Barefoot runner Diana-Lebo Phalula set Port Elizabeth alight on Saturday morning when she won the SPAR Women’s 10km Challenge in a record time of 32.27 minutes.
Rene Kalmer finished second, in 33.27, and last year’s Grand Prix winner, Mapaseka Makhanya was third in 33.28. Ethiopian runner Hunduma Gemeda, who was second in the Cape Town race, was fourth, in 33.35.
Phalula’s time was the fastest in a Challenge race and the fourth fastest time by a South African in any race. Kalmer ran the same time at the South African Championships in Stellenbosch in 2009, Zola Budd ran 31.42 in Oslo in 1984 and Colleen de Reuck ran 31.38 in Durban in 2000. The fastest time by a South African is Elana Meyer’s 31.13 in Budapest in 2001.
Phalula made her break early in the race, after running in a group led by two Ethiopian runners, Gemeda and Chelity Asefa, for the first two kilometres. “I was feeling very motivated and I decided to get away from the others. I just kept going and I didn’t look back. The weather was good for running and I felt very relaxed,” she said.
Phalula said she believed the improvement in her times was a result of training with men. “They motivate me, and I’m training very hard,” she said. She said she was aiming to secure a place in the South African team for the Commonwealth Games, running the 5000m and the 800m.
Kalmer said she was very happy with her second place. “After coming eighth in Cape Town, I’m just pleased to be back in the top three,” she said. “The Ethiopians started very fast, so I just decided to run my own race,” said Kalmer.
“I tried to keep within striking distance of the leaders, but Lebo was just too strong for us today.”
“Lebo ran a great race,” said Makhanya. “It was my third competitive road race this year, and I just want to carry on. The more you race, the more competitive you become.
Makhanya also has her sights set on the Commonwealth Games, while Kalmer is to travel to the United States to run a number of races there.
With two victories under her belt, Phalula is now well on her way to securing the SPAR Grand Prix and the first prize of a new Nissan Micra.