'Respect running and it becomes easy' - new kid on the block Khonkhobe ready to shine
When it comes to top ultra marathon runners, the North West province has produced more than its fair share. For example the only pair of brothers to have won the Comrades Marathon, Andrew and Gift Kelehe hail from the province, as is 2019 Comrades champion Edward Mothibi who is from Rustenburg like 33-year-old Tete Morena Dijana who made a name for himself by taking second place at the Nedbank Runified Breaking Barriers 50km race in March. And there is another - Onalenna Khonkhobe is poised to become South Africa's next big ultra marathon star.
"I am from Taung," he told #TheTopRunner. "I entered a local race there where I was spotted by coach Pio (Zacharia Mpolokeng) who brought me into the Nedbank Running Club where I started to emerge as a top runner. I still get amazed at how it all happened and I sometimes think to myself: wow! Is this really me?"
And amazing it certainly has been because after he was discovered by the man who won the 2001 Dublin Marathon and then began coaching youngsters, the 26-year-old moved to Klerksdorp to train under Mpolokeng's watchful eye at his development camp in the central North West. Having produced the likes of Gladwin Mzazi, Sibusiso Nzima and Joel Mmone coach Pio knew that Khonkhobe had what it takes to make it as a long distance runner.
His faith was immediately repaid when the diminutive runner won the Klerksdorp Marathon in February in the new record time of 2:22:19 almost 10 minutes ahead of the runner-up. But his real breakthrough came in April when he took sixth place at the Totalsports Two Oceans 56km Ultra Marathon in 3:12:57, having lead briefly through 50km. A second place finish during Saturday's North West N12 50km Ultra Marathon only underlined his status as a dangerous competitor over the 50km distance.
"It all started with the Klerksdorp marathon. My training had gone very well in January since I moved to Klerksdorp. I think that might be part of the reason, because since I started staying here things have been happening for me. My training partners Matthews Leeto who paced the Nedbank Runified Breaking Barriers 50km and Morena Dijana also help me a lot. I'm also very proud with my achievement today because the whole town of Klerksdorp had placed their hopes on me so I'm happy to have come second," he explained.
It means that all eyes are now on Khonkhobe in the lead up to the Ultimate Human Race which takes place on August 28th. Having never run the 90km from Pietermaritzburg to Durban before, the top runner confirmed that he will not be taking part in the race this year. "I might go and run, but if I do it will be to help my teammates. I won't finish. But it shows that my body is ready. All I can say is that running requires discipline and for you to respect it. If you do that and listen to your coach, then it's easy," he said.