Final phase: Sbonelo Khwela rises early and trains twice a day in preparation for the Dusi Canoe Marathon. Picture: ANTHONY GROTE/GAMEPLAN MEDIA
Final phase: Sbonelo Khwela rises early and trains twice a day in preparation for the Dusi Canoe Marathon. Picture: ANTHONY GROTE/GAMEPLAN MEDIA

With six weeks to go before the Dusi Canoe Marathon‚ Sbonelo Khwela has already entered the final phase of his preparations for three gruelling days on the 120km river trek from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.

The athlete‚ who with Andy Birkett won the 2014 K2 (doubles) race‚ has set his sights on adding a K1 (singles) race victory to his list of honours. And to do that, he gets up at the crack of dawn to begin his training at Shongweni Dam.

Khwela‚ who lives in Shongweni‚ trains twice a day with fellow competitors Banetse Nkhoesa and Marc Germiquet, who he says are pushing him hard. But a lack of rain has made it hard to prepare for the technical aspects the race requires.

"I am very confident ahead of this year’s [2017’s] race.

I have a good feeling about it. Winning the K1 Dusi is the ultimate prize for any competitive paddler‚" said Khwela‚ who finished third with Nkhoesa in 2016’s marathon. Widely regarded as one of the most powerful runners the competition has seen yet‚ Khwela has said he has shifted his attention mainly to paddling.

"Running is my strength, but in order to win, I have to paddle well. I am still running and training in the gym twice a week but at the moment my big focus is in the dam‚" he said.

Multiple winner Birkett and 2013 champion Lance Kime present the biggest threat to Khwela’s quest for top honours in the February 16-18 event, but he prefers not to worry too much about the competition.

"I am very focused this year. I know these guys are beatable. It is important for me to do the best that I can do in training and race my heart out on race days‚" he said.

He will go to the 2017 race in good shape‚ having won the Umpetha Challenge and StaminaGro 50 Miler Canoe Marathon. Before the Dusi, Khwela aims for a top-10 finish at the coming N3TC Drak Challenge. The two-day race takes place on January 21-22.

Khwela’s river skills have let him down in some races around the country, but after a solid performance at the 2016 Fish River Canoe Marathon he is starting to believe that he can compete with the best in the country on the rougher waters.

"I have been in good form recently and I am feeling pretty confident," Khwela said.

"I have always found the Drak Challenge to be quite a difficult race because I have struggled with my paddling skills but in the past year, I have worked really hard on my paddling and I think that I am a lot better than I was last year [2016]," he said.

The welcome rain has given the uMzimkhulu River a new lease of life, with paddlers revelling in the possibility they might be in for a swollen river for the race.

One of those hopeful paddlers is Khwela. "I would much rather have a lot of water in the river, as the lower the river, the more technical it is and that is something that I battle with more than the other top paddlers," he said.

"With that said, I am feeling really strong and I am looking forward to the Drak Challenge.

"The top 10 is a place that I have never been in at the Drak, so I really want to break into the top 10 this year."

TMG Digital

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