2014 Comrades Marathon winner Bongmusa Mthembu has put in the miles with his team, as they target 2017 success, in one of the world’s greatest Ultras. He joins us on 32Gi Sports Nutrition; talking up their preparation, chief rivals, and has some great advice for the average Ultra runner.
Welcome back to 32Gi Sports Nutrition, I’m Mr Active, David Katz. Its been a fantastic few weeks here in South Africa in the build-up to ‘The Big One’ – Comrades Marathon. What a fantastic event it is and of course every year is very exciting. The last couple of years, from a local being perspective being even more with South Africans starting to dominate both the men’s and the women’s race.
It’s a great pleasure this week to welcome someone who has been on the podcast before, and it is Bongmusa Mthembu who is a winner of the Comrades, a previous winner. He won three years ago, which seems like a lifetime, but really it’s not. Bongmusa, welcome back onto the podcast, it’s always great to chat to you.
Bongmusa Mthembu: Thank you, thanks for having me.
DK: First of all, you sound like you’re very far away. You’re not from a continental point of view, but you’re busy up near the Lesotho border at the moment, what are you guys up to?
BM: I think it’s just a final touch up, as you know, we’re just counting down for a couple of days and it’s on. But for us it’s just to be here in the altitude, because most of the guys that we’re competing with, they’re coming from high altitudes. So I think so that we can just match-up somehow, so we decided to come up here just for those couple of days until we’re going down to Durban.
DK: This is becoming sort of the norm with Comrades Marathon and one of the big Meccas is around the Dullstroom area. I was with John Hamlett and the TomTom guys a while ago and Ann Ashwoth was training there. Of course Charné Bosman, the ladies champion trains out near the area as well. KPMG had a running camp, is it the norm at the moment and do you personally feel the benefits of getting that high altitude in?
Why mountain training is all the rage
BM: Yes, I think it gives us a lot of confidence. You’ll remember that towards the end of the year I’ve been with those guys and they, I think now they know me. So coming back to be with my guys, with my group, with my coach, so I think we had a plan. So that’s why we just came up here in the mountains so that by the time we come down, we still have that altitude.
We have a plan, our plan, we not sticking to anyone else’s plan, and we’ll see from there. Because for us, I think at the time that’s where most of the people where they target us that we might do something. But I think that’s all to our advantage, we should work on that. We should be confident that we must do whatever instruction that we’ve been given by the coach at the time.
DK: Tell me, now you talked about running with the other guys and of course at the 100K World Champs last year, phenomenal performance by yourself and the guys from the Team South Africa. What did it feel like to be in that camp and that environment because generally for guys who run that sort of distance, there aren’t that many opportunities to run in your national colours?
BM: Yes, it’s quite amazing and it’s quite hard, I must say. But it’s amazing, you feel honoured because not everybody of those guys are wishing to train with them. There are a few guys who come and train with those guys. But it was an honour, an opportunity for me and I was grateful. So that’s why when I came down I had a plan then, and now I have to focus on myself, with my coach and my manager.
DK: The last two victories have both come out of John Hamlett’s camp, of course with Gift and with David and very fast runs. We saw that Down run record smashed last year. Prodigal Khumalo who is a 32Gi athlete, he moved over, he’s also training with John a bit as well. I presume from your guys’ perspective, from everyone, they are the camp to look at, at the moment. Do you guys have a strategy for that?
BM: Yes, I would say that we don’t have a strategy for them, we’ve got a strategy for ourselves. I’m sure, as I’ve said earlier, that I’m sure that they know me now and they might know my weaknesses. But also myself, I know their weaknesses now.
But honestly, we respect John and for now I think John is going to be a serious problem in quite a lot of years when we talk about Comrades. Because he’s got pedigree, he knows how to train for Comrades and those guys, I mean they’re feeling very confident under him.
How 32Gi helps keep me at my peak
That’s what we’re trying to do on our side. We’re trying to build our KZN boys, so that’s why we try to only focus on ourselves. Then we’ve quire happy. I’m glad that Prodigal went up there and he’s using the same stuff that I use, which is of course 32Gi.
I’ve been with 32Gi for quite a long time now and I’m feeling very confident. Wherever I go with 32Gi, whenever I train, I train with 32Gi, so I’m very confident. Even now in these times, that’s where you feel it very hard, you feel very tired. You feel like you never train like you have, like you’re supposed to train. But because we have that concept of 32Gi, I think we as a group and myself, we are very confident and that come 4th of June we’ll do our best.
DK: Bongmusa you said something very important there, not just for elite athletes but for every single person who goes and runs Comrades or an endurance race of the same distance, any Ultra out there, is that you run your own race. Yes, you’re there and it’s competitive, you’ve got to see what’s happening around you.
But with a race of that distance, Charné Bosman told me the same thing after last year, she just stuck to her race and that is the key bit of experience or advice you could give someone isn’t it? For a race like that, just stick to your own plan.
Don’t be drawn into running someone else’s race
BM: Absolutely, that’s quite a virtue. Because once you train, once you race with somebody, you don’t know what he’s been doing, how long he’s been training. The pace he’s been doing on his training, so you can’t just take somebody’s plan.
The most important thing is to do your own thing and for sure, you can’t do miracles on the race day. If you haven’t done a fast pace on your training, you can’t do the fast pace exactly on Comrades. I mean for quite a long time where some people did that, but the most important thing is to be patient and to have perseverance. Because Comrades is a long distance, you have to have fun, you have to have focus, we have to laugh along the way. By the time you reach 60km, that’s where you can start maybe to be serious, but you can’t be serious from the start up until the end.
DK: Bongmusa, you’re a Down run winner, but you generally prefer the Up run. From the time we saw last year and the competitiveness that’s coming to this field, with the Up run this year, do you think we could see the winner go under 5:30?
BM: Absolutely, since I’ve been running Comrades I’ve always target some time and yes it’s happened that now I’ve always come to maybe doing the course well when it’s come to Down run. But I know that even in the Up run I’m still trying to build up myself, I was quite happy with the way I finished in 2016.
When you talk about Up run and to be honest, it was my first time to run Up run in 2015 without any personal problems. The way I ran, I ran exactly what the coaches had instructed me to run. Yes, I didn’t end up doing top ten, so I was quite happy. From there up until now, if I didn’t do any mistake, I didn’t do over-training or maybe over-confidence, I believe that I’m going to improve my time. Also, I’m going to improve my position.
DK: Bongmusa, we’re looking forward to see how you go, we’re looking forward to the whole race. I think it’s going to be absolutely exciting yet again. Thanks very much for your time, always great chatting and best of luck for this years’ race.
BM: Thank you so much, thanks for your time and your listeners.