But such is the Arthur Ford runner’s current form and fitness level that there can be no denying that he is the favourite to win next Sunday’s Up Run.
A winner in the last two years, Mthembu appears to have found the perfect recipe to conquer The Ultimate Human Race. And while there is a pretty strong male contingent of runners capable of beating him, the reality is that they will all have to come up with something special to get to the Scottsville Racecourse ahead of the man from Bulwer.
Claude Moshiywa, the man who won the Up Run back in 2013, is the latest expert to put his neck on the block for a Mthembu win.
“Mthembu is in incredible form and I do not see anyone who can beat him. I was with him at the World 100km Championship in Croatia last year and the man is something else. You see right at the starting line that he means business and I believe it will be very hard for any of the other guys to beat him. The only way he won’t win is if something goes terribly wrong for him on the day.”
While he acknowledged that it is a tough task to win both the Two Oceans and Comrades in one year, Moshiywa is not among those who see Mthembu’s success at the world’s most beautiful marathon in April hindering him from emulating Stephen Muzhingi and winning a third successive title which would bring his tally to four.
As it is, the Nedbank Athletic Club runner who is sitting this year’s race out due to having had a hip operation, is of the view that the Comrades Marathon will deliver the same winners as the Two Oceans.
“(Gerda) Steyn is a very strong runner and she is high on confidence now. She is my favourite to win the women’s race. She has the speed and enjoys great support and she has been training very hard. She actually should have broken the Two Oceans record.”
Steyn herself is pretty confident she can emulate her inspiration and role model Frith van der Merwe by completing the double.
She has enjoyed a trouble-free training camp in the mountains of France where she trained with last year’s third placed man Steve Way who is also keen to snatch the title.
“A lot of people ask me if I am disappointed at just missing the Two Oceans record. Looking back, it was a little bit sad to be so close. But even with 8km to go, I told myself to save the legs because Comrades is my main focus of the year and I didn’t want to do too much damage."
Having saved herself, expect Steyn to motor up from Durban to Maritzburg, chasing Comrades glory. Not that the likes of last year’s winner Anne Ashworth and defending Up Run champion Camille Herron will simply watch her. The duo will be out to hold on to their titles.
Mthembu, on the other hand, will have to keep the likes of Way, David Gatebe, Hatiwande Nyamande and Nao Kazami at bay if he is to live up to the predictions that have been made by just about everyone except his adversaries. Everything points to this year’s Comrades Marathon being a very tightly-contested affair - both in the male and female categories.@tshiliboy