'They shall run and not be weary' - What keeps Wandisile Nongodlwana going
If ever there was a good example of the power of patience, it has to be Wandisile Nongodlwana. As the owner of six consecutive Comrades Marathon silver medals this strapping athletic specimen is often confused for a professional runner to whom results on the road come easy. But the Systems Manager knows all about the hard work it takes to get the best out of oneself, especially when you are a latecomer to the sport you love.
"Growing up, I was never into running. In fact, I did not know that people could make a career from running. I knew about soccer and rugby," explains the man who grew up in the rural Eastern Cape. "I began running when I started working and that was on the treadmill. I then participated in corporate relays like the ABSA Relay (which was from the ABSA Towers to Esselen Park), running nothing longer than 11km. It was during those days that my colleagues encouraged me to run longer and even try Comrades," he told #TheTopRunner.
Like countless before him, Wandi's first marathon experience was tough. A 4:33:23 finish at the 2004 Vodacom Marathon was enough to put the Comrades talk out of his mind for another four years. Only in 2008 armed with a new 42,2km personal best of 3:17:44 obtained at the Sasolburg Marathon did the man running in the colours of Ukhozi decide to tackle the famed 90km between Durban and Pietermaritzburg.
"After I ran my first Comrades I made a decision that I will never do it again," was his immediate thought after gritting his teeth to a 9:54:59 finish. "I had done that, lost toenails, walked like a duck and chaffed badly." But the pain didn't last long and Nongodlwana was soon back. "However, after I recovered I fell into the temptation of running back to back, in order to experience both the Up and Down runs." The rest is history as he went on to record a 6:39 Comrades PB in the yellow and black of Murray and Roberts Running Club in 2018.
But perhaps more inspirational is not the story of how he went from a 4:33 to a 2:37:27 (run at the 2021 New York Marathon) marathon PB, but that he used that running and the same determination to change the lives of those in the village where he was born over 40 years ago. "I went to my first interview at CSIR in Port Elizabeth wearing shoes I had sown myself. I had a borrowed shirt from my uncle. I made a decision to make sure that I will plant back to my village. I must run for a bigger cause than just me, that's how the INATHI FOUNDATION was born. We focus on the rural areas where we educate the youth while assisting homeless kids and the disable with their basic needs," he said.
Where does he draw the stamina to get all of this work done? "One major motivation is spending time with the Lord, whether long or short distance. However, I remind myself of the following scripture taken from Isaiah 40 : 29 - 31;
“29He gives power to the weak, And to those who have no might He increases strength. 30Even the youths shall faint and be weary, And the young men shall utterly fall, 31But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.”
It explains why Wandisile has been able to do so much having started so late. His faith gives him the motivation to keep going.