Muzhingi makes brave 2015 vow

HARARE - For three consecutive years between 2009 to 2011, Stephen Muzhingi dominated the world’s toughest road race — the renowned Comrades Marathon held in South Africa.

Run annually between the cities of Durban and Pietermaritzburg over 90km, it is the world’s oldest and largest ultr-marathon race.

To extend his dominance, Muzhingi went a step further by winning the 2012 Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon.

His heroics even earned him an audience with President Robert Mugabe, who gave him $50 000 prize money after winning the 2011 Comrades Marathon.

At one time, authorities in Pretoria offered him R2 million to change his citizenship to South African due to his talent.

But since that Two Oceans Marathon triumph, Muzhingi’s career has gone pear-shaped with a persistent calf injury derailing his progress.

His results in the past three Comrades Marathons have been in sharp contrast to those results achieved in the three golden years.

Last year, Muzhingi finished fourth while in 2013 he was in 10th place which was preceded by a seventh place finish in 2012.     

The 34-year-old opened up to the Daily News this week and attributed this decline to the calf injury that has dogged him for the last two years.

“In 2013, I suffered a serious calf injury on my right leg in training for the Two Oceans Marathon,” Muzhingi says.

“I had won the race the previous year and I was now training harder to go and defend my title when I suffered that injury. I struggled to even walk with that calf injury. It was very painful but regardless of that pain I went on to take part in Two Oceans Marathon.”

Ultra marathon runners are some kind of masochistic beings, pushing their bodies through the pain barrier in training and during the race.

And Muzhingi is no different.

“I went ahead to take part in the race and only after 28km I could feel some excruciating pain in my leg and could not keep pace with the leading group.

“From there on I could not run at full pace but I managed to finish the race while only jogging. I lost my title as I fared badly, failing to even break into the top 50.”

Losing the race came with a bitter prize and Muzhingi learned it the hard way.

“I lost a lot of sponsors due to my poor performance at that Two Oceans Marathon race. All the support I had before that marathon was gone.”

That calf injury continued to haunt Muzhingi as it continued towards the run-in at the Comrades Marathon. 

“I went to Durban just before the race and I joined the Toyota Racing Club while Adidas agreed they would become my technical sponsor. There was, however, a problem because my injury was aggravated by the trainers Adidas provided me.

“Three days before the race, the Adidas bosses noticed that I was walking with a limp during the Comrades Expo and they decided to take me to their specialist doctor who is based at Moses Madiba Stadium.”

More bad news was to come for Muzhingi as the doctor delivered a damning diagnosis which left his manager Craig Fry in tears.

“The doctor was surprised that I was even able to walk and he advised me to take a break from racing for at least three years,” he says.

That stubborn streak in Muzhingi manifested itself once again as he decided to go against the doctor’s advice.

“But I decided against taking his advice and I told my manager that I was going to take part in the Comrades no matter what because I was the defending champion.

“Toyota had also told me that if I finish in the top 10 they would put me on a retainer for the entire year at R10 000 per month. 

“Just after only 6km into the race, I began to feel my injury again and I decided to stop at a nearby water point.

“From there, I began to chase the leading back once again but after 19km my manager said that I was struggling and decided to withdraw me, but I refused.

“At that point, I was at number 90 thereabouts and starting to increase my pace until I caught up with the leaders to finish the race in 10th place.”

That sheer persistence paid off for the Zimbabwean as that 10th place finish brought with it some welcomed financial relief. 

“Toyota started to provide me with a monthly retainer and this gave me a chance to rest for the remainder of the year while that money was going to take care of my daily needs,” he says.

“As I recuperated, I also took it as an opportunity to go and finish my military training with the Air Force of Zimbabwe.”

After his military training and a better feeling in his troublesome right leg, Muzhingi was back again on the road at the beginning of last year.

“I spent five months training with the Air Force until April 4 and went straight to participate in the 2014 Two Oceans Marathon that month,” he adds.

“Without any proper training or a coach for the past five months, I came in at number 29. I was disappointed but I knew that the Comrades Marathon was just around the corner.

