Mahlomola Sekhonyana eager to erase KZN's 2023 'no gold' show with a top ten run

Mahlomola Sekhonyana will carry the hopes of the province of KwaZulu-Natal on his shoulders when he competes in the Comrades Marathon this weekend. Photo: Hollywood Athletics Club

Mahlomola Sekhonyana will carry the hopes of the province of KwaZulu-Natal on his shoulders when he competes in the Comrades Marathon this weekend. Photo: Hollywood Athletics Club

Published Jun 7, 2024


The pain of failure to produce a top ten finisher in the men’s race during last year’s Comrades Marathon still lingers for KwaZulu-Natal athletics. As the race hosts, the province expects to always do well, and rightly so for they have the homeground advantage.

And as Sunday’s 97th running of the Ultimate Human Race fast approaches, the sense here is that just about every local athlete will be racing to ensure last year’s embarrassment is not repeated. One of those is a man somewhat forgotten, his failure to feature prominently in recent races ensuring his name is off the radar.

Mahlomola Sekhonyana finished a distant 43rd last year having skipped the 2022 race in favour of representing South Africa at the World 100km Championships in Berlin.

The discerning Comrades aficionado will remember though that the last time the race was ran from Durban to Pietermaritzburg as it will be on Sunday, Sekhonyana was the surprise package of the race. Unheralded prior to the race, the then Phantane Athletics Club athlete who now runs in the colours of Hollywood Athletics Club finished in fourth spot following a fantastic late surge to get in the high gold medal positions.

He is excited that they will be doing a lot of climbing this time around and on exactly the same day – Sunday June 9 – as five years ago when he put his name in Comrades history books.

But like most KZN natives he was hurt by last year’s failure which saw his teammate Skhumbuzo Seme being the province’s best performer with his 11th place.

“It really was painful for me,” he said of the ‘no gold’ showing “I was chasing those people (the leading bunch) but I had stomach issues and had to go for a body break at Inchanga, the Fields Hill and later Sherwood. That drained me out and I was not able to reach the group. It really made me feel bad that no one from KZN made it into the top ten. But we want to make sure that they remember that KZN is still around in Comrades.”

To that effect, Sekhonyana has worked very hard to prepare for his favourite Up-Run and is confident of making the top ten should the day go without any unforeseen mishaps. For one, he has been careful with what he eats lest he suffers like he did last year.

“This year I am aiming to do very well. I have trained properly and everything went well for this year. I am just waiting to see how things go on the day. The aim is to get gold of course, I want a second gold. And I am happy it is an Up-Run because I love running on and climbing hills.”

That much he showed back in 2019 when he came from behind and gradually worked his way up into the gold medal positions from the 60km (9th) and was sixth at the top of Polly Shortts before taking out both Joseph Manyedi and Justin Chesire for a “surprise“ fourth place finish.

“I was not surprised by that run and that position,” Sekhonyana says “My coach Mdu (Khumalo) had told me that he knows he has a top five athlete and that it was up to me to believe I was. And he told others too. That gave me confidence and I went for it.”

He had gotten a glimpse of his potential and abilities in the Up-Run two years earlier.

“In 2017 I was number 13 and it was just a few errors that took me out of the top ten. So I went back to the next one (2019) confident.”

He is returning to yet another race towards the Midlands a much stronger, wiser and more experienced runner and is thus confident of gold.

“I consider myself a specialist of the Up-Run,” says the man who has competed four of those and knows exactly what it is he has to do if he is to win a second gold.

“I just have to stick with the bunch and not let them leave me behind. We have our plan on what to do at what place and I just want to maintain (the pace) until halfway where a lot of things become clear is to who is who in the race. But that time, a lot of those still in the bunch are those who will be in the top ten. It is rare that there will be others coming from behind after Inchanga to catch up with the bunch.”

Sekhonyana speaks highly of his coach Khumalo whom he describes as a father figure.

“He is more than a coach to me, he is like a father and I respect him a lot because he is very supportive. And i am in a good space because the club I run for takes care of us and make it easy for me as an athlete to focus on achieving my goals.”

While his personal goal is to get that gold medal, Sekhonyana will also be doing it in an effort to heal a province still licking its wounds from last year’s failure to have a top ten finisher in the men’s race.

“Getting that position four in 2019 changed a lot of things in my life for the better. That was my history and it can never be erased. Now I want to go and show that I am still around and I am mentally fit to challenge on Sunday. It is all dependent on what happens on Sunday, but everything is on point in terms of preparation. And of course, I want to change what happened last year.”


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