Running in only his second Comrades Marathon after finishing 4th on debut last year, Edward ‘slender’ Mothibi cemented on Sunday the fact that he is one of the best ultra-distance runners in the World by taking victory in the 94th Comrades Marathon which was run between Durban and Pietermaritzburg.
With all eyes on defending champion Bongmusa Mthembu who was going for his 4th victory, Mothibi bided his time in the main pack as the runners went through Pinetown and started the climb up Fields Hill. “Early on, my plan was just to relax as much as possible and not use up any energy that was not needed in the first half,” said Mothibi after the race. With a light drizzle and a lot of mist, unusual for a Comrades up run, the main pack went through halfway in 2:45:11 which by now consisted of 18 runners.
As they made their way up the notorious Inchanga climb, the bunch caught and passed race leader Tk Moshwetsi who by now had taken his vest off and was standing on the side of the road. It was here that the pretenders to the crown were starting to show as Mothibi and training partner David Gatebe moved to the front and started to throw in some surges to test the mettle of the others in the pack. “We did discuss with David before that the pace must be consistent, so when we saw the guys are slowing down on the hills, we would go to the front to keep it honest.”
Keeping the pace honest it was, as by the time the runners made their way through towards Cato Ridge, the pack was reduced to 5 as Nedbank athlete Justin Cheshire Kemboi making his debut, threw in a big surge together with teammate Joseph Manyedi and soon it was down to 4. As the runners made their way through the undulating section towards Camperdown, Mothibi and Mthembu went ahead and were matched for stride. Cresting the top of little Polly’s Mothibi went ahead on the long downhill towards Polly Shorts and quickly opened a gap of around 25 meters. It was short-lived however as a strong looking Mthembu caught up and passed Mothibi on the foot of Polly Shorts.
It was at this moment that looked certain that Mthembu would get a 4th victory as no man had ever reached the top of Polly Shorts in the lead and then lost the race. Mothibi though, had other plans. With a new spring in his step, Mothibi started to close in again on Mthembu and by the time a quarter of the way up Polly Shorts had come, Mothibi and Mthembu were stride for stride again. That moment though was brief, as Mothibi pressed on hard and crested the top of the long climb almost 20 seconds ahead of Mthembu. The last 8km featured a lot of downhill and continuously looking behind for Mthembu, Mothibi made his way to the Scottsville race course.
With the crowd going wild, a new Comrades champion was going to be crowned and Mothibi crossed the line with arms in air finishing in 5:31:33, a scant 25 seconds ahead of Mthembu. “I am so so happy to win this race! Bongmusa is from Kzn so everyone was cheering for him, but I just tried to focus on myself and gave it everything I had.” Asked what he would do with his prize money which totals close to R1 million, Mothibi with a smile on his face said, “The first thing is I am paying off my bond because athletics is a very short career.” A wise man who no doubt with 2 Comrades starts that consist of a 4th place finish and now a win, will become a Comrades icon in years to come.
Behind him, Nedbank team mates had brilliant runs with Manyedi getting his first Comrades gold in 5th place and Kemboi hanging on for 7th, the first time a Kenyan athlete has finished in the top 10. A very fast finish saw Henry Ansio claim 7th on debut with a brilliant run by Marko Mambo who turns 48 this year, 8th bringing the total tally of Nedbank golds to 5 in the top 10.
The Nedbank team had a successful day out at the 2019 Comrades Marathon and look forward to next year’s event.