Johannesburg — Such is Bongmusa Mthembu’s standing in ultra distance running that you wouldn't expect him to have a DNF (Did Not Finish) against his name.
But back in 2017, the year he won the second of his three Comrades Marathon titles, the revered Arthur Ford AC star failed to complete a race.
On Saturday in the Mother City, Mthembu will be looking to smooth out that bump on his otherwise illustrious running career when he lines up for the Ultra-Trail Cape Town (UTCT) 100km race .
The holder of the African 100km (road) record, Mthembu will be among the local runners looking to ensure that the title remains home in a race teeming with top class international competitors.
He acknowledged that he was clueless about the trail race four years ago hence his failure to complete. But he is wiser now. “This time I am well prepared and I have a better idea and a little experience of the route. My training went very well I believe, and I really want to take myself out of my comfort zone and push myself. With the top contenders we have this year, I am looking forward to it.”
It is his good friend and former UTCT double champion and record holder Prodigal Khumalo though that locals will have more expectations of.
Winner back in 2016 and 2017, Khumalo has established himself as a premier trail runner on the continent and the two times Comrades Marathon goldedaliat is in top shape for Saturday's run.
His impressive to of 9h51 will be hard to beat as it has been in previous years despite some top international trail runners having participated in the race.
Khumalo goes into the 4ace on the back of success at the 32km Ultra-trail Drakensberg (UTD) earlier this year and a second place at the Karkloof 50 miler in September.
Khumalo's protege Nkosikhona Mhlakwana won the 62km UTD and will be out to showcase that he is definitely one for the future.
Mzwakhe Khanyile will also no doubt be keen to show his worth following his back to back victories also in the Karkloof 100 miler in 2019 and 2020.
The host city will also be well represented in the race that takes in Table Mountain and the Peninsula. Daniël Claasen and Kane Reilly spent the 2021 European summer racing mountain trails, both taking part at UTMB CCC. Coupled with successful seasons on the local trails, where Claasen placed second at the UTD 65km and Reilly was second at the Cape Town Trail Marathon last month, the two should feature strongly on race day.
Matthew Healy, Josh Chigome and Robbie Rorich are the other Capetonians ready to make their mark. Healy won the Addo Elephant Trail Run 100 miler earlier this year and then gained attention with his second fastest known time (FKT) on the 13 Peaks Challenge, the tough 100km route that tags 13 peaks on Table Mountain and the Peninsula.
On the women's front, Ann Ashworth, Kerry-Ann Marshall, Jo Keppler, Amri Williamson and Annelise Scholtz will be out to fly the South African flag high.
Popular as a Comrades runner following her win I 2018, Ashworth is also pretty adept in trail as proven by her victory in the Karkloof 50 miler 5his year and her 7th place finish in the UTD 110km.
She is, however, realistic about her chances this weekend.
"I am super stoked to be taking part in the event and will be more than a little starstruck by the likes of Courtney, Jim, Mathieu and Maryline. It’s incredibly cool to have athletes of such a high calibre coming to the race, I really feel like UTCT has struck gold this year! It’s seriously intimidating lining up with these athletes and our own trail superstars - Prodigal, Solly, Kerry-Ann, Amri, Jo - and all I can do is aim to have fun and learn from the experience.”
Capetonian Kerry-Ann Marshall is the 2015 UTCT champion and was runner up in 2018 (with a 9th overall finish). She is strong and fast and has a Comrades gold medal to her name.