Gerda Steyn crosses the finish line to win the Two Oceans Marathon last month. Photo: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency/ANA

JOHANNESBURG – With three weeks left before the Comrades Marathon starting in Pietermaritzburg and finishing in Durban, one of the heavy favourites to take the women’s title, Gerda Steyn, is not putting any extra pressure on herself in the build-up to the ‘Ultimate Human Race’. 

Dubbed the smiling assassin after her breakthrough Two Oceans victory in April to hoist her flag in the South African ultra-running landscape, the 28-year-old is many an expert’s pick to win Comrades – and for good reason.

In her first Comrades in 2015, the novice finished an impressive 56th in eight hours 19 minutes and eight seconds (8:19.08).

A year later, Steyn was just outside the top-10, taking 14th in 7:08:23.

Then in 2017, her phenomenal rise in the race continued with a fourth-place finish in 6:45:45.

That’s the progression of a champion, even if she is too humble to admit that.

“For Comrades, compared to last year, I only decided I’d do the race three weeks before because I was struggling with an injury.

“Last year, there was zero pressure on me. No one expected me to run so well,” said Steyn in an interview with the African News Agency.

“I think I can actually attribute a lot of my success to that – being so calm. Comrades this year feels like a completely different race this year to me. I have to take it in my stride, I’m just taking every day as it comes.

“I know I’m in good shape, so I feel like the pressure is off me because I have already achieved at Two Oceans this year.

“There is not that much pressure on me to achieve, but personally, I would love to do well in Comrades and make South Africa proud.”

Steyn on Sunday had raced to an impressive victory in the Rand Athletic Club 10km race in Johannesburg on an undulating, testing course.

Steyn claimed a comfortable win in 35:38, showing her speed and strength over shorter distances. 

“It was a fantastic run today, I really enjoyed it. It’s three weeks before Comrades now, so I just wanted to test the legs on the hills. It was a very hilly course, so I’m very happy with how it went.

“I was surprised how tough the course was, but I’m very happy with my time.”

After winning the Two Oceans in a time of 3:39.31, Steyn made sure she took the time to recover her body properly after that massive effort in Cape Town.

“Since Two Oceans, my training has been going really well. I did a good long recovery after Two Oceans. I had about two weeks of very little running.

“After that, I went to a training camp at Graskop (in Mpumalanga), as well as Lesotho for some altitude training.

“It’s been going really well, so we’re keeping fingers crossed for the last few weeks.”

The one area that Steyn has identified as key for her long-distance running is her speed-work.

Steyn also does a lot of other forms of exercise to ensure her body remains injury-free, and in turn helps avoid the monotony sometimes associated with the heavy mileage needed to be successful in ultra-marathons. 

“I’ve been working on my speed, it’s important even for ultra running.

“You do need the endurance, but I don’t find that I struggle with endurance or distance, so speed is where I can improve, so I’m very happy with my progress in the last year.

“I do mix up my training quite a lot. I have to say I really enjoy it as well, I don’t spend as many miles running (as most other top runners), I also do lots of cycling, hiking and swimming.

“Anything that I can find to build my endurance and my overall strength. I have to say it also helps me to enjoy my training more, and it keeps it interesting because every day I do my training and have fun at the same time.”

One thing is for sure, Steyn will have an excellent chance of further entrenching her name into the SA running history books when she lines up for that 89km test of body and mind on June 10.

African News Agency (ANA)