JOHANNESBURG - It's a long way from position nine to first in a marathon. But Xolisa Tyali wants to make that big jump in style.
The 29-year-old runner from Tsolo in the Eastern Cape is one of three members of the legendary Hendrick Ramaala Sports Foundation who will be out to try and ensure the first IAAF Gold Label Status title of the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon remains on home soil.
Last year, when the race was at Silver Label Status, Tyali finished in a disappointing ninth despite running his marathon PB of 2.14 - some distance from winner Asefa Negawo of Ethiopia, who got home in a new race record of 2.08.41.
“I was hoping to at least finish in the top five last year,” Tyali says, the tinge of disappointment still evident in his voice nearly a year later.
We are at the Zoo Lake in Joburg after a fast tempo run that exposed one to the high standards of these elite athletes for whom running at three minutes a kilometre seemed fairly routine. Tyali, with his long legs, appeared to stride effortlessly through the somewhat treacherous course that has clearly been created by the runners themselves over the many years Ramaala has made the venue his home.
“I finished ninth last year, but I think I was not really properly prepared. I started well because I got to the halfway mark at 63.40 but after 27km my body was not feeling good. I slowed down and missed out on my target.”
Things are very different this time around though, he says.
“I’m ready. We’ve trained very well and there’s just a great vibe in the team because we’ve generally had a good year. Some of our guys ran at the World Champs and others won some big races (Lungile Gongca at Two Oceans). So, confidence is high and we believe we will do well. I know I am going to give those Kenyans and Ethiopians a run for their money.”
That he believes in himself the way he does has a lot to do with Ramaala who will also be running but not necessarily competing.
“Coach Hendrick is more than just a coach to us, he is our father and our brother because we are able to talk to him about anything and everything. We all live at his houses and he takes care of our personal needs. And then when he coaches us, his experience shines through.
"I know I am very lucky to have a man of his experience for a coach because everything he tells me is from first hand knowledge. He has been there and that’s why can tell us not to be of the Kenyans and the Ethiopians, because he has ran with them and won.”
And Tyali himself has experience competing against international adversaries and will thus not be overawed come Sunday.
“Of course, it is a great field they have assembled for Sanlam. But I am not scared of anyone. I’ve ran overseas against these kind of guys who will be in Cape Town. Last year I finished fifth in Brighton and I also ran in hamburg where I did not finish because it was too cold,” he says.
"And then this year I paced a marathon in Morocco and dropped out at 30km. But what pleased me was that they went on to run a course record which means I did a good job. He will be out to do an even better job in Cape Town. If I win, I will build my mother a big house in Tsolo."