Johannesburg’s Zoo Lake holds a special place in the heart of South African athletics – this is where champions are made.
An emphasis on discipline and hard work is what drives the group guided by the legendary marathon runner Hendrick Ramaala, who has made the recreational facility his training ground for many years.
Precious Mashele is the latest champion to emerge from this modest setup, just a few months after Desmond Mokgobu brought home the Beppu-Oita Marathon title from Japan in February.
Mashele has been with Ramaala for two years and the 27-year-old athlete is starting to show his true potential as a regular podium finisher this season.
Four titles in a single season is an incredible feat by any measure, more so when three of those are won within just three weeks.
Even Mashele admits that this year has been his best year by far.
Just last weekend, he clinched the South African 10km Championships crown in Middelburg, Mpumalanga, to add to the national cross-country and the Cape Town Marathon Peace Run titles, which he defended two weeks apart from each other.
Mashele’s winning streak started in August, when he beat training partner Mokgobu to the Mandela Day Marathon 10km crown, where he was also the defending champ.
“We have been working hard since December, building up for this year,” Mashele told City Press this week.
“I am not done yet. I just want to improve my times to a sub-28-minute target in the 10km and a sub-61-minute in the 21km.”
His personal best times are 28 minutes and 32 seconds, which he set in Cape Town in November, and the 61:48 that he clocked in France late last year.
Mashele insists that he’s ready to excel in the 10km, but says he’s yet to come across a strong field that can push him to the limits.
He came in at 29:43 in Middelburg last Saturday after overpowering a field that had big guns following him into the top five – Thabang Mosiako (29:46), Elroy Gelant (29:48), Kabelo Seboko (30:07) and Gladwin Mzazi (30:20).
Precious Mashele crosses the line as he claims the SA 10km Championship in Middelburg. Picture: Roger Sedres/Gallo Images/File
To the eye, the lad from Ga-Mashashane in Limpopo looks more like a sprinter – he has Akani Simbine’s type of body frame.
When City Press met with Mashele, he had just completed a 14km “easy run” with his training mates on Wednesday morning, which they completed in less than an hour along the soft trails of the Zoo Lake park.
The weather was perfect for running – partly cloudy and cool – and the tranquillity in the scenic park made the run even more ideal.
He was preparing for his next race, the Gun Run in Cape Town on October 14 – a day after his 28th birthday.
He said the race, which carries a R15 000 first-prize purse, is his final competition for the year.
Mashele, the eldest of four children with an equal split of boys and girls, contributes towards the upkeep of his family in Limpopo.
He is still mourning the loss of his mother, who passed away in the middle of his preparations for the South African 21km Championships in July, where he finished sixth.
Mashele is already looking forward to next year, where his target is a top-six finish at the cross-country trials in January to make Team SA for the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Aarhus, Denmark, in March.