Namibian Helalia Johannes took control in the last third of the race to take the SPAR Women’s Challenge 10km road race title in Port Elizabeth today.
Running for Nedbank, the 38-year-old Johannes set a personal best of 31 minutes 50 seconds to cross the line well ahead of 17-year-old Ethiopian Tadu Teshome Nare, also Nedbank, in 32:38 and two-time defending champion Kesa Molotsane (Murray & Roberts) in 33:09.
Breaking away at the 7km mark, Johannes realised she was on track to better her personal best 10km time of 32:28 and this saw her take control of the race.
“The weather was perfect and I enjoyed the race, but I was not expecting to win in this fashion,” said Johannes.
“There was very good competition and everyone is fit, but I just went out there and ran my best.”
Despite losing her crown, Molotsane, from Bloemfontein, said she welcomed the strong competition provided by several international runners.
“I really want to welcome them to our beautiful country and we are very happy to have them running against us and helping us to raise the standard of the competition,” she said.
While the elite runners thrilled the big crowd at the beachfront, there was boundless enthusiasm among the 7 000 women – and some men in drag – who enjoyed the 10km and 5km events.
Veeroni Naidoo, from Broadwood in Port Elizabeth, said she initially had no intention of running the 10km, but was “forced to do so by a colleague”.
Now, she added, she would definitely be back for more next year.
“Ironically, my colleague fell ill and was unable to run, but I ended up loving the 10km race, having done the 5km previously,” said Naidoo.
“It was not as bad or gruelling and it felt like such an accomplishment. I will definitely be back next year.”
Some travelled from further afield, such as Nolubabalo Ngxesha, who came all the way from Whittlesea, near Queenstown, to join in the fun.
“I am just a fun-runner and struggling with my weight, so that is my motivation for running,” she said.
“This was my first time in PE and I really did enjoy the spirit and the vibe.”
SPAR EC sponsorship and events manager Alan Stapleton paid tribute to the high standard of running on display.
“What a race it was, and to have such an array of top-class talent was really good for Port Elizabeth,” he said. “I think it brought out the best in all the athletes, with a great time and a great spirit among all the runners.”
He did not forget the rest of the entrants.
“To have thousands of runners out here celebrating the beauty, the power and the joy of being a woman is fantastic. The camaraderie you see just makes this such a wonderful event.”