The Soweto Marathon Half gave Thulani a taste of the beautiful sport of road running. Having placed 5th all those years ago, the fire within the Kwa-Zulu Natal born former gardener, was ignited and he knew not only was he an extremely talented athlete, but that running was him at his happiest.
We caught up with one of the Soweto Marathon greats, Thulani Sibisi, and took a trip down memory lane – both in terms of himself and his running journey, as well as the Soweto Marathon storyline – the 28th edition of which takes place on 5 November 2023. Having been involved in the race since formation, his key role is to ensure former winners return, are looked after and help to inspire others to run on event day, irrespective of the distance category.

Set to turn 70 years old just days before the start gun, here’s what Thulani had to say:

I was born in the third largest hospital in the world, the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital. My running however started in KwaZulu-Natal, during my school years where I represented the Northern KwaZulu-Natal region in the 5000m championship in secondary school in 1974. In 1985 I finished second in the City to Jozi to Tshwane 50km race. I was given my greatest opportunity to start my competitive running career by billionaire Johann Rupert, who sponsored my air ticket and accommodation to my first Two Oceans marathon. In 1986, I won that race, followed by a second place in 1987. In 1992, I represented the SA Olympics team in Barcelona as one of the management officials for the South African long-distance athletics team.

I have been involved in some form of the Soweto Marathon from as far back as I can remember, however having only ever run the race post my Stage 3 Prostate Cancer diagnosis, I have only competed in the 10km and 21.1km categories. Gauteng’s biggest marathon takes place in the iconic township of Soweto and brings with it immense pride amongst all townships, most especially because there were no races taking part in such townships throughout the apartheid era.

For those running the African Bank Soweto Marathon, my advice is to take it easy in the first half. It’s a tough second half and hydration is key – most especially due to the scorching heat typically experienced in November in Gauteng. It’s important that each runner runs his or her own race, based on the training done – because the race is about finishing as that’s when you get your medal – a keepsake that you’ll forever treasure. For me personally, running is the greatest sport because it can accommodate any person – so long as you have a pair of shoes. Running helps with your oxygen intake and usage and keeps your body and mind strong. When you’re experiencing pain on race day, remind yourself why you do this. What will also help you run your race, is the support of friends and family on route.

If you haven’t run this race previously, be prepared to be blown away by what this race means to the people of the Soweto township and surrounding disadvantaged community. It is my honour to be involved in this iconic ‘Peoples Race’ and to have the treasured backing of powerhouse African Bank, a sponsorship for which we are truly grateful.

As the Soweto Marathon Trust, we know the importance of conducting ourselves in a professional manner and for this project to be treated as a business and at the level of other marathons such as the London Marathon, New York Marathon and Berlin Marathon. We are fortunate to have stakeholders who share a common goal of building an event that is the pride of South Africa. It’s a realistic and achievable goal – just look at what we have achieved already!

In closing, I want to wish all stakeholders a race filled with fond memories; tremendous pride in our country and a celebration of your life, your country, your health, your goals and the greatest sport of running.