COMRADES Marathon gold medallist Prodigal Khumalo is looking towards running the Tarawera Ultra-Marathon 100 Miler trail run next year. The trail is considered one of the most scenic trail runs in the world featuring eight different lakes, waterfalls and forests ‒ but also one of the toughest.
While the Inanda marathon runner will no doubt take a moment to absorb the beauty around him, Khumalo said his focus would be on finishing the ultra-marathon.
The event hosts 21km, 50km and the 102km runs but Khumalo said this week that he was looking forward to getting back to international running and the challenge of a 100 Miler ‒ 160km.
He holds the record for the Ultra-Trail Cape Town 100km, having won it twice (2016, 2017) and in January this year, he ran 100km in 7h27m from Hilton to Durban, as a fund-raiser for Orcas Training Academy, a running academy he founded in Inanda to coach and support young runners in the Durban area.
In April, he won the Ultra-Trail Drakensberg 32km race, and in Augus,t he ran 103km at the Icons Journey Marathon in the Eastern Cape, in support of other runners who were running 400km to raise funds for schoolchildren.
“The longest run I’ve done was the Icons in August and it went very well. I ran it in about eight hours and some change, and it was a tough route with most of it off road. I’ve started speaking to other guys who have done a 100 Miler, to help me with my preparations,” Khumalo said.
When training for the 100 Miler, which is scheduled to take place in February, he said he would be adding strength sessions to his training.
“When I’m training for a big race, I’ll train seven days a week, sometimes twice a day. I’ll go to gym once a week, but I have weights at home for strength training,” he said, adding, “I run on the road to see how far I can push my body, and I run on the trails to enjoy life.”
Another key area of focus for Khumalo are his Orcas runners. He trains about 30 runners, with 15 staying at the camp. While some are local runners, others are recruited to join the camp from different parts of the country,
His up-and-coming runners include Nkosikhona Mhlakwana, Makwande Mncwengi, Sphesihle Nene, Slindile Chiliu and Banene Mazibena.
He said one to watch could well be Mhlakwana, who came 11th in his first Comrades Marathon and has most recently won the 52km Prince Mangosuthu Ultra Marathon on September 8.
Khumalo said the Covid pandemic and lockdown had impacted negatively on the academy and runners, many of whom make their income from races.
“Covid has affected us so much, but with lockdown easing, I am looking for potential sponsors. We have so much talent here, if we can just get the support,” he said, adding that corporate or individual support would be welcome.
From his fund-raising run from Hilton to Durban in January, he raised R100 000 and has completed the basic building to house runners at the camp.
He highlighted that marathon runners tended to run longer distances as they grew older as they gained in strength and endurance, which allowed them a longer running career, whether road or trail.
Another runner who is being coached by Khumalo is Zululand runner Nontu Mghabi. She is training for the 250km Marathon des Sables to be held from October 3 to 9. He also coached her for the World Marathon Challenge, where she ran seven marathons in seven days across seven continents, at the beginning of last year.
This week, Mghabi said Khumalo was a father figure to many of the runners he coached, particularly the younger runners who do not have fathers or parents.
Mghabi said: “Prodigal is the hardest-working person I know. He will be running in his very first 100 Miler in New Zealand next year and I believe he will do well in such ultra marathons.
“Prodigal is humble and patient, an ultra distance of this nature requires patience and a humble approach to the race. I believe this distance matches his personality well. He also spends long hours training, he is committed to his craft.
“I never question his advice because I know it comes from a place of knowledge, experience and care. He is supportive and kind, generous with his time and resources and I have seen how he supports the young men and women he is coaching at his training camp. Some of the boys at the camp do not have parents or fathers and Prodigal has assumed a father figure role,” said Mghabi.
The Independent on Saturday