July 2, 2018  

Four days before her second son was born Olympic marathoner and SA’s running sweetheart still managed a 46-minute 10km run. No wonder Irvette van Zyl not only looks fantastic barely a month after the birth of her son, but she is already back in training with some exciting running goals in the near future.

Nedbank Running Club’s Van Zyl and Olympian hurdler husband LJ, welcomed little Gideon Wilhelm into the world on June 9th, fittingly only a day before one of South Africa’s biggest sporting events took place: the Comrades Marathon! Gideon, who weighed 2.7kg at birth, arrived 9 days too early and husband LJ likes to joke it’s because his energetic 9-month-pregnant wife still washed the family cars 2 days before his birth. On top of this Van Zyl was busy with DIY renovations to their bathroom the morning of Gideon’s birth.

Van Zyl had to undergo an emergency caesarean and was initially very emotional about it, especially as she felt she did not have the chance to finish all the little things she planned in the week before baby’s arrival. “Luckily everything went well and Gideon is a healthy bouncing baby. His brother Louis initially did not want to know too much about the new addition, but after baby had his first bath “big brother” Louis could not be any prouder.”

Pregnancy journey

She started her second pregnancy much fitter than her first, because she only found out much later that she was pregnant. That meant she competed at the SPAR Women’s Series in Johannesburg, the O.R. Tambo Half Marathon and the Soweto Marathon (which she won) not knowing that she was pregnant. “I started this pregnancy much fitter than the first and could definitely also run much further this time around. I swam a lot and I believe this kept me fitter for longer.”

The three-times winner of the SPAR Grand Prix and winner of the Soweto Marathon was still very competitive up to 7 months into her pregnancy, where she still managed to finish 3rd at the SPAR Women’s Challenge in Cape Town in March. Her time? A blistering 35:07.  “After that I just felt my stomach was too big. I also picked up a stomach virus, which meant I had to miss the Two Oceans Half Marathon. Not having a goal meant my training took a bit of a backseat. I then just jogged with LJ and swam to keep fit.”

Balancing act

The family is still settling into a new routine and finding their feet. “There’s not a lot of sleeping going on right now, but luckily Gideon is a very good baby, apart from bath time when he cries loud enough for everyone to hear!” Having two children is definitely a lot more tiring and also means a lot more washing, but she takes every day as it comes and try not to plan too far in advance. “It’s never easy to get through the day with little sleep, but holding that small little body makes it all worthwhile,” says Van Zyl.

LJ, SA’s 400m-hurdles record holder, is a very involved Dad and although he has recently retired from competitive sport, he is busier than before. “I actually see him a bit less than before and have to plan when I can go and train.” Luckily Van Zyl’s godmother is on hand to help with babysitting duties.


She missed running competitively in the last weeks of her pregnancy, but still managed a 46-minute 10km run the week before Gideon was born. “I actually managed to run the whole week before he was born.”

Van Zyl only gained 10kg whilst pregnant and says it is because she already realized during her first pregnancy she should not be eating for two. “I didn’t over indulge and had everything in moderation. I had a lot of water and completely went of cold drinks.”

She’s already lost all the weight she has gained, but says she now needs to gain back muscle. The first week after Gideon was born she did no exercise, but in the second week she was already back to swimming and cycling. Van Zyl has now slowly started adding running to her routine, and should be back to normal training in another three weeks.


Her focus is on the SPAR Women’s 10km Challenge in Pretoria on August 4th. Depending on her race day experience and fitness level she will then plan her next goal. A marathon towards November/December is definitely on the cards, though she is not sure which one. “Ultimately I would like to work towards faster 10km, half marathon and marathon times before I ultimately tackle my biggest goal of running the Two Oceans Ultra.”

Most important right now is the complete love she’s feeling as well as the special moments shared with her children. “It’s actually very difficult to go and train and be away from them!” Any advice for other women who would like to start exercising after having a baby? “Take is slow, listen to you body and just keep moving, even if that means only walking for 30 minutes,” says Van Zyl.