Modern Athlete Magazine Issue 158 May 2023 | Page 13

The Women ’ s Ultra : Steyn ’ s Statement Run

As Gerda Steyn crested Chapman ’ s Peak and passed the 32km mark of the 2023 Two Oceans Marathon in 1:58:08 , she did something uncharacteristic : She looked behind her – twice – then gave a small smile , made a fist with her left hand , and surged . Having led from the start of the race , there was no mistaking the confidence , and she powered away from the only woman who had managed to stay with her to that point , Ethiopian Tinebeb Bebiyu Ali . On the drop into Hout Bay , Steyn did relax her pace a little , allowing the Ethiopian to close the gap somewhat , but then came another surge as she passed the marathon mark in 2:35:54 and began the big climb to Constantia Nek at 46km .

Images : Action Photo SA & Tobias Ginsberg
Steyn went through 50km in 3:07:46 , and 53km in 3:18:12 , still on course to break her own course record set just the year before , but it looked like it was going to be close . Going up the short climb on the M3 highway called Chet ’ s Hill , where she had passed Irvette van Zyl last year to take a winning lead , Steyn looked somewhat fatigued for the first time , but she powered through the final few kilometres without problems , and as she hit the grass of the finishing straight on the UCT rugby fields , she was blowing kisses to the crowds and highfiving spectators lining the finish . And as always , there was a massive smile on her face .
With the commentators whipping the crowds up by chanting “ Gerda , Gerda , Gerda ,” she broke the tape in 3:29:06 , taking a massive 36 seconds off the course record she posted last year . That 2022 run had seen her finally beat Frith van der Merwe ’ s 33-year-old race record of 3:30:36 , run in 1989 , and become the first woman to break the 3:30 barrier at Two Oceans , but her 2023 performance made even that achievement pale by comparison . Not only did she better her own course record , but Steyn equalled Monica Drögemöller and Elena Nurgalieva ’ s record for the most wins , and became the only athlete in the history of the event to win it four times in a row . ( Gerda won the race in 2018 and 2019 , then returned in 2022 for the first post-COVID edition .)
The Dash for the Cash
The win and new course record saw Steyn take home the first place prize money of R250,000 as well as the course record incentive of another R250,000 , put up by title sponsor Totalsports , as well as the use of a KIA car
for 12 months , both in South Africa and abroad , courtesy of the event ’ s official vehicle sponsor . This made it two years in a row that Steyn had claimed a double payday , having also bettered the course record in 2022 , and her elation showed when she was asked how she felt after taking the win .
“ I don ’ t think I ’ ve ever felt so emotional at the finish . I am so blessed , as my whole family was here to welcome me ,” she said . “ My main aim was simply to go for my fourth win , but I thought the record might come if I maintained a good pace . It was a bit windy , but I was on the pace that I planned , and at 50km , I worked out that if I ran 3:30 per kilometre to the finish , I would still have a few extra seconds to enjoy the moment !”
“ This was a much more enjoyable race than last year ’ s one ,” she continued .
“ I did experience a tough patch on Constantia Nek , but nothing like the ‘ dark place ’ I had to run through last year . Now , looking back , I ’ m pleased I had to endure that last year , as it gave me another tool which I can use in racing .”
Gerda Steyn made her move on the Chapman ’ s Peak climb
Pushing for the Podium
Behind Steyn , there was more excitement as Ali slowed and was passed by countrywoman , Amelework Fikadu Bosho , who was third last year after leading past the marathon mark in the 2022 race . This year she took a more conservative approach to the first half of the race , and that paid off as she surged through the field to claim second place in 3:41:29 , more than 12 minutes behind the winner . However , the Ethiopian was almost caught by the fastfinishing British ultra star Carla Molinaro , who crossed the line in 3:41:38 , just nine seconds adrift .
Molinaro is a former Comrades Marathon gold medallist ( ninth in 2018 ), and in 2020 , she also set a women ’ s World Record of 12 days 30 minutes and 14 seconds for the fastest run by a from Land ’ s End to John o ’ Groats ( the length of Great Britain , covering approximately 1400km ). In January , she also became the first woman ever to run sub-three-hours in the tough Red Hill Marathon ( in Fish Hoek , near the Two Oceans route ). Here , she was seven minutes and 11 second behind Bosho at the marathon mark ( which she passed in 2:46:47 , just a few second outside her personal best ), but had closed to that gap to 3:14 by the 50km mark . If the race had been a few hundred metres longer , she may have taken second place . “ That was the run of my life ,” she said . “ I can ’ t believe my race today – it was just perfect .”