Stephen Mokoka said in the build-up to the Nelson Mandela Bay Half Marathon incorporating the SA Half Marathon Championships, that a low 61 would be needed for a win. In the end the 34-year-old came within a whisker of running a PB to hold off an aggressive running, Elroy Gelant. Mokoka crossed the line in 60:56 with Gelant hitting 61:00 – a Personal Best by 10 seconds - and Precious Mashele having the race of his life to claim third in 61:21.
I near perfect conditions, some 3000 or so athletes set off at 7am with the best of South Africa looking to shut out the foreign challenge from Kenya and Ethiopia. While the men were successful in that attempt, it was the 18-year-old Tadu Nare from Nedbank Ethiopia who dominated from the gun and lead from start to finish.
big pack of 25 athletes in the men’s with all the main contenders went through the first 5km after a slow first kilometer (3:05). It was after 8 kilometers that the pace picked up dramatically with the Nedbank Running Club Kenyan’s Bernard Bil and David Maru driving the pace, with South Africa’s Elroy Gelant throwing in surge after surge. Stephen Mokoka, Elroy Gelant, Precious Mashele and Joel Mmone then attacked and dropped the Kenyan challenge in the final 4km.
First to fall off in the closing stages of the race was Joel Mmone and when Mokoka threw in another surge in the final 2km, Precious Mashele too had to give way. Mokoka’s famous finishing kick stood him in good stead as he was again able to get a small gap on arch rival, Elroy Gelant. Mokoka coming home for his hat trick of consecutive wins. Gelant having to settle for second yet again.
“I knew we could go fast here. This is great course, the conditions were perfect and the youngsters were keen and helped push the pace.” Said Mokoka. “It is always good to win a national title again. I felt good and I know I am on track for a good marathon in October.”
Nedbank Ethiopia's Tadu Nare won the women’s race in 1:10.20 with Nedbank Kenya’s Sarah Naibei second across the line (1:10.54) but it was Glenrose Xaba who grabbed the National Title in her first ever competitive Half Marathon. Third overall, Xaba came flying home in 71:08 to be the first South African across the line. Xaba had the race of her life. The target for her was a fast time and a shot at representing South Africa at the World Half Marathon Championships and her 71:08 debut certainly made a massive statement. “I am very happy with my race today. I wanted a sub 75, so to run a low 71 was a surprise for me.”
Two Oceans and Comrades winner, Gerda Steyn (Nedbank) was 4th overall and second South African home, also clocking a PB with her 71:53 (previous best 72:35).
Perhaps the biggest winner of the day was 22 year old student from Uitenhage, Kayla Joseph, who won a brand new Datson Go sponsored by the Eastern Cape Motor Group, valued at over R150 000, in a lucky draw open to participants in both the half marathon and 5km fun run.