AFTER capping off her 2018 season with an impressive performance when she came first in a 21km road race which was part of this year's Old Mutual Soweto Marathon recently in South Africa, Zimbabwe's Betha Chikanga is hopeful of an exciting future as she shifts her focus to next year.
The event included the 21km and 10km races apart from the 42km, which was the main event.
Chikanga, who ran under Maxed Elite, a South African club that sponsored her participation, was competing at the event for the second time and was the first to cross the finish line in 1hour 17minutes 16seconds.
She made her first appearance last year when she came second in 1hour 22 minutes behind compatriot Patience Murove.
"Last year it was my first time to run the Old Mutual Soweto half-marathon. I didn't even know the route, I just went to compete. So when I compare last year's competition with this year, I can say I was well prepared for this year and I took the lead with five kilometres remaining to the finish line.
"I trained hard this time around because the week before this race I went for the Vumba half marathon," said Chikanga.
The 22-year-old, who took her running prowess to Europe in September when she competed in the Copenhagen half-marathon in Denmark, said 2018 has been a favourable year for her.
She ran her personal best for the 21km race in Denmark when she clocked 1hour 13minutes although she finished outside the top 10.
"This year I went to Europe and I learnt a lot from the Denmark race . . . to limit my races because some of the athletes in Denmark had enough time to rest (in between races) and also the need to find a pacemaker.
"I am excited about this year. I gained a lot of experience on how to go up and down on a hilly course and how to distribute my power and I have won more races in South Africa and Zimbabwe this year. I am so happy to go for the off-season now. But next year I will train more and try to defend my title . . . It's time to rest and it's good to have achieved 50 percent of my goals. But next year I wish to improve again," said Chikanga.
Earlier on in June, Chikanga had set another personal best time in 10km when she won the 29th Durban Spar Women's Challenge in 33.07minutes.
Her coach Collen Makaza, a seasoned long-distance runner himself, was full of praise for the 22-year-old.
"If you look at Betha she won two races in South Africa this year and the big race was the Soweto half marathon and the Spar Ladies Challenge 10km, which was good for her as she also set her personal best times. Now we are looking forward to next year and she has to continue working hard and do better. We are going for a three-week break and first week of December we start our session for next year," said Makaza.
Makaza is also working with Caroline Mhandu from Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services and she came second in the Soweto half marathon in 1hour 20minutes 49seconds.
"Caroline is a hard worker and a great achiever. I started training with her in May this year and she is at her peak. So these guys are taking a three-week break," Makaza.
Anna Bungu was seventh in 1hour 29minutes 38seconds and it was her first attempt in the race.
In the men's 42km, Winfred Mutiro missed out on a top 10 finish when he came 12th in 2hours 26minutes.