by Stephen Granger
The fuse has been lit for the 28th OUTsurance Gun Run and the first post-COVID edition of the race is scheduled to explode into life on Cape Town streets in mid-September.
One of Cape Town’s ‘Big Five’ road races, alongside the Two Oceans Marathon, Cape Town Marathon, RunYourCity Cape Town 10km and the SPAR 10km Challenge, the OUTsurance Gun Run has grown in stature over the years, attracting many of the country’s top athletes to the now traditional course adjacent to the Atlantic Seaboard.
The race was named after the city’s famous Noon Day Gun, which sounded the cut-off for the half-marathon in the earlier years, when the race got underway mid-morning. Subsequently, the start was moved back to dawn to afford optimal racing conditions.
At the recent launch of this year’s race at the President Hotel, no fewer than five separate races were unveiled for the weekend of 17 and 18 September in what has become a veritable OUTsurance running festival. The event promises to be better than ever, after missing out on the last two years due to the COVID pandemic.
An OUTsurance Gun Run Trail Run will be held for the first time on the slopes of Table Mountain, Lions Head and Signal Hill on the Saturday, the day before the Gun Run Half Marathon and 10km.
Another welcome addition, the OUTsurance 5km Pet Walk, is linked to the Gun Run’s first charity beneficiary – The Animal Welfare Society of South Africa – and together with a 5km Fun Run will be held shortly after the completion of the Trail Race on the Saturday.
Apart from the Atlantic Athletics Club race organisers, notable at the launch were the partners and sponsors (OUTsurance, Peninsula Beverages, Falke Socks and Sportsmans Warehouse), human and canine representatives from Animal Welfare Association, two of the earliest Gun Run winners, Warren Petterson and Juliet Prowse, and the most resilient Gun Runner, Mike Ulrich, who has completed every Gun Run to date.
The then UCT town-planning student, Petterson, had every motivation to race well in the inaugural race in 1993, as he was behind in university fee payments. “I saw there was nice prize money and I was in good shape, so thought that would be an ideal opportunity to pay off some debt,” remarked Petterson.
“It was a new race, with something different on offer, with the race starting at 9am and runners having to beat the noon gun cut-off. The trophy was a cannon, which was a further incentive and a small cannon got the race underway from outside Seeff House in the city centre. 3000 runners took part in that first year and it was awesome running through parts of the city one would never usually access.
“I wanted to win, but the competition was very strong, with Owen MacHelm in the line-up. I had to run my heart out to beat him. When Owen came past with a surge 3km from home I thought it was over, but somehow I hung on and managed to shake him off in the last stretch along the promenade. I won in 64:07 and I rate that as one of the best victories of my running career.”
Prowse first won in 1995 after competing in the two-person relay race the year before with her UCT teammate, Zille Stekoven, but it was the following year when Prowse really made her mark, defending her title in a superb time of 75:03. Prowse’s time was a race record, 1 min 29 sec inside Jenny Bam’s previous mark set in 1994, and stood for two years before a world-beating Elana Meyer smashed it out of site. Meyer’s 1999 winning time of 1:10:56 remains unsurpassed in Gun Run history.
Prowse’s time remains the third-fastest ever at the Gun Run and like Petteron’s 1993 run, she rates it as one of her best – and perhaps surprising – of her career. “I’d been in the USA for a month and flew back to Cape Town just a couple of days before the race. I slept on the floor of my brother’s flat and then ran my best-ever half-marathon! It was really unexpected!”
But while travel fatigue might not have favoured Prowse, deep emotions from the loss of her beloved aunt not long before the race surely spurred her to race beyond her known capabilities. Her aunt was none other than the world-renowned dancer, cabaret artist and actor of the same name, Juliet Prowse, famous throughout the USA as she co-starred with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Elvis Presley.
“I ran the 1996 Gun Run within a week of my aunt dying of pancreatic cancer and I guess that gave me special powers on the day,” recalled Prowse. “She was such an inspirational person in my life – I think her discipline and drive to get to the top in her profession rubbed off on me. We were both very competitive!”
While Petterson and Prowse provided the running celebrity glamour, the stars of the launch were undoubtedly Pretty and Ponzo – two spirited canine ambassadors of Animal Welfare Society. “Ponzo was sick and surrendered to us as a puppy,” said Lawrence Nkotha, AWS’s Animal Care Centre Supervisor. “Now she’s our mascot. Pretty was very sick when she came in – we treated her and somehow she pulled through. Now she’s my baby and a very happy girl!”
Nkotha came to Cape Town ten years ago from the Eastern Cape, initially starting at AWS as a volunteer before progressing to a senior position. “The volunteer work was very interesting – I learnt that animals have feelings and that it’s important to treat them as our children.”
Philippi-based AWS is the second oldest animal welfare organisation in South Africa. “We’re 93 years old today,” said their long-serving CEO Dr John McMullen, who came to Cape Town from Ireland 47 years ago and was head-hunted into AWS almost immediately. “Our primary goal is to help sick animals. Our target market is the entire Cape Flats. We have full hospital with four theatres and a full vaccination programme and can perform every type of surgical procedure.
“But we’ve been slow in moving into the digital age, so people are not so aware of our presence. Now we’re trying to change and being the designated charity of the OUTsurance Gun Run will be a huge part of that.
“I understand the organisers had a short list of around twelve organisations and ran a due diligence check with these. They sent in a ‘secret shopper’ and we impressed them the most,” McMullen concluded proudly.
AWS fundraiser, Allan Perrins, echoed these sentiments. “We definitely see the OUTsurance Gun Run as an iconic event and feel privileged to have been chosen (as beneficiary). For us to come out tops is a real accolade,” said Perrins.
“Fundraising has really been tough over last three years and so this will make a huge difference. We rely on volunteers to help us with our activities and we had a big response when we asked for help with an activation table for the Gun Run. I love the introduction of the Pet Walk and we will be bringing 30 of our dogs with branding attached to take part, available for adoption into good homes.”
The Half Marathon starts on Fritz Sonnenberg Road, Green Point, on 06h30 on Sunday 18 September, with the 10km road race getting underway in Beach Road, Sea Point, an hour later. The 15km Trail Run starts at Van Riebeeck Park, Oranjezicht, at 07h30 on Saturday 17 September, with the 5km Fun Run and 5km Pet Walk starting respectively at 08h00 and 08h30 in Beach Road on Saturday 17 September.
All races finish on the Green Point Common opposite the Green Point Cricket Club.