06 Jan, 2014

Trail’s Mr Tough

Trail’s Mr Tough

The 35km Jonkershoek Mountain Challenge race in May 2013 showed exactly why Thabang Madiba is now such a respected trail runner in SA. With 5km to go he was three minutes behind the leaders, but using his natural speed, technique on steep downhills and ability to pick it up in the latter part of a race, he chased down trail star AJ Calitz, Ian Don-Wauchope and Michael Bailey to grab gold in 2:59:56. With it came the title of SA Long Distance Trail Running Champion, and a spot in the SA team for the World Long Distance Trail Running Champs in Poland.


“I’ve become a technical runner and I love taking the hills with speed,” says Thabang, “I’ve found the downhills the best thing when I need to catch up in the last few kays of a race. I also remember taking on AJ at the Red Bull LionHeart in November as well, where I was lying third for a while but managed to close the gap and then pull about a minute ahead of the third man, but AJ still just took the title.”



Given the success that the man from Ga-Rankuwa has enjoyed on the trails, it’s hard to believe that he only did his first trail race in 2009, with little knowledge of the technicality of the sport. “I was always an athlete, and I remember being quite good in the 1500m in high school, but I started mainly on the road,” says Thabang. “But at home there was a small mountain I could run on and I enjoyed it so much. Now I am driven by the uniqueness of the trails I race. It’s great to get into it – you get to view nature for free and there is always something new. Every trail is different and that’s why it keeps me motivated!”


In the last few years, Thabang’s talent on the bike as well as his feet gave him the opportunity to represent SA at the ITU Duathlon World Champs in Spain in 2011, where he placed 21st overall. But it was after joining forces with coach Nico Sterk early in 2012 that Thabang showed he was destined for great things on the trails. He collected wins at Hedianga Ridge, the Cradle Mayhem, Diamond Dash V and the Roodepoort Ramble events, and also finished third in the Old Mutual Two Oceans Trail Run. In 2013 he secured another third place at the Two Oceans Trail Race, won in Jonkershoek and also grabbed eighth at the Otter Trail Marathon.


“I always had my running, but it wasn’t until I met my coach that things came my way. Nico showed me a little more control in training and right now I’m training two hours a day each in the mornings and afternoons, while cycling in-between for fitness and doing long rides of three hours on the weekends,” says Thabang, who also does sessions on the track to work on his speed. “I needed a programme I could follow properly, and I’ve definitely grown from that. Now I’m used to six days of intensity a week.”



Thabang says the thing he is most thankful for is the support he gets from family, friends and Nico. “It’s been hard, because I have a three-year-old son, so there needs to be a balance always, but my family supports my running, and I also have an amazing neighbour who drives me to races, while the community always has a good word to say.” Fatherhood is never far from Thabang’s mind, and after a hard training session he goes straight home to play with his son. “It’s about commitment for me,” he says, “I manage to do it all and make sure I support my family as well.”


He also says he finds it encouraging to see how quickly trail running is growing in this country. A few years back, he saw very little competition for the elites, but now there are athletes putting their stamp on races all over. “In the last three years it’s changed a lot! Now there’s more competition out there, which is great motivation for me!” And so, looking ahead to 2014, Thabang will be chasing more wins: “I want to go back to the Two Oceans Trail Run because for me it beats any race for scenery and the atmosphere from the crowd. There are also the XTERRA competitions in the coming months, and qualifying for the XTERRA World Champs. That’s my ultimate goal!”