Prodigal Khumalo during the Ultra-trail Cape Town 100km last week. Photo: Stephen Granger

DURBAN - It is the Tuesday after the glorious Saturday before and life is back to normal already for Prodigal Khumalo.

And normal for the man who should still be recovering from ticker-tape parades as well as multiple media interviews is in he anonymity of a gun shop in downtown Durban where he works as a salesman.

The clientele that walks into Kings Firearms have no idea that the man serving them is a big international star, fresh from an incredible feat at the weekend.

But then again the men who walk into this shop that is aptly situated on a street named Hunter wouldn’t bat an eyelid if you shouted trail running at the top of your voice.

As it is, who would really?

Such is the low-key nature of the sport here in South Africa that Khumalo’s incredible feat in Cape Town last weekend has literally gone unnoticed.

And it is for this reason that the 35-year-old continues to partake in road running even though he would rather focus on trail.

“If there were good sponsors, I’d stick to trail,” he says as we sit in the rather private surrounds of his car for a half an hour chat during his lunch-time break.

His hope is that his record-breaking win of the Ultra Trail Cape Town will serve to open some doors for him into the international arena where he can start making good money.

The Durban-based Zimbabwe-born Khumalo smashed the race record, which he set in last year’s race, by just under an hour to win the 100km race that covered sections of Table Mountain, Lion’s Head, Signall Hill, Orangekloof, Llandudno, Hout Bay, the Constantia Winelands, the upper slopes of Kirstenbosch Nature Reserve as well as Devil’s Peak in a time of 9.51.00.

In the process he beat race and hometown favourite Ryan Sanders (9.56.03) by a good five minutes while New Zealander Scotty Hawker finished third in 10.04.27.

The two-time Comrades Marathon gold medallist said his success was down to him being super fit, sticking to a game plan and not being bothered by the hype.

“I didn’t concern myself with the pre-race talk,” he said of the hype that surrounded Sanders being back home to race, with many making the event a two-horse race between the Capetonian and Comrades champion, Bongumusa Mthembu - who bailed out before the end of the race.

“I knew the route from last year and I was very fresh. I’d trained well and I was confident I would be in the top three.”

The confidence stemmed from a number of factors, ranging from his good run at Comrades where he finished in eighth, through to his having done a lot of technical work on ‘rocky areas, steps and beach sands”.

“I also ran my 10km PB of 29.39 at the Cape Town Marathon so I went in knowing that I was good for speed. And then I also won a 28km trail race in Eshowe and finished second in the Mandela Marathon 4km trail race.”

Not that it all made it easy, far from it.

“But it was a really tough race, Ryan wanted it more, he clearly wanted to win it for his city and he pushed hard from the start. I was actually surprised to see him going so fast early on.”

That fast start contributed to the top three dipping under Khumalo’s old record of 11 hours seven minutes from last year.

“I was not thinking of the record when I went to the race but in the last 10km I knew it was doable.

"I took the lead at the same place I did last year, around Hout Bay and built a six-minute lead on Ryan that I essentially kept until the finish. I kept to my game plan from last year and it served me.”

Now that he has conquered locally, albeit in an international event, the dream is to go global.

“I got a call after the race inviting me to a 102km race out in New Zealand which I will discuss with my manager and coach. Also the president of Ultra Trail World Tour says they want me to compete in their races.

"The good thing is that they pay for the athletes who are in their elite programme and I believe that I’ve showed with this record win that I belong there.

"These are exciting times for me because I’ve been waiting for such opportunities. I am happy that we are adding colour to the trail running event and if I get to run the overseas events, I intend to go out there and represent the country and the continent well.”

Given his record-smashing victory last weekend, there can be no denying he will do exactly that. And then a ticker-tape parade for his success might be a reality and instead of being just another gun salesman, he might find himself signing autographs before clinching gun sales.

Sunday Independent

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