Durban - A change of strategy and increased belief in himself were key to his maiden Comrades Marathon victory, newly-crowned champion Ludwick Mamabolo has revealed.
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Running the gruelling 89 kilometres race for the third time in his career, the 35-year-old South African upset the more favoured Stephen Muzhinghi of Zimbabwe, who was bidding for a fourth successive crown, and record holder Leonid Shvetsov of Russia on his way to victory in Durban on Sunday.
South Africans Fanie Matshipa and Gift Kelehe were the biggest local pre-race favourites, but they faltered as Mamabolo ended a seven-year wait for a home-grown winner, crossing the line in in five hours, 31 minutes and three seconds (5:31.03) in the 87th edition of the annual ultra-marathon.
He had previously finished second in 2010 and seventh in 2011.
“After that 2010 race, I went back home and took a good look back at my strategy,” Mamabolo said.
“I assessed things and decided to change my plan when I came back for the 'down' run in 2012.
“In that race I left my charge too late in the race and I came second.
“Today the strategy was to go up front as early as possible and it paid off.”
Despite his new plan, Mamabolo, who hails from Segopje in Limpopo province, was only sixth at the halfway mark.
That was after novices Lebohang Monyele and Gert Thys, the SA record holder in the standard marathon, had done the early pace setting.
The second half of the race, however, was a different story as Mamabolo took control and stormed to victory.
“I eventually pulled away with around 38 kilometres to go. That’s when I started to run my own race," he said.
“When I reached the last hotspot, I think around Botha’s Hill, I started to feel more confident and knew I could win because I could see no one was chasing me with any real pace.”
Mamabolo conceded he never felt threatened by the headline-making Muzhinghi and Shvetsov in the build-up to the race.
“From the outset, I told myself I’m going to run my own race, the way I trained, whether or not Stephen or Leonid were going to be there," he said.
“I didn’t put any names in my head because I believed in myself.”
The part-time accounting student, just two subjects away from completing his degree, fell to the ground as he crossed the line at Kingsmead cricket stadium.
“I was just so tired at the end," he said.
"The last 200 metres were awesome and I really enjoyed it because I knew I had won a race I had wanted to win all along. I was just so happy.”