After a year of inactivity, road running is back. And all roads lead to Qgeberha for the 2021 Nelson Mandela Bay Half Marathon incorporating the South African National Half Marathon Championships. In another coup for the race, World Athletics has awarded the race with Elite Label Status.

COVID literally stopped the sport in its tracks, with no real competition. Athletes and coaches became innovative and put on small events in in particular Durban and Stellenbosch. The level of competition seen at these track events bodes very well for the Nelson Mandela Bay Half Marathon on 1 May.

Amongst some of the contenders is KwaZulu Natal’s sensation Mbuleli Mathanga who has been on fire, lowering is 10 000m personal best to 28:03.45; self-proclaimed social runner, Adam Lipshitz is anything but as his new 10 000m personal best of 28:27.72 shows. But leading this new pack of athletes is none other than champion in waiting, Precious Mashele who finished third in 2019. The multiple SA 10km champion and 30-year-old is in the form of his life and will take some beating after running personal bests of 13:27.57 in the 5000m and 27:55.87 in the 10 000m. Not forgetting defending champion, Stephen Mokoka, who is desperate for a race and a win.

On the women’s front, in-form Gerda Steyn has to be the favourite after her 2:25.28 SA Marathon record run on 11 April in Italy. Steyn took 1min23sec off her marathon best and has been able to run races internationally in which she has posted personal bests in the 5km, 10km and Half Marathon. Glenrose Xaba had found incredible form in 2019 and was able to run in the World Half Marathon Championships in October of 2020 where she set a new life time best of 69:26. Proof that she is in form is her 15:55.25 time for 5000m run at altitude on 15 April, 2021.

At stake is not only the South African title, but also valuable World Athletics Ranking points and a whopping R112 500 for first prize. No wonder South Africa’s best are lining up to race in Gqeberha.

The race is justifiably credited as the fastest half marathon in the country and with that kind of prize money one can expect fast times. Could the first sub 60min half marathon be seen on South African soil? With a strong contingent of internationals expected in both the men’s and women’s fields and still to be announced, do not be surprised if the 60min barrier falls in the men’s race and something special happens in the women’s race.

The route has been slightly adjusted from previous years but is fast and flat and runs on the coastal road. Runners will start from 07.00 and complete a circular route.  Starting from Marine Drive, at Pollock Beach, they will head towards Willows then turn and head back past the start to Kings Beach before returning to finish at Pollock Beach.

A full rolling closure from 05.30 will ensure a safe run and minimum inconvenience to the public. With no spectators allowed as per COVID regulations, the race will be live streamed for the first time on the EPA Facebook Page.

The men’s start is at 07:00 with the women setting off 15 minutes later at 07:15.

The Eastern Province Athletics President, Selby Thabethe is rightfully proud of being able to host the first 21km road race in South Africa since the Pandemic hit. Thabethe said the local committee was proud to host this prestigious event on the road running calendar since 2014.

“With the support of our title sponsors, the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, we have been awarded the World Athletics Elite Label.” said Thabethe.

Race Director, Michael Mbambani, is thrilled to be hosting the NMB Half Marathon as the first elite road race since lockdown.

Qgeberha has found itself in a sweet spot and is able to put on this race which will hopefully lead to more elite races coming back to the circuit.”