JOHANNESBURG – “Mama, I made it!” Lizzy Babili, her sunglasses still on, crosses the finish line at the Two Oceans Marathon and silently utters those four words.
She has achieved gold, her 3hr 59min 32sec earning her 10th place in the “world’s most beautiful marathon”.
It is an achievement she would have loved her mom to witness but she passed on in April 2016.
On Sunday, Babili will tackle her second Comrades Marathon intent on challenging for yet another top 10 finish, although she acknowledges that top 20 would be more realistic.
The Massmart athlete saw her debut last year go so pear-shaped late on that she clocked a “disappointing” 8:44.32 and ended up in the makeshift hospital at Moses Mabhida Stadium, crying uncontrollably as medics treated her for dehydration.
Yours truly had suffered the same fate, having finished some 15 minutes ahead of Babili, and lay covered by a space blanket when she was stretchered in.
We did not know each other then but the irony of it all hits us during this interview that revealed some uncanny similarities.
Self motivation happy me. pic.twitter.com/ifEO44ieRv— R. Lizzy Babili (@LizzyBabili) November 21, 2017
We both earned our Comrades qualification at the Vaal Marathon in March, Babiki winning the women’s race in her marathon personal best time of 2:55.20, having overtaken me a few hundred metres from the finish (I clocked 2:56).
“I have used you as my pacer in a lot of races,” she disclosed after that race, “and today as we went for the second lap I asked some of your teammates how far ahead you were.”
Nothing strange there in that pacing oneself by following a particular runner is commonplace. For me, the sight of Charne Bosman just ahead is always a sign I will achieve my target.
As she shared her story this week, the realisation that we are from villages separated by a river has us both laughing so loud.
Babili is from Moletlane in Zebediela, a village to the west of GaRakgoatha where I grew up.
That we completed Two Oceans earlier this year just seven minutes apart (I ran 3:52) led to the next logical question: “What’s your target for Comrades?”
Irony of ironies? Both will be pleased with a sub-7:30 run.
For Babili, achieving that goal should be enough to see her make the top 20 and make up for last year’s poor debut.
“Last year was a great learning experience. I started well and was actually in the top 20 by the 50km mark. But at 70km my legs were so swollen I had to walk for close on 10km. A few runners I know tried to encourage me to push on but I just did not have it in me,” she said.
There will be no walking on Sunday - not with the kind of support she enjoys from her club Massmart, owned by defending champion Ann Ashworth.
Babili says that her running went a notch higher on joining the country’s sole all-woman team in late 2017.
“I was a good runner but I lacked the confidence and did not really know much about running. But joining Massmart opened my eyes to the potential I had and to understanding myself and the sport more,” she explains.
“The support from the club is very good and even if you fail, there is always encouragement.”
No doubt Babili will do well on Sunday. And she will let her dearly departed mother know. “I always tell her, ‘Mama, I made it’, at the end of each race.”@Tshiliboy