It’s been a couple of days since she ran the race of a lifetime, and though things are slowly starting to settle down and sink in, it is clear that her win at the recent Two Oceans Ultra has made South African running sensation Gerda Steyn determined to achieve even more.
Steyn, who has only been running for four years, of which two competitively, on Saturday stormed to victory at the Two Oceans Ultra, finishing in a speedy 3:39:31, dominating a very competitive and international women’s field. With this victory Steyn cemented her position as one of the favourites to win the 2018 Comrades Marathon in about 8 weeks from now.
She first drew attention when she finished in 4th position at last year’s Comrades Marathon (6:45:45), a huge improvement from her first Comrades in 2015 (8:19:08) and 14th position in 2016 (7:08:23). She has gone from strength to strength, with some of her recent wins including the Standard Chartered Dubai 10km, which she won in a massive PB of 34:35. Her marathon PB stands at 2:37:17, which she set late last year at the Valencia Marathon in Spain.
If someone did her homework before the Two Oceans Ultra it is Steyn. She meticulously studied the route and had a definite race plan in mind, which she worked out together with her coach and National Manager of the Nedbank Running Club, Nick Bester. “My plan was based on a wind still day, but I decided beforehand how I would adapt if we encountered strong wind,” says Steyn, who did a lot of her preparation at the high altitude of Lesotho.
Her race did not start off as she was hoping, and she felt a bit uncomfortable for the first couple of kays. “Around 20km I decided to stop as quickly as possible for a toilet break and after that it felt as if I got a second breath. I was about 2 minutes behind the leading ladies and the wind was behind me. I felt great going up Chapman’s Peak and moved up from 5th to 2nd position.”
Around the 50km mark Steyn struck. After a few brief words with Poland’s Dominika Stelmach-Stawczik, Steyn overtook her to take the lead for the first time in the race. “I knew my legs were strong because I ran a bit slower and according to my plan in the first half. It felt unreal knowing that I was leading the race. I promised myself if I took the lead I would not look back over my shoulder even once! I would just give it my all.”
And that she did. Though she describes the last stretch as painful she maintained her lead. And what a welcome awaited Steyn at the stadium.
When the crowd realized a South African was in the lead and most likely to win a roar went up and it never died down until Steyn crossed the finish line. “The crowd was absolutely incredible. They carried me all the way. To cross that finish line in first position as a South African was indescribable. The cherry on top was seeing my team mate and friend Charné Bosman crossing the line in third place.” Bosman, who is looking in superb form and ran a great race herself, clinched third overall women’s position and first Veteran in a time of 3:45:20.
Steyn has many special memories from the race, one being a joke Bosman and Steyn shared at the finish. Steyn wanted to know from Bosman what the date was. When Bosman answered it was the 31st March and asked why she wanted to know, Steyn replied: “Just checking it is not April Fools day!”
What made the race even more special was the fact that her family and fiancée Duncan Ross were all there to cheer her on. Her sister, Estie Steyn, also ran the Ultra, finishing in a great position of 31st overall amongst the women. Steyn holds a certain photo very close to her heart. On the photo it shows Steyn running on the finishing straight to victory, with her mom seen cheering her on in the crowds and the South African flag proudly displayed in the background.
“We have still not stopped celebrating,” says Steyn, adding that the first thing they did after the race and back at the hotel was to get hold of some champagne.
“I was very happy that my family and fiancée could share in all of this. My friends from University were also in Cape Town over this time and we have been celebrating in between interviews and other engagements.”
Steyn, who cross-trains a great deal as she does not believe in high mileage running, plans to recover 100% before she tackles the next training block. “I will then slowly but surely build up to the Comrades Marathon. It has been a very exciting time but I am looking forward to settling down again and returning to a set routine. In a couple of days I will also evaluate where I can improve and what worked for me.”
Steyn congratulated each and every athlete who tackled the race and said: “Time and position are not the only things that count, it is the experience that you carry with you.”