He has just won the gruelling 75km Umngeni River Run – and that on his first attempt at this beautifully tough race set in the mountainous KwaZulu-Natal. Meet Eric Ngubane, probably one of the most versatile runners out there, as he seems to switch seamlessly between trail and road, while performing excellently on both.
Traversing the WESSA Umngeni Valley Nature Reserve and Hilton College, crossing the Umngeni River twice to combine two of KZNTR's most popular trails, the Umngeni River Run is a tough challenge to say the least. But Ngubane, who set his sights on this race after he pulled out of Comrades this year, was determined to win his maiden run. He described the run as tough and hard, and said he was happy he got the job done.
When you ask Ngubane where his heart lies - trail or road - it is clear he is a torn man. As much as he loves competing in the Comrades Marathon each year (and he does a pretty fine job at it) he has a huge passion for the wild outdoors and the endless trails of especially his hometown of KwaZulu-Natal.
Road vs. Trail
Ngubane, an elite runner for the Nedbank Running Club (NRC), pulled out of the Comrades Marathon this year as his body was just not responding well on the day. “I wasn’t injured, my body was just sore and I suspect I might have trained too much. I was hanging on all the time and I realized there was no way I was going to finish it,” said Ngubane, who has a marathon best of 2:26. He has completed Comrades 14 times and holds a Comrades best time of 05:50:29. He is still hoping for a win in this prestigious race. “I still have hopes that I can win the Comrades Marathon,” says Ngubane.
Eric’s trail running resume is impressive. He is a former winner of the Hout Bay Trail Challenge, one of the toughest trail runs in South Africa. On top of that he has won the 100km Ultra Trail Run in Cape Town in 2014 and has won the Three Cranes 100km Stage Race three times. Add victories in the Mount Moodie 80km Ultra Trail and the Old Mutual Two Oceans 22km Trail Run, as well as his wins at Mont-Aux-Sources, and one can understand why the name Eric Ngubane is synonymous with trail running.
Ngubane, who is self coached, is not scared of training hard and consistently. He has a full time job at the Sport Zone Running Company store in Durban North in order to provide for himself and his family. This means balancing work and running, which is a tough ask when you train and race at the elite level Ngubane does.
His off-road training is done on dirt roads and amongst the sugar cane fields near his home in Verulam. “When in peak training I will run around 130-150km a week. I train twice a day while focusing on a time trial once a week as well as a hill session. Most of the time I train on my own, but on weekends I meet the guys. When it comes to trail running I must admit I prefer to train on my own. That is how you develop a strong mind which is needed on trails as you run mostly alone,” says Ngubane.
Ngubane, father to two children aged 11 and 6, says his family mean everything to him. “I can’t live without them. They are the ones pushing me. Some days I am exhausted but they motivate me. I make as much time as I can to spend with them,” says Ngubane.
He has numerous goals lined up. He would love to race in the World Champs in Spain next year while locally defending his titles at Golden Gate, where he has been breaking record after record each year. “In the build up I would also like to run smaller trail races to guide myself where am I fitness wise.”
Running is in his blood, it always has been and always will, says Ngubane. “I grew up with running. When you are in a big family everyone does their own thing. Mine was running. Through running I found a running family and met people I never thought I would. They keep on motivating me. I would like to inspire people to follow in my footsteps and I would like to bring more people to the sport of running.”