“I began training for the Comrades Marathon on May 1, when the race was just one month away. Although I came fourth last year at the Comrades, I could have won it if I had had proper training.

“Throughout the course of the race I did not get any water or energy supplements along the race from Toyota for the first 27km.

“I was dehydrated for most of last year’s race and it was only 4km that my wife handed me a water bottle. Most of the other runners were getting water and energy boosters after only 1km from their support staff.”

Muzhingi is determined to succeed at this year’s Comrades Marathon and has set his sights on getting the R1,5 million prize.

“I know I’m a talented ultra-marathon runner and if you look at my history I’m someone who grew up in extreme poverty,” he says.

“I have mastered the art of overcoming any pain barrier. I want to prove to those Doubting Thomases who have been saying ‘Muzhingi is finished’ that I’m still able to race.

“I have fully recovered from my injury. This race is my life and this year it is paying a total of R1,5 million. Last year, I only trained for four weeks and came fourth. I’ve been training for the past four months and I’m pretty confident that I will win the R1,5 million because my body is in perfect condition.”

Due to this ill-treatment from Mzansi running clubs, Muzhingi is now hoping to secure a local sponsor.

“After the 2014 race, Toyota were supposed to upgrade my retainer to R25 000 and give me an incentive of R65 000 for coming fourth at the Comrades but shortly after that the club was disbanded,” he said.

‘‘The disadvantage Zimbabwean runners have in South Africa is that those athletics clubs do not treat us equally with our South African counterparts,” he says.

“I ran and finished in fourth place but they could not pay me my incentives. Surprisingly, those runners from South Africa and Russia got their payments.

“Right now, a lot of South African clubs like Mr Price have been in constant contact with my manager to sign me to race for them.

“This time around, I want to try and get a Zimbabwean sponsor before I commit to a South African club.

“This year, I want to change this structure, if I fail to get a sponsor, no problem, I will run with a plain vest fully knowing that I’m not marketing anyone’s brand.”

Comments (5)

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CARTRIDGE GALLERY - 15 January 2015

give South African citizenship just o compete in south african races only? doesnt make sense! zvimwe muchaita muchinyepa imi. dai zvaitonzi maOlympics, commonwealth, London marathon NY, ETC. Manje just 2 oceans and comrades dzingapiwirwa munhu citizenship? in as much as i like and respect stephen, i would not agree with that, dont lie on his behalf!

Bona Mugabe - 15 January 2015

There is element of 95% truth in this report concerning Citizenship. Its the trending thing world wide over. Look at France soccer national team. The number of brazillians at the last soccer world cup in other teams. Pirre Issa the famous south african defender known for own goals was a frenchman. Recently Imran Tahir from an Asia country is in the south african cricket team bound for World cup. He is a bowler. Just throwing that small ball. I dont know the status of "Beast" Mtawarira but he is playing for Springboks rugby. I think the bigger picture is the host country will want to retain you as talent for future use and inspire their own. They stand to benefit big time. My massage to Muzhingi is you are Winner and we cant take that from you, but its important to respect the medical personnel's directives. Good luck 20015!!! Go and Win.

X-MAN IV - 15 January 2015

@Bona Mugabe, as Stephen's marketing assistant and wife to his manager, Vraig, I can assure you the offer to obtain SA citizenship is absolutely correct. x Man IV what a beautiful message. I will pass it on to Stephen.

Donnette Fry - 15 January 2015

Apologies for typos above @Bona. Also I just want to clarify some incorrect statements. Stephen was seconded throughout the route at the designated points by his manager, Craig Fry and assistant Nihal Shah, in 2014. Craig was kind enough to allow Stephen's wife to accompany them in the vehicle but she did not second him. Stephen received his supplements and boosters throughout the race. I was in the press vehicle directly in front of him. I bear testimony to this. So those innocent inaccuracies in this report can have the effect of producing an entirely different scenario to that which actually occurred. Stephen ran exceptionally well in 2014 after recovering from the torn calf, and yes he is as stubborn as a mule! He has without doubt one of the strongest minds in road running today; and if he has set his mind on the record, he will do his very best to live up to that goal.

Donnette Fry - 15 January 2015

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