Having been reluctant to divert much of his attention towards the road too early in his career, distance runner Stephen Mokoka says he is ready to make the shift, and his ambitions will now be directed at the classic marathon distance.
Mokoka has run six marathons in the last five seasons, though his training for most of that period revolved around his preparation for shorter distances on the track.
He made his 42km debut at the Seoul Marathon in 2010, clocking an impressive 2:08:33, and has turned out at the Shanghai Marathon the last four years in succession, winning the race in 2013 and 2014 before setting a personal best of 2:07:40 to finish second last season.
“I want to run two marathons a year now,” Mokoka said on Friday, ahead of his appearance at the inaugural FNB Joburg 10k CityRun this weekend.”I would like to run the 10 000m again at next year’s World Championships (in London), but my attention now is on the marathon.”
After competing in the 10 000m event at the 2011 World Athletics Championships in Daegu, Mokoka turned out in the marathon at the 2012 London Olympics, fading to 49th position. He returned to the track and has stuck to the confines of the oval arena at major international championships since 2013, though he has been unable to put up a fight for a medal at the World Championships or the Olympics.
Finishing in the top 10 three times at the World Half-Marathon Championships, and setting SA records over 10km (27:38) and 15km (42:44) in the last two seasons, the 31-year-old athlete has displayed tremendous potential on the road.
Preparing to embark on the latest stage of his career, Mokoka said he was ready to return to the Shanghai Marathon at the end of October. He hoped to sharpen up at the Joburg race on Saturday before setting the pace at the Lisbon Marathon next week, where he would cover about 30km as a hard training run for the Shanghai race.
“At this point my fitness level is good. I’m where I’m supposed to be, and I still have a few weeks to prepare,” he said. “If I’m injury free and everything goes well, I think the training group we have (under coach Michael Seme in Pretoria) will help me sharpen up.
“I’m very privileged to have a good group who help me with my speed work, so I think I’ll be in shape for the race.”
Mokoka was set to face a strong domestic lineup at the 10km contest in Joburg on Saturday, taking on the likes of national 5 000m record holder Elroy Gelant, Olympic marathon runner Sibusiso Nzima and former SA half-marathon champion Lucky Mohale.
The elite women’s field was expected to be contested between twin sisters Lebo and Lebogang Phalula and Zimbabwean athlete Rutendo Nyahora.