Prodigal Khumalo is a doer. He’s one of those quiet, unassuming people who doesn’t make a big deal about things, and just gets stuff done.
Impressing people does not seem to be a goal of his, yet the man known as PK to his friends manages to inspire thousands of people countrywide. I had the pleasure of meeting him several years ago, and we just clicked. He lived in a flatlet on my property for a few months while he found his feet. He’s the kind of guy who pulls himself up by his bootstraps, and boy, has he done that well in the past decade!
He left Zimbabwe in 2003 due to the political instability there and found his spiritual home in the warm, buzzing city of Durban. He has grown deep roots in Durbs, and paid forward his talent, knowledge, and passion to the South African running community.
Prodigal Khumalo won Ultra-trail Cape Town (UTCT) 100km in 2016. It was a phenomenal achievement. It’s an extremely testing course, and 2016 was hot and blustery. The DNF rate was off the chart. You needed to be a really good trail runner just to finish within the time limit. To win? You needed to be exceptional.
Some people said he should get a TRAIL cover for that. I explained to him that he was an unusual athlete, and difficult to pigeonhole. He could win on the road with his speed, and he could win on the trail with his skills.
But I still regarded him as a road runner, with his main focus the Comrades Marathon. So would he be offended that we preferred to put runners who were 100% in the trail running community (and running trail races regularly) on the cover instead? He accepted that graciously. Or maybe he took it as a challenge. Either way, I wasn’t too surprised when I saw that he’d entered UTCT again in 2017. His chances seemed about 50/50 that he would shape up against the stronger field that included Cape Town’s darling ultratrail runner, Ryan Sandes. Their tussle proved to be an electric one. It wasn’t so much a neck-and-neck battle as a late surge by Ryan in the last 10km, while Prodigal seemed to flag. But he’d built up a 10-minute buffer, and no way would Ryan catch him. Prodigal two out of two at UTCT!
We asked for cover nominations a few weeks later, and his name was by far the most popular. That got me thinking. How could we deny recognition of any runner, who also runs offroad as fast (or faster) than some of the best trail runners, just because they happen to run on tar for a living? And voilà, here we are… Prodigal on the cover as a very deserving trail runner!
I caught up with him to see how he was doing since our last chat.
How does your 2017 UTCT win stack up against 2016?
My 2017 UTCT win feels more special than my win in 2016 because I broke the record and there was a stronger field.
What makes you truly happy?
Running makes me happy! Nothing beats the spirit of doing what I love.
I run on the road to see how far I can push myself, and I run on the trails to enjoy life.
What is training with John Hamlett like?
He has taught me to be strong inside, and off the field too. I’ve also learned so much about nutrition from him. He is very strict. He only keeps a small number of quality runners in his camp and he makes sure we are all looked after.
If you weren’t a runner?
I would play soccer!
Kumalo or Khumalo?
Haha, it’s actually Khumalo. Zimbabwe Home Affairs misspelled it on my father’s ID and my siblings now follow in his footsteps.
You have a fiancée!
Yes! I met Lihle four years ago at Stella Athletic Club in Durban, where I coach part-time.
We are close friends – that’s our strongest point. We support each other, we understand each other, and have respect for each other’s craft.
To find out about Prodigal Khumalo’s greatest supporter, his injury strategy, what he considers his biggest blessing, and words from his coach John Hamlett and his agent Ross Walters, read the full interview in TRAIL 27!