She’s been consistent, dedicated and trained in one of the most beautiful - but tough - places in the world.
Now South Africa’s 4th place Comrades Marathon finisher Gerda Steyn is hoping to reap the rewards when she tackles the beautiful Valencia Marathon in Spain on Sunday.
The Valencia marathon, which was awarded IAAF Gold Label Road Race Status in 2016, is often referred to as the fastest marathon on Spanish ground. More than 19 000 runners are expected to line up at the 39th edition of the race on Sunday. Run alongside the Mediterranean coastline, a few meters from the sea, the Valencia Marathon takes place in areas of the city where events such as the Formula 1 Grand Prix and the Americas Cup were hosted.
Gerda chose the Valencia marathon as it fitted in perfectly with her racing season. “It looks like an incredible event with lots of interesting sights to keep your mind busy. A friend of mine lives nearby and recommended this. Also, the marathon is known for great crowd support. The route layout makes it possible for supporters to see you at numerous points. It is also a potential fast course with no hills, cool weather and a spectacular finish,” says Gerda, who will be running alongside fellow South African Nolene Conrad. “Hopefully we will fly the South African flag high on Sunday!”
As a member of the Nedbank Running Club’s (NRC) Green Dream Team, Gerda last week won an award from the NRC for the Most Improved Athlete of the year. This has made her even more determined to perform at her best on Sunday. She’s not saying too much about a predicted finishing time, but if what she has achieved in the last two years since she started running is anything to go by, Gerda is set to fly. On top of that she is definitely not known for half-hearted efforts, which will make for an exhilarating race.
She describes her build up to the marathon as fun, but also challenging in many ways. “I had a two month build up that mostly consisted of short distance training and racing. I love running long distances and find speed training much more challenging. I have spent a lot of hours on the track doing fast workouts and focusing on getting my body recovered before the next session. I have also done more cross training than before and often swapped easy runs for cross training e.g. cycling, swimming, hiking, etc.”
She’s been lucky to spend most of her training in the French Alps where her partner, Duncan, owns a chalet. The Alpine mountains are by far her favourite place to train (in fact her favourite place to be), but as we all know the terrain is tough. “It is such an incredible place for fitness and so easy to step out the door and have a playground of mountains to explore. I decided to go back to sea level for two weeks before the race so it was in Dubai's heat where I rounded off the last block of training.”
NRC’s National Manager Nick Bester has taken Gerda under his wing and has played an important part in her training. “Nick has played a huge role in my improvement as a runner and he guides me on a daily basis. I am thankful for this and continue to learn from the experience he has gained both from being an endurance athlete and working with other runners for many years,” says Gerda.
But as we all know in training there are good days and bad days, and in the end it comes down to mental toughness and believing in your ability. “There were days that were much harder than others, such as tempo runs at high altitude and doing speed sessions on my own. But the hardest part of it all is now, trusting in the work I have done and believing that I can achieve my goals.”
Though she is feeling great physically, tapering has been hard, to put it mildly. “Normally tapering for a marathon brings along a lot of emotions... Beware the tapering runner! I am super excited and also nervous. It is important to respect the marathon so nervousness is not necessarily such a bad thing.”
Hopes and dreams
Gerda will definitely be aiming for a fast time; especially assuming that she is in better shape now than when she ran 77 minutes for a half marathon a few weeks ago. Her previous best marathon time was last year at the Dublin Marathon where she crossed the line in 2:51. “I am confident that I can improve on that. It will all come down to the day - how my body performs, weather conditions, etc.”
Gerda, who will be running her fifth marathon, has her race plan worked out. Because the Valencia Marathon is a flat course, it makes a negative split achievable. “I will run within myself and try to enjoy the race as much as possible. If I feel good, I will pick the pace up after the halfway mark.”
When it comes to pre-race rituals she does what works for her: fixing her race number to her vest the night before, painting her nails green and saying a last prayer. “I like waking up early before a race and having the same breakfast (coffee and Future Life) as every other day. I then listen to some music (Jeremy Loops and Matthew Mole are currently top of my playlist) while stretching. Then it's GO time!”
Her partner Duncan will be out on the course supporting her and her sister Estie will also be running the marathon. “I am grateful that Duncan can be there as he always helps me to stay calm and focused. We will all travel and stay together. It helps a great deal to have loved ones around.”
After the marathon Gerda is looking forward to taking it easy for a bit while travelling with Duncan and Estie to Barcelona to enjoy a week of Tapas and sight seeing.”
Looking at what the ever-smiling 26-year old Gerda has achieved in such a short time, we have no doubt that Sunday will be one for her history books.
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