This week on Cats Corner, we caught up with one of our Lionesses, Dimpho Senkoto, to chat about her journey to her first-ever Comrades Marathon. In our conversation, we touched on her motivation for running (her WHY), her preparation for the Ultimate Human Race, her race day experience, and her post-race reflections.

Here’s how it went:

Background and Motivation:

Dimpho, thank you so much for your time and congratulations on completing your first Comrades Marathon. We are really curious to hear your story on how you got to the Comrades dream. But first, we would like to know what got you into running. When did the running bug bite you, and what inspired you to take on the Comrades Marathon?

Dimpho: Thank you! I have always been athletic and participated in different sports throughout my life. However, I fell in love with long-distance running in 2017 while supporting my elder sister at the Comrades Marathon. My sister, Nkgopoleng Senkoto, has always been my role model. After she completed her second Comrades, I knew I wanted to follow in her footsteps and run the Comrades myself.

I also knew I would need a community to help me reach my goal, and I was drawn to the Fat Cats Athletic Club on June 4, 2017. It was love at first sight, and I never looked back. In 2018, the longest distance I had ever run was 10km, and through the Fat Cats training programs, I increased my mileage to 21km, 30km, 35km, and more.

In 2019, I ran my first 42km marathon with Kom, who was so patient and caring while pacing me. We finished the race in 06:20. Between 2020 and 2022, I ran my third marathon and finished in 04:05. During this time, I also got pregnant and had a baby. Both of these beautiful experiences mentally prepared me for my first Comrades.

Training and Preparation:

Training for marathons is hard, but training for Comrades is even harder. How did you approach training for such a demanding marathon? What were the biggest challenges you faced during your training, and did you follow a specific training plan leading up to the marathon?

Dimpho: Training for Comrades was incredibly tough, both mentally and physically. I had to push myself to new limits. First, I had to lose the baby weight so I could run comfortably without carrying extra weight.

Qualifying for Comrades was another challenge. I aimed for an F seeding but kept getting an H seeding. I had to accept and make peace with the fact that my body was not ready to run at a pace that would give me an F seeding and focus on training for the big C. Waking up at 4:00 am to attend training at 4:30 was challenging as well. By Thursday, I would be so exhausted and want nothing to do with running.

For my Comrades training, which I did with the Skhindi gang, I ran 5 days a week. This included strength training on Monday, hill repeats or speed intervals on Tuesday, long runs on Wednesday, tempo runs on Thursday, another long run on Saturday, and speed training on Sunday. Every time after hill repeats or speed intervals, I felt like giving up because it was so tough. But I had to dig deep each time and remember why I wanted to run Comrades in the first place. My “WHY” carried me throughout my training, and even when I felt like quitting, I remembered my “WHY.”

Race Day Experience:

Getting to “D-Day” or is it “C-Day” in this case, how did you feel on the morning of the race? How was the atmosphere and energy at the starting line? During the day, what was going through your mind during the different stages of the marathon? How did you cope with the physical and mental challenges during the race?

Dimpho: On the morning of the race, I stuck to the same eating plan I used during training. I had a banana, oats, electrolytes, and water. I was ready to hit the road, but I was so nervous I couldn’t even smile for a picture when my sister took one. When I got to the start, the atmosphere was electrifying. I cannot put it into words, but runners were happy, giving each other hugs, kisses, smiling, singing, and, of course, crying when “Chariots of Fire” was played.

The Comrades Marathon is extremely long. I went through different personalities I didn’t know I had. There were moments when I was happy, sad, angry, questioning my decision—a lot was happening. But the plan was to keep moving until I got to 60km, and from there, I would run with my heart because I knew I would be tired.

By 47km or so, I was already exhausted and felt like quitting. Despite wanting to give up, I couldn’t. I started crying, and surprisingly, it made me feel better, so I kept running. At that point, all I wanted was to see my son’s face. I kept pushing forward, knowing he would be at the 80km mark.

When I reached 79/80 km, my son wasn’t there. But his father met me halfway up Polly Shorts and ran with me for about 2-3 km, encouraging me to keep moving although I was extremely tired. Running with him gave me the energy I needed to continue, and speaking to my sister on the phone also motivated me, as she told me they would be waiting for me at the stadium. Her words gave me the final boost of energy I needed, so I pushed on.

Post-Race Reflections:

How would you describe the feeling of crossing the finish line, and how has completing the Comrades Marathon impacted you personally? People often vow post-Comrades that they will never do it again. Do you have any plans to participate in the Comrades Marathon again?

Dimpho: The last 3 kilometers felt like an eternity, but when we entered the stadium, a surge of energy propelled me to the finish line. Crossing the finish line with the clock reading 11 hours and 39 minutes, I burst into tears, overwhelmed with pride at finally achieving the dream I had held since 2017.

The feeling of crossing that finish line was indescribable. I felt an incredible burst of energy, as if I could run another 85 kilometers. Yet in that moment, I also decided that I wouldn’t run Comrades again because it was just too long and hard. However, God willing, I plan to run the Comrades again next year to earn my Back2Back and be part of the Fat Cats 100 Lionesses to Comrades Campaign.

One thing I have learned about myself by running Comrades is that my pain threshold or tolerance is low to moderate, but I am not a quitter and I do not give up easily. Yes, I felt the pain during the race, but I kept going because I had made up my mind that I would finish what I started.

I was able to cross the finish line because of the support on the road. I believe running Comrades is 80% training and 20% support. Without support, I would probably have DNF’d. Therefore, I am thankful to all the supporters on the road, but most importantly, the Fat Cats supporters, my family, and friends. I conquered Comrades because of you.

My name is Dimpho Senkoto, and I am a Comrades Marathon Finisher.