Norrie Williamson
5 minute read
7 Jul 2022

STRAIGHT RUNNING | SA runners peaking for all distances

Norrie Williamson

Although the five-kilometre has been recognised for World Records since 2020, it has yet to gain much favour in SA.

Running coach Norrie Williamson.

Comrades runners, and the recently announced 100 km team, continue to crank up the miles towards their chosen three- to four-week crescendo, while those heading towards next week’s World Championships in Oregon are tapering down in search of their peak performance.

The 100 m win by Akani Simbine (10,08) in the Diamond League in Stockholm the other day and return towards 400 m form by Wayde van Niekerk (44,58) in the Stars and Stripes meeting in USA breathed welcome life to the 40-athlete team heading to Eugene in search of finals and medals. Additionally, there will be high hopes for success in the previous medal events of long jump and relays.

Precious Mashele will round off his 5 000 m preparations in Durban on Sunday where he is one of around 100 elite athletes invited for the second Absa Run Your City Series event in Durban.

Mashele can be expected to lead the South Africans, although SA Record holder Stephen Mokoka is sure to be happy to debate that on the road.

A new SA All time
The fastest man in the field is Isaac Kibet, who owns a 27-minute 41-second best, only 25 seconds slower than the SA All-comers record set by Joshua Cheptegui in Durban in 2018.

This will be the second time this year I have seen the Ugandan in action as he set a new PB in the RAK 21 km in UAE in February, where I was on World Athletics Technical duty.

His continued improvement is expected on the incredibly fast course from Kings Park Swimming pool north to Jacko Jackson, then returning directly into and around the City Hall and Opera House, down to Shepstone, and onto the promenade for the 1,8 km final effort to finish at Country Club beaches.

He certainly won’t have it his own way as he is joined by countryman Abel Sikowo, Kenyans Isaac Kipkemboi and David Irungu and other elites from Ethiopia, Djibouti, Eritrea and Lesotho, plus South Africa’s best.

Women only or Mixed
Two weeks ago, the Durban Spar Grand Prix successfully provided some fast times, but were still hampered by a northerly wind.

As a mixed race, the women will benefit from the depth of men of similar ability this weekend, as they provide both motivation and protection from the predicted 10 km/hour wind.

The course has even longer straights that allow better rhythm and only four minimal inclines — from the start over the Durban Country Club hump and back; from Shepstone Road to Marine Parade via Playfair Road, and finally the promenade “hill” outside Mini-Town. None are daunting, but at 2:40 per kilometre, they can be felt.

World class women
Genzebe Dibaba, who has four world records and two world bests on the track, ran her debut 10 km road race in the Absa Cape 10 km, finishing third in 31:02 and is expected to go even faster this time around.

Her 1 500 m and Mile speed give her the potential to around a minute faster once she has adapted to the new surface. She will be joined in the invited field by five Kenyans and three other Ethiopians, including Anna Dibaba, who although eight years younger, has already clocked useful road times.

The game-changer
However, what makes the Absa Durban 10 km exceptional this year are the incentives available to SA runners. Importantly, the open awards go down to 15th position for men and women, but additionally, those SA athletes who raced in Cape Town will now also be racing the clock for incentive money.

This is a game-changer for the sport, as every qualified Absa series runner who beats the various time barriers gains the incentive, ranging from a massive R250 000 for a sub-27 minute (women sub-31 minute) to R2 000 for dipping under the 30-minute barrier. (Women sub-34)

Foreign athletes assist SA’s progression
Debates frequently rage about SA’s prestige events putting up money for foreign athletes to earn, leaving the local runners with nothing; but the other side of this coin has been seen in the past World Athletics label events, and Spar Ladies Challenge, where the invited elite have forced, and pulled, the locals to better times.

The Absa’s Incentive table continues this theme but rewards even those outside the normal prize money. Racing in a vacuum between two distant competitors is a massive challenge compared to racing alongside similarly talented athletes.

The combination of foreign athletes, mixed racing and incentive for shorter distance running is going to change the face of the sport. The faster SA’s athletes become at five kilometres and 10 km, the faster their potential at all distances up to 50 km and 100 km, and all world record distances between.

Recording 5 km times
Interestingly, although the five-kilometre has been recognised for World Records since 2020, it has yet to gain much favour in SA.

That said in measurement terms, Sunday’s five-kilometre mark could arguably be the fastest road course ever measured in SA. There is an overall two-metre climb over the distance, and the start and finish separation are within a handful of metres of the 50% separation regulation, depending on the position of the runner on the road.

Whether split times at halfway can endanger national, provincial or personal records is always a debate, but it’s certainly something that will assist all runners in their quest for great times.

Cherry on the Top
Seeded runners always compete on Gun to Finish line timing, but with over 6 000 runners in the following batches, timed mat to mat this event, weather permitting, can be expected to see best times falling like 10 pins.

There is literally a Chery on the top as one runner will drive away a new car, sponsored by Chery South Africa.