Paul Muhlamaenza grew up in a remote mountainous village in Zimbabwe. School was 13km from home and with no transport, walking was the only way to get there and back. His mother, instilling in him the importance of education, told him he couldn’t drop out because of the distance. His older brothers challenged him to walk the distance, and so at eight years old he found himself running to keep up with them.
Running to keep up with his older brothers turned into running as a passion. Now living in South Africa where he works as an Asset Finance payout assistant at Sasfin, it was only a matter of time until Max Trimborn's cock-crow beckoned him to the starting line of the biggest running race in the world – The Comrades Ultramarathon. “I see Comrades as the best race in the world. It draws the strongest people. Not the fastest, but the strongest. If you finish you feel like you are the real Comrades,” Paul says.
In 2018, Paul started training for his first Comrades Marathon. His colleague, Rheta du Plessis, noticed his passion for running and introduced him to his running club, Jeppe. On 14 June 2019, Paul lined up with thousands of other runners in Durban to start the 89km race up to Pietermaritzburg. He ran comfortably, fuelling himself with salted potatoes and water. He finished in 10 hours and 28 minutes with a bronze medal.
Due to COVID-19, Paul was only able to go for his back-to-back medal in 2022. He started that race overtrained with an injury. At 40km the pain started, but Paul pushed on. At 62km he sought help at one of the medical tents and was told he wouldn’t make it unless he was able to walk to the end. Paul pushed on, but by 84km with 5km to go and only 15 minutes before the 12 hour cut off, he knew he wouldn’t make it. “I felt like I was a bit dead. My heart wasn’t beating right. I wasn’t happy about my time and the injury. I was very emotional,” he recalls.
After the initial disappointment, Paul decided to try again, “The failures are all part of learning.” And learn he did. He changed his training to include regular sessions with a physical therapist, strength training, and recovery. He’s done four big races and endured long runs in preparation for his redemption. “I have to do it again. I have to go back. I’m ready to pick up where I left off,” he says.
When asked what running has taught him, he says it’s discipline. “There’s discipline in running. You have to be prepared.” One thing’s for certain: This year Paul was prepared and ready to conquer the ultimate human race, proving that it’s not how we fall but how we get back up again that truly matters.
On 11 June 2023, Paul lined up with over 16 000 runners to take on the 2023 Comrades Marathon. He raced through the first half, and at the halfway point a colleague, Evonia Olifant, running behind him advised him to slow down and save some energy for the end. “I learnt to listen to other people who had more experience than me,” Paul said. He slowed down and crossed the finish line feeling strong and energetic.
Bitten by the Comrades bug, Paul says he’ll be back again next year armed with the lessons he learnt from this year’s race. Well done Paul!