedbank Running Club athlete would eventually finish in fifth place (6:42:53) just 41 seconds behind fourth placed Jenna Challenor who had to crawl over the finish line after her legs gave in. And while most South Africans would have been even more surprised than the Mekgoe family with the 27-year-old's performance, her coach Dave Adams always knew she could do it. You see the woman who hails from the township of Luka in Rustenburg was born with a passion for running but trained on her own for almost six years before Adams spotted her and recruited her to join his camp.
"I come from far with road running. Even at home in Luka I would be the only girl running on the road. People would ask me what I am doing and when am I going to grow up. I come from many clubs. I started with Eugene Thipe and there I was training with the guys. I'm used to being the only woman. Then in around 2016 I met coach at the 25km Mountain Race in Rustenburg where he called me to come and give me proper training because he saw potential in me that I can do well," she explained.
The rest is history. Mekgoe moved from Luka to live with Adams at the camp where she started training with the likes of 2019 Comrades champion Edward Mothibi. She gradually adapted to the distance, sometimes assisted by a male pacemaker Rethabile Diale under the coach's watchful eye. Her breakthrough run came in June where she took seventh place (3:30:24) at the Nedbank Runified Breaking Barriers 50km. But it hasn't been plain sailing because as the only woman in the training group of top male athletes she found the long runs in particular quite tough.
"It's very encouraging training with guys but sometimes you feel so down, especially when it comes to the long runs. Coach will be telling you to stay at the back and I want to start with them because it's very hard doing a long run alone. But coach understands his work. So it just takes courage. People mustn't give up. I used to race cross country, which motivated me. I ran alone without a coach from 2010 to 2016, not knowing where this running thing is taking me. They mustn't give up. It takes time. I never lose hope. I keep on pushing," she said.