JOHANNESBURG - It's late on the night before the 2016 Comrades Marathon and the lights in one of the rooms at Riverside Lodge in Durban are still on.
The two occupants are deep in conversation, sleep hardly coming to their thoroughly trained bodies as the excitement of the next day takes charge.
“I am taking the title to Limpopo,” says one.
“Ha, ha, ha, dream on bra. Free State will be celebrating it’s Comrades champion tomorrow,” retorts the other.
It is now common knowledge that Free Stater David Gatebe not only triumphed in the ultimate human race but actually did so in record time.
His roommate, Latudi Surprise Makofane failed to finish the race as he succumbed to the pain brought about by an injury.
He has since recovered though and is raring to make up for last year’s disappointment at this year’s up run – from Durban to Pietermaritzburg – taking place on June 4.
“I really was ready to do well last year, but injuries let me down,” Makofane says as we sit down in the lounge of the house out in Dullstroom that is serving as a base camp for the TomTom Athletic Club’s preparation for the race.
“I am fully fit now and I am ready to give David and everybody here a challenge. We’ve all worked very hard and I have no doubt that a winner will come from among us. And obviously I’d love it to be me. But I am definitely aiming for a top three finish, a win will be a bonus.”
The Comrades Marathon Association agree that the one-time gold medalist is among this year’s top contenders.
“Makofane won his maiden and only gold medal at the 2014 Comrades Marathon. His best up run time is 6:13 and he is aware that he will have to improve on that to worry the front runners. Under coach John Hamlett, he heads into this year’s race full of energy and belief that he can bag a top five finish,” CMA said in their write up of the top contenders.
“We’ve really trained well and I am sure there won’t be any problems like last year when I stopped with just under 15km to go. I was in 12th position at the time so you can imagine just how disappointed I was.”
To make up for the disappointment, Makofane has avoided any competition this year, focusing instead on preparing for Comrades. Along with his club mates, the man who finished 10th in 2014 ran the Loskop Ultra last month but only as a training run.
“I’ve not competed at all because I am working on being ready for Comrades. And I am in great company because everyone here is focused on the big race. And we work very well together. While we are obviously in competition, we are a team and we want each other to have a good run always.”
Like any other boy from the townships – he grew up in Kwa-Thema, Springs – Makofane loved playing football and even dreamt of one day turning pro.
“But I realised I was not going to make it because I was always on the bench. And then when I saw Andrew Kelehe and Validmir Kotov win Comrades, I thought 'I should try this'. I liked the fact that no-one can bench you in running and I’ve never looked back since my first Comrades in 2009.”
He did not finish that race and had actually decided against doing it again.
“But my friend finished and that drove me to give it a try and I did the very next year. I finished 61st in 6:24 and and I had my best run in 2014.”
He is looking to improve on that and perhaps even surprise everyone and take the title to Limpopo as per his promise to Gatebe last year.