Khai Mhlanga runs for fun – we caught up with the middle-distance runner to find out more
Thirteen-year-old Khai Mhlanga ended last season as the top under-13 athlete in the UK for 800m and 1500m, giving indication of her talent and potential as an athlete.
However, what is particularly pleasing is that, despite her successes, the main reason Khai does athletics is because she loves training and racing. The Chelmsford athlete ran 2:15.74 and 4:40.63 for the respective distances last year, which were not only the leading times by an under-13 in the annual UK rankings, but also placed her fourth and fifth respectively on the age-group all-time lists.
Looking back on her achievements, which included winning the Essex county 1200m title, Khai says: “I was really happy with my rankings in the 800m and 1500m last year.
“I had been injured earlier in the year after a cross-country race, so I didn’t expect such good times. Training went well once I was better, and the few races I did proved that I hadn’t lost speed. So 2012 was a good year for me.”
But Khai is no one-trick pony, as she is also a promising cross country runner. Already this year, despite her winter having been hampered a little by illness, she has won Essex county and schools cross-country titles. She also showed she is one of the top athletes nationally in her age group, placing second in the Inter-Counties, fourth in the Southern and thirteenth in the National.
In her first year in the age group, she finished 20th in the English Schools. However, like most good athletes, Khai is not easily satisfied. She explains: “I was fairly happy with the cross-country season, but I had hoped to run better. Illness interrupted my training and it took me a while to recover. Overall I was happy when it was over – mainly because of the weather!”
Already this year Khai has improved her PBs to 2:14.21 and 4:38.38 at recent meets in Chelmsford and Watford. She adds: “This year I would like to compete in the English Schools on the track and I have hopes for new PBs. Long-term I just want to carry on running. I enjoy both track and cross-country because I just love to run.”
Khai trains twice or three times a week and enjoys a variety of different training. Part of a small group, which also includes her mum, who helps keep an eye on her, Khai trains alongside Jodie Judd, the sister of world junior 800m silver medallist and 2:00.37 athlete Jessica.
“I don’t have a favourite training session, but my favourite thing to do on a Saturday after training is to get fish and chips, and a hot fresh cinnamon pretzel,” says Khai.
She started out in the sport at quite a young age when her mum started a running club for local friends. Through that, the family got involved with the nearest club, Orion Harriers. It was noticed quite quickly that Khai had a talent, so she began to race against the older athletes, which she really enjoyed.
Clearly a well-balanced young teenager, Khai has plenty of other interests outside of athletics. “I also like drawing, knitting, crocheting, singing, drama, cycling and walking in the forest or countryside,” she says. “I love animals, especially reptiles! I also enjoy going on activity camping holidays with friends, and going to church with my family.”
But the final word goes to her mum, who plays a big part in the development of her daughter. “As her mum, I would say that Khai loves running and is at home on the track,” she says. “She has had many opportunities to enjoy and express her natural talent so far.
“With no pressure we just take one season at a time. It has been fun so far, and it has meant that I have been able to get fitter than I ever was as a child! Khai makes me smile when she offers to pace me round the track at open-graded meetings to help me get a PB!” she says with a laugh.
You can find further performance stats on Khai on Power of 10 here.
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