Irvette van Zyl will attempt to defender her SPAR 10km Women’s Challenge title in Cape Town on Sunday. Photo: Reg Caldecott / Gallo Images

CAPE TOWN - Thought to be the largest single event for women on the continent and one of the largest in the world, Sunday's SPAR 10km Women’s Challenge has become one of Cape Town’s most significant and popular events, attracting both the country’s elite as well as the “masses” of all sizes and shapes.

In May 1996, 48 461 women completed the Grete Waitz 5km road run in Oslo - by far the largest ever in a single gender event. In 2014, 25 000 women took part in the 11th annual Nike Women’s Half Marathon in San Francisco - thought to be the largest women-only event of the millennium.

Expect a similar number to move past the Mouille Point Lighthouse and onto the Sea Point Promenade shortly after sunrise on Sunday in celebration of physical wellbeing, in celebration of life.

Some will be moving faster than others - a lot faster. Since Elana Meyer started the ball rolling with a 34min 05sec victory in the inaugural race in 1993, a year after clinching the Olympic silver medal over the same distance on the track at Barcelona, the list of SPAR winners reads like a who’s who of South African women’s distance running.

Meyer won the event on four occasions between 1993 and 2001, setting the fastest ever time for the Cape Town race, namely 32:27, but there is no disputing Johannesburg athlete Rene Kalmer’s dominance, having won on no fewer than nine occasions, three of which contributed to her winning the overall series Grand Prix.

Kalmer won first in 2004, in 34:04 - virtually identical to Meyer’s debut - with her last win, also her fastest in 32:50, coming in 2012. Kalmer recently gave birth to her first child and will miss Sunday's race, but there is every possibility of a return next year.

Only two non-South Africans have won the Cape Town leg - Namibian Hararia Johannes in 2006 (33:42) and Rutendo Nyahora of Zimbabwe (pictured) in 2013, but with foreign athletes eligible for the overall Grand Priz title for the first time, the race could attract high quality athletes from north of the borders.

Charasmatic Gauteng runner Mapaseka Makhanya was only the third athlete, after Meyer and Kalmer, to run under 33 minutes, when she clocked 32:54 in winning the title in 2015 and will be a favoured candidate for the trophy tomorrow, although Irvette van Zyl will not lightly surrender the title she won last year in 33:24.

Expect the winner to arrive at the Hamilton Rugby Grounds shortly after 8am.

Weekend Argus