Step up for the Spar Ladies’ Challenge

2009-08-01 00:00

THE first day of August marks the start of Women’s Month in South Africa and the formal launch of the build-up to the Spar Weekend Witness 10 km Ladies’ Challenge in Pietermaritzburg on September 13.

The first women-only race was in 1972 in New York and had 78 runners. This was also the year that women were first officially allowed to enter the Boston Marathon and the year that the women’s 1 500 m was introduced to the Olympics in Munich.

This New York event was called the Mini-Marathon not only for its shorter distance, but also after the then fashionable mini-skirt. Almost 40 years later it attracts over 4 000 runners and some of the world’s top athletes.

Women-only races offer many attractions: for the leaders, it’s a chance to have clear sight of their competition and to gain the limelight and recognition, but the special atmosphere, camaraderie and support inspires participants throughout the field. Middle-of-the-pack runners find themselves being swept along in the mass, while beginners feel less self-conscious about their abilities and looks.

In many cases the races provide an opportunity to contribute to a particular women’s cause, such as breast cancer research or scholarships for women runners.

South Africa’s introduction to the women-only race commenced in the 1980s and has since attracted many sponsors such as Femina, Clicks, Totalsports, Flora and Spar.

Since 1991, the supermarket chain has hosted the ladies’ event with the first Durban race attracting 200 runners.

The growth has been phenomenal, with Durban hitting a peak of 17 000 runners and walkers by 2005. This has since stabilised at around 13 000, while the entertainment, organisation and support on offer has seen other fields booming, with Cape Town this year topping 12 000, and Pretoria now budgeting for 20 000 runners on August 22.

Women’s running is a worldwide phenomenon. In only three years the Ethiopian women’s 10 km has grown to 8 000 runners. Glasgow had over 10 500 women finishing under two hours, and La Parisienne’s 5 km, which starts under the Eiffel Tower, reached 8 000 runners in the first three years. The Great Eastern Women’s 10 km in Singapore in November has 15 000 and the 5 km Revlon Run in Los Angeles is one of the world’s largest with over 34 000 timed finishers in 2007.

The women’s running network in UK was established in 1998 to assist women in the Cancer Research 5 km series, and training and support groups and websites are available throughout Great Britain and United States.

The Pietermaritzburg-based Spar Weekend Witness Ladies’ 10 km is one of South Africa’s originals, dating back to the early1990s when Mike Limboris, a running enthusiast with Jonathan’s group of Spar stores, wanted to reward his loyal customers with an event in a sport he enjoyed.

This year’s race on September 13 has all the ingredients to allow any women to become part of the worldwide trend for these races, and the Weekend Witness and Spar this year bring specific training schedules and training tips for everyone who wants to make the finish line.

This is your opportunity to be supported every step of the way — from the couch to the 5 km or 10 km finish line.

See www.witness.co.za for Spar Weekend Witness training schedules.

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