Modern Athlete Magazine Issue 134, October 2020 Issue 134, October 2020 | Page 14

Two Oceans 2018 Two Oceans 2019
Comrades 2019 it , because I know you can have all weather in the UK . I just told myself from the beginning , I can run a good time , because it ’ s London , with fast competitors … but if the weather is not great , I will focus on placing high instead of chasing a time . I feel my strength is in tougher conditions , so when I saw the weather , I decided this is my chance to place high in a major marathon .”
The women ’ s title was convincingly taken by defending champ Brigid , winning by over three minutes in 2:18:58 , with American Sara Hall dramatically sprinting past Ruth Chepng ’ etich with just 150m to go to snatch second place with a PB 2:22:01 to the Kenyan ’ s 2:22:05 . However , most South African eyes following the race on TV or via live feed , toggling between live tracking to check splits , were on Gerda ’ s progress , with ongoing discussions on social media platforms speculating whether she could break the SA Record . There was much excitement as Gerda entered the top 10 , then steadily climbed to ninth , then eighth .
The cold , wet conditions were obviously hampering the runners , but for much of the race it looked like Gerda may do it , and South African viewers were desperate for a glimpse of her , to gauge how she looked . However , the TV cameras mostly followed the leaders , or focused on the British runners , for much of the race . Then , right towards the end , Gerda appeared on screen , as eventual winner Brigid lapped the South African just before finishing the race . This meant Gerda had just over a lap to go , and it was obvious that she was still running strongly , but it also looked like the record may just be out of reach …
Agonisingly Close
So it turned out to be , with Gerda coming home seventh in 2:26:51 , taking 57 seconds off her previous best , but finishing just 16 seconds outside the SA Record . It gave her the second-fastest time on a record-legal course by a South African , and thirdfastest of all time if you count Elana Meyer ’ s 2:25:15 , run on the ‘ aided ’ Boston Marathon course . ( Elana also ran a 2:26:51 , but this was also in Boston , and thus Gerda ’ s time will appear above it on the all-time performance list – see the sidebar on opposite page .) While missing the record by such a small margin – effectively by 0.38 seconds per kilometre – it was nevertheless a stunning performance by Gerda , considering the adverse weather conditions , the nature of the race and the disrupted year , and she understandably has mixed feelings about it .
“ I was pleased with my pace from the start , as I stuck with a small group running with the pacer . That group eventually dissolved , but I never really felt lonely , as there was a lot of action in the race , with runners catching or lapping each other . I have had much lonelier races ,” says Gerda “ With it being laps , they had a big screen with our time splits , positions , splits to people ahead / behind , and showed our predicted finish times , so I didn ’ t have to rely on my watch or a pacing chart . I knew where I was in terms of my target time , so with two laps to go , I already knew it was going to be really close .”
“ I had gradually slowed a bit during the race , a second or two per lap , and slowly dropped behind the required record pace , so going into the last lap , I knew
A fast 5km time trial race in the UK just before the London Marathon
I needed two kays at about 3:10 per kay . I had been running around 3:27s , so I didn ’ t think I could do it , but I still gave it a try . When I saw my second-last kay was a 3:20 , I knew the record was gone , but I could still get a PB , and that kept me going . Also , late in the race I passed a woman who then sat just behind me , so I decided there was no way I could slow down and be passed again .” ( That was Sinead Diver of Australia , who finished eighth in 2:27:07 .)
The obvious question is which emotion Gerda felt more keenly , the elation of a massive PB and top 10 finish , or disappointment at missing the SA record by 16 seconds . “ I ’ m still trying to get my head around it , to be honest . Seventh place in London , a first top 10 in a major , I ’ m very happy with that , but of course I have mixed feelings about missing the record so narrowly . A PB is a PB , and on a different day , who knows what could have happened … I didn ’ t always feel comfortable , but this is marathoning , after all , and if somebody had told me before the race I would finish seventh , I would have just laughed ,” says Gerda .
“ So I was a bit disappointed , but overall I am just incredibly grateful that I could race . It was a day of massive lessons learnt , and I have shown myself that I can tough it out , so I feel there is more to come from me , and I would love to give the record another go … and again after that , if it does not come off ! I don ’ t feel this was too hard , and it was still 100 % worth the effort I put into that race , so I consider it another lesson learnt , and I move on to the next challenge . I am still on a learning curve , and I ’ m just as excited about what the future holds for me .”
Trying to Make Plans
While talk of another attempt at the SA Record is ongoing , the other hot topic when it comes to Gerda is what her plans will be for 2021 , when running will hopefully get back to normal after the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown . This year she was supposed to run the Olympic Marathon in Tokyo in July , having comfortably achieved Athletics South Africa ’ s required 2:29:30 qualifying mark with her 2:27 in New York last November . This meant she originally decided to still run Two Oceans this year in April , but skip the Comrades in June , in spite of being defending champion , in order to grab her opportunity to be part of the Olympics , the pinnacle event on the global sporting calendar . Now , with the Olympics postponed to 2021 , running from 23 July to 8 August , Gerda is expected to follow the same plan next year .
Images : Action Photo SA , Roger Sedres / Image SA & Tobias Ginsberg & courtesy Gerda Steyn & New York Road Runners
14 ISSUE 134 OCTOBER 2020 / www . modernathlete . co . za