Saturday, January 21, 2006

Big Walk of South Africa

It all started on 5 June 1903 when the Spartan Harriers committee decided it was time to organise a long distance walk and benchmarked its success with the popularity of walking races in the United Kingdom. Spartan Harriers wanted to be the pioneers of such a race in the South Peninsula and planned for the route to kick off from Montagu Bridge to Somerset West and back. The route was however changed and on a very rainy 13 August 1903, a grand total of 61 competitors set off from Greenmarket Square in Cape Town, becoming part of South African history. Spartans have been involved in the Cape Times FNB Big Walk for a century now. It wasn’t an overly auspicious start, however, for the club lost money organising the event, and so it wasn’t until 1923 that it the event was staged again.

Inspired by the London to Brighton walking race, Spartan Harriers reintroduced the 50-mile challenge and this time firmly cemented it as a Cape Town event.That was due in part to GG Fick, the first of many walking legends, who picked up five wins in the first six years.Today very much a family outing, the walk attracted its first female competitors in 1926, when a Miss May won the event. However, it proved a controversial aspect of the race, with women limited to just 25 miles up until 1930, and although that was subsequently extended to 30 miles, the walk became a men-only domain from 1937 to 1952. World War II played a significant role, interrupting the walk from 1940 to 1945.

It also marked the life of another walking great, Cecil Rightford, who returned from a spell in a German concentration camp to win a then-record sixth 50-mile race. Martin Bester, who in 1981, took the long distance title for a quite remarkable twelfth time, has since broken that record. But it is the number of competitors that has become the central figure of interest, with an estimated 22 000 walkers set to follow eight different routes criss-crossing Cape Town in 2004.The participation has certainly overtaken the racing as the defining nature of the Cape Times FNB Big Walk, with exploring the city, getting some exercise and helping charity more than enough motivation to have thousands of Capetonians lacing up their walking shoes. A hundred years ago the Spartan Harriers started it all and they are no doubt pleased with the status of the current status of the event.

Whether you are an old hand at this event or a novice competitor, encourage your friends, families and loved ones to join you for this momentous occasion and be part of the oldest walk in the world.The Cape Times FNB Big Walk is not just a day of fun and camaraderie but also an opportunity to give to those who are in need. This charity driven event gives back to the community each year by donating proceeds to selected charity. This year Habitat for Humanity and the SA Guide Dog Association will be the main benefactors.

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