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Thabang Madiba – Life, Challenges and Trail

Thabang Madiba – Life, Challenges and Trail

Thabang – many of us know you as “the trail running star”, but where did it all start for you? Tell us a bit of your history and where you come from?

I grew up in a small township, Ga-Rankuwa, in the north of Pretoria and I am the second born son of Maria Madiba and Leonard Tsatsi.

Running is a sport that I really loved growing up but I only started racing at the age of 16 where I placed 3rd in the boys U17 1500m USSA SA District Track and Field. I recall watching the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and Elana Meyer was my favorite athlete, even the song from Queen (Barcelona) sparked emotions. That is where my love for running started.

I started trail running in 2009 when I won my first race ever, the New Balance Maxi Cross 15km at Groenkloof Nature Reserve. I always did better in cross-country than in road races because I find trail running so much more enjoyable.

What were the challenges you faced growing up and getting into the sport? Finding sponsors and earning a living?

The most difficult challenges starting out were actually traveling to and from the races because none of my family members were working. But I was really fortunate, as I received a sponsorship from Netcruisers in 2003.  They supplied me with all the gear I required and assisted me with transport and entry fees. In 2004 after my matric year I was forced to look for work to provide for my family and I could not take up a sport bursary offer from TUT.

Getting sponsors was not easy but in 2012 I decided to build my CV and run as many races as I could. Sometimes I would have to cycle 50km to the race, race 21km of trail and then cycle back home. My dream was everything to me and I was committed to do anything in my power to achieve the goals I had set. Some races I would not even arrive on time and find out that the race had already started! But then I just ran to finish.

At some stage Mazu Ndandani, Lucky Miya and I would travel to Cape Town to race and would share the costs, using all my wages just to compete.

Looking back I now feel humbled and blessed to have great sponsors that really help me and that are loyal to me. Their support means a lot to me because now I can concentrate on racing and not worry about anything. I would like to thank Luan Van Schalkwyk, Jock Green and Ryno Griesel for helping me to get some of my sponsors – without them this would not have been possible.

My current sponsors are Sterk Span, Salomon SA, GU Energy SA, Stanlib, Bryton GPS, GM Fury Rivonia and Ice Dot. I now earn a living from trail running and every day is still challenging, running to work and back after a 10hr night shift.

Why trail running?

I love mountains! When I was a boy we used to play in caves and little did I know how connected I would become to mountains. I used to train in the mountains behind my Grandmother’s house and used to train with my friend, Victor Pheto, in the mountains close to my parent’s house.

Trail Running is a unique sport because you experience life when running in the mountains. Some are so high that it looks like an aerial photograph.

Any other career aspirations outside running? Any hobbies?

Absolutely! I compete in duathlons and as soon as I become a full-time athlete I will be furthering my studies.

Thabang I have met you once in person, and you are an inspiration to many athletes like myself. How do you handle the publicity? Also when people say you could be the next Ryan Sandes- how does that affect you?

You need to be true to yourself to handle the publicity. It just melts my heart because Ryan is one of the coolest and most humble guys you will ever meet, he is such an inspiration. I remember in 2011 at a Salomon seminar in Pretoria where I met him in person, I said to him “I wish to be like you and follow in your footsteps”.

Let’s talk about trail a bit! Tell me about the trail running World Champs: Are you excited? And what do you think about Lucky’s performance at the Skyrun Champs?

I am over the moon! I did not think I would make the team for the 2nd year in a row. America is one of the places I would love to visit and I am excited to have a chance to compete with the best in the world.

I was heartbroken after realizing that Lucky would be forced to retire from the race due to injury. He was running with Kilian, who eventually won the race. I was rooting for him to finish top 3.  Lucky is a quality runner and a humble guy with a lot of experience.

If we were sitting together and you had to give me some advice about running, what would it be?

“As long you are able to Run!” I believe it is a blessing to be able to run.

What does running mean to you personally?

Running means a lot to me and my family because I can now support my mom, siblings and my son with the prize money I earn from running.  It plays a vital role in my life.  It taught me self-discipline, self-control, patience, respect and hard work.  After the birth of my son in 2010, I started taking running seriously, as I became a father and the bread winner of a family.  I envisioned how running could change my life as I had no further education to enable me to obtain a better job, and owning a house and car. I wanted my child to have a better life than I did. Running made me a better person. I never allowed the challenges of life to steal my focus. Running taught me to focus, dream big and work hard constantly.  Growing up with a single parent and being a bread winner at home was never a problem for me. I knew it was a challenge that I could overcome and running taught me that there’s always a plan B in life. There is no failure. You can bring change in your own life.

 What challenges do you still face apart from running?

I would love to have a good job so that I can build my mom a better house. I would also like to own a car and house and send my late sister’s children to university.  I strive to be financially stable as I currently share each cent I earn with my family and son.  God willing, I dream of living a good life when I cannot run anymore.

Any shout-outs to friends, family and sponsors?

I want to thank my family and my girlfriend Lerato Mokale for always being there for me, as well as my colleagues and my employer Nissan SA for all their support, my Coach Nico Sterk and JP Nortje from Sterk Span, my cycling friends Thabiso Lebakeng, Welcome Manganyi and all my sponsors for making my running enjoyable and helping me to live my dream.

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Zelda Coetzee

Media Manager & Blogger at UltraRunner ZA
Really crazy lady with a passion for trail running and photography. She is often referred to as the "Ultra Mommy" because she takes good care of everyone on the team.
Follow Me

About The Author

Really crazy lady with a passion for trail running and photography. She is often referred to as the "Ultra Mommy" because she takes good care of everyone on the team.


  1. Behind you all the way Madiba! GUd luck for Worlds meneer!

  2. I met Thabang several times when doing running trails. I found him to be a very humble person and very determined. He is also afriendly person to be around. I wish him all the luck in his future endeavours. Thabang my broer (brother), u are an inspiration to most athletes some of which you do not know and in all that you do in life including running, and don’t fail THEM. Remain forever true to yourself, and even when your life may change for the better, DO NOT look down on them due to fame. I know that YOU will always be the sweet, innocent guy who is good hearted.

    Remember, for you ” the sky is the limit” do not look back.



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