With his third place at the 2018 IAU 100k World Championships, South Africa’s Bongmusa Mthembu now has two podium finishes at the event. In this interview, Bongmusa talks about how the men’s race started slow and how South Africa ran together during this time, how he and others surged a little after midway and he took the lead, how the final kilometers got expectedly difficult, and what’s next on his training and racing calendar.
Be sure to read our in-depth results article for more of the race story.
Bongmusa Mthembu Post-2018 IAU 100k World Championships Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Bongmusa Mthembu after the 2018 IAU 100k World Championships. Congratulations.
Bongmusa Mthembu: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me. It was such a wonderful day for me. I think I did well. It was a nice experience for me. I’ve never run these loops. So other than that, I’m so quite happy the way I performed today.
iRunFar: For much of the race there was the good South African team and the Japanese team as we expected.
Mthembu: I’m very happy with the guys. We worked together for quite a long time. At the end of the day, we were able to separate some how. I also have to take the hat off to the Japanese guys and the way they did their plans. It totally worked according to them. It was a nice competition. I’m glad it worked out the way it did. We just collected some beautiful medals. I think our country can be proud of us and how it worked out very well. The guys, I knew, would be a little bit nervous, but the way I saw them working together up to 55k, I knew something was going to happen. The route was very nice but challenging. Yeah, we were quite happy.
iRunFar: I heard from the first half of the race to maybe 55k that the pace was calm.
Mthembu: Absolutely. We started very slow. I knew that sometimes to other runners that’s quite difficult. I told them, “100k is a long way. You have to take it easy and go with the flow.” I think the guys adjusted. At the end of the day, the guys from Japan did very well. We are so happy that we ended up on the podium. I’m so proud of myself for performing on a global stage like this and also adding to my career this wonderful opportunity.
iRunFar: At 55k, who made the move to pick up the pace? Was it you, the Japanese?
Mthembu: It was one of the Japanese. There was the guy from the USA who was pushing the pace. I knew if I just kept up with them I would spend myself, so I just let them go and thought we would catch them one by one. At eight laps, that’s where the Japanese guys started to show themselves. They meant business. The guys run very well. Plus, the technology they have is such a wonderful thing. The technology that they have has worked for them so well.
iRunFar: The Japanese men pushed the pace after half way. When did you take over the lead?
Mthembu: I decided to take the lead at 75k just to separate all of them and see who is coming. I knew Hideaki Yamauchi would come. He was very strong toward the end. He did exactly the same thing Takehiko Gyoba did today. It’s not me trying to make any excuses. The guy ran his own race. He won his own race. He had a plan and he trained so well. I told the guys when I saw his body that this guy has been working so hard. What made me happy is that I ended up on the podium. I know that from Comrades with a couple weeks rest and now 100k, everyone has been asking me how I did it. I think it’s my passion, and it comes from my heart. It’s why I’m so happy. I’m not leaving disappointed. I’m happy. I’ve got all the medals—bronze, silver, and gold—so, it’s such a wonderful day for me.
iRunFar: For you, before the race we talked about you maybe not wanting to have the same experience as Spain. Did you end up walking this time or not?
Mthembu: No, but to run the same thing and same road up and down, I remember I just walked 50 meters because I felt cramps in my stomach, so I did that just to calm it down. Other than that, I didn’t walk like last championships.
iRunFar: Do you have the desire to come back here and make another try for the championship?
Mthembu: Definitely. I’ve heard now we’ll be heading to the Netherlands. I’d like to be there to represent our country. For us, the criteria are we should run some championship in South Africa and then be selected. I think we’re going to go that road again and see who is selected. Other than that, I’d love to have another opportunity.
iRunFar: The course in Winschoten, The Netherlands, is a very fast course and a true loop.
Mthembu: That’s fantastic. We’ll wait and see.
iRunFar: You had Comrades earlier this year. That has to be the focus of your year, the primary. It’s the biggest event in South Africa.
Mthembu: Yes, that’s the only race I race every year unless there are invitations somewhere like here today. Other than that, I’m going to rest now until it’s time to train for next year.
iRunFar: At a race like Comrades, it’s dominated by South Africans and some other people from the southern part of Africa. Here, the podium and the teams were Japan, South Africa, Germany. Does it feel special to have so many continents come together?
Mthembu: Absolutely. It’s such a wonderful atmosphere and mix of people. You can see everyone is happy for each other. That’s what’s nice about the sport. I’m happy because the home [team, Croatia women] have medals. It’s quite nice. For us, we are hoping we will do as Japan does. It’s such a wonderful opportunity for them to collect gold medals in categories, position, and team prize. You can tell with these guys there is chemistry there. They were working so hard. They deserve it.
iRunFar: Would it be fun to find a way to bring them to Comrades?
Mthembu: We would love to see them. Definitely, we’d love to see them to take on Comrades. I’m so happy, of course, that Comrades is dominated by South Africa. We remember a couple of years ago that it was dominated by Russia and USA. I remember there was a guy from Japan and a couple of ladies, but since then, South Africa has come which is so wonderful. Even other countries in Africa, we start to beat them at Comrades now.
iRunFar: And you’re very proud of that.
Mthembu: Absolutely. The race is organized at home, so we should take advantage because we live it.
iRunFar: Let us go celebrate here with this international party. Congratulations on your great run.
Mthembu: Absolutely. Thank you so much.