Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Mzungo Comrades exclusive interview: 2003 champ Fusi Nhlapo

We're excited to announce that we will run the exclusive Comrades special from today until race day, May 30. Stay tuned for interviews with the stars, background stories, amazing pictures, motivating videos, race shoe choices of the stars and much, much more. 
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Mzungo kicks off with a bang and picks the brain of 2003 champ and eight out of eight times Top10 finisher Fusi Nhlapo today. Enjoy!

Hard facts - Marathon, Half Marathon and Comrades Marathon PB.
Marathon 2:18:24, Half: 66:00, Comrades: 5:28:52

How would you describe the Comrades Marathon in 3 words?
Toughest race in the world, my dream race, not easy to win

What is your focus in the preparation? 
Not to be injured so that I can do the training.

How many kilometers per week do you run on average in the last 6 weeks before the race?
About 170 – 240km per week.

How do you prepare for the hilly course?
I go to the mountains in QwaQwa at my birthplace where I do all my serious training. It’s in the mountains and the courses are tough.

What is your longest long run before the Comrades Marathon? How do you approach it? Race pace or easy?
I used to do 70km but now I do a 62km at my Comrades pace on a very tough course much harder than Comrades. I don’t taper for it or rest and it is run on heavy legs as it is part of training and I don’t want to lose any time for preparation.

How would you run a marathon in preparation to Comrades? Comrades Marathon race pace or flat out?
I’d like to run it hard but I always find that I end up poorly as I don’t have the speed and too much mileage. I’m not concerned though as my race for the year is always Comrades and I don’t race too many races. Comrades is what I live for

Do you run track workouts in preparation for the Comrades Marathon?
I used to but not anymore. All my speed is done on the roads now and it is mostly fartlek

Downhill running is tough and tiring - how do you prepare for the long downhill stretches? Do you have a special technique? 
I rest on the downhills, I relax my body and my legs just naturally fly down. My body is light and my running style is relaxed so with not too much effort I fly.

Nutrition is key to success in such a long race. What keeps you alive and loaded during the race?
I only eat before the race, bread and bananas.

Besides running, do you do any cross training to get ready for the 89k?
No, only running.

Are you doing specific core workouts in your preparation?
Yes, I do pushups and stomach exercises every day after my training.

Flats or cushioning? What type of shoes do you use in the race and why?
For the up run I use a racer and for the down run I use a little bit more cushioned because of the impact. I ran the down run last year with the Lunar racer and my feet got damaged

How often do you replace your shoes? 
Not often. I have many shoes, some of them from 4 years back which I still use. If they fit well and I feel comfortable I will use it

Which is the crucial part of the Comrades Marathon course?
The hills after the halfway mark.

Which is the toughest climb on the course? 
On the down run I would say the hills after the half way mark and also Cowies Hill and on the up run it is Polly Shorts.

What are you doing to keep yourself motivated during such a long race?
Before the race I dream of winning, during the race it is my love of the Comrades, the people shouting my name on the course, all my supporters and my team.

How do you respond to early attacks in the race? Stay in the pack or go with it? 
I go with early ones but if I see it is too hard I revert to my pace and balance it.

Do you aim for kilometre splits or do you go with the flow of the competition?
At the start I go with the guys but then I reassess and feel my body. I only start looking at times once I go through halfway.

How happy were you with your race last year? 
I was very unhappy. People would be happy to finish 4th but I was not. I did not have a good build up and no speed at all. I had to rely on experience and my Comrades history (8 Comrades, 8 top tens!) to get me through. I was always behind and 20km to go I was about 13mins back. I wasn’t even in the top ten but I know how to run Comrades and ended up 4th. If I had a bit of speed I feel I would quite easily have at least finished 2nd.

What are you going to change towards this year’s race? 
Not much. I have done more speed work but the race is long and you can’t go into it with plans.

What is key for you to run the perfect Comrades Marathon?
For me it would be to go through halfway in 2:41 – 2:42 which is very fast but feeling very comfortable like I have just started running. I know then that I will have a great day. When I won I went through halfway in 2:47 and it felt like I had just started. I ran quicker in the second half and won in 5:28. I was very slow though in the last 8km but my body was tired as I pushed very hard from about 30km to go. (Where Fusi took the lead on Fields Hill, a big steep 2km drop, he ran down there in 2:55 and 2:51 k’s flying past the 2 Russian leaders. That after running for 68km!!

Who is your race favorite? 
I am my race favorite. I respect everyone but I don’t have a favorite because if I do then it means that I don’t have good feelings about myself.

What do you expect from Josh Cox in this year’s race? 
I have heard about him from my friend Cuan but I am not worried about him. Yes he is fast but this is Comrades my friend. It is different to any race in the world. The weather, the brutal course, and the athletes you run against. Us Africans can be the powerhouse of ultra running yet nobody knows as we don’t do the 100km races. Comrades is our race and every year it is the same. I don’t expect much difference this year to the previous years. We welcome anyone though as it is nice to run against the best and the more people, the better!

How long does it take you to recover from Comrades Marathon?
Properly about 2 weeks.

What advice would you give a competitive Comrades Marathon first timer? 
I cant give advice because I would be giving away my secrets. :) I can only advise slow runners but I am not a coach.

Do you adore any of the Comrades Marathon legends? Do you have any other running role model? Mabhutile Lebopo is my role model in running. He knows where to kick, his style, the person he is and the hard worker he is. (Fusi and Mabhutile are close friends, he won the Two Oceans this year)

Which races would you like to run before you die?
Not much because Comrades is my best race in the world. If the World 100km Champs had better money than Comrades then I could consider to run it but I will always have Comrades as my main race. It is my life and I love it.

Mzungo wishes Fusi all the best for another Top10 finish and maybe even another win.