Venda track star, Themba Madima runs an impressive 1:47 over 800m. Paul Ingpen quizzed the ASICS Frontrunner about how he builds his incredible speed and power while still holding down a full-time job.
Themba, you work full-time in digital media. How do you find time to train?
It is very demanding and, depending on events and especially the vast travelling that
comes with it, it is very difficult to have set times for training – but it’s about just staying focused on personal goals to ensure that training is a priority.
What’s a typical day in your life when you are training hard?
When in full training it feels like regular office hours. The early morning training session consists of a light jog of 8-10km. This is followed by gym, which is 2-3 times a week depending on the season. Then there is the track session with the training group, which is five times a week. This does not include recovery sessions, such as massages, ozone therapy, etc.
You’re a national level 800m runner. What made you choose that distance?
I was really inspired by the likes of the late Mbulaeni Mulaudzi, a legendary South African
800m runner who went on to be a World Champion in 2009. Following his journey and his being from my hometown of Venda, I was really intrigued and fell in love with the
You have the body of a top-level rugby or football player. What made you stop ball sports?
I played soccer in my early years and played all the way to the provincial level. In my Grade 11 year I was taken by my mother to a qualified coach for the first time in my life – a strict
German lady who really believed in my talent. I then went on to my first provincial competition, which I won. She mentioned the opportunity of studying at Tuks and getting a
scholarship, and that really opened my mind to athletics more than soccer. It was a hard decision but one I don’t regret at all. Athletics instils a discipline that most team sports
cannot compare to.
You run 800m in 1:47 and 1500m in 3:50! That’s insane, what sort of training goes into building that speed?
Training is intense! You almost have to be a perfect athlete focussing on stamina, muscular
endurance, power and speed. Training includes tough gym sessions two to three times a week, long runs and fast sessions on a hill or track. It is very demanding but the process
is one that is so satisfying. Nothing compares to it.
Your Pretoria Parkrun record time is 16:17, not bad on a hilly course. Has it been beaten, or will you still try to at the age of 33?
Haha, this record is an interesting one. When I ran it I actually wanted to go run a 1500m on the track, but my coach said no to that request and said I should run at the Parkrun instead. I
went there to prove a point to him, and I knew I could break the record based on my trength and speed up some tough hills. It was my day and the record still stands. Someone will remove it I’m sure, but it was great setting a goal and achieving it.
Your company BackSports does media for the likes of Totalsports, AfricanX and Run Your
City. You even have a running club with 120 members. Tell us more about that and how
your work and passion overlap?
My work and passion have always overlapped. Since I started at university I’ve always been busy with as many things as possible that I either love or know will help me grow as an individual. Chasing my own dreams whilst helping others achieve theirs is something that is engraved in me. It must come from being a middle child.
You must be the envy of many when you take your shirt off – do you lift lots of weights?
I lift weights and enjoy it so much. Nothing beats running but lifting weights and challenging the body with resistance training is always fun. The muscles are a bonus! I hope it inspires others to push their physical limits because that’s what I aim for.
What advice can you share with runners who want to build and not lose lean upper body muscle?
Work with a specialist who knows and understands your event. Trust them to push you and lean on their advice. Muscle strength helps to prevent injuries and lets you demand what you
require from your muscles in a race.
You grew up in a hard-working household that got you through school and post-grad studies. How did sport fit in and is the future looking brighter for young aspiring runners?
Postgrad was a tough and sobering time for me. I became more aware of the financial burden which came with studying at a top university such as Pretoria. It was expensive
and my running was a ticket for me to finish a degree and attain a good education. Where my parents come from in Limpopo, Venda, there weren’t many sporting opportunities. Both
my parents were active but they knew to give us opportunities they would have to sacrifice and break out of the mould they grew up with in the rural towns they were from. Their hard work is engraved in me as well. As I watched them work with passion and focus, I learnt to do the same – and it allowed me to get my bachelor and honours degrees. This is possible for all young inspiring athletes.
Any sponsors who have helped you along the way?
I’ve been privileged to have had individuals as well as brands that have played a role in my running. These include ASICS, Power2Health, my running club (BackTrack Athletics Club) and Wintergreen. They are a constant reminder that hard work on and off the track whilst building your personal brand and respecting the people who support you pays off. So
thank you to them and also to the coaches who have been and continue to be part of my journey, in particular Inge Bremer, Michael Seme, Lelanie van Wyk and JJ Smith.
Where to from here? What are your athletic ambitions?
I have come to realise over the years that running is part of who I am. At the moment the
focus is still on track but I look forward to running more on the road in the future – perhaps all the way to the Comrades marathon.
Favourite trail and road runs in Pretoria?
There are so many beautiful trails in Pretoria. I haven’t had time to explore many, but Mooikloof is one I’ve done a few times. On the road, I enjoy tackling Tom Jenkins
and Soutpansberg, which are part of my daily training routes.
Favourite tracks to do speedwork?
The Athletics Stadium at the University of Pretoria. The track is built for speed and I’ve done many quality sessions there.
Favourite track workout to build speed?
I enjoy doing speed ladder drills as well as pulling tyres/sleds.
Ever run or psyche up to music?
I try not to play music that is too hyper before running. My energy levels are generally high so I listen to music that will keep me calm and remind me to enjoy myself. Slow-tempo
songs of all genres, but mainly deep-house, hip-hop, amapiano or afrobeats.
Favourite local runners?
Mbulaeni Mulaudzi, LJ van Zyl and Akani Simbine.
Who would you bet on to win an 800m, Bolt or Kipchoge?
It’s hard to bet against Bolt but the 800m is too far for him so I’d put my
money on Kipchoge for a comfortable win.