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Q&A with Thabang Madiba ( Retto 2014 and World Champs )

Q&A with Thabang Madiba ( Retto 2014 and World Champs )

Winning the SA Trail Championship secured Thabang Madiba’s spot on the team to represent South Africa at the 2014 World Trail Championship in August. A few weeks later he ran the fastest time for the RETTO Prologue and went on to claim second  place in one of the most fascinating record breaking finishes in the history of the race. Thabang shared  his race experiences at these two prestigious trail running events with Ultrarunner.

World Trail Champs 2014

UR: What did it feel like representing Team SA at the World Trail Champs in Colorado?

Thabang: It was a huge honour for me especially representing my country two years in a row. It was also my first visit to the USA so I felt very blessed.

UR: You’ve been quite excited about running the Pikes Peak Marathon. How different is the race and the terrain to other trail running events you’ve competed in?

Pikes Peak Marathon

Pikes Peak Marathon

Thabang: I was thrilled knowing that I will be running and competing against the world’s best, unfortunately I had a very bad race due to altitude sickness.

Pikes Peak is a very challenging event. The race starts at 1900m above sea level and you climb all the way up to finally reach 4300m. It is less technical but 100% switchbacks.

UR: What was your racing strategy for World Champs? Take us through some of the highlights and low points of your race?

Thabang: My plan was to stay with the leading pack for as long as possible because I was aiming for a place in the top ten. I was feeling really good running the first 4km but things started to change by the time I reached 6km. I had a funny headache and thought it was my cap but at 7km I started to throw up. That’s when I realised that there was something wrong with my body. I was unable to accelerate. I felt nauseas and had to walk from the 10km mark all the way to the summit. I tried to lay down so that I could breathe properly but my lungs felt like they were in plastic with small holes. By the time I reached A-frame I was a walking corpse but I kept motivating myself to keep moving because I wanted the finishers medal with all of my heart!

UR: What was the most challenging part of this race?

Thabang: The altitude was harsh! I don’t believe walking all the way to the summit helped me physically because I didn’t race. Mentally it was even tougher. I felt like a looser beaten by ladies! I had to really dig deep to get out of my “comfort zone”.

Retto (Otter in reverse) 2014


Courtesy of Jacques Marais Photography

Jacques Marais Photography

UR: The 2014 Otter finish is certainly one of the most exciting finishes in the history of the race. Tell us the story behind this record breaking moment! What went through your mind as Ian Don-Wauchope passed you.

Thabang: I was feeling very strong most of the time until my left hammy was starting to complain with 8km to go but I kept on pushing until I left Ian with 4km to go. I realised that it was a mistake changing my pace forgetting that the last section is tougher. Ian passed me on a rocky section and at that point I started to cramp. I settled for second position after asking him if AJ was insight. As we approached the finish I started to dream of breaking the previous record (whether I win or not) because myself and Ian were both inside the record, unfortunately I missed it!


UR: You had a fantastic race, dominating from the start with Ian and AJ staying very close. How did that play-off with your race strategy. Did it influence you to up the pace or were you still running your own race

Thabang: My coach told me not to stress and to run my own race, fortunately I did that. I told myself not to lose sight of AJ and Ian; they are experienced runners with endurance racing background. After Ian and I broke away from AJ with 15km to go I almost broke away from Ian but I decided against that realising that 8km is a long way to go. I was feeling good most of the time but held back because I wanted to finish feeling strong and I didn’t want to cramp like the previous year.

UR: Were there ever a point in the race where you’ve considered breaking away much earlier?

Thabang: Yes after we broke away from AJ I saw Ian walking some stairs and I was running. I thought he was tired but I made the right choice by walking with him and save some energy.

UR: Reflecting on the day and how the race unfolded what were some of your highlights running this prestigious race?

Thabang: I enjoyed the sound of the Ocean because most of the time we were running next to it. It seemed to help calm me down. The scenery is breathtaking, everything is green but it is challenging going up and down below 200m above sea level.

UR: What was the toughest part of this race?

Thabang: The last rocky section with 3km to go was the toughest because you are tired with 4hrs already in your legs. That section really tests how strong you are.


UR: How did you prepare and train for this year’s race. Was there anything specific that you’ve focused on to ensure you run the Retto well? e.g. km/week, climbs?

Thabang: I didn’t do any special training. I believe my positive mental attitude towards Otter helped me to finish in the top three. The only downside to my training is there are no mountains where I live so most of the time my training comprised of running 15km to work in the morning and 15km back home in the afternoon.


UR: With such a close finish we’re assuming you will be at the start of Otter Classic. Will you change anything in your training or racing strategy?

Thabang: Yes, yes I’m going back next year to run the Classic. I don’t believe I will change anything to my training but will have to motivate myself more during the race.

UR: What are some of the lessons you’ve learned from previous races that you’ve brought with you into this year’s race?Thabang

ThabangI have learned so many things but perseverance was key to my podium finish.

UR: Have you learnt anything new running Retto (something you’ve never experience)?

ThabangYes, I did. It is very important to finish feeling strong – there is no prize at 2km to go!


UR: What advice would you give to anyone new to trail running who wants to take on the Otter?

Thabang: I believe hard work and persistent training is a key to any running goal you want to achieve. There’s no shortcut especially preparing for a race beyond one hour.


UR: What other races do you have planned for the rest of the year and what are some of the big races you looking forward to in 2015?

Thabang: My last race for 2014 is Red Bull Lion Heart in November. I pray and wish to race overseas more often next year to allow me to compete successfully at the European level.

Ultrarunner wishes Thabang all the best with his training and preparation for Red Bull Lion Heart!

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