JOHANNESBURG - There are two reasons why the name Prodigal Khumalo has to be on any list of the potential winners of this year’s Comrades Marathon. The Ultra Trail Cape Town and Zululand Ultra Marathon.
Khumalo won both these big events in record times and on the strength of those, there can be no denying the Maxed Elite athlete has what it takes to improve on his eighth place finish of last year’s ‘Up Run’ and be the first runner to step into the Moses Mabhida Stadium on June 10.
Khumalo though, fresh from exorcising his ghosts of the Zululand Ultra Marathon on Sunday, wasn't about to put the cart before the horse.
“I’m not going to be overzealous and proclaim myself ready to win Comrades,” the runner popularly referred to as PK saidon Monday. “Of course it would be nice to get a podium at Comrades, but I don’t want to put myself under unnecessary pressure. My goal is to improve on my time (5.47:11) from last year.”
Given that he set an incredibly fast new record of 9h51 at the Cape Ultra back in December before finally winning Zululand in 3.21 (a record), few will bet against him bettering last year’s eighth place finish at Comrades.
His win at the weekend came after he previously finished second and third as well as seventh at the popular 56km race that alternates from Ulundi to Nongoma.
“Forget about yesterday, you can’t change it. Forget about tomorrow, you can’t predict it. Don't say it, but show what you can do. Do your best now.”
This is how Khumalo is motivating himself this year.
And while he was using Zululand as a test to see just how fit and fast he is in the build up to Comrades, he was delighted at finally winning, albeit after he had to protest a disqualification brought about by 'support' the runners got from overeager locals en route..
“I’ve come close to winning this race twice, so it feels really good to finally do it,” he said of the victory that saw him take home a new Toyota Etios.
Khumalo was in front from the start and says he knew at 45km that the race would be his: “I led from the gun and I actually noticed the guys didn’t want to race early. So I just decided to go for it. At 3km it was myself with Craig (Cynkin) and a few guys.
"Then at 25km a few others joined us but when we got to 45 there were just three of us - myself, Thobile Mbolekwa and Lephoto Adoro. I was checking their strength and I realised the one guy did not have good speed and Mbolekwa didn’t have good endurance, so I decided to deal with one person first and take him out. In the last eight kilometres Adoro took the lead but I passed him in the last five and he did not respond.”
Khumalo had learnt the hard way the year he finished second and that lesson stood him in good stead at the weekend.
“I made a mistake of letting the guys leave me in the last 6km thinking I’d catch up. But it is a down run to the finish and once they leave you there, there is little chance of catching up. The guy who beat me did so by just 30 seconds. So this time around I made sure I was the one who kicked away in those last six kms.”
Having beaten a handful of Comrades gold medallists at the weekend as well as reigning champion Bongumusa Mthembu at the Cape Town Ultra, Khumalo should be looking forward to finally winning the ultimate one. But he has never been one to count the chickens before they’ve hatched. Instead he will continue with his preparations as diligently as he has been.
“I am not looking to do any other race. Now all, roads lead to Comrades. Obviously we will do Loskop (Ultra) as part of training. And I’ve got an invitation to do Two Oceans Trail. I don’t know if I'll go yet. I know though that I am strong at Comrades.”