The running record you didn't hear about this week - and how it could put Durban on the world record fast track
On Sunday, on a blustery day in the Durban city centre, another Kenyan broke another running record - but this one barely made a blip on the athletics radar.
Sheila Chepkirui stormed over the FNB Durban 10K CITYSURFRUN course in the remarkable time of 30:55. It was an “all-comers record”, which means, in simple terms, that it was the fastest 10km road race ever completed by a women on South African soil.
Sure, it wasn’t as high profile as her countrywoman Brigid Kosgei’s demolition of the women’s marathon record on the same day. And, no, it wasn’t as iconic as fellow Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge tearing up the streets of Vienna to complete the first ever sub-two-hour marathon.
But Chepkirui’s record isn’t without significance. If you ask athletes and race organisers alike, it is a sign that - sooner rather than later, and hopefully in the next three to five years - the world’s fastest ever times for the women’s and men’s 10km road race will be set in Durban.
Adding to the belief is that, in 2018, Ugandan Joshua Cheptegei - the Commonwealth Games 10,000m and 5,000m champ who missed this year’s event - ran 27:16, the men’s “all comers record” over 10km in SA.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that world records can be broken in the Durban 10K,” Chepkirui told TimesLIVE in the wake of her win.
A lot would have to come together, she admitted, but it was not out of the realms of possibility.
“We’ll need a windless day, a good group of runners and pacemakers and, hopefully, some additional financial incentives that will drive the pack to work hard without calculations. It would be great to be part of this effort,” she said.
Chepkirui said that she felt good from the get-go on Sunday, knowing from the 1km mark that “sub-31 minutes was possible”. This barrier had never been broken by a woman in SA.
Because of the wind, she had to be more “cautious” as the race went on. But in perfect conditions, when caution can be thrown by the wayside, that record is definitely in sight.
“The Durban10K course is flat and fast, the fields are strong and usually the weather co-operates. I hope to see the Durban10K grow from strength to strength and hope to be back in 2020,” she said.
Add in the inspirational record-breaking feats of her compatriots, and the belief in a record grows even stronger.
“We are witnessing unprecedented breakthroughs in performances,” said Chepkirui. “And I hope our sport will capture more interest in coming years, as this is a beautiful sport and a sport that is a base for many other sporting codes.”
The men’s winner, SA’s Stephen Mokoka - who was delighted at his time of 28:12 - said that breaking records was doable, but it would be a hard task. A lot of stars, both literally and figuratively, would have to line up to make it happen.
“I think everywhere that you run a world record can be broken, but it depends on the kind of field and the quality of the field. To run a world record you need pacemakers. It depends on the kind of athlete that they [race organisers] bring us, and the pacemakers. To run a 26:44 [the current record] is a very difficult thing. Every time that those guys run a world record they have pacemakers.
“I think it’s possible, but it depends on the calibre of the field on the day, if the conditions are good and people are prepared well,” he said.
Above all, he said, it was the quality of the athletes themselves that would make history happen on SA’s east coast.
“To prepare for a world record, those are good times, those are the best times ever. You need the quality of athletes.
“Now you see Joshua [Cheptegei] says he wants to attempt the world record in Valencia. He’s been running here [in Durban] and he’s won several times, he set an all-time best here in our country [in 2018]. If Stillwater Sports [the race organisers] can invite him, and they get him, people who are going to help him to go through a good time at 5km, 6km or 7km, he’ll be able to do that,” said Mokoka.
For him, the benefits of the record being set in Durban wouldn’t just be for the history books.
“If we can get fast times in SA, it can change South African running big time. If we had to be fortunate and get the world record in SA, a lot of people can witness that. The world record can change a lot of things in our country,” he said.
Michael Meyer, MD of Stillwater Sports, said it was initially in the minds of FNB Run Your City Series organisers simply to “create one of the fastest 10km road racing routes in the world” - and Durban was the perfect place for it because it was “very flat”, the “conditions are generally very good” and the temperature and climate is “good throughout the year”.
“That was really our goal, but since we established the event three years ago we’ve elevated our goal and are really focused on having the event facilitate the breaking of the 10km world record in the next three to five years. That’s our goal and that would be an amazing achievement for Durban, for SA and for Africa. The route has set up many African, European and national records. We believe that we can go one step further and break the world record on this course,” he said.
For him, though, it wasn’t just about the records, it was also about using the world’s and country’s best athletes to inspire more South Africans to get active - and about using the growing popularity of 5km and 10km runs to do that. The FNB series also features the Cape Town 12, the Joburg 10 and, soon, the Maputo 10 in Mozambique.
“People are inspired by the fact that they can line up with the best athletes in the world. That is what makes road running so unique. And the fact that they can have an amazing experience on the route with many different points of entertainment really makes the 10km go by very quickly.
“The growth of road running in SA is much stronger in the 5km and 10km distances. Parkruns have played a huge role in getting people active, outdoors and starting to exercise. Invariably they inspire to do more to test themselves, and that is where the FNB Run Your City Series comes into its own.
“The growth of running is really taking place in this 10km category not in the marathon or in the ultras but in the 10km. This fits into our goal which is to provide people with opportunities to live a healthy and vibrant life,” he said.