Cape Town - For 12 years, Fikile Mbuthuma has been chasing a long-held dream to be the first black South African woman to win the Comrades Marathon, but she's so far fallen short.
However, the 37-year-old feels her inclusion in Team SA at the International Association of Ultrarunners World 100km Championships in Croatia could propel her closer to her dream.
"I saw how the 100km championships made (Bongmusa) Mthembu and the other guys better ultra runners after they competed there the last time, and I am hoping to boost my chances as well," said Mbuthuma.
She has completed 12 Comrades races.
The runner, who is from Harding on KwaZulu-Natal's south coast, achieved this feat despite working as a receptionist at Medicross Clinic in Malvern, Durban.
"It takes a lot of dedication because I make the little time I'm on the road count as I only have a chance to train before and after work," she said.
But this is nothing compared to preparing under the dark cloud that came over Mbuthuma this week.
She lost her father in the middle of her preparations, but, despite the pain, she is still looking forward to her first trip overseas and making her country proud at the championships in Croatia.
"It's a difficult period for me. The passing of my father means my training programme has been interrupted because I lost two weeks of training," she said.
During a good week, Mbuthuma covers distances of between 140km and 150km in long runs.
"I have mixed feelings, but I am still going to run in Croatia. I'll depend on my experience of 12 Comrades races to carry me through," she added.
Mbuthuma is one of four women - alongside Salome Cooper, Deanne Horn and Lisa Collet - who have been drafted into the nine-member team.
This year's Comrades champion Ann Ashworth turned down the invitation after accusing Athletics SA of not supporting local road runners.
READ: Comrades winner on why she snubbed ASA
This is the first time South Africa will send women to the world 100km championship - a wholly male team attended the last edition in Spain two years ago.
The men's team will be spearheaded by three-time Comrades champion Mthembu, who set a national 100km record of 6:24:05 while securing a silver medal in Los Alcázares in 2016.
His time helped propel South Africa to gold in the team competition.
Mbuthuma is keen to help write another chapter this year.
"I will try my level best because, who knows? I could be the first black (local) woman to win the Comrades one day," she said.
"I have been trying this for many years."
She made the top 10 in 2016 and finished 12th in this year's Comrades, a notch up from last year.
In Croatia, the team will be guided by Nick Bester, who will be assisted by Mthembu's club coach Xolani Mabhida and renowned Comrades expert Lindsey Parry.
The Croatia championships are run in 14 loops along a flat course.