"Running comes from the heart" - The secret to Mabhutile Lebopo's ageless success
Updated: Mar 29, 2022
At 46-years old Mabhutile Lebopo is at an age where most athletes are reminiscing about the glory days of bygone victories. Yet the winner of the 2010 Two Oceans ultra marathon is still looking ahead to the future, especially after an encouraging performance at yet another ultra marathon earlier this month. Although Stephen Mokoka took most of the plaudits for setting a new world record at the Nedbank Breaking Barriers 50km on the 6th of March, the man from Lesotho took 4th place in the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality leaving him upbeat about the rest of 2022.
"I feel good," he told #TheTopRunner after that splendid performance in Gqberha. "To run with the youngsters and come in fourth position is a very good achievement especially this is my first year of the year. I didn't run 10km. I didn't run 21km. That's why I feel as though I did well because I felt very strong. The only thing I was missing is the speed and that's how these youngsters beat me."
Although Mokoka, Tete Dijana and 2019 Comrades Marathon Champion Edward Mothibi did finish ahead of Lebopo, the veteran was lying in eighth place at 35km and closed with a closing 15km of 15:44 - a final split which was bettered only by Mokoka and runner-up Dijana. It shows that even if the 2:13:42 marathoner has slowed down a bit since setting that personal best back in 2009, there is still some speed yet in those ageing legs.
"Athletics is all about discipline. If you have discipline you'll get success," was his advice when asked if the proverbial fountain of youth is to be found in The Mountain Kingdom. "At my age I have a level one in coaching and I always tell my training partners that they have to be disciplined. An athlete must rest well and eat well. People always ask me how I can still run so well at my age and I say it's just inside me. I must also thank my wife for supporting me. She understands it. Running comes from a person's heart. If it comes from the heart, then you'll do it everyday."
And he lives by that mantra. His daily training done at 1600m altitude and above, still leaves the Nedbank Running Club athlete enthused - so much so that he wishes he could do more to pass on his passion for the sport to budding future champions. "We are trying to encourage young children. Everyday I wish I could have a lot of money to keep them in athletics. This pandemic has taken us backwards, some have given up and given themselves to drugs and alcohol and it's difficult for them to come back now that races are open again. Athletics is a tough sport, it requires discipline," he repeated.
With that sort of discipline and his years of experience, it would be a mistake to count Lebopo out of a top ten finish at this year's Comrades Marathon. Although he is yet to taste a Comrades gold, his pedigree over 50km and 56km is undeniable. "It's true, you see that I am getting older. But since I started running when I was 12 years old, I added distances gradually. I think that's one of the things that's kept in the sport for so long. So I have been trying Comrades a little at a time. Now I have to check my programme and see if I will be ready for Comrades or perhaps only run Two Oceans," he concluded.