TWO-TIMES Comrades Marathon gold medalist, Prodigal Khumalo, is gearing up for the down run this year as the Comrades returns in August after two years of lockdown restrictions.
Khumalo has won numerous races, including his gold medal achievement at Comrades Marathon in 2014 and 2017. Khumalo won the 100km Ultra-trail Cape Town Marathon in 2016 and 2017. He also won the 50km City to City race from Pretoria to Johannesburg in 2010.
He recently completed the 42km ThreshHold Hillcrest Marathon in fourth place with a time of 02:33.
“I was very happy with my time – my target was to run the marathon in 02:35,” said Khumalo who runs for Hollywoodbets Athletics Club.
On average, he runs a kilometer in 0:03:25 or 0:03:40, depending on the terrain. At 1,65cm, Khumalo said his usual weight ranges from 65kgs–70kgs when he is not running, dropping to about 64kgs when he is training. Born in Zimbabwe, Khumalo started running at the age of 18 in 1999.
“I always say I became a runner by accident. I was a soccer player, and I broke my wrist. My best friend was a runner, and I joined him. He was a sprinter, but I couldn’t sprint, so I would run loops while he was sprinting. He introduced me to a coach, and that’s where it all started,” said Khumalo.
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Two years later, he won his first race – a 21km run.
“It took me another 10 years to become a semi-pro, when I got my first contract with Mr Price Sports in 2008,” said Khumalo.
At 40, the runner is as passionate as ever.
“For me, running is the air I breathe – it’s something I live for. I can’t imagine myself not running. As much as I have ended up achieving, it wasn’t my plan – my plan was just to run because I really love it. The feeling of achievement after a run is something you can’t compare to anything – it’s really out of this world,” he said.
Khumalo trains six days a week, ahead of a marathon, and seven days a week, ahead of an ultra-marathon like the Comrades Marathon.
“Every race requires its own preparation and training. Sometimes, I do trail racing which is a whole new ball game. If I’m training for a marathon, I train six times a week, with one day of rest, and my mileage is usually between 150km and 180km a week. If I am training for an ultra-marathon like Comrades, I’ll run as far as about 320km a week,” he said.
His training regimen includes sessions twice a day on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Khumalo refers to his morning session as a more relaxed ‘recovery run’ – he picks up the pace for his evening session.
“In the morning, I do an easy jog of about 15kms, then later, I do a speed session of about 15kms, including the warm-up and cool-down,” he said.
He usually rests on a Friday, unless he is training for an ultra marathon – then he does not take a full day off to rest.
“Ahead of an ultra-marathon, I count the hours, not the days, for my rest. I will run once on Friday morning, and then on Saturday, I’ll run in the afternoon,” he said.
On Wednesdays and Sundays, Khumalo does longer runs of about 30kms while Saturday’s training is dedicated to hill training.
Food is fuel
Diet is an important part of training for Khumalo.
“We know that 60% of the professional athletes in the world are on eating plans – it does contribute to performance. Since 2017, I’ve been on an eating plan, and it really works nicely. It helps with recovery energy for running,” he said.
He eats a high protein diet with ample portions of vegetables, and ahead of a long run, Khumalo incorporates carbo-loading into his diet, with plenty of pasta on his plate.
“I know most people avoid carbo-loading. They say it’s old school, but it works for me. If I am going to run a long distance of about 50km or more, I usually carbo-load two days before,” he said.
White meat, like chicken and fish, as well as eggs and legumes, like beans, form the bulk of his protein intake. His diet is supplemented by protein shakes and products from his sponsors, ThreshHold Real MSM and 32Gi.
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“I drink protein shakes for recovery, and I take ThreshHold Real MSM which helps the ligaments and joints,” said Khumalo.
The athlete also swears by a kitchen staple to help reduce inflammation – the humble carrot.
“Carrots were first grown for medicine. They help a lot with inflammation – I eat raw carrots almost every day,” he said.
Humble beginnings and giving back
Khumalo grew up in Bulawayo – the second-born of six siblings, he had five brothers and a sister.
“Growing up in a township, there are many challenges. You are growing up around people who have lost hope – it’s a challenge for someone who has dreams,” he said.
Sport had a positive impact on Khumalo as he faced these challenges, inspiring him to give back to the next generation.
“I managed to fight social issues through sport. I remember in the beginning, I didn’t even have running shoes. I used to run barefoot for a long time. At that time, we didn’t know any better,” he said.
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The athlete ran though it all, conquering injuries like ITB and plantar fasciitis, which he battled in 2000 and again in 2018. Now, Khumalo shares his passion for running, as he coaches 10 elite level runners through his club, Orcas Running Academy.
“Before I retire from running, I’d like to pass on the skill to the next generation. The team is doing really well. Every race we do, we are always on the podium,” he said.
Khumalo credited his trainer, Craig George; publicist, Mary-Ann Shaw; physiotherapist, Shamim Khan, and his employer, Rowan Keaton, for supporting him on his road to success.
“There are a lot of unsung heroes in the background that help me,” he said.
For more information on the academy, contact Khumalo on 060 496 6781.
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