Flying the KZN flag at the Comrades Marathon
01 January 1970
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Brad Brown: Welcome onto this edition of Old Mutual Live, great things start here, great things start now. I love sharing runner’s stories and I think today’s story is really going to hit a nerve. She’s an absolute machine and I can’t wait to tell you more about her story. It’s a great pleasure to welcome Fikile Mbuthumba on the podcast. Fikile welcome, thanks for joining us today.
Fikile Mbuthumba: Thank you very much, thanks for having me.
BB: Fikile, the reason I wanted to chat to you, is you’ve got quite a cool running story and just to give people a bit of background. You were a Comrades Gold medallist this year. You picked up your first Comrades Gold. You were also the first lady home from KZN. There’s quite a big drive and there always has been around Comrades.
There’s a first South African home but they’re also very, very proudly Kwazulu-Natal and you were the first KZN lady home again for the third time this year. I mean you’re from KZN, Comrades is just part of who you are, isn’t it?
FM: Yes, the Comrades is a part of me. Well, I love Comrades and think I will run Comrades, I think until I can’t run anymore. I just love Comrades and being the KZN’s first lady for the third time, well I’m so happy about it, it’s so impressing.
KZN born and bred
BB: Fikile, tell me are you born and bred in KZN? I mean tell me about Comrades for you, what does Comrades mean to you?
FM: I’m born and bred in KZN in the South Coast from Harding. Comrades, for me it means everything. It means, running the Comrades, you meet a lot of friends there, you meet a lot of people. International, South Africans, everybody from anywhere are running the Comrades and I just love it. I’m a long distance runner and then I love running the long distance running.
BB: Fikile have you been a runner all your life? I mean growing up, did you run, or has it only been later in your life?
FM: Well, I started running while I was still in primary school. I started running, I was doing the track. I was specialising in 200m and 400m, and I went to high school. In high school they wanted me to play soccer, I played soccer for two years. I said to them, “No this is not my sport, I don’t like playing soccer, let me just continue with my running”. Then since then I never stopped, I run since then.
BB: Your decision first to run Comrades, how many have you done now, and can you remember when you first decided –
FM: This year was my number ten. I wanted to start in 2005. I started training for Comrades in 2004 because I wanted to run in 2005. Two weeks before I got sick and I ended up in hospital for two weeks and my heart was so sore.
I remember I was lying in bed, I was watching the Comrades on TV and my heart was so sore. But 2006 I said “Well, I pray to God that I will not get sick again because I want to run this race” and since 2006 I never stopped.
Tenth Comrades in 2016 was an epic day out
BB: What an incredible one to have your tenth. I mean it’s special running in a yellow number knowing you’re going for green. But you had an amazing day out in 2016. You ran a sub 7, I think 6.56 was your time. As you said, first KZN lady home and your first Gold medal. You must be so proud of your run this year.
FM: Yes, I was so happy and I was running on the road and then people telling me, “Ah, you go for Gold, you go for number 10”. I said “Oh God, this is amazing, I’m going for my number ten Comrades and I’m going for Gold”. I was so happy. It was so amazing and I was the first KZN and this was very amazing.
BB: Fikile, looking at South African ladies running right now, there seems to be this revival. There’s so much, and it’s no disrespect to the men but there almost seems to be more interest in the ladies’ top ten than the men’s top ten right now. What do you attribute that to?
FM: Well, I think whilst it’s been the ladies running the Comrades and South African lady, it is well what will I say, it’s emotional. Because we need most of women to run the Comrades especially to be in top ten. We need women in top ten especially South Africans. I know we’ve been having a lot of men, South African men in top ten but we want more women in top ten especially South Africans.
BB: Who’s your running hero?
FM: Well, my running hero is my late friend and my sister and mum Riana van Niekerk.
BB: She was an incredible athlete.
FM: I just loved that lady. She was my inspiration, she was my hero.
BB: Wow, that’s incredible. Yes, she was a phenomenal athlete and just taken way, way too soon.
FM: She was definitely.
