Running for Madiba

2012-08-27 00:00

ZIMBABWEANS Brighton Chipere and Munchaneta Gwata brought closure to the first chapter of the Mandela Day Marathon when they were crowned victors of the inaugural event ahead of a field of 940 runners.

After the early leaders had dropped back, Chipere, a 2:12 marathoner, and Munyaradzi Jari were first to attack Struggle Hill, a 450 metre ascent over eight kilometres between Edendale and Cowan House.

The Zimbabwean duo looked comfortable in the idyllic running conditions, but the challenge of the course took its toll on Jari, who was unable to respond when the Mr Price Sports runner pushed the pace on the stretch from Howick Stadium through to the new Nelson Mandela Capture site museum on Tweedie Road.

The lead had stretched to over a minute-and-a-half when Chipere crossed the line in two hours, 28 minutes and 32 seconds to write his name on the magnificent figurine of Nelson Mandela as the inaugural winner of the event, which uMgungundlovu Mayor Yusuf Bhamjee confirmed will be an annual race.

The Harare-based athlete had been training for a marathon in Europe, but opted for this event and took home a purse of R31 000, the reward being a combination of the overall victory and his win in the 35-39 age group.

“I had the spirit of Madiba burning inside me when I ran this race up those very tough climbs,” said Chipere.

“This is a memorable event; it is the toughest I have run, and the slowest winning time I have run.”

University of Pretoria’s Sikhumbuzo Seme was third in 2:31:51, with local-based Professor Mollen in close pursuit.

A number of uMgungundlovu runners were among the many category awards, with previous Comrades winner Shaun Meiklejohn capitalising on local knowledge to win the 50-59 age category in an impressive 3:01:47, while Richard Dlamini put the Phuma Athletic Club colours atop the podium in the 40-49 age group.

“It’s very very tough, but I’m happy,” said Gwata, who has is capable of a 2:52 marathon, but had to settle for 3:10:14 in winning a tightly fought women’s race.

Less than two minutes separated the top five women as they took on Struggle Hill and Challenge Climb to reach halfway in Hilton.

The group that included Bidvest’s Ndofhiwa Mandiwana, Zimbabwean Chiyedza Chokore and Savage’s Makhosa Mhlongo remained together through halfway and past Cedara.

Gwata made her move, easing open a significant lead, as they approached the Howick Stadium, where the 10 km race had started.

As Gwata, who ran in the colours of Mr Price Sport, secured her lead, Chokore faded off the back, leaving Mhlongo and Mandiwana to dice for second and third.

“It was tougher than I had thought,” said Comrades gold medallist Kerry Koen, who had trained over the course in recent weeks.

“I took it easy in the first half and felt good through Howick, but had to surrender fifth place in the last six kilometres,” said Koen who had been bitten by a dog less than 10 days ago, and was caught by Bluff Meats Regina Keoch from Kenya.

Although exhausted by their effort, the runners were full of praise for the event, with many already committing to next year.

“This was a major challenge,” said Craig Scott of the Stella club, “but the organisation was top class. I really enjoyed it. What a magnificent and special day.”

“This is one that is going to grow and become an icon on the [running] calendar,” said Ray Orchiston, who travelled from the Bedfordview Club in Johannesburg for the event.

“ The crowds and community support along the route is really special.”

The race attracted over 30 foreign runners, including one from Germany, and filled the allotted 940 marathon entries over two weeks before the official closing date.

The associated 10 km event attracted close to 600 entries, with 52% of the entries coming from women, which is a first for a mixed race in Kwazulu-Natal.

The change in approach and organisation of KZN Athletics was also evident in the organisation of the event, which also saw the new president, Sello Mokoena, win his 40-49 age category in the 10 km in 41 minutes, 31 seconds.

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