Mashele the machine marches on!
Precious Mashele is a man on a mission who is marching inexorably toward his goal of being on the start line at the Tokyo Olympics. Since the beginning of March, Mashele has smashed three personal bests and is now the dominant middle distance track athlete in the country – which was underlined again last night when he laid waste to the best of the country’s middle-distance athletes to win the 5000m at the Endurocad Invitational Meeting in Stellenbsoch.
Mashele has evolved into a very shrewd racer. In the last month the man coached by 10 000m SA Record holder Hendrik Ramaala lowered his personal best over the same distance from 29:03 (run in 2019) to 28:20.99 on 5 March in Durban, then a whopping 27:55.87 just three weeks later at the KwaZulu Natal Athletics provincial championships held at the Kings Park Stadium. Earlier in February Mashele had clocked a 14:11.40 over 5000m in the rarefied air of Boksbug, so his body should to all intents and purposes be showing some form of wear and tear. But not so, as he demonstrated so aptly last night in what has been the middle-distance showdown of 2021 season thus far.
The target set was at 13:30 or faster and to get that a class field had been assembled. The young, talented Mbuleli Mathanga who had twice broken the KZNA 10 000m record in recent weeks; self-styled social runner, Adam Lipshitz who is anything but a social runner with the times he is running; Jerry Motsau, a former 1500m national champion and the legend of South African middle-distance running Lesego Stephen Mokoka amongst others. Mokoka was the only athlete on the start list who had only one 2021 track race under his belt, which turned out to be a bit of a disadvantage as the rest were race fit.
From the gun it was all business, no sitting and waiting, the pace was fast from the get-go and set by no less than Mokoka himself. He shot to the front and immediately strung out the field from the start. Single file behind him they lined up as Mathanga, Motsau, Lipshitz, Collen Mulaudzi and Mashele and Mokoka set a hard pace to go through the first kilometre in 2:42. It is not easy to lead from the front, but Mokoka was game. He continued to push the pace and it seemed as if Mashele was racing on tired legs as he started to drop off the leading bunch. As 2km went by in 5:25, Motsau found himself on the shoulder of Mokoka with Mathanga behind him with Lipshitz a meter or two back. 3km came and went past in 8:05 and Mokoka’s early pace-setting effort was beginning to show. Mathanga attacked and went to the front and out of nowhere there was Precious Mashele right on his shoulder with Mokoka relegated to 3rd and Lipshitz fourth.
At 4km the clock read 10:50 and Mathanga, who had a bit of a flu scare earlier that day was showing no signs of any weakness, pushing the pace for the final kilometre with Mashele ever on his shoulder. In previous races, Mashele would have gone with around 5 laps to go, this time he played the waiting game. Mathanga was cranking up the pace though. At the bell Mashele shot to the front and surged ahead. With 300m to go the gap had grown to 3 metres and was increasing. Behind the Machine from Zoo Lake, Mathanga was still having the race of his life and Mokoka was now embroiled in a battle for third with Lipshitz.
Mashele crossed the line first in 13:27.57, with Mathanga next in 13:29.66 and Lipshitz rounding out the top three with his time of 13:33.28 – not bad for a social runner. All three had taken chunks off their previous bests. Mokoka had to settle for 5th as training partner Collen Mulaudzi also came past in the dying moments of the race.
Setting Personal Bests
Precious Mashele had one goal at the beginning of the year and that was to compete in a marathon with the bonus of possibly running himself into the South African Olympic Marathon team. Deep in marathon training he needed some form of competition, and in the absence of road races he took to the track. In four track races this year, two over 5000m and two over the 25 lap 10 000m, Mashele has taken more than a minute off his 10 000m life time best and moved into the sub 28 club, while last night’s 5000m saw Mashele take a whopping 31sec off his 5000m best. His previous best time of 13:58.19 set in December last year.
Where is this form coming from? “I’ve been training for the marathon. I was invited to compete in the #MissionMarathon in Hamburg on 11 April, so all these times are off Marathon training,” he said. Mashele is naturally a strong athlete, but with the added strength that comes from preparing for a marathon, he is now knocking the times off his track events like skittles. Mashele is still hoping for a marathon, but as his coach Hendrick Ramaala says, “Visa Issues and travel are a problem.” So much has Mashele matured that he is revisiting his targets and is looking to try and qualify in the 5000m or 10 000m for the Olympics now. For that he will need another race set up for him at the coast. His target for the 5000m is 13:15 and for the 10 000m is 27:29 (the SA record of his mentor and coach). Bit of a stretch? “I have done no speed work yet; this is all coming off my marathon training.” No speed work? And in the right race, that Olympic dream may yet become a reality for the machine that is Precious Mashele.