Although hailing from a road running background, making the transition to trail running has turned out to be a genius move by Lucky Miya, who is proving to be one of the country’s top guns on the trail circuit, including posting a best finish by a South African man at the recent World Long Distance Trail Champs in the USA.
At last year’s Otter African Trail Run, the so-called Grail of Trail in SA, Lucky Miya’s name was right up there with the likes of AJ Calitz, Kane Reilly and Ricky Lightfoot throughout the race, and his prowess for the long off-road game showed as he came home fifth in 4:29. More success has followed in 2014, with Lucky’s win in the Ingeli Skymarathon in KZN in April, an impressive 3:37, earning him a ticket to the Skyrunning World Champs in France.
Unfortunately, Lucky’s French expedition didn’t go according to plan after he suffered a groin injury mid-race and pulled out of the event just 13km before the finish. “I remember feeling uncomfortable and at the 35km checkpoint I decided not to continue, because my groin was burning with pain,” he explains. “I was disappointed because it was my first international event and I was coping with the unfriendly rain, but I knew I can get to that point again where I compete at a high level with a strong international field.”
Fortunately the man from QwaQwa in the Free State bounced back quickly to successfully defend his title in the Num-Num Trail Challenge in August, winning in 3:52 and improving his 2013 time by 10 minutes, and that saw him head to the World Long Distance Trail Champs in the USA in peak form. There, running 21km straight up a mountain in the Pikes Peak Challenge in Colorado, Lucky came home 19th overall in 2:26:44, the highest position for a South African male in Trail World Champs, and he also grabbed fourth place in the 30-34 age category.
The Pikes Peak course starts at 1900 metres above sea level and climbs to 4300 metres at an average gradient of 11%, with the first few and last few kilometres even steeper at a 14% gradient, so the SA runners had to contend with both extreme steepness and altitude. “I started slow, which is what the experienced runners advised when we asked them how we should approach the race,” says Lucky. “As the altitude went up, I battled and dropped a few positions, but I kept on fighting. The altitude was really hard on me and for the last mile it was really a mission to run – I walked almost the whole of it – so I'm very happy with my result, especially as I have never run that high before.”
MAKING THE SWITCH
Lucky says his running results stem from his never-worry-just-run approach to racing, something he hopes will carry him to new heights in the future. “I have my own approach. I don’t start too fast, I’m passionate about the sport and I’m mentally tough, but I prefer not to check out route profiles beforehand. It’s better not to overthink – I just go!”
However, he wasn’t always so successful in sport. “As a boy growing up in the township, I adored soccer and I trained hard, but I always made the bench when it was game time,” he explains. “Then someone told me to give running a try when I was 16, and I have never stopped. My first race was a half marathon, which I finished in 1:20, and my first marathon was in that same year, where I crossed the line in 2:53. But I got into it far too quickly, so I slowed it down and built up with cross-country, track, 10km events and so on.”
Despite his natural talent and hard training, Lucky says he couldn’t improve his road times any further, so he decided to hit the trails in 2009. And then things just clicked. “I won races quickly and I gave it my all in training. Already the elites saw me as a threat,” he says. “When I started, trail was still new. Now there are always events and the competition is getting better all the time.” Next he upped the ante and moved to stage races, where more success soon followed, and last year he picked up a win at the four-day Namaqua Quest 120km Stage Trail Race as well as the three-day Fairview Dryland Traverse 73km Adventure Trail.
Adding a fourth place in the Lesotho Ultra 55km, Lucky was making waves, and the result was a deserved approach by K-Way at the beginning of 2014 to become a brand ambassador and be part of their elite team for an initial 12-month contract. “Having the sponsors and support systems behind you is important because then you don't have to worry about anything but racing. Everything else is taken care of and you can focus on what you do best,” says Lucky.
Having recently started Gallopers Athletic Club to continue with his training on the road, Lucky still makes an appearance on the road racing scene from time to time. Earlier this year he ran a very fast silver medal at the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon, coming home in 3:24:13, to go with the silver he ran in the Two Oceans Half the year before, finishing in 1:08:32. (In 2012 he also won the Two Oceans 22 Trail Run title.)
He dedicates two hours before work to training, with longer runs on weekends when he has more time to hit Gauteng’s trails, especially Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve in the South of Johannesburg. “Running gives me that energised feeling before I start my day, and my three boys also join me on some of training runs and they already have that passion running,” says Lucky, who balances his running with a full-time job in sales at The Fastener Network, a supplier of nuts and bolts, as well as being a husband and father. “There is a lot on my plate, but I manage it all because I love it, and with all the support from South Africa and especially my sponsor K-Way, the best is still to come!”
Follow Lucky on Twitter: @lucky216miya
SA Results at the World Long Distance Trail Running Champs:
19th Lucky Miya 2:26:44 (4th in 30-34 age category)
117th Duncan O'Regan 3:06:41
306th Thabang Madiba 3:37:53
15th Su Don-Wauchope 2:58:21 (3rd in 35-39 age category)
28th Danette Smith 3:13:54 (4th in 20-24 age category)