Beyond the Finish Line:
The Elizabeth Mukoloma Story

You probably don’t know who Elizabeth Mukoloma is, but you should. I met Elizabeth for the first time in a relatively quiet corner of Solwezi’s bustling Messenger Market. She emerged from her shop, warm and friendly, clad in a plain yellow shirt and green chitenge wrapper. The Nkwazi team and I had travelled from Lusaka specifically to film a documentary on Elizabeth’s story and achievements. 

Elizabeth, a longtime resident of Solwezi, is a tailor in the market, a mother, and a wife. She also happens to be the holder of the national women’s marathon record and one of Zambia’s best endurance runners. In October 2023, Elizabeth broke the national record at the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon.

We leave the market with Elizabeth, making our second stop that day to scout Tumvwananai Secondary School. Here, she trains a group of students ranging in age from 10 to 17 years every week, which is a commitment she made in November of 2023. Several children from Solwezi were inspired by Elizabeth and started showing up at her home, asking if she would train them. She accepted, and they initially began with road runs. Noticing the group, some administrators at Tumvwananai offered the school training grounds for their cause. 

Elizabeth’s running journey started at school when she was in grade 10. She soon discovered that she had a talent for running and competed in competitions from the school level through to the provincial level. After finishing grade 12, however, Elizabeth gave up on her passion, instead focusing her efforts on trying to get a job. “After school, I stopped running because I thought I would be wasting my time,” she shares. 

When a friend who worked as a tailor asked her to join him in his business, Elizabeth agreed. He taught her the trade, and they began working together in his shop, which Elizabeth still runs today. Her friend has since changed professions, leaving Elizabeth as the shop’s sole owner.

While Elizabeth quit running after school, it was only for a brief period. Encouraged by some friends and her then-boyfriend, who was a talented runner himself, she rediscovered running and joined the Kansanshi Running Team. As Elizabeth tells me, her boyfriend-now-husband has been one of her biggest supporters, especially during times of injury and when she doubts how far she can take her running career. The couple regularly runs together once or twice a week. 

After showing us her home, we parted ways with Elizabeth, as she had to return to her shop and close up for the day. We reunited at Solwezi’s Independence Stadium, one of our filming locations. Here, Elizabeth trains with her coach, Godfrey Chikama, and other members of the Kansanshi Running Team, where she is the only woman in the 13-member running team. Speaking about the experience, she says, “I feel comfortable. I’m happy with the guys and see them as my brothers‚ĶRunning as a team, we encourage and teach one another. When a team member makes a mistake, we can tell them and advise how they can improve.”

The camaraderie between team members and the coach was evident during the morning and afternoon training sessions we witnessed the next day. Although they pushed themselves hard, the atmosphere amongst them was relaxed and easygoing. The team members and their coach ran around the track countless times, did strength training exercises and stretches, and laughed and teased each other throughout. The coach led most drills but often allowed Elizabeth and another team member to take the lead.

Godfrey tells me coaching Elizabeth is a breeze, “she’s hardworking, committed, humble, adaptable and supportive. She’s a good listener, and if you give her a training programme, she commits to it.” Coach Godfrey was younger than I expected; at 23 years old, he is the same age as Elizabeth and has been coaching for three years. Though a runner himself, he dedicates his career to grooming other runners early on. It is his dream for Solwezi and the wider North-Western Province to become a hub for runners in Zambia and for Solwezi’s native runners to become successful locally and internationally. 

In the early evening, with the threat of rain, we go our separate ways and meet with Elizabeth early the following day at her home. Here, she proudly displays her medals and trophies, all 32 of them. She values all of them, but she cherishes three in particular. The first is her Victoria Falls Marathon medal. This was her first international competition and she didn’t think she would make it because she had been nursing an injury, but with a mere week of training, she scooped up fourth place. She recalls this trip fondly, as it was her first time laying eyes on Victoria Falls. The second medal was for the Absa Marathon in 2021. She participated in the half marathon and placed first among the women. 

Elizabeth’s most prized medal is her record-breaking run at the 2023 Sanlam Cape Town Marathon. She broke Zambia’s national women’s marathon record with a staggering time of two hours, 55 minutes and 52 seconds. This was no accident, she travelled to Cape Town aiming to set a new record and trained with this goal in mind. Elizabeth describes the moment she realised her achievement: “I was in my room after the race and turned on the TV and saw a recap. They posted the times, and I realised I had broken the national record. Alone in my room, I was so excited and elated. I feel proud when I look at all my medals because this work is not easy.”

We head back to Tumvwananai School, where Elizabeth has a training session with some students. She has been confident throughout our encounters, but this is the most self-assured she has been. She’s in her element with the children. Elizabeth gives the children a pep talk before they begin their drills. She tells them they can win races like her, but only if they’re hardworking and disciplined. I’m reminded of Elizabeth’s words in an earlier conversation when I asked her why she trains with the children and how she thinks sports can benefit the community of Solwezi, “Sports can help to achieve your goals. School is not the only way to be educated. You can be educated through sports and achieve a lot through it.”

One person who does not doubt Elizabeth’s potential to thrive as a career athlete is the Kansanshi Running Team Manager Davie Muleyi. He once trained footballer Racheal Kundananji, Zambia’s national women’s striker and Bay FC forward in the United States. Davie believes Elizabeth can achieve the same success as Kundananji and other top Zambian athletes with the proper support. He also laments that some parents discourage their children from pursuing sports professionally as they are unaware of the opportunities, including the life-changing international sports scholarships. Ultimately, he notes that attitudes are changing, and the future is bright for Elizabeth and other athletes in Solwezi.

While Elizabeth already has numerous sporting achievements and set a new national record, she has many more goals. She hopes to create and break more records and compete in more local and international competitions. Her ultimate goal is to have running as her full-time occupation. “I look at athletes like the ones in Kenya who run full-time, and I believe one day I can be like them. They’re human like me, and if I work hard, I can get to their level.”

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