Running legend looks back at long journey

Cape Town athletics administrator Marshall “Msutu” Moiloa.

Top Cape Town athletics administrator Marshall “Msutu” Moiloa, 58, knows feet. Many runners across the city have been told that when they need advice on a good pair of running shoes, to speak to Moiloa.

A legend in road running circles, Moiloa, founder of Gugulethu Athletic Club, spent much of his life learning from podiatrists, shoe designers and other footwear specialists. When it comes to running, it always starts with the right footwear, he says.

“I see a lot of people running, but without guidance,” he said. “It’s the same like learning maths, you need a teacher to teach you the formulas,” he said.

The same with running, you have to have a coach or somebody that can assist you,” said Moiloa, who has built himself a reputation as a sought-after coach.

“It’s especially important to have someone who can not only guide you with running, but can give you advice on what shoes to wear, what to eat, how to swing your arms, how to move your legs. By doing that you will stay injury-free and enjoy running.

“The worst thing that can happen to someone who starts out running the wrong way, can learn to hate running. So you don’t want that,” said Moiloa, who had taken numerous runners to the top.

The Plainsman caught up with Moiloa, who have been involved in athletics as a runner and a coach, since 1981. Moiloa established the club 1992. Back then the club had about 20 members who were mainly school pupils.

“I wanted to develop the club even further, so I was coaching, transporting the players and doing most of the logistics. That paid off because we unearthed star runners like Zintle Cinyiwe, who represented South Africa in cross country, road-running as well as track and field. The late Vuyolwethu Mbukashe, who went on to run for Atlantic Athletics Club, is also a product of the club,” he said.

Moiloa has seen his beloved Gugs Athletics club grow from those humble beginnings to become one of the most recognisable clubs in the city, with their familiar bright orange colours present in large numbers at almost every race.

“We have more than 1 000 members from across the city, making us one of the biggest clubs in Cape Town. When we started the club most people didn’t believe that a township club could be successful, in terms of benefits and taking care of our athletes. But that perception changed as soon as we started rewarding our athletes,” he said.

“It is no coincidence that our club is so diverse, with members coming from different parts of the city. We look after our people and that’s what makes us stand out,” he said.

Born and raised in Gugulethu, Moiloa said he was a multi-talented sports person as a youngster.

“I played soccer for Young Romans FC in Gugulethu, where I started out as an under-14 player. Then, at Fezeka High School, I got interested in running. I then finished third in the 1 300m race, during an inter-house event.”

That, he said, was when he decided, “hey, I can do this”.

He was then selected to represent the school in the inter-school event, in which he also did well.

“From there, I met good people who were passionate about athletics. One of them was Welcome Nyoka, a top athlete at the time. He was the one who trained us at school, I got better and better. Then, in 1982, I represented the Western Cape team in the Cape Colony championships. Having done well in that competition, I went to Joburg to represent the Cape Colony in the national championships, where I came fourth overall in the 1 500m race” he said.

He also ran for Pinelands Athletics Club where Dave Spence, whom he regards as a mentor, was a coach.

“Dave Spence was influential in launching and nurturing the careers of many black athletes including myself. That was one of the reasons I formed the Dave Spence Race, in his memory,” he said.

The race, now known as the Gugulethu Athletics Club Youth Day Race, takes place annually on Youth Day, June 16, also from NY49 Stadium in Gugulethu.

His list of achievements, especially as a runner is impressive and his accolades are too numerous to be listed one by one. It is therefore safe to say he’s one of the most decorated runners and administrators around.

Now, a head coach at Gugs Athletics club, Moiloa says he and his coaching staff have made their mission to ensure that Cape Town clubs produce high quality runners.

“Currently there’s too many races. People send children to the road from an early age and that’s killing their muscles. We need to encourage youngsters to focus on cross country as well as track and field. So, the only way we can produce stars is to keep the kids off the road,” he said.

As the lockdown regulations prevent races from taking place, he encouraged runners to keep fit, so that they are ready when the time comes.

“They should do that within the COVID-19 restrictions,” he said.

Former Gugulethu Athletic Club coach, Thobie “Thobz” Ndzube, had nothing but praise for his mentor.

“We have worked together for so many years building the club to where it is currently at. He plans thoroughly and execute accordingly. He has been our dedicated coach ever since. He is the founder member of the club. What more can I say except to say many athletes come out of his hands,” he said.