SA's top runners nurture new talent in Cape Town road race | SASCOC - SASCOC

SA’s top runners nurture new talent in Cape Town road race

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - MARCH 29: Mapaseka Makhanya wins the race during the SPAR Women's 10km Challenge from Greenpoint Common on March 29, 2015 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Reg Caldecott/Gallo Images)

There’s an air of excitement ahead of Sunday morning’s SPAR Women’s 10km Challenge in Cape Town.
Most of South Africa’s top female roadrunners will be taking part in the race, which starts at the Cape Town Stadium and ends at Greenpoint Common.  The standard is expected to be very high, with many of the top runners in the process of trying to qualify for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in August.
The SPAR Grand Prix champion in 2014, Diana-Lebo Phalula will be in the Netherlands, where she hopes to qualify for the marathon, while last year’s Cape Town winner, Mapaseka Makhanya (pictured above), has withdrawn for personal reasons.
However, runners of the calibre of former Cape Town winners Rutando Nyahora and Rene Kalmer, as well as Kalmer’s sister Christine, Phalula’s twin, Lebogang, and KwaZulu-Natal’s Jenna Challenor will be fighting it out for top honours.
Irvette van Zyl, who won the Two Oceans half marathon last month, appears to be back at full strength after giving birth to a son in September, and many predict that this could be her year.
In addition to trying to win the Cape Town race, which is the first in the five-race Challenge series, the top runners will be striving to win valuable Grand Prix points. The Grand Prix is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, and with prize money totalling more than R400 000 rand, there is plenty of incentive for runners to do well. The Grand Prix winner will take home R160 000 and the runner-up will receive R53 000.
In an exciting new development, the six women who have won the Grand Prix title, will each take a junior athlete under their wing. This mentorship programme will include the junior runners travelling to the races with their mentors, and having access to advice about training, strategy and various aspects of competition.
The six juniors who have been selected for the programme are no strangers to the SPAR Challenge series and include the three who took top honours in the junior category of the Grand Prix last year.
Kalmer, who has won the Grand Prix title three times, has been paired with Chery-Lee Schoeman, who represents Gauteng in track and cross-country. In 2015, Schoeman was first junior home in several 10km road races, including the Northgate 10km, where she was third overall in 38min 44sec.
Two times Grand Prix winner Van Zyl will mentor Nicole van der Merwe, who won the junior Grand Prix title last year. Van der Merwe has represented South Africa in cross-country and has an impressive personal best time of 34.52. She was first junior home in the Durban Challenge race last year.
Simonay Weitsz, who boasts eight national athletic titles, and who has represented South Africa in athletics and cross-country, has been paired with Mapaseka Makhanya.  Weitsz was first junior home in the Challenge race in Port Elizabeth last year, and second in Durban.
Lebohang Ramela was handpicked by her mentor, the inaugural Grand Prix winner, Poppy Mlambo, who says her protégé is a future star. Ramela excelled at the South African schools championships, and won three 5km races in 2015, including the Totalsports 5km, in a record time of 17.16 minutes.
Diana-Lebo Phalula will mentor Tuks High School pupil Keletso Senosi, another young runner who has excelled in track and cross-country. She won gold at the AGN 10km Championships, and was one of the stars of the SA Schools Track and Field championships.
Lebogang Phalula has been paired with up and coming Ashleigh Simonis of the Western Cape..
SPAR has announced that there will be a cash incentive for the combination that do best over the five races, with their top three performances taken into consideration.
Kalmer, who has won more Challenge races than any other runner, said she was very excited about the mentorship programme.
‘I think it’s awesome that we are going to mentor some of the junior runners,’ she said. ‘I feel privileged to be able to give something back.’
She said the junior runners would find that running was not always plain sailing, but their mentors would be there to help them through the bad patches.
‘The juniors will travel to the SPAR races with us, so we will be able to advise them and to help them with training programmes and race tactics.  I think we will be like a helpline for the juniors. It is all part of building for the future,’ said Kalmer.

Picture of Mapaseka winning last year’s Cape Town leg of the series courtesy of Reg Caldecott