AFTER claiming his third national title of the year on Saturday, Stephen Mokoka can now concentrate on his main focus of the season - the World Half Marathon Championships in Birmingham, England, on October 11.
Mokoka outclassed a strong field at the weekend to win the South African 10km Championships in a career best 28min:21sec in Stellenbosch, adding to the 10000m track and half-marathon road titles he had already picked up earlier this year.
But the 24-year-old has maintained that his focus remains on improving his 67th-place finish at last year's global road-running championships in Rio de Janeiro - and after a sterling performance in Stellenbosch, he appears to be right on track.
While he's in the form of his life, Mokoka is staying grounded and his goal next month is simply to better his 61:26 personal best. Global titles, he hopes, will come later. If he wants to challenge the best distance runners in the world, he's going to need to work on his speed, which he'll do next season.
"The guys are going through 10km in a half marathon in 28:30, which is almost the same as my personal best for the distance," Mokoka said. "Next year I'm going to work on my speed and focus on cross-country and the 5000m and 10000m, so I can improve my half-marathon time. One day I want to run a marathon, but the best guys go through halfway in 61 minutes, so I don't stand a chance. I need to improve my times in the shorter distances first and a marathon is still a long way off."
Mokoka won the Great North 10km in Sunderland last month in 29:20, outpacing a world-class field, and he believes the experience will do him a world of good when he returns to England in six weeks' time. "I'm glad I got a chance to go overseas and run against some of the guys that I'll be running with at the world champs," Mokoka said.
"You get confused when you get there because you don't know the guys you're running against, but now I know some of my competitors, and the conditions in England, which will make it easier for me."
Saturday's race served as the final trial for the provisional South African squad of eight men and three women for the World Half-Marathon Championships, and a number of athletes put their hands up.
Lindikhaya Mthangayi was third in 28:24 - two seconds behind silver medallist Tshamano Setone - while Jeffrey Gwebu finished fifth in 28:50 and Zolani Ntongana was seventh in 28:55.
Rene Kalmer showed fine form with a magnificent 32:39 - just 11 seconds outside her personal best - to win the women's race by half a minute from Lebo Phalula and will lead the team to Birmingham. The diminutive Poppy Mlambo finished sixth in 34:10. - Sapa