A smiling Gerda Steyn said “she can’t believe” that she has become the first woman to break through the six-hour Comrades Marathon barrier. Photo: ANA

JOHANNESBURG – Gerda Steyn will not forget 2019 in a hurry. This, after all, was the year when everything just fell into place for the Nedbank Running Club athlete.

And on Sunday she brought down the curtain in style, when she finished 11th at the New York Marathon. It was not the position she wanted, Steyn having gone to the Big Apple with the intention of getting into the top 10.

But she attained her main objective alright!

“New PB (2hr 27min 48sec); Olympic qualifying time ; celebrations... loading,” she tweeted after the race.

Steyn ran a 2:31:04 at the same race last year to finish in 13th place. For the weekend’s race she needed to run a sub 2:29:30 to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.

While she trained well for the marathon on the back of a stunning ultra season, Steyn did not take Olympic qualification as a given and spoke about looking for other races should she not run the required time.

But with the leading elite runners led by defending champion Mary Keitany, who eventually finished second behind compatriot Joyciline Jepkosgei, going off and pulling the rest of the group with them, all Steyn needed was to keep up with their pace.

She did that pretty well and completed the half marathon in 73:44, putting her projected finish time to well under the required time.

Such is her endurance and - lately - speed that Steyn actually went on to run a little faster in the second half to put herself in line to live the dream of many an athlete.

“It would be such an honour to run at the Olympics,” Steyn said before she left for New York.

Her time was the fourth fastest ever run by a South African woman. Only Elana van Zyl-Meyer (2:25:15), Colleen de Reuck (2:26:35) and Frith van der Merwe (2:27:36) have completed the 42.2km distance faster.

When the dust on her fantastic run in New York settles down, no doubt the lass from Bothavillle in the Free State will reflect on the year that has been and that trademark smile of hers will be as wide as the Orange River.

After all, she started the year by holding on to her Two Oceans Marathon title and actually came to within 15 seconds of breaking Van Der Merwe’s long-standing record.

She explained that her focus was actually on the Comrades Marathon hence she did not push hard for the time in Cape Town.

True to her words, Steyn smashed the 90km KwaZulu-Natal Up Run record when she clocked a super fast 5:58:53 to become the first woman to run a sub six hours in the race from Durban to Pietermaritzburg.

She finished an impressive 17th overall, beating some men who were considered potential winners - some of whom had won the Comrades previously.

Steyn then focused on shorter distances and had an impressive run in the Athletics SA national half marathon championships where she finished second behind Glenrose Xaba.

She also had some great 10km races as she worked on building up her speed. No surprise then that she ran as good a time as she did at the weekend in New York.

Matshelane Mamabolo


@Tshiliboy

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