Meet North Carolina’s Musa Gwanzura: Daegu silver medalist in 3K

Gareth Farrell photo of M45 Musa, who’s lived more than half his life in ‘Merica.

At 2015 indoor nationals, M40 Musa Gwanzura made up a 20-yard gap on the last lap to win the 3000 in 9:08.88. (See the video.) No wonder he made it look easy. He’s a former 4:04 miler who helped Abilene Christian win an NCAA Div. II indoor title in the late 1990s. Now he’s getting attention from his local North Carolina paper for having taken second in the Daegu 3000 in 9:00.34. He still runs for his native Zimbabwe, but he’s made his home in America since his 20s. “I’m really an 800- or 1,500-meter guy,” he told the paper, “but with age when you run races you lose all of your speed. These legs man, they complain now. That’s the issue. I can still run a pretty good mile, but it’s the work I put in now. There’s some risk for getting injured when I do my speed work.” He’s not a Yank for affiliation purposes, but he’s one sharp American runner.

Here’s the story, in case the link goes south:

Musa Gwanzura is probably faster than you.

Not just fast for Roanoke Rapids or pass you on your morning jog fast, but fast on an international level.

On March 23, 45-year-old Gwanzura competed in the finals of the men’s 3,000-meter race at the World Masters Athletics Championships Indoor in Daegu, South Korea — a sanctioned International Association of Athletics Federations event. Running in the M45 age group, males 45-49 years old, Gwanzura placed second in the almost two-mile race with a time of 9 minutes and 34 seconds (actually 9:00.34).

A Zimbabwe native, Gwanzura came to the United States during his 20s on a college track scholarship. After graduating, he moved to Roanoke Rapids with his family for his job with Smithfield Hog Production.

“I am a track guy, I used to run track in the 90s when I was younger,” Gwanzura said.

His event during college had been the men’s 800-meter, but as he grew older the runner said it became hard to maintain the speed he needed to run half a mile competitively.

“I’m really an 800- or 1,500-meter guy, but with age when you run races you lose all of your speed,” he said.

“These legs man, they complain now. That’s the issue. I can still run a pretty good mile, but it’s the work I put in now. There’s some risk for getting injured when I do my speed work.”

Several years ago, Gwanzura said he heard the USA Masters Championships, a large national track and field competition, were coming to Winston-Salem. Knowing he had enough time to train, Gwanzura decided to try out the 3,000 since it required less speed and more endurance.

“I had not run track probably since 2008 at the time,” he said.

Gwanzura shocked himself. He blew away the competition and won the national title for his age group.

“Then I said ‘Wow, I need to keep on doing this,’” he said.

Realizing he needed a more challenging venue, Gwanzura began training for the indoor world championship in Daegu.

His training lasted three years and ultimately paid off. Gwanzura paid his own way to South Korea’s fourth largest city, and despite a disappointing fifth place finish in the 1500, he said his second place finish in the 3000 made the trip worth it.

Especially since he ran faster than the age group below him, the 40-44 year olds.

“If we mixed with those kids, we would have blown them away,” he said. “Their winning time was 9:06. We would have smoked those kids.”

How it all started

Growing up with his older brother Charles, an accomplished runner himself, in Zimbabwe, Musa Gwanzura said the two of them always wanted to fly.

“When we were kids, we always wanted to fly,” he said. “So where we stayed in Zimbabwe, we were on the route for the London flight. So this big plane always passed by us when we were five or six years old.”

The two brothers marveled at the plane and would often yell at it, asking the plane to bring them candy on its return flight.

Gwanzura said even at the time, he knew it was unlikely him or his brother would be able to fly in any capacity.

“We just wanted to go to the airport and touch the plane,” he said. “That’s all we wanted to do.”

Flying stayed in Gwanzura’s heart for a long time, even when he became a high school student and his brother left home to go teach.

While teaching, Gwanzura’s older brother would watch his students run 2 to 3 miles to school, then the same distance back home. His brother noticed they were fast, even without training.

“So he took a few of his kids and put them in a meet, and they blew out everybody,” Gwanzura said. “Next thing they were at a regional championship where they blew up everybody. Two to three months down the road, they won the championship for the juniors.”

One day, Gwanzura said, his brother came home and told him “Hey man, you always wanted to fly. Guess what, I have these kids I teach. They run and I know they’re no tougher than you.”

So the younger Gwanzura brother began running track and field at his high school. Eventually, he was beating everyone in the area.

After graduating, Gwanzura joined a track club to keep improving. By his third year, he said no one in the country could beat him.

His talent and speed won him his scholarship to go to school in the United States and run track.

“I just wanted to fly,” Gwanzura said.

What’s next?

For the next year or so, Gwanzura said he doesn’t plan on running in any major races. Instead he wants to focus on getting his speed back so he can be competitive in the 800.

“Because I don’t have anything big next year, I can take a risk with my legs and see how far I can sprint,” he said.

The next time you’re jogging along Old Farm Road or walking laps around Manning Elementary’s track, there’s a good chance the man speeding past is Musa Gwanzura because he’s probably faster than you.

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April 19, 2017

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