Edward Mothibi hopes history repeats itself at Comrades Marathon

Edward Mothibi celebrates after winning the 2019 Comrades Marathon. Photo: SIBONELO NGCOBO Independent Newspapers

Edward Mothibi celebrates after winning the 2019 Comrades Marathon. Photo: SIBONELO NGCOBO Independent Newspapers

Published Jun 8, 2024


FROM goodie bags to gold medals – the Edward Mothibi Comrades Marathon story is the kind to get Hollywood script writers champing at the bit.

Ten years ago, Mothibi was only too happy to pick up his race pack despite knowing full well he had no intentions of toeing the starting line at the world-famous ultra marathon in KwaZulu-Natal.

Today, he is a huge favourite to win tomorrow’s up run – the man affectionately nicknamed ‘Slender’ being the defending champion of the run from Durban to Pietermaritzburg, and chasing a fifth consecutive gold medal.

He chuckles at the memory of his maiden face-to-face encounter with ‘The Ultimate Human Race’: “The first time coach (Dave Adams) told me about Comrades was 2014. He said I should go run it, but I refused.

“I told him I was not ready. But the reality is that I was scared of the distance.”

After getting him to do a training run at the 50km Om Die Dam race that year and then taking him to the 6km longer Two Oceans, Adams registered Mothibi for Comrades.

“We went to Comrades that year, but I had told him that I don’t want to run. So, I just got there and collected that goodie bag, and I liked what was inside. I still have that red T-shirt from 2014,” he laughs.

The year after, Adams registered Mothibi for Comrades again, but the athlete stuck to his guns, refusing to go “run that long race”.

“I kept collecting the goodie bags,” the man from Koi-Koi, North West recalls with mirth.

“In 2015, we drove the Comrades route (during the race) and I witnessed Gift’s (Kelehe) win.

“We were at Umlaas when they went past, and it was amazing to see them going past there as fast as they did.”

Instead of inspiring him, that sight induced more fear into Mothibi: “Seeing them made me scared. Remember, I’d been a track runner, but I did not think people could run that fast on the road, especially that long distance and so late in the race.”

But as he continued to have no joy in the shorter Two Oceans, Mothibi eventually relented and in 2018, he plucked up courage to run Comrades and was pleasantly surprised by how well he did.

“I just felt like, let me try this Comrades thing. After all, I was always failing at Two Oceans – continuously dying at the end and missing out on the top 10.

“So, I trained for Comrades and my goal was to run six hours. But I ran a 5:36.32. That achievement overwhelmed me. I surprised myself.

“For me, that was my best Comrades race. I could never forget that 2018 run. I think people who did not know would have thought I was the winner, the way I celebrated.”

He finished fourth, although he could have done better.

“I was behind Bongmusa (Mthembu, the winner) for a long time, since Cowies Hill. But they (Joseph Mphuthi and Steve Way) snatched position two from me.”

He returned for the following year’s up run, no longer scared of Comrades after his incredible golden novice run, and ‘snatched’ victory from hat-trick-chasing Mthembu.

“Winning it in 2019, the feeling was like a dream. It was as if they would say to me ‘Wake up’.”

They never did and, as it is, Mothibi has enjoyed one of the longest reins as a Comrades Marathon champion – five years – as the up run has not been done since due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The down run was held back-to-back in 2022 and 2023.

He finally gets the chance to defend his title tomorrow, and wants to believe it is a good omen that the race is taking place on June 9 – the same date when he reigned supreme in 2019.

“I am crossing fingers that history repeats itself,” he says.

But he has competed in enough Comrades races to know not to leave it to luck.

“Training has gone well, and I’m going to try my best to run well. I’ve been champion for a long time – I’ve even forgotten how the up run is,” he laughed.

“But honestly, camp went well. Of course, not always smooth, but overall, it went as we wanted it to. Personally, my goal is to run a podium,” said the man who knows nothing else but a top-three finish since that debut fourth place.

Mothibi was a winner in 2019, runner-up in 2022 and third last year.

“I am chasing a fifth gold medal, as that will give me a green number. But I don’t want number five. I will be happy if I get a podium. Of course, the best is to defend the title, but everyone who is training is saying they are going for a win. Everyone will be ready.”

While he has gotten used to collecting gold medals, Mothibi has not outgrown the Comrades Marathon goodie bag.

“I still like the race goodie bag, and I use the stuff in it, especially the Arnica Ice and the deodorant. And I wear the race T-shirt with pride.”