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  • Writer's pictureMosibodi Whitehead

SPAR Women's Challenge back with a bang as Grace de Oliviera targets 100 races

When the SPAR Women's Challenge returns in April 2023, Grace de Oliviera will be aiming to achieve a memorable milestone. At the second race of the Grand Prix in Gqeberha on 27 May, the 61-year-old will be aiming to become only the second woman in history after the legendary Sonja Laxton, to run one hundred SPAR 10km races. And she says she has kept on coming back year after year because of the wonderful genuine friendships she has made while running.

"When I first started running in 1983 when I got married, I started with cross country and I moved up onto road and did a bit of track and then road races - 10km," she told #TheTopRunner. "Then I moved up in distance - 15km, then 21km and only much later in my running career did I start running marathons," said the woman who ran her 1:13:36 personal best at the 1994 World Half Marathon Championships in Oslo, Norway.

The 2019 SPAR Women's Challenge in Tshwane where entries were capped at 25 000 participants. Organizers of the 2023 SPAR Women's Challenge want to attract similar crowds this year. Photo Credit: SPAR Grand Prix.

"It was only after that when I knew that I had achieved everything I could in terms of world running that I decided to run some ultras." de Oliviera ended up running thirteen Two Oceans 56km races with a return of ten gold medals, with another ten Comrades Marathon gold medals and a second place 6:34:53 finish in 1999. The SPAR Women's Challenge and later the SPAR Grand Prix featured prominently on her annual running calendar first when from her days as a senior to now as Grand Master and top age group performer.

"The SPAR races have always been and will always be very close to my heart and I will always run them for as long as I can. I'm truly grateful to SPAR for all these years and all the support. They have supported me the whole way in all the years that I have been running them. I have run 98, so the second one this year will be my 100 and that will bring big celebrations, but it won't mean it's the end. I don't think this story will end just there and then," laughed the Murray and Roberts Running Club athlete.

Grace de Oliviera after taking third place (46:52) in the 60+ category during the Pietermaritzburg leg of the 2021 SPAR Grand Prix. Photo Credit: SPAR Grand Prix Series.

But ultimately de Oliviera keeps coming back to the series because of the wonderful friendships that she has made, which is why she fell in love with running in the first place. "What I love about running is just the freedom of being yourself and pushing yourself to be the best you can be. Just the friendships that you form in running. Everybody is a friend," she smiled.

The 2023 SPAR Women's Challenge is back with a bang because for the first time since 2019, the SPAR Women’s Challenge races will be open to thousands of women in each of the six cities nationwide. The popular 5km Fun Run is back and will be staged alongside the classic SPAR Women’s 10km Challenge, which incorporates the prestigious SPAR Grand Prix where a whopping R1.9 million in prize money is on offer. “We are so happy that we can once again welcome thousands of women of all ages to our 10km races and 5km Fun Runs. Our target national entry is 70 000 women in 2023,” said SPAR Group’s National Sponsorship and Events Manager, Charlene Subbarayan.

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