If someone should have asked Mike Fokoroni ten years ago whether he would ever consider running the Comrades ultra-race his answer would have been an emphatic no as he thought he would “die” trying do so.
But to use the Zimbabwean running for Nedbank Running Club’s own words: “At times life is funny.”
The reality is that few people are ever capable of sticking to the true meaning of the word never. So it should be no surprise that Fokoroni eventually did run the Comrades and survived it. He was certainly not just tagging along behind the race leaders. In 2013 he finished 8th and last year he was fourth (5:35:09). It won’t be a surprise if he again improves his position this weekend.
From fearing “death” he now dreams of winning the Comrades.
Competing in the Two Oceans and getting good results is what brought about the big change in Fokoroni’s running career as it gave him confidence. Last year he won the Two Oceans.
“It also helped that I got to train with the likes of Stephen Muzhingi and Sipho Ngomane. They inspired me and made me realize that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.”
Fokoroni has not always had his mind set on becoming a professional athlete. As is the case for most young boys he grew being passionate about soccer seeing himself as a future star in the making. He remembers playing centre half back.
When he was in Grade 8 one of the teachers suggested to Fokoroni he should take up running. He did and never regretted it.
“Everybody in my school was impressed with the way I raked up one victory after another. The hero worship made me feel like a true runner. I also realized that if I continued playing soccer I will always be vying with other players for position. Even if I am the best there will be no guarantee as often ‘politics’ play a role in a team selection. So I stuck to running where I am able to dictate my own success.”
At first Fokoroni excelled in 5 000 and 10 000 metre races. As he is always looking for a new challenge he later on decided to run a half-marathon. He surprised himself finishing second in a race in Harare running in a time of 1:04:00. In 2004 he competed in his first marathon. He ran a time of 2:29:00 which he calls a “poor time”.
“My breakthrough race was in 2006 when I finished second in a marathon in Port Elizabeth running 2:15:00. That result enabled to start competing internationally. In 2007 in the North Korea Marathon I ran a time of 2:14:01 which lead to me being selected to represent Zimbabwe at the World Championships in Osaka. During the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing I raced to 11th place finish in the marathon.
“Getting older made me decide to take up ultra-racing.”
Fokoroni views his speed as his biggest asset in ultra-racing.
“It is important to constantly do speed work during training as it enables me to stay competitive. You cannot really race without speed.”
Fokoroni describes himself as being contented with the way his life had turned out.
“I am privileged to every do something I love and that is to run. The sport has opened many doors of opportunity. I can honestly say that running has changed me to becoming a better person and for that I will be ever grateful.”