Gift Kelehe changed his Whatsapp profile picture late on Friday. For most of the previous week, the picture he used was the one taken for the Entsika Athletics Club’s Comrades Marathon brochure. Though clearly contrived as it was posed for, it was a beautiful picture.
The current one, though, tells the story of the man’s frame of mind. Kelehe is in a winning mood and the opposition better be prepared to “work for their money” if they are to be champions.
It is a picture of him pouring water on himself during a run. It wasn’t just any other run though. The picture is from the 2015 Comrades, yes the one he won to set a remarkable record that saw him and his brother, Andrew, become the first South African siblings to win the Ultimate Human Race. Throughout the build-up to tomorrow’s race, Kelehe has been vocal about his goals.
“I have a point to prove my brother,” he said during an interview in Dullstroom where he and his Entsika teammates were training. “I want to show I can also win the Down Run.”
On Friday, at the pre-race conference in Durban, he again articulated his goals, warning the rest of the field that he will not be easy to beat. Kelehe you see, is among the most consistent runners of this famous ultra, his times pretty impressive since he went to coach John Hamlett and begged him to “make me a champion like my brother” immediately after Andrew’s 2001 triumph.
Incredibly, Kelehe describes himself as more of an Up Run person but all his times suggest he has it in him to win running down from Pietermaritzburg to Durban. He ran a 6:18:31 in 2007; 6:40:52 in 2009; 5:53:38 in 2010; 5:38:39 in 2012; 5:34:39 in 2014 and 6:09:41 in 2016.
“My best was in 2014 when I finished third. If I can see myself improving on that time, then I am sure I will win it.
“I honestly believe it is my time to win the Down Run. My aim is a sub 5:28 time. I don’t see the record (5:18:09 set by clubmate David Gatebe in 2016) falling, but it is possible. The route for this year has changed a bit, and the last seven kilometres are a bit up and down.”
Kelehe will be taking a lot of lessons from that 2014 run into tomorrow’s race to help him overcome the opposition.
“I have vivid memories of that race. There were six of us in the lead, Ludwick (Mamabolo), Bongmusa (Mthembu), Rufus (Photo), (Stephen) Muzhingi, Mncedisi (Mkhize) and myself. I had a plan to break at a particular point but then Bongmusa went away before me and for some reason none of us followed.
“But when I went for it, everybody else came after me. I ended up finishing third behind Bongmusa and Ludwick.”
As he looks back, Kelehe knows that allowing anyone to get away from the bunch would be suicidal, just as it was for the rest of the leading group two years ago when they thought they could catch Gatebe. “I learnt from 2014 that while you stick to your plan, you must also be wary of when the others might try to move away. You can’t ignore any of these guys because they are all highly experienced, talented runners who know what they’re doing. The key is that they must not dictate. I must.”
And he is in the physical condition to call the shots: “I feel much stronger than last year and I’ve had some good training runs at both the Om Die Dam and Loskop Marathons. And I’m injury free.”
He is also fortunate to have his brother, his number one fan. “Andrew plays a critical role in my career. Whenever I need advice, I go to him.”
And then there’s also his family. Being often away from them is draining on both sides, especially since he’s got an 11-month-old daughter.
His wife will do well not to show it to their baby girl as she probably would not recognise daddy. But the discerning Comrades follower will see that picture and know that Gift Kelehe means business.