A meteoric rise is the only way to adequately describe Tete Morena Dijana’s arrival on the local running scene after he won the iconic Comrades ultra marathon in August 2022 at the age of 33.

Despite his late relatively late arrival on the local racing scene, Tete has always been a passionate runner.

He enjoyed track success at school, but his life’s circumstances meant he never had access to coaching or the time and resources to train sufficiently to realise his full potential.

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Overcoming challenges

Dijana, who hails from Mahikeng in the North-West Province, works as a security guard at North-West University.

The long shifts and variable work hours meant he seldom had the time to train, or would often survive through gruelling sessions with just two hours of sleep – hardly the ideal circumstances to perform at your peak.

And as a father of two who also cares for his unwell mother, Tete faced financial challenges that also prevented him from chasing his dream of running professionally.

Inspired by South Africa’s most prolific runner, Stephen Mokoka, who hails from the same region, Tete wanted to follow in his footsteps. He progressed through the junior ranks, going from track to cross country before transitioning to the road, racing 10km and half marathons.

While Tete was unable to break through to the top ranks as a younger athlete, this never deterred him from his dream.

In 2019, he entered his first Comrades marathon and finished with a highly respectable time of 6h25m, which placed him 50th overall. With only eight weeks of preparation, his performance showed how much talent he truly possesses.

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Passion meets financial incentives

I was always interested in ultra-marathons but have never had the time to train properly,” explains Tete.

After placing second at a 48km ultra marathon in Polokwane later in 2019 and winning R25,000, he started to believe that he could earn a living from running, but the pandemic postponed his plans.

When the Comrades marathon finally resumed after a two-year hiatus due to Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, Tete decided the time had come to take a risk and go all in to realise his full potential.

He applied for unpaid leave to train for three months and headed to Gqeberha in the Eastern Cape to compete in the Nedbank Runified 50km. Tete lined up alongside his role model Mokoka and ran the race of his life.

After finishing second behind Mokoka, who set a 50km world record at the race, Nedbank Running Club manager Nick Bester took notice. Tete was invited to join the elite Nedbank Running team in June, training under the guidance of legendary coach Dave Adams and joining 2019 Comrades champion Edward Mothibi as he prepared to defend his title.

With a mere three months to train for one of the toughest ultra-marathons on earth, Tete gave everything he had, using his children as inspiration to succeed.

I knew I had to do something special at the race to make a better life for them,” he says.

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Fuelled for success

As a new member in the Biogen-backed Nedbank Running Club, Tete gained access to a range of effective supplements to aid his performance during training and racing and support his recovery afterwards.

I used Biogen Carbogen and Biogen Energy Oats bars before and during training for energy and Biogen Iso-Whey Protein after training to repair my muscles,” explains Tete.

Tete’s daily meal plan:

  • Before training: Bread and eggs, FutureLife or oats.
  • Midday: Mielie bread, pap and veggies.
  • Dinner: A starch and protein – usually red meat – and veggies, with lots of beetroot.

His preparation included a high-altitude training camp in Dullstroom with his fellow Nedbank teammates. The camp went extremely well and Tete left for KwaZulu-Natal confident he could achieve a top 10.

The Nedbank coaching and management team have so much experience. They really had a big impact on my preparation. Nick also helped me overcome an injury to ensure I was ready to line up for the start in Pietermaritzburg,” continues Tete.

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Life-changing moment

The 90km ‘down run’ to Durban took place in August for the first time, which posed challenging conditions for the athletes.

After a dominant showing by the Nedbank Running team during the men’s race, Tete found himself in the lead group with Mothibi and teammate Dan Matshailwe with 25km to go.

Tete’s race fuelling strategy:

After Matshailwe dropped off the pace, Tete made his move with 10km to go. He dropped the reigning champion and never looked back as he took his opportunity to make history!

Despite slowing over the closing kilometres, Tete held on to cross the finish line in a time of 5h30m38s, just over three minutes ahead of Mothibi.

His performance not only cemented his status as one of South Africa’s best runners but also gave Tete a much-needed financial boost to support his family. Tete’s win earned him the R260,000 winner’s prize and an additional R100,000 as the first South African finisher.

He also received an additional R100,000 – a R50,000 cash bonus and R50,000 towards future training – from his employer, security company Mi7 National Group, and from the North-West Provincial government for a total payday of R560,000!

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A bright future

Tete is already back in training to defend his title in 2023. “I have focused on improving my speed over 10km and 21km as part of my build to the next Comrades on 11 June 2023. I started with 60km a week and we will build up to around 180km per week as we get closer to race day,” he explains.

And Tete will now have a full training block under coach Adams, which should help him realise his full potential.

With his undoubtable natural talent and unquestionable commitment and work ethic, the local running community is backing Tete to defend his title and perhaps break David Gatebe’s 5:18:19 down run record set in 2016. Only time will tell.

Tete’s weekly training schedule:

  • Monday: Easy recovery run
  • Tuesday: Track (morning) and easy run (afternoon)
  • Wednesday: Tempo long run (morning) and easy run (afternoon)
  • Thursday: Track (morning) and easy run (afternoon)
  • Friday: Hill session (morning) and easy run (afternoon)
  • Saturday: Speed work or tempo session (morning) and easy run (afternoon)
  • Sunday: Long run (morning) and easy run (afternoon)