WATCH: High spirits help keep runners warm for cool SPAR Challenge

A light breeze may have been enough to blow Port Elizabeth funny man Gino Fabbri’s apron up, revealing more of his hairy legs, but it did not deter thousands of runners from enjoying the cold and wet SPAR Women’s Challenge at the weekend.

Marine Drivee was bursting at the seams on Saturday morning, as the women and girls, and some fabulously dressed men, lined up at the start of the annual event.

The more serious female participants, who took part in the 10km race, got off to a flying start promptly at 7am.

The 5km event, which started an hour later, saw Fabbri – or rather the persona of chef Philippe Phillip – enduring countless catcalls and whistles from the crowd as he entertained them wearing little more than a chef’s hat and apron.

The aim of the event, which takes place in a number of cities across the country every year, is to promote an active, healthy lifestyle. The proceeds are donated to charity.

Flicking his long blonde locks out of his face, Peter Stander, 37, known as Petronella on race day, said this was his third Women’s Challenge – and the biggest challenge for him each year was finding the perfect outfit.

“I mean, you can’t be seen running in the same outfit twice. What would people say!”

This year, he donned a short black dress, blonde wig and fishnet stockings on his hairy legs. His makeup was brilliantly done, thanks to his wife, Dorelle.

“Unfortunately, I could not find heels in a size 10, so I had to go with running takkies.”

Uitenhage resident Tanya Mynhardt, 43, along with her daughters Kayla, 8, and Danielle, 5, said this was her third Women’s Challenge and one of the best ones to date.

“This was the first year my kids came along – and I loved doing it with them,” she said.

Running buddies Michelle Cheetham, 33, and Terez Ellington, 37, saw the 10km race as good training for the upcoming Knysna half-marathon in July.

“The weather conditions were great for running,” Cheetham said.

GALLERY: SPAR Women’s Challenge

Ellington said Port Elizabeth needed to organise more events such as this, as the runners’ calendar was a little thin and they had to travel elsewhere for proper road races. KESA Molotsane sped to an impressive maiden victory in the 10km SPAR Women’s Challenge, but there were winners galore as thousands braved the cool conditions in Port Elizabeth at the weekend.

The Bloemfontein-based KPMG runner was delighted with her victory on Saturday and said she knew that they could not let Nedbank’s Irvette van Zyl, who hails from Pretoria, open up too big a gap when she led the pack at the halfway mark.

“Irvette was flying, so I felt we had to do something before it was too late,” the new champion said, admitting she had nearly miscalculated her pace in the closing stages.

“I thought we were closer to the finish when I passed Irvette at the 8km mark.

“I opened up then, but suddenly realised we still had two kilometres to go, not just one, so I almost shot myself in the foot.

“But I managed to hang on and I am pleased with the way it worked out,” Molotsane said.

She won in 33:13, followed just eight seconds later by Van Zyl. Mapaseka Makhanya, from Olifantsfontein in Gauteng, was third in 33:40.

Spurred on by local artist Gino Fabbri, thousands of women took to the start of the 10km and 5km events, in what is the Eastern Cape’s biggest road race.

Among them was South African road-running legend Sonja Laxton, who finished a remarkable 91st Women’s Challenge.

The 68-year-old from Melrose in Johannesburg showed she has lost none of her competitive edge when she completed the 10km race in just under 50 minutes.

Van Zyl said: “These races are really important for women’s running in South Africa and they have made us all better competitors.

“I can see the times are much faster this year and the runners are much hungrier.

“Kesa is an example of the new blood coming through, and there are a lot of juniors on the horizon.”

SPAR Eastern Cape marketing director Abri Swart said the Women’s Challenge was in line with their philosophy to provide healthy family lifestyle options.

“It is a chance for some healthy exercise and for some, perhaps, to move out of their comfort zone.”

Next year, the SPAR Women’s Challenge will celebrate its 25th anniversary in Port Elizabeth, and Swart said they were aiming to put on a firstclass event.

“We will throw in all the bells and whistles, even the kitchen sink,” he said.

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