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Comrades athlete challenges himself to beat personal best

Gcina Msibi ran his first 42.2km marathon in August 2018 at the Mandela Marathon and says he got off to a rough start in his long-distance running career, but he has always persisted.

The 96th edition of the iconic Comrades Marathon is coming up on Sunday, June 11, starting at the Pietermaritzburg City Hall and ending at the Hollywoodbets Kingsmead Cricket Stadium in Durban. The Comrades Marathon Association has revealed their official route distance to be 87.701km, making this, the 48th Comrades Down Run, almost 2.2km shorter than last year’s race. In the build-up to the much-loved event, Berea Mail will run a weekly series. This week, we chat to a Stella Athletics Club member running his third Comrades and hoping to beat his personal best run time. 

STELLA Athletic Club runner Gcina Msibi will be running his third Comrades Marathon this year and is hoping to break his personal-best running time and get through the race in 6 hours and 30 minutes.

Msibi says he considers himself new to the long-distance running game and started running in late 2017. “l joined Stella Athletic Club in June 2018. Had it not been for Covid-19 when the 2020 and 2021 Comrades Marathons were cancelled, l would be going for my fifth Comrades. But to date, I have run two Comrades. My first was an Up Run in 2019, and I ran the Comrades Marathon in 7 hours and 2 minutes and was awarded a Silver Medal. In 2022, I ran a Down Run as my second Comrades and was awarded a Silver Medal with a time of 6 hours and 38 minutes. This year, I am going for my third Comrades and hope to finish with a time of 6 hours and 30 minutes.”

Also read: Comrades runner plans to raise R200 000 for charity

Msibi ran his first 42.2km marathon in August 2018 at the Mandela Marathon and says he got off to a rough start in his long-distance running career, but he has always persisted. “The Mandela Marathon was the toughest marathon by far out of all the marathons I have ever done in my short running career. What made it even tougher was that I got lost and arrived 10 minutes late, when everyone had gone. I was very inexperienced then, and I had to chase people who were 10 minutes ahead of me. I started way too fast, and I paid dearly for it,” he said.

The marathon runner says he has learned so much about the sport since then and has grown into a formidable athlete. “Over the years, I learned so much about training – from different people who are experienced. On weekdays, I train with a small group of athletes. We call ourselves the 03:45 gang – that’s the time we start our weekday training. We do a lot of speedwork intervals, fartleks, hill sprints and one-to-one and half-hour jogs. Every Tuesday afternoon, I have another group I take for a track session at Kings Park Athletic Stadium. Most are guys who have been awarded Bill Rowan medals at the last Comrades and who are aiming for Silver Medals this year. Midweek, I do a semi-long run of about two hours to two and a half hours. I average 140–160km a week in preparation for the upcoming marathon.”

Msisbi says he started his base training in December for this year’s Comrades. “In late February, I did the Best of the Best Marathon as my Comrades qualifying race. I ran it at two hours and 36 minutes. In mid-April, I did the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon at a time of three hours and 46 minutes,” he said.

Also read: Comrades Marathon – following in legendary footsteps

The athlete says he is very anxious about the injuries more than anything ahead of this year’s Comrades Marathon. “I am very anxious to miss targeted times in races I prepare for, and for the healing period after the Comrades, and about incurring any injuries along the way,” he said.

Msibi says there is so much he enjoys about running, he can write a book. “Running is therapeutic – when you run, a flood of endorphins are released into your body. Endorphins are feel-good chemicals because they produce feelings of happiness and pleasure. That increases your mood and lowers your stress levels. Running isn’t a substitute for therapy but a big support to therapy. What I enjoyed about running Comrades is the hard training that I go through while preparing for the race. Also, the social gathering with other runners and meeting new runners all the time and learning from them.”

His advice to first-time Comrades Marathon runners: “Start eating solid food like potatoes, bananas, etc, as early as possible. Hydrate properly before and during the run. Proper fueling is very important. Trust your training, be realistic with yourself and set achievable goals. Have a race plan and stick to the race plan. Conserve energy and respect the Comrades Marathon because it is a very long distance. If you don’t respect the Comrades, it won’t respect you, too.”

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