Matshelane Mamabolo column: Maybe 50 is the new 20 in road running

Matshelane Mamabolo.

Matshelane Mamabolo.

Published Jan 28, 2024


Though exciting, birthdays are sometimes also a reminder that one is getting on and that old age is that much closer.

The likes of me get reminders of this via the categories allocated in our beloved sport of running: I have to go and buy a new age category tag after celebrating my 50th on Wednesday.

It’s now bye-bye veterans (40-49) and hello masters (50-59) for me. I should be a tad worried I am no longer young, although I must say I’ve been referred to as “madala” (old man) in many a race – my grey hair and beard selling me out despite my small frame.

Yet, I find that I am excited about what lies ahead. I am looking forward to running as “master”, thanks to two men that I admire – men who have done such great things on the road as masters that I am inspired to taking this running thing all the more seriously henceforth.

You see, ever since I discovered that I had some running talent about eight years ago, I have found myself continuously trying to do better and have followed the progress of others with keen interest in the hope of learning from them.

I’ve not really gotten it spot on, although it has been a delight to occupy the podium in at least three races as a veteran. And those who know will tell you that – in local running – that is arguably the most competitive category.

Finishing in the top 100 of the Two Oceans Marathon and attaining what Bruce Fordyce calls the hardest silver medal (sub four hour finish in the 56km race) in South African running rates high up on my list of running achievements.

Of course I am yet to get that Comrades Marathon silver and by the look of things it might well be the one that got away as I am seriously having doubts about racing the Ultimate Human Race again.

I digress, though. I was on about two men whose performances as masters have got me excited that I am now one.

Titus Mamabolo holds the world marathon record for over 50s after his incredible 2:19 run at the SA Marathon Championships in Durban way back in 1991. Now 83, my uncle loves to tell me that no one is ever going to unseat him as the world’s fastest master and he laughed at me so badly the other day when I told him I was “coming after your record”.

He got the joke, for that is just a time I could never run. Yet, I look at it and realise that one can actually get better and faster as he gets older – with discipline and proper training of course. You see the maturity and experience come in handy at this time.

And this much has been proven by yet another runner I know personally. Wayne Spies is a South African athlete who has since taken up Australian citizenship and his phenomenal improvement as a runner is the stuff of dreams.

From failing to finish the Comrades as a teen to hobbling to the finish just before the cut off time, Spies gradually got better; so much better that last year – at the age of 51 – he smashed Vladimir Kotov’s Down Run record in the world popular KwaZulu-Natal race.

With a marathon PB of just over 2:20, I’ve told him – and my uncle, who again laughed me off – that he has it in him to break Mamabolo’s record.

Wayne – slightly built just like me – has spoken openly about how he has improved and I am definitely going to try copy his ways. No, I am not going after the Comrades record, neither do I dream of representing my country at the World 50km Championships like he did.

I am, however, looking forward to some fantastic running years of pretty good times and some category podium finishes. It is the best way to celebrate turning 50 (oh, make that entering old age), wouldn’t you say?


IOL Sport

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road runningathletics