Matshelane Mamabolo.
Nkhosikhona Mhlakwana is the glass is half full type, those positive outlook kind who find the good in just about every gloomy situation. The silver-lining ones, you know what I mean?

I spent a significant part of last Saturday with the Maxed Elite athlete with the ‘saddest’ story of the 2019 Comrades Marathon. Granted time does heal. But I did not expect Mhlakwana to have moved on from his Scottsville Racecourse ordeal as quickly as he has. As it is, it appears he got over it all the moment he crossed the finish line.

But how could he when he finished in the Comrades Marathon’s worst position - 11th? It is one thing to run in 11th having generally been in that position or perhaps after working yourself up to come in just outside the gold medal positions.

Mhlakwana though looked to have a prize sealed, the 26-year-old making his way into Scottsville in ninth place only for his legs to give in with the finish in sight. While Gerda Steyn’s record-breaking win and Edward Mothibi’s victory at first attempt in the Up Run were the big stories of the June 9 event, those who watched the race will tell you their most enduring memory was of Mhlakwana’s finish.

The triumph of the Human spirit. Mhlakwana epitomised that when he forced his way across the finish line after his legs gave in and he had to keep himself up by balancing on the perimeter advertising board.

I met him at the SA Cross Country Champs in Centurion last weekend after he ran the 10km race, and to say he was in high spirits would be putting it mildly. Mhlakwana made me run around the arena as we followed the 4km race, his excitement at seeing his KZN teammates doing well knowing no bounds.

As he reflects on his Comrades debut, the man from Howick chooses to rather see the positive instead of honing in on his having missed out on a top 10.

“Honestly speaking, I was heartbroken. But the kind of exposure I got, it was like I was the one who won. My body was finished. My legs did not want to go. But those people there helped me through that moment; they hit against the board and told me to keep going and because of them I got to cross the line. They showed me that anything is possible. And I believe I am still going to achieve a lot.”

Mhlakwana may have missed out on top 10 but he won the novice prize and was a member of the men’s elite winning team. All this on debut, a debut that came on the back of some great runs which saw him win the Nongoma Ultra and do well in the Two Oceans half marathon.

Any thoughts that the Comrades experience would have messed him up were dispelled as he ran his marathon PB of 2:18:54 in Mossel Bay late in August.

He was requested at the last hour to represent KZN in the ASA Marathon Championships in the Cape Town Marathon today and he was excitedly looking forward to it - the fact he had not planned on the event notwithstanding.

Mhlakwana credits his ability to deal with his Comrades ordeal to the great support he enjoys and lists the likes of psychologist/mental coach John Margaret, coach Prodigal Khumalo, manager Ross Walters, physio Shamim Cain, Maxed Elite Club Manager Martin Ngwenya, Craig George for the gym sessions, the Prime Institute, Threshhold as well as 32Gi and Sziols SA.

As he looks back at Comrades, Mhlakwana shares the sentiment of many that the race organisers would do well to change the Up Run finish.

“That finish is totally wrong. You have been running over 80km on a hard surface and then suddenly you find yourself going onto a very soft and uneven surface that is very heavy. And there are those humps before you get into the stadium. They need to make that finish more friendlier to the muscles. They must make it straight and one type of surface. It is a great race though and I really enjoyed it.”

@tshiliboy


Sunday Independent