BB: Way too soon.
FM: Yes, I know.
How has the recovery gone?
BB: Fikile, after Comrades, you’ve obviously run hard. I mean to run a sub 7 Comrades, it takes some going, from a recovery point of view. Do you take much time off, what’s your plan for the rest of the year?
FM: Okay I took three-weeks recovery because I didn’t do anything after Comrades. I just said to myself, no I’m going to rest, I need some rest. Because in October I’m also doing another ultra, so I needed more rest before I start my training. I’m doing 68km in October in East London called Legend’s Marathon, so now I’ve started my training already.
BB: Brilliant, Fikile, coming home after that Comrades, I mean it’s not far to go, how was your Gold medal received by all your friends and family and work colleagues?
FM: Well, I tell you what after I finished the Comrades my phone, I don’t know how many missed calls, I don’t know how many messages I got in my cell phone. Way back home, my mum was so happy, my neighbours, my friends and I came back to work. Oh gosh, my colleagues, they were so happy and they even threw a surprise party for me. They bought a big cake for me, they bought flowers and there was like, there were excited. It was amazing.
BB: That’s incredible. Fikile you do some work training-wise out of Prime High Performance down at the sort of King’s Park, Moses Mabhida precinct. How long have you been working with the guys from Prime?
FM: Since 2014 if I’m not mistaken.
BB: Has it made big difference to your running?
FM: It made a big difference because there they’ve got everything. They’ve got physios, they’ve got massage therapists, they’ve got doctors, they’ve got a lot of things that you can do. You can go to the gym. You can go to gym any time. If you’re injured, you go see a specialist there, you go see a doctor. It is amazing. It’s helped us a lot. I love it there.
Will run Comrades for many years to come
BB: Fikile, a lot of people when they’re going for their green number at Comrades they say in the build-up “Once I’ve hit 10 that’s it, I’m never running another one again”. I take it by your enthusiasm you’re definitely going back for number 11 and you want to go faster.
FM: Well, as I’ve said to you earlier I will run the Comrades until I can’t run anymore. If I can run until I’m 80 or 85 I will still run the Comrades. It doesn’t matter how many Comrades I will run but I will still run.
BB: Fikile if somebody’s listening to this who’s thinking about maybe running Comrades in 2017 what advice would you give them? Maybe they’re a park runner, they run the odd 10km and they’re thinking “You know what, maybe Comrades is for me”, what would you tell them?
FM: Okay, for the Comrades you need to; you know some people they run park running for like 5km. They train for 5km. To run the Comrades you need to have a mileage in your body, you need to train hard. Even if you have to go for 12 hours, 11 hours. But you still have to have the mileage in your body. You need to do those long runs, you need to do that speed, you need to train hard for the Comrades. It’s not like you’re running the 5km but I encourage everybody, anyone, at least they can run once in their lifetime.
BB: Yes, I say that all the time as well and I think that Comrades for me is just, it’s what South Africa can be on one day.
Best bit of advice I’ve learnt
BB: I love it. I think it’s absolutely amazing. Fikile, the best bit of advice that you’ve ever been given, what would you say it was?
FM: To me, the best advice I’ve been given, I remember it was the beginning 2014, I ran the marathon and I was sick. Never, ever run if you’ve got flu or you’re sick or anything. I nearly died that day. So I will love to tell everybody if you’re sick, if you’re ill, you know that you’ve got flu or anything, don’t ever run but we have to drink a lot of water as well.
BB: Brilliant. Fikile, thank you so much for your time today, much appreciated. Congratulations again on the hat trick of first KZN lady home at Comrades but even bigger, that Comrades Gold. Well done and we can’t wait to see what you do. What do you prefer by the way? Do you prefer the Up or the Down?
FM: I prefer Down run.
BB: Well, best of luck for the Up next year. We look forward to seeing how you go and maybe you can make it a back-to-back of Gold, we’d love that.
FM: Oh, thank you very much.
BB: Fikile, that was awesome. Thank you so much.
FM: Thank you very much.