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  • Writer's pictureThathe Msimango

Mbuthuma expects more black women to perform well at Comrades 2024

South African long distance veteran Fikile Mbuthuma believes the country's female black runners will perform well in the upcoming Comrades Marathon. This year's race scheduled for the 9th of June will be the first up run between Durban to Pietermaritzburg since 2019. Although women have been allowed to compete in the world's oldest ultra marathon since 1975, the race is still searching for its first black female podium finisher - let alone champion. But Mbuthuma, who famously won a celebrated ninth position in 2016 edition, believes that is about to change.

"I personally think our (black female) athletes have raised the bar high in recent years. We are now in position where we understand running much better than before. So the gap is not that wide as before. That gives me confidence that we are making strides." explains, Mbuthuma who was part of the SA team that took part in the 2018 World 100k Championship in Sveti, Croatia.

Mbuthuma on her way to winning gold in 2016. She believes black women will do even better during the 2024 race. Photo Credit: Supplied.

"I think you have seen how Jenet Mbhele surprised everyone on her debut to place inside the top 10. Then in 2022, Galaletsanga Mekgoe came in position five. I think the biggest thing to do is to get these ladies to perform consistently at the highest level. With more women taking athletics serious in recent years, I'm certain we are going to have more than one in the top 10 this year. Plus the up run is a shorter distance and lot of surprises can happen on the day."

The 43-year-old is now running in the colours of Phantane Athletics Club after making a name for herself as part of the Nedbank Running Club green army. Phantane boss Mdu Khumalo has recruited the woman from Harding on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast to mentor his up and coming female athletes, many of whom hail from the townships and small towns of rural KZN. She says despite the growing numbers of black female runners - the lack of support is what keeps them away.

Mekgoe receives her gold medal for finishing in fifth place during the 2022 Down Run. Photo Credit: Comrades Marathon Media.

"We can't shy away from the fact that most of black runners are working side jobs in order to feed their families. That limits them in terms of getting sufficient time to train. These days there are cooperate clubs with monthly retainers but it's not enough to sustain all the needs. Those are the challenges that we face everyday. But even with all of that, it is the passion that keeps us going and eager to perform."

With the 2024 Ultimate Human race having been pegged at 85,91km distance, the shortest in event's history - Mbuthuma is adamant the record that the golden girl of South African distance running Gerda Steyn will shatter her own Up run record of 5:58:53 set five years ago. "The talk has been about the record since the distance was revealed by the organizers. In 2019, Gerda managed to break it and I believe athletes are more determined to go for it this year. So I have no doubt that the record will be broken," she concluded. 

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