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I am growing as a runner, says Nkosikhona Mhlakwana

Nkosikhona Mhlakwana finshed second at the 2022 Two Oceans Ultra Marathon. Photo: Shaun Roy/BackpagePix

Nkosikhona Mhlakwana finshed second at the 2022 Two Oceans Ultra Marathon. Photo: Shaun Roy/BackpagePix

Published Apr 19, 2022

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Cape Town - Nkosikhona Mhlakwana should have been gutted. Given his history as an 800m specialist, the man nicknamed ‘Caster’ by some after South Africa’s legendary Caster Semenya, would have bet on himself beating all comers for a sprint finish in a race.

But he came up short against runner Edndale Belachew in Sunday’s TotalSports Two Oceans Marathon.

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Both athletes were making their debut in the famous Mother City ultra, in spectacular fashion.

Belachew won in a time of 3:09.05, with Mhlakwana grabbing second spot just three seconds later.

“I am very happy for him because I think the victory was God-given. He is a good runner, and I believe it was his make up that gave him the advantage at the end there. He is taller than me, and he used his huge strides to beat me. I am happy with my second place,” Mhlakwana said.

ALSO READ: Gerda Steyn donates some of her winnings towards athlete development

Mhlakwana proved with this impressive Two Oceans debut that he really has learnt from his unfortunate maiden Comrades Marathon back in 2019, when he missed out on a top-10 finish when his legs gave up on him with a few hundred metres to go.

He was in ninth place as he got into the Scottsville Racecourse, but ended up finishing 11th.

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“For me, this is further proof that I have overcome that Comrades misfortune, and I am growing as a runner,” Mhlakwana reflected.

His results since 2019 are proof of this. The 28-year-old from Howick near Pietermaritzburg has won the 50km Prince Mangosuthu Ultra Marathon and the 56km Zululand ultra.

He went into his Two Oceans debut on the back of a record-breaking victory in the 25km PDAC race, as well as being the KwaZulu-Natal 42.2km champion following his win in the Best of the Best Marathon in Durban.

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Not surprising then that he had a splendid run on Sunday.

“The race was perfect,” he beamed. “For the first time in my life, everything just clicked. My training went very well, and on race day, everything was perfect.

“I had set myself a target of running the race in 3:10 and I did it just under (that), so I am very pleased.”

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Even though he had been two minutes behind the leading group and in 13th place until Chapman’s Peak, Mhlakwana was never concerned as he stuck to his race plan.

“I was feeling very fresh and at 46km I began believing I could win the race. (Anele) Dlamini stopped there, and there was the just three of us left. Another guy fell and we left him, but he (Belachew) came flying past me so fast (that) he scared me.”

Still, Mhlakwana kept his cool in the knowledge that there was still some way to go.

At the 50km mark, he knew a podium finish was sealed, and all he needed to do was protect it.

It then became a two-horse race on the last climb, and he fancied his chances against the Ethiopian.

But it was not to be, and at the end, he had to be content with the runner-up berth.

“I am happy with this finish. Remember I’d told you before the race that I was going for top-10, and a victory if it was there for the taking. I tried to win, but it was not to be. But I am not complaining.”

Also not complaining was the women’s runner-up, Irvette van Zyl, who ran under the previous race record and earned herself a surprise R50 000 bonus from sponsors Totalsports.

“This is amazing. I gave it my all today, and I am happy with my performance. I couldn’t ask for any more from myself. I didn’t know I was inside the record time, but I really wanted to run a 3:30,” Van Zyl said.

She may have gone a little over that time, but her 3:30.31 was still impressive as it was five seconds faster than Frith van der Merwe’s record from 1989.

It was just a pity that Van Zyl finished a few seconds behind winner Gerda Steyn (3:29.42) who “gave me a huge fright when she came past me with two kilometres to go”.

@Tshiliboy

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