Strong winds, rain and biting cold failed to deter thousands of runners from descending on the Port Elizabeth beachfront for the 20th instalment of the annual SPAR Women’s Challenge on Saturday.
As the sun rose over the new race venue at Pollok beach in Summerstrand, a record 13 149 professional and amateur runners from around Nelson Mandela Bay and South Africa gathered at the starting line of the 10km and 5km races.
In the latter, many men donned wigs, skirts and other female attire to run alongside their better halves.
Zimbabwe’s Rutendo Nyahora, running for Nedbank AGN, took the 10km title in 33.09. She also won the Cape Town leg in March.
Diana-Lebo Phalula from Maxed Elite CGA clocked 33:39 and Mapaseka Makhanya of Transnet ENG 34.06 to complete the podium.
The top South African runners in the 10km SPAR Grand Prix series stand to win a total of R139 000 and a new car. The legs are in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Durban (June), Pretoria (August) and Johannesburg (October).
“The weather didn’t affect my run much,” Nyahora said at the post-race media conference. “I was aiming to better my personal best of 32.55, but that didn’t happen because of the wind.
“This was the best race for me in PE. I’m not 100% in shape, but I was determined to make the top three.”
Race organiser Colleen Muller of Walmer Athletics Club said the race route had changed because of renovations at the former starting point at Kings Beach. She said the new course, which led runners up Admiralty Way and down La Roche Drive, was tougher.
“I’m not sure if the course will stay the same, because more residents are impacted by it. We have had comments from runners saying they liked it, though.”
Locals Gail Willimott and Jodie Bosch, who competed in the 10km for the third year in a row, said the wind and rain had not been a deterrent.
“We ran 52.53, which is our best,” said Willimott. “We ran into the wind up Admiralty, but it pushed us down La Roche.”
Olwethu Bomvana, also from PE, said she suffered at the halfway mark, but managed to finish in 59 minutes.
“I was hoping for a better time. At the start I was worried about the weather, but it turned out okay.”
As runners crossed the finish line, they were welcomed by vocals from top SA singer Toya Delazy, singing hits like “Love is in the air”.
Another celebrity who had scores of fans queuing for photographs was actor and comedian Colin Moss. Before firing the starter’s pistol, he said the chilly weather made him feel like he was back home in Cape Town.
“I wish I had been running in this weather,” Moss said afterwards, adding he never tired of the hordes of fans eager for a word.
The Association for the Physically Disabled received R200 000 from the proceeds of the event, while PE resident Lucinda Bergins won R50 000 in SPAR shopping vouchers.
Lawson Brown High School and Papenkuil Primary School were the schools and St George’s Hospital the company with the most entries.